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Tag: Edinburgh

Rip it up and start again

I was feeling angsty, so I started peeling at my wall. And then I kept going. With a wholly inadequate tool and in improper footwear. With bad lighting and no real plan. With only half a strong beer and no dinner in me.

It took a few weeks after I moved in for it to occur to me that I didn’t really need to consult anyone about this. This is my wall. I own it. And if I want to start peeling at the layers, then the only thing stopping me is… me.

These layers are topped in painted-over woodchip wallpaper – my hatred for which is only outrun by my hatred for removing it. The last time I found myself in this position, I said never again. Never again! would I bother removing woodchip from a wall on my own.

There is only one full wall of the stuff in the sitting room. Its bulges and buckles have been tempting me from the minute I walked in the door. And today I walked in the door feeling unsettled and unsatisfied. A good time to start tearing things down.

Physical progress does wonders, even if it means setting yourself up for a whole lot more physical progress when you get to the bit with Polyfilla and paint. Perhaps especially if it means.

The wrong tool

Also: gouging at your wall with a blunt razorblade is a lot cheaper than therapy. Woodchip is stubborn. There are a few layers of other stuff under it too. But sometimes one big strip banana peels off and it’s satisfying as hell. Which is I think what makes you keep going at it til it’s done.

This place is already home. That also happened the minute I walked in the door. No work necessary. I spend all day working on projects you can’t touch or hold or walk through. I spend a lot of time organizing things for other people. But this is mine to sit in and cook in and make work perfectly for me (and my future dog). I’ve been doing all the planning, but tonight I started the digging.

While I’m at it, I think I’ll start showing up a bit more around here too.

Setting off

I am on my first of many, many trains. For the time being, this means my stomach has stopped going all flipped. I have my passport. I have a lot of chocolate (host gifts). I have what I think is probably just enough money in the bank.

I suspect I have too much stuff, but I also have a bag that is bigger than it looks, Mary Poppins style. There was a plan to do a big post on packing and how I conquered it, but I don’t feel I actually conquered anything – just barely managed more like. Perhaps once I’ve been away a few weeks I’ll hit my stride with being master of my luggage. For now I just hope I put everything in sensible places.

Chaos, more or less.

Believe it or not, most of this is on my back.

I’ve loaded my Kindle up with stuff, which I’m quite excited about. And in my first hour on the train I got through the third quarter of a book I started reading IN THE SUMMER. I’ve not had that kind of idle time since then. I am perhaps disproportionately excited about this.

Here’s what’s in store so far:

  • Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain – Oliver Sacks
  • Into Thin Air: A Personal Account of the Everest Disaster – Jon Krakauer
  • The Once and Future King – T.H. White
  • Sunset Song (A Scots Quair) – Lewis Grassic Gibbon
  • Natural Born Heroes: The Lost Secrets of Strength and Endurance – Christopher McDougall
  • Midnight in Siberia: A Train Journey into the Heart of Russia – David Greene

The book I’m finishing is Trumpet by Jackie Kay, and I also have War and Peace and The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, because of course I do.

Edinburgh has gone mild on the weather for the past few days, which has provided a good few  late-night walks home, Arthur’s Seat and the Crags silhouetted against the clear, nearly-full-moon-lit sky. I’ve eaten and drank in the best pubs in the city. I’ve danced with all my friends. I’ve had lots of cake. Mim has already won future flatmate of the century by rescuing me with a functioning washing machine two days before I left. Kristina bought me the most stylin’ wooden Scandinavian travel mug in the city. I had a good cuddle with a puppy before leaving the keys on the table.

There is nothing here to stay away from. It’s much easier to leave when you have all of that to come home to.

But just to give me a little shove on my way, once I got to Waverley, the heavens opened up and dumped all the water they could find. I narrowly escaped a soaking, but being in the station was like going through a car wash in a car with a very high, zigzagged sunroof.

I suspect that’s Edinburgh being all ‘I’ll bust out the good stuff when you come home, now eat your overpriced M&S salad and git outta here.’


There are sheep in this picture, they’re just a bit blurry.

So I’m on my way. I ate my overpriced salad and then enjoyed an equally overpriced cup of train tea while watching England roll by in the low winter sun. Then I FINISHED that book.

I did try to post this from the train, but I’d like to point out that Virgin Trains were offering fully free WiFi in standard class today. For the ridiculous reason that it’s Black Friday, which has been adopted by the UK for, I don’t know, Capitalism. I have so many issues with this, including the fact that the WiFi basically was not working because I assume it wasn’t prepared to handle everyone using it for free. Whatever. At the very least, we could officially get in on Thanksgiving if they’re going to foist made-up American shopping holidays on us.

