So in travel blog time, we're at Friday, May 19th. At 8 AM, Blair and Mom board an express train back to Gatwick airport and Blair sees her off. (I'm back at the hotel, packing and again cursing myself for bringing so much stuff). Blair comes back and we head to Victoria Station to catch our train to Scotland. The train leaves at No0n and we're at the station by 10:30, so we grab an early lunch. Blair wanders off to find a bookstore and I settle in to read my book.
Fifteen minutes later, Blair comes racing back. "We have to go. Now," he says, throwing my coat at me and grabbing luggage.
"What?" I say.
"I just checked the boards. We're leaving from the King Cross station, not Victoria."
Crap. We race downstairs and to the underground. A lot of steps are involved and Blair is Herculean in carrying both suitcases up and down flights of stairs. We weren't planning on having to go on the Underground so we have to stand in line to buy tickets, watching the minutes click away. It's 11:25. The station is packed with morning commuters. We're both sweating from hauling the luggage around. We get on the Underground. Kings Crossing is 3 stops away. Not bad, but it's 11:40. Tick-tock.
We haul ass off the subway, up a maze of stairs (Blair again carrying a 52 pound and 35 pound suitcase plus his backpack) and run through the terminal to the train platform. We board at 11:43, fall into the seats and look at each other. "Made it," I said. Blair nodded.
"Let's not do that again," I suggest. Blair nods again.
We have a long--4 1/2 hours--but pleasant ride to Edinburgh. We step out into the city and I absolutely 100% fall in love with the city. I thought I liked England and London, but I discover I love Scotland. Edinburgh especially. It's very gothic looking with cobblestone streets and long, thin spires framed against the sky, narrow side alleys and blackened stone buildings. Loved, loved, loved it.
The George Hotel where we stayed was stunning. Top of the list for contemporary comfort and beauty. I didn't even mind that our room looked out to an alleyway and the trash trucks woke us up the next morning.
We dropped off the luggage and set out exploring. The first monument we came to was a memorial to Sir Walter Scott--a 200 ft. monument one could climb for a view of the city. The last entry was at 5:30 and we bought our tickets at 5:23. We were halfway up the 287 steps when a loudspeaker came on, asking people to please vacate the monument. Naturally, we raced full-speed to the top. The wind was enough to blow us over up there, but the monument offered views of the entire city.
That night, we took a ghost walk tour of the city which also included tidbits of historical information of note. For example, did you know John Knox (the father of Protestant Reformation in Scotland) is buried under a parking space? Parking space #23, to be exact. Tourists come and stare at the parking space and take pictures. It's very weird.
The next day we woke up to what would be our worst day of weather on the trip. Pouring rain, very cold. We toured St. Giles church. Humorous side note: As we opened the doors to the church, the organ burst into song--loud enough that you almost wanted to clap your hands over your ears. I told Blair I so rarely walk into a church these days that God felt the need to celebrate the occasion with song.
After St. Giles we continued walking up The Royal Mile to Edinburgh Castle. I'd like to say I enjoyed the castle but I was so wet and cold and miserable, I really didn't. My umbrella kept blowing inside out and finally one of the spokes broke and my hands were numb. I did enjoy seeing The Honors (the crown jewels of Scotland that were locked away in a trunk for 111 years) though.
We walked back to the hotel and caught a cab to the airport where we had reserved a car. The plan was to drive north through Scotland to the Highlands and Loch Ness. We were nervous as we pulled away though. We really weren't sure how long a drive it would be. Perhaps we should have taken the train?
Nope. The drive was fun. Plus, Blair passed an exit for "Blair Castle," so of course we had to stop for pictures and to buy a souvenir apron.
We arrived in Inverness--the town located near Loch Ness--but we had a problem. Somehow we'd managed to set off without the hotel phone number, street address or directions. We went to the train station, eventually found a pay phone and called. The last 10 miles of our trip were down a small (and I do mean SMALL. Barely big enough for one car) windy road that ran by the Loch. There were no signs, no exits, no way to turn around. We had no idea if we were going in the right direction which was nerve-racking as it felt we were driving off into nowhere.
So it was a great relief to reach the hotel. It was charming. Well-worn with dark wood panels, scenic paintings of Loch Ness and a view outside our window of Loch Ness to die for. We changed, had dinner and went to bed. We opened the window and the mists of Loch Ness were right outside. It was still light at 10 PM when we drifted off to sleep.