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Trip (solo) report: one short week in Edinburgh, also Hadrian's Wall and St. Andrews

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May 3rd, 2008, 05:49 AM
  #1
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Trip (solo) report: one short week in Edinburgh, also Hadrian's Wall and St. Andrews

I have been imagining writing a trip report since I hit the submit button to purchase my tickets! Silly? Perhaps, but I do hope to share some of the lessons learned along the way. If anyone can learn from my experiences (euphemism for mistakes .. too harsh? how's newbie mistakes), that is all for good!

Setting the scene of myself as a traveler/tourist: one previous trip to Europe--with a high school tour; one previous solo trip--Nova Scotia for a week; female; mid-40s). That is all to help put what I did in perspective. If you get any "What was she thinking!" thoughts

Now, I know I see people do simple tags for bolding and italics in their posts. Can we do embedded hrefs? A quick test: The bag I took on this trip was the <a href="http://www.eaglecreek.com/bags_lugga...-20190/">Eagle Creek Sport Companion</a>. Okay, nice link or messy text garbage?? My answer is a click away...
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May 3rd, 2008, 05:52 AM
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Well, answer received, for sure!

On with the trip report, keeping in mind to include URLs in a more attractive fashion.

The first posts will be about trip preparations, then some posts describing each day. As noted in the title, it was one short week in Edinburgh and some surrounding areas. I want to go back!
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May 3rd, 2008, 06:31 AM
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Tickets

Trying to find air fare to Edinburgh, flying out of Boston, was almost as bad as trying to drive east to west in New England: "You can't there from here."

Suggestions from Fodorites included Iceland Air BOS to GLA (and then the required travel to Edinburgh), but the days available did not match my itinerary (which was very fixed to meet the school vacation holiday).

BOS to CDG to EDI did not offer very good connection scenarios, nor BOS to AMS to EDI, and suggestions to try connecting in UK airports (other than LHR) did not work for my travel time, either.

I did not want to fly Continental: to fly south to Newark in April before going over the Atlantic seemed to risk facing a spring snowstorm threat. That threat never materialized, of course, but I did not want the worry all winter long.

So I went where everyone said not to go, walked right into the wolf's den: Heathrow! I even faced Terminal 5, within weeks of its disastrous opening.

I flew with British Airways, premium economy no less. I had wanted to have traveling companions, but all the "Sure, that sounds fun" comments quickly turned to "Sorry, can't go" when I asked for firm commitment. I meant to go much more than anyone else! So I thought it would be a treat to try the premium economy, even if it meant have a few hundred less to spend at the destination. You can only spend it once, either getting there, or once there.

My thoughts. now? Well, for the trip over and back the premium economy section was full, so a lot of people are selecting it, but I was not impressed. I mean it was a lovely experience, but did I receive anything more for spending more, and I just could not tell. I will take the next trip in regular economy and then have something to compare.

I found the seats in premium economy to have nice legroom, but squishy for space. The flights between LHR and EDI had much more comfort for seat size, and very nice for legroom, too.

The British Airways flight crews, coming and going, were terrific! Friendly and helpful, and I do not think they gave any less to anyone in any section of the plane.


Insurance

Within a few days of purchasing tickets, I purchased insurance, so any pre-existing conditions would be covered (you have a certain time period to do this, 2 weeks I think). I used AIG Travel Guard, http://www.travelguard.com/. I liked the ability use the pick and choose option for items I wanted covered versus those I did not need/want, for example, I chose to put the health coverage as primary coverage. Yes, my health insurance here covers me, but I would have to pay upfront and then be reimbursed once home, not anything I liked the sound of.

How the company would be for putting in claims, I do not know. It is nice to not know, eh?

I can at least write that I have not read any negative reports about Travel Guard, but have seen recommendations from reputable travel information sources, such as the NBC travel guy.
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May 3rd, 2008, 07:06 AM
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Great Start scotlib! I remember you thread about how to get to Hadrian's wall so I'm glad you made it there.

Looking forward to the rest.
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May 3rd, 2008, 07:22 AM
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I'm planning a trip to Scotland, so looking forward to hearing about your experiences (even, and maybe especially, if it is a euphemism for mistakes).
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May 3rd, 2008, 07:26 AM
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I'm looking forward to more!

I'm leaving on my own solo travel trip in nine days and the panic attacks have started. Thank you for sharing your experience.

I've flown with BA four times and always enjoyed it. I've done economy and premium economy and premium is more roomy. I'm flying it again this time around, on BA. I will also be going through Terminal 5...

