Insert Da Vinci Code Reference Here: A Day Trip to Roslin and the Rosslyn Chapel

In my search for interesting destinations day-trippable from Edinburgh, I was informed that the town of Roslin was at the end of the bus route 15 right out of downtown. The name rang a bell, and upon googling I discovered that this was one of the key locations of Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code. This was NOT the deciding factor for choosing Roslin, but rather the reasons that likely drew Mr. Brown there himself. The chapel boasts great mystery. Ky and I were eager to go.

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The bus ride out to Roslin was stunning. Our bus took us out of the city quite promptly, and I was pleased to find farmland and the kind of landscape that I find so much more beautiful than the city.

We passed the Pentland Hills; they were covered in snow and looked inviting. The day was slightly overcast but bright and clear (only in Britain can it be clear and overcast simultaneously). Ky and I fantasized about someday buying a holiday home together in the Highlands or near Roslin. One day. Sigh.

The snowy Pentland Hills

The snowy Pentland Hills

When we arrived in Roslin, it was snowing in the fashion I’ve seen several times this winter – light floaty flakes falling from the sky, enough to be pretty but not enough to stick to anything. Enough to warrant complaint from the Scots, but not us Canadians.

As soon as we got off the bus and got our bearings, a parade of people on horseback trotted past. Ky made a comment about being plunged into the middle ages. It set the scene nicely.

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We began to head down the road to the Rosslyn Chapel – it was apparent that we were in a VERY rural area. We weren’t in a hurry, so we investigated a few old graveyards and wandered down a few forest paths. One led nowhere and we doubled back, but the other path brought us to one of the most amazing places I’ve seen so far in Scotland! It was the ruin of Rosslyn Castle (which I didn’t know existed) perched atop a sort-of plateau in the middle of a ravine. The castle’s ‘main’ entrance was very much still in tact; a vaulted bridge that linked the castle plateau with a pathway to the top of the ravine.

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Castle bridge to the left, path downwards to the right.

Castle bridge to the left, path downwards to the right.

This path led to a courtyard that was definitely still in use. Most of the castle was in ruins, but there stands a more modern section that obviously is fitted with new windows and electricity. We didn’t explore further for fear we were trespassing. Instead we took the path that brought us below the castle and discovered that it lay by a river, and the further down to the foundations, the older and more desecrated it became.

It was odd looking up from the base, up three stories of broken windows and rusty bars immediately below two stories of modern windows with curtains and electric lights. I felt strongly that I would hate to live directly above an abandoned dungeon, because #1 of ghosts – obviously, and #2, I can’t imagine the floor would EVER be warm!

Why?

Why?

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Though it was muddy, this was the highlight of the trip for me – walking around the castle, by the river, in the Scottish countryside.

Is this to brick the ghosts in?!?!!

Is this to brick the ghosts in?!?!!

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When we finally made it to the chapel itself, I was quite happy to observe from without. But since we were there, the £9 entry fee (eek!) seemed worth it. Luckily, the lady behind the counter thought it was hilarious and charming when she asked if I was a student and I replied, “Of course, I’m a student of life” – so I got in for the student rate.

Under conservation construction.

Under conservation construction.

Rosslyn Chapel has been a curiosity for centuries. It was one of few Catholic places of worship kept in tact during Henry VIII’s Dissolution of the Monasteries (if I’ve got this bit of information right, it goes something like this: Catholic King of England wants to get a divorce so he can marry the foxy Anne Boleyn, but the Pope won’t let him, so Henry decides to make his own religion up so he can do whatever little Henry wants. To enforce his new religion, he destroys Catholic imagery and places of worship). Rosslyn Chapel was so unique, however, that it was saved from destruction. Its mystery is due to the plethora of symbols decorating the inside of the chapel – including images from the Knights Templar.

No photos allowed inside!

No photos allowed inside!

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Heading back  into the city, I wondered how hard it would be to get a job somewhere more rural – so much better than city living!

By the way, I looked for the Holy Grail, it wasn’t there.

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Day Trips from Edinburgh: Burntisland and Aberdour

Edinburgh is Scotland’s second largest city after Glasgow, and situated in the South-East of Scotland. When you think of Scotland, you probably see heather-covered hills, sparsely populated towns and estates – the scenery in Harry Potter and Skyfall.

