Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Scotland, Castles, Cousins...(oh my!)

Here's a wrap-up of the last week from my journal!

So it's been a week since I wrote a decent journal entry, so I'll try and make up for that here. With regards to my project, the week from June 23 to June 28 saw considerable progress. I was able to interview Matthew, Mark, and Peter, and I was able to spend several hours reading the collection of research found in “Mission-shaped Church”, which has given me a lot of insight into societal changes that may have contributed to the decline in religiosity in the United Kingdom and that is affecting most of the western world.

Last Tuesday, however, my group and I left our projects behind for the good part of a week when we boarded a train at King's Cross Station and traveled to Edinburgh (pronounced “Éh-din-bur-ah”) for our mid-semester retreat. It was a lot of fun, and a true vacation. That is to say, it was not a vacation in the sense that it involved sandy-beaches, five-star hotels, or big rides and roller-coasters. No, Edinburgh was a vacation because we were free for five days in a beautiful historic town and countryside where every element, alive or dead, had something interesting to say—from the street musicians on bagpipes and violins, the shops selling kilts and scottish wool blankets and the two-hundred-year-old pubs that adorned each street corner. As I said to my brother on the phone late Friday night, even the old brick walls of the High Street Hostel where we we stayed were constructed before than the United States (I checked the history, and it's over two hundred years older!). In the time we had my group and I managed to see three different castles, go on two different site tours (one of them an all-day bus tour), climb the 900-foot Arthur's Seat, visit the botanical gardens, stroll out barefoot on the cool windy beach, and eat at almost half a dozen local cafes. We even ate at the famous Elephant Palace, an eccentric and comfortable coffee-shop cafe where J. K. Rowling began writing Harry Potter on napkins. Stories, old and the new, seem to flow through the city's cobble-stone and brick like the rain—and there was plenty to be found of the latter. We were lucky to catch four days when the sun came out, and the grass and trees were just an impossible green.

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the trip was the experience of living in a hostel. A hostel, of course, is a place where you rent a bed to sleep in for a few nights. The High Street Hostel calls itself the “cool” Edinburgh hostel, and I would say it mostly holds up to that description. The vintage front sitting room with the stand-up piano and leather couches was my favorite spot in the place, although I think it would have benefitted a lot to the addition of a big, lit fireplace. The room was a bit drafty. Otherwise, the experience of sharing bedrooms with a mixed group of traveling young students and (mostly) young adults from all around the globe was very unique, and I enjoyed the chance to meet some new people from places like Spain, New York, Ireland, and (of course) Brasil. There were actually seven different brazilians that passed through the place during the five days, and I have to say that seeing their surprised expressions when I—the tall, white American—started speaking Portuguese to them in my strong São Paulo accent. I even got up at 3:40 a.m. on one of the nights to watch Corinthians (my old São Paulo team before I wised up and chose Santos) win the Libertadores South American Tournament with Gilson, who is also from São Paulo. That being said, sharing bathrooms with everyone was a little weird, but everyone was very respectful and polite, so there was nothing to worry about.

The trip almost ended in disaster when I left my US passport in the locker safe next to my bed in the hostel, and only remembered when I was at the train station with twenty-five minutes to go before our train was leaving. Truly, I think that was the most panic I have felt in years. Sprinting up the close (which is sort of thin Scottish alleyway that are all around the city) to the hostel a few streets above the station, I felt deeply grateful for all those years running track and cross country. Four minutes passed and I got to the hostel, quickly explained to the girl at the desk, dashed up the stairs, burst into the room, and managed to stay calm while I awoke my old bed's new occupant (a large, bearded man) and explained that I had left something in the safe. Luckily, the man's size was made up by his good humor, and he had only been dozing anyway. Chuckling, he handed me the key and I was able to quickly retrieve my passport, leave my sincere thanks, and skid back down and out to the street. I narrowly avoided disaster galloping down the wet and slippery close, but when I reached the platform I still had six minutes left on the clock. Not bad, but still too close.

The four-hour train ride back down to London was quiet and uneventful, and I was content to spend it reading. I reread Stormbreaker, a teenage-spy favorite from my middle-school years, but this time I knew half the locations mentioned because most of the story takes place in London. Although he probably didn't know it, Alex Rider, who is the fourteen-year-old main character, actually crashed through the ceiling of the Science Museum ceiling in his parachute right across the street from the Hyde Park chapel. Reading about all those locations in London helped me realize how much I enjoy living here. I may have only been away for five days, but I am happy to be back. It's been just two months, but London really does feel like home.

                        So here are some more recent photos!! (click to see the full-size photo)

 St. Giles Cathedral in Edinburgh.

View from Arthur's Seat in 

The map of Sterling, Scotland

View of William Wallace tower from Sterling Castle.

My favorite castle - Linlithgow Palace

View from the top of the highest tower.

Hallway above the ancient great hall.

My scruffy face (I left my shaving cream at home) in front of Sterling Castle.

Check out the castle from Monty Python!!

Our Hairy Coo (cow) tour bus.

View of the cemetery and castle from the Elephant Palace

A rather furry Ben next to Greyfriar's Bobby!

That's me and Carlee outside Speedy's Cafe from Sherlock

1 comment:

  1. good post, ben! you had some great writing there. i love, love edinburgh, and i'm glad that this time around i could see the scottish highlands––which is one of the most beautiful places on earth!