For our annual driving trip we decided to head north to Scotland. This involved putting the car on a ferry from Calais, France to Dover, England. We started the drive after work on a Thursday and were scheduled to drive until we were about an hour north of London in an effort to beat the traffic on Friday morning. The drive took us quite a bit longer than expected (read 11 hours instead of 7) due to hitting traffic in Brussels and missing our targeted ferry.
We passed through the refugee shanty town camp in the town of Calais. It is a devastating place right out of the pictures you might see in National Geographic. The sheer number of people who are stranded there and living in makeshift tents is horrific. Human rights groups place the numbers around 9000 including many unaccompanied children. This has resulted in violence and the police presence and security on the road to the port was heavy. There were tall fences separating the road with barbed wire along the top and police about every 300 feet or so. It is hard to describe the emotion that overcomes you when you see something like this first hand and this was just a glimpse from the motorway.
Not to sound dismissive but I will continue with my story of our journey as I am not trying to make this a political or news post since I don’t really have the expertise to comment too much on the subject.
We were able to get to the port uneventfully. The ferry ride took 90 minutes and Ethan had to stay in the car while we went up on the deck. It was kind of like being back on a cruise ship. It had multiple floors and there was a cafeteria, coffee shop, and casino. Quinn and I shared a beer and looked out the window at the dark sea.
We made it to our hotel without too much trouble except we hit traffic in London even at close to midnight. That city is crazy for its traffic.
We got up the next morning and made the final push to Edinburgh. Due to the lack of motorway infrastructure we were mostly on two lanes roads and again in the queue of traffic. (Like my British English there?) We were super happy to arrive at our adorable Airbnb apartment close to the center of Edinburgh and our host was graciously there waiting for us with her amazing Scottish Deerhound. If you have ever seen an Irish Wolfhound, they are similar. Ethan paid no attention to him and I don’t think that he recognized him as being a dog. Our host even had special gourmet dog treats waiting for Ethan and of course he gobbled them up.
We had chosen August to visit Scotland both for the weather and the Fringe Fest. This is a month long festival where they have performances throughout the city beginning from early in the morning until the wee hours of the night. (The Scottish adore using the word wee). The catalogue for shows was nearly as thick as the white pages of the phone book, remember those? There were at least 20 shows or more to choose from every 10 minutes. It was completely overwhelming. With a little google research I was able to narrow down what we wanted to see. After we found the ticket office we were disappointed to learn that most of the shows we wanted were sold out. However, with a bit of luck and persistence we were able to catch every single show we wanted. Mostly, we just showed up anyway even when we didn’t have tickets and usually there would be a few extra or someone trying to sell one for a friend who couldn’t attend last minute. Rather than give you a day by day replay of our trip I will give a little synopsis of each show we attended.
Guru Dudu- silent disco tour- The “audience” of about 30 people wore bluetooth headphones and listened to disco music while the Guru Dudu led us in dance moves. We walked around the city taking part in a kind of silent flash mob. It was soooooooooooooooooo fun and totally freeing. It was the kind of fun you have as a kid. I wanted to do it again. People would occasionally stop the group and want to know what was going on and they were usually roped into the show somehow. The Guru Dudu improvised quite a bit based on what was happening in the environment. The city was super busy because of all the shows and performers trying to drum up audiences for their shows so there was quite the opportunity for off the cuff interactions.
Wonderman- This was a play based on some of Roald Dahl’s short stories for adults. It was strange and unpredictable and also quite entertaining. I went to this one by myself to kill some time while Quinn cycled back to walk the dog.
Foot stomping traditional Scottish Folk music- held in a bar. There were three performers playing varying instruments including a variety of drums, fiddle, banjo, and stand-up bass. They were fantastic and they ended with a Scottish twist on a Johnny Cash song.
Sam Simmons (comedian)- Super weird comedy show that oscillated between bazaar, hilarious, and confusing. The comedian thought he bombed that night and about half of the audience agreed based on their facial expressions but I was thoroughly entertained.
Two random singers inside the wee pub- even when you sit down outside of a pub billing itself as the smallest pub in Edinburgh (The wee pub) you will run into live performances. We listened to two different women perform and both had beautiful soulful voices.
