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Trip Report April 2014: a mostly rural trip in Scotland and Northern Ireland

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After coming home from a 5 hour time difference last Sunday night, my brain is almost wired back to normal, so it is time to gather a mish-mash of scribbled thoughts and notes in my travel journal plus all the photos and write a coherent trip report. I want to write this before the details all leave my mind. And it is such a lovely way to revisit the trip @};-

My sister (W) and I left Boston on Aer Lingus onThursday, 17 April, and arrived Friday in Glasgow after the connection in Dublin. Thursday, 24 April, we flew on Flybe to go to Belfast. A bus took us back to Dublin to fly back home to Boston on Aer Lingus this past Sunday, 27 April.

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    Backstory

    My trip report list includes four trips to Scotland. As fun as it is to go during April vacation, someday I want to take another longer, more leisurely visit over a summer vacation - all I need to do is win a lottery or continue to save my discretionary spending, to spend it all at a time ;-)

    W's daughter is living in Canada for a few years (I've been hinting that I noticed the company also has offices in Edinburgh, lol). W got her passport to be able to visit and after returning from Toronto last year said to me "Well, let's put this passport to use" and where else to go but Scotland, where I have most of my travel experience.

    I'm looking 50 in the headlights and W is just a couple years behind me.

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    I did trip research, finding itinerary ideas and sharing them with W for selecting. This trip had interests reflecting our rural heritage and efforts at putting together family trees.

    W is herd manager for a large dairy farm and wanted to see dairy farms. She's also very interested in Border Collies and horses. I've taken a few genealogy courses and enjoy trying out Ancestry.com resources through my State Library. For W's FIL, I've done some research on his Scottish ancestors and hoped to learn more to share from the trip.

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    Selecting hotels/B&Bs was based on an important trip decision: to drive or not to drive.

    I'm not overly keen on driving away from home, never mind doing it on the other side of the road, but I was willing to support W if she chose to drive. Her daughter and SIL did a drive tour of England/Scotland, as well a trip in Ireland, and encouragement from them had the decision made to try. I was firmly in navigator seat :-) not trying the pilot's seat once.


    18-19 .. Radisson Blu Hotel, Glasgow, 301 Argyle St
    http://www.radissonblu.co.uk/hotel-glasgow
    I really like the Radisson Blu hotels. I'd stayed at a couple for conferences, but now staying at several from travel choice, the experience has been extremely positive each time. The towels were huge. They must have been 6' b/c they were longer than I am tall. The bathroom soaps came from http://www.arranaromatics.com/ and smelled heavenly. I was disappointed when the soap used the first night was taken, having used it just the once or twice. I really wanted to take it home. I definitely took the 2nd little soap. The Glasgow HOHO bus stops right outside the hotel. The airport shuttle has stops not too far away, both coming into town and when leaving. It's also right next door to the Central Rail Station, lots of shopping nearby, a subway stop not too far away, and lovely friendly employees. I thought £12 steep for breakfast so we didn't try breakfast at the hotel. We stayed using points, so no cash paid.


    20-21 .. Patieshill Farmhouse B&B, Carlops, Penicuik
    http://www.patieshillfarm.co.uk/
    W and I stayed in the Jersey room, ensuite and twin beds. We did climb the hill behind the B&B and saw the great views for ourselves. Breakfast was great. The shower in the bathroom was a bit dated and not overly large. The towel warming rack was nice to have. The WiFi wasn't very powerful and a trifle spotty for coverage. Janet was a lovely hostess: sending directions to the B&B, answering questions, and helping to arrange a visit for us with the owner of the sheep that summer outside your room. £60/night.


    22 .. Laigh Tarbeg Farm B&B, Ochiltree, Cumnock, Ayrshire
    http://www.laightarbeg.co.uk/
    I searched through the accommodation section of http://www.visitscotland.com/ to find B&Bs on farms. Of our B&Bs this twin room was largest and had the nicest shower, too. Another towel rack (toasty warm) helped with doing laundry. WiFi was good. Breakfast was lovely. We enjoyed staying here a lot. £60/night.


    23 .. Holiday Inn Express, Glasgow Airport
    http://www.expressglasgowairport.co.uk/
    We returned our first car on Wednesday evening and flew out first thing Thursday morning, so I booked the HIE. I had stayed here in '10 and knew how close it is to the terminal building. I've enjoyed several HIE hotels and like them almost as much as the Radisson Blu hotels, i.e., each stay has been very satisfactory. The hotel has an early Continental breakfast 4-6 a.m. and a hot buffet starting at 6 a.m. This stay was organized for $70 plus points.


    24-25 .. Garron View Bed & Breakfast, 14 Clough Road, Cushendall, Northern Ireland
    http://www.garronview.co.uk/
    I searched and searched for a farm B&B in NI. Somehow I found Garron View. The ensuite room and bathroom were the smallest of our B&B stays (we had room #4). The WiFi was good and breakfast terrific. We appreciated Josephine's organizing a trip for us to visit her husband's cousin's dairy farm. £50/night.