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Fog and mist are a must

Fog and mist are a must

Edinburgh is none of these things. A beautiful city though it is (I very much appreciate the lack of sky-scrapers), it is still a city. Lots of people, lots of traffic, modern bustling life taking place amongst the backdrop of gorgeous historical streets and buildings. The magic of the setting is lost on the residents here – who often laud Glasgow or London as more interesting places to live. I disagree. London is great to visit, but I hate the feeling of unrelenting, inescapable city. Too many people, too much everything.

Due to Edinburgh’s proximity to the sea and smaller size (especially when compared with London), I don’t feel the hurried movement of big-city life as dramatically. However, seeing as the biggest city I’ve previously lived in was Victoria BC, the city, to me, still feels a wee bit cold and unwelcoming at times. This is where the day-trip becomes invaluable. Edinburgh is quite close to many smaller towns and seaside villages – all easily accessible by bus or train.

So when my Canadian friend Ky and I began to feel city-fever (a metropolitan version of cabin-fever), we hopped on the train to a place called Burntisland.

Pronounced as little as possible: burnt-AYE-lnd

Pronounced as little as possible: burnt-AYE-lnd

We took the train across Fourth Road Bridge, all along the seaside.

Optional soundtrack for the rest of the blog. The Kooks Seaside:

Blessed with absolutely perfect weather for a Scottish January, we pulled into the seemingly deserted town of Burntisland. It was a Saturday, so we assumed the village residents had taken to the city – our opposites. Surprisingly (or perhaps ironically), Burntisland is not an island, and it seemed rather lacking in fire damage.

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This town is not ideal if you desire of a place attractions and distractions; it is, however, beautiful, with an award-winning beach that looks across the sea to Edinburgh (which has a very distinct skyline comprising of Arthur’s Seat and the Castle plateau).

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The beach is a gentle “U”, with absolutely perfect sand. White and fine, but packed down with damp (it is winter, after all). It’s quite a rocky beach too – lots of clam and razor shells to sort through – but these rougher bits seem to segregate themselves from the sand enough for you to be able to enjoy both.

My favourite part about the beach was the tide line. Here I found a lot of black charcoal-like wash-up that I’d like to think has something to do with the name. A small spit of land reaches out towards Edinburgh; if you ever happen to actually find yourself in Burntisland someday, please beware of the footing on this spit, but do walk out there. There is a tiny ruin of some sort of lighthouse or watchtower, and amazing views, but also bushy grass-hidden potholes!

I love me some random ruins!

I love me some random ruins!

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Ky and I had lunch at a funky, bright café called Potter About where I had some of the best eggs benedict I’ve ever eaten (and I’ve sampled a LOT of bennys). The quality of the food and the immensely friendly service (such a stark contrast to the city) makes it an absolute must for coffees and lunch in Burntisland.

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It was so lovely to get out of the city that on the train back to Edinburgh we decided to do a quick hop-off in Aberdour.

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Another seaside village, Aberdour seemed much more residential than Burntisland, but still very picturesque. With only half an hour to explore before then next train, Ky and I were mostly interested in the large castle ruin than the waterfront.

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From the brief time we spent there, Aberdour seemed to boast a ‘main street’ of only one block, but it was lush, green, and the castle ruin and perfectly preserved medieval church were well worth the detour.

Back into the city again and we were already planning our next day trip.

How the Scottish Deal with Winter

How the Scottish Deal with Winter

You’d think that being so far north, the Scottish would be accustomed to the cold and snow. This is not the case. Of course, there are rumours about ‘rugged’ Scots who live on proper moors, glens and farms in the northern half of the country who must deal with severe weather, probably most of the time. But the soft, city Scots become completely flummoxed by the annual snowfall.

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As I’m from Canada, I have the “image” of having weathered much worse winters. But since I hail from Victoria BC, the winters there compare very closely to the winters here in Scotland (well, Edinburgh). Though Victoria receives only a small sprinkling of snow for a couple of weeks of the year, the city still deals with it much better than the Scots do.

In Edinburgh, piles of grit and salt are dumped onto the streets and sidewalks very unstrategically – and that’s about as far as the city goes to manage the cold weather.

Driving is perilous, if attempted at all, due to lack of experience and snow tires. A friend of mine from Black Creek BC (who also spent a lot of time in Northern Canada) now lives in Glasgow. On a recent road trip, it took her Scottish friends four hours to drive to their destination. Preaching winter-driving experience, they handed the wheel over to the Canadian, and they made it safely home within two hours.