In any case, I can survive without interweb connections and resolved to upload later. I arrived at Kings Cross at 5 and it was already dark and a bit misty from the humidity of the rain outside. I walked nearly the full length of the platform since my carriage was at the back, which I kind of love because it gives me more time to think about Harry Potter, which I always do when I come in to Kings Cross.

In the books, the station is a sort of arena for transition and major decisions, which isn’t anything profound, but I do always think about it when I arrive or depart there. It certainly seemed even more appropriate today than it normally does.

Platform I'm-Going-To-Russia.

Platform I’m-Going-To-Russia.

Couchsurfing is the answer

Last weekend I had a MA-HOO-SIVE party, the likes of which I will be lucky to top anytime soon. I had a flat full of Lindy Hoppers, 20 pizzas (TWENTY!), booze, good music and a floor that, it turns out, is plenty big enough for a dance party into the wee hours.

My new toy, takin' over the hallway.

All the plans.

I won’t ramble on about it, but it also meant that a whole load of people saw my Ridiculously Giant Post-It Calendar Of Planning, so I suddenly had lots of good new tips about various parts of my trip where people had been before. Perhaps most importantly: the info on Vietnam is all lies (up to 15 days for UK passport holders visa-free) and I DEFINITELY need to sort out a visa before I head off.

It’s so good to know who’s been where though, and now I can pick even more people’s brains about specific countries.

But maybe the best thing to come out of everyone seeing it is that the other night in the pub, my friend George said he hadn’t realised I was definitely going so soon until he saw that on my wall. So I was asking him for advice, first on what to do in China, but then just in general because he’s been all sorts of places. And that’s when he convinced me to reconsider the whole couchsurfing thing.

I’ve never really talked to anyone who’s done couchsurfing at length before, but George has both used it while traveling and at home. He’s currently hosting people, and actually brought the girl staying on his couch for the weekend to that party I had, which: what an intro to the city! But that’s also awesome. He had nothing but good things to say about his experiences with it.

I guess before I wrote it off without much thought (ERROR) because I let THE FEAR bred by safety concerns of being a solo lady traveller in someone whom I’ve never met’s home cancel out any sensible consideration. But once I properly checked out the couchsurfing website, my mind was easily changed. I spent all last night looking up hosts in some of the cities I’ll be in, and it’s clear from the honest and glowing references that most people have an amazing time with their hosts and surfers, and it’s really quite easy to find verified, well-reviewed hosts who have things in common with you.

I wholeheartedly believe that most people are good and friendly and trustworthy and just want to help you have a great time in their city. But it helps when you can see evidence, you know?

I also filtered some of my city searches by searching ‘Lindy Hop’ and found tons of dancers. I didn’t expect it would be so easy, but it’s exactly what I wanted to happen! I’ve been excited about dancing everywhere, but the logistics of that when you’re on your own are a little intimidating. The actual events themselves weren’t so much what worried me, it was the going to and from places, most likely at night, and looking after my stuff, and just all the little things I take for granted at home. If I stay with someone who knows the local scene, a lot of that anxiety fades away.

Staying with locals also means I’ll get to see their favourite bits of their own city, which isn’t the kind of thing you’ll usually end up seeing when you’re just looking things up online or speaking to people in hostels. When I went to Helsinki last year and stayed with Carolina and Johanna, I did one or two touristy things, but most of the time we were just wandering around or hanging out with their friends hanging out in the places they like to hang out. And it was great! That’s what I’d like to do everywhere. And that’s kind of how George sold it to me. He said it would be the most memorable part of my trip, and I believe it.

The other side of this is that I’m going to try to host some people here before I leave. Partially for references, but also because I love MY city, and I love showing off all my favourite things in it. I think this will be especially nice during the festival, because the place is overrun with tourists and the city kind of becomes this whole other animal. If you’re working the festival or staying in a hostel, you probably don’t see much more than Edinburgh’s festival face. I know that’s how I saw it in the beginning. And there’s nothing horrible about that, but how nice would it have been to see the local side during the most non-local part of the year? So hopefully I can show that to a few people. I shall report back!


PS I’ve done a wee overhaul. New theme! (Still by Anders Noren because I love his stuff.) After a year, it was definitely time for a change. Still doing some tweaks on it (need to get tags showing outside of a tab among other tiny bits), but I’m liking it so far. Hope you do too!

Summer’s gonna rock, you guys

This beauty is on its way to me.