    26 .. Premier Inn, Belfast Titanic Quarter, 2A Queens Road, Belfast
    http://www.premierinn.com/en/hotel/BELTIT/belfast-titanic-quarter
    As the itinerary developed, we needed a one-night stay on the Saturday, the last trip night. By the time this was decided it seemed many possible hotels had no availability for this night. We could have stayed for £29 if I had just made up my mind and booked when it was available, but the book button was clicked for £39 plus prebooked breakfasts of £8.25 each. I loved the bath tub in the bathroom instead of the shower stalls used the previous 8 nights. The twin bed was not much: a full size for W and practically a day bed for me, but it wasn't too bad a sleep for all it looked silly as a bed. Breakfast was satisfactory. WiFi worked, but you only get a half hour of free time, so you limit yourself to a few short e-mails.

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    Packing

    W was willing to do carry on only. There are pros and cons, of course. Lugging the packs around the airport is a con, but going directly out to the bus area in Boston and catch the first bus when to miss one means waiting another hour between stops is the deciding pro. Basically we packed pj's and two days clothes, but to make checklists we actually had 2 pages of items to check and double check.

    I have taken carry-on only on all my trip reports. Seventh trip report, seventh bag, lol. This time I used a MEC Shuttle II Travelpack. It's not for sale from MEC anymore, but you can find descriptions online, ex., http://www.backpacker.com/gear/details/backpacks/2248. W used a duffel from Cabela's. Technically the size was a bit larger, but it just didn't seem to show its size. She sometimes wished for an easier way to carry the duffel (I could use the hideaway backpack straps on the Shuttle II).

    I found the Shuttle II to be a nice convertible pack. I wished the more structured back portion were deeper and I found a flaw with my packing along the way. I put clothes in the back and non-clothes stuff in the front, making that section stick up and non-flexible when it came time to try and squish the bag into the overhead bin on the Flybe jet. Next time I would take some of that stuff and put it in the back and small clothes items (the squish-ables) in a packing cube in the front.

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    Travel gadgets

    Best one: TomTom for UK and Ireland iPhone app .. Samantha (we never changed the default voice) led us on 7 near flawless days of almost 600 miles. Just a couple times she said to take a turn and we saw a gated grass path (we stayed where we were :-) There was one very skinny road in Scotland that we suspected was actually a driveway to a farm b/c after following it to the farm we turned and followed the roadway to another "real" road. All the way, we were very grateful for not meeting anyone coming the other direction!

    Very handy: plastic sporks for eating items purchased at Tesco

    Meh: Belkin swivel USB charger, http://www.belkin.com/us/p/P-BST300/ .. theoretically a good choice, but we used it only a couple times over 10 days, so not valuable for the weight and space taken in my bag

    Business cards: we each brought some to hand out to people met along the way and did hand them out (rather than write down contact info, you can whip out a card and hand it over)

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    In the beginning ..

    I have rewards cards for British Airways and Capital One. I'm enrolled in rewards programs for Radisson (now Club Carlson, http://www.clubcarlson.com/) and Holiday Inn Express (http://www.ihg.com/hotels/us/en/rewardsclub/home). I gathered info from miles and points to see if anything would help the bottom line for the trip budget.

    Flights first. I started reading about BA rewards flights and rewards flights in general. Somewhere in my reading I learned it would be better to use the BA miles on airline partner Aer Lingus. (I have flown EI (their code) a number of times now and really like the 2-4-2 coach seating on the Airbus 330.) If a ticket's total purchase is $1000, on BA the fare could be $300 and fees/taxes $700, and you pay for fees/taxes. But on EI, it could be $700 fare (covered by the rewards miles) and taxes/fees $300 (much easier on the pocket book).

    Somewhere I also read about http://www.expertflyer.com/. I used the free 5-day period to use the pro version and found flights that could work for our trip and using the miles I had available. I called the BA center, learned as I knew that I hadn't quite enough miles to do BOS to Scotland for two people, but with suggestions from the agent and (not-quite-leading) questions from me to open conversation lines, I ended up where I'd hoped we go: BOS to DUB (business class!) and DUB to BOS (coach, but it's a nice coach on the Airbus). Where we would go after DUB was for later planning and ticket purchasing. And the total cost from the pocket for these two tickets: $246.80.

    At the time, my Cap One rewards was the 3-tier style: whether $1 or $150, it was the same cost in miles, so I tended to not want to "waste" the miles. With a redeem of some miles I started receiving info about the new Venture card and I finally got enrolled in that program instead. Now, a $10 ticket is 1000 miles, not 15000. (The actual cost to these programs, I know, is more. Merchants accepting rewards cards have costs that have to come out of somebody's bottom line, but it feels like receiving something to me.)

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    Hotels ..

    I had enough points for Club Carlson hotels to stay a couple free nights or use the points plus cash to pay a lower nightly rate and extend the use of the points. When I started looking in the spring, points plus cash for the Radisson Blu on the Royal Mile, Edinburgh, started about £60, but the longer we delayed trip decisions the £ climbed to about £100 plus points and I mostly gave up the idea of staying there for that cost out of the pocket.

