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Trip to Scotland and northern England June 2014

Trip to Scotland and northern England June 2014

Old Jul 1st, 2014, 03:14 AM
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Trip to Scotland and northern England June 2014

With the help of many people on Fodors, we planned a long-awaited trip to Scotland and northern England. We got back just last week, and I've been organizing my notes and photos. I'll post the report in chunks, starting off with this overview.

One of the most important stops was Glasgow, where my father lived from the age of 5 (when his family emigrated there from Ireland) to the age of 20 (when he emigrated to the US). He told us many stories about his time in Glasgow, where he lived in a tenement, on a high floor, in a fairly poor neighborhood. I had never been to Scotland, and wanted to see where my father grew up.

A childhood friend of my husband, who was a missionary monk in Africa for many years, has been in Glasgow for the past several years, so we also wanted to visit him.

I also wanted to see a bit of the highlands and the western islands of Scotland, and a bit of Edinburgh. I've read both Samuel Johnson's "Journey to the Western Islands of Scotland" and James Boswell's "Journal of a Tour to the Hebrides", and I downloaded both to my Kindle so I could read them again on the trip.

Finally, I wanted to visit Durham mainly because of connections with the great Anglo-Saxon scholar, the Venerable Bede, whom I've admired ever since I took a university course in Anglo-Saxon language and literature.

Our itinerary was:

Flight from Ancona to Standsted on Ryanair, train to York, changing in Peterborough. First night in York.

Train to Glasgow, with three nights there.

Travel by rental car to Oban, where we spent two nights, mostly visiting Iona on our full day there.

Drive to Edinburgh, where we dropped the rental car, and stayed two nights.

Train to Durham (in England), where we spent three nights, and visited Jarrow and Hadrian's Wall.

Train to Stansted, again changing in Peterborough, spending the last night at the airport hotel.

Flight back to Ancona.

The weather was unbelievably fine for our trip, and even rather warm. We never opened an umbrella in twelve days, and I even got a sunburn the day we were in Iona. I packed long-sleeved tops, cotton slacks, a few cotton pullovers or cardigans, and one wool pullover or cardigan apiece. We each brought a lightweight water-resistant jacket, which we wore only a few times, on chilly evenings. I had looked at the forecasts just before leaving home, and had adjusted our wardrobes slightly in the warm-weather direction, but I could have gone further. A few short-sleeved tops would have been welcome, and I regretted not bringing sandals. However, one never knows exactly what will be needed for a two-week period, and I'm a committed light packer. Because of the slight miscalculation, I did a load of laundry near the end of the trip, which is something I almost never do.

Favorite Restaurants

We ate very well on this trip, and at reasonable prices. Years ago, it was hard to find a decent meal in the UK, and now I would say that if you check menus and don't go into the first place you find, it's hard to go wrong. We certainly ate better than we did on a recent trip to France, although I wouldn't want to generalize from that. We don't research restaurants in advance, because we don't like tying ourselves to reservations made in advance. We also don't care about fine dining when traveling; you could say we're definitely not foodies, although we appreciate good food.

I can't really rank the restaurants, because we had different types of meals in each one. Often in the evening, we just wanted something very light. That said, for British-style restaurants, I can highly recommend Coast in Oban, Villager (a cocktail bar/restaurant in Edinburgh, which was also one of the least expensive) and Finbarr's in Durham. The Libertine pub in Glasgow was also enjoyable, although they made mistakes with both of our orders. As far as chain restaurants, Biblos, Harvester, and Wetherspoon were good. We had mixed experiences with Café Rouge. We ate in two Indian restaurants which were both good: the Café India in Glasgow (where service was a bit slow) and Alishaan in Durham (where service was top-notch). Alishaan was not strictly an Indian restaurant; it had some other south Asian, and also Malaysian, choices.

Favorite hotels

Hotels were mostly clean and comfortable. One peeve of mine is the universal replacement of sheets and blankets with heavy duvets. On most nights it was too hot for the duvet, but not so hot that we wanted no cover at all; even a sheet would have been sufficient, but, except in two hotels, it was all or nothing. You start off under the duvet, and wake up in an hour because you're too hot. Fling it off, and in an hour you wake again, shivering. And so on, all night. Only two of the hotels had a sheet along with the duvet.

