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Scotland trip report July 2014, chapter 1

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Jul 19th, 2014, 08:08 AM
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Scotland trip report July 2014, chapter 1

Aided by every guide book and travel video ever created about Scotland, a lifetime of my father's stories about the family clan, and the expert and patient advice of the Fodor Forum, my pal and I embarked on a two week trip to Scotland this July. We are two near-retirement-age professional women, former co-workers, and great pals. I was planning on going by myself on a tour, when my friend said she'd accompany me! So off we went.

Being very greedy, it was difficult to let go of places I wanted to visit, so I made a massive itinerary. We would start in Edinburg in a rented apartment for five days, then pick up a rental car and do a big loop that included St. Andrews, part of the Castle Trail, down Loch Ness, over to Skye for 3 days and then to the Trossachs & Stirling for the last three days. It was ambitious, it was great, but it was also exhausting and now I'd like to sit on a beach and vegetate for a few days. Still, it was an absolutely glorious two weeks. We had a mix of scenery, different types of accommodations, a little of this, a little of that.

We flew Boston - Shannon - Edinburgh via Aer Lingus. It was the cheapest flight we found ($799 RT) , but as the old adage says: you get what you pay for. The departure time kept changing and we finally wound up with a 4 hour (!) layover in Shannon. The Shannon airport is not exactly large or comfortable. (I'm being kind here.) (Do not fly Aer Lingus if you can help it.) So by the time we arrived in E'burgh, we were really tired and overwhelmed. And I packed way way too much despite editing my stuff several times.
(Once I travelled to Italy for 6 weeks with carry-on only. What happened to me?!?). So we opted to take a taxi rather than the new tram or even the airport bus. It would have been so easy... except for the two-ton suitcase ... the tram would have let us out a block away from our apartment. Ah, tourists.)

Our rental apartment on Randolph Lane was fabulous. It was small and charming, nicely furnished, every comfort you could think of, a little outdoor terrace for morning coffee, two bedrooms so we each had out own space and perfectly placed. We were right around the corner from the most beautiful New Town square -- Charlotte Square and the wonderful Georgian House museum -- but also two blocks from restaurants, food stores, bars, and every bus line you could imagine. But we really walked everywhere.

We managed to resist the urge to nap and strolled down to the corner restaurant, La P'tite Folie, for an early dinner. A lovely place with an upstairs dining room, a downstairs less formal cafe, and a really happening wine bar. We had the dining room to ourselves for quite a while, but by the time we stumbled home, it was packed. It was an absolutely lovely meal with a starter of steamed mussels, wonderful salmon with a French touch, a glass of wine by candlelight. I was teary with happiness (and fatigue) over finally making it to the land of my ancestors.

We slept in the next day and got a late start. After morning coffee, we headed out for lunch at the Witchery. We walked. Huff huff, pause, huff huff, pause. Made it. Yes, I know it's touristy. Not one person from Scotland was in the dining room with us... a group from Japan, four women from the UK celebrating a birthday, six people from Finland... but it was so beautiful. The service was attentive. Candle light and linen in that incredible paneled room with red leather banquettes. And the food was very good as well. Expensive? Oh yes. But for the service, the incredible atmosphere and the food, it was worth every penny. Smoked salmon starters, a pasta with lobster and the first of what would prove to be many sticky toffee puddings for dessert.

From there we headed to the Castle. Huff huff pause huff huff pause. Now, let me mention that the weather is stunning. Bright blue sky, puffy white clouds, in the 80s. Crowds of tourists with every language imaginable being spoken. Fabulous view out over the city, all the way to the Firth, out to Leith, Arthur's seat, Calton Hill. Gorgeous.
Saw every nook and cranny from the War Museum and the jail to the crown jewels and the church. And then we walked home. I confess we stopped at Starbucks (there's one every 5 blocks it seems) for a caffeine pick-me-up. Home for a wee nap.
We didn't think we'd eat dinner, but around 9 o'clock, we got peckish and went down the block to a fun beer hall, Indigo Yards. A great crowd of young professionals and incredibly friendly staff. Our server, Jamie, wound up chatting with us on and off for most the evening telling us about his brother living in the states. We were trying to figure out if we could bring him home for my friend's daughter, but he was spoken for. Food was quite good and very cheap after the Witchery! It was great to have neighborhood options.

