Thursday, July 19, 2012

Since I have been to Scotland many times and enjoy visiting family and friends so much, I have never really done all the "touristy" type stuff while here so I decided to take advantage of my ten day stay and take a little trip over to Edinburgh.

View of Edinburgh 
On Monday night I found a super deal at the Travelodge Waterloo for 29 Pound ($46).  This is a terrific deal since most places were going for upwards of $150 around the same location.  I also checked out some attractions and tours and the next morning I was on my way!  Total train trip, including a change of stations in  Glasgow was about two total comfort - can't say enough about how awesome the train service is in Scotland!

The weather lived up to the expectation one might have of Scotland - cold and rainy but I had a terrific time in any case!  I stubbornly refused to haul an umbrella around with me and came to the soggy conclusion that my little green jacket was designed more as a windbreaker rather than a water repellent. but c'est la vie!

Street performer on the Royal Mile
The hotel was about a two minute walk from Waverley Train Station and due to the extremely low cost I walked down the street with trepidation.  After the clerk gave me the key and mumbled incoherent directions, I headed to the elevator.  Since my room number was 301 I hit the floor 3 button but was told by another person on the lift that I had to go to -3.  I pictured myself in some dungeon below the streets of Edinburgh but found myself in a clean little room, backing onto an alley.  Apparently, this room, which was advertised as ACCES, was designed for travellers who are wheelchair bound.  The bathroom was huge and contained various accessible features.  In the morning, when I was still half asleep and it was dark, I stumbled into the bathroom and reached around for the cord that I thought would turn on the lights.  As soon as I yanked on the cord, alarms sounded and lights flashed.  Apparently I had pulled on the panic, "I need help" cord.  I had visions of firefighters and police knocking down my door any minute as I furiously looked around the room to find a phone to call the front desk and tell them that I didn't really need rescuing but being a budget accommodation there was not a telephone to be found.  Luckily, I found a huge button on the wall to press and cancel the call.  Unfortunately, I was now worried about going in the shower since I was worried that my would be rescuers were perhaps, just delayed a bit and they might burst in at any minute.

More later...

Chucking Out Time

It is always a treat going out for a drink when I am in Scotland. Prestwick has an inordinate number of drinking establishments for such a small place but luckily they all seem to be within staggering distance of each other.

Karen, Elaine and I in The Burns
It was a bit difficult to find a drink I like though, since as usual when I travel and I ask for Rye whiskey, I get a look like I just ordered lighter fluid. In my experience, in many parts of the world, you are more likely to get a loaf of bread rather than a drink when asking for Rye! I manage to suffer through however, and usually after sampling a different number of scotch whiskeys, I'm really not concerned with the taste! Karen, Elaine, Heather and I went for a drink Friday night and on Saturday Jimmy, Karen, Heather and I went to the Cricket club which was featuring a rather loud rock band that seemed to have time warped back to the seventies. The highlight of the evening was winning a bottle of White and Mackay Whiskey (just what I had been ordering at the bar coincidentally). When I was called up to receive my prize the host asked the crowd to show its support by singing O'Canada....he really was unrealistic about the ability of a group of Scottish folk, imbibing in a few bevvies, to come up with the tune and words of the anthem for a country thousands of miles away. They gave it a good effort though and I even recognized a couple of words. For a people with a world wide reputation as drinkers, chucking out time is shockingly early - 12:30! Heck, at home we are only getting started by that time.

Scottish Delicacies!

So between my jetlag and running around I have, as usual, been rather negligent in writing about any of my experiences. I am now taking advantage of the train ride to Edinburgh to jot down a few things using my iPad. After several years of dragging a computer around with me on my travels this is the best little device ever invented!

 The Scotsrail system is a remarkable experience! £26 return from Prestwick to Edinburgh. The trip takes about two hours in total with a connection in Glasgow where you need to change stations either by taking the shuttle or a quick stroll. I opted for the walk and ended up just in time for the 1200 train. The trains are very comfortable with large seats, little tables and snack carts. I am sipping a wonderful cup of tea and eating shortbread as I type!

