Scotland and London Trip Report, part A

Old Jul 25th, 2006, 06:44 AM
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Scotland and London Trip Report, part A

We took an 18 day trip to Scotland and London in early July. We only spent 2 days in London as we were there last year and wanted to concentrate on Scotland. Scotland is absolutely gorgeous, the castles are wonderful and the people are warm and welcoming. Some of the highlights of our trip were the Thames Pub Walk in London, the British Museum, Crathes Castle and gardens, Cawdor Castle gardens, the train ride from London to Edinburgh, St. Andrews Cathedral, Minmore House in Glenlivet, the drive from Mallaig to Fort Williams, the view from our room at the Manor House in Oban, the ferry ride to Mull, Linlithgow Palace.

London

We flew American Airlines coach class from DFW to Gatwick in London. We used Just Airports to get to the Rubens at the Palace hotel. The driver was there waiting for us. He charged us the extra fee since it took us longer than 40 minutes to get through all the lines at immigration. We had a nice sized superior king room at the Rubens. Since it was not ready for us, they held our luggage and we walked to see the changing of the guard and had some lunch. It takes less than 10 minutes to walk to the front of the Palace!

We had stayed at the Mayfair Chesterfield last year, the Ruben’s sister hotel. Overall we preferred the more personal service and the quieter atmosphere of the Chesterfield. Don’t get me wrong, the Rubens is also very nicely decorated in the same style as the Chesterfield. And the room we had was very pretty and very comfortable. And the location is great! But since the Rubens is much larger and busier, the lobby is quite busy so the service from the head concierge was always rushed. However, the assistants were very helpful and friendly.

It was very hot and humid in London during our stay. Thank goodness our room was air conditioned. Be aware that many places are not air conditioned, if you visit in the summer. We didn’t have a strict agenda planned so we ended up taking a short afternoon nap that first day. We then walked over to Hyde Park since we missed that last year. It was very pretty and very LARGE! We found 2 chairs by the lake and relaxed for a long time enjoying the scenery and the cool breezes. Very relaxing! We ate supper at the Bag O’Nails pub that is kitty korner from the Rubens. The beer was great but the food was so-so. Nice pub atmosphere.

The next day we decided to try the Hop On Hop Off bus tours. We wanted to get on the Yellow Route because it has the live guide, but they were always full so we got on the Red Route which goes north along Hyde Park, through the Marble Arch and back down along the Oxford/Regent street shopping district. It was fun to see the views from the top of the bus and I am glad we had the chance to view the busy shopping district!! Wow – one upscale store after another! Unfortunately, we started to get very hot and because the bus only went a half a block at a time, and then had to wait for the traffic lights, we realized we were not getting very far along on this bus tour. Since our goal to was to see the British Museum that afternoon, we hopped off the bus at Trafalgar Square. We spent some time enjoying the fountains there and then went across the street to St. Martins in the Fields Church. We ate a nice lunch in their basement lunch room, which is good. (It was even hot down there, in fact, a lady passed out onto the floor.) We then caught the noon oran recital in the church. We enjoyed that immensely. We took a taxi to the British Museum. Like everyone says, this is a fantastic museum with so much to see! We loved this experience! The only bad thing is that it is not air conditioned and it was probably around 85F inside. Even so, we spent 4 hours there and would love to return.

One thing I really wanted to do this time was to go on a walking tour, so after the museum, we took a taxi to the Black Friars tube stop to meet the 7 pm Thames Pub walking tour. (We love those London black cabs. We were scared off from taking the tubes last summer so we got in the habit of taking the cabs. They are one of my favorite things about London!) A group of about 20 people were there with Isabel, our guide. The walk was a lot of fun and very interesting. Isabel talked a lot and she had a great sense of humor. The tour lasted 3 full hours instead of 2 and we ended up on the south side of the river at 10 pm. We had not eaten dinner yet, so we popped into a local tapas restaurant and luckily they were still serving! We took a cab home around midnight and enjoyed seeing the Thames view at night

