Visiting Scotland and Ireland 101

 

One of the Scottish castles, most likely once attacked by Vikings. Notice the picnic tables the Vikings used in the foreground.

OK, I can’t resist–here are some stories from my recently completed adventure which took my wife Victoria and me through Scotland and Ireland. This will sound crazy, but it’s the first vacation where it was just the two of us–not traveling with relatives or visiting relatives–since our honeymoon almost 12 years ago. That’s long enough to make a Scotch!

And that part is coming up….but first:

So this doesn’t become a long-winded travelogue full of things that mean more to us than you, I thought I’d pass along some of the things I learned along the way so you might benefit from my gained knowledge.

First off, this was my first vacation where I really turned over a lot of it to a travel agent. The story behind the one we picked (Jo at Tangerine Travel)–I was leaving a Bothell Kenmore Chamber meeting a couple of months ago when a woman approached me and asked, “Are you the Tim Hunter who used to be on the radio?” I said, “Maybe…..”  That’s when she let me know that her name is Jo but long ago, she was my newspaper girl Jody and that she babysat my kids a couple of times. These days, she was a travel agent.

So, with this reacquainted friendship and the fact I once trusted her with my kids, I thought I should see what happens when you let an agent handle everything. I’m totally convinced it’s worth the $40 per person fee for planning everything and being there on the other end, if anything goes wrong. Oh, and things can.

THE FLIGHTS

Probably the first nugget I’ll pass along has to do with the Irish airline, Aer Lingus.  For those of you who don’t know, Aer Lingus is Gaelic for “lost luggage.” Two weeks before we left, my step-son Nick and his wife Samantha left Seattle bound for a Scotland/Italy vacation. The day before coming home, Nick got his bag. Sam hasn’t seen hers yet, three weeks later.

When we flew from Edinburgh to Dublin, Victoria’s bag made it. Mine was nowhere to be seen, as dozens of others were also missing from our flight. We were told by an Aer Lingus rep that if the flight was full, that some of the heavier bags may have been bumped to a later flight. Mine finally arrived a day later, so I only had to make due for roughly 30 hours.

The main flight from Seattle to Dublin takes around 9 hours. You can watch a lot of movies and avoid a lot of sleep during that time. They called it “coach”, but I feel we flew in Leprechaun Class. Those seats were obviously designed for people much smaller than me. Then again, when the woman in front of my wife leaned her seat back, the video screen for Victoria was about 10-inches from her face.

The jets they flew were Airbus and new, so that was a plus. However, the flight crew on the way over must have had family members taken hostage because they were more tolerant than friendly. However, on the way back, we had a happy crew including a singing flight attendant.

THE CAR RENTAL

Yeah, I took the big swing and rented a car for our exploration of Scotland. Wheel on the wrong side, driving on the wrong side, the works. A close call of almost pulling out into oncoming traffic as I left the rental place inspired me to driver overly-parnoid the entire time. It paid off. No incidents except for a couple of curb encounters of the gentle kind the first day. It takes getting used to, but it can be done. For what we did, it was perfect. City driving is far from fun, with all the one-ways and reverse turns and boy, are they big on round-abouts, which are tricky enough when you’re driving the proper direction. Our first night in Edinburgh, we arrived to the city in our rental car around 6pm….and at 8pm, we broke down and asked a taxi driver to lead us to our hotel.  Oh, we had a Garmin, but it tried to direct us to roads that are usually open–but that were closed due to the annual International Fringe Festival. (the nickname is ED Fest, so that’s not what you were thinking) To see the country and get outside of the cities, its best to rent a car. But I’m figuring next time, by the time you figure in rental, gas and parking, it’s probably break-even to just taking the bus or train to get around. And less stressful.

THE ACCOMODATIONS

Jo came up with a nice blend of hotels to stay at, most including breakfast as part of the price.

The Parliament House–The hard-to-find when you’re new in town, but totally worth it destination. The cleanliness of the rooms blew my wife away and their in-hotel Bistro offered up delicious, not-over-priced food, with food allergy accommodations. It felt very homey.

 

Highlight of this place–I’d have to say the breakfast

 

Loch Ness Clansmen Hotel–It is right across from the lake where Nessie calls home and a nice headquarters for a day. We did two nights there, which really weren’t necessary, but it allowed us to explore on a more leisurely pace. From Edinburgh, it was a 5-hour drive through the Highlands to get here, which allowed us to visit the Culloden Battlefields to the north and Urquhart Castle to the south. Oh, and we went looking for the Queen’s summer castle which was under heavy guard so when we found the royal distillery, we called it good.

The famous Highland Games were actually held when we were there, but not having cash, we couldn’t get in. The nearby bank machine had been cleaned out. We felt it just wasn’t mean to be.

Highlight of the Clansmen–Dave’s perfect Cosmo.

Jury’s Inn GlasgowThis was a centrally-located hotel, which made for easy discovery around the city. We were given an executive corner room. My wife thought it was one of the best rooms we stayed in. However, the main point of coming here was to flush out some family history, as my dad was born in the town of Wishaw, not far away. We believe found some new branches of the tree which I’m going to flush out on a recommended website, Scotlands People.

Highlight of this destination–we hopped a cab and had dinner at a place called the Hillhead Book Club

Ibis Edinburgh Centre South Bridge –Then it was back to Edinburgh for a couple of days. We had only really spent 12 hours there our first visit and I’m so glad we took the time to see more of the sites of this city. Now, the plus side of this hotel was its location. We were surrounded by the city and walked our little tails off. The drawback of the Ibis: it’s for the hipster generation. Very minimalistic. Want more than 4 power outlets in the room? Out of luck, pal. Want a nice, cushy bed? How about a box frame and thick mattress pad thrown on top. We considered it glamping. Oh, and if you want to reach the front desk, the room doesn’t have a phone. You’re supposed to reach them on the app, WhatsApp.  Again, for me, the food was fantastic and I made the most of that included breakfast.

Highlight of this destination–it’s central location allowed us to walk and see so much!

The Clarence–So, off to Dublin we went for a two night stay before heading home. The headline on The Clarence is that Bono from U2 owns it. No, we didn’t bump into him. Adequate accommodations with double windows to help keep the late night sound of Dublin’s partiers from waking you up. But BINGO as far as location goes. We were in the center of this fabulous city and just down the lane from the Temple Bar and a 25-minute walk to the Guinness Storehouse.

Highlight of the Clarence–location, location, location (and a really friendly staff)

COUPLE OF QUICK THINGS ON FOOD

These are Langoutstines, in-between a lobster and a crayfish. Delicious.

I managed to have haggis every day of our 9 day visit. It’s served with a grain and tastes more like a spicy bread burger. In Ireland, they must not like the name, so they served it as “white and black porridge.”

Between all the distilleries in Scotland and the Guinness Store House in Dublin, you’ll be happy. I promise you.

ODDITIES

They say things differently. For example, instead of the sign saying “Exit”, they have:

 

Or, instead of saying “For Rent”, they have:

 

Over there, they have another word for speed bumps:

And they have a sense of humor:

     

In summary, this trip has to rank up there with among the greatest vacations I’ve ever taken. While we drove a lot, I feel there was so much we could have seen. Next time, I could easily envision a train/bus adventure, with lots of walking thrown in.

Half my heritage is Scottish. I can see why they loved the country so much and called it home. I also realized how difficult it must have been for them to leave it all behind for a new country. But I’m so glad they did.

Tim Hunter

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