It began with a cross-country train, ten or so cars long, departing from London Kings Cross at half past noon on a Saturday. We set out for a small coastal village, one that required two trains, a bus, and a stop in Edinburgh. When we finally arrived around dinner time, the sky had been dark for hours.
St. Andrews, Scotland. It’s a charming place where brightly painted doors defy winter’s gloom. It’s also a temporary home to our friends from Northern Colorado, along with some of the world’s top scholars (our friend is one of them). St. Andrew’s University, we learned, rivals Oxford and Cambridge with its rigorous academics.
First was dinner, obligatory fish and chips (not the greasy chippy kind, but the lightly battered with handcrafted tartar sauce kind) followed by retreating to the local brewery for drinks, a dim hideaway where dogs curled by ankles standing at the bar, owners sipping on pints. Wood and ales and people warmed the small space; the students were back from the holiday break and the town felt of it.
The weather in St. Andrews was bitter, with icy gales blowing in from the North Sea. We bundled in layers and set out to explore the next day anyhow — walking cities in frigid temps has become something of the norm for us while living in Europe. Our friends swapped turns as tour guides, sharing facts and fables as we wandered cobblestone streets and church ruins, beaches and university halls. Talks of pastimes in Colorado wove themselves with conversations about our newfound lives in Europe, not unlike the contrast of modern store signs braced to ancient brick. How do we bridge our people and places? What is home, and community, and belonging in a life lived by the North Sea, under the hazy skies of London? Can my beach be one with sand from past and present, west and east?
By lunchtime, we were in need of respite from the wind, so we found a farmhouse cafe with bowls of soup and buttery bread. In the distance, coos lounged in a field. My friend loves coos; it was exciting to see delight spread across her face as we spotted them near the hay bales.
We wandered from the farmhouse back to the sea, and took an elevator to the top floor of the grand hotel just as the sun began to set; it was a few minutes past four. A wall of windows framed the world-famous golf course and we sipped our drinks, the lawn changing from green to black, absorbed into the night. “When was the last time you saw stars this bright?” our friends asked as we wandered home. “Colorado? Last winter when we went camping in Scotland?” I couldn’t remember.
We finished the night back at their home, a tiny flat on the third floor of a college building. We huddled around baked haggis nachos and homemade salsa (because it’s better to make it here) while watching a movie on a laptop screen. Sleep came easily and we
ST. ANDREWS, SCOTLAND