More to come!
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Jul 19th, 2014, 09:15 AM
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Oh - terrific. I was wondering how your trip was going. Along for the ride . . .

Just one suggestion >>Scotland trip report July 2014, chapter 1<< . . . I hope that doesn't mean you plan a new thread for each chapter. TR's are much MUCH easier to follow if each installment is posted on to the same thread.
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Jul 19th, 2014, 11:02 AM
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Hi noratravel .. signing on to follow your TR. I'll ditto to janisj that a single thread for a trip report is easiest.

Can you post the URL for your apartment? Accommodations with a recommendation are sought by many when reading trip reports. Thx!

Sorry to read of your no-fun layover in Shannon. I admit that I was worried with my first booking on Are Lingus, but I love the 2-4-2 seating on the Airbus and I've now made 4 trips to the UK with them. But my layovers have always been in Dublin, which has the nice new Terminal 2. I hope to make another trip next year. With your heads up, I'll keep the layover location to DUB ;-)
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Jul 19th, 2014, 03:30 PM
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Count me in.
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Jul 19th, 2014, 07:40 PM
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Lovely report so far. Looking forward to more.
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Jul 19th, 2014, 08:11 PM
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Also looking forward to more.
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Jul 20th, 2014, 06:46 PM
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I am also looking forward to more of your adventure! I'm hoping to get some good hints for a future trip.
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Jul 21st, 2014, 07:46 PM
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The adventure continues…

On our 2nd day in Edinburgh, we blew out our travel hairdryer! So we took a walk in the neighborhood to discover (correct me if I got this wrong) Boots, the UK equivalent of CVS.
So now we co-own a nifty UK travel dryer we can use on our next trip.

We felt totally stupid about using simple things in our apartment, as we slowly figured out that you have to turn on each socket to make things work… like plug in the toaster and then turn on the socket. We had an adventure figuring out how to get the hot water to work too. Finally downloaded the manual for the heater/h20 heater and figured out the right knobs and dials. Ah, what did we do before the internet. Thank heaven the owner had Wifi! I think the owner rents primarily to UK residents so she didn't have a manual. BTW, I can't find the listing on Home Away or VRBO anymore. It is 6 Randolph Lane and was really a great place.

Finally we're off and it's another glorious day and we walk around the corner to the beautiful Charlotte Square and a visit to the Georgian House. All the people we met in Scotland were incredibly friendly and helpful. We had the place almost entirely to ourselves and we enjoyed speaking to each room's docent… and then we got to try on period bonnets and write with a quill pen. I don't know, something about traveling makes you childish in your pleasures. We enjoyed it immensely and we laughed ourselves silly.

Then we headed to the Museum of Scotland which reminded me very much of the Smithsonian, with exhibits of stuffed animals (not the plush kind) and all manner of stuff. I think you could wander around there for days and not be done. But by 2:00 we headed upstairs to the newer wing and had lunch in the Tower restaurant. We sat outside with a splendid view of the castle from the "back" side. Lovely flowers and plantings. Once again attentive service and quite nice food. For both this lunch and the Witchery, we opted for the 2 course special as a way of experiencing a venue that would have been too expensive for us by night. And since we were usually so tired at the end of the day,and there were so many spots around the corner from our apartment, this proved to be a good strategy for us.

After lunch, we walked across to visit Greyfriar's Bobby and the lovely cemetery, a very peaceful oasis in the midst of an incredibly busy area. Then up towards the Castle (huff huff pause huff huff) and a right turn down the Royal Mile with a stop at St. Giles. Definitely worth a visit, especially the little side chapel with incredibly ornate carvings. Then out and headed down the Royal Mile.