    Delaying where to go after DUB over the summer allowed time for genealogical research with Ancestry.com on W's FIL's family. He has ancestors from Ireland, Northern Ireland, and Scotland. Just staying in the Republic and NI could have been an option, but I do have a fixation on Scotland :-)

    I had thought we would fly into EDI, but watching the fares to do the DUB-EDI portion we missed the point when it would have cost less, but the DUB-GLA stayed lower (we watched EI fares), so the trip became 2 first nights "free" -- using all points -- at the Glasgow Radisson Blu. Club Carlson points could have been used at the Park Inn, but I couldn't bring up an option with two beds! So we went to the Radisson Blu and had a lovely stay.

    Staying in Glasgow also helped with a trip goal for W. She wanted the trip to be full of new experiences for me, not just her, and my experience with Glasgow was the one time walk across the street from Queen Street Rail Station to the airport shuttle bus and the trip to the airport.

    I searched for B&B options, finding the ones listed above. After learning about the NI connection, we gradually moved to an itinerary with both countries and decided when to fly from one to the other, which made the HIE at the airport a logical choice.

    A lovely result of the final logistics was the relatively restful last day. A not-too-too-early start on Sunday, direct bus to DUB, and single flight to BOS (not usual 2 with connection) meant I didn't feel so punch drunk and woozy on the first day back to work. I've still had to get over the time changes (a nap a couple of days), but the trip home and first day back was much less a drain on the body.

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    Thursday, 17 April

    Maundy Thursday was a sunny morning. Much better, actually, than the day before when a mucky wintery start to the day had slippery commutes and delayed openings for schools.

    I had arranged my schedule to scoot in time to get to Portland, ME, for a bus to BOS. W traveled from her home to Concord, NH, to catch that direct bus to BOS, and we each arrived ~4:30 p.m.

    Portland's transportation bldg was full of families and student school groups headed for April vacation spots/tours. I wanted to catch a specific bus, so tried to stay near the door to be on it. In the end a second bus was scrambled to take everyone who wanted to get to Logan Airport.

    The South Station bus left first with only a handful of people on it. Then the two full buses for the airport gradually filled and readied for departure. About 1/2 way to the airport I had a V-8 smack .. the bus that left first, for South Station, would have continued on to the airport. Traveling alone among the many groups, it would likely have been easier if I'd asked about going on that bus and arrived about the same time, maybe even a few minutes earlier :-) That's what tunnel focus (get to BOS, get to BOS..) will do to you.

    I did have some ear buds with me to use with the on-bus movie/music system, but they were in my bag, not my purse, so I just snoozed as well as texted back/forth with W until arriving at BOS. (I never did remember to switch the ear buds to the purse - didn't really miss them, but would have at least used them on the trip if I had.)

    After finding one another, W and I used the business class line to check in and get boarding tickets for both BOS-DUB and DUB-GLA. Our first selfies were with the decorated cows you pass by in Terminal E going to the security area. After green lights from security we found the EI lounge and hung out until the boarding call. More selfies and Facebook status updates using the WiFi. As an experience it looked smaller than the BA lounge down the hall, but in relation to being upstairs as I have done on past trips, it was calm and comfortable. Food offered included sandwiches, snacks, soft drinks, and various alcohol beverages.

    Boarding through the direct line and turning left in the plane made a short trip to our seats (sorry for elaboration on this, but it was a once in a long while-if not lifetime-to experience this). Your coats are hung and free champagne is offered. Many more selfies and getting comfortable.

    I wondered if the meal foods were much different to the food in coach. What was definitely different were the napkins and real silverware/dinnerware, no plastic.

    I was very disappointed to find the online trivia game did not have the aviation category. I loved that one on past EI flights, usually doing very well for points.

    W slept a bit better than I. The beds are listed as lie flat, though the flat isn't quite what I associate with flat. You definitely do get much more stretch out room than coach, http://www.aerlingus.com/inflight-experience/comfort-and-entertainment/longhaul-business/

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    Friday, 18 April

    The morning dawned nice and bright. We landed and walked through T2 for connecting flights to do immigration and the terminal security check. Our gate number for the DUB-GLA flight on Aer Arran had us going straight after security and not up the escalator. Our walk through the quiet halls found us in T1, which I knew from my first EI flights.

    These were two tickets, which meant a missed connection would have been a hassle and extra fare costs, but the long haul landed on time and we had no trouble with the connection.

    We landed at GLA and easily found the airport shuttle (£8.50, open return) with a drop off just a couple streets away from the Radisson Blu. We sat behind the driver so W could start to take in the difference of driving on the other side of the road.

    Check in was very easy. We had to figure out the elevator. You push the floor desired, but then a display indicates which doors to enter. There's nothing to push inside, so you have to watch this before entering any of the elevators. Once we had that down, the process was painless.

    Just before leaving I'd received some messages from British Airways about using miles for experiences. I purchased two one-day HOHO vouchers for 4100 miles. After checking in, we discovered the Radisson Blu has vouchers for discounts on the HOHO bus. I didn't look to see what the discount % was, but price-wise, it would have been better. Cash-wise we saved, as we skipped paying cash by going with miles for payment.

