Arriving in Edinburgh, or: The Hookah and the Wanker
Soundtrack: "Jesus I Was Evil" by Darcy Clay
After a harrowing plane flight out of a paranoid country still reeling from the 11 September attacks, through security check after security check (which I believe probably searched me a half a dozen times because of my stupidly reading "Catcher in the Rye" while traveling, not to mention my full beard which makes me look like a blond Islamic fundamentalist), I arrived in Edinburgh International Airport. EdIA is perhaps the least impressive way to get a taste of what's awaiting you in Edinburgh (perhaps only challenged by the stupifyingly ugly Waverly Train Station).
EdIA is clean and well-lit, but it's blocky and unassuming, an instantly forgettable building. It gives you no indication that you are a fifteen minute bus ride from one of the most striking and beautiful cities in the world.
However, it does have a hint of some of the style of problems that you may encounter while in Edinburgh. For instance, the smoking section is completely bereft of ashtrays--this is just to let the traveler know that Scotland is a country with its heart in the right place, but occasionally completely unable to actually follow through on that "heart."
Still, after that fifteen minute bus ride into the city, you're willing to forgive any number of lost ashtrays and problems of that ilk. Arriving into the city centre, your reaction would probably be much akin to mine: "Holy shit, there's a big fucking castle in the middle of the city!" I must have stood staring at the massive fairy tale castle for about five minutes before I realized I had a more pressing problem: "where am I going to stay?"
I choose Prince's St. East Backpackers Hostel for one simple reason. The Lonely Planet guide said it had an immense number of stairs to climb, which I hoped would scare off a fair number of potential customers, thus enabling me to snag a bed on a Sunday night.
I was in luck. There was an open bed in Room H (bed "Hell", to be precise), and some free space on the smelly disgusting floor for me to put my stuff.
The smell and the general disgusting nature of the place were forgiven when I walked into the hostel's dining room. In there, in full view of everyone, were three people sucking on a massive hookah straight out of "Alice in Wonderland."
But instead of having a suck on the hookah myself, I was quickly distracted by a group of people playing drinking games, making up the rules as they went along and writing them down. I sat down and started playing, and we came up with the Princes St. Backpackers Edition of Around the World, which maintained a stranglehold as the hostel drinking game for my entire time at the hostel (of course, the fact that we had the rules posted on the wall the entire time and I kept aggressively pushing the game on newcomers probably contributed to that a bit). I assume that after I left the game died out...or rather, dryed out.
That warm fuzzy feeling of optimism about hostel life was tempered a bit the next morning. I had been moderately pleased to return to my bed--warmed by making new friends and forging a new drinking game--to discover that there were eight girls and one other guy in my room. Not that I was feeling particularly predatory or anything; it's just generally more pleasant to wake up to a room full of girls than a room full of guys.
This was just a general feeling rather than anything concrete, until my first Edinburgh morning. I woke around 10am, early by my own heavy-drinking standards, late by my fellow traveler standards. I would have slept even further, if not for the rhythmic squeeking and rustling coming from the bed next to mine. At first, I thought it might be the other guy getting it on with his exceptionally beautiful girlfriend. Except, when I turned as surreptitiously as possible, there was no girl. Just one guy, taking advantage of his girlfriend's absence to get it on with himself.
There's only one appropriate response (there are many inappropriate responses): stay quiet, hope he doesn't last long, try to get back to sleep, and think dark thoughts (hope he hurts himself, hope he somehow touched poison ivy recently, hope his girlfriend walks in on him and is so disgusted that she dumps him, perhaps for someone else who knows what she went through).
Within twelve hours of my arrival, I'd had both the highs and lows of hostel life demonstrated dramatically. How great it is to have so many people around willing to drink, but how awful it is to have so many sexually keyed up around without any privacy.
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