Me with some of the Arran wildlife and scenery
I am very much enjoying my solo traveling on this trip. Yesterday I went to the Isle of Arran which is just off the coast. This little land mass has been inhabited for thousands of years by a hardy group of people. A young couple I met on the train, who haled from the island told me that there are roughly 6000 residents of the island spread out amongst ten or so villages. The ferry ride is from Ardrossan to the village of Brodick. The island is well known, apparently for its sheep, cheese and biking paths. You can join groups for some extreme cycling experiences but being more of a sedate, pedal at my own pace type person, I decided to rent a bike for the day and toddle about. A fellow on the ferry told me to go to the Shore hotel just down from the Ferry and the proprietor would set me up for the day. Sure enough I managed to get a decent mountain bike and helmet with a minimal of fuss for £15. No deposit, no VISA, no ID....I guess he figured that I couldn't get too far on the island and his bike was safe. Although the day was a bit overcast, it stayed dry and it was a lot more comfortable than riding in 35C heat at home! I mainly stayed on the coast road which was flat but did attempt a few little trails. The island is full of trails of varying levels for avid cyclists to push themselves to the limit but I really think pushing yourself to the limit, especially on holiday is really overrated! I doddled along and did the obligatory drive past the castle - there is pretty much a castle wherever you go in this country so I decided to cheap out and not pay the £12 to do the standard tour. I headed up the coast and passed a cute little village called Corrie. The scenery was amazing, the weather was cool and dry and best of all, there were no bugs. Usually when I'm biking at home I can swallow at least half a pound of little critters! I stopped by the little heritage museum and although these types of places are usually targeted towards the under ten crowd, I must have found my inner child because I was actually quite amused for an hour or so. It was nice to be able to read all of the little plaques and not have to worry that I was holding anyone up. I stopped by a little bakery on the way back and had an amazing chicken, leek and mushroom pie. I could definitely love on the pies here in Scotland!

When I alighted (my Scot word of the day meaning "got off") the ferry in Ardrossan I followed the crowd, not knowing where I was heading, asked a couple of people for directions and was thoroughly ignored - turned out they were part of a tour from France...I spotted a train and asked a young couple walking ahead of me if I should take this train to get to Prestwick. They were headed to Ayr so they told me to just follow them. I got lucky and managed to do the whole trip, on two different trains at no cost. You buy the ticket on the train, when there is no booth at a stop, but I managed to avoid the collector on both trains!

When I got back to Prestwick, Karen kindly made me a cheese toasty...another one of my favourite Scottish delicacies!

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Prestwick Sea Air

Prestwick Main Street
I arrived at Glasgow Airport and once I collected my bag I went out front and hopped on the bus for a short trip to the train station where I made a connection onto a train to Prestwick airport. Total cost £4.30. Finding a phone booth to let Karen know that I had arrived was a bit of a challenge in this era of telephone mobility but I was eventually successful and I was soon having a cup of tea and meeting the newest addition to the Brown family, Keira! Usually when I travel I like to brag that I am not really affected by jet lag or at least I am able to fight through it. Alas, this was not the case for this trip! I headed up for a short nap at about noon, woke for dinner, yawned for the next few hours and then headed up to read and fell into a comatose like sleep for the next 12 hours. I blamed it on the fresh sea air of Prestwick but Jimmy thought my fatigue was a direct result of a lack of alcohol intake. In any case, I am feeling more refreshed and rested than I have in weeks!

Friday, July 13, 2012

How Was Your Flight?

Whenever you take a trip, on an airplane, everyone inevitably asks you, "How was your flight?" Now, unless your travelling companion is Dr. Who or you have accidentally fallen into a time warp and are flying in the heyday of PanAm or you are not the consummate budget traveller (me) and can afford the luxury of first class or even club class, your honest answer would probably have to be, "It was hell.".

Granted there are varying degrees of hell depending on the length of the trip, the size of the plane,the weather, the time of year (planes are always filled to capacity during peak holiday times), and who you are stuck sitting beside. I chose my seat with strategy this time. I picked the middle row, aisle directly behind the seats by the bulkhead that have extra leg room. When I chose my seat the other two seats beside me were empty. My rationale with this choice was that maybe both seats wouldn't be assigned and I would be able to stretch out a bit or one of the premium, paid for seats, ahead of me wouldn't be taken and a kindly service attendant might let me move up. This has happened to me in the past, but unfortunately my strategic planning was to no avail. I remained in my 22 inch, width seat next to a rather weepy preteen young girl, who obviously was not happy about her return to Glasgow, and looked longingly at the lucky sots who had managed to get spots with empty seats next to them.

As usual, I picked the entree dish that had pasta (not my favourite) and wished I'd picked the other choice. Managed to eat the whole meal with my little plastic utensils and my elbows squished to my sides and only dropped a bit of sauce on my white hoody. Started to watch the movie and all I can say is I hope The Mysterious Island was in 3D at the theatres because it sure didn't have any redeeming qualities as an engaging 2D cinematic experience.