The next day we decided to just walk around and enjoy the city. We caught part of the changing of the guards again, walked through St. James Park, through the Horse Guards area and then back to our hotel along the Thames. We got somewhat turned around in on the way back to our hotel but eventually made it just in time to grab our bags, check out and get a cab to take us to Kings Cross station. We had a 3 pm GNER train ride to Edinburgh. The train ride was one of the highlights or our trip! I know that sounds a little odd, but the ride was extremely comfortable and relaxing. I opted for the advance first class tickets and it was well worth it. The train was air conditioned, thank God!! Just for your information, the setup in our first class coach was a row of single seats each with its own table along one side, all facing the same direction. The other side had double seats facing another set of double seats with a large table in between. We had 4 seats all to ourselves which was very comfortable. The train was definitely the way to go if you have the time – the ride takes 4.5 hours. They serve sandwiches and drinks.



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Old Jul 25th, 2006, 06:50 AM
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I want to add that I will continue with part B soon. Also, we really enjoyed the Thames Pub walk. We stopped at 3 pubs and had time to order a pint at each one and enjoy it. Very interesting walking through some of the oldest sections in London. Lots of stories!

Ginny
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Old Jul 25th, 2006, 09:40 AM
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Ginny -

I'm enjoying your report very much. Can't wait for part B!

I have been very curious about the train setup as I'm planning to take it myself from London to Edinburgh or else take the Caledonian Sleeper all the way from London to Fort William next June. Did first class seems to be clearly better than the "cheaper seats"?
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Old Jul 25th, 2006, 10:23 AM
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Hi crazy4hawaii
We will be taking the Caledonian Sleeper from London to Inverness in September, and got some excellent information at this site: <http://www.seat61.com/CaledonianSleepers.htm>

We were able to get "Bargain Berths" in second class for 39 GBP each one way -- a good deal (sometimes it's as low as 19 GBP). We went for second class because first class berths are singles, while second class is two to a cabin (I'm traveling with DH). You can book the bargain berths online at Firstscotrail.com. I discovered that you cannot buy them very far ahead of your travel date, so I kept monitoring the ScotRail site until our travel date was in the window (I think about 60 days out from our travel day).

For other train travel we are using Britrail Senior passes, which give you first class travel for a pretty good price. You can sometimes match the pass prices with advanced purchase tickets, or even save a few pounds, but APEX tickets do not allow for flexibility if your plans should change (or you miss a train). I spent a lot of time obsessing, um, comparing rates etc. on the National Rail trip planner site, which is very helpful: <http://www.nationalrail.co.uk/>

Planning is at least half the fun...
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Old Jul 25th, 2006, 10:29 AM
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We only saw the other coaches from the platform as we left the train in Edinburgh. It looked like there were double seats on both sides of the aisle rather than a single side and a double side. So we assumed that the chairs must be a little narrower than the first class chairs but they had the same design. Also there were the tables between the seats. Other than that, it looked the same. Sorry I can't help you out a little more with your question.

If you get the first class advance tickets early enough, they don't cost that much more than the regular ones.

Good luck!

Ginny
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Old Jul 25th, 2006, 10:32 AM
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Meant to add -- sorry gopack, didn't mean to hijack your thread! I'm enjoying your TR, and like the sound of the Thames pub walk. We did a simliar one in Hampstead, really enjoyed it.
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Old Jul 25th, 2006, 01:13 PM
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Thanks for posting a trip report, gopack. It's great to read about your trip, and I am looking forward to reading about Scotland. If you haven't already posted it, I'd suggest you put part B right at the end of this post, since you have both Scotland and London in your title.

Many of your details will be useful for us. In just a few days we will fly to Glasgow. We will take the train (through Edinburgh) to London, stopping in York for an overnight and look around. We love train travel, and will probably reserve the first class seats.

