BootsnAll Travel Network

Chain of Islands

10:29 AM, 8/30/06

So while posting the blogs I put up yesterday, I met a couple of American girls who were working on the computer next to me. And what a pair of cool chicks they were. Now something I’ve noticed about traveling is that the vast majority of young Americans are all really cool. I only met a few when I was in New Zealand and Australia (“hey” to any of you reading this!), but they were all just amazing people. The same definitely holds true for Europe. Before coming over here, I was a bit concerned about the kind of Americans I was bound to meet. And, granted, there are certainly some bad apples on the tree (see the ass grabbing incident from my Galway, Ireland entry), but by and large, the American’s I’ve met have assuaged those fears. These girls, Ashley and Christina, came from New York, where they are aspiring dancers on Broadway and the like. They had just finished at NYU and were traveling about Europe. Ashley had just come into London the day after I got there and was intending to meet up with a friend and travel around the rest of Europe. Only her friend had just dropped a bombshell, telling her that she intended to go home weeks early. You might say she was left by a friend to travel Europe on her own…hmm, are we seeing some similarities? Christina, on the other hand, had been in Edinburgh for the past month helping with her friend’s fringe show at the Edinburgh Festival of Arts. The friend in question was the same friend (providing I recall correctly) that had gone back to the states, leaving Ashley. The girls were friends, though, and so all was not lost and they were able to hang out together for a while.

Anyway, so we got to talking and ended up going out for drinks at a couple local pubs, one of which had live music. We bonded (not the least of which included helplessly flirting) over all kinds of things—the starving/aspiring artist life, mutual senses of abandonment (from our traveling companions), a love of all things travel, etc. Sadly, Ashley was leaving the next day (today) for Glasgow and then Paris. She was visiting several places I was, only in complete reverse order. The other girl, Christina, was to leave the day after, also for Paris, to visit family.

When traveling, perhaps more than any other time, there’s always a profound sense of satisfaction at meeting like-minded people and making good friends. Traveling seems to accelerate the process of making friends. First, it makes people friendlier, kind of like the first couple weeks in the dorm during freshman year of college. People are islands—isolated, on their own—and they always have their eyes out for fellow islands, seeking to make chains of islands. These chains of islands help their fellow islands stay afloat. All it takes is a smile or eye contact or a “Hello, where are you from?” and you’ve formed the basis for one of these chains. I’m a personal fan of the smile. I smile at more people when I’m traveling than perhaps during the whole of a year back home. My cheeks sometimes start to hurt. The second reason friendships are accelerated is that you never know how much time you have. Take the delightful pair of American girls. Each of us was to go our separate ways in the following days—we had only a few hours in the evening for getting to know one another—so the topic of conversation ranged across the board. There’s a certain comfort level that comes automatically with meeting fellow travelers, I suppose. A few hours, a few days, that’s all you get and then the experience recedes into memory as “this one night in Edinburgh” or “one day in Sydney.” Affixing the people you meet with the things you do plants experiences firmly in memory. By remembering a friend I made somewhere, I can recall with remarkable clarity the things I did with them, much better than I had done the thing alone. Some traveling time should be allotted for alone moments, time to speculate and enjoy solitude in the exquisite beauty of a place, yet more time should be given over to meeting new people and doing everything you can with them. At least according to me.

The following morning I woke up early (and not just like 6 or 7 AM this time—no, 4:30 AM!) and took a much needed shower. The hostel had held hostage (wow, try saying that fast five times) my laundry until the late hours, and as I was wearing my sole pair of clothing until it was returned, I’d been unable to shower all day. (Making it two days without a shower—*shudder*) And seeing as I was up at the crack of dawn, I decided to peak my head out into the streets of Edinburgh and see what the city looked like before the hustle and bustle of tourism seized the place. And what a great idea it was! The city was so serene and beautiful. The sense of solace that had stolen over the city magnified its beauty tenfold. Shadowless buildings seemed to rise up on their own all across the town, existing solely for me. The sun had not yet risen and I ventured across the town to Calton Hill, a rise in the center of Edinburgh that overlooks most of the city. What sense of solace I felt from walking the quiet city streets was expanded into a zen-like peace of mind as I found myself completely alone, looking across the city and into the horizon where the sun had yet to rise. At the top of Calton Hill were some archaic buildings, one giving the impression of an acropolis, another like some ancient watchtower. Amidst these ruins I basked in the reflected glow of the azure sky, writing down thoughts and musings from the past day. Deep thoughts flow best when one’s mind is whole and undisturbed by stray thoughts and sounds and sights. The horizon to the east, where islands rose out from the water, was a kind of focal point for my meditation. Island chains—the figurative and the literal—are beautiful, but sometimes one must also appreciate the solitary island. That’s what it was like on the hill, beautiful and solitary, perched on the top of a island floating in the sea of a city. I could have stayed there until the sun was high in the sky, was the cold wind not pressing at me to retreat back into the warmth of the hostel. And so, having put certain thoughts at rest, I headed back down my island as the sun’s golden rays streamed across the waking city, stretching out my shadow as it stretched my hopes.

Catch y’all later.

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