18 February 2020

When Scotland Gives You Lemon...

THE Agony

The decision to drive in Scotland was something I agonized over and will likely be my longest post.

In travel, I try to remain spontaneous and care free; to keep everything as unstructured as possible, but there are things to plan for - transportation is one. Research revealed rental car company nightmare stories, insurance complications, and a rumor that there were few automatic transmissions available for rent. By the time I was done agonizing over my decision, would an automatic even BE an option? I must plan.

The first variable I worked out was automatic vs. manual. My parents taught me to drive a manual/stick but I hesitated to face the combination of narrower and one-way roads, hills, driving the other side, and also the beautiful distractions that surely would be, AND shifting. I could imagine the potential stress, the beauty I could miss, and the innocent lives that could be at risk. So I booked an automatic with Arnold Clark (lots of research for this choice) and told myself I could always change my mind - even if it meant losing money as a consequence, and continued to agonize UNTIL THE DAY I GOT THE CAR. Not kidding.  I had to rationalize the safety aspect - the risks are comparable to the U.S., with the exception of driving on the left.  

Make a list, they say. Weigh the pros and cons, they say. Cons - well. See above. Killing or maiming someone ranks up there. Pros - and here is where I truly had to soul search. What did I really want? What was most important? I'll spare you the full mental process (you're welcome) but know it boiled down to FREEEEDOOOMMM! Think Mel Gibson, Braveheart, freedom.

Freedom to what?
  • To go off the proverbial beaten path
  • To relax about public trans schedules (I'm terrible, what bus number goes where and when does it stop, or skip this stop, and only on Tuesdays during business hours...YEAH - NO
  • To slow down and explore - to spend three hours staring at a rock or a painting...if I wanted
  • To always have a hotel room. Spontaneity has potential to leave a gal without a place to stay, so in a pickle, I could sleep in the car
  • To conquer
Travel is not checking places off a list or bragging about something I've seen - it's...freedom to stretch and grow. To take a chance, learn, get hurt, and to experience the extreme joy that happens when you 'conquer' something that scares you.  If you don't stretch your boundaries, you don't get that joy, that rush, that feeling that you didn't just win the lottery, you freakin' EARNED it. It's powerful - NOTHING that beats that feeling. Now why am I suddenly speaking in third person? I don't know, but my heart is thudding loudly as I review the text. It makes me want to do another stretch travel assignment. :) I suspect I'm in fantastic company with those sentiments. The late Anthony Bourdain states, "Travel isn’t always pretty. It isn’t always comfortable. Sometimes it hurts, it even breaks your heart. But that’s okay. The journey changes you; it should change you. It leaves marks on your memory, on your consciousness, on your heart, and on your body. You take something with you. Hopefully, you leave something good behind."

Then it was time. After almost a week walking and Ubering in amazing Edinburgh, I took a friend's advice and instead of changing my rental location to the inner city, I kept the reservation at the airport. She said it would be easier to learn the car and the roads away from the city, and besides, it was on my way to my next castle...er..stop. I can't thank her enough for that nugget of logic.

Once at the airport, I waited in the wrong rental car company's line then missed the transportation to the Arnold Clark location, which is off-site from the airport. It was a bit confusing at first, but if I'd just read the signs - alas i was too nervous to think straight. The Arnold Clark location was a blessing. It was even farther away from airport traffic, and gave me even more safe space to learn.

I wish I could remember the clerk's name. She was amazing. Kind, helpful, explained everything though I was nervous, and gave me an upgrade and also a free GPS. I HIGHLY recommend the GPS, even if you have it on your phone! The combination of the two got me 'through' a few hairy spots - since some of the terms are different.

Ok - here we go...

Rules, rules, rules

Traffic signs - study them BEFORE you leave home!  *Google and Duck Duck GO are your friends here!  Here are three:

Emergency info...good to know. :)

ANNND (drumroll please). Here she is. She is a Citroen and was the perfect size, fast, responsive, all buttons and pedals were in perfect locations for me to reach. *sigh* I named her LEMON. She was wonderful. Who's the CUTEST car in the parking lot!?? YOU ARE!

Addresses are different than in the U.S. There is a number that looks like an alpha-numeric zip code - it's a whole, distinct address. Just entering that number takes care of all GPS needs. After too many tries to admit, I had to ask a random attendant for help with this. He was happy to help and had a great accent. So far, both the Scots were very nice!

Here's a shot of the GPS:

It's a pretty great, standard GPS. Tells where you are, outside and inside temp - notice the inside temp of 25C? I like the car nice and toasty - that's 77F.

Rules of the Road
Where there is more than one lane, slow traffic on the left, passing traffic on the right. NO EXCEPTIONS. They actually DO this. If you see someone behind you, and you are in the passing lane, skooch to the slow lane and let them by. They'll usually wave a thanks. Return the favor and enjoy the warm fuzzies. I can't explain enough how this little rule helped traffic move smoothly - that and the fact that turn signals are actually used here.

