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In Scotland, the Comforts of Home in an Apartment

THE WANDER YEAR / WEEK 27: SCOTLAND * A yearlong series following one couple's journey around the world.

August 13, 2000|MIKE McINTYRE

EDINBURGH, Scotland — "I can't hear you. I'm in the other room!"

It's a familiar cry at home in San Diego. Andrea or I will be talking in the kitchen, say, oblivious that the other is in the living room. It gets old. But not last week. Each time it got hollered last week, it was a sweet reminder that we had the luxury of standing in two different rooms.

For the first time in five months, when we stayed in a condo in New Zealand, the door to our lodging opened to something other than a bed and night stand. We rented a four-room apartment in a stone building near the heart of Edinburgh, a few blocks south of the Scottish capital's medieval Old Town.

The $450-a-week flat was cheaper than most centrally located B&Bs (no easy find during the busy summer season) and offered spaciousness absent in even a posh hotel suite. The switch in our accommodation routine also let us see one of Europe's more captivating cities as locals might, frequenting neighborhood markets, shops and restaurants slightly removed from the tourist track.

We arrived here after three connecting flights from Penang, Malaysia. The 17-hour trip was the biggest leap of the journey since we left the U.S. for Fiji last January. We flew over a big chunk of the world, but after six months in the South Pacific and Asia, we know we can't see it all in one year. Besides, we've already backtracked twice on this journey--from the Indian subcontinent to Southeast Asia, and from Singapore to Bali--so our arrival in Britain doesn't rule out visits to countries we've passed. We may get to Kyrgyzstan yet.

We found the flat on the Internet at, one of many Web sites that popped up during a search for "self-catering accommodation in Edinburgh." A couple of mouse clicks took us to a photo album of short-term rentals. We sent a mass e-mail to the owners of about a dozen, learning that two were vacant during the third week in July. We chose a unit at 5 Buccleuch Terrace. "Third-floor apartment, ideal for couple," the Web page read. "Quiet, comfortable, modernized flat."

We were in Bali at the time, so the tricky part was prepaying the owner, Diana Harkiss, whose Web site was not set up to accept credit cards. Andrea solved the problem by walking from bank to bank in Ubud until she found one able to convert Indonesian rupiah into British pounds and wire them to Diana's bank in Edinburgh, an electronic transaction that took eight days to complete.

We landed in Edinburgh at 7 a.m., while other tenants were still in the flat, so Diana let us leave our backpacks at her house. She offered us coffee, drove us to the city center and said she'd carry our bags up to the flat when she went to clean it. We figured anybody this hospitable wouldn't be renting out a dump, and we were right. When we opened the door to the flat later that day, it was prettier than the pictures on the Web site.

Diana had left us a plate of chocolates and biscuits on the kitchen counter next to a bouquet of flowers. The recently remodeled apartment sparkled, boasting high ceilings, light wood floors and freshly painted white walls. The sun beamed through the tall windows of the living room, and the windows of the bedroom and dining room looked out on a sprawling, leafy tree. The fully equipped kitchen featured a microwave, toaster and washing machine, appliances we had forgotten existed. The bathroom had fluffy new towels and ornamental glass turtles. Other homey touches included a remote-control TV, a radio and a couple of shelves of books. All the rooms were decorated with plants, nicely framed prints and contemporary furniture. "It's very Ikea," Andrea said.

We had little to hang in the massive closets of the L-shaped hallway, but Andrea did her best. "I want to unpack," she said, unzipping her bulging knapsack. "I want to get disorganized, then reorganized."

After settling in, we walked to the nearby Tesco supermarket to stock up on the week's provisions. We enjoyed home-cooked meals of roasted chicken and pasta, and on two nights we had pizza delivered. We liked dining in for a change, and the presence of a refrigerator meant we could graze at will. We are particularly fond of snacking on carrots and hummus while reclining on the couch. A couch! After sitting on beds in hotel rooms for half a year, we've concluded that the couch is the most underrated of all furniture.

When we ventured out, we were delighted that Scotland was enjoying a rare warm, sunny spell. The imposing Edinburgh Castle, the tartaned and tweedy Royal Mile, and several museums were within a 20-minute walk. Closer to our apartment were bookshops, cinemas and the Meadows, an expansive swath of green that begged to be strolled. Also nearby were several newsstands and a gourmet coffee cart. I was always content to climb the three flights of stairs to our flat, a latte in one hand and a saucy tabloid in the other.

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