Here Comes The Planet 43 – Scotland

After saying goodbye to Joni, we take a trip with our friends Leigh, Muppet and Nicolette around the Scottish countryside, visiting Loch Ness and the picturesque Isle of Skye.

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Isle of Skye Roadtrip

We set off on Sunday morning after dealing with the almost predictable dead battery situation. I left the lights on the previous day so it wasn’t Van Failen’s fault this time. I suppose. Although if I ever get the chance to slap the faces of the people who decided that no indicator light or sound was necessary to let the driver know the lights are on when the engine is off… well, let’s just say that there’ll be a run-up involved.

Due to the many times we’ve had to deal with this in the past, we dealt with it relatively quickly and were on the road around 10am. First stop was the unexpectedly adorable town of Pitlochry. It looked a lot like Kendal in the Lake District… and if you don’t know what that looks like, just picture winding streets, slate houses and add lots of people in shorts and t-shirts because the weather was absolutely beautiful.

We stopped at a bakery which had a stack of 1st class strawberries and raspberries for sale out the front. We ate pastries, stocked up on fruit for snacking on and then headed towards Inverness and Loch Ness. We drove down one side and headed for a castle Leigh had heard of. Unfortunately the price of entry was a bit steep so we headed to Glen Affric, reportedly one of Scotland’s most beautiful glens and not far away at all.

A 5km walk provided a very pleasant break from sitting in the car and we saw waterfalls, a secluded pool and lots of pretty flowers.

On the road again and our next stop was Eilean Donan castle, one of the most picturesque castles in Scotland. We almost inadvertently took part in a wedding that was happening there at the time, Sarah, Nikki and Leigh getting caught between the couple and the photographer as they walked across the bridge.

It was a long day’s drive by the time we reached Skye at about 9pm. We’d talked about wild camping but  found a cheap campsite almost immediately. When our camp stove turned out to be lacking fuel we were glad we were able to beg use of the manager’s to make our pasta.

The only downside to camping turned out to be the midges, which I’d heard about but not experienced. They’re tiny, tiny bugs that fly around your face if the air is still. If you walk around they disperse but if you’re still they’re pretty annoying. Bugs around my face usually drive me mental, but strangely it was Luke who freaked out more this time, his nerves probably worn a bit thin by all the driving (we’d done about 4 hours each).

Our mish-mash dinner of pasta mixed with whatever pestos, cheese and vegetables we could find tasted extremely good after all that traveling. We had some wine and chatted… then were told off for talking too loudly (which we were) so we went to bed.

Our campsite the next morning. I think everyone else was asleep at this point.

We decided to drive the loop around the top of Skye the next morning and were blown away by the amazing scenery. We stopped in a few places to look at the view. Notably at the Quiraing, a spectacular spot with some outstanding rock formations. Sarah and I had looked up walks in the area and there seemed to be one that started there. We parked at the carpark and started out but I quickly realised this was far too steep and precarious for my liking so Luke and I drove down to the bottom so we could pick up the others and they could walk the whole way down. We did take some great photos before we left though.

We stopped at Kilt Rock to have a look, then into Portree for lunch. Tasty fish and chips then a drink in a pub but by this time I was starting to fade. Hayfever had been driving me crazy for the last week and so Luke kindly offered to do the first stretch of the return drive and I closed my eyes for most of the trip. We stopped at the charming ‘Old Mill’ in Pitlochry for a drink and to swap drivers. Luke got to have a beer then I did the last 90 minutes back to Edinburgh.

Traveling with a group of people was certainly fun but also a different experience to the way Luke and I had been traveling up to this point. We’d had a month with my mum but 3 doesn’t feel like a group. The more people there are the more toilet stops, food breaks and opinions you need to consider. We only did it for two days, but it made me realise that when you’re on the move as a group things take longer than you expect and everyone needs to communicate their expectations frequently – myself most definitely included. We all got on extremely well and there were no issues but I could see that, if a group of 4 or more traveled together for long periods you’d want to have everything really worked out before you left.