360 All stars- Kind of like street performers meet bboys meet half time show. The performers included two break dancers, one BMX bike stunt man, one cirque du soleil type ring performer who rolled around in a big ring, a Harlem globetrotter type basketball guy, and a live remix loop artist creating music throughout the performance. We enjoyed how well they put all of this together and how each performer was picking up tricks from the others and worked together.
Here are some pics from around Edinburgh. Did I mention that the city itself is a UNESCO world heritage site?
Gin and Literature- A guy with a fascination in literature and Gin weaved together passages from different books where alcohol featured heavily in the story, or where the author themselves may have written the work while heavily under the influence. Either way, his event paired gin cocktails with key works of literature and proved to be an excellent evening.
Military Tattoo- An annual event that brings together military bands from around the world to perform at Edinburgh Castle. We were seated with a great view of the performers and the light show on the castle wall. The US military sends bands from all the branches and they are quite a prominent part of the show. One of the most impressive performances wasn't a band, but a kids motorcycle stunt team with some of them maybe as young as 5. The British bands did a tribute to David Bowie with fireworks and an awesome light show and the night ended with Auld Lang Syne and all the Scottish people crossed their arms and locked hands. It was certainly an amazing experience, and included performers on horses, a presentation of the Queen's Carriage and horses, and of course, many, many bagpipers and dancers.
I wanted to stay in Edinburgh longer to keep seeing more shows but it was time to move on to our next location. We had to book all of the lodging in advance because there is a serious lack of accommodation in Scotland for the month of August due to the short tourist season, lack of big hotels, and large number of visitors due to the festivals. So, we couldn’t stay longer even though I would have loved to. We did do a little hike up a hill in Holyrood Park to look over the city and the Queen's Scottish Palace before we left.
We drove a couple of hours to Loch Lomond, checked into our BnB and immediately went out for a hike into the hills.
Stops along the way
We learned that a loch is the term for lake, so as you can imagine we had a view of the loch during our hike. It was quite beautiful with a changing landscape and one could see why there are so many stories of fairies and sprites in Scottish literature. The landscape just seems like the setting for a big fairytale.
Next stop Oban. We were hoping to take a ferry to one of the Scottish Isles and see Fingal’s cave. Google it! The weather did not hold out and it rained and rained and the wind blew and blew. The ferries didn’t run for 3 days and our plan was foiled. So, we did what we could around Oban and luckily we were able to check into our next place a day early. In Oban we went to the Oban Distillery which was quite interesting and we got to taste a 13 year Oban whiskey which they do not sell and we were also given a wee dram of Oban 14. What is a wee dram you might ask? Well, a dram is a unit of measurement for Whiskey in Scotland, and maybe other places as well, I have no idea.
We also went on a little rainy day hike up a nearby hill until we were up in the clouds and couldn’t see anything anymore. We also passed through a little bog. I believe this is my first bog.
Next stop, Fort William.
Oh just some more "stuff" along the way
We couldn’t check into our BnB until 4 so we had some time to kill. We went over to the train bridge made famous by the Harry Potter movie. We went to the look out and wanted a little more adventure. So we went off the path and into the marsh and hiked up a nearby hillside. Then we decided to hike over to another view point to hopefully get a picture of an oncoming train. The hike left us sopping wet but laughing and having a grand time. There is something adventurous feeling about going off trail and just bushwacking around in the marsh. We never got a picture of a train and we heard later that the train was cancelled due to a landslide. The rain here is serious business. One other thing we learned about Scotland is about their midges. These are little biting gnats that attack you when you are standing still or walking slowly. The only way to get away from these buggers is to hold your breath and get a little jog going. They are terrible! Awful! And horrible! I cannot express my displeasure for the midge enough and they found a way to bug me for much of the trip. The good thing about midges is that they are really only around in the late afternoon and when you are near water. Okay, enough complaining about midges. The train bridge was really neat even without the train and my hiking boots can take on a heck of a lot of water before they soak through. This is a good thing to know.
The next day remained rainy but only intermittently so we went to Glen Coe to see if we could get some clear views of the valley. I am not sure that the pictures do it justice but the soaring mountains on either side were something. There was also a bagpiper playing at one of the pull outs which of course added to the ambiance. We hiked around a bit and then went into town to check out some of the shops and have dinner. The rain can’t keep us down.
On our last day we rode our bikes down a canal out to a lake with a beautiful lighthouse on the point. Unfortunately, we left the camera home for this one. We also rode past a series of locks called neptune’s staircase. Here is a link. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Neptune%27s_Staircase. Pretty neat feat of engineering.