Our favorite hotel was probably the King's Lodge in Durham, although the Fraser Suites in Glasgow would be a close second. The Alltavona Guest House in Oban would be third, followed by the Richmond Place Apartments in Edinburgh, and finally, our least favorite, the Galtes Lodge in York. I can't really rank the Radisson Blu at Stansted airport, because we really only slept there.

June is a wonderful time to travel in this part of the world. In Scotland, it's the least rainy month, and the daylight lasts from about 5 AM to about 10 PM. Maybe it gets light even earlier, but I wasn't up to verify that.

Approximate cost of the trip

I added up the total cost of the trip in euros, because that's what we were spending. For 11 days, we spent about €3200 (roughly £2500, or USD4400) for two people. Of that, about €1000 was for transportation (airfare €168, trains about €500, car rental €241, ferries €40, bus to Hadrians wall €26, and taxis about €50.) Hotels were booked on booking.com and came to about €1400. Meals came to around €650, and entrances to about €150. Obviously, we saved a great deal on the airfare.

The Britrail pass might have saved us a small amount of money. We used trains on six days, so the only pass that would have made sense would have been a four-day-in-one-month pass (€229 per person), paying for point-to-point tickets on the days with the least train travel. I had bought all the longer-distance tickets in advance, with seat reservations, except for the train from Stansted to York on arrival, because I didn't know which train we would be able to take. I also didn't buy the tickets for our day trips in advance, because our plans depended on the weather. I probably didn't buy the advance-purchase tickets at the optimal times. Anyway, we would have saved no more than about £20 with the Britrail pass, so it's about even.

I'll post day-by-day accounts later in this topic.
bvlenci is offline  
Old Jul 1st, 2014, 08:57 AM
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Nicely detailed but still succinct preview of your trip. Will look forward to more.
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Old Jul 1st, 2014, 11:18 AM
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bvlenci, my daughter and I have resorted to taking the duvet cover off, discarding the middle, and sleeping under the cover as a sheet. Even here in the upper southern U.S., hotels have begun to use only a duvet. It's nutty!
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Old Jul 1st, 2014, 12:47 PM
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One leg out, ladies. It acts as a conductor.

Nice report. Did you like Iona?
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Old Jul 1st, 2014, 01:08 PM
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"One leg out" - love it.

Looking forward to more!
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Old Jul 1st, 2014, 01:40 PM
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I love duvets. Much more sanitary than bedspreads and blankets, and the "one leg out" really does work. I've tried it.
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Old Jul 1st, 2014, 01:46 PM
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I always sleep, even in the winter, with two legs out.

Next time I'll try Carolyn's suggestion, but it sounds like a lot of work, and the sheet would be a bit narrow compared to a normal one. Why can't they just give you a sheet as well as a duvet? That wouldn't be unsanitary.

Anyway, I've never known anyone to catch a disease from a hotel blanket. It's the least of my worries.
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Old Jul 1st, 2014, 01:51 PM
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Day 1

We flew from our home in Italy to London Stansted by Ryanair, leaving our car at Ancona airport. When we got there, the long-term parking garage had a sign saying that it was closing in a few days, and that any cars left there after that date would be towed. It didn't suggest where we should put our car as an alternative. I went to the nearby arrivals terminal while my husband stayed with the car. I was told that at the departures terminal we could get a note that would allow us to use the short-term lot at the long-term prices. We didn't want to take this on faith, because it it weren't true, the parking bill would have been our major expense for the trip. It turned out to be true. I was glad we had allowed lots of time to get the plane, but as it turned out our flight was late anyway.

Ryanair has a byzantine boarding system at Ancona airport, what with its priority boarding, and reserved seats, and normal push-and-shove boarding. Our luggage was carry-on size, but they didn't have room for all the bags, and we had to gate check one of them. We had all been herded into separate pens for the boarding, where it was hot and there were limited seats while we waited to board the plan half an hour late. There were no announcements of the expected departure time. Ryanair has never won points on customer service, but you can't beat the price!

