It’s a phenomenon that many people experience after long-term travel. After an indeterminate amount of time on the road – often what feels like a lifetime – a traveller finds himself returning home. Sometimes it might be because they’re out of money, other times because they have a wedding to attend or a job to go back to or sometimes it might be just because travel burnout has piqued and they see no other option other than to go back to a familiar place. While I have had many trips end over the years leading me to return to my childhood home of Melbourne, I had never returned to another city I once called home – the Scottish capital of Edinburgh.
In the lead up to my weekend trip to Edinburgh, I reminisced fondly about the year I spent living in the city studying at university. I remembered the craziness of my first month when I couldn’t find a room to rent so I lived in a ten-bed dorm of a hostel. I thought back to the long walks that I would take through Edinburgh’s ancient streets, marvelling at the architecture and the sheer history of the ground I was walking on. I chuckled at the various misunderstandings that were caused by the surprisingly large variations of the Australian and Scottish interpretations of the English language. And finally, I apologised for the damage that I might have done to my liver from the many nights at the pub.
Most importantly, however, I thought back to how that year in Edinburgh had shaped me in so many ways. It was my first major solo trip and it not only cemented my love for offbeat European travel but also led me to plan future trips to the Balkans – a region that had never even been on my radar previously. It was a year that implanted a style of travel in me that went beyond ticking items from a guidebook and instead had me realise the impact that the people you meet travelling can have on your trip and also your life. It was a time that made me gain a newfound sense of independence and ultimately made me grow as a person and changed me fundamentally.
All these things played on my mind in the days leading up to our trip to Edinburgh. Our weekend plan focused primarily on seeing some of the major sites of the ancient Scottish capital and savouring a few drams of fine single malt whisky. However, deep inside of me, I was undoubtedly most excited to walk the same streets I used to walk on. I was excited to see whether a city that had changed me irrevocably would be recognizable to me over seven years since I had once called it home.
One of the first things that caught me off guard was how busy the famous Royal Mile was in the peak of summer. You see, I had lived in Edinburgh throughout the university year meaning that I actually wasn’t in the city during high tourist season. So my memories of long walks down the narrow alleys of the Old Town in the dead of winter were replaced with the crushing reality of trying to push through tour groups trying to gaze at the same beauty that I had spent a year of my life appreciating.
We spent one evening walking through the neighbourhood I used to call home. And while some of the streets had a strong sense of familiarity, in a lot of ways it felt that I was walking through a movie studio of a film I had seen many times. Everything was recognisable but it felt like I was in somebody else’s scene.
And I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised. Just like I had changed since I first lived in Edinburgh, the Scottish capital has undoubtedly gone through its own transformation. Older buildings in the suburbs have been replaced with modern architecture. Hipsters have appeared to move into the city bringing with them good coffee and cheap Thai food – luxuries that I had missed so much during my time in Edinburgh. And the tram to the airport that had been hyped up beyond belief was finally built, though everyone I spoke to still seemed to use the bus.
As the weekend went on, it became more and more clear to me that time doesn’t stand still for anyone or anything. And while I had called this city home once a long time ago, the sense of familiarity that one might expect when going home was no longer there.
The city had changed.
The people that had shaped my time living here had moved on. And by the end of it all, I felt no different in Edinburgh than how I’ve felt when I have travelled to any other city that I have visited before.
Edinburgh will always hold a special place in my heart but it was certainly no longer home – and that’s okay. Ultimately that was one of the lessons I had learned while I lived here. It’s not the specific place but the circumstances and people that make a city feel like home.
Have you ever returned to a city you once called home? How did you feel? Let us know in the comments!