The British Museum is a top priority for us, as we did not get there on our first trip to London. Good to know that it is not air conditioned - I hadn't considered that possibility and will be sure to check for the museums we will visit. I had assumed that if it were hot outside these museums would provide a cool oasis for us. Our hotel has AC, but I expect to spend minimal time there.
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Old Jul 25th, 2006, 02:31 PM
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Noe847,

Thanks for the suggestion on part B. I haven't started it yet so I am sure it will be in a new thread. I hope you have a great time on your trip! Plan those museum visits for earlier in the day, maybe. Enjoy the train and make sure you write a report for us afterward as well.

Ginny
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Old Jul 25th, 2006, 03:28 PM
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Thanks, SB Trvlr -
I'm an obsessive planner or I wouldn't be thinking about a trip almost a year out! Your tips will be useful for me. I talked to one of the very nice Scotrail employees who advised me to try and get two double berths side by side so that they can be connected for my family of three. I'll have to pay a small penalty for taking away that fourth berth they might have sold to someone else but that's no big deal... They're sending me some info about the Family Pass to see if that might result in a savings for me.
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Old Jul 25th, 2006, 05:44 PM
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Gopack: great report - really looking forward to the rest.

just one thing " . . . so I am sure it will be in a new thread. " -- I don't want to put words in noe's mouth but I'm pretty sure she was suggesting you post the next installment as an addition to this thread. (" . . . I'd suggest you put part B right at the end of this post

It is a lot easier to follow a trip report when it is all on one thread.
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Old Jul 25th, 2006, 06:02 PM
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Yup, please add parts B, etc. to this thread, so we can all read it in order -- even those that find it later on. Much easier than searching for all the parts!

Looking forward to the rest. I also loved the Thames Pub Walk when I went last summer
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Old Jul 25th, 2006, 06:35 PM
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That's right, janis, you took the words right out of my mouth
gopack, just do a "post reply to this message" and put the rest of your trip report right there. You can do that whenever you get it written. The search function of this board is such that it really is hard to put the parts together when they are posted separately.
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Old Jul 25th, 2006, 06:54 PM
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Noe and others,

I will take your advice and post the rest of my report here on this thread. Thanks for the tip!

Ginny
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Old Jul 26th, 2006, 08:38 AM
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Scotland and London Trip Report continued.

(It was recommended to me to continue my trip report on this thread so here goes.)

Edinburgh



We arrived in Edinburgh around 7:30 pm and took a cab to our hotel, the Channings, which is located in a residential district just beyond the main city center, only about a 10 to 15 minute walk. The hotel is made up of 5 adjoining townhomes. It’s very elegant and the staff is friendly and helpful. We had one of the newly remodeled Shackleton suites up on the top floor. It was a very comfortable large modern room with a huge bathroom. Since it was once the attic, the ceiling sloped on one side and the windows were those skylight types, that opened up. The view was great. Ask for the rooms at the front of the hotel to get the nice view. There was no air conditioning (nowhere in Scotland did we find any a/c) but it was fine since there was a nice breeze coming in. The only thing we worried about was a pigeon or a bird flying into the room but that never happened! Breakfast was served in their dining room which is in the level just below the sidewalk. The breakfast was very good. Just like every breakfast on our trip, they had a full buffet of breads and pastries, fruits, cereals, yogurts, juices, etc. The server would ask for our hot breakfast order. We ate dinner there one night and the service and food was very good. I would recommend the Channings if the walk to the main drag doesn’t bother you. There are about 3 different sitting rooms on the first floor that were very attractively decorated.


After checking in, we walked over to town (you cross a small bridge with nice leafy views) and had supper at Zizi’s, which is one of the first restaurants you come to. Highly recommend it – it’s a nice casual Italian place with good food.

The next morning, we walked to town and strolled through the Princes Street Gardens on our way to the hop on hop off buses. It’s a gorgeous park with flowers and trees everywhere, and the castle looms above the park on a cliff. Great place for a stroll and photos. Luckily we had sunshine again. We took the Guide Friday bus as was recommended by so many on Fodors – the one with the live guide. It was perfect. The guide was very informative and funny and we saw the entire tour in about an hour and a half. Well worth it. Unfortunately, the Queen was having at tea that day at Holyrood Palace so we could not drive into the gated area, so we never saw the Palace from the outside, much less the inside. That was a little disappointing. You would think she could have at least invited us to tea!!

