England: Bath to Oxford

It’s been awhile and my traveling “jones” hasn’t diminished. Yes, there are times when I wish I were in my home turf and having my daily mocha at Peet’s. But those times are fleeting and when I get to a destination, my interests are piqued.

Heading from the Isle of Man (via ferry) through Liverpool to Bath (via train) worked just fine other than lugging my luggage. Porters and Service peeps were a great help. At one station, the lift (elevator) was out and the wonderful service rep took my bag up the stairs. Very nice. The ferry checked bags so I didn’t have to lug them around. My plight of luggage had exponentially increased since leaving Edinburgh. I had checked a bag at the train station there prior to my Scotland tour but now had it in hand…so to speak.

Taking a taxi from the ferry to the train station worked well. From there I had only two train changes, so not bad. Pretty much on time except for the final leg to Bath which was delayed.

Being my first time in Bath, I wasn’t sure what to expect. All I had heard about was the Roman baths. Thought I could don my toga or less and sit in the warm water for hours on end. Not a chance. The Roman bath is a museum. It is quite an excellent museum with a wonderful audio tour of the Baths and immersion in a different way. I spent three hours as I just had to hear everything on the audio player. It was comprehensive with video and history displays to boot.

Good advice

OK. Not that inviting.

I was also able to attend two plays: An Ideal Husband (Oscar Wilde) and Henry V (uhhh…Shakespeare). I left the former at half-time, as I was pretty far back in the theatre and had a difficult time hearing all the nuances of the script. Henry V was excellent. It was quite a small theatre and a brought you right into the action with about 10 actors playing multiple parts. Creative staging, lighting and costumes.

I did also manage a thermal bath. Using the same therms that the Roman baths were privy to, there is a touristy Thermae Baths where you can soak in the water with many other very clean people…OK, it’s chlorinated slightly. There are no really hot baths but some warmish baths, steam room, “sauna” and some quite cold baths including an ice bath of sorts. I tried them all in the allotted 2 hours, of course. Swimsuits must be worn…and co-ed showers. Didn’t see any nudes except for the statues.

Next Stop: Oxford

I had signed up for an OSSA (Oxford Summer School for Adults) a couple of months ago. I was on the waitlist for awhile but a course opened up on Illuminated Manuscripts. Whaaaaat? The summer school is very popular and the courses fill up fast. So I was pretty lucky. What a great experience! After I got over the fact I had to submit a 1000 word essay and was informed that another 1500 word essay would be part of the course, I had my doubts. But, of course, it brought out my competitive spirit and certainly made the course more than just a lark. And I’m enchanted with Illuminated Manuscripts now. The lecturer/instructor was wonderful…Victoria Condie…have to give her a plug. What a delightful and erudite person. I found myself just shaking my head at times fascinated at her knowledge, her asides, and her dedication of the Medieval period. Next year she’s presenting a course on Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. I bet I’ve whetted your appetite now. I actually saw the manuscript at the British Library. Amazing!

Such an interesting group of students (10) in my course. Six out of the ten were from the States which was a surprise. A very eclectic group.It was quite difficult to hide but very comfortable to participate. And now I’m on the hunt to review as many illuminated manuscripts around the world as possible. As if I need another reason to travel.

But Oxford was very HOT when I visited. It’s been a theme in my travels since May. I could have brought two pairs of shorts, flip flops and a swimming suit and been just fine. A bit of exaggeration but you get my point. I stayed in a “dorm.” It happened to be on the top (3rd) floor of the building with no a/c. A small fan was furnished. The classroom was hot, hot, hot as well. But it was all worthwhile.

I also attended a play: Loves Labors Lost. It was outside and the only day we got a substantial downpour. Everyone ran for the trees and they postponed the play for about 15 minutes. Quite comedic. Very Shakespearean.

I loved walking around Oxford and seeing venues from Inspector Morse and Lewis, Harry Potter, Brideshead Revisited (remember that?) and untold other movies/TV shows. It’s a bit of a rarefied atmosphere with all the colleges I’ve only heard about: Trinity, Exeter, Queens, etc. Coeds flying around on their bikes, hanging around the quads, drinking beer at the numerous pubs.

