Scotland is beautiful, even with bronchitis

Yesterday, a massive bartender with an auburn man-bun and a kilt slid me a diet coke across the bar and said, “There you go, lass.” That’s when I knew I was going to survive.
Due to a spike in my public transportation usage and my proximity to 23 other people who use public transportation, I have a bad cold. I get a cold twice a year (my best friend calls it my “bi-annual plague”), but it’s been rough enough this time around that I’ve been complaining to all my flatmates that it’s really bronchitis (it’s not…I hope). I haven’t been letting illness — bronchitis or not — get in the way of my adventures, and this weekend I and about nine others decided to use our free days to our advantage and visit Edinburgh.
The trip started off with a bang — my alarm didn’t go off so I had to run to King’s Cross at 6 a.m., still slightly drugged on British NyQuil (called Night Nurse and available only over the counter), half-dressed and swearing loudly. In a miraculous twist, though, I arrived at the station before the rest of my group — I’d taken a different, more direct Tube line. God bless the Underground, amen. We boarded a train that looked nothing like the Hogwarts Express and, five minutes later, without a whistle for warning, departed.
The train ride was four hours and BEAUTIFUL. English countryside. Quaint English villages, each marked by an old chapel steeple. English coastline. So incredibly green. I munched on Cadbury’s buttons, sipped hot chocolate and listened to my quaintest playlist to match the mood.
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After we got to Edinburgh, checked into our freaky hostel and grabbed lunch, we decided to climb Arthur’s Seat. Arthur’s Seat — named for King Arthur — is a distinctive rock feature in Edinburgh and is reflective of the generally hilly and craggy Scottish landscape. You get a great view of the city from the top — you just have to get up the two or three mile hike which all guidebooks ever will tell you is really more like a “pleasant walk.” This is not true. Guide books are written by incredibly athletic freaks who don’t remember what it’s like to be out of shape. The climb to Arthur’s Seat wasn’t long, but it was steep, especially for someone with bronchitis wearing combat boots.
But the view really was worth it.

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Today we went on a tour through Rabbie’s, an award-winning tour company. We had this hilariously kilted and ludicrously large, bearded guy named Al for our guide. He was fantastic, and I am convinced that he knows everything. He took us through Scottish countryside to the high point of the trip: Alnwick castle.
Alnwick is the ancestral — and current — property of the Percy family, who ruled as dukes or earls or whatever over Northumberland, the northern bit of England. The Percys are pretty much just a rich family — I recognized the name thanks to Shakespeare, who characterized one Henry Percy as Hotspur, Prince Hal’s foil in Henry IV part one.

Anyway, the castle is also where they filmed bits of the first two Harry Potter movies and, more recently, scenes from “Downton Abbey.” It’s beautiful. You get to walk around the ramparts and gaze up at the 12th-century stone walls and even take a broomstick-riding course from some adults dressed in Gryffindor quidditch robes.
Then, if you’re like me, you can visit the Alnwick gardens, which are incredible. Like Versailles, but smaller and more manageable.

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Then you hop back on the bus and Al takes you up the surprisingly sandy eastern coast of Britain. You eat Smarties — British version of M&Ms — and gaze out the window. You fall asleep listening to the soothing sound of Al’s Scottish accent.
Look, bronchitis sucks. I occasionally have to stop to blow my nose noisily or have a minor coughing fit. I’m pretty concerned that staying in a hostel will just leave me even more diseased. But I’m in Scotland. It’s raining and the wind is blowing and I can hear the witches from Macbeth putting the cauldron on to boil.

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