I hope you enjoyed Edinburgh, it is one of my favorites
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May 3rd, 2008, 07:30 AM
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Can't wait to see how your trip went, scotlib.
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May 3rd, 2008, 07:48 AM
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So glad that this trip report will have some readers!


Packing

Mentioned above, my carry-on bag was the Eagle Creek Sport Companion. I found rolling clothes tightly and individually worked best. I packed two outfits, pjs, a few extra pairs each of undies and socks, toiletries, shoes, assorted this and thats. I worried about weather and whether I would be warm enough, so I tried one silk undershirt. I also took along a silk sleep blanket. Well, the pack was 17-18 pounds going over and 23 coming back (paper flyers for a scrapbook, a book to read in the airport .. paper adds weight!).

I want to throw all the little items that I never used or would not take on the next trip and see how much they weigh, because I definitely over packed, by a couple of pounds anyway.

My day bag was a Heatwave Messenger bag, mini size, from LL Bean. It carried a zip lock of OTC meds (Tylenol, Tums, pink pills, a few band aids), guide book, pens, journal. I stuck to souvenirs that could be carried in it once purchased, so that limited me to postcards and small items (which helped keep the souvenir total cost down, too).


Shoes

I mainly wore New Balance 811 Walkers (black). In the carry-on were the New Balance Gore-tex day hikers (light blue). A bit of story:

I went to a local shoe store for first time. For customer service and the fun of trying on shoes and more shoes, until you find the right style to carry out the door, I loved shopping at Lamey Wellehan, http://www.lwshoes.com/lameywell/

I went in and purchased some shoes in February to have them ready for the April trip, but within two weeks a seam on the pair I thought that I would wear had burst. Lamey Wellehan sent them to a cobbler, but he could not really fix them for the reason that the seam had burst: the pieces were cut too short to keep a seam together. The day I brought mine in someone had brought in a pair of the same style for the same reason. So, another round of trying on lots of shoes found me the 811 Walkers and they were really better for walking than what I had originally planned. I picked them up on the Tuesday before leaving on Saturday. Talk about comfortable from the get go. I never had a problem with my feet on the trip.

Lamey Wellehan carries a lot of the names I see on the boards for shoe recommendations: Keen, Ecco, Dansko, Clarks, etc. Do give your custom to a local store, especially when they offer great service: it's good for your local economy and your feet will be happy!
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May 3rd, 2008, 07:50 AM
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Lodging

I scoured the 'Net and guidebooks for a place to stay. I had not really decided when out of the blue I received a message from the Dene Guest House, http://www.deneguesthouse.com/ When I first wrote last fall they were not ready for April bookings. Revisiting their web site and reviews on the web had me reserving a standard single room for this April week at £27.50 per night, for 6 nights (includes a great breakfast).

My room was simple and small, but definitely comfortable and the Dene has terrific access to the bus routes (I walked UP Dundas St. the first day; bussed up it all the days after that!).

Any second thoughts at all, you ask? One review mentioned not liking the shower, so I had a preconceived thought that I may not like the shower; I didn't. But, a big But, I did as the reviewer had done: I never asked if I was working the contraption correctly. Also, having a standard room, I never asked about using the second bathroom to compare showers. Ask those questions politely if you have any troubles. I was always in too much of a hurry to bother



Great British Heritage Pass

Tickets, lodging, packing and re-packing my bag, getting shoes, the other preparation was a recommendation from janisj, I think .. I ordered a 4-day Great British Heritage Pass (covers almost 600 sites) and had it shipped to me at home, http://www.britishheritagepass.com/

Yes, shipping it ahead of time was definitely a good idea. This gave me time to study the book describing the included museums. With shipping, the 4-day pass cost was £35.50. The individual cost for all the places you could visit, even just staying in Edinburgh, totals £38.20. Visit some sites outside of Edinburgh and it's all savings .. or rather you can spend the "savings" on other trip items, extending your budget. I visited 8 GBHP sites altogether, so £35.50 got me into museums that would have cost £55.40. With some different trip decisions I could have fit in three more, but 8 was a good tally.

You could try other passes:
There's the Edinburgh Pass, http://www.edinburgh.org/pass/

Visit 300 places by joining the National Trust for Scotland, http://www.nts.org.uk/Join/Benefits/

Visit over 300 places by joining Historic Scotland, http://www.historic-scotland.gov.uk/index/member.htm,
or purchase an Explorer Pass, http://www.historic-scotland.gov.uk/...s/explorer.htm

So many options. The Historic Scotland Explorer Pass might have saved me a few pounds, but I am having trouble seeing a list to actually compare with everything available with the GBHP. Well, anyone reading this will have more ideas of what to study before purchasing what fits your travel plans best.