After the tour, we decided to walk along the Royal Mile. We popped into St. Giles Cathedral and it is quite lovely inside. They were preparing for a organ recital for the Queen, so the organist was practicing on their new huge organ. Wow!! What great sound!! If you have the chance to hear an organ recital at St. Giles, I recommend you go to it. You will be amazed. We found a corner pub on the Royal Mile for a late lunch where we enjoyed some good dark beers and fish and chips. Loved watching the people walk by and the Scottish bagpiper play outside. We did some more walking and shopping that afternoon. Suddenly the weather changed - It got dark and started to rain, so we ran into the hot chocolate shop that some others had recommended, something like Le Plaisirs de Chocolate. It is more than half way down the Royal Mile on the left side if you are walking away from the castle. The reason I am being so specific is because you MUST go there. This was absolutely the most wonderful hot chocolate we have ever had. I ordered the one with the orange flavor and Jim got the mint flavored one. They also have a glass case of homemade chocolates and cakes that are luscious looking. We walked back to our hotel in the light rain and ate dinner at the Channings that evening.

The next day we took the hop on hop off bus up the hill to the castle and spent most of the day up there. Another beautiful sunny day. We really enjoyed the audio tour of the castle. The views over the city were terrific. As we worked our way around the castle, we found the Queen Anne Café, right next to the prison. It was not marked on the castle map. We ate lunch there and would recommend it. They had a nice selection of homemade cakes and bars – one of the determining factors of where we eat lunch! We shared a sandwich and the best brownie we ever had. The castle also has a café next to the canons. The castle prison was interesting. We also liked the War Memorial building. If you look closely at the stained glass windows, you’ll see that each one represents a branch of the service - very nicely done. You can look up the names of service men in books in here. Overall, it’s a very nice memorial. We left the castle with plans to go to the Museum of Scotland, but I was extremely wiped out at his point so we found another pub and sat down with a beer and relaxed awhile. I think the heat had taken its toll on us. After going back to the hotel for a short nap, we ate dinner outside the Bad Ass tavern which is along the pedestrian street adjacent to Princes Street. It is very nicely decorated inside, sort of a Victorian theme. I had a steak stew – excellent. Jim had the ribs – just okay.

We really didn’t do justice to Edinburgh. There are so many great sites to see there and we definitely want to return when the weather is a little cooler so we don’t get so tired out. It is a lovely city!




Over the Firth of Forth into Fife



We reserved an Avis car at the Edinburgh airport for the following morning. It was only a 15 minute cab ride to the airport. After checking in at the Avis desk, we were on our way!! Yippee!! Well…like so many of you have said, getting used to driving on the left in a new place with lots of busy roundabouts can be a harrowing experience! Jim does pretty well with the driving on left part – he did well in Ireland. But getting through the busy roundabouts leaving the airport was something else. I know we got honked at a couple of times. Soon we realized that we were caught in construction traffic. Turns out, they are improving the roadways leading to the bridge, so there we sat and sat and sat. We figured we lost about 45 minutes due to construction, but once we made it to the bridge, it was clear sailing. We decided to go to Dunfermline to see the Abbey and take a much needed break. Well, after driving through the entire city in order to find the Abbey, we finally found it. The Abbey was very pretty. We ate some lunch and headed to the East Neuk villages on our way to St. Andrews. Once we left Dunfermline, traffic was not so busy. The small villages are very postcard pretty. We toured the fishing museum in Anstruther – very enjoyable and informative.

We finally made it to St. Andrews around 4 – just enough time to see the castle and cathedral. You have to buy tickets at the visitor center where they have a small exhibition about the history of both the castle and cathedral. The cathedral ruins and the large surrounding cemetery were very interesting. Due to arthritis in my knees, I decided not to climb the tower even though the views would have been spectacular. Because we arrived late, the shops in the city were all closed so we drove over to the old golf course. We bought some nice items in the golf shop at the Old Course Hotel, took some photos of the golf course and headed on to Perth where we were staying that night. Doing it over, I would spend more time in St. Andrews – it appeared to be a pretty city and I would like to see more of it.



