In August, we were lying on the beach in Chicago when our friend, Meghan, asked if we wanted to go to Scotland. Naturally, I said sure. I had no plans to return to Europe so soon after Portugal, but if someone else is going to plan a trip the least I can do is agree to tag along. Katie and Anna couldn’t go due to work, but God bless the nurse’s schedule with four weeks of vacation a year.
I am either a dream travel partner or the absolute worst. If you like being in charge, I’m your girl. If you prefer equal division of labor, perhaps I am not. I did book my own plane ticket, but beyond that I handed over all control to Meghan. She wrote up numerous hour-by-hour itineraries. “8 a.m.: Wake up and eat breakfast. 9 a.m.: Climb Arthur’s Seat.” She stopped just short of scheduling our bathroom breaks. And she booked all housing, transport and activites. Honestly, it felt like having my own personal travel agent. Bless her heart, she never got mad at me for being that terrible kid who doesn’t do their fair share in a group project.
It worked out because Meghan enjoys trip planning and was most excited about Scotland. In fact, she’s considering doing travel nursing there someday. I was happy to hand over all decisions to her and follow along on her trip. Plus, it was kind of exciting having the whole trip be a box of surprises. I truly didn’t know what we were going to do each day until I asked Meghan the night before. (I may have only skimmed the daily itinerary she regularly emailed me). Of course, if you are no help in planning a trip, then you sure as heck can’t complain during the trip. Thankfully, there wasn’t a single thing to complain about as she put together a pretty perfect trip.
While I may not have planned any of the trip details, I put many hours into browsing rain gear and ensuring I’d be warm and dry in Scotland. As the Scottish say, “There’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothes.” It ended up drizzling a grand total of 15 minutes the whole trip, but I was very pleased with these L.L Bean boots. They were right at home in Scotland’s rugged terrain … As well as its paved streets …
As Katie says, “Why does everything have to be cuter in Europe?” Everyone listens to street signs if they’re delivered by blue Scottish babies with shifty eyes.
Sadly, L.L.Bean refused to sponsor me to tramp around Scotland taking pictures of my feet. Anyways, now that everyone is assured about the warmth of my feet on this trip, we can now move on to our first day in Edinburgh.
We met up early Saturday morning in Dublin before getting on a short flight to Edinburgh. Our first B&B was perfectly charming with beds tucked under a slanted roof, red rugs and an inn puppy who was too wiggly to get a clear photo of. The owner later told us that Rick Steves had stayed there so we knew we’d (er, Meghan) had chosen well.
We dropped off our bags and walked to the center of Edinburgh, where we had our first full Scottish breakfast. Meghan then wanted to get a classic Scottish waxed coat, so we petted all the cashmere tartan and debated between various coats at the Barbour store before she made her purchase. It’s much more fun to shop abroad. They let you have things in exchange for play money covered in knights and castles and queens.
When I found out Meghan had planned a hike for our first (sleepless) afternoon, I thought she was being a bit too ambitious. But fortified with Scottish Dog Butter Cookies, I agreed. (I kept a supply of Walkers in my bag the whole trip.) After a trek up to Arthur’s Seat, we were rewarded with expansive views of the city and ocean. Yes, Meghan actually carried a “W” flag across the ocean. Of course a million other tourists had the brilliant idea to climb up there. We met some American girls who are veterinarian students in Edinburgh and they kindly let us take a photo with their dog. I was feeling pretty smug about how well we were doing on no sleep, until I saw this photo and realized I’m unintentionally teetering over:This is slightly embarrassing to admit but that night — and every single night — we watched Outlander in bed. I know, I know. We should’ve been enjoying pub culture and local music. Heck, maybe Meghan would’ve been engaged to a Scots man by now if we’d ventured out into the cold Scottish nights. But it was much to tempting to be warm and cozy watching a show with beautiful Scottish landscapes and, ok, a beautiful male lead in a kilt. This show is the reason we were even in Scotland. When Meghan first brought up a Scotland trip, I thought it was a bit random as she has never once mentioned an interest in Scotland. But it started to make sense when I found out about Outlander. Over the summer, she started watching this show about a WWII English nurse who travels back in time to the 1700s and falls in love with a Scottish solider. So began her obsession with Scotland. We ended up watching the entire first season all over Scotland.