Single-lane roads & pullouts. Easy peasy. When you see an oncoming car, look for a pullout (called a Passing Place) ON YOUR SIDE. The one of you closest to a pullout, uses the pullout (or backs into it - if you both missed seeing each other), and waits for the other to pass. YES, the Scots usually wave a 'thank you'. Return the favor, warm fuzzies, repeat.

Pullouts (I think that's what they call them) are like what we have in our national parks to take pictures - only in Scotland, they have two types. The ones on the one-lane roads are easy to spot, they look like a skinny cul-de-sac on the side of the road. The ones on the larger roads - come at set intervals and are marked. I used those to stop, rest, stretch, have a snack, text, recheck the GPS, and dispose of trash. You do NOT do those things while driving.

Roundabouts (Traffic Circles). Please kill me. Those were challenging and I saved writing about them till last. Initially, I was able to take my time, watch, wait, enter, exit. The GPS tells you which exit to take. As it got busier, I missed my turns 'cause I had to rush and COUNT the exits, missing an exit meant re-entering the roundabout or fixing it in the NEXT one. This is the only time Scots clearly lost their patience. When someone's behind you, you do NOT have time to sit, watch, and wait to enter a roundabout. You WILL get a honk, and maybe a finger. I did get a single honk - no fingers. I waved an, 'I'm sorry,' and the honking driver, she smiled and waved back an, 'it's OK.' WHEW. Not all my roundabout experiences were that positive.

I cried. Angry, frustrated, HOT, ugly-cry tears. I screamed at the road ahead. I think this was en route to Inverness, I hit a roundabout in the 'burbs every 1/4 mile, it seemed. No one honked or anything, I think my brain just got tired. After a few in a row, I looked down and saw the number of roundabouts before me (on the GPS) and lost my kittens. That's when those tears came. I talked to myself like a crazy woman. I decided I was FREAKING on vacation, was going to DO this, it was NOT going to beat me, I had THINGS to see and places to BE. I decided I would do a car-seat happy dance and gave a loud WHOOHOO, after every successful roundabout win, and I. Kept. Going. I can still recall the brainhurt that day and when I reached my Airbnb, I WALKED to the nearest grocery and stood on the sidewalk and stared at the busy traffic circle. No amount of research had helped me the way watching did.

You use your turn signal as if you are at a four-way stop. Duh. Epiphany. It felt so counterintuitive that you'd enter a circle (GOING LEFT NO LESS) and signal RIGHT for the fourth exit, but there it was. The rest, I'd pretty much conquered - when you take the first exit, stay closest to the curb, and closer to the center for the farther ones. If you get lost or lose exit count, just stay in that very inner circle until you figure it out. It's not ideal, but you won't be the first, nor the last to do that, and you're doing your due diligence to stay out of the way. Roundabouts are all about flow/continuous movement. They became logical, smooth, and more efficient, to me, than intersections at home.

Those traffic circles became something I looked forward to, I 'got' the rhythm of the road, and was able to turn on the radio AND drive the last part of my journey.

Don't ever feel pressured to drive in a foreign country, BUT. If I, a person who gets brainhurt from roundabouts can DO this, you probably can too.  Be safe out there.

Here's a spontaneous photo up, possible due to Lemon.

Sweet Lemon - outside of Glencoe

Below is Lemon with me beside. I'd asked the attendant to take a photo of us on the day we parted.

When Scotland gives you Lemon...GRAB that joy, that rush, that feeling that you didn't just win the lottery, you freakin' EARNED it.

12 November 2019

Leading up to Scotland I

Honest to goodness.  People asked me:

Scotland, why Scotland?  

I have few words for this, there are however...photos.



More Castles.


Moody Landscapes.

Forests Walks.

Book Stores.



Pretty Vintagey...things.

Did I mention castles?

And there's so much more!  I'll share in time.  <3 p="">~m

26 September 2019

THE Castle

Who doesn't love a good castle?  They are recipes that include history, romance, drama, action/bloody battles, and of course the occasional ghost story.  There's something in castles for almost everyone and I thought little of all of it - until I saw THE castle on a calendar.  This one:

I looked at the caption - Castle Urquart.  I found myself pausing to stare at the picture.  There was just that something special about it and the pieces began to fall into place for a visit.

After a few years' break from traveling, I thought perhaps it was time to 'go' again.  I'd loved the coast of Ireland and wanted to see that lush green and wild rocky coastline again, but didn't want to go to the same place twice, so looked into traveling to England and signed up for a newsletter with a daily report for discounted flight deals.  A flight deal came up for Scotland and castles popped back into radar - specifically Urquart Castle.  Nice.  So I bagged a flight that included insurance for around $500.00 and began researching.  I'm not a fan of structure and despise schedules, but Urquart made my Must-Do-List.

