The Day I Climbed Arthur’s Seat

(As previously seen on Writer With a Passport.)

It was Friday morning in Edinburgh, early May. The weather was unusually nice, and by nice, I mean that it was slightly overcast and in the low 60’s. I decided to take advantage of all things free in Edinburgh, and put the walking tour on my docket. There is no price charged for the tour itself, but the tour guides work on tips, so if you go on a walking tour there, bring some cash with you.

At 10:25am, one of the guides came to my hostel to lead us to the site where the tour would begin. There were a few friendly folks from my hostel who had the same plan as I, so we made small talk: Where are you from, where have you been, why are you in Scotland, etc.

We waited at the site pictured below until 11am, which is when the tour officially began.

Part of The Royal Mile, right in front of a Starbucks.

Part of The Royal Mile, right in front of a Starbucks.

Another part of The Royal Mile.

Another part of The Royal Mile.

We met our tour guide, Kiel, who happened to be from Australia, but called Scotland his adopted home. Right off the bat, Kiel was very amiable, knowledgeable, and just plain hilarious. My kind of tour guide. We started the tour by walking down The Royal Mile and headed to a church.

Sights on the way to the church on The Royal Mile. Like England, Scotland also has the famous red telephone boxes.

Sights on the way to the church on The Royal Mile. Like England, Scotland also has the famous red telephone boxes.

After walking for less than 5 minutes, it was already time for a sitting break. I thought: Man, I like this tour already! (Ha!) The church (or, kirk as they say in Scotland) is none other than the famous St. Giles’ Cathedral.

St. Giles' Cathedral aka High Kirk of Edinburgh

St. Giles’ Cathedral aka High Kirk of Edinburgh

Kiel gave us some history about the kirk, but I honestly can’t remember any of it. So, if you’re really curious, click HERE to read some history and facts about St. Giles’. (You’re welcome.) In between history lessons, facts, and perfectly-timed jokes, Kiel had us all make short introductions: names and hometown. During that time was when I saw him–Nick, my soon-to-be instant friend for the day. Only, I had no clue. But that’s one of the coolest things about traveling: when you keep an open mind and let shyness take a back seat, you meet the most extraordinary strangers who become some of the coolest people you could ever encounter.

We continued on our walking tour, seeing all the things I put on my “to-do” list, including the cafe where JK Rowling wrote a lot of Harry Potter (check!), as well as the graveyard where she would go for inspiration–like name ideas for characters such as Tom Riddle and Professor McGonagall. Finally, we reached Grassmarket (click HERE to read all about it) and took a break.

This is where I discovered Mary’s Milk Bar for the first time. You can read my review by clicking HERE.

View of the castle from Grassmarket.

View of the castle from Grassmarket.

Mary's Milk Bar. Best hot chocolate shop in the land.

Mary’s Milk Bar. Best hot chocolate shop in the land.

Just as I was finishing up the delicious and decadent dark hot chocolate with sea salt, the guy I had seen from earlier approached me. “How’s the hot chocolate?” he asked. “It’s SO good!” I excitedly told him. And for the rest of the tour, we chatted.

Nick told me how he was from the States but was living in Oxford for the year, working at CS Lewis’s house–don’t know what’s cooler than that! And I told him how I was living in Spain for the summer, but taking a holiday in Scotland.

When the tour was over, we happened to be in the same square as the admission-free Writers’ Museum, so we checked it out together. After that, I kind of invited myself along to hang out with Nick and be a part of whatever he was doing for the day. Since he had been to Edinburgh before, I relied on him to direct our next adventure. And what did he choose? To climb to Arthur’s Seat. I thought: How bad can it be?

Armed with my chucks, old lady beret, and chocolate running through my veins, I said: “Sure, why not?”

And, truly, it’s not a bad climb at 822 ft. But I hadn’t been on a hike of that magnitude for quite some time.

I stared up at the mountain, praying I'd be able to reach the top without much difficulty.

I stared up at the mountain, praying I’d be able to reach the top without much difficulty.

Things started out easy enough, and with such great company, I was like: I’ve SO got this. We took every opportunity to admire the view, and also stopped at some ruins.

At every turn, Edinburgh is a truly beautiful city, offering views of its plush green landscapes.

At every turn, Edinburgh is a truly beautiful city, offering views of its plush green landscapes.

