Stories from Scotland: When travel brings you home

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Through the past five years, my husband and I have done a fair amount of traveling while living overseas. 2011 was our first year in Italy, and we started off with the basics: a few trips to Venice, three days in Florence and the leaning tower of Pisa.

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Courtesy Photo

Sophie Dingle

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Courtesy photo

The North Sea beach in Kirkaldy, Scotland.

The next year, we branched out to busy, bustling Rome, where we mastered the subway system. By our third year in Italy, we were brave travelers, ready to take on a new country and a new language, so we drove north to Austria, where we visited their famous Christmas markets and ate schnitzel.

Things got interesting when we decided to go to Prague one December. We got halfway there when we realized our GPS didn’t have maps of the Czech Republic. If you’ve been to the Czech Republic, you know Czech is a language of consonants and is particularly fond of putting five of them together in one word. Moreover, Prague is a major city, one you need a map to maneuver in. It was by complete chance we spotted our hotel on the side of the road after driving desperately around the city in the dark.

After four years of life overseas, we had tackled almost all of Italy, from the northern mountains of the Dolomites to the wild south of Sicily and a lot in between. We had visited Austria, Germany, Switzerland, Czech Republic and Slovenia.

We were completely in our travel groove, and we were comfortable going to a new place without knowing the language or what the street signs meant. We didn’t mind if we didn’t understand a menu or what the waiter was saying. We were good, adventurous travelers.

Then, we decided to uproot and go live in English-speaking Scotland. Hearing this news, an adventurous friend of mine mentioned she was surprised by our decision.

“Scotland just seems so … normal,” she said.

At first, I was worried. Living in Italy had given us such a great experience. It pushed us out of our comfort zones and showed us a new part of the world we would never have seen in the same way had we not lived there.

In Scotland, we would understand the language and the menus and the grocery store. Would it be boring? I was so accustomed to feeling exotic and adventurous and independent as I navigated a new culture, and I prided myself on my ability to do so.

When we arrived in Kirkcaldy, we were given an apartment down by the harbor. The town sits on the shore of the North Sea, and at low tide, a long, sandy beach stretches for miles down the coast. Immediately, I took to taking long walks on the beach whenever the tide went out.

Here’s the thing: I may have lived in the Dolomites for four years with summers spent in Steamboat, but I am actually not, by nature, a mountain girl. I grew up in Massachusetts and went to Maine each summer, where I played whiffle ball on the beach with my cousins and dug for sand crabs and made dribble castles, happily, for hours.

So now, here in Scotland, when I hear the seagulls start calling to each other in the early morning light, I feel at home. At low tide, when I find razor clams and tiny crabs and those yellow shells we used to call “witch’s toenails,” I am transported back to my childhood.

It’s not exotic or adventurous, and there’s no great lesson to be learned on the beach, but there is a huge amount of comfort. And sometimes, that feeling is the best part of travel.

Sophie Dingle is a freelance writer, currently making the switch from living in Italy to living in Scotland. While she’ll miss the pasta and wine, she’s looking forward to exploring a new country and trying haggis. Sophie’s husband, Ryan, is a Steamboat Springs native and professional hockey player; you can follow their adventures online at sophiedingle.blogspot.com.

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