So we made it back to Edinburgh just fine and got ourselves set up to sleep by about midnight. Which was when Sarah realised her flight in the morning was substantially earlier than she’d realised – 6am, in fact. She only ended up getting about an hour’s sleep before having to sneak out and catch the bus to the airport. Luke and I immediately fell back to sleep and lay in bed til 10am. It was sad to farewell Nikki and Leigh… but not for long – we’ll be seeing them in Africa within the week!

Edinburgh, Round Two.

One of the delights of travel is constantly having enjoyable things on the horizon to look forward to, but this weekend gone was going to be extremely special because we would be staying in Edinburgh with a group of old friends from Melbourne. Not only that but we’d be hooking up, via complicated internet magic, with many of our friends in Melbourne for a reunion/trivia night.

From the left; me, Sarah, Joni, Leigh, Nikki and Luke. Van Failen in the background, of course.

Nicolette had organised a four bedroom apartment in the middle of the city for us all to stay in and so we arrived, by car, bus and plane and were very happy to see each other. Luke and I have been traveling since March and so, while we’ve been busy and on the move, it was lovely to be surrounded by people we knew and talk about familiar things and experiences. If we’d been homesick this event would’ve been just what a doctor would have ordered.

So, after a few drinks and some catching up we all got to bed at a reasonable time in order to be up at 9am to get everything ready. Our plans were somewhat amended by the hotel fire alarm going off at 8:40. At least it wasn’t 4am, I suppose. We all got dressed and I found my earplugs before going downstairs to see if there was an actual emergency. There didn’t seem to be – just a bunch of the teenage staff and cranky-looking guests standing around. The fire department showed up eventually, turned it all off and sorted it out, well in time for us to get the link happening and get comfy.

Crappy photos look better in black and white, right?

Our friends had gathered at a pub in Melbourne and set up a screen so we were visible to everyone. We couldn’t really see who was in the room unless they came up to the camera on the laptop but lots of people did come up to wave and say hello. Although we were a bit rushed at the beginning we sorted out how we were going to answer the questions and it all went surprisingly smoothly, for a first ever attempt at multi-hemisphere pub trivia. We were all very impressed at Anth’s efforts in organising and co-ordinating the whole event – thanks Anth! We had a great deal of fun and it certainly looked as though everyone at the other end was too – and of course it was great to see Jen and Kupp at their ends as well. Kupp even managed to help us with some of the answers thanks to Sledge holding up the ‘famous faces’ sheet.

After we disconnected we partied on into the evening, talking about all of our adventures and catching up on news from home. Luke and I went to bed at about 11pm, surprisingly exhausted considering all we’d done all day was sit around.

The next morning I was out of bed early and cleaned up the kitchen before taking orders from everyone for coffee and going to a nearby cafe. It’s important, when checking out of a hotel, to make sure everyone has energy ;-). We decamped to the flat Nikki and Leigh were minding for a friend – a one bedroom apartment that, while lovely, was barely big enough for 6 people. That was ok though, mostly people only had energy for lying around or napping. I did some op shopping in the afternoon then we made plans for the next few days. Joni was heading to a conference in Newcastle but the rest of us decided that, with wonderful weather on the radar, a road trip to Skye was in order, so the next morning we packed Van Failen and off we went!

 

 

Edinburgh

Mum and I had a fantastic day in Edinburgh. I spent a few weeks here at the very end of 1999 (god… writing a date that begins with ’19’ makes me feel like a grandma) and I remember Edinburgh fondly, albeit as a place of freezing winds and icy footpaths.
We’ve had a much better time of it this trip and started the day with glorious sunshine and only a bit of a breeze. It’s funny, but I don’t feel the need to constantly comment on the weather when I’m at home. A sunny day is lovely but not unexpected. In the UK I almost feel that if I constantly praise the sun for coming out it’ll reward my attention with more of its presence.
I slept in til 8:15 after a late night visiting with Nikki and Leigh and dropping my washing over to their place at about 11pm. You know people love you when they’ll wash your mother’s underpants for you rather than be at the pub with their friends (athough being at the pub with friends did happen).
Mum and I had decided to go see the Queen’s yacht, Britannia, the next morning. We caught the bus down to Leith and found our way to the entrance in a shopping centre.
Lining up, we were surrounded on all sides by pensioners who’d just come off a bus. The was quite a big queue but it moved quickly and we read all the displays in the entrance corridor before being passed audio guide sticks that were big enough to bludgeon a man to death with.