Cheers.
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May 3rd, 2008, 08:04 AM
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janisj, thank you for so many great posts that helped me in preparation for my trip!

Nikki, I hope you do find useful information in what I relate here. Ask if I leave anything out.

mebe .. I survived Terminal 5 with few troubles. I hope you do too. I think that having only the one carry-on probably helped, but I didn't overhear any outraged passengers anywhere in the Terminal.

noe847 .. glad to share. Now, if I can just finagle my budget for another trip .. time to start saving!
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May 3rd, 2008, 11:55 AM
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scotlib:

Enjoying your trip report - loved Edinburgh.

Any comment about your premium economy meals?

Looking forward to more.

Sandy
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May 3rd, 2008, 12:05 PM
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Thank you for all the planning details. It's always fun to see how others do it.

Looking forward to more . . .
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May 4th, 2008, 03:48 AM
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Hi SandyBrit, all my meals were fine. I assume (yes, that can be dangerous) the PE econ. get the same as reg. econ. Would they be different, I don't know.

I do know that while I was PE on the international leg, I was reg. econ. on the domestic flight 'tween EDI and LHR; the food was very fine on those.


LCBonti, yep, reading trip reports for details was a great resource, I found, in planning and waiting for my trip. I'm glad to share.
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May 4th, 2008, 03:54 AM
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Day 1 Ė From Home to almost Heathrow

My flight departure time was 18:05 on Saturday, so you could say Day 1 started at
18:06 on Friday evening. Thatís when I logged in to Manage My Booking and selected seats (on British Airways you have to wait until 24 hours before flight time, only a few exceptions to that rule).

I wanted aisle seats with the aisle on my right. My right ear went kaput a few years ago and itís a hassle to have people try to talk to me from that side. I picked my seats no problem and then had a bit of trouble printing the boarding passes. The first leg printed fine, but going in for the second leg the buttons clicked and the screen came up with nothing showing. I eventually logged out and went in later; everything worked fine that time and I had both my boarding passes in hand.

Family drove me to the bus station on Saturday morning and saw me off from there. Concord Trailways in Portland, ME, offers a 2-hour express coach ride to Logan. I live about an hour away from Portland, so in trying to pick which trip to take I wanted to arrive several hours before the flight, but I also wanted to allow for emergencies, should something happen to the coach. Yes, more worrying (youíll notice that I also purchased insurance) so to take an earlier bus that dropped me off a couple of hours before the necessary time was a cheap form of insurance. Time sitting at the airport I could afford, missing my flight I did Not want! I really preferred browsing the bookstore in Terminal E waiting for the afternoon to drone on than to have stayed at home longer and worry about making the flight.

I also had not considered that the bus would be full. Saturday was the first day of school vacation. Plenty other people were headed to take trips. Necessary to leave early, maybe not, but I was glad I did and arrived in time to get a ticket for my chosen trip.

Okay, walk out to the coach, a few butterflies starting to swirl inside. Everyone could pick up a water bottle and pretzels to take on board and enjoy. Several small sips of ice cold water and bites of dry pretzel later it occurred to me: this is a good combination for settling the queasy tummy. I appreciate and applaud the bus companyís policy!

I talked a bit with my seatmate and watched the scenery zoom by. I didnít want to try headphones, so only watched the movie option (Jerry Seinfeldís Bee) without sound (sorry, no urge to put it on my Netflix queue). Over time I began to hear a word or two from the gentlemen behind me. A name here, a phrase there, and I began to wonder. Arriving at Logan, I turned in my seat and there was one of my co-workers! Two hours before noticing, you may wonder. Well, heís new this year and works at the other building, so although I know his name, Iíve only seen him a couple of times. He was headed to the Midwest to see family and we said a bon voyage when he got off at a different terminal.

A definite trip moment: when the driver pulled out all the luggage I picked up my case and moved into the terminal. Many of the remaining passengers were going on a school tour to Rome; they had to wait for everyoneís bag and go together. I was solo and it hit me how different and, yes, nice it was to move off and not wait.

Arriving around noon, Terminal E is very quiet. Wow. But that helped because the TSA crew was not stressed when I totally screwed up at security!!

