What I’ve Learned Living in Scotland for a Month

Scotland castle sunset

Spoiler alert: I’ve changed all my plans for this city.

Time has disappeared. Over the past month of living in Scotland, I’ve learned to love the Scottish sky, the bright red doors, and the friendly faces in pubs and cafes – the castle views, the hidden alleyways, and distant moors on the horizon.

Arthur's Seat view

And if I had adhered to my original plan, I’d be on a plane back to Chicago today.

To visit Scotland is to fall in love – the two as synonymous as Paris and beauty, or London and excitement.

This country feels just as much like home as it did the last time I visited ten years ago – so much so that I couldn’t possibly leave after one month. I’ve met too many people, and have fallen too deeply, irrevocably in love with Edinburgh to simply wave goodbye when it’s just beginning to feel like home.  So, after a full 24 hours of forcing some of my best friends and parents to listen to me debate staying (all of them knowing full well what I’d decide in the end), I once again made a decision based entirely on my emotions.

And then, of course, every single person subjected to my inner turmoil shook their heads and sighed, muttering, “I knew you’d stay.”

In the end, it was my mom’s advice that kept me rooted here.  “Life is short,” she reminded me.  “And you seem really happy, so just stay for a while.”

I don’t think I’ll ever feel ready to leave Edinburgh, but at least I’ll have a few more memories to store away – a little extra time to experience the city.  I’m sure my perspective will change in a month, but for now, I’ve learned a great deal from living in Scotland.

Locals Are in Love with their Home

Sometimes, when you ask someone where she’s from and she responds with, “I’ve lived here my whole life,” a wistful, mournful expression will slip across her face – a fleeting moment of insight before it slips away again.  Many people in life stay where they grew up.  Whether it’s out of necessity, fear, or laziness, life sometimes just happens, and we watch it pass.

However, some people genuinely fall in love with their hometowns or cities, and take immense pride in it.  With Edinburgh, I can understand never wanting to leave.

Edinburgh castle

From taxi drivers to bartenders, nearly every local I’ve met has expressed complete adoration for their city.  It’s not only pride, for pride often manifests as an absurd, irrelevant culture competition.  No, these people seem to truly love their city, and when they discuss Edinburgh or Scotland, they oftentimes proceed to provide an itinerary that could last me for a year.  It’s one of the most charming aspects of living here.

The taxi drivers like to take the blame for everything

This is a rather bizarre observation but my propensity towards (excessive) tardiness (sorry to everyone who still loves me) sometimes lands me in taxis zipping away towards dates that began five minutes before I left my apartment. I promise I’m working on this. The point is that the taxi driver always asks why I’m so rushed. One driver actually saw me jog to the ATM to retrieve cash before flagging him down. A little pre-date exercise, if you will. When I explain, literally every single driver has said, “Just blame it on me! He’ll be none the wiser!”

Taxi #1: “This guy was expecting me at a masquerade party five minutes ago…” (Seriously, a masquerade party).

“Ahh, don’t worry lass, we’ll say it’s my fault. If he’s a good one, he’ll still be waiting when you show up.”

(He was still waiting).

Taxi #2: “My friend is out at a bar waiting for me…”

“It’s my fault! Don’t you worry.”

Taxi #3: “Hi, Waverley Station please – my train actually leaves in just a few minutes…”

“Ahh, you’ll make it with me! And if you don’t, just tell them it’s my fault and you’ll be fine.”

Admittedly, the last one made less sense than the rest.  But I find their unnecessary eagerness to take the blame for my own mistakes quite endearing.

Edinburgh sunset

Edinburgh is a book-lover’s dream

From Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s birthplace to J.K. Rowling’s old haunts, literary pub tours, and the Writer’s Museum, Edinburgh’s literary history is complex and varied enough to last you for days and days.

Keep an eye out for upcoming related posts, including a trip tracing J.K. Rowling’s steps! Recognize the name?

Tom Riddle Graveyard

The accent

I was hoping to have mastered the Scottish accent by now. My Scottish friends will tell you that this has not happened. Moving on.

You’ll never see everything here

Despite being a small city, Edinburgh isn’t like some cities in which there are maybe ten noteworthy tourist attractions. Scotland’s capital has a never-ending list of places to go see, experiences to savor, hidden corners and alleyways, closes along the Royal Mile begging to be wandered – the city itself is a mystery, as intriguing and beguiling as the hidden castle pathways of Hogwarts. No matter how much time you spend here, no matter how intimate your relationship with the city, you’ll never quite see it all. And that’s just part of its indescribable charm.

Living in Scotland

On a personal level, I’ve rediscovered my own resilience

I wouldn’t trade my time in Paris for the world, but it was a fragmented year that challenged me beyond belief. And then, moving back to Milwaukee upset my entire life balance; I remember feeling as if I lived underwater, and watched the sunlight brighten and fade again through the sting of sea water.

Reverse culture shock at its finest.

My last few months living in Milwaukee were genuinely happy ones, and I’m grateful for the people in my life, but that took a long time to cultivate.  Now, living in Edinburgh, I feel lighter than I have in a long, long time. Ever since living in Bordeaux, I’ve known that I’m a fairly resilient person, and am able to survive nearly any emotional trauma. And in an odd way, the complete weightlessness I’ve experienced while being here has allowed me to rediscover that trait – not because I’m surviving something difficult, but because I’m so effortlessly happy. As if I’ve finally come full circle.

Whenever I’m at particularly low or high points in my life, I always remember Philippa Gregory’s Lady of the Rivers.  On the eve of Margaret of Anjou’s royal wedding night, Jacquetta of Luxembourg explains to Margaret that the wheel of fortune spins and spins and spins.  Her advice foreshadows the tumultuous War of the Roses as much as it applies to each character’s personal journey.  As absurdly romantic as it sounds, I’ve honestly been happier than I’ve ever been in my life while living here.  And although the wheel will spin, and it will all change and evolve, I’m content with the impending transitions.  I just couldn’t abandon this feeling quite so soon because, as my mom reminded me, life is short.

Stirling with Chris

Edinburgh is the perfect city for me

Why exactly have I fallen in love with Scotland?  It’s difficult to say.  Perhaps it’s the comforting close proximity to nature, or the magnificent castle, or some of the wonderful people I’ve met. Perhaps it’s the history, the intricately carved stone buildings, J.K. Rowling’s café – or the Sunday mornings awash in sunlit showers, the kind with rain soft enough to be a lover’s kisses, and wispy clouds that follow the sunlight.

It’s everything and nothing – a feeling or instinctive reaction to a beautiful balance of city life and natural Scottish ruggedness, blended with people and moments already well-protected in my box of glittering memories.

Visit this city if you can. Explore the castle, get lost amongst the secret gardens, or hike Arthur’s Seat, and let the Scottish winds carry you away.


Have you ever been to Edinburgh?   Follow along on my Instagram @bonvoyagealex to stay up to date with my adventures!

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