The trains even have a hard time of it.

The trains even have a hard time of it.

My own experience with British winter motoring is far less dramatic but similarly ridiculous. On a visit to Cornwall, England, a light slush began to fall from the sky at which point a family member I was visiting began to panic, and insisted we go pick up her grandson (my nephew) from the child-minder before we got “snowed-in” – HA

If I can see my ankles it's fine to drive.

If I can see my ankles it’s fine to drive.

I can’t tell you how many people I see walking in the street shivering with a light jacket, hat and maybe some gloves. Whenever the cold wind bites extra hard, I turn up my fur collar and thank my good sense.

Battling the British Job Market

In my many dreamy reveries prior to my arrival in Edinburgh, I imagined the job I would get and how I could finally exit the food and beverage industry and try my hand at a “big girl” job. I spent weeks converting my Canadian resume into a British CV, with no doubt in my mind that it was well written and enthusiastic enough to at least score me a few interviews for awesome jobs.

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I was Canadian, enthusiastic, smart, likeable and well spoken! What crazy person WOULDN’T hire me?!

Pretty much everyone.

My ultimate goal was to find a job working for the University of Edinburgh, preferably in the International Exchange Office (since I had been an exchange student myself). There was even this wonderful-sounding job advertised: head of North American student recruitment for the University. This included about four months travel to North America per year. Travel back home while being paid? Yes please! Public speaking and motivating students to learn and study abroad? Absolutely awesome! Knowledge of North American school systems, student visa processes and study abroad programs? Yup, yup! Experience in a similar role? No, but I’m smart, I’ll figure it out.

No such luck, not even one interview – not even for the “back-up” jobs that didn’t require experience. I sent out dozens of CVs to office-like jobs, mostly at the University. Nothing.

The big thing about working in the UK in the current economic climate is that,

#1: there’s quite a lot of snobbery about. Employers have their overwhelming pick of prospective employees at the moment – so many people are job searching. Therefore, when a carbon-copy, exact-match, experience-in-the-same-job-elsewhere person applies, they are the obvious choice.

#2: This makes it very difficult to receive an interview for any job outside of your experience, including minimum wage, entry-level jobs. My efforts to acquire an office-type job were therefore viewed as laughable.

“Stay where you belong!” (Me and my old colleagues in Victoria, BC)

“Stay where you belong!” (Me and my old colleagues in Victoria, BC)

I thought that my many years of experience as a supervisor in a fine dining restaurant (which actually included a LOT more office work than you might think) would at least secure me a decent job if I couldn’t get the one I really wanted. But no.

I am working full-time which is apparently very lucky, for minimum wage (in this country that puts me below the poverty line) serving in a café. There is absolutely nothing wrong with my job. The people are fun and friendly, and it’s easy, but at 24 years old, with my education and experience, I just feel like I’m beyond the working-in-a-café-for-minimum-wage stage of my life.

Also, making minimum wage greatly decreases my ability to travel – which was one of the reasons I wanted to be in Europe long-term.

This is one of the reasons I started this blog. I have wanted to be a writer for as long as I remember (I even wrote 50 pages of a ‘novel’ when I was 12), but I always thought this was too impractical a dream. But after seeing how hard it is in the UK job market to get ANY full-time job at all, let alone one I might find real value in, I decided it was worth giving it a shot and start creating my own, miniscule niche.

Edinburgh: First Impressions of a City

As a daughter of a talented photographer, I love taking photos.

Check her out at http://www.suzannefitz.com

Upon my arrival in Edinburgh, therefore, I went a bit photo-mad. It’s interesting for me to look back on these photos to see what I found interesting/meaningful before knowing anything about the city. Regardless, Edinburgh is a stunningly beautiful city that everyone should put on their travel itinerary.

The Old Town of Edinburgh is, as the name suggests, the older sector of the city. The most well known part of the Old Town is the Royal Mile:

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The Royal Mile is so named as it is the road that connects Edinburgh Castle with Holyrood Palace (Holyrood Palace being the Queen’s residence when she visits the city).

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The Old Town is beautiful not just because of the architecture, but because it’s multi-level. Pretty cool.

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The castle looms over both the Old and New Towns

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Looking over at the New Town from the Castle plateau. The sea, the sea!