    If we had gone to the room and right out we would have been soon picked up. We eventually went out and caught the next bus. Later, hindsight being what it is, we would have tried for the earlier bus, taken a complete circuit of the tour to see/hear, and then disembarked where we did at the Riverside Museum, http://www.glasgowlife.org.uk/museums/riverside/Pages/default.aspx

    W and I aren't much into art museums, but transport museums are fun. After looking at trains, trucks, cars, bikes, horse-drawn wagons, we went out back and toured the Glenlee, http://www.thetallship.com/ (free to tour, like the museum).

    We walked from the museum to dinner at The Sparkle Horse pub, http://thesparklehorse.com/ I used the Google maps 'search nearby' feature and used terms like cows, sheep, farm, dogs, horses, dairy, etc. It didn't matter what address I was looking at, I'd put in all the search terms. The Sparkle Horse was one of the delightful discoveries. I liked their web site and listed it as our likely eating spot for Friday. Dinner was £25 for the two of us. I enjoyed the steak and ale pie, W liked the stuffed loin (I did tell her about black pudding) and we shared a mac/cheese (yum!), http://thesparklehorse.com/menus/la-carte-menu/

    To get back to the hotel we used Kelvinhall Subway Station to St. Enoch station. I had seen a travel site that mentioned a trip on the Glasgow subway as a not to miss experience. I agree! It was the wildest, fun, £1.60 on the trip! Here's a YouTube showing St. Enoch to other locations, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QEg9mBWl1us The cars are not overly large and to watch the motions of the car in front and feel the same under your own seat is amazing. 24 minutes around the whole circular system, I read. Yes, it doesn't take long when 0-60 must be just a couple of seconds! Loved it, loved it!

    Standing on the platform at Kelvinhall we knew which side to use by looking at the station list, finding where we were and looking for the desired end station. Exiting St. Enoch found us in a long shopping area and we browsed down and back to the hotel.

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    Saturday, 19 April

    Saturday started early with a curious knocking in the night. W went to the door but couldn't see anything. Our theory is that someone had a thumb over the peephole. Meanwhile I called the front desk who promised to view the CCTV immediately. The knocker went away (hopefully nicked) and we slept again.

    We walked up to Queen Street Rail Station and purchased tickets to Edinburgh for the day, each £12.50 off peak return. We hadn't purchased breakfast at the hotel (it would have been £12 each), but we did spend a little under £12 and had breakfast for the two of us from Starbucks.

    Leaving Waverley Rail Station I told W about BigRuss's quote, that all the hills in Edinburgh go UP! Yes, it was up to leave the station, up through the Old Town, all you can remember are the Ups (there must be some Downs, but just not so memorable).

    One of W's coworkers wanted "funny money." It's not most economical, but with cash in hand, what we did was stop in to the No 1 Bureau de Change on the Royal Mile where Rabbies is also located. It was a bit convoluted, and good thing that it was quiet for an early Saturday stop, as the agent changed the cash from US to GBP and then exchanged that for a sample bill from each of the currencies available for purchase. With the remaining GBP from the original stash, as we shopped along the trip, W and I worked out equivalencies to include coins, both GBP and Euro coins (from shopping at DUB), so I hope her coworker has been pleased with the results.

    We stopped in to the (free) National Library of Scotland to view a couple of the paper sculptures. I knew of them from following library related stories on Facebook, http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-scotland-edinburgh-east-fife-25051337

    For the genealogy focus of the trip we attended a workshop at the Scottish Genealogy Society, http://www.scotsgenealogy.com/, at the end of Victoria Terrace. We learned about burgh records (and on the way there, W had been asking me the proper pronunciation of Edinburgh!). It was a delightful 2 hours of stories about Scotland. Not just a workshop about records, but the life behind the records. £10 for each of us to attend. We registered by e-mail and paid on arrival.

    We popped into the (free) National Museum of Scotland to visit the roof top terrace, http://www.nms.ac.uk/our_museums/national_museum_of_scotland.aspx We didn't tour the museum, but we did stop by (the stuffed) Dolly the sheep and the hall of interactive displays (knowing W's DD had done the same).

    I really wanted a cupcake from Cuckoo's Bakery (the photos are just food porn if you follow them on FB), http://www.cuckoosbakery.co.uk/, so we bussed over and back. We had to hurry to get back to the Castle Terrace farmers' market, http://www.edinburghfarmersmarket.co.uk/, to meet unclegus by 2 p.m.

    W was a bit nonplussed with the idea of meeting a stranger for a meal. Rather like my DH when I attended my first GTG, "Going to eat with someone you don't know?" I attached a little tag to say Fodor's on my bag's strap and had also sent a photo from a family gathering with the requisite sibling line up, so unclegus spotted us right away. He lead us on a delightful walking/talking tour from the Castle Terrace up through the Grassmarket and Victoria Street to The World's End for a meal. It was a great GTG with local stories and travel stories. Thank you, again, unclegus!