Hereís a copy of the compliment that I sent through the TSA web site:

Hello,

My great thanks to the crew on duty at Terminal E in Boston on Saturday, April 19. I arrived around noon and thought I did so well to take off my shoes, put my camera and phone in the bin and go through without setting off the metal detector, but I was called aside. Well, yes, you get called aside when forgetting about the little lock on the carry-on bag and after dutifully putting together my 3-1-1 bag forgetting to take it out of the carry-on!

Several times my bag had to be checked, and it was finally figured out that the soap bar I was taking to avoid a liquid shampoo was showing up as a bit of a suspicious item.

Time after time the crew on staff could have considered me a very doubtful traveler and not the frazzled first-time-traveling-alone person I was. Thank you for the good humor as my mistakes were put right.

Iím happy to say that I did not mess up at any further security screenings for the entire trip and the time your crew took with my case was what made that possible.

Kind regards.


To be conít...
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May 4th, 2008, 03:55 AM
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Hey, in the preparations I did not mention my security options. Last year I used the around the neck pocket. To avoid the hanging on your neck feeling, I liked wearing it with the strap cross body style and the pocket tucked in my pants.

For this trip I wanted to try something new. I first bought a traditional around the waist style; didnít like it. I hit the road with something else. In the Magellanís catalog itís called the Deluxe Secret Waist Wallet, http://tinyurl.com/2bmma5. Itís probably available elsewhere, too. In its description the tabs on the wallet are intended to go around your belt and it stays tucked out of sight in your clothes. However, if you take off your belt for security, you could ask what will hold the wallet in place. Bingo, nothing. As in one review I saw on the web, except for the kindness of a stranger, one person almost lost all his money before getting to the gate because of this. Itís sold with a safety pin for use under clothes with no belt. I took another pin and pinned the wallet with the zipper horizontal, near to my pants waist, and it worked great!

So, I made it to my gate and settled down for the afternoon. Well, thereís only so long you can re-read the travel guide, but checking out a bookstore, now that can take a whole afternoon! Browsing around, of course I ended up in the travel section and even though I did not mean to buy a book (paper adds heft), I bought Round Ireland with a Fridge by Tony Hawks, http://www.amazon.com/Round-Ireland-.../dp/0312274920. I found myself just laughing as I started in on the first chapter, so the book was purchased and I enjoyed Tonyís trip for all the hours I waited for the planes while taking mine.

Hereís a tibit:
Then I saw the fridge for the first time. Shane had done well. Exactly what I had been looking for, a white cube about two feet square. I patted it affectionately and Shane looked away allowing us a moment of intimacy.


If that strikes any funny bone with you, do look for a copy for your next trip. A book about traveling fits excellently when taking your own trip. Tony wrote a lot of good things about traveling and interacting with the people you meet.

Well, back to my trip. The boarding time eventually arrived and boarding started for economy from the back of the plane. Premium economy boards after regular economy, fyi.

It seemed to take a long time to walk down the jetway to the plane .. walk, steps down, walk, walk some more. TSA had what looked like trainees to learn spot checks for bags. I saw several young men get picked. The in-charge fellow looked at my stuffed carry-on and picked on the teen girl with an easier, smaller bag to rifle, instead.

I have already mentioned not liking the BA premium economy seat width, but if itís actually wider than the regular economy, guess it was good to try.

Supper was a choice of lasagna and whatever I didnít choose, lol. A little salad had some pieces of lettuce, a cherry tomato and 2 balls of a soft cheese. I had to laugh when I noticed that my seatmate to my left, a well-dressed businessman by appearance, had eaten only his greens; I ate only the tomato and cheese balls. When we were kids, my siblings and I would trade plates. I didnít suggest that idea that to him

The seat entertainment had a lot of movies to choose. I enjoyed an episode of the new Dr. Who, a bit of the Full Monty and then used a 2-part episode of House to snooze. (Just like home, put on the TV and go to sleep on the couch.)

I very much liked the ability to start and stop the shows. At home, I am a channel surfer. When the family squawked loud enough for me to notice that no one else appreciated my bopping from channel to channel, I learned to channel surf when alone and carefully put down the remote when someone else walks into the room.

Itíll be Sunday morning when I awake ...
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May 4th, 2008, 05:05 AM
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Day 2, morning Ė Heathrow to Edinburgh

Sunday morning brought a breakfast of a muffin, strawberry yogurt, and juice. The juice was the tastiest item, for me. Overall, I received/was offered six meals by BA. When the comparison for my U.S. domestic flying experiences is just pretzel nuggets, even a simple meal could be ranked a lot higher. And the only trouble with this muffin was that store-bought bagged muffins always look better than they taste; a flying muffin has no removal on that problem just because it has the altitude status.