Looking over at the New Town from the Castle plateau. The sea, the sea!

I almost prefer the New Town since from it, you can see the beauty of the Old Town

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One of the most gorgeous parts of the New Town is Waverly Station, with the Balmoral Hotel perched atop it.

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There are three very special parts of Edinburgh that make this city unlike most other big European cities. The first is the Princes Street Gardens right smack dab in the middle of the city centre.

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This last photo is a war-through-the-ages memorial in Princes Street gardens. The first panel depicts men on horses with spears, and each panel shows increasingly modern forms of warfare.

Another special feature of the city is Calton Hill. It’s my favourite as there’s a half-built Parthenon at it’s summit. The structure is not finished because the city began to build it as a testament to Edinburgh’s artistic and cultural achievements, “The Athens of the North”. The city ran out of money before they could finish it.

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Third is Arthur’s Seat. This is a mini-mountain that the city wraps itself around, and it’s a popular local hiking spot. It is higher than any point in the city and provides absolutely stunning views.

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Even in the usual grey fog of winter, Edinburgh is a truly beautiful city to explore and experience 🙂

Abandoning a Safe, Familiar Life for the Unknown

I knew that moving to Scotland was what I wanted. I have wanted it for a long time. Almost too long, I think, as I was beginning to feel like it should be kept as a glorious dream to dwell on as an ever-present exciting possibility. I believe my mother has done this very thing with her long-time interest in travelling to India. I recently re-read Paulo Coelho’s excellent novel The Alchemist, which addresses this very issue. If you’ve read The Alchemist you will understand how I was re-inspired to live out what I felt was my correct path. If you haven’t read it, do it now.

I’ll wait.

Good, right? Paulo Coelho is a freaking genius; everything he says is wise and deeply truthful.

Paulo Coehlo

The circumstances that lead me to move to Edinburgh at this point in my life are fairly standard. Firstly, because I wanted to, as has already been established. I also graduated from university this past June (2012) with an Honours Degree in Greek and Roman Studies (my Thesis explored the comedic playwright Aristophanes’ use of homosexuality) and a minor in History. Since I have absolutely no desire to become a teacher or professor, this became immediately useless.

“Go to University,” they said, “you can get any job you want,” they said.

“Go to University,” they said, “you can get any job you want,” they said.

I don’t regret my degree in any way – I loved every single second of it (even when I didn’t). But after graduation I felt an overwhelming feeling of “Now what?

My third reason was an amicable yet heartbreaking break-up with a man I had been very much in love with for over three years. I would have followed him into oblivion (oblivion being small-town Canada; so NOT me, yet where he wanted to end up). A recipe for future resentment, it wouldn’t have worked out.

With no more heavy ties to Victoria, it was the best timing I could ever hope for.

I began the necessary arrangements – gave notice at my well-paying restaurant supervisor job, and began getting rid of my furniture and excessive possessions. I donated about 70% of my closet, and I will therefore feel like I’ve contributed quite enough to charity for a few years.

About a month before my departure date, however, I injured my knee at work. I was on crutches for a week and a half, and still needed to pack up most of my apartment (an attic suite only accessible via a number of rickety stairs). I had to call in favours from busy friends, friends’ fiancés (thanks again, Graham!), and generally rely on the generosity of others when I was usually very happily self-reliant. It was probably the worst week of my life – newly alone in the apartment, injured, helpless and facing yet another major change I was imposing upon myself. I felt like maybe I was going insane.

Eventually I completed the slow process of paring down all of my possessions to fit into two suitcases (what I thought to be the bare minimum I could live with), and moved in with some girlfriends for the last couple of weeks in Victoria (my parents had moved to Ontario a year previous, and felt just as helpless in not being able to help me through my tough time). Once I was off the crutches, I felt like I could maybe still accomplish my travel goals, albeit with a significant limp.

Finally, I left Victoria, and the last bitter couple of months, behind.

When I landed in Glasgow, I walked out of the airport feeling exhilarated.

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I’d arrived! I was here! Has anyone mentioned ME yet? I walked up to a friendly-looking man to ask where I could catch a bus to the train station to get me to Edinburgh. The man replied to my question in a very heavy Glaswegian accent. “Oh, pardon me?” I asked. He repeated himself. “I’m sorry, could you say that again?” He did. “So, um, it’s , um, that way?” I pointed a random direction; he shook his head and said the same thing again. I thanked him and I as I left, all I could think was: what have I done?

