Funny thing I found out about hotel life in the U.K….one must have an advanced degree in order to figure out how to work light switches, showers, and hair dryers. I awoke early the next morning to have everything ready and outside my hotel room door in time to load it on the bus. I did not want to be late again today. Well, when it came time to figure out to turn the shower on, I had to step back a second and play with the knobs before getting it right. The hairdryer on the other hand, stressed me to the point of tears. No matter what I tried, I could not get the hotel hairdryer to work. I plugged it into every socket in the room, pushed the reset buttons on the outlets, everything! But, could not get the bloody thing to work. I could have thrown my hair in a ponytail and called it a day, but, I had nothing to tie it back with. I have naturally curly, frizzy hair so letting it dry naturally was out of the question. At this point, I’m starting to run late again and I’m panicking. I called down to room service, choked back my silly, vain tears and ask for another hair dryer. The desk clerk, feeling my pain (I’m obviously not the first tourist he has had to explain this too), explained to me in the kindest voice that I simply had to switch the dryer on, then push the button on the side of the handle, and hold it down the entire time I’m drying my hair. Oy vey.
With my hair dry, my bags packed and in the hotel lobby, I climbed into my bus seat only to hear my travel mates complain about experiencing the same problems with he hair dryer and the shower. Now, I didn’t feel so ditsy.
The next leg of our adventure took us up to my ancestral homeland: Scotland. The countryside on the way up was postcard perfect. Rolling green hills and tiny Tudor villages kept me glued to the window. How I wished we could have stopped off into these darling villages, even only for a few minutes, just to check out the quant English country life. But, having to keep to the schedule, we pressed on.
Our first stop was right across the Scottish boarder to the tourist trap know as Gretna Green. Famous for runaway weddings, Gretna Green’s blacksmith shop hosts weddings complete with anvil to make the union “official.” There is the tiny chapel, a museum, and, of course, gift shops. It took us all of 30 minutes to see everything Gretna Green had to offer and Lauren and I spent most of that time in the gift shop. The saving grace? A
tiny bar inside the gift shop giving out free gin tastings!! Now, I’m not a hard alcohol kind of gal. To me, hard alcohol tastes like gasoline. But, how could I say “no” to a free tasting? The gin I tried was a blackberry gin made right there in Scotland. I was so impressed with the yumminess, that I actually bought a bottle!
We hopped back on the bus, but as we were backing out of the parking lot we noticed we were missing one passenger: Sue hadn’t made it back yet! So, we promptly alerted John and Simon and pulled back into our parking space. A few minutes later, Sue boarded the bus and took her short “walk of shame.”
Now in my first post, I mentioned my little friend Pleepleus. It felt strange when I first started taking photos with him. I noticed many a strange look from the other travelers. But, by the second day of our tour, if the others didn’t see him right way, they were asking where he was and smiling when I pulled him out to take photos with him. One day I left him on the tray table of my seat while we made a quick “pit stop.” Lauren stayed behind on the bus and said that every person that walked off the bus gave Plee a petting. She wished she would have taken a photo for me. For something I thought was childish and silly, Plee has become an ice-breaker and conversation starter. I’m so happy I decided to bring him. I highly suggest anyone who travels, take along a little friend. It’s amazing how many people you will meet and how much fun you will have!
Crossing over the Scottish border was eventful. Suddenly, all of the road signs were in written in English and Gaelic. So cool! We drove through tiny Scottish villages until we reached our destination for the next two days: Glasgow. Unfortunately, Glasgow was a huge disappointment. I got such a weird vibe from the moment we pulled into the city. The only way I can describe it…Imagine walking into a warehouse and there are boxes stacked in the corner because no one knew what else to do with them. That is the feeling I got when we pulled into Glasgow. Very cold, industrial, like everything there was not where it was supposed to be. I was uneasy the entire time we were in the city. Odd.
Luckily, we had dinner in neighboring Stirling. What an amazing little village! This tiny medieval village sits about 20 minutes outside of Glasgow. Cobblestone streets wind through he village with a mix of centuries old and turn of the century structures. There are a few old ruins dating back 500 years standing throughout the village. The cobblestone roads wind up a hill to the infamous Stirling Castle.
We were to meet our guide for the night at the castle. He was the epitome of Scottish gentleman, right down to the kilt! We had a clear view of The Wallace memorial in the distance. I only wish we would have been able to visit the memorial. Instead, we all stood at the foot of the Robert the Bruce memorial statue as our guide told us the history of the area, including the famous Battle of Stirling and of Scotland’s favorite son: William Wallace. Freedoooooooom!!!! When the history lesson came to a close, our guide grabbed his bagpipes (real ones, not metaphoric) and like the pied piper started playing a gorgeous tune leading us down the cobblestone road to the place where we would dine for the night.
