Author: S.F. Lunde
Educator: Tanya Neumiller
The Home Stretch
It was a nineteen-day trip in total; two days in London, four in Edinburgh, two in Durham, and six in Norway, with room in between for traveling between destinations. This trip was to be my first big trip to Europe, I had only been to Norway before and was looking forward to seeing everywhere else. But long trips cannot be mistaken for vacations, especially not when you’re traveling with family, lugging around Grandma’s broken suitcase over hills, and inconveniently discover that you have allergies.
On this adventure, I discovered my happy place. But it wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows, and I mean that quite literally. The Scottish sky is a consistent shade of grey.
Leading the way off the train platform was my cousin, and best friend, Rae. Her suitcase was small and compact, built for light traveling and easy lifting. I followed her off. The only reason we were the first off was because of the normal size of our suitcases. Mine was a duffle bag, built for quick movements and packed with care. I would have to re-wear most of my clothes by the end of the first week, but that didn’t matter so much. But right behind us was Big Blue. My Mom’s cousin, Norah, hauled behind her a giant blue suitcase that reached my waistline. It was a travelling monstrosity. The size alone made my suitcase cower in fear. Norah was left with this suitcase when her sons both took the only small suitcases she owned. Thankfully, Big Blue was not filled to the brim. But Grandma’s was. It wasn’t that much larger in size than Rae’s, but the little red thing looked like it could spontaneously combust at any given second. To this day, Rae is certain that the suitcase was filled with bricks.
Stepping out of the station, I sneezed as my traveling companions moved around me and towards the stairs. I lugged my suitcase up after them into the old city streets of Edinburgh, Scotland. All the buildings were yet another shade of grey, tall and covered in moss. The hilly streets outside the station were lined with cabs, though we chose to walk. After our London experience and our obsession to save money, the cab option was a no go. Giant suitcases in hand and heads held high, we popped open our travel binders to Scotland, courtesy of Uncle Joe. And there it was: our one and only map of Edinburgh.
And it was hand-drawn.
Now my uncle has a knack for this sort of thing. This wasn’t just some sloppy, C+ worthy map. This was the map of a true dungeon master. And this dungeon master likes to challenge his players.
The map was simple, showing only the streets needed to reach our current destination and their names. No buildings. No extra streets. Nothing more than what we couldn’t do without.
We studied our lifeline, memorizing the streets as best we could. In a single-file line, the women of my family followed each other uphill. We hadn’t gotten that far before the map made its way out again. Huddled together on the thin sidewalk of a curving, uphill road, we traced the path that had been drawn for us. Currently, we were on Cockburn Street, headed uphill to Warriston’s Close, a direct road to the Royal Mile. We closed our map and with Big Blue lugging behind Norah, we climbed up and turned right onto Warriston’s Close.
I have felt my heart drop in my stomach many times. Yet never have I felt my heart fly to my head in anger and frustration. Our path to the Royal Mile was up a flight of stairs. Medieval stairs, narrow and uneven with only a weak banister for support. There were, at the very least, a hundred of them.
“No. Absolutely not.” Norah was leaning over Big Blue, her giant suitcase, at the end of our line. I stood next to her, too in awe to help Mom and Rae retrace our steps. But at the top of the staircase, I could just make out the small sign nailed to the old building: Royal Mile. And that was that. With a determined sigh and a single sneeze, I put the handle of my suitcase down and lifted. Accompanied by Rae, we lifted our normal-sized suitcases and trudged forward. Less than halfway up, we were breathing heavy. My eyes felt heavy and swollen as we trudged onward.
Behind us, my mother, grandmother, and second-cousin turned around to find some other, less treacherous path to take. Out of breath and irritable from our climb, Rae and I had reached the Royal Mile, long before our companions. It was a good ten, maybe twenty-minute wait, but there was plenty to see. Street performers were swallowing swords and breathing fire, artists captured the city life, and so Rae and I relished our short amount of time that we weren’t surrounded by our family.
