I am still in awe of how easy it is to travel from London to Edinburgh. After a five hour train ride that flew by thanks to beautiful scenery and a good book, I arrived in Scotland’s capital city and was greeted by one of my best friends from Providence College.
Our first stop was the hostel which was conveniently located right across from the train station. It would have been even more convenient had we noticed that right away, but we went up and down the street before realizing it had been right in front of our eyes all the while!
As we collected our room keys at the front desk, we couldn’t help but feel a bit nervous. Neither one of us had stayed in a hostel before and certainly weren’t keen on the idea of sharing a room (and bathroom) with strangers.
Unfortunately, the hostess did not ease our fears. As we checked in, she emphasized the importance of sticking to our assigned beds, warning us, “Otherwise someone might climb into bed with you and try to cuddle with you. We’ve had it happen before!” My friend and I just looked at each other with panic in our eyes. That was not the right thing to say to us, lady.
We had convinced ourselves that staying in a hostel would be fine. It was a cheap option suitable for a quick, three-night stay in Edinburgh. We even booked one of the larger rooms that lodges 10 people because of the low price. Yes, you read that correctly. We voluntarily opted to share a room with eight other people. What were we thinking?
When we got to our room on the fourth floor, it was hot and stuffy. It also had a stench that we would never shake during our time there. The best way to describe it is simply to say that it was the smell of humans: humans that have been traveling and wearing the same clothes on repeat, humans that have sweat while backpacking during the day, humans that continue to sweat through the night in their hostel beds.
The beds themselves are worth a paragraph. In a room made for ten people, there were five sets of bunk beds. My friend and I were assigned to different sets which was annoying, but there was no way we were going to switch beds. We did not want to encourage any strangers to climb into bed with us. We took that woman’s warning seriously.
To store personal belongings, there were metal cages underneath the beds that you fastened with a padlock. Inevitably, we were woken up late as fellow guests wriggled locks free to retrieve their pajamas after a night out. Then we were woken up again early as the cages were dragged across the floor so lodgers could grab their things for a new day. Needless to say, the quality of sleep one receives in a hostel is pitiful.
Aside from the overall discomfort that I have described, I have no horror stories from our hostel experience. None of our stuff was stolen. Nobody climbed into bed with us. No one puked in our room. Luckily, nothing went terribly wrong.
With that said, I’m glad that I stayed in a hostel once this semester. After all, this is the only time in my life that I will be able to get away with it. If I tried this in ten years, I would probably get some strange looks from the younger travelers just as the 30+ years-old lodger in our room got some strange looks from me.
Would I stay in a hostel again, you ask? Well, I’m not THAT glad I tried it. From here on out, I’m sticking to Airbnb and hotel reservations so I can go to sleep without fear of being spooned by one of (or all of) the eight men staying in my room.
My accommodation may have been everything but ideal, but my experience of the city itself was not tainted by it one bit. I fell in love with Edinburgh within the first two hours of being there. The medieval architecture was intriguing and served as a constant reminder that I was exploring an old city full of history.
We managed to do a lot in three days, but some of the highlights are Edinburgh Castle, St. Giles Cathedral, Calton Hill, Arthur’s Seat and a hilariously fun pub crawl. At the Castle, I was able to see Scotland’s Royal Crown Jewels which were gorgeous (just like those of England). I was also able to enter the room in which Mary Queen of Scots gave birth to King James VI who would become James I after uniting the kingdoms of Scotland and England.
St. Giles Cathedral was beautiful and contained incredible stained glass windows. The most exquisite, in my opinion, was a panel dedicated to the poetry of Robert Burns who I must read now that I have seen how important he is to Scotland.
Calton Hill offered lovely views of Arthur’s Seat, the inactive volcano I hiked on my last day in Edinburgh. From the volcano’s summit, I could see the entire city of Edinburgh as well as the bridge leading to Fife, my next destination on my week-long tour of Scotland…
Fife is the county of Scotland in which St. Andrews, both a town and college, is located. Lucky for me, my best friend studied at the prestigious university this semester and was kind enough to house me while showing me her home away from home.
I adored St. Andrews from the moment we set foot in the city centre. It immediately became one of my favorite travel spots this semester. I easily understood why my friend had chosen to study there. The town boasts a rich religious history as many pilgrims flocked there during the Middle Ages to pray to St. Andrew. The magnificent Catholic cathedral and Castle came to ruin, however, during the Reformation.
The mix of old and young in St. Andrews is what made it so attractive to me. The town is steeped in history and tradition. Even the University of St Andrews itself has numerous rites of passage, some of which I got to witness firsthand. When the undergraduates take their final exam at the college, for example, they are soaked in water or covered in glitter. That explains why I saw so many students in bathing suits and alleys that sparkled in the sun.
Although old traditions like that one are of course important, there is also a vibrant energy to the town because most of its population consists of young college students. It was a place where I could really feel the best of both worlds: a historical place with respect for the past, yet full of future thinkers and leaders.
Did I mention that St. Andrews is a coastal town? If you weren’t already in love with the place from my description, it overlooks the North Sea and contains several tranquil beaches. My friend couldn’t help but compare the Scottish settlement to her hometown of Newburyport, a very apt description that I agree with.
In addition to touring the cathedral and castle, we explored the restaurant scene and I enjoyed the best fish and chips of my life. The most memorable experience from my time there, however, was unplanned. A wedding on Saturday made for great people-watching as all of the fancy guests filed into church while bagpipes played in the background.
My last stop in St. Andrews was the Old Course. I couldn’t leave without a picture on the famous Swilcan Bridge. The golf course has been home to golf for 600 years and has hosted The Open 29 times. That’s more times than any other course!
It was hard to part with the beautiful town of St. Andrews and even harder to leave my best friend. I had such a wonderful little vacation with her. However, I left Scotland confident that I would be back one day. The Highlands await me.
I’m back in London now with only 17 days before flying back to the States. I must admit that I’m feeling more ready than ever to come home. I can’t wait to see all of the people I love!
However, I also know that I’ll shed tears on my departure day. Leaving this city for an undetermined amount of time won’t be easy. So, until that fateful day, I must continue to explore and make unforgettable memories. I still have some last-minute things left on my London bucket list. So, I’m signing off with hope of crossing off some of those things!