Two words: train rides. Something I never gave a second thought, or ever imagined I'd love so much. When we stepped onto the platform, I remember this feeling of truly realizing what a different world it is there. I felt like a giddy little kid; so excited to ride on a train for the first time, as if someone had just given me a puppy for Christmas. Looking around on the train, I realized that everyone outside of our group seemed so nonchalant. "Ay, I talked to him. Said we'd be visiting over the weekend when we have the time. Right. No, I'm just on the train now." I was practically molding my face into the glass of the window, and making sure I sat in the direction we'd be traveling, in the spot with the best view I could manage. Meanwhile, I hear "just on the train now" as if it's no big deal. "No big deal, Hannah. Chill. Be cool...be cool." I told myself, with a slight raise of one eyebrow and a shrug of my shoulders. Still, I stared out at the scenery passing us by as though it was composed of golden fields from a world of fantasy. Oh wait, it was. This was one of the moments where I couldn't even bother trying to quickly compose the perfect shot. As we sped down the tracks like a bird above the clouds, all I could do was wonder how I wasn't dreaming. It sounds so silly, but I might even dare to say that if I had been trapped on a train ride across the country for the rest of the trip, I wouldn't have minded. There are days when I feel overwhelmed with thoughts; my head so clouded with things I wish I could say, or feelings I wish I had ways to express. So, I drive. I drive for hours at a time, just sitting--thinking. More often than not, I arrive back where I began with a lower fuel level, and a feeling of dissatisfaction that I was still unable to put anything into words. When I sat on that train for the first time, I felt all of these thoughts and emotions race to my mind as if I was driving to clear them away back home. I reached into my backpack, pulled out my journal, and I finally trapped my worries onto the paper. Yes, maybe if I lived somewhere with trains as a means of popular transportation, they may lose their magic. But, if I could choose one thing from the entire trip to call my favorite, I would undoubtedly tell you "the trains." For the love of all things Hogwarts Express, if you ever have the chance to travel by train...do it.
St. Andrews was our stop for the day. Sit through a lecture at St. Andrew's Cathedral, and I guarantee that you'll temporarily put aside the urge to express any personal opposition towards the material you're covering. However, travel there on a windy day, and you may just watch the material you're covering fly away into the graveyard never to be seen again. As it started to rain, I was still a little bit frustrated with myself for having somehow lost my rain jacket before even leaving Atlanta. In all honesty, how could I be bothered in a place like this? On the bright side (literally), I still had my hot-pink poncho thanks to Dr. Nelson.
Later on, after we arrived back in Edinburgh, we went to a Ceilidh dance. I wanted so badly to get some great photos of everyone having a blast, but my batteries died soon after we got there. I was terrified to try and dance because I was worried I'd trip on my dress, but I'm glad I finally gave in when the sweetest old man in a kilt insisted. By the end of the dance, everyone was dripping in sweat, but they didn't stop smiling and laughing for the rest of the night. Who would have guessed that making a fool of yourself could have been this fun?
close - noun \ˈklōs, U.S. also ˈklōz\:
a narrow passage leading from a street to a court and the houses within or to the common stairway of tenements
As Kat, Caleb, Kim and I were walking and enjoying the evening scenery of the city, we happened upon an adorable garden hidden away in Dunbar's Close. This gorgeous little spot was the first place where I finally came to the realization that I wasn't dreaming anymore, and this trip was finally reality. I think it was the silence within the hustle and bustle of the city streets; just a few steps into the close and you were transported into a whole new world. There was so little noise, so little movement; absolute serenity. Only the gentle breeze, and Kat's occasional giddy laughter or gasp at the fact that she now discovered a place she could pick and press flowers without running the risk of being arrested filled the atmosphere. I so desperately wish that there were secret gardens like this back home.
Dunbar's Close Garden wasn't my only fortuitous discovery, however. Caleb and I ventured off to find a vape shop for his "refueling needs," and we misplaced trust in our sense of direction for our return trip to the hostel. By the time we gave in and agreed to use our cellular data for good ole, trusty Google Maps, we were forty-seven minutes (walking distance) away from Edinburgh Central Youth Hostel. Somehow with my knees aching and the coffee from earlier that morning begging to leave my body, I was still easily persuaded to stop with Caleb and watch an amazing street performer swallow a sword or two, juggle knives and fire, make some crude jokes that the younger portion of the crowd would certainly fail to fully grasp, and end with a bed of nails and a grown man atop his body. Thankfully on our route back, Google Maps led us by the cutest Starbucks I've ever seen. Feel free to judge me for not stopping to pee at a local café instead of Starbucks; my bladder wasn't in the mood to differentiate. I'm glad I didn't second-guess myself on account of trying to avoid being "basic," because the view from the top story of Starbucks on The Royal Mile was entirely worth it. I can't recall having ever been happy about getting lost in an unknown city before this evening. I'm so glad we didn't turn our data on for those first forty-seven minutes.