I recommend it highly. Check out the courses for next summer:


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Heading into Schitgen…

Sitting here with a glass of wine in London waiting for a flight to Lisbon and realized it’s been awhile since I’ve updated you.  3D57294D-E0FB-472A-B4E6-A1A0C6641964

A bit of advice:  you need an ongoing ticket out of the Schengen area if you want to head to Lisbon or, I assume, other countries in the Schengen area.  Now y’all probably know about the Schengen area vs. the European Union.  No?  Well, the UK is in the European Union (until 2019, that is) but is not in the Schengen area.  You can only stay in the Schengen area for 90 days if you are not a resident or citizen of the EU.  Now, not all of the Schengen area is in the EU and not all of the EU is in the Schengen area.  Clear now?  Just be sure to have an ongoing ticket (within 90 days) if you are headed to a Schengen country.  Google “Schengen Countries” for help.

Wikipedia says:  The Schengen Area is an area comprising 26 European states that have officially abolished passport and all other types of border control at their mutual borders.

So…I had to purchase an ongoing ticket to get out of London.  Lucky for me, I arrived early and was able to purchase an online ticket that leaves Lisbon within the 90 day window.  I suggested they just trust me…but no dice.  Guess my reputation precedes me.  They do input the ongoing information into your record so no pleas (or please) accepted.

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Here I am in the junior shipmates section…

Well, you know how much I love kids. I’ve found myself in the kids section of the ferry…the only seats left on the damn boat. I just wasn’t aware it was so popular but I am going to the Isle of Man and it is summer time, so I guess it makes sense.

Another complaint…oh, did I tell you how much I love kids?…is they want to charge for their “free” WiFi. You can use it without the internet but what the heck does that mean? So 3+ hours of being disconnected. Time for contemplation and some thoughts/comments I’ve been mulling over the last couple of weeks in Scotland…and England.

Aside: my taxi ride to the port to catch the Heysham ferry to Isle of Man was interesting to say the least. The driver was very willing to give me his thoughts on the situation in Britain concerning Brexit and government, etc. Brexit: get on with it; everyone voted for it so let’s honor democracy. He definitely doesn’t trust the news; gets his information primarily from the internet. Bully for him. Oh yes, he did ask me if Barack Obama was really Barry Somebody and born in Kenya. I assured him that was true…just kidding. We also had a short conversation about Hillary and how she lost. He didn’t realize how hated she was based on the news (or rather, blogs) that he read. Now, this taxi driver was a former cop (don’t know if that’s fake information or not) and told me that because he had been trained to observe and not jump to conclusions he wasn’t full bore conspiracy. Hmmmm…

Back on the ferry: While I’m at it, for anyone who has done any sailing, the “rule” of “red, right, returning” that every sailor has learned in the Western Hemisphere has been put to shambles here in Europe/Great Britain. It’s “green, right, returning” which has none of the alliteration and ease of recall that RRR has. My sailing experience is minimal, other than nearly dying sailing up the coast of California in a gale…but I do know this rule from my sailing classes and subsequent experience. There’s a fine and funny article in Cruising World: https://www.cruisingworld.com/red-right-returning that explains what the rules are in Area A and Area B. As he mentions in the article: port wine is red and therefore red should be on the port side, see?

OK, enough of that. Here’s some observations (nasty and otherwise) I’ve made on my travels in Scotland: definitely a positive…if you haven’t been, it is a delight. I had a travel agency (McKinley & Kidd) plan out my two weeks and they have been spot on. Every stop had a driver picking me up and delivering me to a delightful B&B (except for one) and then picking me up in time for the next train. I stayed 2 days in each place which seemed short but worked out just fine. (I left my larger suitcase in Edinburgh before I started this journey into the Highlands). I had some fabulous meals…some at the Inns I stayed at, others recommended. Now, I’m a walker so Scotland is a paradise for people on foot…or bicycle. It’s also beautiful and has some very interesting geology, architecture and history so fine to just tour around as well.

I had to use the phrase “well done” to the bus driver after I heard one of the travelers say “well done Jules” when he alighted. I did this after the bus driver stood up and announced that the had to swing around for the school kids so there would be a wait but we would be on our way after that. He continued “you’ll get to see the Caledonia Canal after, as we have to take the long route to drop the kids off”. The trip took a bit longer than going, but was definitely worth it! Well done, Jules! He did drive like a madman on these tiny roads and a couple of times had to swear (politely) when some car came around the corner…or worse yet, some damn lumber truck. Close your eyes.