St. Anthony's Chapel (ruins)

St. Anthony’s Chapel (ruins)

St. Anthony's Chapel (ruins)

St. Anthony’s Chapel (ruins)

Nick and I continued our ascent to Arthur’s Seat. Every time we paused (for my sake), I was overwhelmed by the beauty of this spectacular city.

IMG_5496 IMG_5500There was one point where I didn’t think I could make it the rest of the way…probably at the halfway point. While we sat, I confessed to Nick that I have Fibromyalgia. Though I am SO MUCH better, especially since living in Europe for the past two months, I sometimes get easily tired or have pain. I am by no means a lazy person, and I enjoy exercise. However, the past several years, living with pain and fatigue and trying to figure out how to improve my standard of living has been somewhat difficult. (Not to mention having knee surgery two years ago, relieving lots of pain, but rendering my knee changed forever.)

But Nick cheered me on, saying: “You can make it!” And it revived my determination. I was going to reach the top, no matter what.

So, I took a long sip of water, and started again.

Breathtaking panoramic view, about midway to Arthur's Seat.

Breathtaking panoramic view, about midway to Arthur’s Seat.

With Nick’s patience (thank you, Nick, if you’re reading this!) and the gorgeous views, I wasn’t going to let anything stand in my way of making it to the top for the ultimate view of the city in its entirety. We continued to take little breaks, and I took about a bajillion and one pictures.

IMG_5507IMG_5522Finally, we reached the top! I can’t fully describe it in words, but thankfully, I have pictures.

Another panoramic shot, from the very top of Arthur's Seat.

Another panoramic shot, from the very top of Arthur’s Seat.

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Nick is the one to the left. He didn't know he made it in my shot--ha!

Nick is the one to the left. He didn’t know he made it in my shot–ha!

IMG_5532IMG_5533

Why must people insist on defacing stuff?

Why must people insist on defacing stuff?

By the way, though it’s not certain that the legendary King Arthur himself sat on this “mountain” (it’s more of a grand hill, really), it is rumored that it is a possible location for the famous Camelot. Also, Arthur’s Seat has been mentioned quite a bit in literature. Regardless of the actual, factual reality, I’d say that it’s a must-see while visiting Edinburgh. Click HERE to read more on hiking the hill.

I was overjoyed that I was able to make it to Arthur’s Seat. The views were worth it, but it meant more to me than that. Maybe it sounds corny, but as I continue to recover from some difficult years of sickness and pain, it was a symbol of how far I’ve come–how much my body is now able to handle. And sometimes, part of traveling means that you accomplish extraordinary things–things you may not have otherwise done in your own hometown.

When we got back down to the bottom, I looked up to the top of Arthur’s Seat and felt a smile crawl across my face: I did it.

View of Arthur's Seat from the bottom of the hill.

View of Arthur’s Seat from the bottom of the hill.

I will always remember the day I climbed to Arthur’s Seat. And if I ever make it back to Edinburgh, I’d climb it again in a heartbeat. I’ll be forever grateful to Nick who was very encouraging while I made the trek with him, especially because I probably wouldn’t have done it without him.

After coming back “home” to Alicante, I was so ready to tackle another hill–the hill that leads up to the Castillo de Santa Barbara (which I’ll write about in another post), and I did it! It was easier than Arthur’s Seat, but still gave me a good workout.

As you travel, or even “staycation,” I would like to encourage you to try something new like I did. You never know what new friends and adventures are waiting for you.

Until next time…cheers! xx

Remembering 9/11: My Story

On September 11th, 2001, two days before my 17th birthday, I woke up at 6 a.m. to go to school. My family didn’t watch TV in the morning or listen to the radio, so I got ready, grabbed breakfast, and headed out the door at 6:45am (PST) with my younger sister. We drove to my best friend’s house to pick up her and her brother, and as soon as they got in the car, our lives were forever changed.

My best friend’s family members were avid morning news radio listeners and heard all about the horrible tragedy that plagued New York City and other surrounding areas/States that entire morning. After chatting with her dad, who told us to call him if anything crazy happened, we drove to school while listening to the radio the whole time. We received the latest updates from the East Coast and were in total shock. There was nothing to say, really. We just listened.

