Ranch Reflection – a 25-hour trip to Europe

Abbey Shilling – Mustangs Ahead

(LAKEWOOD RANCH, FL) – When the word “travel” appears more in your vocabulary than “homework” or “school” the shock value loses some its initial luster. However, with the territory of a travel oriented family comes certain advantages.

The life of a pilot consists of several short trips within a three to five-day period spanning several cities in the short amount of time.  Usually they do not bring family along but as with any rule there are always exceptions and special circumstances; I got the notice on Wednesday night that I would be traveling to Edinburgh, Scotland on my dad’s outbound 767.

My mother was currently on a business trip of her own so I finished the household chores, laundry and such, before packing a suitcase with two outfits, a coat, and an open mind. In true Shilling fashion, she walked in the door intent to stay home for the weekend, while my dad and I exited the same door not five hours later, packed and prepped to take on Europe in a grand total of 25 hours.

We flew out of Tampa, laid over in Newark (EWR), briefed, and met the crew before he was due to report at the gate to ready the plane for takeoff. We all walked down the ramp together and I occupied the jump seat during prep and checklist; yolks were cleaned and the sea of lights and buttons were checked thrice over. When it was time to take off I settled into my first-class seat for the next 7 hours and marveled at how quickly “pilot’s daughter” became synonymous with “princess of the airplane.”  After an hour and a half of Big Bang Theory and a 3-course meal I drifted off and woke 7 hours later to a pink and gold-specked sky silhouetting the country of Scotland.

The next 25 hours were a complete whirlwind broken up by much needed, life sustaining coffee breaks. My first view of Scotland was experienced through the window of the car that transported us to the crew hotel where we showered, grabbed a coat and exited onto the sprawling, historic streets of Edinburgh.

The only way to accurately describe the city was to call it charming. My dad wasted no time hustling me along and acting the perfect tour guide. Walking down the street stunned me into a shocked silence; simply attempting to soak in the feel of the culture, the grand architecture, the sounds, etc. were sensory overload. It differed from American cities mainly in feel. New York, Chicago, Seattle, all the same in the way that the residents are bustling from place to place engaged only in their next destination. Edinburgh operated on a more relaxed timetable and while it is a common tourist hub, it maintained its “old world” feel through original architecture dating back to the 18th century boasting of cobblestone streets, cathedrals, and closes (alley ways) that originally functioned as streets.

First on the list was the Palace of Holyroodhouse. Sitting on the Royal Mile, Edinburgh’s oldest aboveground street, the official residence of Mary, Queen of Scots and the current summer residence of Her Majesty the Queen lies directly opposite Edinburgh Castle. Still surviving off of the remaining coffee buzz and attempting to command my brain to function normally, we strolled through the ground apartments of the Holyrood palace beginning with the Queen’s current dining room and throne room and ending with Mary, Queen of Scots’ bedchamber, which housed many of her artifacts including a lock of her hair.

Our adventure soon led us back down the Royal Mile, passing street performers and the occasional bagpipe player, to a small coffee shop affectionately referred to as the Elephant House. At first glance, I assumed it was just another European coffee shop until my dad turned to me and explained, “This is the exact spot where J.K. Rowling wrote the Harry Potter series. Behind the shop is the graveyard where the character’s names come from and the castle is right across the water.” Again, I was shocked into silence; I couldn’t remember a graveyard being as fascinating or occupied.

After seeing where some of the most historic people in the city were buried we visited the underground tunnels they used to inhabit. A large part of Edinburgh’s history resides just a few feet underneath the Royal Mile where tunnels form a long-forgotten community. Originally, families lived in caves dug back into the walls of the city inside the closes; during the time of the black plague this was not a healthy arrangement. Over the years Edinburgh residents built on top of the existing communities until the city emerged as it is today.

By this time, we were more than exhausted having covered a large chunk of the city of in just a few short hours. Thinking back now, it wasn’t nearly enough time. Before returning to the hotel for an even shorter night, we met up with the crew in a local bar. It was here that we were exposed to a raw cut of Scottish culture because we were the only foreigners present. Thinking of myself as a foreigner was strange enough, to be looked at, as a foreigner was even stranger. Low lighting gave the quaint space a warm feel and served to be the perfect place for a slow end to the night.

On the way back to the hotel we passed by Edinburgh castle, also a place of residence to Mary, Queen of Scots and her son James 1 of England. Built into the side of the rock on top of a volcano, the castle, now a military base, overlooked the city and included the oldest building in Scotland.

The night was short, we fell asleep soon after reaching the hotel and woke early to scarf down breakfast and drive the short distance back to the airport. Ironically, the most difficult part of the trip was getting home; my dad’s flight was overbooked so I watched out the window as he and the crew took off and flew back to the states leaving me to catch the next flight out a few hours later.

Once back in New York I wandered through customs and immigration before meeting up with my dad on the other side. Desperate for an extra boost we grabbed one more coffee before finding a niche with another pilot to wait for a flight back to Tampa. Exhausted did not even begin to cover what we were feeling on the drive home. We reached the door, comparing pictures all the way back, dumped our luggage, I greeted and said goodbye to my mom who was heading out in a few hours (it was already Monday morning) and crashed unceremoniously for another 5 hours.

It was the largest whirlwind I had ever experienced but it was also the best I had ever experienced. In 25 hours I had immersed myself in a culture, gained a new appreciation for historical figures I had only encountered in books, learned that coffee can in fact serve as a meal, and that sometimes traveling 8000 miles for lunch is always worth the effort.

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