Sunday, September 03, 2017

Scotland with Friends and Family

I just returned from my second trip to Scotland (see my posts from my previous trip ten years ago here, here, here, here, and here). This time I went with my kids and my friends Nadine, Bill, and Shirley, none of whom had been to Scotland.

Like my last trip, as well as my trip to Ireland five years ago (starting here), I spent most or all the trip sick in varying degrees. A night flight, exposure to new pathogens, and incessant cold and wet weather has a deleterious effect on my constitution, although I was never seriously deteriorated and started to get well by the end of it.

AUG 15 (Tues)

Our flight was at 1 am, arriving in Edinburgh by 10 am. Turkish Airlines, which gave me a quibble of concern but was actually not a big deal. Personal screens only from Istanbul to Glasgow. There was a small kosher snack box on the flight to Istanbul and a larger meal on the flight to Glasgow, both were dairy and simple.

Europcar had a vast line of people waiting. It took nearly two hours to get through the line, and then I was convinced (correctly) to upgrade my car size since it was not nearly big enough for my purposes. Unfortunately, doing this at the airport was much more expensive. Then I found out that my car had no insurance at all - I'm not talking CDW or secondary insurance, I mean none, I had to buy some, also at a higher rate that having done so earlier. I really thought that one of my credit cards would provide basic insurance, but apparently my Discover Card only provides secondary insurance, my other American card is only a debit card, and my "business" Israeli card doesn't provide insurance. I was given 24 hours to verify if I needed the extra insurance. That meant several more hours on the phone the next day trying to resolve it, and then, when I could not, more hours trying to get through to Europcar to ensure that I was covered.

The car was perfect, at least: a brand new Citroen with great pickup and lots of room, and we managed to fill that room so much that we could not always see out the back.

Driving on the left side of the road is hard enough, but we got a stick shift. I drive an automatic in Israel, and I enjoy driving a stick shift normally, but the stick in a UK car is on the left, which makes it doubly hard. Many roads in Scotland, once you get out of the city, are single suddenly appears, coming the other direction around a blind curve or over a hill. While the sights in Scotland are breathtaking enough, the tension from gripping the steering wheel somewhat detracts from the relaxation.

The next problem was getting SIM cards to work for our phones, another endeavor that took some 2.5 hours of wrangling. All in all, the bureaucracy of car and phones made me frustrated and anxious, which made all of us in a foul mood off and on for a few days.

Otherwise, most of the rest of the trip went well. All of the places we stayed at were comfortable, beautiful, and suitable, although some were rather further off of the main path than I had expected.

Our first meal was at the synagogue in Edinburgh, which was running a small popup restaurant that very afternoon. Most other kosher food we picked up from any supermarket or even convenience store (vegan products are essentially kosher in the UK, as far as I am concerned) or, when required, from specific supermarkets in Edinburgh or Glasgow.

We saw very little of Edinburgh and instead drove up to our place we stayed in Abernethy, a teeny town in Perthshire. Saarya kashered the place and we settled in.

Welcome to Edinburgh

AUG 16 (Wed)

My plan was to spend all day in towns around Perthshire, but after a first hike around the area (possibly the most beautiful one we walked, in my opinion) and a small look through town, the kids decided to go back to Edinburgh for the festival. We heard some street musicians and some bar musicians, drank some beer and stuff, and eventually went back late at night.

On a hike outside Abernethy

Somewhere in Perthshire

The Edinburgh Fringe Festival

The Royal Oak in Edinburgh

AUG 17 (Thu)

Nearly the same experience as Wed, this time we split up more. Tal and I unexpectedly saw some theater, I watched some musicians, Saarya saw the outside of Edinburgh Castle, and we didn't see an improv performance later because it ended up being in a church. Tal wanted to go to a particular performance later that night, but it was just too late for us to stay.

At the Edinburgh Fringe Festival

At the Edinburgh Fringe Festival

AUG 18 (Fri)

We drove to Glasgow. Along the way, Saarya saw Stirling Castle while Tal and I sampled some ginger beers at the nearby pub.

Our B&B was the Orchard Park, which is a few houses down from the synagogue. It hosts a bar that has patrons well into the night, but the rooms were surprisingly quiet for all that.

Here was waiting for us some items that I shipped in advance: a Crokinole game, copies of Splendor and Tichu (to replace my worn out deck), and the novels Jane Eyre and Anna Karenina (cheap books which I wanted to read and could just leave in the UK if I was overweight). Taking Crokinole back to Israel I thought might be a challenge, but it worked out: Turkish Airlines' policy is not based on the number of suitcases or their size, it is purely weight based. So I ended up taking back the game in a box (8.5 KG), and a suitcase (11.5 KG) which was 20 KG, and the Crokinole board went on oversized luggage and managed not to break or warp by the time I got it home.

