Ten days ago, I flew across the pond and landed in the “Athens of the North.” While my journey to get there proved to be a trial of patience, resilience, and strength (you can read about it here), my feeling of intense joy upon arriving in Edinburgh made it all worthwhile.
I arrived in Edinburgh in the late afternoon on September 5th. I was exhausted, jet lagged, and sore. But I was also excited, happy, and falling in love all over again. During the taxi ride from the airport to my Airbnb, my eyes remained glued to the window. Every familiar sight brought a smile to my face, and by the end of the thirty minute journey my cheeks ached with the effort of it. Surges of emotion brought tears to my eyes that kept threatening to fall, and for a moment or two I let them.
Four years ago, I left Scotland. At the time, I felt ready to come home. I had spent four months living in Edinburgh, working at the Scottish Parliament, and exploring various places in Europe. I had made friends with my flatmates, grown close to the people I worked with, found many wonderful places to see in Edinburgh, and gained ten pounds from eating one too many delicious scones. But, I also missed my family, craved Hazelnut coffee creamer, found it hard to deal with the cold and the dark, and wanted to come home.
However, I knew I did not feel a certain level of completeness about my experience in Scotland. While I had tried to live to the fullest, I had regrets. I wished I had explored Scotland more. I wished I had connected more with the people I had met. I wished I had spent more time being present instead of thinking about how much time was left until I returned home. Part of me wanted to rewind the last four months and do them over again.
When I went to Cambodia about 18 months later, I learned from these mistakes. I connected with people deeply. I explored the place I lived. I stayed in the present for each and every moment, even if some of them involved hysterically crying and a strong desire to go home. At the end of my time in Cambodia however, I felt complete. I felt as though I had accomplished and experienced everything I had wanted to out of the experience. I felt ready.
I have not felt a desire to go back to Cambodia since I have left. That is not to say that I had a bad experience, that I would never go back, or that I would not recommend people to go there. In fact, I had the most incredible and enriching experience, I would go back one day, and I would absolutely recommend for anyone and everyone to go there. What I mean by saying that I have no desire to go back, is that I feel complete about my experience there. I am able to think back on the time with found memories. I might get an ache in my heart for the friends I made, and I might feel some nostalgia over certain aspects of my experience. However, I do not feel an overwhelming and total need to go back to Phnom Penh.
Since returning from Scotland four years ago, I have felt an overwhelming and total need to go back. It started out as a quiet nostalgia. It manifested in the form of thinking about taking a trip. But it very quickly grew and became alive. It called me to look into job schemes, graduate school programs, and any other way to relocate there. It melted in to my everyday life. No matter where I was or what I did, the obsessive and unrelenting drum of “Scotland” followed me.
Perhaps this is the sign of a lunatic. Perhaps I should have sought professional help. Perhaps.
But perhaps, this was a sign from the universe that I needed to go back. Perhaps this was my heart telling me that I was not done, that something was not complete, and that in order to be whole and to live my life fully, I needed to finish what I had started.
So when I came back to Edinburgh, back to where my heart had been calling me for four years, I wept. I felt an overwhelming and total relief. It felt as though after four years of effort and longing, after three years of thinking, after two years of planning, and after one year of waiting, I had reached the goal. I found the missing puzzle piece that had irked my mind for too long.
For some, this whole picture inside my mind may seem over dramatic and frivolous. I may appear as a “typical woman,” whatever that sexist language may mean. But I would challenge that person to instead really try and think of this for what I am telling you that it is. Try to think of this as real. For once you accept the premise that I have felt an overwhelming desire to go somewhere and do something for this long, the level of emotion that I have surrounding it and the certain amount of destiny that I feel about it no longer seems so silly.
All this being said, amidst my overwhelming feeling of joy and my hysterical excitement, cracks started to form. While on my first night in Edinburgh, I had time to do nothing but get a delicious meal at Mosque Kitchen and frantically walk around the royal mile and Princes Street for an hour before it grew dark, on the following day I started to feel unsure.