Arriving at school was somewhat frightening. Our classmates were in a frenzy, the staff all looked worried, and feelings of depression and anxiety hung over the whole campus. Some of the kids had parents who traveled often for business and were scared that their parents would be on a plane with suicidal terrorists. Some had parents who worked in San Francisco and were worried that such a prominent city like SF would be next on the hit list. We didn’t know what to expect, but it was no use going home. Being home alone on a school day seemed worse than being at school with a bunch of people with whom to share our fears.

I was so grateful to have had awesome teachers who let us watch the news in just about every class. It’s not like they were able to concentrate on work that day, either. They were just as scared as the students, and didn’t try to hide it. And because I went to a Christian school, we said prayers in every single period. That did bring much comfort and we found solace in our faith–whatever the varied beliefs of the student body. That day, everyone prayed and had hope that things just had to get better.

During such times like 9/11, people expect prayer and words of hope. It’s amazing how someone will curse God or their neighbor until something dreadful happens. Then, it seems, God and your neighbor is all you have in the midst of trial.

 Home> U.S.>Sept. 11, 2012: America Remembers 9/11 Anniversary Photo of Grieving Dad Robert Peraza Photo Touches Family (from ABCnews.go.com)


Sept. 11, 2012: America Remembers
9/11 Anniversary Photo of Grieving Dad Robert Peraza Photo Touches Family (from ABCnews.go.com)

That day, in California’s Silicon Valley, we made it through the last bell, and went home to our loved ones. We–at least those I knew–did not experience the 9/11 tragedy in full, like those in other parts of the country. But we all knew things would never be the same for the United States. And our hearts and prayers went out to those directly and horribly affected.

Never in my life have I witnessed such a culmination of hope, devastation, and camaraderie. People who didn’t speak to one another became friends in a day. Our cultural and racial prejudice, for a time, was dismantled. As long as you were an American, it didn’t matter what you looked like or where you came from. You were an American and you belonged in this country and you were not you–you were US.

Sadly, many negative things also developed from the 9/11 incident. Innocent people who were American but “looked a certain way,” were wrongly targeted from the springboard of people’s anger and fear. And as time went on, people forgot the camaraderie and prayers and sense of belonging to something greater than themselves, and became lost and disconnected. They became jaded at best, and cruel at the worst.

Today, though we’ll maybe watch footage of the World Trade Center or the Pentagon being crashed into, many of us will then go back to watching Honey Boo Boo, or Keeping Up with the Kardashians, or some other reality show that’s not really our reality. Don’t get me wrong–it’s nice to be entertained and become brainless for a while. But how many times do we default to that and stay disconnected from one another?

Will it take another tragedy for the citizens of this wonderful country to embrace each other and finally shed our own prejudices, judgements, and insecurities? Is that what it will take to help us accept ourselves and others–just as we are?

I am filled with so much gratitude that my family was not directly affected by 9/11. The only large-scale, traumatic event I’ve ever gone through was the big earthquake of 1989. And that was Nature’s doing–not an act of terrorism on humanity. Whenever I read about 9/11 or see video footage, I still weep like a baby. My heart swells with sadness at the thought of all those people losing their lives–especially the brave ones who prevented further damage by their acts of heroism. May we “never forget,” as the motto says.

And, a brief look back at the scene of the attacks in New York in September, 2001. Seen here, the twin towers of World Trade Center burn after two planes crashed into each on September 11th. (STAN HONDA/AFP/Getty Images)

And, a brief look back at the scene of the attacks in New York in September, 2001. Seen here, the twin towers of World Trade Center burn after two planes crashed into each on September 11th. (STAN HONDA/AFP/Getty Images)

So today, as we remember, I would like to ask you to join me in an exercise. I’m going to go “media silent,” in honor of 9/11 and its heroes and will not be Facebooking, Tweeting, Tumblring, Pinning, or anything in between. I’m always digitally connected, but today, I’m going to spend time with people I love and actually connect with them. I sincerely hope you’ll do the same. It’s not much, but it’s something we can all do as individuals that will have a rippling effect, I’m sure.

From Oprah.com

From Oprah.com

May God bless those who are especially hurting today, and may you go forward today and every day, loving yourself and others in the greatest capacity that you can.

Never forget…

Do you have a 9/11 story to share? Let us know in the comments below. 🙂