Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Vacation, Day 2: Boston-->Heathrow-->Edinburgh!

I thought I would be too tired to sleep the night before going to The Motherland, but I guess waking up at 3:30am and then driving 10 hours makes a person pretty tired. I woke up on the 24th VERY excited to begin our epic trip to Scotland.

Everything at the Boston airport went quite well, including our delayed flight, which had us a little worried for our connection, but supposedly there would be a lot of wind helping our flight and we were only going to arrive 30 minutes later than originally planned. Okay, this is all boring forward to boarding and being excited about our flight attendants' accents and our awesome in-seat TVs that showed good movies and TV shows. Oh! And the Andy Murray BBC documentary that totally made me tear up while on the plane! Embarassing! Fast forward to me taking a picture with my Powershot and putting it back into my bag*. Zoom through the five hours on the plane and then...

Seeing London from above and at night! So cool. I've never been to London, but based on the aerial view alone, I'm in. Our connection at Heathrow went fine* and before we knew it, we were on a freaking plane to SCOTLAND!


I kind of can't describe my excitement at this point. I have dreamed about going to Scotland for as long as I can remember so to be on the final leg of the journey there left me filled with joy. 

 The reality of touching down in Edinburgh was that we then needed to navigate the nine miles or so to the city from the airport. Originally we had planned on taking a taxi since we arrived at about 11pm and weren't certain about the bus system, but we're pretty frugal and decided to try the bus because it looked to be pretty clear with which one to take.

Now, this was pretty funny because we went to buy our bus ticket from the little machine next to the stop, but it would only take coins. (Oh, sidenote: At Heathrow we hit up the ATM, but I was denied, which totally freaked me out! I was so worried my card would be eaten that I decided to wait until the next machine, which was at the Edinburgh Airport. Except, I was denied again! OMG! Was I not going to be able to have cash while there?! I was freaking out until my genius sister who used to work at a credit union realized that I probably had a $300 limit for withdrawals and with the conversion rate, my attempt for $200 was breaking that limit. A quick request for $100 that was granted confirmed our suspicions and we were good to go.)

Okay, back to the bus story. So we needed coins, right? But all we had were 20 pound notes so we went to the one food spot open and bought a bottle of water each. It was so obvious we just needed change and we felt bad for taking the till's smaller bills to break our twenties. And then? Then the ticket machine for the bus flashed "Buy Ticket From Driver". *sigh*

The trip to the city was uneventful and we had looked at the map saved to my nook so we were pretty sure where we were going. It had seemed like our hotel was really close to where the bus stopped, but we got so lost once we started walking! At one point we were dragging our suitcases on a dirt path next to a small highway with no real idea of where we were. And it was about midnight by then so not my favorite time to be wandering around an unfamiliar city.

Remember when the Knight Bus picks up Harry Potter in the third movie? That same exact thing happened to us while standing on the side of the road while lost in Edinburgh. Well, except it was a taxi instead of a Knight Bus, but it was the same idea and about ten minutes later we were being dropped off at the Brooks Hotel on Grove St!

Sweet relief!

Until the hotel front desk guy checked us in and said, "Oh, you're only staying with us one night."

"WHAT?! No, technically four."

Long story short (I'm not a good story teller, by the way), our original itinerary had our three nights booked, but Ali (genius, seriously) realized our first night wasn't included! Turns out that when our travel agent added the first night, they put it under my name so when the guy looked in the computer, he didn't see the subsequent nights that were under Ali's name. Apparently being super smart runs in the family because I was the one who figured that out;)

Ahhhh, with the accommodation problem settled and our pajamas on, we tucked in at about 1am to get some sleep before hitting the ground running the next morning!

(Note: I highly recommend taking the daytime flight to the UK. We had no pressure to sleep during the flight and even thought it was only about 8pm our time when we got to our hotel, we were so tired from getting up early and traveling all day that it wasn't that difficult to get to sleep. I know a lot of people fly overnight so they don't have to spend money on a hotel room that first partial night, but for me, money spent on comfort is money well spent.)

More soon! I promise it gets better! And soon, PICTURES!


*Except that somewhere in between taking that photo on the plane to London and getting on the plane to Edinburgh, I lost my beautiful (and new!) Powershot. I was pretty bummed, but also determined not to let it get to me too much. I quickly put it in perspective: it was much better to lose it at the beginning of the trip rather than the end after taking a million pictures. And also, it was NOT the worst thing that would have happened. Not by a long shot. Plus, I still had my DSLR and iPhone for photo ops!)

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Vacation, Day 1

I'll be writing these posts mostly for my own memories, but I hope you enjoy reading about our adventures as well.