Riding along in the bus: a tiny electronic lawn mower working on a huge lawn, unattended. You have to look closely but that little machine in the background is the mower.

Whew! I’m almost done.

Very funny.

Two men chatting beside me: what language are they speaking…Gaelic it turns out.

Waiting for the bus from Spean Bridge: a “witchy” woman pops along to wait with me, coughs several times, and sticks a cigarette in her mouth.

Even the damn Germans think I’m German. They keep coming up to me to answer a question. Nein sprechen zee Deutch!!! I think that being tattooed man recognizes me.

Sign: clean up after your dog or “pick up” a 40 pound fine.

A sign for me:

Check out the graffiti eyeglasses

Or this:

And, if all else fails:

Well…this was in a restroom in Fort William

From Skye, a boat trip to the Isle of Eigg, I decided to stay at the first village (if you can call it that) of Aisling and not go to Muck…although I really wanted to…you know,…muck around. Instead I did some hiking on the paths just so I could say I’d been to Eigg. According to Wikipedia, it’s called Eigg because it comes from Gaelic “eig” meaning “notch” or Norse “egg” meaning “a sharp edge on a mountain”. It does have an egg-like volcanic plug or some such thing from the island being volcanic eons ago. So I think it’s just a damn egg origin.

I am happiest when I’m on the move. The train provides me some time to let down. It also has WiFi and USB power…this is Scottrain by the way. Great. The tour provider always had me sitting in a “facing” seat and the most visually pleasing side…if there is such a thing in Scotland. From Portree (skip breakfast here…they can only cook eggs hard) I took the ferry back to the “Mainland” and a train to Inverness.

So peaceful traveling across country in the train. From Skye which is actually attached to the mainland by a bridge (who knew) the journey goes along a lock for sometime and then turns inland with lovely small lakes (whoops, lochs) reflecting the skies and hills. Great blue herons, shorebirds, cows, sheep…all pretty lazy. Zzzzzzzz.

Not far from my lodging in Inverness, which was about a 10 minute walk to the center, there is a lovely theatre complex which had pop-up performances of all sorts going on in the afternoon. When sitting down and having a glass of wine, I overheard the woman sitting next to me telling her mate that she was off to London for Wimbledon, then heading to Santo Domingo, then to NY. She was also attending a filming the BBC was doing there in Inverness…evidently had been invited. Puts me to shame. She was dressed pretty “trashily” in my opinion and I had made a quick judgement. Now, with the travel commentary, my opinion went up several notches. Bad girl.

After Inverness, headed to Thurso, the uppermost end of the British Isles. Going out for a walk and a bit windy and cool, there are two wee girls running around in the surf with their innertubes. Yes, I know it’s summertime but I’m yearning for long johns. BTW, an amazing restaurant (Captain’s Galley) serving seafood very near the ferry terminal and just down the road from where I stayed. Shellfish platter to die for. A new waitress was being trained and it was her first day. She was so nervous serving me the amuse bouche of seafood bisque, that she tried to put the entire tray down at my place setting. Pretty cute…she was embarrassed but recovered nicely. I was being good.

Didn’t realize I was going to Orkney until a few days before. It was definitely worth it even for a quick day trip. I had a wonderful guide (Lorna) who met me at the ferry and ferried me around the island, stopping at the stone circles and the Neolithic settlement that had been discovered not so long ago. They are continually finding other settlements and we visited one that archaeologists are currently working at uncovering.

Note: on the trip over there was a young woman with either Tourette’s or some disability that was being accompanied and she called out periodically, sounding much like a seagull. It seems her whole family was taking her on this trip…it must have been difficult. I see so many people with disabilities making a go of it. It is heartwarming and disturbing at the same time.

Be aware: on the trains occasionally the announcements were a station behind. Just have to stay awake. And twice my reserved seat was taken…so rather than insisting (as I was in a good mood), I found another seat. Although it was facing backwards usually. On one occasion there were two buddies who had been cycling around Scotland in 10 days……they were doing Airbnb reviews. Ha.