We arrived at Terminal 4 about 05:00 on a Sunday. The jetway had plywood for flooring; that surprised me. Several ladies and I used the bathroom just inside the terminal. Not a good idea, not particularly clean. I saw signs for more at the end of the first hallway, perhaps better to wait a few feet and then visit the loo.

Signs on the wall made me think that we would be doing a security check, so I stopped to locate the 3-1-1 bag. The little laundry soap had leaked. Ick. I just noted the mess and planned to do a clean up when I settled in at the guest house.

We walked and walked, eventually came to an outside door. No security checkpoint, here. We would do that after bussing to Terminal 5.

A bus announcement said it would be about 18 minutes to Terminal 5. I think we did it a bit faster, but there certainly wasnít much traffic on an early Sunday morning. A sign to use ďdipped headlightsĒ made me smile. Would that be what we call putting headlights on low beam?

We exited the bus and kept walking in a line. Staff stood at every expected turn. You would have to try hard and take a wrong one.

I spoke with passport control, immigration, biometric security, I donít think there was anyone at the airport for a customs check, and passed regular security with a pat-down search. Something set off the metal detector, but I have no idea what. I hadnít added any metal after going through the one in Boston. A quick pat and I collected all my gear to move on into "the" Terminal 5.

One thing that I noticed while passing security: I walked on a floor tile that moved. You walk on a floor not expecting any up/down, so when you feel something odd, you have to try it again. Yep, a tile wasnít set completely level and to step on a corner you noticed it move in its spot, with a bit of a clunking sound. A bit of tile cement needed there.

When I arrived at Boston, I looked up at the departures board, found my gate, and went there after passing security. At the UK airports, British Airways does not post the gate until about one hour (or a bit less) before the flight. Standing in a humongous airport, with posted signs of how long it could take to reach some of the gates, and you donít know which one to head for! I stayed at a central location, as possible, and sat and waited .. and read more about Tony traveling with his fridge (by now, I think, the fridge had a name

The gate was finally posted about 50 minutes before the flight time. I walked there in a few minutes; fortunately it wasnít one of the really far away gates. Boarding began within a minute or two of people gathering. We had two checks at the gate. Passengers gave each other the ďWhatís this?Ē kind of glances, but we just stayed in line, waiting to get the checks done and move on to the plane, which sat .. and sat...

As the captain noted: here we are, at a very expensive, brand new airport, and the jetway would not budge. It had separation anxiety, or something. It took about an hour and a half before mechanics got it far away enough from the plane for us to actually leave and taxi out. The crew handed out drinks, and I just snoozed through much of the delay.

Once we were finally in the air, they brought out breakfast. Hot food! I couldnít believe it. As noted before, Iím used to a small packet of pretzels on a flight. It was only a bit over an hour up to Edinburgh. I thought maybe one more drink and the small food item, but we had scrambled egg, bacon, and sausage. Hot! Okay, the egg was not the most interesting Whatís a good word? "Cafeteria," "mildly institutional." But it was hot and totally unexpected, which made it more than fine.

So, more than an hour after I expected to arrive at my destination, I was. I was off the plane, in Scotland, standing in a location I had dreamt about for a year! Saw the ďWelcome to ScotlandĒ sign that cost so much. It was fun knowing some backstory (someone had posted a news link on Fodorís last year).

With bag in hand, I went forward to find an exit ...
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May 4th, 2008, 07:09 AM
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scotlib

"It will be Sunday morning when I awake" - you actually did sleep on the flight over, well done.

Full marks for that hot breakfast, what a nice start to your day.

Looking forward to more.

Sandy
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May 4th, 2008, 07:58 AM
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I am enjoying your report. Keep it coming, please. I am glad you found the fridge in Ireland book; I thought it was a real hoot and every once in a while, take it out and dive into a section or two.
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May 4th, 2008, 08:18 AM
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Really enjoying your trip report . . . thank you for posting it and I'll be sitting here waiting for the next installment.

Sandy (in Denton)
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May 4th, 2008, 08:21 AM
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We are going to Edinburgh in a few months, I'm enjoying your report so far, Scotlib. Thanks for posting it.

It's very charming that you sent a thank you note to TSA on their website. Bet they don't get too many of those!!

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