I have lived all my life on tiny, flat islands. I don’t understand the vastness of mainland living, where you can drive and drive and drive for days without hitting water. This semester, I have transplanted myself to yet another relatively small island, an island so much like New York City minus one river, the Statue of Liberty, and 24-hour food: England. I know that England boasts beautiful rolling countryside, but being surrounded by sirens, Starbucks, and people who never smile at strangers, I don’t always remember.
An NYU-sponsored weekend on the Cornish coast sounded perfect: a hibernating holiday town with a weathered castle by the sea. (It might just be worth the hours of motion-sickness on the bus.) Somewhere between London and Cornwall, the view from the bus morphed into something from a Hollywood set. The fog seemed to permeate the air inside the bus and it was uncharacteristically quiet as we pulled into the lot behind our Newquay hostel. While our first day was free from organized activities, our first night was quite eventful–our running water was broken for twelve hours and the coffee was terrible. However, all of that ceased to matter when we, unwashed and bleary-eyed, braved a tumultuous bus ride and climbed the steps that led to Tintagel Castle.
Again, I hail from a glorified sand bar. We don’t have cliffs; we have beaches. Panting and lagging behind our athletic tour guide, we made it up the hill to a breathtaking view of the coast. Majestic rock formations, peppered with warning signs, met the turquoise Atlantic. To quote the brochure, Tintagel Castle was “a stronghold of the Earls of Cornwall, built in the 13th century,” on the site of the “legendary birthplace of King Arthur.” The brochure, however, does not do the place justice. Photographs are not good enough and gushing travel essays cannot convey the magic in this place.
Tasting salt on the wind, we teetered in ones and twos down a rock-cut staircase and desperately hoped to remain upright. I paused at the bottom, out of breath and daunted by an identical set of stairs on the opposite cliff. There were the ruins, the cliffs, the view across the ocean, and nothing but the curve of the earth between me and the Americas. However, the experience was not completely somber—a few of us tumbled in the thick grass, took silly pictures, enjoyed the wind and the birds, and the reveled in the surprising security we felt so close to the edge.
This is what I am doing here. This is why I came. Although I am braving new types of transport and plunging exchange rates, I can still get out of the city, climb up a precarious set of steps, and sit on the top of the world.