The Best Disease I Ever Caught

Recently, due to many very big and scary changes, I packed up my life in Victoria BC, quit my job, and moved to Scotland. Random? Perhaps to an outsider, but for me it’s been a long time coming. When I was 15 years old I visited Scotland all by my lonesome for a month to attend a creative writing course at the University of St Andrews (smarty-pants, right?). While I can’t say the course taught me anything specific about creative writing except to loathe every word I’d ever written, the experience did plant within me a powerful and enduring feeling of what the Germans call heimat: a connection, especially to a place or land – a profound feeling of home. I vowed that I would one day make this place my home, perhaps not permanently, but at least give it a good go.

Eight years later, and I find myself in Edinburgh, Scotland. Not the exact place I’d had in mind, but still an incredibly beautiful city.

I have always been a traveller. I was born to a Canadian mother and English father technically “on vacation.” My parents – two of the most brave and adventurous people I know – met and fell in love on a small Caribbean island called Tortola in the British Virgin Islands. They both found themselves there having followed their own dreams of long-term travel. When they were expecting me, they decided to take a trip to England to “visit family” and also to avoid the slightly-sketchy 1980’s small-island hospital. As it turns out, my mother flew to Britain first and travelled around Scotland, pregnant with me and met my father down in Cornwall, England a few weeks later.

My mama, pregnant with me in front of Edinburgh Castle. The root of my Scottish obsession.

My mama, pregnant with me in front of Edinburgh Castle. The root of my Scottish obsession.

Three and a half years later, my brother Tyler came along and a few years after that, my parents decided that island living, while running a busy hotel, was not the kind of environment in which they wanted to raise a family. This is how we came to move to Canada’s beautiful West Coast. “Super, Natural British Columbia.” “The Best Place on Earth.” A few examples of this:

Saltspring Island, BC

Saltspring Island, BC

Quallicum Beach, Parksville BC, on Vancouver Island

Quallicum Beach, Parksville BC, on Vancouver Island

The view from my old house before my parents moved. I know, right?

The view from my old house before my parents moved. I know, right?

Jellyfish forest in the ocean outside my old house, Brentwood Bay BC

Jellyfish forest in the ocean outside my old house, Brentwood Bay BC

Growing up, we often travelled to England to visit family, and around Vancouver Island quite a bit.

My first trip on my own was when I was 12 years old – I flew to Edmonton, Alberta to visit my cousins for a weekend. I wore the “minor” badge proudly around my neck and I was very determined not to ask anyone for help! I got a few funny looks from passengers and flight attendants before one flight attendant approached me and asked very sweetly: “Hi there, I’m sorry but, why are your wearing THAT?” pointing to my minor badge. I sat up straight and said, “because I’m 12 years old!” The flight attendant blushed, apologized and stated that I looked more like I was 16. A very proud moment for a young girl!

My next trip alone was to Toronto, Ontario. I was 14 and no longer needed the minor’s badge. I went for a week to visit my aunt, uncle and gran. It was, incidentally, also while the Pope was visiting; the number of pilgrims who had followed him there packed the city. Many of them seemed to appreciate the short, tight skirts I was unfortunately prone to wearing at that age… Oops!

The next trip on my own was the month-long course at St Andrews University. A month alone in Scotland at only 15.

I never really thought anything of travelling alone because of these experiences in my teens. When I was 20, and attending the University of Victoria, I did a year abroad in England at the University of Exeter.

A typical shot of Exeter Cathedral.

A typical shot of Exeter Cathedral.

The River Exe.

The River Exe.

A beautiful part of the University of Exeter campus.

A beautiful part of the University of Exeter campus.

When I decided to do this year abroad, and many of my friends were shocked and couldn’t understand my desire to do something “so big” “scary” “hard” “too stressful”, I realized that the travel bug that I have wasn’t, as I had assumed, universal.

It IS certainly genetic. Once my brother Tyler shed the almost paralyzing shyness of his childhood, he left. I don’t even know how many places he’s been. Mostly he’s covered Europe so far, but his hunger for adventure (and his fear of boredom) is boundless. I expect that if someone in our family achieves the somewhat cliché dream “to see the world,” it will be him.