Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Farewell London, Hello Edinburgh

Tuesday, Sept 4
    Right about now, I figure, is around the time I should stop being nervous--or rather, that the nervousness should be drowned out by the excitement and anticipation. Instead I'm staring out the window of the train as we draw closer to Edinburgh--only 40 minutes away now; is there any way to tell whether I'm in England or Scotland? I'll have to look it up later--and the only thing that keeps bubbling to the surface of my mind is What was I thinking? I can't do this! I guess this is payback for not having my Ford Prefect moment when it should have happened, and instead I'm having it now.
    For those unfamiliar with The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, here's the relevant quote:

    Ford was very kind – he gave the barman another five-pound note and told him to keep the change. The barman looked at it and then looked at Ford. He suddenly shivered: he experienced a momentary sensation that he didn't understand because no one on Earth had ever experienced it before. In moments of great stress, every life form that exists gives out a tiny sublimal signal. This signal simply communicates an exact and almost pathetic sense of how far that being is from the place of his birth. On Earth it is never possible to be further than sixteen thousand miles from your birthplace, which really isn't very far, so such signals are too minute to be noticed. Ford Prefect was at this moment under great stress, and he was born 600 light years away in the near vicinity of Betelgeuse.
    The barman reeled for a moment, hit by a shocking, incomprehensible sense of distance. He didn't know what it meant, but he looked at Ford Prefect with a new sense of respect, almost awe.
    "Are you serious, sir?" he said in a small whisper which had the effect of silencing the pub. "You think the world's going to end?"
    "Yes," Ford said gaily, "in less than two minutes I would estimate."
     I experience something like this any time I travel somewhere. The effect multiplies with how far away I am from home and how long I'm going to stay there, and on non-leisure expeditions like this, another factor is at play: the importance of what I need to do when I'm there. It's not really panic, or any clearly explicable thought process. It's really just a sense stretching out into the future of all the seconds ahead of me, everything I'll have to do and learn and accomplish and live through, all compressed into one moment.
    It's comforting in any case to be near the sea. The nice Olympics volunteer at King's Cross assured me that the trip to Edinburgh would be lovely, and sure enough, we're gliding along the east coast amid rolling fields of golden-brown grain, patches of trees--are those artichokes?--and little clusters of brick houses. There's a small but majestic brick church presiding over a little forest of headstones, and every now and then, the cloud-streaked blue of the afternoon sky blurs into the deeper blue of the ocean. Way off, I can see some bizarre shapes, what may be islands perhaps or standalone monuments like Haystack Rock; one is very pale, like the moonstone I saw at the Science Museum.
    I just saw a Union Jack. Does that mean I'm still in England? Only 23 minutes to go so that seems unlikely.
    Monday was much nicer than Sunday in pretty much every way. It was sunny and warm all day, although I began the day with a visit to the British Library's "Writing Britain" exhibit. I think my favorite thing was seeing manuscripts and printers' copies by famous and beloved British writers; there was a handwritten manuscript of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, with little heart doodles scribbled in the margins by Rowling, and a typed manuscript of Hard Times, I think, with the chapter titles and corrections written in Dickens' hand. I also liked the painting of the Shire by Tolkien: simplistic, bright, cheerful, and welcoming. I raced through the exhibit and headed back gratefully out into the warmth and sunshine to meet an old friend from my Thüringen days, Joe.
    For the sake of integrity I should record here that I think disappointment has had a lot to do with the elongation and intensity of the ongoing Ford Prefect effect. I came to the UK a week and a half early hoping to be able to meet some of my friends, all of whom turned out to be unable to see me except Joe. Seeing a familiar face was such a relief!
The best seat in the house
    This is disjointed, sorry, but the train must be getting close now, because we're still skirting the coast but just across the water is another land mass, several miles away. We must be at the mouth of the Firth heading up to Edinburgh now. It's seriously gorgeous, but getting close means a lot of things, not the least of which is that I'll need to pick up all those bags again and my back is already sore...
    Anyway, Joe and I strolled out to Lincoln's Inn Field (or something, I'll have to look it up) and walked around the park; we'd come that way for a certain museum that, it turns out, is closed on Mondays. I hadn't had lunch, so we headed to an excellent pizzaria on Goodge Street and chatted about comedy and traveling and Britian. I tried to explain why I like London so much, and the impression of an American coming to London for the first time, and Joe was very patient and understanding with my ramblings.
Westminster at night
    Joe had to get home before the early evening rush, so we split up at Foley's, a delightfully huge bookstore, but not before he recommended to me a book called Embassytown by China Mieville, which turns out to be about the fabric of reality and addiction to language and the nature of communication and it's fascinating. It's kind of beautiful and disturbing and grisly all at once.
    I only discovered this once I got to start reading it, which I did by curling up in my favorite spot: between the paws of one of the Sphinxes guarding the obelisk on the north bank of the Thames. I sat there with my snacks and book and watched the sky darken. When it started to get too cold, I walked over to the South Bank to take some pictures and returned to my hostel late.
    Crap, we're here. I'll have to pick this up later.

