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Trip Report (September 2017 - 12 days)

NY
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Trip Report (September 2017 - 12 days)

I always say that the people here are so generous with their time and help that I need to do a trip report when I return from my vacation. Alas, despite the best of intentions something always comes up and I never get around to it. I am now planning to change that with this, my first trip report, documenting our recent trip to Scotland (my wife and I).

First of all, thank you to everyone who responded to my questions. The help was truly appreciated.

Some preliminaries before I get on with it.

We made plans in May for our trip in early September. The trip was 12 nights and about 12 ½ days. Many places we looked into staying were booked already, so we went with alternatives and it all turned out well, and in many cases much better than well.

We are not foodies. We ate at some decent places and enjoyed most of the food, but food was not intended as a primary reason for the trip. Sometimes we simply ate wherever was convenient and whatever was quick. We also are not drinkers, whisky or otherwise, so there were no whisky tours on this journey. In retrospect, perhaps we should have done a tour just to learn about the history and to say we did it, but it just really wasn’t of particular interest to us, so we skipped it (I’m sure that may be blasphemy to some ;))

Driving – I drove on the left side of the road about 3 years ago on another trip -- to Ireland --, so I had a little experience, but it still took some getting used to again. I rented a car with an automatic transmission. I deliberated for some time about what kind of car to rent and finally settled on a small SUV for comfort given the amount of driving I would be doing and the amount of luggage we would have. I was a little concerned that it was going to be too big and I would regret the decision, but I think I made the right choice for me. It was comfortable for the long drives and rougher roads and, although there were definitely areas I drove where I had wished the car were smaller, it was also nice to have something a little more substantial when driving on roads with large trucks, buses and other SUVs.

Planning materials – We relied heavily on general (not customized) materials purchased from Secret Scotland online as well as on Fodors and Lonely Planet guide books.

A summary of our sleep destinations that we used as bases or arrival points (we prefer to stay at least 2 nights in a location):

3 nights - Edinburgh

2 nights – Inverness

2 nights- Kyle of Lochalsh

3 nights – Oban

2 nights - Stirling

So here we go. I suspect this will take a little time to write, so I will do it in installments over time and throughout this thread. I hope it is helpful to some or at least provides a bit of entertainment for those looking for a mindless way to burn some time other than watching television.

If there are any questions along the way, please ask away.

Day 1 -- Edinburgh

We arrived in Edinburgh around 9 am after an overnight flight. We were tired and had a fair amount of luggage so we decided to take a taxi to our accommodation. I knew the first few days were going to require some jet lag adjustment, so I had made a decision to splurge on our accommodations and booked an apartment at the Rutland Hotel (all rooms in the hotel itself were booked when I made reservations). Spacious, quiet and centrally located. Perfect.

It was too early to check in when we arrived, so we left our bags with the hotel and went out. First stop – Carphone Warehouse to get a sim card for my phone. Then we went to Costa Coffee to get a small bite to eat.

We walked around a little in the area, ultimately ending up at Waverley Bridge where we bought tickets for a bus tour - we purchased Grand 48 tickets which got us tickets for the hop on-hop off bus for 48 hours and for other attractions we wanted to see, particularly Edinburgh Castle and Palace of Holyroodhouse. It also ensured we wouldn’t have to wait in line to buy tickets.

We took the live guided bus tour to get familiar with the area. Unfortunately, this was the day that the Tour de France started in the area, so there were some diversions and more traffic than usual. Still, it was helpful to get a sense of the city and not have to walk around very much. It was a bit of a problem, however, that we were so tired from a lack of sleep on the plane. Walking may have proved a better idea as we almost dozed off several times on the bus.

After the tour, we went back to the hotel. After checking and settling in we decided to just give in and take a nap. Well, more like a sleep. The nap lasted more than 2 hours because we had barely slept at all on the plane. Now I know that conventional wisdom is to force yourself to stay awake as long as possible and then get to sleep early, but our experience on these overnight European flights is that if we don’t get some sleep the first day, someone winds up getting sick pretty quickly. So, we slept. And it helped. And it didn’t prevent us from sleeping that night at all!

