March Madness

My last blog entry was uploaded nearly a month ago, and it’s jarring to realize that this is the first free evening I’ve had since. March has been the busiest month so far, and it’s just zoomed by. Now, on the brink of April, I’m entering my last week of classes—then it’s onto Easter Vacation, reading week, exams, and…I’m not going to say what happens after that. Before I get ahead of myself, I have a lot of wonderful events (and a few mundane ones) to fill you in on. Spring has arrived in Edinburgh, and along with it, lots of visitors and some blissful and sunny days.

The Meadows at sunset
The Meadows at sunset

It all began when I boarded the AirLink bus at an obscenely early hour to meet my boyfriend Cadin at the Edinburgh airport. It felt so surreal to see him from a distance for the first time in the airport terminal, and even stranger to travel back into the city with him by my side, pointing out iconic Edinburgh landmarks I stopped noticing long ago. For the next week schoolwork was mostly neglected, and we filled our time sightseeing, pub-crawling, hiking, and cat-hunting (in a friendly way, don’t worry—Cadin really likes cats, and although he didn’t have much luck with the strays I see on my daily walk to campus, he did manage to snuggle with Library Cat for a while).

Of course, that first night I treated Cadin to a traditional Burn’s Supper and some cheap whisky, courtesy of Tesco.

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Cadin dragged me kicking and screaming to the Castle (£16 admission? Really? And no student discount!?), where he got acquainted with Mons Meg.2014-03-04 23.14.31

We also hiked Castle Hill on a sunny afternoon (which I think might be illegal, so please don’t tell anyone).

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Flowers started to bloom in Edinburgh that first week of March, and although we’re experiencing another cold snap this week, I can remember how incredibly exciting it was to see those first snowdrops, crocuses and daffodils in the Princes Street Gardens. We climbed the Scott Monument on the first truly warm day, and the views were stunning—Edinburgh looks a different city in the sunlight, and the Gardens were covered in blossoms.

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We hiked Arthur’s Seat on Cadin’s last full day in the city, and within those two hours it rained, snowed, and hailed—there was mist and sunlight and a rainbow, and the wind was so powerful that if you jumped in the air it would carry you forward for a foot or two before you landed again. Edinburgh is famous for its changeable weather, but this display was something special. I think the city was showing off for Cadin before he left, just in case he wasn’t sufficiently impressed yet.

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The next morning Cadin and I reluctantly took the bus to the airport, and half an hour after I saw him through security, I met my mom and my sister Annika in the arrivals lounge! That day is definitely a top contender for the most surreal day of my life. I spent the rest of the afternoon desperately trying to keep the two of them awake, and I decided that the perfect distraction for two Harry Potter fans would be a trip to the The Elephant House Café. My sister and I donned our official Gryffindor and Ravenclaw House scarfs (my mom was sorted into Hufflepuff, but sadly, she has no scarf), and we dropped off their luggage at my flat and headed out for tea. My hooligan of a sister immediately vandalized the bathroom wall, of course, but I suspect she may not be the first fan to do so.2014-03-09 01.20.132014-03-09 01.13.07

Halfway through the week we decided that Mom and Annika shouldn’t leave Scotland without seeing at least a little bit of the Highland scenery, and so on Wednesday the three of us boarded a bus and headed to Loch Ness via Rannoch Moor and Glencoe—an almost identical route to the trip I took in the fall. This time, however, it wasn’t raining all day, and the views (even through the bus window) were astonishing.

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Mom and Annika at Glencoe
Mom and Annika at Glencoe

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Once we arrived at Loch Ness my mom immediately bonded with Nessie, the friendly resident monster.

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The Loch Ness Cruise took us over the sparkling water and directly past Urquhart Castle. We didn’t see any monsters in the water, but that may be because we didn’t order any whisky from the cruise bar.

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Unfortunately, there was one, unexpected complication that slightly impaired my ability to enjoy the trip. For the whole week prior, I had been studying “the tourist gaze” and heritage commodification in my Visualising Scotland course, and all of ensuing consequences and complications regarding tourism in Scotland. Although I largely agreed with all of the articles we read, and enjoyed learning about an important topic I’ve never studied before, after a few days of this, the messages grew tiresome. The course is made up primarily of Visiting Students, and I don’t think I was alone in feeling that some of the readings said, essentially, “NONE OF YOUR EXPERIENCES ARE AUTHENTIC! EVERYTHING YOU SEE IS CONSTRUCTED! NOTHING IS REAL! ARE YOU EVEN REAL!?!”

Although, to be fair (and speaking as an English major), that does seem to be the primary message of many humanities courses. Although I appreciate the problems inherent in the tourism industry and issues of constructed identity, I don’t always want to be reminded of them. Sometimes I just want to have fun and be silly and enjoy the country I’m living in, without agonizing over “authenticity” (whatever that is), being embarrassed by my nationality, or pretending that I’m not still excited by castles and mountains. I walk a thin line between tourist and resident, and it’s sometimes disorienting to switch so often between those two roles. So, I learned my lesson—don’t study academically any social phenomenons you participate in, or the very act of boarding a bus for a fun day trip will paralyze you with anxiety and self-loathing.

Social anxiety aside, it was a warm and wonderful day, and I’m so glad my family got to see the Highlands, as everyone should before they die. After our return to Edinburgh, however, the countdown to my essay deadlines began. My family did much of the rest of the sightseeing without me while I stayed behind in the flat, pulling out my hair and drinking buckets of coffee in between frequent trips to the library. I took a brief break from studying to see Singin’ in the Rain with them at the Festival Theatre, and it was so absolutely worth it. The show was touring from the West End, and even though we sadly weren’t within the splash zone, we were all very impressed by the talented cast and the visual effects.

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The Festival Theatre

Sadly, spring break came to an end, and Mom and Annika had to return to their lives. I was too busy with my remaining essays to be heartbroken when the last of my visitors left for the next two weeks—which brings me up to now. My visitors are long gone, my essays are all handed in, and the semester is nearly over. After so much frenetic activity, I feel a little lost without a deadline to meet or a day to seize. My life has settled back into a normal routine, but even that’s about to end. Easter Vacation is nearly upon me, and I have no plans, few funds, and several empty weeks stretching ahead of me.

Sometimes that feels like a lonely and scary prospect, but more often now I’m starting to dream of everything that free time in this city could mean: sleeping in, reading novels, lounging in the sun in the Meadows, lazy afternoons in coffee shops and excursions to the Botanics and all the art galleries I haven’t visited yet. I’m going to have to learn to relax again after so much excitement, but I think that’s one lesson that won’t take me long to get the hang of.