Katherine Poore is a Third Year English and French major, studying in the UVA Exchange: University of Edinburgh program in Fall 2017. She has her own blog where this post was originally posted. Check out the link and post below!
This Monday morning, I woke up in an overwhelmingly purple hostel room, along with four friends of mine, at 5 in the morning. I stirred slowly, turning off my first alarm, knowing the second would come in another five minutes. Sure enough, five minutes later I hauled myself out of bed, wincing as I jumped the last rung of my bunk ladder onto the floor. Three days walking miles in unsupportive shoes, exploring London, is not kind to one’s feet, and I sighed as I slipped the same sneakers back on. I hadn’t brought any other shoes—I had to fit everything into a backpack, after all.
Within 30 minutes, we’d vacated the room with minimal conversation (because pre-coffee conversations are a unique form of torture, and also, mornings are hard, even when they start at a more palatable hour). A short walk to the Tube station came next, then the Tube ride itself, then another walk to Liverpool Station to catch a train to Stansted Airport. In the airport, we took a train to our terminal, boarded a flight, and then split off in Edinburgh. I took the tram to Princes Street and then walked the rest of the way home, while my friends—who lived near one another on the other side of the university—hopped on the 300 bus and went back to their accommodation. By the time all was said and done, it was noon. I had four hours before my only Monday class—a 4 pm lecture—so I unpacked, ate lunch, watched some Netflix, and started in on some readings.
The chief sensation of this day was exhaustion (and also aching feet). Our trip to London wasn’t long, but it was full, and there’s something draining about flying, even if that flight is only an hour long.
Last weekend was not of nearly the same magnitude, nor did it involve quite so many modes of transportation (just a train, some walking, and a bus ride). I spent most of Friday and Saturday in St. Andrew’s, visiting a friend of mine, meeting friends of his, and wandering the beautiful university town (we even walked by the café where William and Kate allegedly met—something the café advertises proudly in their front window). After an evening at home, I took off Sunday morning with a flatmate, Julie, to ride the bus into Alnwick, England, to see Alnwick Castle (fun fact: the broomstick lesson scene of Harry Potter was filmed here, as was part of Downton Abbey). We had a late afternoon tea together and then bee-lined for Barter Books, the second-biggest secondhand bookstore in the U.K. (and honestly, guys, this place was amazing—I could have spent hours there).
I’ve used my free time well, then, taking advantage of each day to see something new of this country. Weekends have rapidly become the busiest parts of my week, and the wallet on my phone case, rather than being stuffed with debit cards and gift cards, is bursting with train tickets, boasting promises of a return journey between their bold orange borders. And while this is incredibly rewarding, I’m grateful that I’ll be spending the next two weekends in my host city, taking time to catch up on work, to explore Edinburgh more, and, most importantly, to take a breath and reflect on the past several weeks.
And that, I suppose, is something I’m trying to learn how to do while I’m here: to reflect, to seek stillness, and to ignore, on occasion, the incessantly ambitious part of my mind that wants to capitalize on every free day to go somewhere. It’s easy to get carried away in planning trips, and this makes perfect sense (I’ll never be this close and it will never be this cheap again, my mind whispers), but it also makes perfect sense to be present where I am, to embrace the time I have here, and to invest in this city instead of using it as a jumping-off point for other, shorter, more romantically spontaneous excursions. No, I’m not going to discontinue these excursions entirely, because my mind is right: I probably won’t be this close and it probably won’t be this cheap again (or, perhaps it might, but I can’t count on that now). But there’s a balance to be found here. There’s value in being stationary, but there’s also value in embracing the opportunities this geographical position offers, in seizing the day, as my all-time favorite Robin Williams character, Mr. Keating, might say (and also Horace, I guess, but that’s beside the point). It’s just hard to find where the compromise lies, to decide what will be more fulfilling, and to sort out what exactly I want from this semester.
I do know, however, that I’ve been craving some time for reflection—a good two hours to sit and journal, and a clear schedule conducive to wandering, and an evening where I’m free to open a new book or to try dinner somewhere new or to watch a movie with flatmates. Because movement is wonderful, and, perhaps, more immediately associated with ideas of adventure and experience, but there’s something to be said for contentment in staying, in spending days doing much and yet nothing at all, in being aimless but satisfied.
I still have a fierce desire to visit, essentially, the entirety of the European continent, but it’s easy to forget that Edinburgh isn’t just a home base—it’s an exciting, beautiful, adventure-filled city in its own right, with far more to offer than a nearby train station and an easy tram to the airport. And so, over the next two weeks, I’m hoping I’ll see more of this city, that I’ll meander more, that I’ll embrace the schedule-lessness I’ll have, and that I’ll build a better understanding of where, exactly, I am, and what it is that makes this city so worth staying for (and, also, I have some papers due soon).