When our companions reached us once more, the map was whipped out again. We followed the Royal Mile onto Grass Market. I was following Grandma uphill, and tripped over some sort of rolling object. I ignored it. In the front of our little cluster, there was a minor battle for leadership between my mother and Rae. The humorous tugging of maps and rolling eyes couldn’t seem to distract me from the objects I kept tripping over. Finally, I stopped and looked at it. It was a piece of black plastic. My gaze traveled to where Grandma’s suitcase had lost a wheel and a half. Begrudgingly, I offered to carry Grandma’s suitcase. I knew I should. She’s a 75-year-old woman, who’s been a trooper through everything, despite her age and the exhaustion of walking everywhere. I had to switch the thing between arms every few minutes, if I hadn’t, one of my arms would be extremely muscular today. Luckily for my tired arms, Rae offered to take it the last half of the walk.
It didn’t seem like we were too far from our street. But the thing about hand-drawn maps is that there is little to no way of telling just how far one street is from the other. What looked like a half an hour walk turned into an hour and a half. I trailed behind, allergies getting worse and worse as we went. For anyone who hasn’t been to Europe, the streets are not the typical grid system of North Dakota. They wind and break apart in more ways than one can imagine. We were on East Fountainbridge, a street with, ironically, no bridges, looking for our final turn before we were almost to our street: Home Street. Rae and my mother walked in the front, still fighting over the map while the rest of us grew weary.
“We’ve been to the end of the street and back. This is exactly where our hotel is supposed to be!” Mom said, glancing from the map to the walls of the buildings.
Grandma poked her head over her daughter’s shoulder. “Hmmm…that’s right. Here’s Lothian Road…” she trailed her fingers over the map, “So this should be our street.”
Rae and I glanced up. There was no sign on the other side of the street. In North Dakota, the perpendicular streets would only have two names, one for each road, but this one had four.
“Do ya need any help?” a friendly Scottish voice said from behind us.
Our disheveled group sighed as one in relief. “Yes, please!” Norah and Mom stepped under a tarp with the woman and her young daughter to try and decipher our map. Rae, Norah and I huddled together in front of a bright blue door to hide from the wind and rain. I sneezed more and more as the day continued. After a few confusing minutes, the rain died down, along with our hopes as the woman apologized for being unable to help.
Rae stepped forward, unable to reach the map, “Let’s just turn here. If this is Lothian, then this must be our street.” By this time, my cloudy mind was barely following the conversation, but I mumbled an agreement.
With an irritated groan, we were led onward.
“At least there aren’t any staircases,” Grandma offered a chance of positivity.
“Ha! And it’s not even on an incline!” Norah smiled and raised her arms up. I laughed and sneezed while Rae and Mom ignored us and continued on with their mission. “I mean, we could be treading uphill, then downhill, then uphill again.”
Ignoring their positivity, Rae asked my Mom, “What’s the name of the place?”
“Central Apartments Edinburgh.”
By this time, all hope of success was fleeting in my mind. We had been up and down the same street three times, and once we were even accompanied by a local. My nose hurt and my eyes stung and my back ached and I didn’t want to be anywhere near this hilly place.
While they searched the street for names again, I studied the mossy buildings that I suspected were the source of my allergies. The brightly colored door that I had hid from during the rain caught my gaze once again.
“What’s the name of our street?” I asked, my voice a thready croak.
“Home Street,” Mom responded from behind the map.
I shrugged and pointed, “Well, it doesn’t say Home Street, but I’m pretty sure that’s the place.”
Rae gaped at our ignorance for missing what was before our eyes, and Norah gave a shout of joy.
Grandma chuckled lowly, “Look at that, it was right in front of us the whole time!”
I would be a big fat liar if I said that our trip was easy after that adventure. It wasn’t. I left at least two dinners to go to the bathroom and cry because of allergies. Grandma was never able to fix her suitcase so it was constantly passed between my cousin and I. My Mom and Rae were in a constant battle over the map. Norah had a bout of travel anxiety while waiting for Rae’s brother to meet us at the airport in Durham. And yet, despite all the bitter rivalries and unexpected friendships with the locals, we didn’t hate each other. We were still hearty traveling companions, brought together by our love of the adventure of travel.
And if our journey should teach you anything, it’s that you will always reach your home street.