Tuesday, October 18, 2016

On the road in the Highlands

Dear Mom,
Mustering our courage, we picked up our rental car for the next legs of our Scotland adventure.
Packing the modest sized car with our luggage was an exercise in spacial relations, but we did it.

Things got better by the end of the trip. Or there were more things in the back seat.
Or both.

Needless to say, the backseat was crowded the entire trip, with one suitcase and my  CPAP machine on the seat between us. My back seat partner and I had a very organized system for taking turns shifting the luggage so we could fasten and unfasten our seat belts. Our leg space was not wasted, either.  Getting out of the car was a slow extraction.

After determining who would be the first driver, we left the car rental and immediately encountered our first roundabout. Going clockwise and unsure of which exit to take, we pretty much immediately hit the first of many curbs on the left side of the road. We praised and encouraged and prayed and thanked and cheered our driver.  I will be forever grateful to my brave friends for all the driving they did. And I will just say right here, right now, that we did NOT lose any mirrors (despite a dire prediction by one son -not mine-) and miraculously  did not get a flat tire.  How we did not get a flat has to be the power of 4 guardian angels. The rims on the left side of the car were very chewed up!

As is the case for all of Scotland, the scenery on the road to Inverness was breathtaking. The hillsides are dotted with sheep.
We stopped at the Highland Folk Museum. I did not realize until we got there that scenes from Outlander were filmed here. (Season One, Episode Five, RENT)

The charming, costumed man and woman stationed in the oldest section happily answered our questions and then, because we were obviously from the US, asked us where in the states we were from. Hearing that we came from Indiana, they immediately wanted to know about TORNADOS! We assured them that we did not live in constant threat and fear of them and in fact had never in all our years actually witnessed one. Myth busted.

Next stop, Cairngorm Mountains. The weather became misty and windy on our way up the mountain. But on the way up the sun broke through the mist and we were blessed with the most spectacular rainbow. Photos do not do it justice.

The complete rainbow seemed to be at eye level. Incredible. After taking countless pictures, we had to break ourselves away from this photo op. Needless to say, we were not the only car pulled off to the side of the road, with passengers scattered roadside seeking the best angles for photos. This moment is one of the highlights of the trip. 
We rode the funicular railway through dense fog to the top of the mountain and had lunch at the cafe there. We were lucky to have the mist blow away, the sun shine and were given breathtaking views.

Enough driving for one day, and not wanting to do any of it after dark, we drove into Inverness and our next home away from home, the Oakvilla Bed and Breakfast.

Next, Culloden, Standing Stones and Nessie!


Tuesday, October 4, 2016


Dear Mom,
Our flight from Newark to Edinburgh was pleasant and went quicker and easier than I 'd anticipated. I actually got some decent sleep on the plane and I will give credit here to the "J" pillow I purchased for the flight. Those round-the-back-of-the-neck pillows are not comfortable for me and after some online searching I stumbled upon and ordered my J Pillow.  I was very happy with it.
Once on the ground we threaded our way through a very efficient Customs process. "My" customs official was charming, pleasant, and patiently listened to me tell him that I'd been anticipating and planning my trip for 5 years, timed to follow taking my youngest off to college. He smiled and said, "Quite Right!" I was enchanted.
I sincerely appreciated that the Edinburgh airport quite thoughtfully has LOOK RIGHT with arrows painted on the street crossings for those of us trained to look LEFT before crossing. I never quite got the hang of which way to look before crossing and ended up looking both ways several times before taking my first steps. In this, my confidence was wobbly. I tried crossing with others, but restrained myself from holding someone's hand.
We spent our first three nights in Scotland in Edinburgh.  I quickly fell in love with Edinburgh and could easily envision going back and spending a full week (or two) there.
After checking into our rooms at the stately Hotel George, in New Town, we took a long, drizzly walk to the only yarn shop we would visit while in Scotland. Kathy's Knits. I'd read that it was the local shop for Lucy Hague, whose Celtic Shawls book is an inspiration. The shop owner was quite pleasant and we saw samples of all the shawls from Lucy's book. Bearing in mind the space available in my suitcase, I purchased just 2 balls of Rennie Yarn, which is made in Scotland- enough for Kyna, the second shawl in the Celtic Shawls book. With Kathy's help, I chose a warm denim-y blue color.
We left the shop to enjoy a late lunch at Nom de Plume. It was here I had my first (but not last) taste of a delicious Strawberry Lime cider. Maybe it is a good thing, but I am disappointed that this particular brand of what we call "hard" cider is not available in the US.
Walking back to our hotel, we tried to find our way into the Queen's Street gardens. All the gates were locked and we had to satisfy ourselves with peaks over the wall and hedges between the trees.

On our first full day, after an incredible breakfast in the hotel, we headed in sunshine (!) for the Royal Mile distracted on our way by many, many many delicious kilts!

 I took loads of kilt photos, but sadly I had a memory card failure and lost all the photos I took those first 4 days with my "real" camera. I've tried not to beat myself up, lose sleep, and "if only" myself about it. That was the worst that happened on the trip and nothing to complain or be sorry over. My traveling companions and I are sharing our photos, and I did take some with my phone, so all is not lost.

After touring Gladstones Land- a 17th century tenement house, which gave us insight into what life was like living on the Royal mile in the 1600's, we continued the uphill climb to Edinburgh Castle. We arrived at the castle in perfect time to witness (and set our watches to) the 1 o'clock cannon.

In the photo just above, the building just behind me is St Margaret's chapel. We were privileged to see a wedding party arrive! And just behind and below the chapel is this tender place.

We lunched at The Elephant House, where JK Rowling wrote Harry Potter.
I liked this sign in The Elephant House!
We ended our first day on the Royal Mile with a tour of The Real St Mary's Close- another historical peek at the hardships and life for those living on the Royal Mile as the city and tenements were built up, around and over existing structures. Gardy Loo!

I came close- sort of- to finding Jamie Fraser on the Royal Mile. Probably good he wasn't the real thing. I would have made a blubbering fool of myself. 

We finished the Royal Mile with a tour of Holyrood Palace and Gardens. 

Holyrood Palace is still in use by the Queen. Had she been in residence we would not be able to tour the palace. On display were many of the dresses worn by Queen Elizabeth from a young girl to present day. Included in the display is a velvet tartan gown worn by Queen Victoria. The petite stature of both queens impressed me.  A highlight of our visit to Holyrood was the garden tour. These photos may be the ones I am most disappointed to lose.  Gorgeous borders.  I cannot imagine how glorious they must be at their peak, because what we saw was beautiful- even in mid September.
Holyrood sits at the foot of Arthur's Seat, an extinct volcano, and a popular hiking destination.

After much walking, two of us were desperate for some nourishment, and tea at Jenner's department store hit the mark. We sat at a window overlooking the Prince's Street Gardens on another sunny afternoon.

Next up- Inverness and driving on the Left!