For the past three weeks, I have been in the UK. I have wanted to visit England – and far more importantly, Scotland – since I was six years old. After the campaign, with a little spare change and a frighteningly fabulous unemployment status, I decided it was about time to act upon my dream and venture to the land of Harry Potter, Winston Churchill, the Clash, small terriers, small cars, small houses, and tea (oh, sweet blessed tea). My wanderlust agreed with this decision, and I purchased a plane ticket—leaving Vancouver the day after Christmas. A full month in the UK should cure me of this persistent ache to see the land for myself, I thought. Or, as my mom told me, ‘You will fall in love with Edinburgh, my dear. Returning home might be one of the hardest things you ever do.’
With a week remaining, I can say – yet again – that my mother was right. I have loved my time here. Not only are you surrounded by history everywhere, but I fell in love with the Scottish people. The Brits…are a different breed. Some are warm and kind; most of those I’ve interacted with, however, are cool and, well, let’s just say they do not help reverse the stereotype of being stuffy, arrogant, pretentious snobs.
Durham—I was not sure what I was expecting from this small city. It’s a university town (yes, town is the better term for this place) and a retired mining community. I guess I expected sleepy, gritty, dirty. While Durham is sleepy, it is lovely in its sleepiness. The pace is slower, more relaxed. Durham has both a castle and cathedral near the centre of town and a river that winds through. There isn’t much to do other than drink bitter at pubs—so that leaves plenty of time for walks through the city (you can walk from one end to the other in twenty minutes), reading, and, yeah okay, drinking beer. Lots of good, British beer. That, and spending time with my sweetheart. Joseph is studying at Durham University, and this town has become a base of sorts for my time here.
London was manic. Opposite from Durham in nearly every way. Everyone has somewhere to go—quickly. My first impression of the international city was… ‘London is so big.’ Yes, may sound a bit obvious but I was overwhelmed by the sheer size of the place. If you want to go from Hyde Park to Piccadilly Circus, it’s best to use the Underground (which is a disastrous piece of transportation in and of itself as entire lines may be shut down any day of the week for engineering repairs, track repairs, station repairs, employee repairs – what does that mean exactly?) rather than walk. Traversing London by foot is doable I suppose, if all you want to do is walk instead of actually seeing historical sights, museums, and galleries. Anyway, despite its fast-paced nature and long-faced Londoners, I enjoyed the city. London is full of history, especially that of literature. I saw the house where Dickens lived. My imagination furiously spun images of medieval, Renaissance, Victorian, 1920s London during my entire stay. What did this park look like back in Dickens’s time? Who might have walked along this very street by the Thames? Shakespeare probably did. Oh, the thought.
Westminster Abbey was a deeply moving experience—spiritual even. To see the tombs of historical figures I had studied in years past was surreal. As I walked past the remains of Elizabeth I and Henry V, chills overtook my arms. Poet’s Corner only furthered that sensation, and I felt an awkward lump in my throat as I stood by Geoffrey Chaucer’s tomb. And I am not a person who cries easily. London was full of the absurd as well. I’ll post a list of the absurd Joe and I have encountered the past three weeks. Just…trust me on this one. It was as if Bertolt Brecht and John Cleese got together and concocted an outrageous script of incidents.
Back to Durham for almost a week- then Edinburgh. This is the city I have wanted to visit more than any other place in the entire world for as long as my memory can recall. As my friend Alex said, ‘London is miserable; Edinburgh is magical.’ And yes, yes, yes—Edinburgh is indeed magical. Eccentric, funky, super old, artistic. Not to mention, Scotland houses my heritage. The trip, ironically enough, involved more frustrations than London, but Edinburgh was able to redeem itself time and time again. The highlight was hiking Arthur’s Seat, from where I could see the whole of Edinburgh and surrounding hills and crags. I reached the summit right at sunset, so the entire trek was completed in the liquid-gold sunlight of dusk that grazed the grass and cast rocks in spectacular fire. Any attempt to describe the emotions that rushed and swelled within me as I stood at the edge of the rocky cliff would come off as trite and vapid. (Why is it that the truest moments of unbridled emotion refuse to fit neatly into appropriate words and phrases? They end up sounding overused, overworked, overdone. Tired and clichéd. Yet, somehow, they are gloriously true.) This is one of those times where fewer words say more. So I’ll end here. If you want to hear of my experiences in Scotland (of what that land did – and still does – to me) ask me. But fair warning: I might talk you into the grave.
Pictures to come soon.