June 21st, 2018. Summer solstice, the longest day of the year. That night it seemed like the sun didn’t set, and outside of Craig and Sara’s flat the seagulls understood that quite well. I was exhausted from long flights and layovers, so much so I hardly noticed much of my surroundings at first. As Sean took me to town however, I couldn’t help notice the dozen traffic cones on top of the Duke of Wellington statue, breaking a record, totally legal: this is a country with a sense of humor. That was a very good first impression.
Then we headed to a barbecue at Queen’s park – us and about half of the population of the surrounding neighborhoods, a lot with their “taps off” – in a demonstration of appreciation for the sun, that I knew I would share in the future. At 7 pm with a sun that felt like a 1 pm sun, we cooked on portable/disposable grills, sweating and drinking not-so-cold-anymore cider in the park while groups of friends and their pets as well as families did the same on a week night. Runners passed by, dogs chased balls, couples strolled with their babies, everything simple, but some one of the purest forms of enjoyment that human beings have always known and that the Scots enjoy to its fullest: being outside.
The following three weeks were the ending of one of the greatest good weather spells known maybe in a decade, with high temperatures, sunny days and no rain whatsoever. Since I wasn’t working yet, Sean started taking me around. Right off the bat, I saw Scotland at its prettiest: from the valleys of Glencoe with the sound of a bagpipe in the background and wild swimming in the creeks, to castles surrounded in mist, to the bucolic and strikingly beautiful landscapes of the Isle of Skye. We hiked ridges, climbed in quarries, then climbed in sea cliffs, then climbed featureless granite faces in the Cairngorms, climbed in the best indoor gym in the world, climbed a lot in an amazing bouldering gym, camped in the van in front of the sea, I tried haggis, I ate venison, fell in love with ciders, watched the sun set at 10 pm, walked through the charming Royal Mile of Edinburgh to try my first “chippy” (fish and chips), wandered around the cafe-filled streets of the south side of Glasgow, and threw myself on the main tourist attractions of the same city. We passed through the shores of Loch Lomond, visited Fort Williams briefly, had an afternoon in Stirling castle and another on Blackness castle, many others around Linlithgow and its palace, and signed up for a year of free castle visits (I’m a castle and history nerd).
I went to some interviews, we rented a flat, got a job, got most of the bureaucratic admin stuff you do when moving countries (still trying to get rid of the French bureaucracy though…), gave myself a shoulder injury, I started cycling to work (luxury), I went back to yoga. I discovered crumpets, perfected the art of cooking poached eggs, and am in the European country with the best variety of gluten-free products I’ve seen so far, for a very fair price. I now use wee instead of little.
I went to my first Scottish wedding, and no wonder people here love weddings. First it’s the men that are the center of attention in their elaborate kilt outfits, second, they know how to have fun. As I met for the first time a huge number of Sean’s relatives, I felt as if I had been going to a family reunion I was already part of before even meeting them, instead of a formal introduction, and that just made things easier. What an amazing new family to be part of.
Most important, Scottish people seem to be of a simple, honest type, the type that worries and cares about the right things – I don’t see an obsession with ownership, with fashion, with status, with frugal and ephemeral things. I see a discreet joy in being around others, in smiling and in welcoming. They mind their own business as a people, and do so very well. Glasgow itself might be one of the most diverse cities I’ve ever been to with immigrants from every corner of the globe. Prejudice and racism here seem to be very frown upon, and that says a lot about Glaswegians. In general, Scottish people are a textbook example of people who make the most with the whatever they have, and I identify a lot with that mindset.
Also imperative to mention the sense of humor that’s famous everywhere and which I’m still learning to understand (slang, accent and language wise) but the banter 24/7 is highly appreciated. They also seem to know how to appreciate the here and now in a very social way. That may explain why I felt so welcome by every single person I met, and how Sean’s family made me feel part of their own from the first moment I met each of them. The word to describe these past months, even with all the rain, wind, and hardships of moving to country you never been to and know no one but your significant other, is most likely warmth.
Now it doesn’t mean I’m settled, far from that. Adapting back to a “standard” life after years of living as a nomad is not easy. But there is comfort of having a cozy flat and a nice kitchen. More than that, being assured of having made the right decision right as I arrived, thanks to such hospitable environment and people. Scotland and I, we clicked right away, and I can surely say Scottish people are the friendliest Europeans I’ve met (yes, yes, yes, more than all the Latin people, yes!). On top of that, it is a tiny country packed with stunning landscapes, including YES, mountains, sometimes just over an hour drive away – and I haven’t even been winter climbing yet, and Scotland is THE holy grail of winter climbing. A big WOW to the Highlands! Wild, idyllic, isolated, rugged, from coast to inland, aside from a very interesting history. After travelling in 5 continents and living in three, I can say Scotland is one of the prettiest countries I’ve been to, especially because it is pretty all over, and not just here and there. It is a hidden gem, the people know it, and it is valued, cared for, and reason for pride.
Still so many places to go and seasons to see… The north, Inverness, Orkney, the western islands, St. Kilda, Shetland, hundreds of munroes to summit, dozens of castles and archaeological sites, the beaches that look like they belong in the Caribbean… I’m not setting foot off of Scotland anytime soon. Thank you Universe for bringing me here. I am very happy to call Scotland home.