Turning thirty should be celebrated
We thought so too and agreed heartily when our daughter asked us to join her on a whisky tour of Scotland in July of 2016 to commemorate her three decades of life. Our oldest son was already traveling in Europe, so dad, mom, and younger brother left Washington-Dulles on an overnight flight to London where the entire family converged to start the seven day trip through Scotland.
Trying to plan a seven day trip through three major cities, with a side trip to an island, for five people who reside in three different countries was a little daunting.
It took months of planning. Setting up the flights, the train, the home rentals, side trips, birthday dinner etc. is not an easy task but I am good at planning and slightly OCD about details, so I rose to the challenge.
We arrived in London early in the morning, got our sim cards at the airport, and hit the ground running. This is our preferred way to stay ahead of the jet lag, in this case tricking our bodies into thinking that it is actually five hours ahead of itself.
We took The Heathrow Express airport train from Heathrow. My husband used to work in London often and was able to guide us to the proper terminal, which was a good thing as son and I were slightly dazed, our bodies not being so easily tricked. The train whisked us off to Paddington station where we hailed a cab for the rest of our journey to the hotel.
I had arranged for an early check in via email prior to our arrival, the hotel was very accommodating so our rooms were waiting. Fighting the urge to flop down on the comfortable bed at The RE London Shoreditch in Bethnal Green, which is where our daughter lives, took every ounce of willpower. Shoving the jet lag away we showered, fortified ourselves with coffee and food, and ventured out to meet our daughter.
She had asked us to join her for Happy hour at her work, and we, never wanting to miss an opportunity to visit her place of employment, accepted without hesitation. Our oldest son and a friend were going to meet us there as well, so I was really looking forward to having all of my children corralled in one place.
Happy hour was entertaining, we enjoyed meeting our daughter’s co-workers, seeing her work space, and taking full advantage of the views from the rooftop terraces for photo opportunities.
Beer, cider and pizza were not quite enough to satisfy our American appetites so a plan was hatched to eat dinner near daughter’s apartment. All my flock in tow, we ventured across London for a pleasant dinner in her neighborhood at the stylish Bistrotheque restaurant. This was an excellent first stop for the gastronomic rampage that we planned to wreak across the British Isles. Great cocktails, excellent quality food and good service.
After dinner daughter invited us all up to see her London apartment…er, I mean her flat. She lives in a trendy section of Bethnal Green in the London borough of Tower Hamlets and I felt much better knowing that she was situated in such a nice area.
Bleary eyed and full, the Americans bid goodnight to the Europeans, and stumbled back to the hotel to get some rest before our early morning train trip to Glasgow.
In all honesty, there was a bit of a kerfuffle on this morning.
Jet lag had made some of us cranky, and to add fuel to the fire, I was having an anxiety attack about getting everyone to the train on time. Which wasn’t completely unwarranted.
After a brief tumult, involving certain people not showing up for breakfast because they stayed out all night. And other people not waking up on time despite parents banging frantically on their hotel room door, we did finally managed to wrangle everyone and were able to extricate ourselves, somewhat on time, from the comfortable RE London Shoreditch, into our Uber XL and out into London traffic.
Even though I had pre purchased rail tickets (A good tip if you have a large group and want to sit together) we had to print them out at Euston station. This was easy enough, just inside the lobby there are machines very close at hand waiting anxiously to dispense them.
Tickets in said hand we turned our attention to the schedule board for information on which platform our train was leaving from. The departure details were not showing yet so everyone scattered like bugs to find coffee and breakfast.
I popped into a small shop to purchase water and somehow got separated from the herd. I do not do well when culled. I have a slight disability which causes me to get dizzy and disoriented in loud, bright places where people are moving about quickly.
Searching the shops, I could not find my family, and of course, for four people that are constantly glued to their phones, not a one of them were answering my increasingly hysterical texts.
I hurried back to the board, which was still not showing our train’s boarding platform and for a brief terrifying moment I thought that I had missed the train and that my family was being whisked away to Scotland without me.
And now the full blown panic had settled in.
Remembering every article I have ever read regarding surviving while lost in the wilderness, I recalled the number one rule of thumb is to-STAY PUT! Do not move and rescuers will find you. Employing this tactic out of sheer desperation, I stood directly under the board and turned to face the crowd.
And my husband miraculously appeared out of the throng of people. I practically wept when he sauntered up to me like nothing had happened. Moments later my children materialized as well, munching on breakfast sandwiches oblivious to the trauma I had just gone through. Scolding them all on leaving me behind (“But Mom we didn’t actually go anywhere!“) I calmed down after a few moments and we turned our attention back to the schedule board. Thankfully, our train information was finally showing and we managed to make it into our seats with no further excitement.
With narrowed eyes and wary side glances at Mom, we all settling in for the four hour train ride to Scotland. We were looking forward to enjoying the English countryside as we traveled
Glasgow was our first destination. A city that my daughter has fallen in love with and wanted to share with her family. Having done my research prior to arrival I knew that the car rental agencies would be closed by the time our train arrived, so we took an Uber from the train station.