    W and I finished our day in Edinburgh with a walk down to Holyrood, discovering Dunbar Close Garden and White Horse Close along the way. We bussed back to Waverley and trained back to Central Station. We'd scouted a time that would let us return there and without too many stops. It was nice to see different scenery and arrive back a bit closer to our hotel. We purchased some snacks from the station M&S Simply Food.

    Back to GLA for the car on Easter morn.

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    Saturday, 19 April

    I'm glad our room was on the Robertson St side of the hotel. The front rooms probably didn't hear much street noise from Argyle St, if the rooms had good glass, but the side was definitely quiet. It was noisy walking the very short distance from the Central Rail Station to the hotel and we preferred the quiet.

    Easter morning was bright. We turned in our room cards and received directions to the airport shuttle stop. I won't go into car rental costs until after all the trip descriptions, just to handle that separately. We were definitely car hire newbs and it's a learning experience (rental experts can inform us later :-)

    We were still figuring out how to indicate locations on the TomTom app. We set it to go to Penicuik, and indicated skip highways. Well, with starting out on the west side of Glasgow and wanting to go to the east side of the city, how does one do that without highways? You go through it, lol. We also had to learn how soon a "Turn left" meant to take the turn. With a few hiccups from navigator (me, scuffle toe), about an hour after leaving the AVIS station at the airport I looked up and saw the Radisson Blu (yes, insert giggle).

    We eventually escaped Glasgow, very happy that it was a Sunday morning and not a weekday. I had grand ideas of going into Fife and driving around. Well, with an extra long trip just to get to the Patieshill B&B, we just figured that would make the day a "success." No, actually, we did have a success with the avoiding highway route. Along the way on one narrow road we passed a farm that looked very interesting. We found the B&B, then the Tesco in Penicuik for a meal, so with plenty of daylight, we returned to the farm and had a nice visit with farmers who didn't mind a couple crazy ladies from the States wanting to look at their cows and ask questions about dairy farming in Scotland.

    The hill behind the B&B is about 700 feet (we downloaded an app to W's iPhone to learn the B&B was about 1,000' and the web site indicates 1700 for the hill). We were settling in for the evening and looked out to realize the hill was disappearing quickly in fog.

    Critter tally for the day:
    cows .. mostly Holsteins, some Angus crosses
    sheep .. many properly behind fences and some being put back behind fences
    farm dogs .. West Highland White terriers
    grouse/pheasants .. some scurrying by, a couple road kill
    a deer .. boing, up and over the fence
    a rabbit .. a quick zig-zag and out of sight

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    Monday, 21 April

    With 800 cows, W's farm has regular contact with a large-animal vet practice. A student from the University of Edinburgh did an internship (she lives in New England, but has almost completed her vet qualification from UE), so that was our network contact for Monday's activity.

    W and I drove from the B&B to Eddleston. S traveled by bus from Edinburgh and we met at the bus stop, driving from there to a local sheep farm where S had done work during lambing seasons. We had a delightful visit, hearing all about running a Scottish sheep farm and Scottish rural life in general. The farmer also has a couple dozen beef critters and does fresh turkeys for the Christmas market (said it was the best ROI for farm income versus the beef and 500 sheep the rest of the year). He had a couple Border collies, too, so seeing them pleased W.

    After leaving the farm, we treated S to a meal at the Leadburn Inn Country Pub, http://www.the-leadburn.com/, which had a convenient bus stop right across the street. W and I had our first taste of roast (local) lamb with a Yorkshire pudding, very nicely done.

    The day had been wonderfully bright. Returning to Patieshill, we set out to climb the hill. The previous evening's fog crossed our minds, but our hour and ~20 min walk was up and down without a hitch, just slow and easy all the way (no need for a trip and fall). We were down just about 8 p.m. A half hour later we looked out and there was the fog again, quickly hiding the hill, so we were glad to have not delayed the descent!

    Critter tally:
    A few cows, lots of sheep--including lambs just a half-hour old--and a couple Border Collie dogs.

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    Really enjoying so far . . . But >> . . . and indicated skip highways . . . << OMG, you didn't?!!?

    tee hee - that will teach you to trust a gadget instead of a proper map. Hint -- you never ever want to 'avoid highways' until after you have gotten away from the city and in open countryside . . .

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    Yes, avoiding highways, plus my navigation lapses, got us into a pickle(!), but Samantha eventually also got us out.

    With later days we learned about recalculating a route and maybe going south before east would have been an option. We survived, but it was not a day for taking our blood pressures, that's sure.

    We did have a Philip's Navigator map book with us, but it wasn't easy to use. It grew easier to get around, the more time we were on the ground, and learning to connect both gadget and atlas with real world.

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    Tuesday, 22 April

    The morning was a foggy start and it stayed foggy/drizzly/sometimes rainy for just about the whole day. W and I left Patieshill B&B to go to our next B&B by way of Kelso Races, http://www.kelso-races.co.uk/ (each £13 to enter and £2 for a program, we also bought a Racing Post £2.10).

