By Shelley Sasser
The wind was brisk, slapping me in the face as if some sort of coarse greeting. The sky was a shade between white and grey, giving off a feeling I can only describe as mystical. This was a morning in Scotland, and as I trekked to Edinburgh Castle throughout the cityscape of the deeply historical town it is planted in, I could feel the lingering presence of souls who walked the same route in the past. There was a heaviness in the feeling of this town. It was unlike anything else I had ever experienced, and yet there was an uncanny sense of warmth existent throughout its corridors and inner workings. Tourists fulfilling their wishes on holiday laughed and screamed exclamations of delight in their native tongues, while street vendors and musicians busking injected even more life and colorful expression into the scene. Somehow, I knew from the moment I began the journey of this day that it would be irrefutably significant and would remain implanted in my mind for a lengthy period of time, if not for the rest of my life. Oddly enough, in the aftermath of my study abroad experience, I would remember this day—reserved for cleaning clothes—with the uttermost fondness of sentiment.
Laundry day started with a visit to the only location on the study abroad itinerary scheduled for this part of the trip: Edinburgh Castle. The fact that people actually resided in this fortress at one time truly baffled me. The size of the inside of the castle was equivalent to that of a small town. It also immensely surprised me upon reaching the top of the hulking piece of
architecture that the surrounding city could be seen from all sides and angles. Undoubtedly, the castle offered sights that took my breath away with no effort at all. Upon taking in the vast array of impeccable views to the extent of my heart’s desire, I proceeded to journey through the rest of the castle. After spending a little over two hours inside the mammoth structure and successfully examining everything I could find within its walls, I bid this stony beast a bittersweet farewell dripping with the most genuine brand of sincerity I could muster. The next part of the day’s adventure was calling, and I feared it would get away from me if I did not hastily heed its cry.
I began walking toward the hotel my group and I were staying in. It was roughly ten to fifteen minutes away from the castle I was so privileged to visit. When I arrived, I bustled up to my hotel room and swiftly grabbed all dirty clothes I could get my hands on. I threw as many of them as possible into a large plastic shopping bag, and then picked it up, along with my backpack full of essential supplies for frolicking around in Edinburgh (traveling light wasn’t my specialty). With these articles in hand, I went to the nearest elevator and down to the lobby. Before leaving the grounds of the hotel, I pulled up directions to the nearest laundromat on my phone and screenshotted them under the belief they would play a meaningful role in helping me find my desired destination. However, it seems as though fate had different plans in mind, as this did not end up being the case.
After walking for about an hour under the impression I would find what I was looking for, I did not. But, to be perfectly honest, I didn’t mind all that much. The previous day I had gotten just as lost in Edinburgh while looking for the Hard Rock Café and I had a spectacular time exploring the city and seeing things I probably wouldn’t have otherwise. In all my dire confusion on the prior day, I actually stumbled upon one of my bucket list destinations for
Scotland—the Elephant House. When I noticed it in my time of wandering, I walked in and asked a barista at the front counter what drink J.K. Rowling always ordered when she visited. In response, I promptly purchased the famous beverage, a simple latte. In that moment, I felt very cool.
One thing I definitely learned from this study abroad trip was that getting lost can be beneficial and facilitate self-growth. If you have never gotten lost, I highly recommend trying it out—that is, as long as you are as well-equipped for a disastrous situation as I was on both occasions I unintentionally took the leap. Armed with a ballpoint pen, a bottle of water, and a heavy backpack with three different cameras in it, I was ready to take on the world. Though unconventional, I was prepared to fight for survival or combat someone if I needed to. I don’t think many people would expect a nineteen-year-old, female college student to drive away potential attackers by beating them with a heavy bag, dousing them in water, and stabbing them in the neck with a pen, but I was ready to do just that if the need occurred.
Eventually, after continuing to wander aimlessly throughout Edinburgh for another hour after initially realizing I was lost, I gave in and decided I needed to figure out where any laundromat was. My bags were getting heavier by the second, and much to my dismay, my back was growing weaker. I walked into a Starbucks, bought a brownie (true energy food), and logged onto their free Wi-Fi. I pulled up Google Maps and realized I was not anywhere near the laundromat I was trying to reach in the first place. However, others popped up on the map which were not too far from where I was. After scarfing down my snack in a way that would not have been viewed as lady-like in any culture, I bolted out the door and down the street with all my belongings.
