11 April 2011

Taking Back Dun-Èideann...Part I

It is strange how

When I moved to Edinburgh (for the second time) in May 2010, I had just graduated from college and was incredibly reluctant to leave my boyfriend, friends, and family back in the US. A 40+ hour work week and the realization that the situation was only temporary prevented me from going out and actively meeting people. (The fact that I am not exactly the world's most outgoing person added to this as well.) Even a visit from a friend (Chris!) and my boyfriend halfway through the summer failed to ease the homesickness that I felt. On top of this was the fact that shortly before I left Edinburgh in June 2009, I was the victim of an event that not only changed my life, but cast a shadow upon my entire time in Scotland. It was this event that made it so incredibly difficult to return to Scotland in 2010...but I did it because I hoped to put the past behind me. Although I did make significant advances in coming to terms with what happened and learned to appreciate Scotland again, mostly thanks to the kindness and wonderful times shown to me by my (now ex-)boyfriend and his family, I was not entirely successful in my endeavor. Whereas I had loved Edinburgh prior to 2009 (it was my favorite city, hands down), even after the good times of 2010, I still remained hesitant about returning.

It is amazing the difference that a mere 8 months can make in one's life. In that time, I've spent 7 months abroad, lost a friend in a car accident (and almost lost several others in other incidents), been hit by a car, had my heart broken, written countless essays, and, as a result, matured in ways that I am only just becoming aware of. Living abroad changes you...for better or worse. It toughens you. And so when I returned to Edinburgh this past weekend, things were immediately different. Somehow, in the past 8 months, I developed the necessary toughness needed to finally conquer Edinburgh...and put the horrific events of the past behind me. I am pleased to note that almost 2 years after the attack...I am finally at peace.

Wonderful Henderson's!
I arrived in Edinburgh around noon on Thursday. After checking-in to my hostel (St. Christopher's on Market Street - I highly recommend it!), I headed to Hanover Street in the New Town to hit up my favorite restaurant, Henderson's. It's a vegetarian restaurant that also operates a bistro and deli on Hanover Street, plus a cafe underneath St. John's at the end of Princes Street/beginning of Princess Street. I have never had a less-than-wonderful meal there. Afterward, I wandered around Princes Street, noting which shops had gone out since the last time I was there. Most notable was the absence of the tram mock-up that had dominated the western parts of Princes Street for most of 2010. It was a full-size model of the tram system that they planned to install in the New Town - a plan for which the city had run out of money. And so the tram had sat on Princes Street, obstructing the flow of traffic (never good at the best of times), and generally proving an eye-sore. I was pleased to note that it is gone! Amazing!

Greyfriars' Kirkyard
View up the Royal Mile
After a quick change at the hostel, it was off for a run. I did an easy 5 miles up along Market and Jeffrey Streets, up the hill of the Pleasance, down Newington, past where I lived last summer, and into the Meadows. It was beautiful and so wonderful to be back on my 'home' ground. The weather was absolutely perfect - a rarity for Scotland! Later, I headed back out onto the Royal Mile to visit Edinburgh Castle and then down to Greyfriars' Kirkyard (the oldest cemetery in Edinburgh). Greyfriars Bobby and many other famous Edinburghians are buried there. Somehow, I managed to find my way from the graveyard into a nearby pub that I visited last June with Chris and which is known for playing live traditional music each night. Sure thing, there was a group there that night. One thing led to another and I found myself holding a fiddle and being an active participant in the jam session. Now, I've played the violin/fiddle since I was 8, but have not actively practiced since December when I was last home. I'll freely admit that things started off a bit shaky and I was quite convinced that I was going to die of embarrassment whenever I hit a wrong note. Luckily, the other guys (playing the bodhran, guitar, fiddle, and bagpipe) were encouraging and compensated for my shakiness, giving me confidence and allowing my fingers to re-familiarize themselves with the fingerboard. After five minutes, I was back to my old strength. The night culminated in my playing a duet rendition (with the other fiddler) of 'Grant's Rant', 'Nighean Donn' and 'The Butterfly' before accompanying the group in playing 'Amazing Grace', which resulted in the majority of the pub singing and my struggling not to cry. It was truly a surreal experience, although not one that I care to repeat anytime soon since most of the time I was terrified that I was going to screw up. (No, this does not mean that I will be giving concerts at home anytime soon.)