    We first went into Kelso to find a store I'd found with web searching the night before, http://www.cropservicesltd.co.uk/index.php?page=shop, and we bought some boots imagining we needed them to keep dry at the races. Hmm, perhaps not really necessary (you could stay out of grass easily), but they made nice trip souvenirs and were helpful with additional farm stops.

    I love Dick Francis novels and W enjoys horses, so it was fun to go to the races. We placed some £2 bets at the Tote and just watched the more active action of the bookmakers' area. The drive to Ochiltree was over 2 1/2 hours, so we stayed for 3 races and then hit the road.

    On each day, W knew she wasn't driving as fast as locals, so she made frequent use of parking slips to let people pass. As navigator I also usually had a camera in hand and took snaps of views we passed by. W noticed that as quickly as locals were likely to pass b/c of our speed, whenever they saw the camera snapping, they really promptly put the turning signal on to pass.

    We found the Laigh Tarbeg Farm B&B with Samantha's help and knowing what it should look like from using Google Street View before leaving home. The yard was a bit chaotic when we arrived. Moira thought we were early arrivals for a young farmers' club meeting being held there that evening. Sorting out that confusion, we parked and unloaded the car. It was good we arrived before the club members b/c later the yard and driveway were completely filled with little cars. We saw only one pick-up style vehicle, most were small things, like our little 3-door Vauxhall 1.2L Corsa rental car.

    We wandered the farm yard, looking at all the machinery lined up, and the 4 robotic milkers in the barn. I thought the automatic thing-y that kept feed pushed in looked like a Dalek :-) I think what we saw was a bit taller model, but like this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fKls2hedwAA

    Just as we thought we'd go to bed, Moira asked us about watching the auction. Auction?! W had a priceless look on her face. Of course she wanted to watch a farm auction. It turned out that the young men of the club had sheets listing all the machinery and were estimating current market value. Then there was a mock auction with bidding. At the end of that process the auctioneer read the actual market values and everyone compared notes for who bid the best.

    Critter cam for horses, cows (all Holstein), sheep (of course), and the cutest Jack Russell named Molly.

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    Wednesday, 23 April

    Breakfast was a bit crazy for our hostess. She was cooking breakfast for us and a few others, I think. It was also the morning of the Ochiltree Cattle Show and her family was involved with organizing things. The show was an event I found by searching some UK farm newspapers web sites. The weather was a bit cloudier for us, but this slide show is true to the events of the day, http://www.cumnockchronicle.com/photogalleries/ochiltree-show/

    The show was a very local affair, just a roped area of 100x50 or so with two sections for some judging to go on in each section at a time. One excited animal, a strong looking young Limousin (http://www.ansi.okstate.edu/breeds/breeds/cattle/limousin/index.htm), tried to take off from its handler, nearly succeeded. The women and children scattered to gather behind vehicles, the menfolk converged to help hang on to the critter. A trailer was backed up and they loaded it to stay safely out of the way for the rest of the show.

    Moira urged us more than once to visit Dumfries House, http://www.dumfries-house.org.uk/. We visited the gift shop but didn't tour the house. The post card views were enough to satisfy our curiosity. We enjoyed a quiche and drink in the Coach House Cafe and admired the play area that children could enjoy when they visit. We did find our favorite trip souvenirs here: made in Scotland scarves of lambswool and angora. W wore hers the rest of the trip, explaining she had felt a bit cool, but no more :-)

    We traveled north, finding our way to turning in the car at the airport and checking in to the HIE. Supper sandwiches and candy souvenirs came from the Tesco Express inside GLA and we spent the evening organizing luggage for the morning flight to Belfast City Airport.

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    Thursday, 24 April

    The weather started overcast again but was lovely by the end of the day for us. We were all packed the night before, so the morning was just a quick breakfast from the buffet and check out to go to check in with Flybe. We used the scale (costs £1) in the HIE lobby to check one of our bags and be sure we were under Flybe's weight limit. To read the cabin baggage descriptions I thought there was a chance that we could be asked to put our day bag/purses into our bags, so the coat pockets were full of stuff, just in case the weight needed to be there instead of in the bags. In the end, our bags' weights were considered fine and no mention was made of the day bags/purses.

    It was a short flight to Belfast City Airport from Glasgow. I don't know if it was the Easter season or general practice but we received a little chocolate as we deplaned. We looked around the small terminal for a bank ATM and finally found them hidden in a dead end area just to the right of the door as you enter the terminal.

    We picked up our second car, this time a 5-door 1.4L Vauxhall Corsa and followed Samantha to our first stop: the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland (PRONI), http://www.proni.gov.uk/. I knew there was a large parking lot with cheaper rates somewhere nearby, but for a few hours' visit, it was cheaper in stress and aggravation to pay £5.50 for 5 hours parking (if you find the Odyssey parking, here's info http://www.odysseyarena.com/car-parking).

    I had used a web site and paid a few dollars for some searches and names of ancestors. They were the same ones found during our time at PRONI, but by the end we also now have a good idea of what it would take to return and spend several days searching for more ancestors. One g-g-grandfather wrote on repeated censuses in Canada that he'd been born in Ireland, so to find him, since he wasn't in the records of the church parish as his younger siblings, I think we'd need to do a search of all the parishes with a Presbyterian church and try to find info. He may be there or not, but without investing in the time we won't know.