Apparently the largest part of the remaining castle ruin included a tower called Grant Tower that had been built and inhabited by the Grant family.

Grants...Grants...wait.  Our family has Grants.  My grandmother had once described her grandmother (a Grant) as having waist-long, red hair that had later turned into waist-long, white hair.  She and her Grandmother Grant were close - much like the two of us.  Would that make her my Great, Great Grandma Grant?  As far as I knew, we were English as far as the family tree would go - but I ran with it.  I decided to explore Scotland with that loose, Grant tie.

History has it that the Grants did in fact hold Castle Urquart.  It was gifted by the crown and wasn't uncommon for castles to change hands as powers shifted and Urquart was a classic example of this.  Each family/clan/caretaker makes modifications as funds allow and as powers shift.  It seems this clifftop was a prime location way before the castle existed and was home to many attacks across the ages - from northern invaders...aka Vikings, and also faced clans, civil war, religious disputes.

Clan MacDonald decided to expand their territory/power from the isles and Urquart was on their radar.  They invaded and tried to capture from Clan Grant regularly - every spring for a while.  In their last invasion, they cleaned house and took every item of value from the castle, to include curtains & candlesticks.

I guess the candlesticks were a proverbial last straw for Clan Grant and they blew up their own castle and got the heck out of Dodge...er...Loch Ness anyway.  A large storm did more damage to the structure later.

I picked up the Grant family name in Inverness & in Speyside - whiskey country.  They have a town,  museum, hotel, a few distilleries, and a nice settlement on River Spey - more on that later.

The Grant name was pretty big in Scotland and admittedly, my research into them and into the family tree connection is far from complete, but the search took me to cemeteries, war memorials, and even a town called Grantown-on-Spey.  My 'spoils' include a crest, battle cry, motto, and a lovely red family tartan.

Hope you enjoy and are inspired to look into your own family history.  If I learn more about mine, I'll let you know...but for now, I'll claim the Grants as my clan.

25 September 2019

There's No Place Like...Backward Blogging

Backward Blogging

I'm HOME.  

It's o'dark thirty A.M. i'm now at my guy's house and he's left a pot of French press coffee out and is off to work.  His dog, Leonidas, is snoring oh-so-loudly at my feet (more about him later).  He (my guy, not the dog) left sunflowers on the kitchen counter with a scrawled WELCOME HOME note.  Hanging across the stair rail is his worn-soft, green, Guinness sweatshirt - because I get chilly in his house.  I grab it and snuggle down to the DVR and press play to watch Hidden Potential.  I'm in the moment drinking it all in and the dog farts.  It's bad.  Welcome home.  Where was I?  Oh, it's the sweet little things that make wonderful...

It was crazy wonderful to get home to my place last night.  Is that truly the best gift of travel?  Travel home day started at Dunstane Hotel in Edinburg, a 5-mile drive in Lemon (hey, the rental car and I bonded), an 8-hour flight, seat-switching & ending up next to curious & fun Scots, losing an earring I'd purchased at Edinburgh Castle, a migraine, an Uber driver who got lost, D.C. metro traffic, the realization that (OTC) migraine meds aren't good on an empty tummy - and who wants to force feed themselves McDonald's chicken nuggets with migraine nausea & a tummy ache?  This girl.  Suck it up buttercup because...

Home is wonderful.  After travel, the odd mundane/overlooked things of home become appreciated:  Jeepers - Lemon was a treat but I couldn't wait to get into my good, old, familiar car.  The almost-unscented-clean smell of home vs. overly-scented hotels, musty castles & BnBs, going barefoot on soft carpet & on warm hardwood floors.  Bare feet (ahhh) in the shower & knobs that don't need puzzling out, water that's the perfect temperature at first effort, white towels that have not rubbed over strangers' naked bodies, tweezers & nail clippers a girl needs but didn't pack in effort to bring only a single carry-on for the 2-week trip.  Snuggling down to the best, most comfortable bed in the world, with a stranger-germ-free clean, down comforter and waking up the next day, migraine free.  Walking into a real closet then choosing & slipping into clothes other than the three pair of pants and 5 shirts i was oh-so-tired of wearing, and strangely, putting on a differently scented deodorant than I'd worn for two weeks!  Who knew!?  Oh.  Using a full-sized toothbrush (sigh).  Plug ins and light switches that don't have extra...switches. Window screens. Garbage disposals.  mmmhmm.  Hugging Mia-the-cat soooo hard.

I'm also looking forward to a green smoothie for breakfast and salad...omigosh salad!  Fresh raw vegetables.  Nothing fried - not for a while anyway.  Off to get wonderful real life started again.