My first ever solo trip happened in the summer of 2010. I travelled to London, stayed with a friend for a couple of days and then took a week’s trip (alone) to Scotland. It turned out to be one of my most memorable trips ever.
Early on a June morning I took the morning train out of King’s Cross to Edinburgh. The journey takes about 4 hours, and the trains are very comfortable. The train was a also a great way to see more of the countryside, which was truly beautiful. We passed scores and scores of sarson ke khet (mustard fields), which reminded me of home. And yes, I realised that all the cliches I’d read about were true: rolling meadows, cows in pastures, churches, picture-book cottages and houses with sloping shingled roofs…Beautiful.
I was really excited about getting to Scotland, but also just a little bit nervous. I didn’t know a single soul there and had no idea what lay in store. So yeah, there were definitely some butterflies in my tummy as the train pulled into Waverley station. It was overcast and a drizzle started up almost immediately; luckily the hostel I had booked was just a 5 minute walk away.
My first evening in Edinburgh was also the day I fell in love with the city. Edinburgh’s medieval Old Town and the 18th century mostly Georgian New town are both World Heritage Sites, and one can spend days just exploring them. I stayed in the city for three days here and spent hours just walking everywhere.
On this first evening I was still too jet-lagged to do much, so I just took an exploratory walk up the Royal Mile. The Royal Mile is a cobblestoned street that connects the Castle with the Holyrood Palace, and actually measures about a 100 yards more than a mile. The part of it closest to the castle is where you will find most of the souvenir shops, restaurants, T shirt sellers, and all the usual suspects one expects to find in any touristy area. But it is still an interesting walk, with medieval buildings on both sides of you and dozens of narrow alleys (called Wynds or Closes) leading off from it. Go down any of these wynds and you never know what you might find. Also, a part of the Mile is pedestrian-only. I think I went crazy just taking pictures of everything – every building looked beautiful and there were some great views.
I also walked across Waverley bridge to the New Town side of things, and took a look at the Monument, the Royal Academy, the adjacent National Gallery, the Mound etc. Old Town and New Town used to be divided by the Nor Loch – the town’s water supply/sewage dump. This was eventually drained and converted into a beautiful green area called the Princes Street Gardens. It’s a great place to sit and people-watch. You also get great views of the Castle, and some decent ice cream!
By the time I finished my walk it was around 8pm, and it was still bright and sunny. To somebody used to night setting in by 7-7.30 pm in summer, it was strange at first to see dusk extending as late as 10pm here. It was a little disorienting, especially since all shops and cafes shut by 6pm. The only shops open till late turned out to be stores owned by Punjabi-speaking immigrants from India/Pakistan!
My first day in Scotland turned out great. I managed the train connections safely, found myself in a beautiful city with three days to spend as I wished, and made friends. My roommates from the hostel, Amanda and Melissa, were to give me company over the next couple of days’ explorations of the city. More on that, in the next post!