This past year has been one of great adventure for me. I’ve visited so many wonderful places, learned a great deal about the world and myself, and done a lot of solo traveling. As much as I love to travel and see the world, it is also difficult for me to spend my money. I am a very logical thinker and I know what my daily/weekly/monthly budgets are, and I adhere to them. Always. I sometimes get so focused on working and making money that I forget to enjoy life (especially the fact that I am living my dream in France). While I am really good at budgeting and saving, it always stresses me out to see my bank accounts decreasing, rather than increasing. I’ve made it through some pretty difficult financial times this year, and finally feel like I am financially stable again. I don’t want to feel like I did at the beginning of last school year ever again. When I was presented with the possibility of several visitors this summer I had mixed feelings. I was of course excited about the possibility of having people visit, but also a little hesitant, as I wouldn’t be able to do my Freelance job while people were visiting me. In the end, I decided to do as much of my freelance work as possible before people started to arrive. This meant consolidating one month’s work into about two weeks. As stressful as this might sound, it helps me to feel more financially stable and secure, so that I can focus on having a good time and enjoying the company of the people around me.
After my adventures with Chris, I had a trip to Edinburgh, Scotland. While I would have preferred to have returned to France and picked up with my freelance work, I didn’t have a choice. My visa to stay in France expired at the end of May, so I had to leave the Schengen Zone and return to France as a tourist for the summer. If I didn’t leave the Schengen, a massive administrative nightmare would ensure, on both the French and the American sides. In order to try and prevent this catastrophe, I decided to willingly leave the Schengen. However, most of the countries which are not a part of the Schengen are very expensive countries to visit. The last couple of times I’ve had to leave the Schengen, I went to London. As awesome as London is, I was ready for a change. I began researching other countries that are not part of the Schengen. Many countries were possibilities at the beginning, but there were a few characteristics that set Edinburgh, Scotland apart from the others:
- There is a zoo with pandas
- There are several acclaimed vegetarian restaurants
- There are castles
- There are beautiful landscapes
Coming at the end of a week long adventure throughout Europe I was not feeling my best. The night before my flight to Edinburgh I tripped on a curb, twisted my ankle, and scraped my knee pretty badly. I felt like I was falling apart! I decided to push through the pain and tiredness and make the best of this new journey. Going through customs in the UK was a nightmare, as always. They asked me questions I had never been asked before–what are the credit limits on my credit cards, what are ALL of the places I’ll be visiting while in Edinburgh, and then the usual questions. While I understand being cautious, it was quite a different (more intense) experience than I’ve had while going through border patrol in any other country.
When I finally made it to Edinburgh, the first thing I noticed was how friendly and helpful everyone was being. I don’t know if living in France has jaded my perspective, but the people in Scotland seemed genuinely happy and willing to help in any way they could. I was able to take the tram from the airport to my hotel, which was very convenient. I arrived mid-afternoon in downtown Edinburgh and promptly checked into my hotel. I really just wanted to drop off my bags and begin exploring the city. My hotel was perfectly located–at the end of the tram line, next to Calton Hill. The hotel was very clean and modern with average-sized rooms (by European standards). It was perfect for me. I dropped all my things off in my room and set off to find the Scott Monument in the Princes Street Gardens. The monument was impressive from the ground, but it was possible to climb to the top. This was a major accomplishment for me, as it was a very windy day, so at the top of the monument I felt like I was going to be blown away. The views were spectacular and made me very eager to continue exploring this city.
After walking through the gardens I decided to just walk around the city for a bit. Just walking around was a relaxing experience. I decided I would try to find a cocktail bar before dinner. After some initial searching I found a bar called “Panda & Sons.” After reading a little bit more about this bar and a few reviews it was clear that I had to visit it. Unfortunately, I was almost two miles away. However, the walk to get to the bar took me through some interesting neighborhoods and near some cool looking gardens. This bar is designed to look like a speakeasy and is perfectly executed. Speakeasy-style bars have become one of my favorite types in recent years. Panda & Sons was the best executed speakeasy bar I’ve ever visited. You enter through a bookcase and walk into what feels like someone’s living room. The drinks are perfectly made, and relatively reasonably priced (considering it’s Edinburgh). Everything in the bar was panda themed (!!) which was an added bonus for me. After a few drinks I set off in search of dinner. I found a restaurant that claimed to have veggie burgers, and since I’ve yet to find a true veggie burger in Europe, decided to give it a shot. It was one of the most delicious veggie burgers I’ve had in a really long time. It was an actual veggie burger!
The next day was hiking day. In my research I discovered that there is some excellent hiking to be done in Edinburgh. Initially, I wasn’t sure if I was going to give it a shot or not. Hiking is one of those activities that I feel is best done with a buddy (especially when one is accident prone). After scoping out the situation and reading reviews/tips, I decided that I could handle it. However, with my still twisted ankle, hiking to Arthur’s Seat proved to be a more challenging task than I had anticipated. I didn’t end up making it all the way to the top, but I made it almost to the top. I encountered another American while hiking and she told me that the path got really narrow, rocky, and steep just a bit ahead. As I was already hurting, I decided not to attempt the last stretch, but rather to take a moment and enjoy the scenery.
After my morning of hiking, I spent the afternoon enjoying the architecture and visiting various museums. I was pleasantly surprised by how affordable the museums were to visit (most were free!). I have a weakness for art museums and could spend days exploring the lesser known museums of the world. As much as I love and appreciate the major and well-known museums, I think there is a lot to be said for the independent, local museums. I called it an early night after visiting many museums, as the next day was my zoo day (pandas!).
I awoke very early, as my scheduled panda visitation was with the first group of the day. Compared to the other zoos I’ve visited, this zoo was not one of my favorites. It was very confusing to navigate, with either no signs or misleading signs. Also, the animals were not very active, so I was a bit disappointed. Of the two pandas, I was only able to see the male. It was nice to see a panda, but I think my experience at Zoo Parc Beauval in France has ruined all future panda visits. Last December my best friend, Jeannette, and I were lucky enough to have the panda exhibit to ourselves for nearly an hour and the pandas were incredibly active. While I don’t regret visiting the Edinburgh Zoo, I don’t think I will be making a return visit anytime soon.
To conclude my weekend in Edinburgh, I spent the next day exploring Stirling. Several of my friends highly recommended visiting Stirling Castle, and now that I have, I can see why. It was definitely worth the train adventure, even in the terrible weather. I’m used to the romantic styles of castles, which are very different from the castles in Scotland. It was also at the Stirling Castle where I received a real history lesson about Scotland. I love learning about the history of different countries and cities I visit. It was also here that I learned about the significance of the unicorn to Scotland, and who wouldn’t love a country where the unicorn is a very important symbol.
Overall, it was a wonderful getaway to Edinburgh. It helped me to realize that I would love to return to Scotland to explore other cities. While Edinburgh was lovely, I think there are many more equally lovely cities I need to explore. After returning to France I had about 10 days of normalcy before Jeannette arrived in France. I embraced those 10 days by trying to relax and regain my energy, while also working at my freelance job as much as possible, as this was going to be my last opportunity to earn money for the rest of the summer. Stay tuned for the next adventure: two redheads take on France, Portugal, Spain, and Morocco!