Friday, May 24, 2013

Edinburgh, so long ago.

Once, a long time ago, in 2004 to be precise, two friends and I moved to Edinburgh. In Edinburgh's life, it was pretty insignificant. Wandering twenty year olds from foreign lands were not new to her. However, in my (our) life, it was incredibly significant.

I was thinking about this today as I was reading a blog of someone who had moved to Australia from Toronto, with a detour in Asia. She was blogging about first impressions, to-do lists, and the general brain twistiness that results from big moves.

We flew over on Canadian Affair. I think the plane had leather seats and was quite empty. The three of us had seats together but we shortly found our own rows for the not-very-long flight between Halifax and London Gatwick Airport. We were served supper not too long after take off and it came with a piece of chocolate. My brain insists it was Lindt chocolate, but maybe it's just going that way because its among my favourite. I remember Shannon not getting a chocolate because she had requested a low calorie/fat/something meal. I was so very glad to had not requested the same.

Lindt! Actually in Zurich, Switzerland, not on the plane.

I was stupidly tired when we arrived in London. I remember telling myself to not fall asleep in the airport while waiting for our flight to Edinburgh. If I fell asleep someone would steal everything I had with me. Of course, I fell asleep. Nothing was stolen.

There is a good chance I slept the entire not-very-long flight to Edinburgh, I remember nothing about it. Clearly we were not given free, delicious chocolate.

Arrival in Edinburgh was surreal. You follow the signs and move with the people around you. They could be on their way home, or perhaps on a vacation to visit a friend. You are arriving with you 20-kg of belongings and having seen only a few pictures of the city.

We took the Airlink bus to the city centre. I remember not knowing what the driver said to me (I was tired, he was Scottish), and sitting on the bus and looking out the windows. I saw a Blockbuster as we drove into the city and some semi-scragly looking buildings. Being Edinburgh, the clouds were low and the sky was quite dark, despite it being mid-day.

The bus drove down Princes Street so I had my first real-life glance of the Edinburgh Castle. I had seen some photos online before I had departed. I wish I could say, "Real life blew the pictures away!" but I remember thinking about both the photos and the first real life impression, "That doesn't look like a castle." This is perhaps because the only castle I had ever seen was Cinderella's Castle at the Magic Kingdom and I expected castles to look more like the one it was inspired by, Neuschwanstein Castle. Edinburgh Castle looked more like a fortress designed to protect citizens from English invasion. It looks like that, because that's kinda what it was. It's more so a collection of multiple buildings that one singular grand structure.

As most of my Edinburgh pictures are on my old laptop,
this is the best picture I could find of Edinburgh Castle.

I think we had a tiny smidgen of trouble finding our hostel because it was oddly located behind other buildings, close to a Burger King. I had never stayed in a hostel and I had low expectations. I was right to have low expectations. Now, having slumbered in many hostels, I wouldn't put this one high on the list. I remember sitting on my bunk at one point trying to find hearing aid batteries and being panicky about being unable to find them. Because, you know, they would neeeeeever sell those in the United Kingdom. (Mostly it was probably annoyance at being unable to find them. Also, I probably had no clue where to buy them.)

I found another one! This one doesn't
really do it justice, but it has a blue sky, which was rare.
(I actually just reread on my old blog that apparently I had my batteries but they weren't working. So I at least correctly remembered having hearing aid issues. Direct link to specific post unavailable, but scroll down to Saturday, May 15. Also, according to the month of May 2004, I fall a lot.)

Everything seemed so expensive when we got there. Living there now would be such a different experience. In 2004, the exchange rate was terrible. To get 1 GBP (since I don't have a pound symbol on my keyboard) cost about $2.60. The exchange rate now is ... ugh, I just looked it up for the first time in ages. It's $1.50 to get 1 GBP. That's amazing. I feel so ripped off now though. Somehow, I am now convinced that someone owes me money. I don't know who though. Canadian government? UK government? Bank of Canada? Royal Bank of Scotland? Somebody please give me my money back. 

My second point of how it would be so different now is that I'm way less cheap now. I think there I was terrified that I would suddenly be poor and would not be able to pay my rent. (Which almost happened once.) In my head, my Canadian money at home was untouchable and should never be used because that would be irresponsible. And yes, I recognize the irony of me declaring myself to be less cheap now and then proclaiming that I am owed hundreds of pounds.

One day after we found a place to live Keri and I walked to Arthor's Seat, a big hill/tiny mountain thingy (by PEI standards) within the city. To this day I have no idea what route we took to get there. We had a map, we used the map, and I remember walking next to a fence that had a big drop beyond it. I'm pretty sure I never saw this road again. It could be a case of we actually took a terrible route so the road wasn't useful to us again at any point once we learned more direct routes to points of interest, or maybe my second impression of the road was so different from the first that I never made the connection.

View of Calton Hill, from Arthor's Seat
(I'm a bit distracted by my blog now. At one point early on I declared how Scotland seemed to be good for my hair and face, which, in the long run, was a terribly poor statement. I was, again, so cheap that I bought shampoo only and not conditioner. My hair looks more fried and dead in pictures as the months go on. I also frequently got pimples, perhaps due to the weather, beer, Haribo candy, Cadbury chocolate, and a mix of everything.)

One of my favourite face-palm living-abroad stories was the search for a grocery store. We were used to walk a little bit less than a kilometre, mostly up a massive hill, to get to a small grocery store (Sainsburys on Rose Street). Sometimes we would take a bus to a further small grocery store (Lidl on Nicholson Street, so far!) because it had cheap frozen, boxed, and canned food.

I just assumed that all grocery stores in Edinburgh were relatively small compared to North America. Then, one day I was out for a run as I was convinced I was gaining weight (note: I was) and was clearly too cheap for any sort of gym membership. I decided to take a different running route because I was tired of the hills. All of a sudden I passed a large parking lot and a Tesco (grocery store) sign. Turned out we lived about four blocks and one hill away from a massive, North American style grocery store. Not gonna lie, it was pretty life changing.

Finding a place to live ended up not being overly difficult. We waited until we arrived in Edinburgh and had purchased phones. At first, many calls were unsuccessful. I remember sitting in a food court at the Princes Street Mall and either Shannon or Keri declaring within about .75 days of searching, "Well, we're gonna have to move to Glasgow," and the other completely agreeing right away. Being lazy (re-pack, book a train, find a hostel to stay at in Glasgow, ugh) and half scared of Glasgow based on rumours/incorrect reputation, I suggested we look a bit more. We ended up securing a place either that day or the following day. We had left Canada on Wed, arrived on Thu, and I think we had a place to rent by Friday, and moved in Saturday or Sunday. We had our first "party" on Sunday, I believe. The "party" (may it forever live in laughable quotation marks) is a story for another day.