Later (ie Wednesday, Sept 5)
Majestic Edinburgh Castle
    I'm now sitting in the bar at my hostel a day later, so I did end up surviving. Arrival at Waverly yesterday went much better than it had at King's Cross, partly because my hostel is very close to the station and partly because I'd figured out that the train stations provide trolleys for people in my exact predicament. (I was a little slow figuring that out...) The station attendant from whom I asked directions just stared at my mountain of baggage and went, "You have way too much luggage." I couldn't disagree.
     This morning I dragged myself out of bed and up the hill to go on one of Sandeman's Free Tours--note for anyone visiting a major European city: these are always worth it. I did this same one two years ago when I was here before, but I figured it would be a good reorientation, and sure enough, the 3.5-hour trek around the city reintroduced me to all the places I used to know and forgot. After the tour, I spent an enjoyable hour chatting with some other Amis and Canadians over haggis about art and traveling and the frivolity of Starbucks. (Verdict: Starbucks is exorbitantly expensive. Earthshattering, I know). It was only midafternoon, and since you can see the water from the Royal Mile, I figured it couldn't be that far away and headed off that direction.
Leith (apparently)
    Turns out it can be that far away. An hour later I was still walking and fairly thoroughly lost, and being at a lower elevation, I could no longer see the water for reference. I stopped in a Tesco for help, which was pretty unhelpful (the poor man couldn't understand me!), and mostly by chance and through my excellent directional instincts I ended up at Ocean Terminal, which is apparently a giant shopping mall way out there in the middle of nowhere (if you can call Leith the middle of nowhere, and I'm going to go ahead and say you can). I toyed briefly with the idea of seeing Bourne Legacy again, but opted to take the bus back into town instead before it got dark. And here I am!
    I keep having this weird conversation with myself (that's not the weird part; being alone mostly when I travel, conversations with myself are normal). This one is weird because it goes the same way every time:
What Edinburgh feels like
    "We should do [interesting-looking thing] sometime tomorrow."
    "Yeah, or, y'know, whenever. We have plenty of time."
    "We don't have that much time in the next two days."
    "Dude, we just moved here. We have tons of time."
    *surge of genuine surprise* "Oh...yeah. We did, didn't we? Damn."
    I can't seem to remember permanently that I'm actually not leaving here anytime soon. I'm stuck in tourist mode and have to keep reminding myself that there's no hurry, I've got tons of time, I live here now. It's not sticking.
    A huge stampede of tourists just came in the front door to do shots for some crawl, I guess. Yech. I always feel like a grumpy old lady when people my own age make lots of noise and drink too much. I want to shake a finger at them and go, "Isn't it past your bedtime? Don't you need to get a good night's sleep? Do you have any idea what that'll do to your liver?"
    My episode of Leverage is finished loading so peace out, people, and drink responsibly. Not like these idiots.

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