Friday, April 20, 2012

The Hunt for Nessie...Another Girls Trip Adventure

Well, it's been just under 2 weeks so the time was about right to head out on another adventure.  Sorry, didn't mean to brag there.  But the price was right, just 34 euros roundtrip on everyone's favorite low cost airline, Ryan Air.  And with a decent hotel for 50 euros each (and that's for 2 nights!), seriously, how could we not go??

However, to get this deal meant we were literally flying in and out with just one full day on the ground.  Our flight in was horribly bumpy, pretty much the entire flight.  And for those that know me, know that I'm not a lover of flying - ever...even when it's calm.  So when it's turbulent, I'm white knuckling the seat and trying to focus on some mellow music.  Still not very effective.  But in the end, we landed safe and sound and I guess in the end, no worse for the wear.

I found this rather fascinating at the airport...enough so to take a picture.  Isn't a chewable toothbrush basically gum??

For some reason our 40 minute train ride into Glasgow was free, something to do with this being a new route for Ryan Air - not sure what one had to do with the other, but hey, low cost all the way, right??  The countryside as we rode the train into Glasgow was beautiful!  However, our first glimpse was a little iffy of the city - but I think it was just because it was the backside of the station with the tracks and some run down buildings.  Because once we were in the station, which was very obviously pretty old but well maintained, we just fell in love with the city.

Glasgow Central Station

After dropping off our bags at our hotel and getting a dinner recommendation, we were off and running.  We walked thru the streets of Glasgow and one of the first things we noticed was that all the stores were closed.  It was only around 5:45PM so this was a shock, not just from a Barcelona lifestyle standpoint, but even from a US one.  Stores "might" close around 6 on a Sunday but this was a Tuesday - how could stores be closed already and when do people who work past 5 get to shop??  I suppose Josh would be appreciative of the fact that if we lived there I would have limited opportunity to spend money... but given all the American/British type stores, I was a bit bummed not to get to do at least a little bit of shopping - I guess I'll have to wait til Mall of America next month...

Julia Donaldson, author of The Gruffalo (A Marcus Family favorite) is from Glasgow...had the store been open, I would have totally bought Liam that costume (but alas it was after 5PM)

Very cool building

The alley where our first dinner was...

Haggis anyone??

Not sure what they do here, but the display of tons of sewing machines was pretty cool

I don't remember what this statue was of, but apparently the cone on his head has been there for about 30 years...

While I'm not a huge fan of TGI Fridays...the idea of this American icon here in Scotland made me ache for home!

This reminded me of the Dr. Who telephone booth...

In Barcelona we have jamon flavored Glasgow they are prawn flavored...yuck!!

One of the benefits of Scotland is that dinner time is at a "normal" time starting at say 5 or 6, unlike Barcelona where the restaurants don't even open til at the earliest, 8PM. And given we missed lunch it was nice to have an early we had to be up early for the next day, so an early night was a must. The place we went, who's name escapes me, was fabulous! Absolutely adorable and tucked into a little side alley.

One of my friends wasn't feeling great so she headed back to the hotel after dinner but the rest of us went to a champagne bar that we'd heard of. So off we went in search of some delicious champagne to top off the night! With the time difference of only an hour, but the same time, being a travel day, we were still back in the hotel before 11 and in bed before 12. After all, we had to get up early for our 12 hour bus tour...yes, you read that right TWELVE HOURS.

Champagne bar!!

But before I get to the bus tour, I have to comment on the people.  The people in the restaurant were lovely and we learned in our short time in Scotland that the Scots as a whole just seem like the nicest, kindest people I've ever met. Always with a smile and kind thing to say, they just immediately made us feel at home. They would offer up restaurant suggestions, hold doors, just answer random questions on the streets...even the guy at the train station who was incredibly busy took the time to answer our question with a smile before he went back to the chaos of people disembarking from another train. Just unbelievable how nice these people were - if it weren't for the crappy weather, I would live there in a heartbeat.

Not only were they nice, but guess what?? They spoke English!! Now I know I've been to places where there is some English spoken, but it's not their native language and I always feel badly when I can't respond in their native tongue.  So it was so refreshing after 10 months (the last time I was in the US) to be in a native English speaking country.  To see all the signs in English and to hear English all around me.  But it was also kind of strange because it's been so long since I last heard everything around me or read signs all in English.  It almost felt like cheating because I've gotten so used to translating everything around me.  In the restaurant, it was strange to order in English too!  But I got over that cheating feeling pretty quick because it was still so nice!! 