The Royal Mile is probably THE most touristy part of Edinburgh. A pedestrian street, it's a gauntlet of shops geared to tourists, with lots of kitsch for sale. Packed with people of every nationality, all snapping pictures with their cell phones. Still, you have to do it! You are walking on history. And there are lovely old buildings and stunning architecture, even if they all now house tourist junk.

As we're walking down the cobbles, a motorcade whizzes by. Inside the limo is a woman wearing one of those "fascinators" and a gentleman wearing some kind of ceremonial necklace. We theorized that it was the mayor or the university chancellor. It didn't seem the right time of year to us, but there were a number of young people in cap and gown, so we thought perhaps there had been a graduation. We continue on our way. I'm beat, but my friend really wants to make it to the end to see the Palace of Holyrood House, so I keep smiling and trudge (huff huff huff huff) along.

We finally get down there and police are everywhere, the end of the street is blocked off and we hear drums and bagpipes. We join the crowd to peek inside the closed gates to see
a whole formal assembly, a veritable orchestra of drummers and pipers. I asked one of the police what was going on and she said that the Queen had just arrived a few minutes earlier. Ten minutes earlier. It was the beginning of her annual visit to Scotland, she was hosting a huge garden party the next day, and it was indeed the Lord Mayor we saw whizzing past us.

I know many people would be thrilled to almost see the queen. But we were both peeved. It meant we weren't going to be able to tour the palace during our visit. We checked the weather, we checked opening and closing times, we checked bus routes…but no guide book mentioned an annual visit by the Queen!!!! Phooey. By that point it felt like we'd walked ten miles, so we flagged down a cab and went home.

Although we had dinner reservations at Angels with Bagpipes later, we just couldn't bear the thought of heading back out to the Royal Mile again whether by foot, bus or taxi. So we went out, bought a bottle of wine and some cheese and crackers and sat at home watching TV and marveling over the difference/similarities between US and UK fare. We watched a dating program where three bachelors had to plan and cook a dinner for a bachelorette, and based on her experience, she choose which one to go out with. We found that incredibly fun, trying to imagine young Bostonian men attempting to woo a girl with their culinary mastery! Hah!
Then off to bed..

Day Three

Next day we actually slept in. Our only plan for the day was to do high tea at the Balmoral Hotel. Yes, it's touristy thing to do, but once again, it was awesome and thoroughly enjoyable. In the beautiful palm court, exquisite service, and tray after tray of delectable nibbles all the while serenaded by a harpist in a little balcony. (The ladies' bathroom was so distinctive with poppy pink walls and floral china sinks that we were both compelled to photograph them --independently-- and then confessed later.)

We strolled toward home, fat and happy. It seemed that everyone was out in Princes Garden enjoying the sun, some in bathing suits and -- I swear -- underwear. It was that hot. We detoured to the National Gallery.

That night we returned to Indigo Yards just for a snack and were greeted like old friends and received a 10% discount for being loyal customers. (OK, I didn't like my hamburger… but for that they gave us a free round.) I love these people.

Day Four
Off on a Rabbies Tour to the Borders and Rosslyn Chapel. More later...
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Jul 21st, 2014, 07:58 PM
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Oh, good! I'm looking forward to hearing about Rabbies tours. Our trip is the beginning of October.
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Jul 22nd, 2014, 02:28 AM
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Hi NORATRAVEL,

What a delightful account - you write so well.

"... as we slowly figured out that you have to turn on each socket to make things work… like plug in the toaster and then turn on the socket." I noticed this in Wales too. I guess that in Britain every attempt is made to conserve electricity since it is so expensive.

Sorry that the Queen's visit interfered with your plans. Really enjoying all the details you are providing. And tea at the Balmoral - first class.