Bill and Shirley also took rooms in the hotel for shabbat so we saw them on and off over the course of shabbat. For example, Bill ordered beers for himself at the bar and then decided that he couldn't finish them and gave them to Tal and Saarya. :-)

The Griffnock and Newlands synagogue is a large complex of buildings that includes Chabad something and school something. Davening was in the little beit midrash with a hastily set up mechitzah for Tal (and another woman who joined later). My hosts were the same lovely couple that hosted Rachel and me ten years ago, and they were just as lovely as last time. I brought gifts for them, but realized that I could not bring them along on shabbat since there is no erev. So I dopped them off on their door on Sunday morning.

Sampling ginger beers

AUG 19 (Sat)

Davening was in the main sanctuary, and there was some scotch at the kiddush after (although you had to search for it, since the first wave was scooped up very quickly).

Later in the afternoon a BGGer (Michael Ross) and his wife joined us for games at the hotel. He taught me how to play Sushi Go, which is like 7 Wonders lite but so much easier. And Tal and I taught them how to play Tichu, an entire game of which took around 12 rounds or more. We had to play in the noisy bar, for lack of a better, quieter space. Michael also ordered one too many ciders, one of which Tal was happy to drink. Thank you so much Michael, and I'm sorry we couldn't reciprocate (it being shabbat). Eventually we decided to end the game session after if became even noisier.

Bill, Shirley, and Tal made an attempt to pop over to Edinburgh to see the show she missed on Thurs, but it was not to be (too late).

AUG 20 (Sun)

First stop was the kosher shopping we needed for the week.

We headed out toward the Crieff Highland Games. The Highland Games are a series of days of sport, music, and dance events held in different towns in Scotland throughout the summer. This is the one which was most accessible to us at this point in out trip. The sporting events were not interesting to us (yes, that's really a guy in a kilt throwing a large ball at the end of a rope). The bagpipe regimens were usually a ways off in the middle of the arena, although sometimes that came close enough to snap a picture. Meantimes, there were various craft booths around the edges which were fun to look at, some dancing competitions going on, and a different stage with other musicians, one of which was a nice band playing Scottish influenced pop/rock music hoping to have a hit record (so it would seem).

Saarya used his portable stove to cook and make tea during some of our longer drives.

We slept at a beautiful place on the shore of Loch Rannoch, the downstairs of a couple that lived upstairs. It was a pity that we could not stay longer.

Bagpipes at the Crieff Highland Games

Bagpipes at the Crieff Highland Games

Music at the Crieff Highland Games

Audience dancing at the Highland Games

Saarya makes tea

Outside our Rannoch lodge

AUG 21 (Mon)

We started the day with a little rowing in the couple's rowboat. Then we headed leisurely up to Inverness though Pitlochry, somehow taking the entire day to get there. We were not impressed with Pitlochry, as all of the stores were basically chain stores with tourist goods. The best of these is Mountain Warehouse, which at least has very pleasant store personnel and numerous items on sale.

Tal ran into the parents of a friend of hers, also on vacation. We took a tour of the Blair Athol distillery, a brand of Bell's. Their single malt is pretty good.

We wandered Inverness and saw a young, talented street performer who was playing (at about 8 pm) to an empty street. Tal sang a duet with him (of an Ed Sheeran song). We picked up Nadine at the Inverness airport and drove to arrive very late to our cottage on a farm north of Inverness. It was also a lovely place, and another at which we were sadly staying only one night.

Tal and Saarya in a boat

Birches in Scotland

Saarya makes omelets

Busker in Inverness

Tal sings in Inverness

AUG 22 (Tue)

The four of us drove across Scotland from Inverness to Skye, which has lovely scenery, although not as nice as the scenery on Skye or on the way from Skye to Glasgow (such as you find in Glencoe).

Our place was in Eglol, which is one of the nicest places on Skye with a view of the Cuillins mountain range and close to the sea. It is also 15 miles and a tense 30 minute drive south of the main road along a twisting single lane track.

After the exhausting drive, I was too tired to go back up that road and down another promontory (and then back again) to hear music at the Skye festival, which was in our plan. Instead we kashered the place and looked at the sheep that kept wandering around our house.

We played Crokinole.

Residents of Skye

The Cuillins from our house in Elgol

Crokinole and whiskey

AUG 23 (Wed)

In the morning Nadine and I took the five minute drive to the harbor, which was also pretty and next to a small store with local crafts and various goods. It is also the community hall which holds meetings, weddings, and funerals.  There were lines of cars are the harbor, with cows standing between them (parked at the harbor, I guessed).

Nadine and Saarya wanted to see the Talisker distillery. I strongly considered staying put, but in the end I went while only Tal stayed behind. There were no tours available at the distillery (you had to book in advance), but we saw some of the island.