We flew out of Boston, so my vacation actually began with a little* drive from Virginia to Kittery, Maine where my sister lives now. I usually avoid toll roads like the Plague, but in order to make the trip as short as possible, I begrudgingly headed up 95 and the New Jersey Turnpike and spent about $35 in tolls. (RIDICULOUS!) I got there at about 3pm, which, if you do the math, shows that I had left my house at 5ish so I was practically a zombie by the time I arrived. Sleep is for the week, though, so we spent the next few hours checking into our flight and finalizing our itineraries. 

It was at this point that I took out a couple of things from my suitcase. This was VERY tough for me as I love to take a lot with me wherever I go. I hate getting somewhere and not feeling like wearing what I've brought. I ended up having three things in my suitcase that I didn't wear in Scotland: a sparkly shirt, a skirt, and a dress. Oh, and the tights for the dress. I'm still glad I brought them, though. Options, people!

I was falling asleep by 9 or 10 so I hit the hay and set my alarm for 4am the next morning!

Next up? A day of traveling!



Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Prepare Yourself

Since we planned for our trip to Scotland about a year in advance, I had a lot of time to prepare for the trip. It was nice to be able to buy things when I found them and it gave me time to read up in travel books. Some prep work was better than others. Here are my thoughts now that I'm back:

  • Boots are essential. You want them to be waterproof, comfortable enough to walk miles in, and ones you won't mind getting muddy. My boots were a lifesaver!
  • Raincoat. I searched long and hard for the right coat. I knew I wanted it to be longer, to be waterproof, to have a hood, and to have a detachable liner. I tend to wear more layers, therefor I can get away with a light coat at times, but that being said, I also can get cold pretty easily so that's why I wanted the detachable liner. The coat I ended up getting (a lined London Fog raincoat) didn't have a detachable liner but it was so comfortable and perfect in every other way that I went with it. And it WAS perfect!!! Only once was I too cold and that was when it was brutally windy in Kirkwall. 
  • Jeans. I took two pairs of jeans to Scotland. One pair were perfection, and the other were not because they had lycra, which tends to be susceptible to gravity. I should have taken one more pair with me. 
  • Pinterest. I pinned a ton of stuff before we went on our trip. My thinking was that if we got there and weren't sure of where to go, we could hop on Pinterest and see what had looked good before. I highly recommend doing this! It was so much fun to look up things and make a big list of activities and places that interested us. 
  •  Books. My sister and I both read up in a lot of travel books about Scotland before we got there and then we each took one book with us. I took a Rick Steeves and she took a Fodors. Both were awesome and super helpful! 
  • How to get from the airport to your hotel. For the longest time we had decided to splurge for a cab from the airport to our hotel because we were to arrive late at night. Once there, the bus seemed pretty easy (and way cheaper!) so we did that. Unfortunately, once dropped off, we got a little turned around and ended up a bit lost in a strange city in the middle of the night. After walking down a sidewalkless street and getting very turned around, we hailed the next taxi and ended up tipping him 100% for saving us from being murdered. 
    • Sidenote- Once in the cab he asked where we were from and when we said near DC in America, he replied with, "I guess you haven't heard what happened, have you?" Holy hell I thought he was going to tell us there had been some attack. We were so relieved when it was just that spying story. We laughed it off, "Oh, we're used to that." 

Any questions about Scotland or traveling? We definitely had a planes, trains, and automobiles type of trip*.


* Modes only. Our trip actually ran quite smoothly. 
+ Title from Porcupine Tree

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Lessons Learned

What I Learned In Scotland:

