December 8th, 2014 – Oxford, United Kingdom – 3:42 p.m.
Mary and Cora are working on papers in our room at the Vines in Oxford. I am supposed to be doing the same, but instead, I am looking up flights and trying desperately to get my travels plans in order before I leave the following week. Naturally, I am distracting them by requiring their input into my decision.
“It’s fifty dollars cheaper to fly on New Year’s Eve than any day before or after during the time frame I’m working with,” I tell them, scrolling through the list of prices on Expedia. “It’s fine, right? I mean, I think it’s worth the money, and I don’t care if I spent New Years’ Eve on a plane; I’ll just be happy to be in Scotland the next day.” They do not answer. They have their headphones in, and they are dutifully typing. “Right,” I say to myself, and book the ticket. Paris to Edinburgh, December 31st, 7:45 p.m. to 8:30 p.m., with a time zone change included, so that makes an hour and 45 minutes on the plane. I scamper downstairs to print the ticket, and I tuck it into the pocket of my backpack. Since I’m traveling solo again, I can take advantage of holidays to get deals. And I’m not worried about not celebrating New Years’ Eve. I’m just happy to be traveling again.
December 29th, 2014 – Paris, France – 10:39 a.m.
Maybe I should book a hostel for Edinburgh today.
Or maybe I could just do that later, and go to St. Chapelle and the Musee d’Orsay now.
Yeah, that’s what I’ll do.
December 30th, 2014 – Paris, France – 9:40 p.m.
I am sitting in Solja’s friend’s flat in central Paris. After a weekend of sightseeing and exploring with the lovely Solja, I’m now here alone, as she has gone home. As I’m leaving the following evening for Scotland, I really need to book accommodation. You are so chill this time around, I think to myself. Before I left for Europe in August, I had every hostel booked, every flight scheduled before I boarded the plane across the pond. This time, I wait until the day before or so, sometimes even arriving in a city without any plan or place to stay. Venice, for instance. I suppose I’ve become accustomed to traveling more; I’m not as anxious as I used to be.
I open the browser and look up hostels in Edinburgh. There is no availability for the dates you searched, the first hostel says. And the second. And the third and fourth. Finally, I come across High Street Hostel on the Royal Mile, with 2 beds open. I sprint into the bedroom, grab my debit card as fast as I can, and snag the bed. Apparently Edinburgh is the place to be on New Year’s.
December 31st, 2014 – Edinburgh, United Kingdom – 10:03 p.m.
I find my way to the hostel. As I get my key and pass, the guy at the desk asks, “So what are you doing tonight?”
“Uh, I think I’ll go…check out what’s going on around town…I guess,” I answer. I don’t have any plans, really. Actually, I do: my plans are to edit the essays I’ve been putting off.
“Well, if you want to go to the street party, here’s a ticket.” He hands me a wristband. 17.50 pounds was the price of the ticket, it says on the wristband. Hefty cost for a party. Maybe I will go.
I walk into my room. It is empty except for one girl sitting on the bunk below mine. She introduces herself as Lisa from Texas, and we get to talking. “So I think I’m heading out to the street party in a bit,” she says, and I decide to forgo the essays and join her.
So this is why all the hostels were booked. Hogmanay. Scotland rings in the New Year like nothing I’ve ever seen. Lisa and I are standing on a curb in the road, surrounded by people packed in on every side. Traffic is blocked off throughout the entire city center. Lily Allen is performing somewhere in the middle of the mayhem, and there’s a stage to our left with another singer. A family is behind us, and Lisa and I are doing our best to form a blockade to shield the little girl from the hordes of people. A couple people fall into us, tripping on the curb, and it’s clear that they’re drunk. “And that is how people get trampled,” Lisa quips.
I look down the street, and for the first time I actually understand the phrase “a sea of people.” There are so many people lining the streets, and they keep surging this way and that, and from our vantage point on the high curb, we have the best view in the city. The castle is lit up with fire just up the hill, and down the hill the ferris wheel and the Christmas market twinkle at us.
We count down with the mass of people to ring in the New Year, and at 12:00 a.m., the fireworks show surpasses any I’ve ever seen before. The entire sky looks alternately red, gold, green, as the fireworks color the clouds of smoke. Above the fireworks, the castle gleams in the darkness, and there is a ring around the moon. The sky lights up and more gold, and then red again, and then lavender and orange. And all of us are here together, gazing up at the glitter and fire. We are here together, these 75,000 people that flock to Edinburgh every Hogmanay, and I am in the midst of the biggest celebration I’ve ever experienced. I can’t help but laugh. What a way to finish this adventure.
And I’m only here tonight, in this place at this time, because the flight was cheap.
Happy New Year!