UK 2017: Scotland & the North Sea
This is the finale in my series on my trip to the UK in July 2017.
Edinburgh – first impressions: Old, hilly and mountainous, and double-decker. Tons of buildings were built literally on top of each other, such that whole pieces of the cities were going on directly above or below you. Seeing the Scottish flag hanging next to a British one was nice (see photo above). A very interesting vibe.
Apex Grassmarket: The hotel was a little confusing as the chain had two hotels near each other, but we found it easily enough. It had a very modern look and feel, which was an interesting contrast with the old buildings surrounding it. In fact, from the restaurant on the ground floor, you can see Edinburgh castle.
I don’t deserve a nice sundae: The food in the hotel was provided by an Indian restaurant. Two pieces worth noting including the “authentic” haggis we had (which wasn’t bad, actually, but I still won’t go out of my way to have a second go of it, knowing what is in it). The other was this amazing raspberry (or was it strawberry?) sundae that I got for dessert. Unfortunately, the weight balance in the glass and on the serving tray was not great, so about half the sundae ended up on my lap… more than once. Oh well.
Giving away the rental car: If your car rental place is in the basement of a public car park, you should probably tell people that rather than use a public address that makes you sound like you are on the other end of the block from the car park’s entrance. Ann got as crabby as I can get and at several points had to be convinced to not just abandon the car wherever we were. Fortunately, we were giving it up a day early, so we didn’t have the added stress of getting to a train on time.
Edinburgh Castle: Unfortunately, the rental car nightmare took a while to end, so we only had so much time to play tourist. We spent it at Edinburgh Castle. Outside. In the rain. Fortunately, about half way up the hill and through the castle, the rain stopped and the clouds cleared up somewhat. The Castle itself had a Disney vibe to it – long lines to enter, long lines to get tickets, people everywhere, but little worth seeing. I think we got just as much, if not more, out of the castle in Caerphilly as we did here. It’s a nice one, don’t get me wrong, and the view from outside is tremendous; I’m just not sure I would do it again. After all that, Ann spent what must have been an hour or more looking at souvenirs, particularly authentic Scottish tartans, while I people-watched the harp player and tourists outside. We later found some Scottish Whiskey from Clan Grant (see below) and had a late lunch or earlier dinner at a nice restaurant apparently frequented by celebrities for its old-timey atmosphere and away-from-the-public hiding spot.
Clan Grant: So, before I did the Ancestry DNA test that confirmed I had Irish/Celtic blood, I did research on Scottish last names and their associated clans. The Kerns family in Scotland was connected to Clan Grant. So I went a little overboard in finding things related to that Clan while I was in Scotland. Maybe I can’t trace my ancestry to Scotland, maybe it’s Ireland instead, but I didn’t want to pass up the chance for a particular kind of souvenir.
Train ride: We had very little trouble at the train station in Edinburgh, from the drop-off by the cab to finding the ticket counter to finding our train, it was all straight forward. And by this time in the trip, I had better endurance and the stability of walking my 4-wheeler luggage around with me, so the whole thing was a breeze. Of course, the cashier from home I bought the tickets was helpful in a second way, as he allowed me to exchange a Fiver from the Bank of England for one from the Bank of Scotland, giving me some Scottish currency during literally my last chance to get any. The train ride itself was nice, with free snacks (we paid for it in our tickets), and wonderful views from our windows – both Ann and I got some high-quality photos despite traveling at high speed through the Yorkshire coast.
The horrible cab driver: From Kings’ Cross station, we got a cab to take us to our airport hotel at Heathrow. Unfortunately, the cabbie didn’t tell us he had no idea how to get there or how to use GPS, so he ended up wasting our time and my money making several costly wrong turns. It was the absolute worst ride I’d ever experienced.
Business class: With British Airways being super-cheap with their narrow seats, I decided I needed to splurge on an upgrade for the return trip home. If I hadn’t, I was facing a miserable plane ride and several days of terrible bruises on my legs and hips. Hundreds of dollars later, we found ourselves at a business-class check-in, a business-class security area (where Ann had to give up some alcohol she didn’t put in her checked luggage), and access to a business-class lounge with free food and drinks while we waited almost 2 hours for our flight. After a brief security scare (I was randomly selected with about 2 dozen others for extra screening by the annoying TSA), I got to see the business class for the first time. Oh, what a treat it is. Sure, even premium economy usually has nice complimentary meals and leg room, but I hadn’t experienced a reclining seat before, or an easy-to-use stowaway locker for my bag, or a privacy screen between me and the person sitting diagonally next to and in front of me (hi and bye Ann!). I can totally see the appeal of Business Class now on international flights. I still don’t get First Class on most flights, especially in cost comparisons with other classes, but I don’t know if I could fly back to the UK any other way now. Something to think about in 2019 or 2020 or whenever.