Sunday, July 08, 2007

Catching Up / Scotland / June 17 - 22 / Car Rental

Additional notes from my trip. Skip if this bores you ...

National Car Rental

Sunday morning we flew to Scotland. Right before we landed I realized that I had made my car rental reservations at the wrong airport (Prestwick, instead of Glasgow regular). I was resigned to a huge headache with the car rental agency. Luckily, I had made the reservation at a global chain (National) that had offices in both airports, and luckily, outside of Israel, companies actually try to help you when you've made a mistake. They transferred the reservation to the correct airport without charging me and without much difficulty.

I was so grateful that I let them charge me for the "discounted refilling the gas tank" fee. This fee, while seemingly sensible on the surface, isn't actually. First of all, they charge for filling the tank, whereas most people never empty their tank more than 3/4 of the way (that's when it shows empty). Secondly, it means that we have to return it completely empty, which requires careful planning. Thirdly, the tank wasn't really topped off when we got the car, only "mostly full". But there you go.

Time skip to two weeks later

I left Rachel the car and she was supposed to return it to Glasgow only 12 hours or so after the terrorist attack on that airport.

She instead returned the car to Aberdeen's airport, in the hopes of getting a flight out of Aberdeen. Again, this was only possible owing to having rented with a national chain.

When she returned the car, she found out that the Glasgow airport had charged me a complete rental and double as a hold on my credit card. Which is not so unusual, except that I had already prepaid for the car online. In other words, not including the extra held money, they were going to be charging me twice. And not at a favorable rate.

I'm pretty sure that was a mistake, but the Aberdeen office didn't take too kindly to it. They canceled the entire previous contract, and charged us only for the extras we had agreed to (2nd driver, upgrade in car class, and tank refill) and didn't charge us the additional fee for returning it to the wrong airport (a) we returned it with some gas, b) they thought Glasgow's office were trying to steal from us, and c) owing to the attacks and change of flight).

And that's the story of National car rental.


After circling the parking lot a few times to get the hang of driving on the wrong side of the road, I headed out to M80 toward Glasgow. Of course, we ended up going the wrong way to start.

William Gibson was entirely correct when he called England "Mirrorworld" in Pattern Recognition. Great book. Go read it.

After Dicecon we headed out into the middle of the most awesome beautiful country in the world. Everywhere you look is cobblestone houses, barns, sheep, deer, water, hills, and green, green, green. Ferns, trees, moss, and algae. Rachel and I decided to never come home. Sorry. [but we did in the end. sniff.]

We were in Perthshire, which means the area around Perth. The closest small town was called Petlochry. Outside of Petlochry is a teeny village called Kinloch Rannoch, so called because it lies on Loch (Lake) Rannoch. Outside of this teeny town is a small farm called Lassintullich farm, which has a few self-catering rooms, including ours called the Stables. So-called, because it used to be stables and has now been converted into guest rooms. It is fantastic. It's a completely stocked cottage, with electric and water and everything you could hope for, aside from Internet and food.

The owner's are sweet, the views are incredible. Right outside our front door is heather, ferns, flowers, and a little waterfall and stream.

And the area is so quiet it's ridiculous. The most gorgeous country in the world, and we pass another car once every ten minutes or so. Of course, part of why it's a beautiful country is because we only pass a car every ten minutes or so.

Kinloch Rannoch

I see all these beautiful old cobblestone buildings with moss and thatch in movies and so on, and assume that they're all from past generations. But no, that's what people still live in in the rural areas of Scotland. Inside, they now have heat, plumbing, electric, and Internet, but the outside is still the same.

They have a large building functioning as a hotel with more rooms then there are houses in the village. And they have a store which functions as cafe, post office, community center, and several other things. And a waterfall and stream flowing right into the village.

The roads in the area are small with blind curves, which makes driving on the wrong side of the street even more fun. But best of all is when you're driving on a narrow road in the hills and you come to a sign that says that the road gets narrower up ahead. Or that there are twists for the next 2 miles. As if there haven't been for the last twenty. When they say narrow road here, they mean one car either coming or going, so be prepared to stop and back up.

Blair Castle

The first day we stopped off in Kinloch Rannoch, and then went on to Blair Castle. Before the castle is this little shopping center with some gorgeous, but expensive, stuff. Real cashmere, local ceramics, wool clothing, and so on. But all too expensive for us. They also had local foods.

Aside: The only food that is clearly marked kosher are Walker's food products (O-U D). Many items are listed as suitable for vegetarians, and/or suitable for vegans. They take that very seriously (no waxes, byproducts, etc) so we have (perhaps naively) decided to buy things suitable for vegans, assuming they're not made of grapes. We also brought several days worth of frozen meat products all the way from Israel, so we were doing peachy.

After the shopping center is Blair castle and the grounds. You can pay for the grounds only, which didn't make sense to me until I got the brochure. The grounds includes a small deer pen, some groves of trees, and the Hercules Gardens. The latter is so called owing to a statue of said hero. It's pretty enough.

The castle itself is rather more like a big mansion than a castle. It's full of lots of items, including numerous real weapons, cloth items, and furniture. There are baroque rooms, and you can learn about the various Dukes of Atoll. No touching and no photos.

All in all, I wasn't in the mood for the experience, feeling that my time would have been better served meditating on the waterfalls in the area. As a result, I didn't really appreciate the visit. In retrospect, it was pretty pleasant.

On Tuesday I picked the itinerary and we drove a short distance to Carie by the side of Loch Rannoch. Here we ditched the car to go hiking. The scenery is as wild and beautiful as I expected, but the hike was actually rather tame. Most paths are smooth and flat, dirt or gravel. In Israel, hiking means climbing rocks and the sides of mountains, sometimes with pitons provided as handholds. Here, paths were easier.

Once again, we were essentially alone for great periods of time in the middle of the most beautiful place on Earth, which is a bit weird. That's partially because I picked Carie as a hiking location, which looked like it was a little off the beaten path; we probably would have run into more people hiking around the Blair castle / Duar falls area. We ran into two other couples in our three hours of hiking. Recommended.

After Carie, we headed back to Kinloch Rannoch. Monday I had decided that I wanted to head up the waterfall in town, so we did that for a short while and took a few pictures overlooking the town. Then we went back to our little house for a rest.

And I discovered that, among the other things to be found in our accommodations, were two decks of cards, 5 poker dice, and a little Chess board.

The Birks of Aberfeldy

This was another beautiful hike, but actually pretty steep going on the way up. Still no pitons and handholds, but steep. Aside from the many falls, you encounter a wooden seat where Robert Burns allegedly sat down and wrote poetry.

Back in town I discovered that Scotland doesn't have much root beer, but does have ginger beer, which is distinct from ginger ale. It's non-alcoholic, and sharp, but frothy and quite good.

See previous posts for other information.

David and Aubrey

On Thursday evening at the bar I met David and Audrey who run the Blue Bell Inn in Gringley on the Hill, Yorkshire. They were very nice to me, bought my drinks, and told me about their little pub and its 700 year old oak timbers made from wood recouped from warships.

They were probably hit by the flooding last week. If you're in the area, they're real sweethearts, and their Inn/Pub sounds nice, so drop in and say hi.


See the following posts for pictures.


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