On Sunday we toured a very chilly Edinburgh castle and then had lunch at The Elephant Cafe where J.K. Rowling wrote parts of Harry Potter. We didn’t make it to the nearby graveyard whose tombstones inspired the names of her characters because the Surgeon’s Hall Museum would be closing soon.
If I could tweak one thing about our trip the only thing I’d do would be to allocate more time to this museum.We only had an hour to tour this beautiful open space with shelves full of eyeballs, feet and bladders embalmed in glass jars. Being a PICU nurse, my favorite was the section with pediatric specimens and Meghan, being an L&D nurse, was very excited about the obstetric specimens. Sadly she wasn’t allowed to take photos of pelvic bones and 200-year-old uteruses.
On Monday we headed west to Fort William. The five-hour train ride there seemed to pass in just two as we marveled at the views. A lady pushed a cart filled with tea and snacks down the aisle, while tourists desperately tried to snap photos, knowing full well that the blurry images through smudged windows would never be able to do it justice. I ended up barely touching my stack of old New Yorkers because we were so busy pointing out “sheep!” and “horses!”
Our Fort William home was our “treat” place. Granted, all of our accommodations were adorable, but this one was claw-foot tub-status. It was recommended by Emily and Tommy, whose Scotland itinerary we ended up copying much of.
The view from the bedroom speaks for itself:Our host said there wasn’t much to do in Fort William, but we were more than satisfied with the walk we took in her very backyard just as the sun was setting.
For dinner we picked up cheese, crackers, grapes and treats from a convenience store and dined in our room. This is a classic Williams traveling move which Meghan was not always enthusiastic about. If I were in a country known for their cuisine, like Italy or France, I’d dine out — but in Scotland a local cheese enjoyed in a cozy room is probably the peak of culinary pleasure.
Can you imagine a more enjoyable breakfast spot? With the fire roaring and the morning fog starting to lift off the lake, we feasted on oatmeal (always served with a dash of whiskey) eggs and fruit. We only ate half of the perfect loaf of brown bread so I wrapped the remains and rather sheepishly snuck it past the fancy French and German couples. At least I had put the bread in a napkin. Last year in England, Dad put bacon straight from the breakfast table into his pocket. It was most amusing to watch him pull out unwrapped meat and enjoy it later in the afternoon.
The bread would come into play later that afternoon on our hike around Glencoe Lochan when we ran into a group of hungry ducks. Along this path we ran into a bride and groom taking photos, countless dogs and an elderly walking club. It was delightful and we had to stop every few steps to take photos.
We had soup in the tiny town and then headed on a second walk. It wasn’t even a designated hiking trail, we simply started walking down a road, and like everything in Scotland, it was gorgeous. We sat down along this river and looked up and found a white horse grazing on the opposite bank. Further along, we spotted these fellows decked out in red coats. Scottish horses love their rain gear. We ended up missing our bus home and had to wait an hour for the next one. While this would’ve been exasperating at an NYC bus stop, this is where we waited for the bus in Glencoe.
We passed the time quickly by exploring the marshy land. Behind me is Eilean a Chromhraidh, Island of Discussion, where “parties in dispute were left and were not ferried back to the shore until agreement had been reached.” This would’ve come in handy when Meghan and I had our one and only fight later that night in the bread aisle. We managed to go ten days getting lost, driving on the wrong side of the road and discussing all the things you shouldn’t on a nice vacation (politics, religion, medical ethics) without getting angry. But that evening, tired and hangry, a decision between 35- or 60-pence bread was just too much for us. While that was a bit embarrassing, on the whole we did do very well at navigating ten days of one-on-one time with no issues.Coming up next blog post: falcons, sheep dogs and reindeer!