Entering Castle Country


We stayed at the Parklands Hotel in Perth for one night. It is a older hotel next to a large city park which is a nice setting. Our room was very large with a king bed. This is a family run hotel so you will see the same person doing many jobs. The young man that checked us in also served us our cocktails before dinner. He also helped out the breakfast service the next morning. We ate dinner at their restaurant that night since we had the rate that included it. Dinner was excellent especially the desserts!! I recommend the peach and raspberry melba dessert – one of the best desserts I’ve had.


Our goal the next morning was to tour Glamis Castle and Dunottar Castle, and get to our hotel near Aberdeen. Glamis Castle was very nice! The most interesting thing about it was the fact that the Queen Mother grew up here. There are several family photographs throughout the castle and there is a small museum in the first level with photos and artifacts about her family. She certainly was an attractive lady. We were pleasantly surprised at how much we enjoyed our time here. You are escorted throughout the castle by live guides, which is our favorite type of tour. We ate lunch after the tour in their tea room. Good soups and hot dishes, and of course, a wide variety of wonderful DESSERT cakes! Yum! We enjoyed touring the gardens after lunch, took several photos and then headed toward Stonehaven, where Dunottar Castle is.

We arrived at the castle around 4. It stays open until 6 in the summer so we had plenty of time and sunshine. By the way, during our trip, July 1st to July 18th, it never got completely dark in Scotland. It stayed very light until 10 or 11 at night which was great for sightseeing. We both agree that the setting of Dunottar Castle is one of the highlights of Scotland! It is set on a steep hill jutting out into the coastline. The best views of it are from hillsides surrounding it. There are several areas where you can walk to view it and take photos. What a sight!! To get to the castle, you pass through a wooden gate and descend MANY cement steps, maybe 60 or so. And you know what goes down, must come up, so of course, you must ascend many old steps to get into the castle. There is a small ticket office just before you enter the castle ruins. Jim and I agree that being amongst the castle ruins in a let down compared to viewing it from the hillsides surrounding it. Both Glamis and Dunottar castles were fantastic. Our day turned out perfectly!

We drove to our hotel for that evening just west of Aberdeen, the Ardoe House. It is part of the MacDonald hotel group and it a beautiful old hotel in a parklike setting. It was a splurge for us to stay here with dinner included but I was impressed by the website and the comments on Tripadvisor. We were let down the minute we arrived at the front door. We expected that at such a highly rated and expensive hotel, there would be someone to help us with our luggage and direct us to the check in desk. Well, there were several young men standing in front of the doorway, all wearing kilts, so we assumed that they were the doormen and bellmen. We soon realized that they were part of a wedding party and were all outside taking a smoking break!! The joke was on us, I guess. Well, we parked, got our luggage and made our way through the kilted men and the smoke to check in. The man at the front desk was about as friendly as a dead rat. He offered no help and no directions on how to get to our room, or where the lift was unless we asked. We made our way to our room which was down 2 extremely long hallways. Actually, our room was very nice even though it was a typical hotel style room. It seems as though there are 2 wings for the rooms that are fairly recently built so the rooms are very up to date and nicely decorated but are a pretty standard hotel room size. The bathroom was very lovely and had a full tub and a large shower stall. The view was of the surrounding park and trees which was nice.

We went down for a drink in the old lounge and then had dinner in the fancy dining room. The dining room is not very large and has no windows other than 2 or 3 small stained glass ones. So we thought that was odd and of course, it was very warm in there. The service was very nice and the food was very good. Since it was a Saturday night, there was a large wedding across the hall from the dining room so we could hear the crowd and the music. Actually once the band started, we enjoyed the music since there was NO music at all in the dining room which we thought was very strange. After dinner, we took a peek into the wedding and enjoyed watching the bridal party doing a Scottish dance. As a place to hold a very high-end wedding, this is the place. But as a place to stay on your own, I am not sure I would recommend it. Very impersonal.
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