We choose to rent cars when traveling as a family because it is easier, and cheaper than public transportation when you multiply by five. Plus we are always up for a day trip somewhere and usually a car is a necessity anytime you leave a city center.
TIP: Always make sure you check the hours of operation for the car rental agency at your destination especially if you are not renting at the airport.
When we travel it is easier for us to book homes or apartments rather than hotel rooms and there are multiple platforms in which to secure lodging, so I usually have no trouble finding a home that will fit our needs. We find it less expensive, and it helps to keep everyone on a tight schedule, even though my husband and I swear, “We will never do it again,” each time we share a home with our adult children.
We booked a three bedroom apartment in a fashionable area of Glasgow that included two bathrooms (An absolute necessity) and a very suspect washer/dryer combo. Being able to wash clothes is the key to traveling light. Unfortunately, I have rarely found a good washer/dryer in my travels overseas, and this one was no exception. You haven’t lived until you’ve had the undergarments of five people hanging from every available hook and post in a small confined area. (If only the Europeans could do for clothes drying what they’ve done for their rail system, I may just leave the United State for good!)
We found the large, comfortably furnished flat with no trouble and after settling into the apartment, we set out to find a good Scottish restaurant for dinner.
Daughter, who is familiar with Glasgow, had directed me to the area that she thought would be most advantageous for our three day stay so we were within walking distance of a main thoroughfare. However, we were slightly disappointed to find it lined with anything but authentic cuisine. In the end, tired and travel weary, we settled on an American style BBQ joint because we were all curious how the Scottish would interpret the foods of the American south, and besides, you can’t mess up BBQ right?
Well, the beer was good, or so I was told, since I do not like beer (If you’ve read my Georgia blog you will know that I also do not drink wine). We wandered around the streets for a bit, but tired and looking forward to a day of exploring Glasgow the next day, we headed back to the apartment where we turned in for the night.
Yes, my daughter and Harry Potter do share the same birthday. You’re welcome daughter.
Mike left early in the morning to pick up our rental van, a sturdy, blue beast that we would be quite comfortable in as we toured around the country. (I mention our rental van because it will become a key player in a most harrowing adventure later in our stay.)
Waking up to dreary weather is what every non Scottish person believes Scotland to be like, so we were not the least bit daunted by the mist and gloom when we climb into our van and drove on the opposite side of the motorway toward Glasgow Cathedral and The Necropolis.
The website states that the Gothic style Church has been in continuous operation for 800 years. It is rumored to be the birthplace of Glasgow and it houses the tomb of St. Kentigern (Also known as St. Mungo) the patron Saint of Glasgow.
I love a good cemetery, the older the better, the more interesting the tombs the more interested I am. Mike and the kids were game, and so we trudged up the steep incline to reach the top of the Necropolis. There are over 50,000 graves here, although not all are marked with headstones. The monuments were very interesting indeed and we spent a fair amount of time strolling the well manicured grounds before ducking into the Cathedral.
Admission to the Cathedral is free but if so inclined you may make a donation. Please check their website for their visiting hours which change depending on the day and the time of year.
Lunch was at a corner pub within walking distance of St. Mungo’s Cathedral. We indulged in piping hot fish and chips and ice cold beer and soda. It was exactly what we needed after spending our dreary morning with the dearly departed.
Before we headed back to our car, we took a few photos with this impressive bit of Scotland for our Doctor Who fan in the family because it was her birthday after all.
We took a short drive to visit a local castle, because you can do things like that in Scotland.
We arrived at Balloch Castle, sitting high on a hill overlooking placid Loch Lomond, as the sun was attempting valiantly to come out. The original Balloch Castle was built in 1238, the lands having been granted to the Lennox family in the 11th century. The current incarnation of the castle was built in 1808 as the home of the banker and merchant, John Buchanan.
The entire estate was purchased in 1915 by the Glasgow City Council which owns it to this day. Having been around in one form or another for 775 years, it was of course, closed for repairs when we showed up.
Apparently there are extensive gardens to meander through, but we are not a garden meandering type of family. We snapped a few pictures and hiked back to the van just as the rain started up again. Since the day was wearing on, a collective decision was made to return to the apartment for a short rest before the big birthday dinner.
We got as dressed up as our limited, carry on luggage wardrobe would allow and headed out to daughter’s birthday celebration which was held at The Ubiquitous Chip.
Located in Glasgow, we did not have far to travel for such an outstanding meal. We made sure that we tried the venison haggis, which has been a house speciality since 1971, and which we had all been waiting anxiously to sample. It was so delicious that, if I remember correctly, I believe we ordered a second round. We enjoyed impressive main entrees’, sumptuous desserts, great wine and a few delicious cocktails, with which we repeatedly toasted daughter on her significant milestone.
However we were careful not to indulge too much because we were flying early in the morning to the misty island of Islay for a whisky tour. The dinner was a great ending to a momentous birthday day, and to our first full day in Scotland.