We woke early and packed. I had been leaving books and some clothing items behind in our travels and left a few more in our Edinburgh hotel room, to make room for the souvenirs and keepsakes we were bringing home. Nothing was very heavy or bulky, but we’d been close to the limit coming over and knew we’d be over if we didn’t make some adjustments.
We bought wool scarves in Edinburgh, a few pieces of jewelry, tea towels, pencils. Nothing extravagant, but still special to us.
Since the lift was still out of order, we included time to call for help with our bags, then waited outside for our driver to take us to the airport.
Sure enough, we had to shift contents from one bag to another, from a checked bag, to a carry on. Although after weighing and pronouncing us in compliance, the ticketing clerk let us put some of the things back in the checked bag.
We still had plenty of time to kill so we got coffee, read, walked the airport. Our flight to London was uneventful. We had a layover in London, which included a bus ride from one part of the airport to another, two more security checks, and a long wait in a sequestered waiting room. If you had to leave the room to get food or find a restroom, you had to surrender your passport as you left. Londoners take security very seriously.
The flight to LAX was long and uneventful, just the way we like it.
The good thing about flying home from Europe is that you get here not much after you left, in spite of the ten hour flight. We landed in LA, went through customs, shuttled back to the hotel where we’d left our car, and were on the road by four o’clock or so.
The cherry on this wonderful trip was that I was a finalist in a big writing contest for unpublished writers and the winners were being announced that same evening in Dallas. I was able to find the live stream of the ceremony, so we were in traffic on the 110 freeway in downtown Los Angeles when I heard my name called in Dallas as the winner of the American Christian Fiction Writers Genesis Contest, Contemporary Category!
We yelled, laughed, high-fived and continued to Pasadena where we were staying overnight with friends before continuing home the next day. We celebrated appropriately that evening with two couples, returned my borrowed travel purse and backpack, and shared stories, good food, and laughter before collapsing into bed.
We both loved the trip and want to go again. If we’re able to go back, I want to try it in reverse order. Scotland, London, Ireland. We both fell so completely in love with Scotland, that I almost don’t trust it, if that makes sense. As I said last week, we know we’re Anglo-Saxon, and I felt the Highlands speak to the DNA in my bones. We didn’t feel the same about Ireland, and we expected to. So I want to see if I imagined the call from Scotland. Or if it was simply a matter of being a bit stressed (our first time traveling overseas) while learning to drive on the “wrong” side of the road. So if we begin next time in Scotland, hopefully we’ll be more relaxed and adjusted when we get to Ireland, and more able to compare apples to apples. Or Highlands to inis and loughs.
I’m sorry I missed last week, and believe it or not, I’ve been working on today’s post all day! I had lots of other things to do as well, and interruptions, but whew! I was determined to not let another week go by.
Friday September 22, 2017
We woke up in Crieff and after Michael’s delicious breakfast, we decided to head back to Edinburgh. We had originally planned to take our time returning to the city and to explore the countryside a bit. But we had really loved our few hours in Edinburgh Tuesday afternoon and wanted to see more of the city. Not to mention tea! We hadn’t had tea anywhere yet. I know, I know. I still can’t fathom it either. So tea was a priority since this was our last full day in the UK.
The drive back to Edinburgh went smoothly. I finally felt comfortable on the roads, which were a smidge wider than in Ireland. It took some time to turn in the rental car, but we finally Ubered back to the hotel. We were too early for check-in, so left our luggage at the desk and headed out. It briefly occurred to me that I should change into better walking shoes, but decided it wasn’t worth the hassle of digging through my suitcase in the hotel lobby. Bad decision.
A random castle outside Edinburgh
A glimpse of the Kelpies statue as we zipped past
My friends, Sue and Alysa, had recommended Clarinda’s Tea Room in Edinburgh, so we set out. It was a bit early for tea. It was actually still a bit early for lunch, about 11:00, but we decided to have lunch and tea. We found Clarinda’s easily, although it was at the opposite end of the Royal Mile from where we started. I had the toasted brie and cranberry sandwich which was to die for. Creamy brie with tangy cranberries–amazing! Stud Muffin had the Ploughman’s Lunch: cheese, crackers, bread and salad. The woman at the table next to us had a baked potato with haggis on top, which Dave said he’d order “next time.” Then we had tea and a scone each. I’m in love with clotted cream and the scone was delicious, light and beautiful. The dishes were charming and mismatched and everything was lovely.
