Hey: this post was written in Edinburgh, and it concludes in Edinburgh, and I'm still in Edinburgh. This is the closest I've been to real-time journaling in months.
Hey: I'll be home in a week.
"But in a few weeks I shall move into a quiet and simple room, an old gallery lying deep in the heart of a large park, hidden from the town with its noise and incidents. I shall live there the whole winter and rejoice in the great quietness, from which I am hoping for the gift of good and profitable hours." — Rainer Maria Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet
Megabus. I once dated a girl who once spent three months up in Boston, and nearly every other week I'd load myself onto an overnight Boston-bound coach, spend eleven sleepless hours in semi-delirium. The air was always stale, the seats always cramped; without fail, some juvenile found it absolutely essential that, at 3AM, the entire bus join him in listening to Lil' Wayne's Tha Carter II through the tinny speakers of a smartphone. Usually, we'd arrive in Boston hours later; usually, the bus would break down before then. Sometimes, the bus would crash, plow into little cars that got in its way. I had vowed never to take Megabus again.
And yet it was Britain, and Megabus reigned for long-distance budget commuting. Trains booked with such short notice would cost hundreds of quid, and they'd be almost too speedy to get a full night's of rest in, so instead I bit the bullet and bought a Megabus ticket for a fourteen-hour ride from London to the Scottish highlands. I boarded, we took off, and I tried for sleep.
I did okay, relatively. It was a night of stops and starts—I'd wake and find us inexplicably parked in a deserted parking lot for hours on end—but the half-day imprisonment at the back of a bus ensured at least a little rest; I woke for a morning transfer in Edinburgh, slept again, woke mid-morning as we began to climb the hills of Scotland. Scotland was beautiful, all undisturbed rolling dunes of golden grass, little farms checkered along the hillside. There were sheep and there were glens and there were those famously Scottish grey skies, sprinkling down upon us as we neared the north.
I drank some water, found that it hurt to swallow. My throat felt tight and my eyes burned and my muscles ached, but I reasoned it all away as punishment for a night of poor sleep, told myself I'd feel better once I got some fresh air in Inverness. We drove on, we stopped for an hour on the highlands highway—a bad accident—we continued toward the loch and arrived almost two hours later, mid-afternoon. I did not feel better. If anything I felt worse, and the weather was no help, all windy and rainy and cold. Scotland was in the middle of a "heatwave," which meant it was still too frigid to comfortablely sit outside, so instead I picked up a few groceries, headed to my hostel, and didn't emerge for the rest of the day.
Okay, I was definitely sick. I rarely get sick—indeed, I'd enjoyed three months of good health all throughout my rough ride of Europe—but when I do fall ill I fall hard, and I hadn't even the energy to stand. I was too tired to read, eyes too red to write, but the internet was fast and the bean bags comfortable, so I fluffed a few into a little nest and passed six or seven hours streaming Woody Allen movies to my tablet, warm and cozy as my fellow travelers bustled in and out of the hostel in big parkas.
I felt no better the next morning, but I was determined to make a day of it. I was, after all, at the edge of the Loch Ness. I had dreamed of this day. As a child, I had something of an obsession with Nessie, the collective name for the clan of plesiosaurs that roam the bottom of the Scottish lake, holdovers from a Jurassic age, protected from mass extinction—like other water-dwellers of their time—by the loch's record-breaking depths, protected from us by that same murky depth, protected from the dangerous ocean by the bottleneck that makes Ness a loch and not a bay. For years, I'd fantasized about coming to the loch, pulling up a rocking chair along its calm shore, reading a good book and sipping a good tea and waiting for one of the Nessies—Nessie XXVI, Nessito, Papa Ness, didn't matter—to slither onto the shore and say hello. And sure, I was sick, and sure, it was dreadfully rainy, but I was determined: this would be that day.
Inverness doesn't actually abut the loch—it sits instead on the River Ness—so I caught a local bus to Drumnadrochit, a tiny village selling Nessie wares, hosting Nessie museums, that sort of thing. I passed through town and got off the bus a little beyond it, literally on the side of the road, where I trotted happily through forty minutes of Scottish countryside, sheep and all to the Urquhart Castle. I was drenched upon arrival, so I hurried into the busy visitors' center and stripped off some of my wetter clothing; I grabbed a hot tea and sat in the cafe with its crystal-clear full-length windows, watched the loch over the tops of castle ruins in the distance. I had arrived.
I wrote for a few hours, peeking up every few minutes and expecting to see Nessie waving from afar, but for whatever reason, she didn't present herself. When the rain abated, I stowed my things and got a little closer to the loch, walking past old wooden trebuchets and up the narrow winding stairs of tower ruins for a truly superb view. The skies overhead were a dark grey, the wind fiercely cold, but it was all so beautiful despite it. A man marched with a whining bagpipe in the courtyard—make no mistake, this was definitely Scotland.
More rain, more cowering inside, more venturing outside, waiting for Nessie. Nothing. I was cold and still wet, and my eyes burned and my nose ran and my throat hurt, so by mid-afternoon, heartbroken, I threw in the towel and headed back to the hostel. I picked up pasta and spinach along the way, cooked a whole big batch of it and devoured it in my bean bag nest, more film to pass the evening. Once more, I slept early.
The next morning, I left the Loch Ness with unrealized dreams; I retreated to Edinburgh hoping for better health and warmer weather. A long bus ride, another late arrival, and I didn't really find either. But no matter: I had found myself in Edinburgh of Scotland, on August 1, the epicenter of arts the world over. Around me: 50,000 performances, 4,000 shows, 300 venues. Buskers, musicians, comics, actors, performers of every last imaginable variety.
I was at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, day one.