Scottish Vacation 2008

4 11 2008

Wednesday, October 29th
We started early with a joyful trip on the RER B line from home to the airport. We went from Paris Charles de Gaulle to the Edinburgh Airport. Upon our arrival we were quickly reassured with the sound of our favorite language. English. On to the Avis Rent-A-Car counter. We opted for the Renault Espace IV minivan since there were 5 of us. The sunroof was novel. After an intense first few minutes of figuring out how to drive on the left we headed off to discover Scotland. Despite GPS navigation we couldn’t find our first hotel, a Holiday Inn Express, right away but that allowed us to stumble upon Ocean Terminal Shopping Center complete with tourist attractions and restaurants. From inside the mall is the entrance to Her Majesty’s Yacht Britannia. It was well worth the visit. If interested there is a brief write-up on the Undiscovered Scotland site. I wonder if the Queen really played Solitaire in the State Drawing Room. We had dinner at Potters only a few storefronts down in the mall. This was the fallback restaurant since the one Gabrielle had chosen was already closed at 6PM. Grandma had the Béchamel sauce lasagna and loved it. We retired to our hotel just across the street where the kids spent the night in Grandma’s room and playing games to the wee hours of the morning I imagine. This was by far Gabrielle’s favorite hotel and shopping mall combo.

Thursday, October 30th
We had breakfast at the hotel. Everybody loved the continental breakfast especially Christine. They had “packaged goods” cheese that was a big hit with the kids. Grandma put some in her purse for later as all good Grandmas should. David developed solid toaster usage skills in the self-service buffet environment. Then off to visit Edinburgh Castle. The TomTom GO 920T made quick work of finding a parking garage close to the castle. Actually finding the entrance was another story. We had to cross Princes Street Gardens and tackle The Mound on foot. We enjoyed the visit though knowing more of the castle’s history would have helped. As a means to that end I bought the obligatory guide book so that I can learn as I often do after the fact. We had lunch at the Redcoat Café in the castle which had a spectacular view of Edinburgh’s New Town area and the gardens below. The firing of the One O’Clock Gun just outside the café marked our departure to the Oban area. En route we had lunch at The Green Welly the self-proclaimed “Perfect Spot for a Halfway Stop”. Grandma had Scotch broth “Gramppy” soup as she called it reflecting on her childhood. They were also giving away hot pocket like things which we graciously accepted. Not a bad spot for a stop even with the gift shops and all. After putzing around in the highway oasis we realized that it gets dark early this time of year. We had some difficulties finding the Cuilfail Hotel in the rural darkness though the view of the night sky was stunning. We adults settled with a pint of beer in the inn’s “authentic village pub” complete with a lovely fireplace, friendly patrons, and staff.

Friday, October 31th
The hotel was certainly charming but the rooms were freezing cold. We talked a bit with the chef, a colorful man quite talkative about his upcoming vacation in Paris, who made us a wonderful breakfast. Bellies full we were off planning on visiting Oban but due to popular demand we shopped more than visited the city. We went to the Pound Plus variety store where Grandma enjoyed buying us trinkets. David picked a magnetic fishing set. Gabrielle went for a whoopee cushion, and I decided on a Scottish flag refrigerator magnet. Christine had to stop at a clothing store to get David a hat and gloves and a compulsory stop in a book store was also on the agenda. After our shopping tour we were off to the Isle of Skye. What should have been a 3 hour drive turned into 5. We encountered a GPS programming\usage anomaly that we will henceforth be known as “The Ferry Debacle”. Always double check the destination and the feasibility of the route planned by the GPS before unquestionably following the directions. We did get to see more of the country but again we were looking for our hotel in the dark. We found the Hotel Dunollie in Broadford fairly late so we opted for dinner at the hotel. The ladies went to the local pub in the hotel for a nightcap with some Halloween revelers while I got the kids to bed.