After we woke up, it was close to dinner time, so we got cleaned up and went to the Huxley (the pub run by the Rutland Hotel) for a light dinner and called it an early night, going back to the apartment to relax and plan for the next day. We checked the weather and it wasn’t looking great for our visit, but we also knew that things can change on a dime. We were in Scotland and intended to do our best to have a good time regardless of the weather!

Edinburgh – Day 2

We had a lot of ground to cover today. We knew Edinburgh Castle would be busy, so we decided to start there. We didn’t have breakfast covered with our room, so we ventured out to grab something first. We stopped for breakfast at the Thistle Stop Cafe which was close to the castle. Food was good and we had no complaints.

On to the castle. Impressive, but it was even more crowded than we expected and it did detract a bit from the experience. We did enjoy it, but not being much for large crowds we didn't spend quite as much time as we would have if there had been somewhat fewer people (and this was early September not July or August).

Following our castle visit we spent some time walking around the Royal Mile, checking out some of the alleys/closes and people watching. We stopped at the café at Dynamic Earth for lunch as it was close to the Scottish Parliament building and I was interested in taking some pictures. Nothing special, but lunch was better than I had expected.

Holyrood Palace was our destination after lunch. This turned out to be a good choice as it was raining. On the other hand, we didn’t spend much time in the gardens as a result. We both enjoyed the palace very much and, interestingly, more than the castle. The old abbey ruins were a highlight. I felt like the rain added an ethereal quality to the old ruins and we spent more time than I would have expected looking at the writings on the burial monuments inside the abbey.

Since we still had use of the hop on-hop off bus, we decided to “hop on” and took a bus back close to our hotel. Big mistake. Not because taking a bus was a bad idea, but because the guide on this particular bus was extremely boring and spoke nonstop in a monotone voice. If the guide the day before had been the same we would have fallen asleep for sure! We couldn’t wait to get off that bus.

After a brief stop at the hotel/apartment we ventured out again: Greyfriars Cemetery where, among other things we, of course, had to see the grave of Tom Riddle (well, Thomas Riddell as it is written on the tombstone); Elephant House (the “birthplace” of the Harry Potter Books where J.K. Rowling used to write); a stroll down Victoria Street which is said to have possibly been the inspiration for Diagon Alley in the Harry Potter books/movie; and a stroll by Greyfriars Bobby to see the statue of Bobby whose poor nose has been rubbed into oblivion! I understand that it cost 400 pounds in restoration costs to repair his nose, but people continue to rub it for good luck. We refrained.

We ate dinner at “Petite Paris” – a cute French bistro on Grassmarket. A good meal. After dinner we took a walk and went back to the Elephant House for dessert. It was late by the time we left and we called it a night. More to come.

Edinburgh – Day 3

Well, today started off with a bang … literally. Although we have a travel hairdryer that is switchable between 110 and 220 volts that we bought specifically for travel in countries that use higher voltage than in the US, for some reason neither of us thought about it this trip and my wife brought her regular hairdryer. It survived the first couple of days, but when I turned it on this morning (after my wife had already used it), it sort of … well … blew up. Fortunately, I turned it off immediately and there was no harm other than a slight burning smell and the demise of the hairdryer. Note to self: make sure to travel with proper hairdryer. An adapter without a converter is not good enough!

So, after grabbing a quick bite to eat, part of the morning was spent going to Boots Pharmacy to purchase a new hairdryer. Additionally, I was having problems with the sim card I purchased. For some reason, I could not get any internet access on my iPhone although the data worked when I put the card in my iPad. Nobody was able to figure that out, so I eventually just gave up because I only needed the phone for calls and I used the iPad for data anyway.

When that was all sorted, we took a bus to Roslin to go to the Rosslyn Chapel - of Da Vince Code fame (anybody care to tell me why the chapel has a different spelling from the village it is located in?). It is a small chapel, but what a wonderful place. Beautiful, intricate carvings and very interesting history. We were told by friends to make sure to stay and listen to the information provided by the guide. They were right. The talk was brief (maybe 10 minutes), but entertaining and very helpful to understand what we were seeing. We ate a late lunch at the café in the visitor center and caught the bus back to Edinburgh.

Upon returning we went out to just walk around so I could take some photos and we ate dinner at a Thai restaurant - Passorn Thai Brasserie. Excellent food. Then out for more photos up to Calton Hill and around town until after dark.

