News of the shooting is on the front pages of all the French dailies today. All over the world people are mourning with Virginia Tech. Here’s a link to the article in Le Monde.
Compte rendu: Scotland
After two trains, a night on a bench in the Glasgow airport, a plane, a bus and a metro ride, I am finally back in Paris. I landed at Paris Beauvais airport at noon yesterday still wearing my polar fleece and wind breaker from the chilly weather in Edinburgh to find temperatures in the 70s and bright bright sun. Needless to say, I stripped down quickly.
It’s weird to be back – I’ve traveled from Paris before, to Munich and back, to visit Christina in Nantes, to Barcelona last November, back to Tacoma for Christmas, and all around France in a car with my mom, but for some reason coming back this time felt different. Maybe because I’ve been here for 8 months now it feels more like coming back to school and routine than just continuing the fun in Paris. Or maybe it’s just because I had a really really great time in Scotland.
Planning spring break is a different experience in Paris. Last year we just wanted to get out of Seattle and planned a quick backpacking trip to the Washington coast. This year the plan was backpacking again – it was just a matter of picking the country I wanted to do it in. I ended up planning the trip with Anna, a Canadian from Sciences Po who I’d met in my French politics class. Before break we were just class buddies who save each other seats in our conférence de method, but after a week traveling together, two plane rides and a lot of time to kill in Glasgow Prestwick International we’ve got each other’s stories memorized. She knows that my youngest brother Noah is 16 and loves jazz, I know that her sister’s boyfriend lives in India and likes whisky, and we’re convinced that our own boyfriends might actually be the same person.
These kids were a part of the Ipswich (Massachusetts) High School music program, who are currently touring Scotland and England. A and I thought they were so cute that we followed their flier to the Greyfriars Kirk to hear them give a free performance before catching our train to Glasgow Sunday night. The listeners seemed to be made up of a few parent chaperones, a few teachers and a few church parishioners, so we were glad we stopped by to fill out the audience – plus they reminded me of my little brother.
We left Paris last Tuesday morning, and after nearly a full day of traveling made it to our hostel in Edinburgh. We walked around a bit, had a dorky but satisfying dinner in the café where J.K. Rowling wrote the first Harry Potter book and went to bed early so we could be up to meet our backpacking group the next morning. We’d signed up for a tour with Macbackpackers, which is maybe not quite as rugged as I’d like you all to think I am, but it was a great way to see Scotland. When our guides arrived Wednesday morning, A and I flung our packs in the trunk of the MacBackpackers mini-bus and climbed aboard with our 12 fellow backpackers. For three days we were driven around the highlands and lowlands of Scotland by a kilted guide, stopping every so often to hike on mountains, through moors and over battlefields.
The natural result of throwing 14 strangers together for three days with nothing tying them except the facts that they like to hike, love to travel and are at least somewhat interested in Scotland is that they’re going to bond. There are people A and I met who I feel like I’ll be in touch with indefinitely – funny how that happens. Two girls from Paris (currently living in London) and a girl from Australia in particular, all of whom will be making their respective ways to Paris sometime in the next few months.
The five of us went out to dinner in Edinburgh Friday when we arrived back in the city and spent a night talking about anything and everything in various pubs of the old city. Together we learned the most shocking thing about Scotland – its conservative alcohol laws! After three days of our guide telling story after story that involved drunk Scots, we were ready to get back to Edinburgh and check out the pub culture ourselves. In Paris, you don’t go out until at least midnight, and it’s not uncommon to come home when the boulangerie are reopening in the morning. In Scotland, it is illegal to sell liquor after 10 pm anywhere but a pub. We found this out when we tried to purchase a few bottles of wine in a convenience store at 5 past 10 pm to get the evening started. The rule kind of made sense, we supposed, encouraging people to spend more money in the pubs. It stopped making sense at 12:30, when the lights came on and we were kicked out of the Castle Arms pub. Yes, in Scotland, the land of whisky, the pubs close at 12:30. Surprised, we asked around our hostel and were told, “If you run, you might catch one that’s open until 1am, but you’d better hurry.”
We were pretty surprised at this news, but were more amused than anything and retreated back to the hostel to finish our girly talk about first kisses and ex-boyfriends and favorite movies. The next morning everyone began to disperse. The five of us, A and I, plus two Frenchies and an Aussie woke up earlier to have breakfast together before we went on our merry ways. First to depart were Angelique and Samya, who had to catch a train back to Leicester. Paula stuck around long enough to hike up Arthur’s Seat with us before catching a bus back to Glasgow, the jumping-off point for the rest of her European adventure. That left just A and I to explore together until it was time to head back to Paris. I love how a random group of 5 people can fall together for a few days and click so perfectly that it feels like we’ve been girlfriends for years. It’s sad that we clicked so well and live so far apart, but at least we got a few crazy fun days together before we had to split.
Before the trip, all I knew of Scotland was from the documentary about the Loch Ness Monster that I watched with my Tacoma friend Annette one weekend in high school. I’ve never seen Braveheart – the historical inaccuracy of which is actually a bit of a sore point for the Scots, so maybe it’s better that I haven’t. I’m also lacking any ancestral ties to the country, which made me a bit jealous watching my fellow hikers look up their family tartans or become suddenly extra attentive at the mention of the massacre of the MacDonald clan at Glen Coe. Hiking the highlands and the Isle of Skye and hearing nothing but stories of highland culture, clans and battles for three days made me wish for a little highland heritage myself. I guess I just need to marry a Campbell. Or a MacLaren. Or a Farquharson.
Beyond learning the history, a week in Scotland gave me the chance to absorb a bit of the feel of the country. Coming from Paris, Scotland felt a bit more like home, with its English native tongue, tougher liquor laws, love for fried foods and decidedly less skinny people. It’s also a more environmentally friendly place, with its 100% biodegradable plastic grocery bags and plentiful recycling receptacles. It’s a country with a history that’s a little bloodier, bars that close earlier, people that are friendlier, skirts that are manlier, but above all, Scotland is beautiful.
More Scotland pictures <a href="http://washington.facebook.com/album.php?aid=2136350&l=df73e&id=10701400