See what I mean?

The tour was great. Really great. The ship was fantastic, you got to go into almost all of it. The audio tour was well done and contained the kind of interesting minutae that people want to know. One example was the games the crew played. The officers had a toy wombat that had been given to them by a female staff member and they had been told to look after it. So they would throw into an overhead fan and play ‘wombat tennis’… or it might have been cricket. Either way it was funny to imagine a bunch of officers doing something Christopher Brew did in my year 7 classroom with a duster (and smashed a window).

In the officers’ dining room there were pigeon holes for them to keep their napkins in. Mum said it was so they didn’t have to wash them as often. I like to think it was because they wrapped up their leftovers in them and then kept them until later.

There were other interesting facts, such as learning that on state occasions the dining table (with 56 places) took 3 hours to set, that every item of silver onboard was polished every day and there was a narwhal tusk in the dining room.
There were two things about the boat and its history that really stood out to me. One was the truly understated nature of the appointments. The boat was not particularly fancy in a chandeliers-and-velvet kind of way. Everything was for a purpose and the family’s sunroom had furniture that was identical in some parts to chairs we’d had in our own home. It was obviously comfortable for the royal family but in many ways it was a floating version of a beach house you’d see on any Australian coast. Cupboards of board games, a record player, nothing too fancy. In fact the Queen said of the boat that ‘It was the one place where I can truly relax’.  And yet, when you looked at the details, it was a work of art. There is not a single rivet showing on the outside of the ship. It has very clean lines and the colour was chosen by the Queen She stipulated the single gold stripe around the hull. The main lounge is really quite plain but always had fresh flowers – donated by host countries, or picked from the Windsor Castle gardens when at home.
The second thing about the boat was the way it was loved and cared for and the royal family were loved and cared for. It seems that anyone who worked with and for the Royals was devoted to them. They socialised with the crew – and not just the officers – and were adored in return. There were photos of the family in the various crew mess rooms and they were often signed personally. The level of respect shown for the Queen, and the fact that this was her special retreat is nowhere more evident than in the golden rule aboard – be quiet. All commands were issued quietly, often on noticeboards or by hand signals and no one ever shouted.
The ship was in immaculate condition and obviously always had been. In fact Eisennhower, when shown the shiny engine room, said something along the lines of ‘That’s a nice showroom, now show me the real thing’.
When you first get on you learn that the boat had a crew of 220 and that seemed insanely large. By the time you get off you think ‘how did they manage?!’
Mum and I both agreed that it was a brilliant way to spend half a day and if you’re in Edinburgh spend the 12 pounds it costs and go see the ship. It’s worth it!
There’s two things I have to add to today’s tale.
One was that, one our way back from seeing the ship, Mum spotted a betting shop (my family all love to gamble on horses… and anything else) and wanted to go in and have one bet because the Derby was being run at Epsom. We picked a horse each and put on a small sum. Unbelievably, since I rarely gamble because I always lose, I picked the winner! The odds were 1-7. Score!

Mum tells the man “You’ll be in my daughter’s blog!” Prepare for internet fame, man-behind-the-counter!

Move over Bill Gates.

This worthy sum was used to pay for our final treat of the day, dinner with Leigh and Nikki at Kizmot Indian restaurant. I’d found it on Tripadvisor (Edinburgh’s #1 rated restaurant, in fact) and they listed chocolate naan as a speciality. I am not one to resist the presentation of chocolate in a new and interesting manner and so I tried it and I can say it’s pretty good, especially with chicken pasanda, which is also quite sweet. Kizmot was super friendly, a little quirky and all the dishes were tasty.

The ultra wide lens does weird things to my mum. I promise she isn’t really shaped like the Scottish guy in the Austin Powers movies.