Our second day in Edinburgh was technically our first day sight-seeing. Unfortunately for myself, my raincoat somehow failed to make the trip overseas. This definitely made for an interesting outing, but I couldn't even be bothered by the downpour. This place is unbelievable--with or without raindrops dripping down your face and into your eyes. Our first stop was Edinburgh Castle. As we stood outside the entrance, I thought to myself "I could admire this city from here for hours and not get tired of the view." As I post page after page, entry after entry; photos will never do this place justice. Regardless of the fact that I am working around a crop sensor... there is no camera, hand with pen to paper, voice recording, nor all three combined that could truly capture the beauty here. We made our way through the castle on a mission to complete our worksheet checklist, but I think it's safe to say that only a small handful of us were actually able to stay focused long enough to successfully finish the assignment. At first, I was hard on myself for not getting more pictures of the inside of the castle, but with the heavy rain and the overpowering desire to be present and in awe of all we were able to experience, I found a way to be forgiving.
Our second stop was Holyrood Palace. By far, my favorite part of the palace was The Great Gallery. Hearing the stories behind the paintings that hung upon the gallery walls (their history, their close call with destruction, their restoration), recognizing that I was walking through this same gallery, and seeing these paintings in person was such an indescribable feeling. The exterior of the Palace, and the Palace gardens were equally breathtaking. The detail in the architecture alone could have kept me captivated for the rest of the week. I'll always look back fondly on the moments just outside of the gardens with Kat, Caleb, and Kim; just taking a minute to sit and soak up all that surrounded us, including the incredible view of Arthur's Seat in the distance. Only our second day here, and Scotland has my heart already.
Given that I’ve only flown once in my entire life (to Florida), it comes as no surprise that I was borderline crippled with anxiety on the drive to the airport. I was so sure I would forget something, lose something (worst of all my sense of direction, and become lost in some way or another), or be overwhelmed to the point where I would successfully convince myself that I couldn’t do this and end up staying in the States instead. Turns out that a twenty-two-year-old can still use the company and wisdom of her mother every once in a while. At this point, I’ve made it through the baggage check, and we are officially on our way through security. There has always been a part of me that fears being questioned or accused of something I’ve not done, and under the pressure of it all, confessing to whatever is thrown at me just to avoid confrontation. So, of course, I was sweating bullets before security despite knowing I was entirely in the clear. Now for the cherry on top: as I’m waiting in line before security, I turn around and see Charlie Heaton (from Stranger Things) standing behind me! I managed to just keep it all casual as I turned and said to him “Charlie, right? Charlie Heaton?” “Aha, yes. That’s me!” Brushing it off like it’s no big deal, I said “I thought so. Cool cool.” Unfortunately, the best documentation I have of this moment is the testimony of fellow travelers in my group, and a blurry photo of his backside going up the escalator after security. We talked for a good while about his travels, my travels, the chosen study topics for my trip, etc., and that flustering moment actually ended up helping start this trip off in the best way. We took off and flew for what felt like days, we slept with our heads against the seat trays in front of us and our legs dangling off the armrests into the aisles, and we spent a significant amount of time wondering why in heaven’s name our airline served us collard greens for breakfast. It was unbelievable the way all the negativity seemed to just ascend into the atmosphere the moment we walked out of the airport. The air here is so crisp; I’m tempted to argue that it beats the first breath of Autumn back home. My classmate, Kat, told me she even cried as we landed. I can’t name a single thing that didn’t leave me believing in love at first sight. We stopped for dinner at a place called Howie’s where the daring majority of our group tried haggis for the first time (vegetarian for a few of us, including myself, of course). I’m not sure the phrase “don’t knock it until you try it” has ever been so applicable. Was it weird? Yes. Was it worth taking the risk? Absolutely. Those who tried both the vegetarian and the meat haggis informed me that the meat haggis was indeed tastier. I suppose you all will have to make your way to Scotland and be the judges of that for yourselves. Next, we made our way to Calton Hill to briefly become more acquainted with our surroundings and the layout of the area where we’re staying. Words cannot express the disbelief I had that this was not all a dream from that moment until at least our second day here—but more on our second day later. Next post, Edinburgh Castle (day two).
I shot my first prom session this month, and given the circumstances, I was actually fairly pleased with the results! I sipped on a nice, cool drink at one of my favorite places downtown as I waited for my brother, his date, and the other couple they were with to finish their dinner. Due to some unforeseen delays, we ended up rushing out of the restaurant with less than half an hour to take photos before they had to make their way to the ballroom up the street. Half an hour without the slightest idea of where I could take them for these photos. Luckily, we were within walking distance of the adorable coffee shop two blocks down. On top of that, when we arrived, the coffee shop's alleyway (turned patio) was almost completely vacant, and the lighting was near perfection. There were several aspects of this shoot that were just shy of what I hoped for, but when does life ever unfold entirely according to plan? This is my hope for what I create: imperfections that I willingly accept as a part of my growing process, and as an extension of who I and those I encounter will always be--imperfect.