On to the TWELVE HOUR bus tour.  First off, we thought it was supposed to be 10, that's what was advertised.  Because 10 seemed like a plenty long day.  So when our tour guide, Michael, told us it was 12, I'm pretty sure my jaw dropped, especially when he said 8 of those hours would be on the bus.  I'm not normally a formal tour kind of a girl and like to be able to wing a trip, having some flexibility.  But I have to say, when you've only got one day in a place, a formal, semi-private tour is the way to go.  This wasn't a hop on, hop off kind of tour bus that you get in any major city (though I recommend those too for quick visits), but an actual tour guide who would talk to us throughout our journey giving us the history, telling anecdotes and just keeping us entertained, no pre-recorded stuff here.  He even brought CDs of music for us to listen to that were artists from Scotland - some modern and some not so modern.  The tour took us from Glasgow, to Loch Lomond, past a few more Lochs, to Loch Ness and then Inverness, then down to Pitlochry and past (but not stopping at) Stirling Castle (home to Robert the Bruce and William Wallace of Braveheart fame).

With just 15 people on the bus, it also wasn't one of those giant tour buses, but a small little bus that could easily navigate the small windy roads and gave us the feel of a more intimate setting.  The negative side was that when we got to the mini bus it was just about full, which meant two of my friends sitting in the last row and myself and my other friend sitting in single seats in the first two rows...not really convenient for chatting, not to mention we didn't want to talk over the driver/guide.  So the opportunity for some girl bonding wasn't really there. 

Michael, our driver...and yes, he's in a kilt and he claims he owns several..

But we can bond anywhere and to get to see the majesticness (is that a word??) of Scotland was worth the time we missed chatting it up.  At first in the Lowlands, I was reminded of the green, rolling hills of Ireland.  They get a lot of rain in Scotland, just like in Ireland...and it shows.  It's lush...and wet...and cold.  But beautiful. 

We had our first stop at Loch Lomond.  There is a lot of history at Loch Lomond but the story that we heard was one of two brothers who had been imprisoned.  The lord (or perhaps it was a king) told them that he would not decide which one of them would die - they had to decide.  One brother had a family and one did not.  The brother without a family decided to sacrifice himself so that his brother could return to his family.  He sent his brother with a letter to bring to his true love to tell her that he would not be coming back but that he would be taking the low road back to Loch Lomond.  It was a beautiful story and the letter that he brought was eventually turned into a song.  I googled it and found a you tube version -  For the lyrics, go here

Loch Lomond, picture courtesy of my friend Cristy...

Yup, that's where we are!

The group

Gina and I at Loch Lomond

After Loch Lomond, we continued on with a few scenic picture stops along the way.  We drove thru the Glencoe mountain area.  The Highlands were much more rugged and barren.  It was rare that you would see a house, the mountains majestic and many still covered in snow.  This area also had a tragic story or two for us.  It made the drive a little more haunting and sad hearing the history but at the same time enriched the beauty of what we were seeing and gave us the opportunity to learn of what happened here.  Apparently there were two clans at war - I don't remember the first but the second was Mac (Mc?)Donald.  Well, in those days, if someone showed up at your doorstep, you gave them refuge no matter what - it's just the way things were done.  Apparently this clan gave refuge to their rival clan and they were getting along relatively well.  But then an order came down to kill this MacDonald clan...and they did...and they did it in their sleep.  Only those over the age of 70 were allowed to survive - women, children, men - all killed and in their sleep.  These people who had given their trust to this other clan were then stabbed in the back (quite literally) and betrayed because of an order given to them. 

I took this to get the shot of the guy in the kilt...

As a side note about this tour, I should mention the old couple seated next to me - let's call them Stella and Stanley... they were 85 if they were a day.  And NOTHING made Stella happy.  The entire trip she would yell at Stan "You ruin every trip... I hate you... you always yell at me..." and the list goes on and on and on and on.  For 12 hours.  There were moments that were utterly amusing with them and we couldn't help but laugh and I think the Stella/Stanley show helped to get us thru the incredibly long day.  Stella kept trying to talk to me and I did my best to avoid her by looking out the window.  Rude, I'm sure, but it was my vacation and I'm not going to spend it chatting it up with Stella.  We even asked the waitress at lunch to make sure to sit us away from them (though we could still hear them).