On September 6th, I woke early and with a determination to explore Edinburgh like never before. I purchased a tour bus ticket, having not done this very basic thing in Edinburgh before, and spent the morning seeing Edinburgh in a new light. I listened to the audioguide the bus provided, and once again felt my cheeks ache from smiling too much. Seeing the city and learning more about its history, some familiar and some new, brought me so much happiness and a degree of certainty. I felt sure, more than ever before, that coming back to Scotland was the right decision. I had not romanticized it. It was even more wonderful than I remembered it to be.
Throughout the day, I felt a complex surge of emotions. While I felt joy and happiness, I also felt uncertainty and anxiety. I knew coming to Scotland was the right thing, however, I felt unsure over whether or not deciding to study in St Andrews was the right thing. While walking around in Edinburgh, I felt so much love for the city that was once my home. I felt at place there. It was familiar. If I had decided to go to graduate school here, everything would have been so easy. For the majority of the day, breaking into my mass of excitement, I felt a creeping wave of dread and terror that I had made the wrong decision.
Following the bus tour, I wandered around the Scottish National Gallery and the Scottish National Museum. While I had been to the gallery before, I enjoyed walking around it again and taking in all the artwork. At the museum, I heavily explored the Scottish History section, soaking in and learning everything about my adopted home.
After a morning and early afternoon of learning, I opted for some more physical activity. I made my way down the royal mile, past the Scottish Parliament, and began my trek up to Arthur’s Seat. The hike was a bit more difficult than I remembered. By the time I reached the top, I was dripping in sweat and my legs were shaking from the effort. Perhaps doing it on a nearly empty stomach and the day after a long flight was not the best idea. But the amazing view I was rewarded with made it all worthwhile. Even the intense winds could not dampen my mood, although they did make me fear somewhat for my life.
I spent the rest of the day doing some practical things. I set up my phone with a new SIM card. I went to Primark to get a couple clothing items (of course, an essential thing to do). And, I went to the train station to buy my ticket for the next day. Part of me wished that I was doing more to see the sights of Edinburgh, especially to explore the places and things that I did not four years ago. I had yet to see Mary King Close, Deans Village, or do a Harry Potter Walking Tour. But I needed to listen to my body, and my body was telling me that it was tired. With the comforting knowledge that I could always come back to Edinburgh on a weekend to do these things, I went to get dinner and then turn in for the night.
Once back at my Airbnb, I realized something. At the beginning of the day, I had felt rushed and flustered. I wanted to fit in as many things to do in Edinburgh as I could in one day. I felt as though I needed to make the most of it, since I only had one day to be there before going to St Andrews. While initially exploring Edinburgh, I felt such a surge of love for the city, that I doubted my decision to go to St Andrews. However as the day grew on and I began to remember Edinburgh and feel more familiar there, I realized that I had made the right decision.
I love Edinburgh. It is one of my favorite places that I have lived and traveled to. However, I know Edinburgh. I lived there for four months. While there is still more to experience and explore, living there again would be more of the same. If I am honest with myself, I would grow comfortable, content, and likely not push myself to try new things. By the end of my day in Edinburgh, I realized that I loved this city, but that it was no longer the right place for me to be.
Without a doubt, I will return to Edinburgh. I will eat at Mimi’s Bakehouse, Mother India, and Clarinda’s Tea Room. I will hike Arthur’s Seat again and finally explore Deans Village. However, I will do so while, hopefully, happily living somewhere else.
For I am a nomad, in love with distant and far off places. While St Andrews is only about an hour away, it is different and unknown to me.
At the time, I did not know for certain if I would feel as strongly about St Andrews as I did about Edinburgh (spoiler alert: I do. Details coming in the next post). But I knew it was time for something new, and I welcomed that knowledge.
Once, I was deathly afraid of change. Even now, I still do not enjoy it that much. But I have learned how to welcome it into my life with open arms. So when the knowledge of a needed change came to me while in Edinburgh, I opened the door for it, smiled, and invited it in for a cup of tea.
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