Fort William is the home of Ben Nevis which is the highest mountain in the United Kingdom. We cheated and took the cable car up! We waited until the second day because it was not quite that clear on our first day there. We were rewarded for our patience with beautiful views and a fun little cable car ride. We thought of our friend Andrea a ton on this mountain because there is a world class downhill mountain biking course. I am pretty sure that the people going down it have some decreased frontal lobe functioning. You have to be a wee bit crazy to go down this course. I am sure they all love the fact that they don’t have to ride up but can take their bikes on the cable car.
We ate dinner at Ben Nevis Inn which was a little mountain restaurant with gorgeous views. The benefit of being so far north is that you still have daylight even after dinner so we were able to walk up the path a bit to get one last view of the mountains before heading to our inn.
We saved the best of Scotland for last in the Isle of Skye. We lucked out by having the best weather for this part of the trip. The drive itself was incredible with ocean, mountains and unique geological formations due to the volcanic history of the area. We were told that the eruption of one of the volcanoes in this area contributed to the separation of Europe and North America and similar rock “DNA” from this area can be found in North America as well. More pictures of stuff along the way.
It is really tough to describe these areas with words alone so I will just leave it to the pictures.
Day 1: Fairy Pools:
Beach at the end of the fairy pool road:
Church by our airbnb
Day 2. Quiraing: In my top 3 favorite hikes of all time
Day 3: Old Man of Storr
Dunvengan Castle with a glimpse of seals
Boat ride to see Sea Eagles. Officially called the White-Tailed Eagle, it has the largest average wingspan for Eagles in the world. They can span as large as 8 feet. The boat captains threw some fish out as bait, and after we waited for 10-15 minutes, they eventually came down from their nests and snagged the fish from the water. Quinn said he wouldn't leave Scotland if he didn't get to see this, so it is lucky (or not) that we got to see it.
Our Airbnb at this location was just fantastic with two bedrooms and a fully stocked kitchen, living room, and laundry. We set up shop here and enjoyed some home cooked meals as well as Olympics in the evening. Not to mention that it had a loch view with sheep grazing on the hillside. Downside to being on a loch, midges. So no outside dining.
The Isle of Skye packs so much punch for its micro size and is an outdoor adventure lover’s dream. It has wildlife, geological formations, mountains, and ocean. It is really a fantastic spot.
All of this heading north meant that eventually we would have a long drive south. So, on Thursday morning we woke up at 5:30 AM and spent the next 12 hours in the car heading to London. It actually didn't feel like such a long day because we were able to drive on divided highways rather than twisty, turny roads so it went rather quickly. We were pooped by the time we arrived and Quinn found some to-go Thai food and we had a picnic in the room.
In the morning we went on a supposed 6 mile adventure into central London on our bikes. We estimated that it would take us about an hour to ride in but it ended up being about 15 miles and took about 4 hours! There was so much traffic and so many stops that even with pedal powered transportation the commute was horrendous. We weren't in a rush though so we had a great time exploring the bike routes and seeing London from the biker's perspective. Quinn had not yet been to the Tower of London so we did the tour together and I got to once again see the crown jewels. The wealth of the royal family is just unimaginable and it slaps you in the face on the tour. Unfortunately, I got a flat tire in London so we rode the tube back to the hotel and enjoyed another night of Thai food in a quaint suburb of London.
It turned out that we were staying in the predominately Indian area of London and we took advantage of this fact by eating amazing Indian food and touring the Indian temples in the area. Aren't these places amazing?
We weren't able to take pictures at the second one. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/BAPS_Shri_Swaminarayan_Mandir_London. This one was built with marble that was from a quarry in Italy. The marble was shipped to India where it was carved by mostly "volunteers." (I find this part of the description suspicious and wonder if it is was slave labor) and was then shipped back to London to be assembled like a bunch of Legos. This whole process only took about 12 years.
We spent the evening in London and were lucky enough to get tickets to Les Miserables. This is a show I have been wanting to see since I was a little girl. It was FANTASTIC. I really was blown away by the singers and live orchestra and stage production. I was bawling along with the rest of the audience during most of the show.
The next morning we took the ferry back across the English channel and made our way home to Germany. We rushed home so that we could make it to Pigfest which is a huge festival that our town celebrates every year. It was a great ending to a jam packed trip.