Anyways, after Glencoe we made our way up for lunch which was in a town (name unknown to me) that was at the bottom of the Loch Ness.  Yes, the famous Loch Ness of Nessie the Loch Ness Monster fame.  We had lunch at this cute little pub but the service was a bit slow for what we ordered and so we didn't get any time to wander around the it was back on the bus for us to head up to the top of the Loch Ness for our one hour boat tour. 

Cute windows

The base of Loch Ness

Cute town we had lunch in...

The base of Loch Ness

To say that the weather in Scotland is unpredictable would be an understatement.  The weather is down right bi-polar.  It will be bright and sunny one moment and then clouds come out of no where and the rain starts to pour down.  However, this also made for some very beautiful accents to the landscape we were driving through.  As we approached Loch Ness the rain had started to come down more steadily.  It made for the perfect backdrop for some Nessie the Loch Ness Monster hunting!!

In reality, we were on board a mid size tourist vessel that via tape recorded clips, gave us the low down on the Loch Ness and some history of the monster.  I actually think Michael, our tour guide, gave us significantly more information about the history of the first sightings and the most famous sightings of Nessie.  I'm in the air on my beliefs about Nessie.  I don't doubt there is something down there and given the size of the lake (I think it's about 25 miles long), I can understand why they haven't been able to locate it.  There have been tales since the 900s of a "monster" in the lake.  My guess is that it is an unknown species but not necessarily a monster. 

Could this be Nessie?

Or maybe she's purple???

The River Loch Ness

Another beautiful panoramic courtesy of Cristy... this one of Loch Ness

Urquhart Castle at Loch Ness

Gina and I on the tour boat of Loch Ness

Sadly, we did not get the million dollar shot of Nessie and so we had no choice but to go back to the bus and continue on our way.  This part of the tour was the longest non-stop driving portion with about 2 hrs before our next stop in Pitlochry.  Pitlochry was a very cute town, but given it was after 5, no stores were open...of course.  And it's too bad because I could have spent a few pennies there given the cute stuff I saw in the window displays.  In the end, I decided to get Josh some Scotch since, of course, this being Scotland, is the home of Scotch.  With a recommendation from our driver and armed with relatively no information on Scotch, my friend and I headed into the liquor store. 

I bought the recommended bottle of Scotch (who's name escapes me) and the bottle in the picture to the left.  What was special about this bottle was that only 288 bottles were made out of a single cask and even better, the cask was distilled on my birthday back in 1994 :)  So what makes a single cask such a big deal?  According to my research, "due to the individual nature of each cask, a whisky from one cask can differ quite dramatically from the next. In a typical single malt, what you are drinking is from a group of casks that have been combined to provide the flavours that best match the character of the malt named on the label. Achieving a consistency over the years is one of the great skills of the master distiller...Some selected casks will have unique characteristics that make them ideal candidates for single cask bottlings. As a result, you will often see limited edition bottlings with the bottle number and cask number on the bottle, offering something a little more unique than standard bottlings."  I personally think Josh is going to love this gift which should be arriving to him some time next week!!

With just under 2 hours left in our 12 hour tour, we were heading down towards (but not stopping at), Stirling Castle.  Now the name Stirling Castle didn't ring a bell to me when I first heard it.  But then I heard the names Robert the Bruce and William Wallace and I knew...Braveheart.  As in "You can take our lives but you can't take our freedom" Braveheart.  It turns out that the real story is nothing like the one in the movie (a shock, I know) and in fact it's Robert the Bruce who was really Braveheart!  So driving by the castle after hearing the real history was pretty cool!

Stirling Castle off in the distance...

Finally at just before 8PM we rolled into the square where our journey began.  What a long, long but well worthwhile day.  I learned so much about the history of Scotland, saw some amazing unspoiled beauty in the Highlands and even got to search for Nessie in Loch Ness.  All in all a great day.  We had planned to have dinner in the much recommended West End area of Glasgow but after being in a bus for 12 hours decided for the much closer steakhouse.  And I'm so glad we did.  It reminded me of Capital Grill and the food was delicious.  Not only did I get a martini (or two), but oysters and probably the best filet that I've had in at least a year.  And finally we all got to sit down together and chat about the day. 

Exhausted from the day though, we headed back to the hotel right after dinner.  No late nights for us!  And our time in Scotland had pretty much come to an end as we had a morning flight back to Barcelona and had to hit the road around 7:30AM to take the train to the airport.   So it was a quick wham, bam, thank you mam, kind of a trip - just in and out in a little over a day.  But that's the beauty of living where we live.  Not only are the flights cheap but most places are less than a 3 hour flight away, just in our backyard!


No comments:

Post a Comment