    Web searches found a site for an open farm weekend, http://www.openfarmweekend.com/, so we took the name of one farm from the 2013 weekend that also listed a farm shop and headed for it. We had a delicious Irish fry up at Hillstown Farm, http://www.openfarmweekend.com/hillstown-farm-2013.aspx We saw the chickens that probably provided the eggs of our fry up, but we didn't ask if seeing more would be possible, just wanted to head out to find our B&B.

    Several times on the trip we purchased Gü puds and enjoyed them. I've now another another sweet's name to spot when shopping on trips. In the Hillstown Farm shop I purchased some natural lemon sherbets from Monty Bojangles, http://www.whoismontybojangles.com/chocolate_shop/ They were absolutely yum (all gone, now).

    We enjoyed views of many sheep on the way to the B&B, also some cows and horses out to pasture. It was just all lovely scenery, narrow roads, too. They felt narrower in Northern Ireland than Scotland, so it worked well for us to take the trip in the direction that we did.

    After checking in at the B&B we drove back down to the beach for some walking and view enjoyment. We found the remains of Layd Church also, http://www.northantrim.com/laydechurch.htm

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    Friday, 25 April

    The morning started overcast, poured rain right before breakfast, and then was clearing when we hit the road and fine all day.

    Our B&B hostess gave us a code she'd received from the Bushmills Distillery to use if we booked a tour, which we did and that gave us each a little honey whiskey bottle. Along the scenic drive to get to Bushmills we passed a sign for a vanishing lake, didn't think much of the dry sight, but apparently there's much more to the story, ex: http://www.amusingplanet.com/2012/12/loughareemathe-lake-that-randomly.html

    We thoroughly enjoyed the tour through Bushmills Distillery, http://www.bushmills.com/, £7.50 adult. We learned about making whiskey (it's Irish, so "e") with clear explanations and visualizations (barrel models show the change with time in color and amount). One tank display that showed the new clear whiskey splashing through was right opposite some serious looking tech screens, so as simple as the process is, it's also up-to-date.

    Somewhere I'd read about the Dark Hedges, http://www.visitballymoney.com/the-dark-hedges.aspx, so on the way to Ballyeaston we drove along Bregagh Road. No leaves at the moment, but still a lovely sight with the branches a natural arch across the road.

    We found the church where g-g-grandfather's younger siblings were baptized. We know the building had been rebuilt after the family emigrated, but it was still cool to see.

    We headed back over the high ground and down glens to the B&B and drove from there with the owner's DH to see a relative's small dairy farm. Again, local farmers were friendly and happy to entertain questions from the ladies from the States :-)

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    Saturday, 26 April

    More overcast to start and breakfast was accompanied by the sound of pouring rain. We packed and headed out 9-ish. In the village we visited a farm pharmacy, the local library, and finally the tourist information center. By the time we really hit the road, the weather was clearing.

    We had lovely chats in all three village locations. With the lady in the tourist information center, we talked about local history including how folk could have arrived from Scotland. We told her about the family name we were researching and rec'd some nice ideas for possible research in future.

    A tourist flyer picked up at Bushmills Distillery alerted us to the Vintage Bus Rally at Ulster Transport Museum, http://www.nmni.com/uftm. Buses from the 70s and 80s are now old, but we really liked seeing the ones from the 50s and 60s.

    The bus rally was out in the parking lot. We also went through the museum itself, £8.00 adult, and enjoyed the various displays including a section about the Titanic. One model display showed a tiny figurine for each person on the ship, the color painted lived, all grey folk died. A statistic not usually mentioned in info I have seen was about the crew. In both actual number and percent, it looked like crew had the worst of the tragedy. The Midland tearoom in the transport museum had a very nice, fudgy chocolate muffin and cocoa. I recommend it if you visit.

    We'd driven right by the airport to reach the transport museum, so on the way back to Belfast we stopped and turned in the car. W was tiring with all the driving and I was remembering that the Premier Inn-Belfast Titanic Quarter had messages about difficulty with parking -- very difficult, it has none, or rather it has a specific location where you can pay to park with a discount.

    A quick £6 taxi ride from the airport and we were at the hotel door. I knew it was near the PRONI. It is right across from it, though on the opposite side to where we'd entered.

    It was still light enough that W and I walked up Queens Road to the Titanic Experience, http://visit-belfast.com/things-to-do/member/titanic-belfast. We visited the gift shop and walked around the slipway where Olympic and Titanic were built. Back at the hotel we had dinner. I was disappointed that a fish & chips listed as available with garden peas or mushy peas just mushed the garden peas to call them mushy. Oh well, the chips were nice.

    Down to final packing for the final trip day ...

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    Sunday, 27 April

    Our last day ..

    Morning weather report .. no rain, just some clouds.