Will follow along.
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Jul 22nd, 2014, 03:31 AM
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"you have to turn on each socket to make things work… I guess that in Britain every attempt is made to conserve electricity since it is so expensive."

Not so.

British electricity prices are currently higher than American, but they vary widely in both countries, fluctuate over time and aren't, overall, that different, unlike petrol. Wiki says US mainland prices are 12-18 c/Kwh, compared with Britain's 20.

Switched sockets are common in many countries, are usually mandated in modern building codes, and certainly don't correlate with energy prices.

Why Britain, or Australia or wherever, mandate them isn't that obvious. Their requirement predates the current conservation mania, and they had negligible impact on energy consumption when the rules were introduced (turning off the mains does stop the heavy use appliances create when on standby, but such appliances are relatively recent inventions). They're not required in really high-cost, conservation-crazy, places like Germany and Scandinavia.

I THINK it's a collective memory attached with safety.
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Jul 22nd, 2014, 04:04 AM
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I certainly hope that they help to make the house more grandchild-proof. May I put my governess hat on.
It's not uncommon to read, "We booked dinner at X but didn't turn up. It is courteous to phone and cancel so that they can take another booking. It's specially important if it's a small establishment
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Jul 22nd, 2014, 05:38 AM
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Love your style of writing and laughing along with you. I have a friend with whom I can laugh at the craziest things when we are together. Hope we get to see the flowery sink shots from the loo--and other stuff too.

Thanks for sharing.
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Jul 22nd, 2014, 07:01 AM
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Just to let you know, I always call to cancel, and as early as possible. Not only is it the right thing to do at any size establishment, I do understand it is especially important at small venues. Angels with Bagpipes thanked me for letting them know and assured me they'd be able to rebook the table.

Also, I think the notion of turning the sockets on/off is a great idea whether for conservation or safety. It's just that I didn't know to do it and it took a lot of trial and error to make it all work. Then I felt like an ignoramus!

I didn't find the petrol costs to be outrageous either. But then again we decided that we weren't going to torture ourselves by doing a constant math calculation on the exchange. So petrol costs seemed in line with food and restaurants...everything was relative. By the way, the car we rented was a VW Golf (unplanned) and it was a hybrid (unplanned), or something like a hybrid. It got remarkable mileage. Very spacious and peppy for a little car and I enjoyed driving it so much I was thinking of checking one out when my current US lease is up. But alas, that particular model is not in the US.

The first time we refueled was another one of those wonderful exchanges with thoughtful friendly Scots. At this station you pumped first and then paid. But when I asked for directions, the clerk came out of the office to go over the map with us in the car and then point down the road to make sure we understood. I love these people!
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Jul 22nd, 2014, 07:57 AM
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>>At this station you pumped first and then paid.<<

That's normal here (unless you have the option to pay at pump using the card reader). They have you on CCTV if you're daft enough to drive off without paying The relatively relaxed pace of life in Scotland is such that you will find locals are invariably happy to help out visitors with directions (often with some friendly banter).
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Jul 22nd, 2014, 08:04 AM
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My equivalent of your plug puzzlement was when I couldn't fathom out how to turn on the electricity in a hotel room. After many naughty words, husband realised that you had to put your key card in a slot.
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Jul 22nd, 2014, 09:52 AM
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>>I THINK it's a collective memory attached with safety.<<

Remembering the days of hunting down in the cellar for the blown fuse with a candle, because someone's plugged two too many appliances into the one circuit - not to mention the occasional fires one read about.... one is only too grateful for the belt and braces approach.
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Jul 22nd, 2014, 12:25 PM
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>>Huff huff pause huff huff pause.

I know this only too well . . .

Ian
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Jul 22nd, 2014, 02:09 PM
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I was puzzled in Scotland that there were no outlets in the bathroom for hair dryers. This is apparently also a safety regulation.
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Jul 22nd, 2014, 02:37 PM
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I had to chuckle - your reaction at the Queen being in town is exactly how I would feel.
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