If you asked me to relate everything I had done and seen during the last few weeks, I would, first of all, crawl out from beneath a pile of blankets, and then I would reply, “Uh…mostly homework. I did my laundry, finally. I washed my dishes. I walked to Tesco. Tesco is far away.” (The nearest Tesco is actually just half a mile from my flat, but that can feel like a lot farther when you’re wearing sweatpants and you’re hungry and it’s cold outside.)
It seems to me that I spend all of my time keeping myself alive and maintaining a basic level of hygiene, and studying in all of the other available time slots. But when I look through my recent photos I see a different girl. I see a girl who is TRAVELING in EUROPE and having ADVENTURES—and I realize that people back home might think that my life is this exciting all of the time. I can’t decide which girl represents my true experience—the girl in the fun and beautiful pictures, or the un-showered creature writing essays at 2 a.m.
In reality I have a foot in both worlds, glamorous and monotonous, and it’s easy to craft an image of your life on social media that only shows the glamorous side of things. Just in case your illusions about my experience need shattering, I will remind you that for every day I travel to a new city or a scenic spot, I spend two days in my flat vacuuming, taking notes, and eating crackers for dinner.
But eating crackers for dinner does not make for a readable blog post, and so, for the benefit of the reader, I will guide you through the camera-worthy moments of the past few weeks. Edinburgh is full of surprises, and I will often see remarkable things without deviating from my normal routine. One dreary evening, dozens of lanterns appeared in the Old College Quad and lit up the space every night for a week. These brightly colored, larger-than-life lanterns were modeled after the army of terracotta soldiers discovered in the tomb of a third century Chinese emperor. They were first created for the 2008 Beijing Olympics, and were on display for the first time ever in Scotland. As I pass Old College on my way to and from campus, the lanterns added some extra dazzle to my daily routine.
But my recent adventures weren’t confined to Edinburgh. Two weekends ago, I boarded a bus at a horrifically early hour and headed to Durham, a small university town in the northeast of England, not far from the border.
We stopped briefly at the Scottish/English border. Here I am with a part of me in each country—but as you can see, my heart is in Scotland.
Durham is primarily known for its historic cathedral, of the finest examples of surviving Norman architecture and a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site. The present building dates from 1093 AD and sits high above the River Wear. I grew up in a small town that boasts one of the finest cathedrals in America, so believe me when I say that Durham Cathedral is extraordinarily beautiful and incredibly massive. And it’s old. European students always laugh at me when I am struck speechless by the mere age of a monument, but you have to remember—this cathedral is approximately five times older than the entire history of my country. It’s hard not to be impressed by that.
In case I needed another reason to visit the cathedral, I discovered that Durham Cathedral served as the inspiration for Hogwarts in the Harry Potter movies, and certain scenes were even filmed on site! The Chapter House was transformed into Professor McGonagall’s classroom, and the cloisters served as the halls and courtyard of Hogwarts. Quidditch practices, unfortunate encounters with Snape and Lucius Malfoy, and even the moment of Dobby’s freeing were all filmed here. My flatmates and I wandered into the cloisters by mistake, and we were completely innocent of its history. Then, we fell silent in unison. We frowned. Something about the place seemed familiar…When we realized simultaneously that we were standing in Hogwarts, we all shrieked and jumped up and down. A disapproving look from a passing priest shut us up, and we continued to enjoy the scenery in silence.
Upon my return home, I decided to spend a Sunday afternoon at the National Gallery of Modern Art, and I was determined to walk rather than take the bus. I didn’t realize that it was raining until I had already left the flat, but I didn’t let this deter me. Pshhh! I thought. A little rain can’t hurt me! I assumed the rain would stop shortly, as it usually does, but three soaking wet miles later, I finally arrived at the Gallery. It was well worth the soak, but my favorite things about the visit weren’t in the Gallery at all.
A neon purple sign across the front of the main gallery read “Everything Is Going To Be Alright,” and an alternative message graced the lawn of the Dean Gallery:
Even the bathrooms were a work of art:
But my favorite part of the visit was the sculpture walk, a gorgeous creation of sweeping, spiraling patterns of turf and gently flowing waterways. After I searched for a “DO NOT WALK ON THE GRASS” sign and couldn’t find one, I climbed onto the little peninsula in the center and sat watching the water flow past until the rain, inevitably, began again.
Yesterday, on Valentine’s Day, my home across the Atlantic became an unexpected source of excitement and surprise. I was lucky enough to receive not one, but TWO care packages from home, and I felt absolutely showered with love! And just in case I had forgotten my American roots, there were about 1,000 George Washington stamps on the care package from my church. It was stuffed with homemade cookies and chocolates and granola from the local bakery.
The other package was from my wonderful parents, who surprised me with champagne, chocolate, and a stuffed bear—and I haven’t even mentioned the gifts from my great-aunt and my boyfriend. It’s easy to feel isolated and forgotten when you’re so far away from your network of friends and family, but this Valentine’s Day went a long way towards reminding me that I’m not a lone wolf after all, and that I have a wonderful home to go back in the summer.
To cap off the week, today I travelled to Roslin, a little village just a few miles south of Edinburgh, and home to the famous fifteenth-century Rosslyn Chapel. The Chapel, which took nearly forty years to complete, is a maze of intricate stonework and fascinating medieval iconography. Historical and biblical figures, different kinds of foliage, mythical creatures, green men, the seven deadly sins, and a bagpipe-playing angel are just a few of the figures depicted in stone. After we said goodbye to William the Chapel cat, my flatmate and I set out to discover what else there was to see in Roslin. As it turns out—not much. We ate at a cozy pub and enjoyed the beautiful country scenery, but after nearly an hour of walking up and down the streets we had seen only three shops and even fewer pedestrians. But a visit to Roslin is worth it for the Chapel alone—although it’s small, you could stay there a year before you had uncovered all of its secrets.
My double life—that of the exhausted student moonlighting as an intrepid adventurer—or perhaps the other way around—ends on Monday. On Monday I leave for a week of Gaelic classes, whiskey tastings and general shenanigans on the island of Islay. The week after that, my boyfriend will arrive for a visit, and the very day that he leaves my mother and my sister will join me in Edinburgh. And, sometime within these next four weeks, two essays and a test will creep up on me. I am incalculably excited, and also a little bit nervous about the impact that these events will have on my schoolwork! The essays will just have to rest on the back burner for now—they’re no fun to blog about, after all.