It was July of 2002 and I had just COS’d* from the Peace Corps when I traveled to the UK for a two-week vacation prior to starting my job with the American University in Bulgaria. When I say “just COS’d” I mean I JUST COS’d. I COS’d on July 5th and flew to London on July 6th.
Part of me just needed a dose of a western culture that I hadn’t had for a couple of years. I wanted to go somewhere where they could make change when I bought something. I wanted to go somewhere where the toilet paper was already provided in the bathrooms, not where I had to pay the equivalent of .10 cents for four squares sold by a lady sitting in the ladies room at a table with a roll of TP and a pair of scissors. And finally, I wanted to go somewhere where I knew that short of mechanical failure, the coaches and trains would actually depart.
These are not bad things, mind you. They’re just quirky. They’re things I learned to live with. For example, I learned to always carry small bills and coins. To this day, I still always carry a pack of kleenex with me – just in case. And finally, I got a lot of reading done on occasions when a driver didn’t feel like driving the 4.5 hour route to Sofia that particular day meaning I had to wait a couple of hours for the next departure. No big deal. (Of course there was that time when our bus caught on fire while heading down the freeway after leaving Plovdiv…that was kind of a big deal.)
Well once I arrived in London I was thrilled. What a great city. And western England, wow. And Wales – gorgeous! And… Well. You get the idea. After about a little over a week or so in England and Wales, I took a coach up to Edinburgh, Scotland. What a beautiful, fun, amazing (Insert positive adjective here) city!
I stayed at a hostel on the Royal Mile and met a ton of great people! One day I ended up spending the day with a girl from Australia. We visited the Royal Yacht Britannia and the Edinburgh Castle, but had the most fun with a book we both bought called “What’s Under the Kilt.” It’s about life in Scotland and is absolutely hilarious! It’s along the same line as The Onion, but much funnier! Ahem. Anyway, while walking around the city, we found our friend, Malcolm, playing the bagpipes.
He’s a Kiwi who is also part Scottish and is really talented. He was staying at our hostel, too and was a lot of fun. He also earned quite a lot of money playing! So – we stood and watched – all the while urging people on to drop a coin or two in his hat. It worked – plus it was wonderful listening to him. Nice guy!
*COS = Close of Service. This is the term used by Peace Corps volunteers when they complete their two-year service as a volunteer after having taught sustainable skills in a developing nation. It can be used both as a noun and a verb. Once you COS, you become an RPCV – Returned Peace Corps volunteer, or a member of the Peace Corps alumni. There are approximately 250,000 of us who have served in the Peace Corps since it was established by President John F. Kennedy in 1961.