On arrival, we immediately went to York by train, changing in Peterborough. I had originally thought of spending the first night in London, but we had been there only six months ago, and we had never seen York. Because our flight to London arrived a bit late, and because we had to wait for our gate-checked bag, we missed the train I had planned to take. I was glad I hadn't bought the (nonrefundable) ticket in advance. We got a later, more expensive, train (maybe because it was peak time?) and arrived in York at around 8 PM.

We stayed at the Galtres Lodge, which was our least favorite lodging of the trip, despite its excellent location near York Minster. The room was tiny, and there were no available electric outlets, unless you moved the bed and unplugged one of the night lamps. The stairs were rickety, with narrow treads, covered with loosely attached carpet. The double bed was both very small and very hard, and the bathroom was tiny. It was here that we first encountered the ubiquitous solid, thick duvet, whose cover substituted for a sheet, but I can't give Galtres Lodge a demerit for that, because nearly all hotels seem to have adopted that as a substitute for blankets and top sheet.

We had dinner at the Café Rouge, next to the hotel, which I later learned is part of a chain of restaurants. We had a good dinner, at a reasonable price, with excellent service. We ate there again at lunch the next day. Our experience induced us to try another Café Rouge in Durham, which was the opposite of the one in York.

I discovered in York that I had brought the battery and charger for my single lens reflex camera, although the camera I brought was my Canon S95. This meant that I either had to find a new battery and charger or buy a different camera. I put this at the top of my list for the morning.
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Old Jul 1st, 2014, 02:22 PM
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Shiela, I loved Iona. It may have been our favorite day on the whole trip.
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Old Jul 1st, 2014, 02:53 PM
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bvienci, I have never worried about catching a disease from hotel/B&B blankets but, after experiencing sheet covered duvets, I just think they're nicer. I know they are laundered after each guest's use where blankets are not.

Was this your first flight with Ryan Air? Does not sound pleasant. I've found some of the Cafe Rouge chains are very good but have been to a few that were not. I think this is true of most chain restaurants.
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Old Jul 1st, 2014, 03:15 PM
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I'm with you on having problems with duvets. I follow carolyn's practice of extracting the duvet and using the cover as a sheet.

So far I have avoided Ryanair, using Easyjet instead.

Looking forward to more. I really liked Durham.
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Old Jul 2nd, 2014, 07:42 AM
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Reading along and enjoying your report.

I really like duvets, but in the US it is mostly the custom to have a sheet as well, which makes it possible to kick off the duvet without losing all your covers. In Europe it appears to be the custom to do away with a top sheet when there is a duvet.

One leg isn't enough. The conductor needs backup. Sometimes lots of backup.
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Old Jul 2nd, 2014, 08:18 AM
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I am a one leg out person. But feel like the duvet is cleaner than blankets and bedspreads. I do wish they would add a top sheet though.
Still staying away from Ryan air.
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Old Jul 2nd, 2014, 10:12 AM
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>>One leg isn't enough. The conductor needs backup. Sometimes lots of backup.
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Old Jul 2nd, 2014, 12:16 PM
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Weìve often flown with Ryanair to London, as it leaves from our local airport. Otherwise, we have to make a more complicated journey. I tolerate it, because it's convenient, the trip is short, they're usually on time, and the price can't be beat. Once we traveled to London for the price of airport taxes (very low in Ancona) plus €0.01. We also once flew to Charleroi via Ryanair (again from Ancona), and then took the train to Paris.

One other thing I don't like about Ryanair, though, is their aggressive attempts to sell you other stuff, both on their website and on the plane.
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Old Jul 2nd, 2014, 12:51 PM
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We also liked Durham very much. It's coming up, later in the trip. The Café Rouge in Durham was a disaster, though.

Day 2: York to Glasgow

We got up early in the morning and took a walk through the center of York, visiting the Shambles, which is an attractive medieval street. This probably has more interest for people who don't see medieval streets very often than it does for us, who have medieval streets all over the place. However, it's a very attractive example of an English medieval street, maybe the most intact I've seen.

As I mentioned before, I had brought the wrong battery and charger for my camera, so my first job was to buy either a new battery and charger, or a replacement camera. I found a nearby camera shop on Google Maps, but it didn't open until 9:30, which for an Italian seems very late. I really wanted a camera before visiting the Minster, so we walked around, and visited the market. We had also forgotten to bring a second umbrella (left it in the car at the airport) so I bought a cheap umbrella at the market, which we ended up never using.