(To be continued)

Edited: 22 September 2017, 00:41
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46 replies to this topic
Maryland
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1. Re: Trip Report (September 2017 - 12 days)

A Big Thank You for posting your report, I enjoyed reading very much and will look forward to the next chapter(s).

Cheers,

😎

Toronto
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2. Re: Trip Report (September 2017 - 12 days)

Nice read so far with much useful info. Eagerly awaiting the next instalment.

Edinburgh, United...
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3. Re: Trip Report (September 2017 - 12 days)

Tour de France in Edinburgh?? that would be the tour of Britain you encountered!!

Great report, looking forward to the next bit!

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Crathie
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4. Re: Trip Report (September 2017 - 12 days)

Great trip report and thank you for not touching Bobby's nose :-)

A few years ago no one ever did this, but now I believe some tour guides encourage their clients to rub Bobby's nose for good luck. It is not and never has been an Edinburgh tradition and does nothing but damage the statue.

Poor Bobby :-(

Glasgow, United...
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5. Re: Trip Report (September 2017 - 12 days)

Great read.

I loved our Rosslyn Chapel visit and yes, thought listening to the guide's talk was very worthwhile.Incredible place.

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NY
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6. Re: Trip Report (September 2017 - 12 days)

Thanks everyone for the feedback. I'm glad you are enjoying it.

edinem, hahahaha. Thank you for pointing that out and keeping me honest. Of course you are right. It certainly wasn't France! Oops ;). Sorry I can't edit it.

Edited: 22 September 2017, 11:50
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Westchester, New...
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7. Re: Trip Report (September 2017 - 12 days)

Loved your report so far and looking forward to more. We are headed there next May, also not foodies or big drinkers, so very helpful to us.

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8. Re: Trip Report (September 2017 - 12 days)

Great, keep it coming!

NY
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9. Re: Trip Report (September 2017 - 12 days)

PART II (Days 4-5)

Edinburgh to Inverness – Day 4

The taxi driver who took us from the airport to our accommodation in Edinburgh suggested either a very early or slightly later start when picking up our car a few days later to avoid the worst of morning traffic. We decided a leisurely morning made sense in any event. We ate breakfast at the Huxley (i.e., the hotel restaurant) and then stopped at Waterstones book store to pick up a road atlas (Note: we had to ask for maps as they were kept in a room behind the cashier). We had a GPS and access to Google Maps as well as driving information from Secret Scotland, but you can never beat a physical map, and it did come in handy.

I had reserved a car from Arnold Clark through Celtic Legend (William Wallace, who had been very helpful) and the pickup ran smoothly. The Arnold Clark employees were a very nice and helpful group. The car was a Hyundai Tucson, which looked a bit larger than I had envisioned, but as I mentioned, it was comfortable and worked well for us. For peace of mind I paid for the excess insurance (which reduces any deductible to zero). I don’t typically do this, or even take insurance outside of that covered by my own insurance and my credit card when I have the option, but I decided the money would be well spent. Teaser: It was.

We were on the road by about 10:30 am and after a bit of trouble figuring out the proper roads to take, and my first Scotland encounter with roundabouts, we set off toward Pitlochry. There was more traffic than I expected, but not a big deal. As I was driving, I felt like the steering was fighting with me a little and kept turning on its own. I soon realized that the car had a “lane keep assist” feature.

Our lunch stop just outside of Pitlochry was at the Moulin Inn, a quaint little Inn and pub. Very enjoyable and in a scenic area, albeit up a narrowish road. After lunch we drove through Pitlochry and then headed toward Inverness, stopping at Garry Bridge and at the “Queen's View” along the way. There is a £2 parking fee at Queen’s View, which seemed a bit high, but it is what it is, so I paid, got my ticket, started to put it in the car window and then it promptly blew out of my hand, never to be seen again! Well that was annoying, but what are you going to do? So, I was going to pay again when some very nice person came over and handed me their parking stub. They said they had only been there for about 2 minutes to see the view and didn’t want to see it go to waste. On my way out, I paid that gesture forward to someone else.