When we’d been along the Royal Mile earlier in the week, I had seen signs to a Writer’s Museum, so that was our next quest. Along the way, we bought some Christmas ornaments, and cigars (don’t ask me why he didn’t have enough already). We took our time walking and looking. We managed to miss the close (alleyway) where the museum was located at least twice. Finally, a clerk from a nearby shop walked out to show us exactly where it was. Bless her, because I don’t know if we would have found it on our own. The museum is in a small and ancient house just off the main road, down a small close.
The museum houses permanent collections showcasing Robert Louis Stevenson, Walter Scott, and, of course, Robert Burns. It’s small, as museums go, but intensely interesting with exhibits about the history of writers and printing in Scotland. There was also a temporary exhibit about Ian Rankin. I took my time in the museum while Dave enjoyed a cigar outside.
We then headed to Edinburgh Castle. We’d walked several miles by this point, and my feet were wishing I’d changed shoes from my boots to sneakers when I had the chance. But I soldiered on. The Castle is a fabulous attraction. Part ruins, part museums with exhibits, part scenic views. We saw the battlements with the huge cannons, the Scottish Crown Jewels, the rooms where Scottish royalty breathed their first and last, and the Royal Scots Dragoons Guards museum.
It was now nearly 5 pm and my feet were done. We walked back to our hotel, The Old Waverly, with only a few more quick stops. We saw some tea towels in a shop window that were meant for some friends, so we had to buy them.
We arrived at the hotel to discover the staff had put our bags in our new room. On the sixth floor. And the lift (elevator) was out of order.
Can you picture me and my worn out feet hearing that news?
We immediately went to the bar/restaurant for a restorative. Then we started up the stairs. Because once I climbed six flights, there was no way I was coming down again unless there was a fire or it was time to leave for the airport.
The upside of being on the sixth floor was the great view of the city and the Sir Walter Scott monument across the street.
Edinburgh was a highlight of the trip. We both loved it and would go back in a heartbeat. We only scratched the surface of this ancient and fascinating city. We know we both have plenty of Anglo-Saxon genes, but I think the Highlands and the city spoke to our DNA. We felt at home in a way we hadn’t in England or Ireland. My father told me long ago we’re from the Campbell clan and I believe it.
We woke up, dug ourselves out of the lumpy hostel bed, and made our way to the train station. The Jacobite train pulled in as we found parking. We had a quick bite in the station cafe, then discussed what we wanted to do. Try to ride the train to Mallaig, or just look at the train, take some pictures and head out again to see more of Scotland.
We decided to hit the road and try to hit some more distilleries and scenery. We picked Crieff as our stop that night, and I found an Airbnb quite easily. James’ Cottage.
After breakfast, Stud Muffin had to take a picture of the array of sauces the cafe offered. This isn’t even all of them.
Then we went out to the platform. The train was beautiful! Old, obviously, yet, lovingly maintained and cared for. There were lots of people like us, just looking and snapping pictures. There were also others boarding, ordering their lunch and tea and snack plates.
If we get back to Scotland, I really do want to do this train ride. It looked like a fabulous time, and I’m sure you’d get to see different scenery from the train tracks.
We wandered back to the car and headed out. First stop: Oban. I knew Dave had tasted Oban, maybe even received a bottle as a gift once, and I remembered he’d liked it. Since the village of Oban was on “our way” to Crieff, that was our first stop.
Oban is a small town, on the coast of the Oban Bay. We lucked out, we thought, and got the last parking spot right in front of the distillery. There was a city lot at the bottom of the block, but it looked full, so we tried the narrow, dead-end street and were successful.
Our tour was led by Jim, who had a much thicker brogue than Angela at Dalwhinnie. It was a good thing this wasn’t our first tour because we would have been lost, trying to understand Jim while seeing everything. Oban has a very nice tasting room, and Dave and I each bought a shirt. We thought. Turns out they were both women’s shirts. So I got two. 🙂
We returned to the car to find we’d been ticketed. Sigh. We searched for signs and hours and restrictions, but couldn’t see anything that we’d violated. There were cones blocking off the neighboring spot, but we were well within our spots lines. So we (cough-Dave-cough) took pictures to prove that we were legal. The ticket said we had 21 days to pay and could pay online. I planned to print out all the pictures and send them with our check once we got home. On day 21, I pulled out the ticket and finally read it carefully. We were supposed to go down to that city lot at the bottom of the block and buy a parking pass. Although there are no signs anywhere in that alley that we saw saying that. So I paid the fine online and decided to let it go.
