Monday, January 08, 2007

Lowered expectations

In hindsight, I'm not really sure what I was thinking when I booked a trip to Edinburgh for early January.

I did give some thought to the booking; it was on our list of places we wanted to see, it wasn't too far away, we could get inexpensive flights and we had a lead on really good accommodations. A few days in Edinburgh during the kids' endlessly long winter school break seemed a grand idea. It wasn't until after we started telling people our plans that I realized I might not have thought things through quite enough. The polite folks squinted slightly and said something like "Edinburgh? In January? Oh... lovely." Our bolder acquaintances smiled widely and wished us luck with the "Edinburgh wind." And the honest folks in our midst? They laughed their asses off.

It, uh, turns out that Edinburgh is famous for its wind and its unpredictable, lousy weather, making it a damn poor choice for a winter getaway. With the exception of Edinburgh's big Hogmanay celebration, which of course ended 2 days before we arrived in town, few in their right minds would book a pleasure trip to Edinburgh this time of year.

Oops. No wonder the airfare and accommodations were so cheap. Perhaps, we began to think, we would have done well to read the travel guides a bit more carefully before we made our plans. None of us are exactly hardy, die-hard travelers. Even after 4 months in London, the kids still seem to suspect that they actually might melt in the right rainy circumstances, and as fair-weather sightseers ourselves, we frankly haven't done much to correct that notion. Medicore weather could pretty much kill a vacation for us. High winds and driving rain? A total death sentence for our little jaunt up North. By the time the New Year rolled around, we were well aware of our folly and were laughing as hard as anyone about our impending departure for Edinburgh. We felt a little guilty about our lack of enthusiasm about the trip, but we were pretty much looking at a disastrous couple of days and figured we had little choice but to laugh and make the best of it.

So imagine our surprise when Edinburgh presented itself to us, sunny, beautiful and (with the exception of one very windy afternoon) not in the least bit blustery. It was almost a shame to be indoors so much on such beautiful days, but I had already booked my kids into a special children's art program at the City Art Centre and planned a trip to Dynamic Earth. Thankfully, both ended up being very nearly worth the trip in and of themselves and there was still plenty of sunshine to go around. We explored the castle, walked the Royal Mile and Princes Street, dined with Frankenstein, enjoyed hot chocolate in the former workshop of the man who inspired Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, and even savored an unexpected, blissful, quasi-grownup hour in a pub after Evan fell asleep in his stroller (a large piece of chocolate cake kept Julia quietly entertained enough for us to nearly forget her presence).

Once the kids discovered that there was no danger of them washing away in Edinburgh and realized that the city had its own share of carousels and chocolate, they were sold on the place. I must admit, I had to agree. I found the history fascinating, the scenery beautiful, the people warm and the weather surprisingly mild. Edinburgh is a small enough city for us to have seen it in a few days, and I doubt there will be reason for us to return (though I would like to see more of the Scottish countryside at some point). And that's a shame, because I kind of fell in love with Edinburgh this week.

Would I have liked Edinburgh so much even if I hadn't had such low expectations before we went? I can't really say. Perhaps I'm placing too much importance on our feelings of dread before we boarded that plane and not giving enough credit to the terrific city we discovered once we landed. All I know is that we spent much of last week expressing surprise and delight about how much we were enjoying out time in Edinburgh, and I can't help but suspect that our lack of faith and enthusiasm going into this trip played an ironic role in its eventual success.

So, another European adventure under our belts. Lessons learned? Well, for one, Edinburgh's a great city, and a trip I heartily recommend (though if it's rainy and windy, don't blame me). In addition, regardless of your destination, guidebook advice about things like weather is probably overrated and best ignored (the lousy planner in me is pretty grateful to be let off the hook on this one). And finally, and perhaps most importantly, there's absolutely nothing wrong with a little healthy dread of an impending vacation.

I, for one, plan to cease looking forward to next month's journey to Portugal immediately...


Blogger Amanda said...

Hi! Found your site though expat-blog and love your space! :) I plan to return for more reading if that is ok with you. Feel free to say hello on my site anytime. a bit of american keeps me sane ;)


5:57 PM  
Blogger Gina said...

Sounds like a trip well worth it. I often dread (and almost cancel) things - but find once I go through with them, it was well worth it. I am glad Edinburgh proved the travel guides wrong so that you all enjoyed the trip. And I hope Portugal is a fun trip as well.

6:55 PM  
Blogger slboval said...

I'm also a "New Joisy" girl about to expatriate to London. Yicks! Professional woman. Mother of three. Oh, fun... oh, fun. I've loved reading your blogs for the past few months. It's inspired me, and given me confidence that I can do it! Will we be friends?

I'm a friendly Jewish gal from Englewood, New Jersey. Moving to London in February.... let's talk!

here's my name: Samantha Beinhacker

here's my email:

12:39 AM  
Blogger Rosemary said...

Boy do I understand the dread of starting the trip and the joy of, well, enjoying where I am. I'm so glad for you that it was a wonderful time. I've heard what a wonderful place Scotland is and do want to visit. I can't wait to hear about Portugal -- long a dream destination for me!

1:27 AM  
Blogger Liesl said...

What lovely trip down memory lane for me. I spent time at the University of Aberdeen way back in my college days, and fell in love with Edinburgh in winter. I'm glad all of you had such a worthwhile trip and that the critics were proved wrong.

Meanwhile, if you do go back to Scotland, I highly recommend visiting the Highlands, particularly if you're at all into hiking and/or seeing lots of tiny ancient villages.

2:48 AM  
Blogger Dana said...

Wow, sounds like a "brilliant" trip. See how I tied in a more recent post to this one?

Glad you had a great time.

6:23 PM  

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