  • Scottish Breakfast is really good! 
    • When I had googled the description prior to our trip, I had seen a lot of photos of haggis and beans on toast. I already knew I wanted to try haggis, but beans on toast just doesn't sound appetizing in the morning. I ended up seeing beans/toast at only one hotel breakfast and it was in a buffet so I just didn't get it. What I loved about Scottish Breakfast is how big it is! I love starting out my day with a big, satisfying meal of eggs and meat. Yum!
  • Haggis is not scary.
    • Well, yeah it is because it's a bunch of sheep parts mixed with an oatmeal mixture, but it doesn't taste bad. If you've had scrapple, you can eat haggis.
  • The Scots don't eat dinner.
    • Not like Americans do anyway. We had such a hard time (in the cities especially) with eating dinner. We kept going to pubs with the plan to have a few pints and eat some pub grub, but they all stopped serving food super early! In Virginia, bars are required to serve food, which means we have fewer cool pubs, but also means we can easily combine drinking and eating. We ended up having to go to real restaurants to get dinner. 
  • Distance is to Scots what time is to Americans. 
    • People looked at us like we were crazy when we said we were including Orkney into our trip. Kirkwall is about 300 miles from Edinburgh, which would be like me going to New York City-not a big deal, right? But to them it's a lifetime away. 
    • I remember one time in America someone remarking on how old their house was. It was built in 1950! That's not old! We went into a house that was built in 1471 while in Glasgow! We saw ruins from 5,000 years ago while in Orkney! I could barely comprehend how old that stuff was. It was incredible. 
  • As soon as a bathroom is not available, you will have to use one.
    • I don't want to get TMI or anything, but bathroom access is probably the most difficult thing about traveling. If you've ever been in a traffic jam on a one lane road in The Highlands with no bathroom nearby, then you understand. Just the thought of "I wonder how long we will be here?" immediately equals a call from nature. 
    • The Heathrow bathrooms are not to be missed. So nice!
  • They can touch you on ghost tours in Scotland.
    • That would NEVER happen in America! 
  • When you say you're from Virginia, people either assume you're a county bumpkin or their eyes get big with jealousy.
    • My favorite reaction was the girl at a bar we were at for lunch who said, "I want to visit all of the states and see how they're all different!" So sweet. I said, "I haven't even been to them all!"
    • My favorite bad one was the guy who got really excited and asked if we're from where The Waltons take place. A quick wiki search back at the hotel told us that The Waltons did indeed take place in Virginia, but I'm not sure that's how I want my home state pictured. And seriously? The Waltons? Plenty of other shows take place in The Vampire Diaries!
  • Everyone in Scotland is attractive.
    • We fit right in, which was nice.
  • It really does rain a lot. 
    • It rained every day. Even on days when it was nice, it rained. We didn't mind, though. You just deal with it. 
    • The thing I didn't understand was the people walking around soaking wet. If I lived where it constantly rained, I'd probably at least have a coat with a hood. 
  •  They're serious about credit card safety.
    • Only one time was I told that a place could only take cards with chips. (They credit card has a security chip in it.)
    • At a restaurant/bar, they bring the credit machine to the table and run it there. Then they compare your signature like you're signing out classified material at MI-5. I even had to show my license once because the signature on my card was rubbing off. I kept thinking about how in America I often just scribble something on the credit slip that doesn't even resemble my signature. And how at work I don't care if someone's card isn't signed. We told one waitress that in America we don't have the credit machines brought to the table and she looked at us like we were crazy. She said, "We take credit theft really seriously here," which I get, but it's not like we have a lot of that going on here. I've never had a problem after a waiter has taken my card away from me to run. 
    • That said, at one restaurant, they actually undercharged us 10 pounds, which seemed weird because shouldn't their little machine show that the whole bill wasn't paid? (We added incorrectly when splitting the bill.) We realized after leaving and I ran the money back in. They hadn't even realized. Weird. 
  • Tipping is weird.
    • When they bring the credit machine to your table, it can be nice because it's easy to split the bill, but sometimes you don't get the option to add a tip. So be sure to always have some cash on you! 
    •  We tipped on our drinks about half the time. We watched other people and they didn't, but the bartenders are so nice! And they were happy to get some extra pounds:) It definitely wasn't the customary $1 per drink that we do here in America.
  • Guinness is served warm and ice cold. 
  • Ranch dressing doesn't exist in Scotland. 
    • Or, at least, it didn't exist the first time we asked for it with our chips and the waitress looked at us like we'd grown second heads. 
    • Honey mustard didn't seem all the rage either, but at the West End Hotel they mixed some up for us:)
  • People kept warning (getting me excited) about how it's cooler inside over there. I was told several times that they don't use the heat as much indoors. That's a LIE. Especially in Edinburgh. Glasgow was cooler outside and in, as was Kirkwall in a few places.
  • Scotland has Build-A-Bear Workshops! YAY!
  • Hardly anyone jaywalks. It's awesome! 
  • The one pence piece looks just like a penny. Take your American change out of your wallet to avoid confusion. 
  • If you're a vegetable fan, eat your garnishes. Veggies were a little too scarce for my taste. 
  • Take the tour. It's worth it.
  • Roll your pants up when it's raining. 
  • 1 in 10 girls will be wearing shorts with tights underneath. 
  • Don't be that person on the plane who sits in the wrong seat. You mess everything up! 
    • This person was NOT me. I promise.
  • 10 days is not enough time to find your Scottish soul mate. 

+ Title from Carrie Underwood

Saturday, November 09, 2013


I have a million posts planned about my epic trip to Scotland, but until I have the time, please enjoy my photos:

Photos of Scotland!!!

+ Title from My Love For Danger