Another half-hour came and went, and I was still walking with no sign of any laundromats anywhere. However, I did find something else. Somehow, a group of about fifty local schoolchildren ended up walking in front of me in route to a field trip destination. Out of curiosity, as well as a lack of anything severely pressing or better to do, I decided it would be interesting to follow them. I was delighted upon realizing they lead me to the Scottish House of Parliament. The fact that it is right next to Arthur’s Seat and Holyrood Palace was also deeply pleasing to me. After being told I missed excellent views of Arthur’s Seat on the bus ride from Lindisfarne to Edinburgh due to my sleep-induced, self-imposed state of exhaustion, I was determined to see it up close at some point during my time in the city. Upon being indirectly lead to it, I concluded there was no time better than the present than to fulfill this mission. I walked to the very edge of the dormant volcano and tried to snap pictures, but despite my best efforts to do so, rain came pouring down just as I pulled my camera out. As you can imagine, I was rather devastated. Right then and there, I made a pact with myself to come back later if the rain subsided. At this point, the schoolchildren had all entered the Scottish House of Parliament somewhat long ago. I attempted to go in behind them, but upon being greeted by about fifty metal detectors near the door, I decided it would be too much of a hassle to explain to security guards why I wanted to carry a bag of dirty clothes into the House of Parliament.
Outside the site, I asked several nearby police officers where I could find a laundromat. Unfortunately, they did not know. I think they thought I was homeless, which probably did not help in my quest to receive a promising answer. Despite what I would like to believe, when I am sweaty, have no makeup on, and am carrying a backpack and a shopping bag full of clothes, I can sadly, but certainly, pass for homeless.
After my quick conversation with local law enforcement, I walked across the street to Holyrood Palace. It seemed magical to me that I randomly stumbled upon this castle by none other than sheer luck. I wasn’t allowed to actually go inside the palace walls, but I did manage to find a spot where I could peep through fencing and see the entire castle. I think an event was being hosted there, as what appeared to be about fifty cars were parked within its gates. Getting to see beautiful murals painted on buildings surrounding the castle was also an unexpected perk of my long walk without a concrete destination.
After seeing all these unanticipated wonders, I walked onto the Royal Mile, straight into the nearest pub, and I asked its bartender to call me a cab. At this point, I was soaking wet, freezing, and sick of walking. My feet desperately needed a break. I waited about ten minutes for a cab, and when it arrived I was pleased to find that its driver was a quite entertaining Iranian man. He drove me to a laundromat which I would never have been able to find by myself, and on the way there he asked me many questions upon realizing I was American. The most intriguing part of our conversation came when he decided to attempt debating gun control with me. It was at this time I realized he didn’t understand the actual issues and facts which are currently leading people in our country to call for increased amounts of it. He didn’t seem to know why some people are against it, either. As an argument for more gun control, he actually said, “I don’t understand why people need guns. Only criminals have guns.” Though there were about twenty different retorts floating around in my head I could have used to respond to his statement, I simply said, “I just don’t know.” Though the man seemed nice enough, I was a little bit afraid to disagree with him for fear he might drive me to the Russian district out of retribution for my seemingly different opinion on the issue.
After finally making it to the laundromat, I quickly threw my clothes into machines. With the assistance of a kind attendant, I was able to finish washing and drying everything in just over an hour. Also, much to my joy, while I was inside, the rain had ceased. Thus, upon completing my laundry, I tried to walk back to Arthur’s Seat. Unfortunately, several minutes into my hike back to the dormant volcano in hope of taking better photos, it began raining again. I ran into a grocery store and requested for an employee to call me another cab. I almost felt bad for asking. I ended up approaching a woman who looked to be aged somewhere in her 20s. She seemed rather startled when I came up. Like the police officers from earlier in the day, it seemed as though she also believed I was homeless.
