N.B. True story!
If my friend Paula—the experienced traveler—could have seen me on Oct. 23rd 2000 at about 5 PM, she would have cried with laughter. I had just sat back behind the steering wheel of my rented car in Edinburgh’s busy city centre and I was wiping my face and twisting my hair, drenched as I was from a short run into a rainstorm.
Actually, I was about to burst into tears myself, but from self-pity.
Note to first-time women travelers in Great-Britain: any item regarding moisture control—hooded raincoats, weatherproof mascara, working windshield wipers, etc.—are a must here.
I remember that while frustrated to have to stop every five minutes to ask for directions, I blamed no one but myself. I had chosen to visit Scotland alone, on a whim. So, I had purchased my plane tickets, bed and breakfast coupons and Sterling money within 10 days. The one thing I had not gotten was a precise itinerary.
Note to impulsive travelers: a bit of planning is not necessarily a bad thing.
My traveling routine was not totally disorganized, though. I chose a site or region to visit, found a nice B & B in that area and asked the landlords what there was to see nearby. On one hand, it allowed me to see some seldom visited attractions, to meet tourists who were just as lost as I, and to encounter countless helpful people. But on the other hand, it meant I often had to ask directions, which was complicated by language; my French-Canadian-tinted-English clashed with the Scottish burr.
Note to English speaking travelers in Scotland: mentally remove most of the “r”s from any sentence uttered by any Scot.
So, on that fateful evening, I pushed off the mental image of a grinning Paula and kept trying to find lodging. But hotels were full and B & B refused my pre-paid coupons. After delaying supper well past 6 PM, I came to a roundabout that seemed familiar; sure enough, I must have passed it ten times in the last hour. Going through it twice, I finally gave up and took the first exit, at random.
Note to shy travelers in Europe: roundabouts are great! You can keep turning in them for some time and no one will realize exactly how long you’ve been there.
I soon spotted an Esso gas station and pulled over as if it were a lifeline. Entering the shop next to it, I headed straight for the middle aged blonde clerk behind the till. In my limited experience, B & Bs were easier to find in the countryside, and they took my coupons there. So, my plan was to head to the nearby suburbs or even further, to a quiet village.
“Could you please tell me how to get out of Edinburgh?” I remember hearing the begging note in my voice, which made me cringe.
“But…why? It’s such a beautiful city.” The woman seemed genuinely surprised to hear that anyone would ever willingly want to leave Scotland’s capital.
“It might be, but I’m lost.” I didn’t need to add about being wet and cold from the downpour since I dripped on the floor while shivering, and I didn’t have to mention being famished because my stomach chose this moment to rumble.
“Then why don’t you come and stay at my place?” The woman smiled innocently, as if she just told me where to find teabags in the store.
My first thought was that she was mad. My second was that I must be too, and growing desperate. Still, wanting to give her a chance to rethink her offer, I told her I would be back in an hour. I figured that by then, she would simply point me out of the city with some vague excuse about having just given my place to another lost, half-drowned tourist.
“I’m Marie.” She winked. “Just you go and get your supper hen, and come back here by 8 PM.” She then pointed me towards a nearby pub.
Note to weary travelers: no matter your wishes or needs, Scots will all eventually point you towards their local pub.
When I came back, Marie had not changed her mind. I was still hesitating but she told me she was only returning a favour to Destiny since a woman had once helped her out in such a way. Thinking I might end up doing the same thing one day, I finally accepted her generous offer. Her apartment was small, it was located nearby and in it, I felt safe and welcomed.
The next morning, I thanked Marie profusely and she sent me on my way to the castle, which I wanted to visit. But before I went, she gave me two phone numbers; the first one was hers and the second one was her brother’s. She told me to call her if I got lost again in Edinburgh and to call him if I got lost when I went to the country’s eastern coastline, as I mentioned was my plan. I tried not to take offence at her obvious lack of trust in my sense of direction and left. I did visit the castle and I did head east, to a small town called Berwick-upon-Tweed. Where—you guessed it—I got lost again.
I could almost hear Paula’s hysterical laughter in my head. Unable to blame darkness or the size of the town, I chose to blame the left-hand driving instead since I had had my fill of gear changing over the last twenty-four hours.
Note to right-hand travelers used to right-hand driving: go to the gym a month before your trip to Britain to muscle your left shoulder properly.
Rubbing my abused shoulder, I asked my way around. Unsurprisingly, I got clear directions punctuated with too many “r”s to three local pubs. But no one could tell me the name of the street where I had just parked my car.
Note to music loving travelers: I’m convinced U2’s hit “Where the streets have no name” was written after the band got lost in Berwick-upon-Tweed.
Finally, seeing the light of day start to fade, I resigned myself to call Marie’s brother. I had had no intention of doing so but I didn’t want to end up in the same situation as the previous day’s. I figured he would give me directions before calling his sister and telling her of his encounter with the silly French Canadian tourist who kept getting lost everywhere.
Note to women travelers: stay safe! Don’t call strangers in a foreign country. Unless you absolutely have to, that is…
Five minutes later, I was in love.
I met my William on October 24th 2000. We were married on October 6th 2001. A true, lasting case of love at first sight.
So I got lost. But I found friendship. And love.
Note to the romantic travelers: do not go to Scotland to find a husband. Do go for the people though. They are worth it.