Back on the road, we turned toward Crieff, our destination for the night. Dave did some
research on the area and found one more distillery: The Famous Grouse. We got there early for the last tour of the day so we had a bite in their cafe before the tour. Our guide was Michael. The Famous Grouse was the only distillery we visited that does blends. The others were all single malt.
Of course, Michael thought blends were superior to the single malts. He likened a blend to a full orchestra while the single malts are one note instruments. The Famous Grouse has the Guiness Book of World Record’s largest bottle of Scotch. They filled it as an anniversary celebration and to raise money for charity. Patrons purchased a regular sized bottle and poured it into the giant bottle. When the record is broken and it’s not longer the largest in the world, they plan to auction it off, also for charity.
The tour was excellent and interesting, but I was getting tired of distilleries. I think you tell by my face in the picture on the right, I was pretty much done. I didn’t drink my samples, since I was still driving.
It was about 5:00 by then, so we decided to go find our Airbnb. It was a short drive and the listing said there was private off-street parking. We found both the house and the parking, but it was down a narrow, winding road with no clear way to enter the house, so we circled the block and parked out front. Michael was our host (not the same Michael who gave us the Famous Grouse tour). He eyed our luggage and immediately suggested we think about leaving one of the suitcases in the car. He was concerned about his walls being bumped and thumped on our way up the stairs. We readily agreed. I needed mine though, so Stud Muffin lugged his back to the car, took out his toiletries and a change of clothes. I asked him to bring in my whiskey samples that I’d left in the car from the Famous Grouse tour. Michael then informed us that a “dram,” is “an unmeasured measure,” of liquid. So … a wee dram of whiskey is an unmeasured little bit in a glass.
Michael asked about our breakfast preference. Apparently Airbnb holds him to a different standard than Julia in Royal Tunbridge Wells. Dave requested the full Scottish with black sausage instead of haggis. I asked for two eggs and a sausage. Dave gave him careful instructions about how to prepare my eggs. I’m not an egg fan, and I the only way I can eat them is if they are really done done. Dave told Michael he could start frying my eggs, then go into town and pick up supplies, come back, and they’d be ready. He’s not exaggerating much. I do like them over hard and well done. Crispy with salt and pepper. Michael promised to do his best.
The next morning we got to chat with Michael a bit more. He was in his 70s. His wife had passed away about 8 years ago. He was Irish, living in Scotland. He’d played professional golf on the European Seniors tour. The breakfast room was full of pictures and trophies. I’ve googled him and found some stories about him on the tour. He enjoyed running the B&B. It was called James Cottage and was the oldest building in Crieff.
Once we were settled in our room, I enjoyed my dram. We were too tired to go out again and try to find a place to park and eat. We had some leftovers from our gas station lunch the day before, so we finished those, and read, and journaled, and relaxed for the evening.
After our full Scottish breakfast at the Old Waverly Hotel, we Ubered to the local car rental agency where I’d reserved a car for us.
We were back in a standard transmission. We found our way out of the city fairly easily. We had no real agenda. We knew we would end up in Fort William. I had seen an article in the AAA magazine a few months before about the Jacobite Steam Train, AKA the Hogwarts Express. It travels a daily round-trip between Fort William and Mallaig. I’d tried to book tickets as soon as I learned about it, but the schedule showed the train wasn’t running the days we’d be able to take it. A month or two later, I checked again, and those days were on the schedule, but already sold out. The fine print said some tickets are available, first come first served, on the day of. So we planned to be at the ticket office first thing in the morning.