When the camera shop opened, we were able to get a spare battery, and a rather pricey multi-purpose charger that would charge anything except your car battery. It would have been cheaper to buy an inexpensive camera that I could have passed along to one of our grandchildren, but I really like my Canon S95 so much that I was reluctant to use a cheaper camera. This is a great little camera for traveling, by the way; there have been several newer models since I bought mine, so it's now Canon S100-something.

Luckily, the camera battery had a bit of charge when we bought it, so we could use the camera right away. We took a few photos of the Shambles, the market, a church, and a few squares and then we headed to York Minster, where we took a tour offered on the spot. This immense cathedral is deservedly considered one of the world's most beautiful churches. I've seen a lot of cathedrals in my day, and I would probably place this one in the top five. I had always thought that “minster” had something to do with a monastic affiliation; in fact, it sort of did, but the real derivation is from the word “ministry”. In early times, there were no parishes in the British Isles, and priests lived in monastic communities, but went out to minister itinerantly to towns in the vicinity.

We didn't have time for walking on the walls, although we saw them from the streets. Again, we have medieval walls in nearly every town near us, although not as massive as these, but some with intact gates and guard towers, and even some towns completely surrounded by their medieval walls. I more regretted not having time to visit the library of the Minster; I hope to get back again to this area.

After lunch (a return visit to the Café Rouge), we took the train to Glasgow. There was a good discount on 1st class when I bought the tickets (a few months earlier), so I sprang for that; the rest of the time we rode 2nd class, and I would say that, unless the prices are not very different, I would recommend 2nd class. We got served snacks and beverages in 1st class (free if you don't consider the premium paid for the fare) and wifi was “free” as well. The snacks served were much better than those served on the Frecciarossa trains in Italy, and they came around several times to see if we wanted more. If you're traveling near lunch time, you can have a fairly complete lunch in first class. Probably you could get the same things in second class, but not free. If I had known, I would have taken a slightly earlier train instead of waiting to have lunch in York. Since we had already eaten, we took away two snack-sized sandwiches from the train and ate them later in the evening as supper, along with some fruit I had brought from home.

In Glasgow, we stayed at Fraser Suites, which is near Merchant City and Glasgow Cross. The rooms are large and comfortable, with a little kitchen area, with dishes, cutlery, glassware, and a few pots and pans. There was no table, so you had to eat either standing or sitting at the desk (one at a time). It was convenient to have the fridge to keep some fruit and milk, and I made tea a couple of times.

The bed was very comfortable, but it did have a forty-pound duvet and no separate sheet. The decor was modern, but with warm colors, and the effect was very inviting. The staff at the Fraser Suites were all exceedingly helpful. The hotel has coffee and snacks available for guests all day long. Breakfast wasn't included (our choice, as it was a bit expensive, and we did have a kitchen). You can really make a light breakfast from the snacks offered, though. We did this on our last day, as we were running a little late. On the other mornings we went to a little coffee shop called MacDonalds, and had coffee and scones.

After we arrived, we took a little walk around the neighborhood, recommended by the staff at the desk of Fraser Suites. One of the employees even went outside with us to show us which way to go, and where to go the next day to find my husband's friend. Everyone at this hotel, and indeed everywhere we went in Glasgow, was incredibly helpful.
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Old Jul 2nd, 2014, 05:14 PM
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bvlenci, I have a feeling I'll be thinking of you a lot as we "duvet" our way through Britain this fall. We are stopping at York, too, on our way to Edinburgh. I'm enjoying your report.
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Old Jul 2nd, 2014, 06:13 PM
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bvlenci, I am with you about duvets especially in warm days of the year or if the heat in the bedroom is turned up.

Enjoying your report and will continue to follow along. Thanks for sharing your trip with us. Hope we get to see some pics as well!
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Old Jul 2nd, 2014, 06:40 PM
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Great beginning. I am also in the camp who would prefer a top sheet with the duvet.
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Old Jul 3rd, 2014, 04:15 AM
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interesting report, nicely written up
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