My sister began bugging me before I started packing for the trip to Great Britain. Every time she called or emailed after I arrived, she was relentless in reminding me.
“You HAVE to get to Edinburgh!” she urged.
“But why?” I asked. How much better could Scotland be than England?
“TRUST ME. It is the best place we visited. If you liked York, you will love Edinburgh.”
We almost didn’t get the privilege of going. In the middle of February I began researching hotels through expedia.com, the travel site I normally use. Everything that came up was well over $200 per night, most upwards to $400, far more than my budget would stretch to.
Doug had decided by this time, having already spent a week of vacation sightseeing with his family, to see how much of his per diem, our company allotted daily food and necessity allowance, he could take home. I was not as frugal, figuring everything about the two months working in England was a once in a lifetime chance for me. Still, I couldn’t bring myself to pay that kind of money to sleep for eight hours.
One of our British co-workers came to the rescue. “So, what are your plans for this weekend?” Andy asked. Doug had helped him get AAA guidebooks for his planned summer trip to New York, Orlando, and Washington D.C.. He felt personally obligated to make sure we had a good time in his home country.
I explained that I had wanted to go to Edinburgh, but the hotel cost was prohibitive. Between four and five hours of driving away, staying overnight was a necessity.
“You need to go online and book a room with the Premier Travel Inns,” he said. “We always stay there when we travel. They aren’t fancy but they’re clean, and their prices are very reasonable. They each have a great pub next door too.”
As soon as I got back to the apartment after work I checked the website he had printed out for me. They showed rooms available as close as eleven miles away from the city, for fifty pounds sterling, roughly $100. Driving to work the next day, I told Doug about the find.
“For that price I’ll go,” he said, changing his mind. “Just tell me what I owe you.”
I checked back in after work that day to find the closest rooms had moved to twenty-two miles away from the city, in Falkirk. What was going on that all these rooms were filling up, I wondered, when it was still wintertime? Not exactly prime tourist season.
Less than twenty-four hours later, that question was answered.
We left the apartments before dawn on a Saturday morning for the long drive and found ourselves in Falkirk by 11:00am. We stopped at the hotel to check in and get directions to the Polmont train station. At the station, we only had to decide if we needed to buy tickets for Haymarket or Waverly, and the kindly clerk helped us with that. To see the castle, we needed to go to the end of the line, to Waverly.
While waiting the twenty minutes for the train, people started wandering into the station. Several of the men wore kilts. I wondered if this was a normal Saturday morning ritual, or if they were headed to something like the Civil War reenactments we had at home in Kentucky.
The train pulled up and the doors opened. It was already filled with people and we had to stuff ourselves inside. I couldn’t believe this many people were headed to Edinburgh for the shopping on such a chilly morning and I said as much to Doug. Two nicely dressed ladies crushed in closest to us, a blonde and brunette, heard our conversation and asked where we were from.
“Kentucky,” I replied. My sister’s admonishment to first say ‘the United States’ had done no good. These people knew that just by listening to us anyway. I figured they wanted a more specific location.
“Are you here for the rugby?” the dark haired lady asked, after we exhausted the usual explanations about what is good about Kentucky besides fried chicken.
“What rugby?” Doug and I must have looked clueless to her.
“The Six Nations match today,” her blonde friend explained. “Ireland against Edinburgh.”
AHA, all questions answered. I looked around. Most of the men, including these ladies’ husbands, were attired in the same plaid kilt I had seen on the man at the station, and wore navy blue rugby jerseys boasting the words ‘The Famous Grouse’: a brand of not-very-smooth Scotch whiskey I later learned, and the sponsor of the Scottish national rugby team.
Those who weren’t dressed in the navy outfits wore green, obviously Irish fans. More and more people pressed into the cars at each stop, most all of them rugby fans bound for Haymarket, the stop for the stadium. All were in good spirits, seemingly unmindful of the lack of personal space and the cold, gloomy day outside, looking forward only to the upcoming match.
“Do you think Scotland will win?” Doug asked the brunette, who had shed her coat as the train car’s temperature rose with additional body heat.
Her husband laughed. “Aye it’s highly doubtful. We still like playing the Irish though. We’re akin to them.”
“Is that because you share a common enemy?” Doug asked, with a gleam in his eye, meaning the English.
The man snorted. “Eh, you just may be onto something there.”
“When our Scots get too far behind,” the brunette said, “we’ll just sneak out and go shopping on Prince’s Street.” She winked at her blonde friend before turning back to us. “You really should get to a match before you head home.”
I only wished we had the time, to do that and the hundreds of other things we weren’t going to get to. Two months had seemed like a long time at the onset but we were nearing the end of our tour-of-duty as quickly as the train pulled into the Haymarket station.
The doors opened and ninety-nine percent of the people in our car started moving forward. We could see the thousands of gaily dressed fans streaming into the stadium on the hill above us.
“Enjoy your visit in Edinburgh!” yelled the brunette, waving, as the throng pressed her out onto the platform.
We planned to.