When we travel, it’s not always the obvious trips or sites that have the most impact. Alumni Ambassador Mikayla interned in London, but before she started work, she took a trip to Scotland over Valentine’s Day weekend that turned out to be one of her most memorable experiences abroad.
When I came back from being abroad, one of the most popular questions was, Where was the best place you visited? While that was a tough question, my answer was usually the same each time: Scotland. Not only was it beautiful, but the entire experience summed up—to me—what it meant to travel. This is how it went:
I was studying in London, and my internship was to start the Monday after Valentine’s Day weekend. As a last hurrah, and in celebration of the 14th, three friends and I planned a trip to Scotland for the weekend. We were to leave Thursday night and be back at 7 a.m. on our first day to work. That meant our transportation had to all go according to schedule.
In the dead of night, the four of us caught a bus over to the coach station and got on an eight hour over-night bus to a station in Scotland. We made our way a few streets over to a train station. There, we bought croissants at Starbucks and boarded our train for a three hour ride that was nothing short of the most scenic experience I have ever had. There were technical issues, a few stops for maintenance, and a time when all passengers had to get out of one cart and go to another, and then back again. This added a few more hours to our trip, and we hoped it was smoother on the way back—so we didn’t miss our coach.
We got off at one of the last stops: Dalmally. There was no station, for it had been transformed into someone’s house, who knows how long ago. We needed one more bus, to take us 7 miles to our inn. We searched for the bus stop along the only street we could see. There were maybe ten houses, no cars, and not a soul in site. We tried asking for help at a bed and breakfast, but when we opened the door, no one responded. We finally knocked on the door of the station-turned-house, and a cheery Scotswoman answered. She gave us coffee, tea, and biscuits. She informed us that the bus we needed only came two times a day and we had missed both. She rang the inn we were staying at and the owner said she could come get us. While we waited she told us about her life—she was in the business of dyed felt and her husband raised sheep. She showed me her books on natural dyes and their dog ran around the cluttered house. It was the most welcomed I’ve felt in any house I’ve been in. She told us they get lost travelers all the time.
The wiry old inn-keeper came and picked us up and drove us through the mountains to Cladich. We did the math and it had now been somewhere over 24 hours since we’d eaten (the croissants aside). Our plan to food shop was squashed when we found out how far we’d have to walk to get there. The inn-keeper said that her husband was going to the store that night and if we made a list he could pick things up for us. We finally got to our inn (an old castle) set on a lake (Loche Awe) surrounded by incredible snow topped mountains.
We spent the weekend in this peaceful sanctuary, away from the bustle of any world we had known before. When we hiked, the trees and ground were covered in moss that was greener than seemed natural. There were goats and yaks that stopped and stared as we went by. At night we shared stories with the middle-aged Scots that frequented the tiny bar in the inn, tended by the inn-keeper herself. That first night we celebrated the 30th birthday of a man that worked at the inn, sharing the celebration with five other locals.
It went that way for the whole Galentine’s weekend. Getting home to London though, became less than peaceful. That bus we missed when we first got to Dalmally? We needed it to get back to the train station. It was running far too early that Sunday, however, and we would have been sitting in the abandoned village for half of the day. We redirected our plans to take that bus the opposite way to Oban, a little town that had more going on, and pick up our train back from there. To get that bus though, we hiked two miles from the inn to get to the main street where, at some point, the bus would come by. A bus stop did not exist. We had to throw our arm out when we saw it coming around the bend and hope it stopped—and hoped there was room for us. This went successfully and we explored Oban for the day. The train ride had no issues, and we made it just in time for our overnight coach back to London, and back just in time to get ready for work.
The traveling was not easy—it was piecemeal and uncertain—but it was the most authentic traveling I had ever done. So much could have gone wrong but did not. It turned out to be the best Valentine’s Day I have had to date.