Saturday, November 1st
The breakfast buffet at the hotel was delicious for those of us who appreciate real breakfast food and not just jam and toast. We had a splendid view of the water and mountains. A driving loop of northern most tip of the Isle of Skye with geocaching and visiting the ruins of a castle were on the agenda for the day. We drove past the city of Portree noting the different color seaside houses and continued on to our first geocache in Scotland. David found this one “The Wicker Man – Corn Rigs and Barley Rigs” and he and I were pleased to initiate Grandma to the world of geocaching. We continued on to the cache “Quiraing”. This one was up one of the narrowest windy roads in the country. It was placed in a small rocky roadside cliff seemingly isolated. David and Christine decided to continue up the cliff a bit further to enjoy the calm quite of the Scottish landscape only to find a mobile coffee shop selling hotdogs, pizza, and hot chocolate. We had found our lunch spot. David rated his hotdog the best meal of the trip and Grandma was flabbergasted to see concession stand in the middle of nowhere. We continued on to the ruins of Duntulm Castle. I am glad I marked its latitude and longitude from a georeferenced Wikipedia article. It wasn’t visible from the single track road and the weather didn’t encourage us to do any impromptu exploring. We headed back and stopped at the co-op right next to the hotel to gas up and get some supplies. Christine wanted to get candy and of course Grandma needed Coke. The kids and I were thinking chips. Back in the hotel lobby we played Fill or Bust. I had a good lead but the kids vengeanced me and filibustered Grandma to a win. For dinner that night we noticed a take-out fish ‘n’ chips place in town that was seemingly the local favorite so we went for the British fast food classic. I got the grub and we all watched Strictly Come Dancing the UK version of Dancing with the Stars in Grandma’s room.

Sunday, November 2nd
After another decent breakfast at the hotel we hit the road and headed off toward Inverness which took us pass the legendary Loch Ness. We stopped at the Loch Ness Monster Exhibition Centre basically a Nessie tourist trap but mildly entertaining nonetheless. We continued along the 23 mile long loch to find the best geocache of the trip “One Of Our Aircraft Is Missing”. I was pleased to get my hands on the Fox or the Geese Geocoin. Follow its journey to France and beyond. At Inverness we took leisurely walk through the town and we had lunch at the Mustard Seed restaurant before heading on to Blair Castle. Too bad it was closed this time of year. We checked into the Atholl Arms a huge manor house with Scottish plaid carpeting so unlike the modern chain hotels. The kids had a chance play Kings in the Corner before we had dinner in the hotel’s Bothy Bar or “friendly house” bar. They really know how to do a pub in Great Britain. Grandma got to finish the day by watching following day’s elimination round to Strictly Come Dancing.

Monday, November 3rd
We started the day in the hotel’s grand dining hall complete with log and coal fire. It had an elegant hunting lodge for nobility motif. Quite a grandiose atmosphere but the kids, especially David, was troubled by the animal heads mounted high upon the wall. They looked down on us through their boney eye sockets. All part of the ambiance. I had the full Scottish breakfast which included fried eggs, beans, a potato scone and a slice of haggis. Grandma had bacon and eggs. The kids and Christine settled for toast and cereal as usual. On the road again we made a quick stop looking for another cache but the early morning November weather and a barbed wire fence stopped us cold. The “featured” footbridge, forest, and lake made for a nice cache location. We headed on for Perth and lunch at Pizza Hut. We briefly looked around the city where we saw some historic house, a large park, and a bakery visit were two gingerbread men were acquired and consumed. Nearing the end of our vacation all that was left was an hour ride to the airport to return the rent-a-car, baggage check and the security screening. You wouldn’t expect any major issues yet David and Christine each has issues passing through security. David went through with his magnetic fishing pole set that easily set off the metal detector. Complicating things he had an almost full bottle of Fanta in his backpack. He got a patdown search and he had to prove the innocuous disposition of his beverage by consuming it. Christine pulled another security checkpoint stunt this time by forgetting she had a Swiss Army knife in her purse. The pocketknife which had to be forfeited was actually a gift that she had given to me several years ago. I had recently lent it to her to fulfill one of her tomboy desires. After the ordeal a stop at an airport gift shop was necessary to liberate some remaining pounds and to offer a Scotland coffee cup gift to appease comments about my knife. The return flight left on time and actually arrived 30 minutes early at Roissy. We endure the return RER trip home bringing our Scottish vacation to an end.