View from Holyrood Park towards Calton Hill & Leith
The top of Arthur's Seat
Friday was supposed to be my 'rest' day before the half marathon...although it turned out to be anything but. I began the day by heading off to Holyrood Park to climb to Arthur's Seat. The weather was perfect and I got so carried away in my trek that I decided to run up to the top of the peak for old time's sake. (I used to make this climb once or twice a week in 2009 and 2010). It went well - although I attracted more than one comment from passersby since I was in trekking shoes, black tights, and a dress. Oh well. Karen and I trekked through the hills of Buckinghamshire in rain and mud while wearing dresses in our attempts to get to the Hellfire Caves. (We were unsuccessful and passing hill-walkers repeatedly kept commenting, 'Dressed like that?' whenever we inquired as to its location.) Then it was off to Leith to time the walk to the Meadowbank Athletics Stadium where the half marathon would start on Sunday. I've never actually been to Leith (the port town) and so this was a new experience. Indeed, the entire half marathon course (from Leith through Musselburgh, turning round at Prestonpans and finishing at the Musselburgh Race Course) was along areas that I had never been before. Finally, it was back to the Old Town to hit up the City of Edinburgh museum (last visited in 2005), the People's Story museum at the Canongate Tollbooth (prison), and sit in the Princes Street Gardens.

Saturday (*If you are not interested in reading worthless soul-searching statements, skip ahead*)
Saturday was all about overcoming the past, and so I started off the morning with a visit to the club where that terrible night began. In summer 2010, I generally avoided the entire area (a bit of a bother since it is located on a convenient road in the city center) and even when forced down to the Cowgate never ventured up the side street where it is located. Even thinking about it used to bring back the few memories that I possess of what happened that night, thus provoking all of the associated memories and fears. By visiting the club, I confronted these fears directly. The strange thing was that none of them re-surfaced when I saw it. I had braced myself for the worst - and I felt nothing save for a bit of anger and sadness at how things had ultimately turned out. Heartened by this, I continued across the city following the events of that night (so much as I have pieced together). It took the better part of the day, but was well worth it in the end. Each place visited was a fear conquered, a part of my life regained. And when I emerged back into the Old Town on Saturday afternoon, I was finally able to move on and allow myself to fall in love with Edinburgh again.

*Resume reading*
 I was exhausted by all of that soul-searching, inner-battle fighting, and running up and down Arthur's Seat, so I figured that the wise thing to do to prepare for the half marathon would be rest. Instead of heading to the pub for a dram (or two) of whisky like I so desired, I headed to the Omni Centre to take in a movie. Not having had access to a TV for the past 4 months means that I have absolutely no idea what is playing at the cinema. ("What do you mean that Black Swan is not still in theaters?") So I blindly chose to see Tomorrow, When the War Began. It's an Australian film about a group of teenagers who, while on a camping trip in the Outback, miss the start of World War 3. When they return to the homes, it is to find that a foreign army has invaded Australia and have rounded up the locals into concentration camps. The teens thus become refugees, alternating between trying to save their asses and launch guerilla-style warfare against the enemy. It was an interesting premise but never fully developed. The movie ends promptly when things begin to get interesting and has no resolution, leaving the viewer (or me at least) distinctly unsatisfied. Still, it killed a few hours on Saturday evening and prevented me from walking around unnecessarily or going back to the hostel at 4pm.

Sunday...The Edinburgh Half Marathon...coming soon!

1 comment:

  1. A friend just bought me a bottle of Bruichladdich 12 year old. I don't think there will soon be any movies in the theaters that would be better than a quiet evening and a dram or two of that! :-)