I then decided to invest in one of Air Transats comfy bags. Now being rather of a thrifty nature I have always resented paying $7 for a little blankly that in the past was handed out for free. I also suspect that air Transat has instructed their flight crews to make sure the cabin temperature reaches something equivalent to a chilly Arctic winter evening, in the hopes of squeezing a few more dollars out of their patrons. I was pleasantly surprised as I reached into the convenient cloth tote bag, however, and started to pull out little treasures. It was almost like Christmas opening a stocking. First I pulled out one of those horseshoe shaped necky things that could be blown up. I never understood how putting one of these devices around your neck could help and so I have never purchased one in the past (that thrifty thing again) but since it was in my bag I started blowing and placed it around my neck. Next out of the bag came a little plastic capsule containing two of the most comfortable earplugs ever designed. Being a frequent user of earplugs due to rhinally challenged sleeping partners, I am definitely a qualified critic of this particular apparatus! A cushiony little eye mask and a snugly fleece blanket that actually wrapped around my toes and came up under my chin, completed the ensemble. About a minute later I was happily drooling away into my neck pillow (what a great invention!) Unfortunately, what seemed like about two minutes later, but was actually about two hours, I was awoken by a maddeningly cheerful sounding pilot loudly announcing that we would be landing in two and a half hours. I guess he didn't want anyone to miss the cardboard box breaky of yogurt and a stale Danish.

 More later....

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

So I decided to rely on public transport for all of my travelling needs for this trip and so far it has been fairly painless.  I took the HSR for the first time in probably 20 years and paid an shocking $2.55 to get down to the GO station on Hunter Street.  Next I took the Express bus to Union Station in Toronto ($9.60).  Sasha kindly met me at the front of Union.  I don't think she trusted me to navigate my way through Toronto on my own and make it to her apartment.  It is Summerlicious in Toronto this week which means restaurants offer a prix fix menu ($20 for a three course lunch) so Sasha treated me to a wonderful meal at a restaurant on Front St. (I think).  We then made our way to her house and dropped my bags off before heading out for another beverage.  We averted catastrophe, at least as far as my travel plans went, after realizing that Sasha had locked herself out of her apartment.  We did manage to get in and I retrieved my suitcase and headed down to the Subway stop.

The leg on my suitcase broke on the way.  What a drag! Literally!  This piece, as I soon discovered, is a vital component designed to allow the bag to rest upright when stationary.  Now you wouldn't think that this is necessarily important but when travelling it is amazing how many times you stop....buying subway ticket, standing on subway, waiting for connecting shuttle bus, sitting on bus, answering the call of nature.  And each time you stop it is now necessary to find something to lean your bag against and then support it with a leg, hand, whatever handy body part just to keep it from toppling over (usually onto the foot of a fellow traveler).

I managed to overcome this inconvenient impediment and made it to the airport.  There was a huge lineup for check in (more start and stops with the wonky case) but luckily I had checked in online and had a boarding pass so I was waived passed the line and finally got rid of the cursed bag!  I'm looking forward to meeting up with it again in Glasgow!


Sunday, July 8, 2012

Off to Scotland, again!

Well summer has arrived again and since I hadn't made any plans ahead of time, I started looking at last minute flights anywhere in my desperation to get out of Hamilton for a bit and satisfy my endless need to wander.  I managed to get a great deal ($498 in total) for a round trip flight to Glasgow!  If anyone is looking for flights to the UK be sure to check out  I had credit on my rewards card so I ended up paying less than $400!

So once again, I am bound for Prestwick!  I called Karen and Jimmy, who have again graciously agreed to let me impose on them.  I leave on the 11th and am actually quite excited.  The forecast is crap, but you don't go to Scotland for the weather!  I will actually be relieved to get out of the heatwave we have had here in Southern Ontario for the last month but temps of 15 or 16 C and rain might be a bit of a drastic change.

Due to my late start planning anything, I am travelling solo on this trip but it is quite nice to be able to only consult with myself when making plans.  I've hardly had any disagreements at all!  I'm thinking of taking a ferry across to the Isle of Arran which is supposed to have some incredible biking paths.  I will rent a bike while there and just dawdle around I think!

Well, I guess it is time to drag out my suitcase and find a couple of cardigans and jeans...and an anorak!

More later!