Travelling from Barcelona to Edinburgh was a mess! Anna, Ondrej, and I will share an apartment in Edinburgh and we all also work at EPCC (Ondrej and I even work on different aspects of the same project), so it was a logical decision to travel together.
Our flight was scheduled for 11 am which we considered a nice time as it didn’t require us to get up in the middle of the night and yet we would still arrive in a timely manner at the airport and get to our apartment in Edinburgh before dark.
Well…in the end, it didn’t work out like we expected. We got some sleep and arrived at the airport on time. Since we had already checked in online and printed our boarding passes, we only needed to drop off our luggage. It should have been easy and quick- or at least, that’s what we thought. The reality confronted us with a long queue, but we passed this first obstacle and managed to get our luggage onto the plane. Ryanair didn’t even complain about our suitcases being overweight by a combined four kilograms – success!
The next obstacle tackled was the security check and that’s where the problems started. No, none of us were accused of smuggling illegal stuff onto the plane. The problems started just after the checks, when suddenly, a passport and tickets were missing. Somewhere between entering the area and picking up our stuff, they must have disappeared. We were frantically looking through every bag and every pocket, even checking all the empty boxes to make sure that they weren’t there, but they weren’t. A staff member found them after ten minutes or so of increasing panic.
We were still on time (at least so we thought), so we decided to browse some of the shops, pick up a few souvenirs, and generally calm down again. Without hurrying, we strolled towards our gate, only to encounter another obstacle.
Passport controls. We didn’t even consider the possibility of more passport controls (maybe because all three of us originate from the Schengen Area) and we definitely didn’t expect them to take so long!
A huge mass of people stood in front of the counters, no distinguishable lines. Everyone just pushed towards the counters as a huge crowd and pretty much everyone was stressed out. At this moment, we had about ten to fifteen minutes left until boarding and for the first time, we doubted whether we would arrive in time for boarding. There was just so little movement, only one step forward every few minutes even in the lines reserved for owners of EU passports.
As the scheduled boarding time neared, we got a good look at the counters and discovered that most of them seemed to be deserted. Every few minutes, someone appeared and dealt with the waiting crowd, these were the moments when we got to move forward, and then disappear again after a few minutes, these were the moments when everything came to a halt. I still don’t understand why they had to leave the counters so often but it made the whole process excruciatingly slow.
As we talked with some of the other travelers trapped in the controls and shared our suffering, we found out that many of them had similar problems. Almost no one had anticipated being stuck in passport controls for such a long time and many of them were late for their flight, which actually gave us some faint hope. We most likely weren’t the only passengers for our flight stuck in the line! If many passengers were still missing, they might be more willing to wait a little.
Finally, someone stayed at the counter long enough to check our passports and allow us to continue. At this point, we were about five minutes late for our flight. We grabbed our stuff and ran!
Only to discover upon our arrival at the gate, that they hadn’t even finished loading the baggage onto the plane! Also, we had to wait long enough before boarding, we could confirm our suspicion: about ten people arrived even later than us, all of them were stuck in the passport controls. Even when we were all seated in the plane and the luggage stored, we had to wait for another plane before we were allowed to take off. In the end, our flight was delayed for almost an hour. I’m sure that the pilot made some more precise announcements, but sadly, we were unable to understand more than one word per sentence. The accent and the bad quality of the speakers rendered his comments into something that only remotely resembled English.
Upon our arrival in Edinburgh, we were greeted with rain, wind, and a white-grey sky. Compared to Barcelona, the temperature had dropped by almost 15 degrees – our reactions were mixed. Anna was freezing and declaring it to be a misguided winter, I actually appreciated it as refreshing, compared to the heat in Barcelona (but still put on my jacket). Another passport control awaited us, but this one was pleasantly quick compared to the experience in Barcelona. Reclaiming our luggage, as well as, finding an ATM to acquire a few pounds also didn’t present any struggle.
We stopped to take a picture with one of the advertisements in the airport… Regarding the current weather and its impact on the appearance of the landscape, it made me pretty wary of Scottish food… Now, ten days later, I am convinced of the beauty of the Scottish landscape but still sceptical about the food. More about that in a later blog post probably!
Minding the advice of Catherine, the EPCC site coordinator, and our accumulated 80+ kilograms of luggage (it’s a stay of two months in an area known for suddenly changing weather after all), we headed for a taxi, which made the whole process of arriving at our apartment faster and more enjoyable.
After receiving our apartment number and our RFID keys, we were finally able to enter our home away from home, for the next two months at least. We were pleasantly surprised!
Every one of us has their own room plus a small bathroom. It’s not huge and super-fancy but it contains everything you need and the furniture is nice and modern! Each apartment has four rooms and a shared kitchen/living room area. Since there are four rooms, the three of us are grouped with another resident. So far, we have had two different people living with us and the number will probably increase over the summer.
Our first evening in Edinburgh was reserved for settling in, unpacking our suitcases, setting up the WLAN, making a first trip to the local Tesco to buy a few basics, wandering around the immediate neighbourhood (including lots of “Oh, it’s sooo beautiful!” whenever we saw an especially nice house or flowerbed), going to a small restaurant for dinner, and then going to sleep early to recover from all the stress of our journey.
Full of energy and a determination to make the best of our first completely free day and the sunshine, we used Sunday to discover a bit more of the city. Since we didn’t have our bus tickets yet, we limited ourselves to sites we could easily reach by foot, it was still a huge range of options, though! Edinburgh in general isn’t that big – less than 500,000 residents – and our apartment is quite close to the city centre. In the end, we opted for the Royal Botanic Garden. A beautiful yet calm place only a few minutes by foot away and, excluding the greenhouses, free of charge (We hadn’t received our grants yet after all)!
I could talk a lot about all the beautiful plants we saw but as it’s said… Pictures say more than thousand words.
Thanks again to Ondrej for letting me borrow his camera! I had forgotten mine at the apartment. Sadly, the battery died after a while, but I was still able to take many pictures that highlight some of the features of the garden.