We plotted our route to Fort William, planning to stop at a few whiskey distilleries. Stud Muffin likes a smoky scotch and he wanted to learn more about how the whiskey is made, what gives it the smoky and other qualities. We first stopped at Blair Athol distillery near Pitlochry. The name Pitlochry was familiar to me from a book, and I enjoyed seeing the picturesque village. The distillery tours were full, but the front desk gave us the name of a sister distillery about thirty minutes away and
they were able to get us in. We did taste at Blair Athol before we left, and we learned a bit about the Scotch regions. We determined Dave likes the Islay distilleries (very smoky) while I preferred Speyside, a slightly sweeter taste. Although I would never say I’m a scotch drinker or fan, I did learn a bit and was able to pick my “favorite” region.
We grabbed a gas station lunch, and ate in the car in the drizzly rain, then set out for Dalwhinnie.
Our guide, Angela, had a lovely and light Scottish brogue, which was fairly easy for our American ears to understand. She clearly enjoyed her job, and she had lots of interesting factoids and things to share with us. Dalwhinnie once rented storage space to a small, local distillery that went out of business and neglected to pick up all their barrels in storage. So Dalwhinnie has a barrel of I-forget-how-many-years-old (50-60, I think) scotch that most likely belongs to them now, but they haven’t made an effort to claim it legally and so there it sits, aging year by year.
We learned about single malts, grain whiskey, and blends. We learned that scotch is taxed by the government at 75%. Yes. That’s seventy-five percent. Not 7.5. Seventy-five. And scotch begins to be taxed on its third birthday. That’s when it’s officially “Scotch.” As the whiskey is moved from barrel to bottle, a portion is observed on its journey through a clear plexi-glass, or plastic, or glass box, with a padlock. Photos are forbidden. 😦
After our Dalwhinnie tour, we made straight for Fort William. I’d tried to book us a B&B room from home, but couldn’t find any vacancies. I’d tried for a couple of days ahead of time from my phone. Still no luck. At the car rental agency, Dave asked the clerks if there was a festival or something going on, and why couldn’t we find a room. They assured us there were no special events in Fort William, and that there’s a B&B on every corner and we wouldn’t have a problem.
There is indeed a B&B on every corner and every single one of them said “No Vacancy.” We finally found a house that looked vacant and parked in the driveway while we both attacked our phones and searched. I found the house we were parked in front of, and it was an Airbnb, but not available. I finally found a room at a hotel for $300 that night, or a hostel. The hostel was about $80 and had a private bath so we booked it and headed to the address. Good thing I booked it because by the time we arrived to check-in, fifteen minutes later, they were fully booked too. We asked why everything was full and the response was a shrug, and “we’re a tourist destination.” In September. With cloudy, drizzly, gray weather. But we were tourists there in September in cloudy, drizzly, gray weather, so point taken.
The view from my parking spot
The rear entrance with the elevator
The hostel room beat sleeping in the car which was our other option. But not by much. The bed was tiny, lumpy, and slanted to the middle. The place needed serious updating, but was clean and the bathroom was indeed private. Although the college boys in the room next to us apparently felt their room wasn’t large enough and they left their backpacks in the hallway and in front of our door. It was our turn to shrug and grin.
After checking in, I had to find a place to park for the night. Not an easy task. The hostel had a tiny lot in the rear that would hold four cars. There was a spot that looked like it might have held a fifth car, but I didn’t want to attempt it. I found a spot on the street about a quarter mile away, that was labeled with the exact hours you could park for one hour, two hours, or longer. I took a picture of the sign because I was fairly certain I fell in the hours for overnight, but wanted to be able to prove it, in case I got a ticket. As I walked back to the hostel, the father and son who took the last room and checked in next to us, were inching into the one spot I’d skipped in the lot. Dave told me later he’d helped them navigate in.
Dave had been dragging our luggage up three flights of stairs while I parked. I entered the hostel from the rear and found the elevator. Which he hadn’t known existed until I told him.
We headed out for dinner. On our way to the nearest pub, the Grog and Gruel, we passed a bookstore. I had to go in. Believe it or not, this is the only bookstore I visited on the whole trip. I still can’t believe it. We were on the go so much. I had planned to visit a bookstore in Bath that I’d read about, but we ended up bypassing Bath in favor of Hastings, so I’d missed it. This one wasn’t a large store, or particularly impressive, but I’m glad I got to visit it.
At the Grog and Gruel, Stud Muffin ordered the deep fried haggis for an appetizer. We shared fish and chips (yummy) and each had a salad. We then made our way back to the hostel, and the lumpy bed.