Right as I got home from the US and declared it’s now The Six Months Of Saving A Lot For The Trip, I just spent a whole load of money this weekend. And NOT on travel.

I bought a bike (and related accoutrements) and I registered for a few swing dance events.

I feel this is all justified.

A lot of what I thought about on my lazy train rides to and from North Carolina was what I wanted the summer (and all the time preceding my whole rip-it-up-and-start-again thing) to look like. My priorities surfaced pretty quickly: friends, dancing, Scotland. All of these overlap quite nicely.

I tend to say yes to way too much extra work and crap I really don’t need to. Between that and seemingly endless life admin bullshit, I’ve been feeling really overloaded when all I really want to do is make time for the stuff that makes me feel like life is awesome. So really I just want to say yes to doing more with my friends around Edinburgh and the rest of the country. And I want to do as much dancing as possible. And hopefully feel like I’m getting better at it.

You may remember that I was thinking of going to Sweden for a week of Herräng dance camp this summer. I decided in the end that I’d have to push that plan to another year in order to save more for the Trans-Siberian. As luck would have it though, Rob and Diane Van Haaren, who have taught at Herräng for most of the last 20 or so years, are doing a workshop in Edinburgh in July, so I can get a taste of swing dance summer camp without leaving home (and for an incredible price). Then just before I run away in November, Edinburgh Winter Swing Weekend happens, which also includes super amazing teachers (Jo Hoffberg, Kevin St. Laurent, Jenny Thomas and Scott Cupit) and a whoooole lotta dancing. It’ll make for an excellent leaving party.

I’m incredibly excited about all of that. And I’ll also be doing Edinburgh Lindy Exchange in September as well as all my usual weekly stuff and various social dances here and there. All of this covers every single one of those priorities – in addition to helping keep me relatively sane. It’s good money to spend, and it’s not actually all that much in the end.

As for the bike, I had already decided to buy it before I went away, because I thought if I didn’t budget for it before the trip, I’d never afford it right away when I got back. I am not exaggerating when I say just about everyone I know has a bike, and I’ve been considering it for a pretty long time. I got a pretty entry-level one in terms of price and fanciness, but good enough that it should last a fairly long time. (And I can’t waaaaait for it to arrive. 7-10 days, gah!)

So now I can zip back and forth between home and dance stuff and friends’ places and the beach and anywhere else I feel like going. And I can go for longer rides on the weekends or take it on the train and explore other places relatively cheaply. I walk everywhere in this city, which I love to do, but it does take up a lot of time, so this will allow me to claim some of that time back without losing the exercise. Then I can spend more time with people or reading books or sleeping, which I need to do a bit more of as well.

These things are all making the summer look pretty awesome. Plus there are hiking trips to the highlands, Balkan music club nights, Foo Fighters at Murrayfield (finally!), lazy Sunday morning breakfasts in cafes, local beer festivals, and all manner of other things planned. And my parents will be visiting in September, when we’ll probably go to Arran or somewhere equally cool.

And I think I’ve managed to fit it all in the budget while still saving enough for 3 months away. Seriously. HOORAY!

Flying home

Edinburgh just before landing

Hey, I can see my house!

When you fly into Edinburgh, the plane always comes in the same way. From the south, you pop out of the clouds somewhere over Dunbar and turn left over the Forth, slingshotting around Bass Rock like it’s some kind of waterfowl-covered moon. You then continue to drop, more or less parallel to shore from North Berwick, sloping in over the coast just before Cramond and skimming over the rail line just before touching down.

This sometimes makes for a bumpy ride, as there is often WEATHER over the Forth. The time I came in from Orkney in a very small plane, I was pretty sure we were going to be tossed unceremoniously from the sky, and had visions of my unsecured backpack conking me out before I knew what was happening as it flew off the seat adjacent (the flight attendants get very laid back about luggage the smaller and more rural the flight).

However, it also makes for one of the loveliest returns home I have ever known. Despite being an aisle seat lady, this view ensures I pick seat A on the last leg of any trip whenever I can. Preferably somewhere just behind the wing. I can stand to be cramped up for an hour or so if it means seeing Edinburgh from this angle. In any light or weather, it’s just the best. To visitors and natives, I highly recommend it. (If you end up on the right side of the plane instead, you’ll get a cracking view of the bridges.)

To top it off, there’s this fantastic truth when you come ambling out of the airport, which I also love fiercely and look forward to every time. It’s great to see when you’re at the start of an adventure too. I seriously hope this ad campaign runs forever.

RBS 'This is home' campaign at Edinburgh Airport

Yes it is.