Next stop, House of Bruar to do a little looking around and to pick up a couple of small gift items. It was here that I noticed a somewhat long, but very thin scratch line on the passenger side of our car. I had no idea how it got there. My wife told me that she had noticed it at our very first stop in Pitlochry after picking up the car but didn’t say anything because she figured I would see it eventually anyway and there was nothing to be done about it anyway. To this day neither of us have any idea how it got there as I had no encounters with tree branches or anything else that could have created a scratch – and my wife would have known because she was on that side of the car. The only thing we could imagine is that we hadn’t noticed it when going over the car due to the lighting, but we really had no idea. Since I had taken out the excess insurance I didn’t worry about it, but had I not had the insurance I probably would have been more concerned and it might have detracted from my ability to just relax and enjoy the rest of the trip.

By this time it was getting a little late in the afternoon so we decided to drive directly to our next accommodation -- the Drumdevan Private Hotel -- a couple of miles outside of Inverness. It was a little difficult to find and we were glad it was still light out when we were searching for it, but thanks to Google Maps we found it. It was a nice place in a very quiet, isolated location, with a very friendly host, but it had a few idiosyncrasies that were probably particular to our room. Our room was set up for disabled access (which I knew upon booking, but it was the only room available on one of the nights and I confirmed that it was available to anyone, whether or not such access is required). As a result, there were a couple of quirks: in particular, an open shower (no frame) and a sensor rather than switches for the bathroom light and fan. The latter meant that if someone wanted to use the bathroom in the middle of the night, the light and fan immediately went on waking the other person up. Otherwise the room was fine and we slept well and had a good stay. Also on the plus side, the room had its own side entrance and parking spot outside the room (that I didn’t use because it would have required more maneuvering of the car backing out than I wanted to deal with). I can’t say how the other rooms were set up. I assume they were likely a little more typical although I don’t know about the strange sensor arrangement.

After we checked in, we went into Inverness and had dinner at the Kitchen restaurant. The food was fairly good, but it was a strange experience. We didn’t order appetizers and the waitress said that if we didn’t want starters we would have to wait 25-30 minutes for dinner. I tried to find out if this was just because that is how long it takes to prepare dinner or if it was something related to the fact that we weren’t ordering appetizers, but the waitress didn't speak English well and couldn't explain clearly why. She made it sound like it was a penalty for not ordering more food. LOL. After this odd encounter, the food was brought to our table in about 10 minutes. Go figure.

Around Inverness – Day 5

I haven’t spoken much about the weather up until this point, but each day I believe we had at least some rain – some more, some less. This morning it was raining and pretty cold. We ate a continental-style breakfast that was delivered to our room at a time selected by us (this is how this particular guest house serves breakfast) and then headed to the Culloden Battlefield for a visit. Culloden was something that my wife particularly wanted to see, but we both found it very interesting and we spent more time there than expected looking at the exhibits and walking outside at the battlefield itself (fortunately the rain had lightened and periodically stopped). We also visited the nearby Clava Cairns – also very interesting and hard to believe just how old the cairns are.

More driving. Off to Cawdor and had lunch at the Cawdor Tavern which had been recommended in some of the guide materials we had. More good food and an excellent shared lemon merengue pavlova for dessert. Yum.

After lunch we decided to take a little driving tour of the Black Isle. Beautiful scenery and we made a stop at the Munlochy clootie well and then in Cromarty where we walked around the cute village and visited a pirate cemetery (evidently referred to as such by locals due to the skull and cross bones on most tombstones). Thereafter we headed back to Inverness for a bit of a dinner mess.

We stopped at Fig & Thistle for dinner and couldn't get in without a reservation. (The GPS also led us a bit astray, which was exciting). We then tried the Little Italy restaurant next door with the same result. Next, we decided to try some restaurants in the “main” part of Inverness, but couldn't find parking and wound up driving around in circles for a bit. We eventually found a parking spot and it was getting late, so we decided to just go in the first place that looked reasonable. We went to Riva (an Italian restaurant), but didn't realize there was a downstairs restaurant (which is nicer) and an upstairs pizzeria. We went upstairs and thought that perhaps the downstairs was a different restaurant. To be fair, we were pretty tired and hungry at this point, so we probably weren’t thinking clearly and at the end of the day it was just as well and faster to eat in the pizzeria. Nothing special, but the food was fine. It was a bit of frustration at the end of an otherwise great day, but these things happen. And all worked out well.

Part III to come ...

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Ohio
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10. Re: Trip Report (September 2017 - 12 days)

Enjoying your trip report.

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