When my second cab of the day finally arrived outside the grocery store, we embarked on the drive to Arthur’s Seat. Unlike my other cab driver, this man was not too fun. He was strictly business, and quiet as a mouse. I didn’t feel anxious or in the mood to laugh or argue. In fact, I was somewhat bored. I honestly don’t understand why anyone would want to do their job in this manner. Luckily, during this short lapse of time that seemed to last very long, the rain stopped. When I returned to Arthur’s Seat, I decided to remain at the bottom and take pictures from there. I am happy to report that these came out looking as good as I think they possibly could have.
After taking more pictures than I would like to admit, I began to walk the Royal Mile again. I had one more place I really wanted to go before I went back to the hotel I was staying in. I had recalled hearing the name of a supposedly exceptional ice cream shop which was located somewhere in Edinburgh. Since then, it was set in my mind that I had to pay it a visit. In the aftermath of my arrival from Lindisfarne, I was somewhat disappointed because I didn’t get to try any of their ice cream. Everyone I knew who did taste it raved and spoke about it as if it was
the holy grail of all creams made with ice. I was flabbergasted by the reactions of others I witnessed during these lavish dessert-themed discussions. Now it was my turn to fawn over flavors and textures. I saw my free time in Edinburgh as an opportunity for ultimate ice cream redemption.
However, despite my enthusiasm, there was a slight problem. I had no idea where I was going, and I was too tired to try finding the shop using the time-consuming, die-hard method I previously employed to locate places of interest. So, as a result, I dragged myself along the sidewalk until I found a vacant cab. I jumped into it rather fast because I was no longer in the mood to fight about anything with anyone, especially the concept of who should get which cab and why. This was not a time for pettiness, as I could feel myself weakening rapidly.
I really enjoyed speaking with this cab driver. He was a Scotsman with a personality so big I am surprised it was able to fit in the car. When he learned I was American, he began trying to teach me how to say English words the way Scots do. It was quite a neat experience. I learned that phrases such as, “In the house,” are pronounced phonetically by Scots more like, “Een thee huse.” “Scotland” is also pronounced like “Scootlind” by locals. This friendly cab driver also gave me some examples of words in Scottish Gaelic, but I feel unable to repeat or write them phonetically in a way that does the language justice. I almost hated leaving his cab when we arrived to my destination.
The ice cream at this shop was spectacular. When I got there, a woman at the front-counter detected my American accent and asked where I was from. When I answered, “South
Carolina,” she grinned and remarked, “Is there a South Carolina convention going on somewhere? I just saw three more of you about an hour ago.” I responded with the reply of, “Why yes there is,” and a tired smile. Shortly after our exchange, I proceeded to order two cups of the best ice cream I have ever had, and after eating all my body would allow me to, I decided to walk back to the hotel in a feeble attempt to burn some of the hundreds of calories I had consumed. On my way there, I rubbed David Hume’s toe for good luck, and revisited Edinburgh Castle to say goodbye one last time.
I learned a lot on this study abroad trip, but laundry day in Edinburgh taught me more than I could have ever imagined. I enjoyed getting lost. In fact, I craved it. It was in my moments adrift that I realized the inner strength I possess and the intense passion I harbor for adventuring into the unknown. When I arrived to Edinburgh, I didn’t think I would go anywhere by myself. Before my study abroad experience, I had never walked around a large city alone in my life. I thought without a shadow of a doubt that I would be terrified to be unaccompanied on this trip. I didn’t think I would last for five minutes by myself. But, whether by miracle or an unforeseen aptitude to withstand uncertainties, I proved myself wrong.
On this trip, I learned that I am brave and capable of taking care of myself, which were abilities I questioned. But, even more than that, I became whole. I feel as though a piece of me was missing before my study abroad experience, and the incredible memories I formed and will hold onto for the rest of my life somehow managed to bridge the gap. Edinburgh was nothing less than a sanctuary to my soul and my experiences there taught me things about its past, its residents, and even myself. As I traveled among its streets, my heart was full and my spirit lifted. In the end, as a result of my time spent roaming this city, I realized that by getting lost I was able
to find myself. I discovered more about who I am in those few hours than I have throughout the majority of my life. In the words of William Wallace, “Every man dies, [but] not every man really lives.” I can attest that through my study abroad experience, I have indeed truly lived.