Sunset over Elgol harbor

Elgol harbor that morning

Falls on Skye

Somewhere in Skye

What's your damage, heather?




Stream on Skye

Sunset over Elgol harbor

AUG 24 (Thu)

We all drove to Portree. Portree caters to tourists, but the stores were not chain stores like the ones in Pitlochry but stores selling local Skye goods mostly, which was nice. One particularly nice store sells batiks, and gave me a free cup of tea. The woman comes from Sri Lanka and I bought some of her curry spice mixtures.

We then drove north and looped around the island. I wanted to see Quiraing, hearing it was beautiful, and it was, but I couldn't find the place to walk so we just looked around a bit. In the end, we saw much of the island (just not the Cuillins). We also shopped for the next few days in Broadford.

British boy's magazines from the 1960s

Portree harbor


Flower on Skye


AUG 25 (Fri)

We took the ferry from Armadale to Mallaig, a trip that you have to book in advance (and I had done so already back in February). First we saw some lovely paintings by a talented artist Pam Carter, right near a little store that sells its own whiskey blends (not sure if it was the Torabhaig, doesn't look like the right place).

We drove down through Acharacle, a promontory of Argyle, south of Skye and east of Mull, to the self-catering house we rented for the six of us for the week. It was right on the beach, again pretty far away from civilization, nestled among a few other houses. Gorgeous house, suitable for us. Kashered everything again. A pine marten came to visit us the moment we arrived.

Bill and Shirley arrived with the next week of kosher food. Since they arrived later than they had hoped to, and knew they would, some of the food was pre-cooked. We still cooked some of our own food and has a pretty little shabbat on the coast, watching the tide go in and out (which was very visible, hiding or exposing a good thirty or forty feet of shoreline.

Morning loch

Tal on a ferry

Sunart loch

At Sunart loch

Sunart loch

Somewhere in Acharacle

Pine martin outside our window

AUG 26 (Sat)

Shabbat on the shore. I read a lot of Jane Eyre.

AUG 27 (Sun)

Bill, Shirley, and Nadine went to see seals (through a telescope) and do some hiking a little south. I stayed home with the kids until around 3, ad then we drove to Arisaig to find a small hotel that had live music (usually from 2 on Sundays, but today it was from 4. Then I had to wait a while for the beer to filter out before I could drive back.

Bill and Shirley on a hike

Bill and Shirley contemplate their hike

Quartz on our beach

Saarya fishing

Music in Hotel Arisaig

AUG 28 (Mon)

We drove to Fort William. Bill, Shirley, and Nadine again took one car. We met up with them in FW. Some of them went to another distillery. Then they went on to drive to Glencoe to hike, but it was raining, so they ended up just driving there and returning. I knew we were going to pass through Glencoe on the way back, so I skipped it.  We did some final shopping for the rest of the week and anything else that we wanted to bring home with us and returned to our house.

On Acharacle

In a store display in Fort William

A monument to someone

Saarya in front of a bridge apparently seen in Harry Potter movies

When the tide goes out, the snails wait for it to come back

Rocks and moss on the shore

Fairy tower on the shore

AUG 29 (Tue)

We drove west. First we stopped at the Ardnamurchan distillery to peek around. It's a new distillery still making their first batches, but they sold whiskey from their sister distillery, Adelphi. Then we stopped to traipse around a high point of the area, wandering around the heather and tall grass for a while. Then we stopped in Kilchoan and nearby, and finally went to the Ardnamirchan lighthouse, the most Westerly spot on the Scotland mainland. Bill and Shirley managed to get two flat tires from sharp rocks when pulling over to the side of the road at one point. We had to use various phone and Internet tricks to get service from their rental company, but he showed up soon enough.

Morning in our cottage

Hiking up a hill


Hiking up a hill

View from the hill

The Ardamurchan lighthouse

The Ardamurchan lighthouse foghorn

AUG 30 (Wed)

I refused to drive anywhere for one day. Bill and Shirley left early for the rest of their trip (Skye), leaving the four of us. The three of them went out to look at seals again while I tried unsuccessfully to check in to our flights.

Tal in the driveway

There were endless hours of coverage about the 5 and then 19 people who died in the Houston storms, but I found the text on the bottom of the screen, and its total lack of news coverage, kind of unsettling.

Fog over our loch

Fog over our loch

Single track roads

AUG 31 (Thu)

We spent most of the day traveling, taking over 4 hours to get to Edinburgh. Stopped briefly in Glencoe to take pictures, and then we had to return the car, check in and fly out. My headphones never worked well enough to watch any movies on the flights, so I didn't see anything new.

We arrived in Israel at 4:00 am. Yay!

Pictures to follow.