As we settled in for our meal, our guide began to tell the tale of the haggis. He stood with a large platter in hand and upon that platter was the dreaded clump of oaty, mincemeaty goodness. I don’t know about you, kids, but I LOVE haggis. But, in all honesty, I’ve only had the American version of it. So, to have real Scottish haggis was something I was looking forward to on this trip. In a booming voice, our guide held the platter up high while giving a blessing to the haggis in the old Scottish speak. He warned us ahead of time that when giving the story and blessing that we may not understand what he was saying due to the old world pronunciation, and he was right! We couldn’t understand most of what he was saying, but it was interesting nonetheless. Then, he pulled out a large dagger and plunged it into the haggis. We were each given a small portion wth our meal. It did not disappoint! One hasn’t truly lived until they have dined on haggis. I won’t go into too much detail about it other than it’s like eating a mushy sausage. I HIGHLY recommend trying it if you have the chance! It looks disgusting, but, it’s yummy! Promise, cross my heart!
The beer choices with dinner were quite nice. Harviestoun Bitter & Twisted Golden Ale and Harviestoun Schiehallion Craft Lager. Both were very smooth, malty. I couldn’t decide which I liked better. Both were perfect with our dinner, both were easy to drink. Let’s call it a draw.
The next day we were off on a field trip to the most amazing city I have ever been to: Edinburgh! This gorgeous city is a mixture of 13th century structures and modern 20thand 21st century architecture. Sitting on top of a hill in the middle of the city like a crown jewel is Edinburgh Castle. The closer you get to the castle, the older the structures. Once at the castle, my mind started wondering to what Scottish life was like 600 years ago. We walked through the castle walls and were greeted with a breathtaking view of the entire city! I walked through the open rooms of the castle and couldn’t believe I was walking in the footsteps of Mary, Queen of Scots! It was a remarkable moment.
After touring the castle, Lauren and I exited the castle walls and walked through the ancient streets to a delightful tavern for lunch. Deacon Brodie’s Tavern, just steps from the castle walls, was charming and inviting. The ceilings were adorned with painted thistles and flowers. The food was delightful. I had my second helping of haggis (I love the stuff) along with mash (mashed potatoes) and some sort of mashed concoction called “mashed swede.” I took a couple bites of the swede (rutabaga) and left the remainder on my plate. Turns out, I’m not a fan of the mashed swede. But, at least I can mark it off my list of stuff to try.
Lauren and I did some shopping in this old section and I purchased a quaich
(pronounced “quake” with extra phlegm in your throat). It’s a piece of my Scottish history that I’ve wanted for many years. I now proudly possess one.
Once our shopping (and drinking) were complete, we boarded the bus and headed back to Glasgow. Once back at the hotel we got ready for dinner and headed out to our restaurant. I enjoyed a pint of Tennent’s and a lovely dinner. Unfortunately, our beer selection at dinner was limited to just this one beer but, I made up for it back at the hotel lounge. Calendonian Brewing (owned by Heineken UK) produces Three Hop Lager. This is a lovely beer, and probably one of my favorites of the trip! Most of the beers I’ve had on my trip up to now have been on the malty side. I LOVE malty beers, but this one was a bit crisper with a slight spice to it. Quite nice!
The next day we all boarded the bus on our way to the Scottish coast. We were to board a ferry to Belfast, Ireland, but, the largest hurricane to hit Ireland in over 50 years landed the day before throwing off all of the ferry schedules. The original plan was to take the Ferry to Belfast, tour the city for a few hours, then make our way to Dublin for the night. The hurricane delayed our ferry ride for four hours. So, to pass the time, our tour guide took us to the Scottish coastal village of Stranraer. What a darling village! Lauren and I walked through the village, did some light shopping, and then found a tiny, out-of-the-way tavern called The Arkhouse Inn.
It’s odd, when in the larger cities in Scotland, the brogue isn’t very thick and I can understand pretty much everything everyone says. These smaller villages…not so much. I felt incredibly obtuse asking the locals to repeat what they said so I could understand them. But, everyone I met was incredibly kind and patient with this dense American. Lunch at the Inn was simple and pleasurable. I had a Belhaven Best with lunch and enjoyed listening to the locals discuss their day (from what I could understand of the conversation).
Our time to board the ferry came and I have to admit, I boarded with a bit of trepidation. I knew I was possibly going to be seasick. I took some seasick pills and hoped for the best for the 2hr ride across the Irish Sea. Turns out, I fared pretty OK. We landed in Belfast 4hrs past schedule so a tour of the city was out. However, our tour guide was able to give us about 20 minutes at the Maritime Museum in Belfast. The museum sits at the site where the fated Titanic was launched. The museum building site was built to represent the Titanic’s icon bow. Each corner of the building is built to scale of the ship’s bow and demonstrates how massive the ship was. It’s quite breathtaking and awe inspiring!
We jumped back on the bus and made our way down to Dublin. I was fascinated by the signage along the highways. The names of the streets, highways and towns were written in English and Irish. I learned quite early that the Irish do not call their native tongue “Gaelic.” They speak “Irish.” Please, remember that!!!
We made it to Dublin and were quite exhausted. Luckily, our hotel had a pub. Lauren, Sue, Buttons and I grabbed a table, a couple of pint and chilled for the night. Tomorrow we hit he Irish countryside. But, fingers crossed I can figure out the shower and hair dryer. Ha!