    We had breakfast at the Premier Inn, which I'd paid for when booking the room. At each B&B we each had the porridge with some milk as a starter for breakfast, so we again asked for porridge. The Premier Inn's version was -- to us -- like a cross between what we expected for oatmeal with some cream of wheat lumps included and an almost solid milk product, extra thick double cream? We both ate some of it and then switched to the hot buffet to finish.

    Another short, £5 taxi ride, from a taxi requested the evening before when we checked in, got us to the Europa Buscentre where I exchanged a voucher for tickets purchased online for the actual tickets. To purchase the airport bus ticket online saved £5 per ticket, so we just exchanged the funds from one transportation cost to the other, bus to the two taxis :-) Our tickets were on the Goldline Express X2, http://www.translink.co.uk/Services/Other-Translink-Services/Airport-Services/Goldline-Express-Service-X1-X2-Belfast-to-Dublin-Airport-and-Dublin/

    Purchasing online had another advantage. When it became apparent that more tickets were sold than seats, the online purchasers boarded first, then everyone else. A handful still couldn't be seated so they were put at the top of the line for the X1, which also was headed to the airport but with a slightly longer trip time b/c of stopping at a couple places along the way.

    Just under 2 hours later we were at the outside of T2 and went to check in with Aer Lingus. We were wondering about weight though believing we were under the limit and the agent didn't even bother with weighing our bags. You just never know what to expect when approaching a counter.

    The glassed elevators in T2 are a gorgeous blue, making me think of the lovely blue of taxiway lights that I really like.

    We went through security. Something on me set off the metal alarm and I was patted down thoroughly. I didn't know what set it off.

    We checked out some of the shopping of T2 and eventually went to US pre-clearance .. another security check .. oops, I found a penny and 5 pence coin in my pocket .. the alarming metal from 1st security check? Then on to US agents whom we discovered were doing both immigration and customs. My agent was not happy that I'd stayed at farm B&Bs but did like my report of scrubbing my boots and visually checked the bottoms. He said if I'd not done my own scrub that's what they would have taken them off for - a scrubbing wash.

    My previous experiences of pre-clearance in Ireland were just for immigration, with customs still done in Boston. This time with both completed in Ireland we came out of hallways outside the international arrival doors in Terminal E and went straight out to check the bus situation.

    The next buses for NH and ME arrived and W and I parted company. Family met us at our respective bus centers and we were both home before midnight.


    W and I had done very well on this trip as travel partners. I said how I couldn't do what W was doing so capably for driving and she expressed the same for (definitely) my trip planning and (most of the time) navigating (okay, once past the first day's hiccups). I think if we both start saving again that a joint trip could be in our futures.


    Well, that's it for the trip. I think I may have a post or two still in me, but it's pretty much wrapped up. Cheers.

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    Well, I spent the week gathering receipts and tallying final figures, so just a couple posts to tie up this report and then on to a new spreadsheet .. no destination, yet, but just wishful thinking and prepping.


    Cash-wise, my sister and I spent:
    570 flights (4 flights total, BOS-DUB(business)/DUB-BOS(coach) with flyer miles)
    215 buses, taxis, trains
    740 two rental cars
    500 food
    520 souvenirs
    145 activities: workshop, the races, visiting PRONI, a museum and a distillery tour
    640 hotels, B&Bs (two nights covered by points alone, one night of a points+cash)
    195 misc logistics: ex, trip insurance, phone data plans (don't forget the important 20p and 10p coins to have on hand)
    ----
    3525
    -915 .. the amount cut with Cap One redeem eraser
    ----
    2610 for 11 days / 2 = $1305 pp

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    Final thoughts .. the driving vs. public transport thing.

    I was once raked with a scathing retort on a thread. My opinion was the two types of trips can be very nice, but will be different. How could I know they'd be nice but different, if I'd never done a driving trip(?!), said one.

    Well, golly gee (need a sarcasm pic), my knowing what a trip with public transport was like combined with logical inferring from the reports of people who drive that their trips also felt delightful, but were obviously different from mine, held true .. they are DIFFERENT, different, different, and yet (could it be true, person who thought I wouldn't know without trying both?) both have charms as a trip event.


    Public transport trips are filled with a lot of hurry-up-and-wait, but a driving trip is filled with stress .. the stress of the car rental process, the stress of being responsible for yourself on a map/GPS, the stress of learning a new car, the stress of facing traffic in a new way, the stress of dodging parked cars on narrow streets (dodging tractors in town we didn't mind :-), the stress of finding parking in a strange location for ourselves .. we never did have to attempt to learn how to unlock the gas filler cap, using just the one tank of fuel with each car.

    Okay, so I accept that repeat trips should have fewer stresses, being after the trip filled with "firsts." I also accept that what stressed my sister and I may not exceed another person's stress capacity, even on a first visit.

    The trip planning and execution for a public transport vs. a self-drive trip will be different, not just the trip itself. You can have a nice trip either way, but you have to start with your personal goals for the trip and then plan to reach your goal using the transport method that you select as right for yourself.

    It's writing for myself that I know I'll never be the driver on a UK trip, but I'll be a better planner and navigator -- I think the experience informed my knowledge of each trip method, actually -- for having done the driving method this time.

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