Friends Douglas and Gillian decided to get married – the decision, like all good decisions, was contemplated and made jointly and the result was an April wedding in Dundee, Scotland. Right says Thomo (you’ll remember my full handle is Thomo the Lost which never augurs well for long distance travel), I think we should go to Scotland for the wedding. It’ll do us good as we’ve not had a wee holiday for some time (OK, so I didn’t say “wee” but I could have).
A quick bit of planning, reference to 18 airlines online booking pages on their websites (sorry KLM – your booking page caused me problems, sorry Qantas, you are just too expensive and sorry Qatar, yours was the most appealing but your return flight meant I would have missed Salute) and we were ready to go via Etihad Airlines.
The plan was to fly into London Heathrow (not my airport of choice but the only one I had at this stage), rent a car and drive on up to Dundee via Carlisle and Edinburgh. Credit cards were flashed, money changed hands and we were off.
The 10 things I learned?
- Heathrow sucks. Sorry, you might be holding Olympics in a couple of months time but you really cannot organise things. They are so used to queuing that they think this is a normal state of affairs. We queued for over 90 minutes (this is not an exaggeration and judging from what the nice immigration lady said, this is quite normal). It took 90 minutes to reach the immigration officer. Lesson – fly into Schipol in the Netherlands then arrive in London through Stanstead. Or fly into Birmingham, Manchester, anywhere but Heathrow!
- If you already own a GPS, pay the upgrade for the Western European maps and use it. In our case, the cost was AU $99 and we had to bring it from Australia. we could have “rented” one in England for AU $20 a day. As we were travelling by car for 11 days, the arithmetic there is pretty straightforward.
- The English generally are quite nice, especially up north. That is, they are quite nice until you meet the Scots then the English seem a bit miserable. The Scots really are suh a warm, open and friendly group – well, except for the buggers driving around Edinburgh.
- Single Malt whisky does not keep the cold out … but my goodness you feel great about being cold.
- Scotsmen can’t drink – neither can South Africans. Surprisingly, the last two men standing at the wedding were the two Aussies (and the groom it must be said but we were still leading 2:1)
- When you are driving, you really get an idea of exactly how small England and Scotland are, especially when you have an Australian view of things. We would think nothing back in Oz of driving 500 kms in a day and will, at a pinch, do 1,000. Try that in the UK and you run out of island very quickly..
- The Scots missed the boat when they didn’t invent pockets. The kilt is fine and warm but my hands were cold. Trying to put them in your sporran just doesn’t work. Build me a kilt with pockets and I’ll be a happy bloke.
- Did I mention Heathrow sucks? When you’re busy with your creams and such in your plastic bag prior to the security check, you may sometimes not hear the words “take iPads out of bag”. Not sure why you have to do that – it’s a freaking x-ray after all – I suspect that most security checks have no real idea what they are looking for and it is all for show.Anyway, be that as it may, you forget to take your iPad out and your bag goes through the x-ray. Anywhere else in the world, the security staff frown at you, you take the iPad out and the bag and iPad are immediately x-rayed again and you are on your way with no real delay to other passengers. Did I mention the English love to queue? At Heathrow, your bag is put aside with the bags of other similar security miscreants and it remains until a security officer can come along and test the bag for explosives, search the bag and then (wait for it), put the bag and the iPad in a different coloured tray and pass it through the x-ray again. This whole process adds a further 20 minutes to the user security experience.
- The English love to complain about the hotel room they booked on the Costa del English Tourist on the Mediterranean being in a building site. I am pleased to inform you that the practice is alive and well in the UK. The Holiday Inn in Wimbledon South (sorry Kas, we ran our of time) was a building site. The taxi driver drove three times past it before we noticed the name behind the hoardings. Waking in the morning to see a big burly workman staring in your window is always a pleasure as well. Room service breakfast was to move to part of the building site, grab your sausage and powdered egg and take it back to your room to eat. All this luxury for GBP 80 per night.
- I learned what a Scotsman wears under his kilt.
Having noted all that, at the end of the trip both of us are hoping for Scottish Independence. We also know that we will return to the Highlands, especially to the area around Spearn Bridge. We will also return to the lovely pub in the Lowlands at St Boswells – the Buccleuch Arms Hotel, a lovely spot to spend a night or two.
Oh, and one other useful hint for weary travellers … the left luggage operations in the London mainline stations are a godsend.