Next week: The Jacobite Train, Parking in Oban, and the Famous Grouse.
We packed up, bid farewell to the Lancaster Gate and our driver ferried us to Kings Cross train station for our five-hour ride to Edinburgh. We were veerrrry early to the station and had quite a bit of time to kill. I babysat the luggage while Stud Muffin wandered around, got us coffee, and turned in our Oyster cards to get the credit refunded from our unused Tube rides. After a bit, we traded places and I headed to the restroom.
Right behind where I’d been sitting was the area marked Platform 9 3/4, which, as any Harry Potter fan knows, is where Harry, Hermione, Ginny, and Ron catch the Hogwarts Express.
There’s a luggage trolley jutting out of the wall and an employee standing nearby to take pictures and hold your scarf so it looks like you’re running through the wall. Of course, we had to pose. There’s a huge Harry Potter shop there too. I wandered the shop quite a while, debating whether to buy any souvenirs there. I didn’t, and that’s probably my only regret of the trip. We have several HP fans in the family and I wish I’d brought them back something from there.
On our Strawberry Tours walking tour of London, our guide, Will, told us J.K. Rowling actually made a mistake about the train station in the first book. She’d gotten confused and said Platform 9 3/4 was at Kings Cross, but her description of the station was of Euston, not Kings Cross. Just a bit of Harry trivia for you.
The train ride was comfortable and the time passed quickly. We saw lots of beautiful scenery. In Edinburgh, we had a driver from the train station to our hotel. He questioned why he’d been booked when our hotel was so close. We shrugged, said we didn’t know the area, and besides we had luggage. But he was right. We could have walked to the hotel more quickly because he had to deal with traffic. And because of the traffic, he dropped us around the corner from the Old Waverley Hotel, so by the time we wrangled our luggage out, crossed the street and got it up the front steps, we were tired! There was a step up from the street, (not bad) then a long hallway, then more steps to get to the lobby. There was a sign that said, Ring Bell For Porter, which we did. A few moments later, a young woman arrived to carry our bags, our two big bags up the two flights of stairs. She hefted one and Dave carried the other up. We were able to check in and dropped off our luggage in our 3rd floor room. The lift was working. This is important to remember for later.
Then we hit the streets of Edinburgh.
First up: The Scotch Whiskey Experience. It’s a visitor attraction maintained and put on by one of the Scotch associations. It’s not a distillery, it’s an attraction. You ride in a motorized “barrel” (kind of like at Disneyland’s Haunted Mansion), while watching videos of the whiskey making process. You also visit a collection of over 3300 bottles of whiskey. It was truly fascinating. I’m not a whiskey drinker, but the place is amazing and definitely worth a visit.
The Scotch Whiskey Experience is located at the top of the Royal Mile, in old town Edinburgh, right in front of Edinburgh Castle. By the time we finished our tour of the Whiskey experience, the Castle was closed and we couldn’t go in. Every August, Edinburgh hosts a music and arts and drum festival, called the Tattoo. The castle is the venue for military drum corps and marchers. The bleachers that had been erected for the festival were being disassembled while we were there. We watched the process for a few minutes, then left to find dinner.
The Whiskey Experience had a restaurant and bar called Amber. I had to take pictures since we also have an Amber.
We wandered a ways down the Royal Mile and settled on the Ensign Ewart pub for dinner. It’s a small place but warm and cozy and charming. The dinner offering was venison pie and it was delicious! Tender chunks of venison in a thick gravy, topped with mashed potatoes. A wonderful and hearty meal to end our first day in Scotland.
We fell in love with Scotland and Edinburgh today. The old buildings are really, really old. Much of London was old, too, but many of London’s buildings were destroyed in the Blitz and there’s lots of newer construction. In Edinburgh, particularly where we stayed, we could tell we were in the midst of history.
Our hotel was named the Old Waverley, after a book by Sir Walter Scott, a revered Scottish poet and writer. Many of the streets and shops referred to Scott, or Robert Louis Stevenson, or Ian Rankin, or Robert Burns. From our hotel room, we could see the Sir Walter Scott memorial, on the right above.
Tomorrow (or next week, actually): driving in Scotland, more whiskey, and the very real possibility of sleeping in the car.