Scotland Studies: Exploring Edinburgh

After months of anticipation and preparation, the day had finally arrived — I landed in the Edinburgh Airport with Amanda Ramirez, a third-year anthropology major, on Jan. 4 at 8:35 a.m.

Courtesy of Shannon Ho

Courtesy of Shannon Ho

While we were both enrolled to attend the University of Glasgow, the UCEAP program had planned a mandatory two-day orientation in which we were to receive further information regarding academics and a chance to meet other UC students who were also studying abroad in Scotland.

With two whole days to explore freely, the possibilities were endless. First thing’s first, however: we needed to locate our hostel and then drag our 60-plus pounds of luggage accordingly, from the bus stop.

After a half-hour of climbing steep, cobblestone streets, twisty turns, retracing our steps back downhill the same cobblestone streets, and catching sympathetic glances from other tourists and shopkeepers, we muttered countless wishes for the guidance of Google Maps which finally led us to the front of the Budget Backpackers hostel in Cowgate.

A building with garishly painted green doors and a faded sign yielded an impossibly cool and laid-back interior. Most impressive was the main café, in which food and drinks were ordered and served out of a giant, cut-out Volkswagen bus.

The next two days were spent blissfully, walking aimlessly around the city without the restraints of a schedule or any real responsibilities.

Edinburgh2_CourtesyOfShannonHo

Courtesy of Shannon Ho

Edinburgh is breathtaking — a clean, shining city with much to see and explore.

Kilt shops and pubs aplenty called for our attention as we walked up and down the cobbled pavements of The Royal Mile. At the very top of the street lay the famous Edinburgh Castle, an enormous fortress situated high above the city.

Princes Street was a shopaholic’s paradise filled with familiar stores like H&M, Topshop, multi-level department stores, and no shortages of eateries and cafés.

I was completely taken by the gorgeous Scott Monument, erected in honor of the Scottish writer Sir Walter Scott. It spiraled high above all other buildings on Princes Street and was a beautiful reminder of the city’s rich historic culture amidst the modern-day hustle and bustle.

St. Giles’ Cathedral, located on the Royal Mile, was another favorite of mine. The place of worship was designed with impossibly detailed stained-glass windows, breathtaking ceilings, and memorials.

To our surprise, there was much to see for free in Edinburgh. Quirky museums, such as The People’s Story and the Museum of Edinburgh located on Canongate, provided hours of engaging entertainment for absolutely no cost at all.

After our two-day excursion, it was finally time to meet with the UCEAP group. Along with the two coordinators Hilary Noyce and Fraser Bryden, Amanda and I met nine other UC students who would be spending the semester in either Edinburgh or Glasgow.

A group dinner at the Pizza Express on North Bridge got us all relaxed and laughing with each other in no time, excited to be sharing this journey together.

The next day entailed an hour-long orientation in which Noyce and Bryden went over academics, personal health and safety, and other essential information.

To our delight, Bryden led us to the Edinburgh Castle where we were booked for a tour. The view of the city from the castle was indescribable, and the fortress itself was an imposing piece of architecture.

Another group dinner later that night led me to my first experience with haggis, a traditional Scottish dish best described as a sort of meat pudding made of sheep’s heart, liver, lungs, onion, oatmeal, suet and various spices. It definitely tasted a lot better than it looked.

Courtesy of Shannon Ho

Courtesy of Shannon Ho

Bryden revealed that UCEAP had also booked for our group to go on an Edinburgh Ghost Tour, which would begin that evening in front of St. Giles’ Cathedral.

From there, our vampire-caped tour guide for Mercat Tours, Alex, led us through the city, pausing at various spots to describe, in a deliciously camp manner, the grisly executions and murders that had occurred centuries before in that very spot.

We were also led down to the underground tunnels of Edinburgh, illuminated only by candlelight. I don’t believe in ghosts, but I do give Alex the credit of being a wonderful storyteller.

Sadly, for us Glasgow students, we were to depart from Edinburgh bright and early the very next day.

The six of us dragged our luggage onto the train at 7 a.m., disappointed to be leaving the beautiful city, but wonderfully excited for what Glasgow had in store.