Kingussie in the Cairngorms: I stayed just for one night and evidently it was for the excellent dinner they served. A Michelin starred chef. I did manage a walk to the Ruthven Barracks which played a part in…you guessed it…the Jacobite rebellion.

Not what I had at Kingussie

At The Cross (the Inn and restaurant in Kingussie) the waiter was Russian or Eastern European. It seems that many of these more up-scale eating establishments employ foreigners. Interesting.

This is getting too long. Continued in a subsequent blog…maybe. I’m definitely cleaning up my commentary here and not putting in all the nasty comments I promised.

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Who knew…?

When I thought of Scotland my reveries turned to the Highlands and kilts, bagpipes, rolling hills, misty mountains. Little did I consider food. Well…myohmy was I mistaken. I’m sitting here at the Cross in Kingussie, a sleepy village north of Edinburgh having just finished an amazing repast.

This is what I would say is my 4th gourmet meal in my 10 days (so far) in Scotland. You could definitely do a food tour here. No pics of Scorrybreac in Portree (Isle of Skye) where I had the most delicious venison…maybe I mentioned that in another post. Also, an excellent Sea Bream in Inverness at Mustard Seed…doesn’t photograph well. 😉

1) the restaurant Old Spean Bridge

Leg of lambikins

2) Captains Galley in Thurso

Shellfish cooked to perfection

3) the Cross in Kingussie

Scotland beef

On another note is the weather. Now, everyone says this is highly unusual. Since I’ve been in Scotland I’ve had 65-75 degree weather. No rain to speak of. I had to buy cooler 😎 clothes including shorts just to survive.

My tour is coming to an end. Just three more nights and I’m moving south.

A side note: Do people have to partner with someone dummer to make them feel important? It’s not the Jet Stream that makes it warmer, it’s the Gulf Stream…darling. Or is it that the partner just shuts up and lets them feel superior and in control?

Accepting wagers.

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Riding backwards

So far the agents I booked my Scotland tour with have been spot-on. Every little train trip I take has me facing the “right” way. However, on this leg back down to Inverness, I’m sitting backwards. Not because they erred but because there’s a woman sitting right next to me and I’ve decided to sit backwards instead of having to elbow it with her. I know it’s psychosomatic but I do feel a little out of sorts seeing the landscape zoom by and seeing where I’ve been rather than where I’m going. At least it’s on the same route I had coming up. Waahhhhh!

Thurso is a little sleepy brown town (they all are brown, by the way) at the northern tip of the “mainland”. Again, I was picked up on schedule and delivered to my lodging…a sweet little B&B serving the usual Scottish breakfast (except no haggis, thank god). Next day, headed to Orkney on the Ferry from Scrabner to Stromness which I realized at some point was Orkney. Who knew? Past the “Old Man of Hoy”.

Man of Hoy

BTW the Orkenians named their largest island the mainland.

Picked up by Lorna (See-Orkney tours) for a private tour of Orkney with visits to Scara Brae (Neolithic village). It’s like a warren with the stone huts connected by tunnels and reminded me of The Buried Giant by Ishiguro…a haunting and thought-provoking book.

Then on to some other 5000 year-old stone circles (eat your heart out Stonehenge). Some archaeologists were working on the site.

The St. Magnus Cathedral in Kirkwall is quite impressive and has a wonderful tale to tell about his life, demise, canonization…and his and his nephew’s (who founded the Cathedral in 1137) remains being found in hidden cavities in two different columns of the church.

The Orkenians think of themselves independent from Scotland who themselves think themselves independent…from Great Britain. Orkney identifies more with Norway and the Vikings (ala Magnus) then it does with the Scots.

A whole gaggle of girls just embarked on the train. Heading to Inverness I imagine and a wild weekend! They are enjoying themselves…it’s Saturday. Cackle, yuck, cackle. It is a bit annoying…oh, there goes a few people moving to the next car.

Why do people ooh and aah when they see a baby, a dog, a horse? What little neuron and/or chemical controls that reaction? Fields roll by, wheat spools, sheep,cows, sheep, lambkins, sheep, wheat spools, standing stones, stone tonsured hills, stone walls, grass, pine trees, sheep, sheep, horses, sheep.

OK. Here go the earphones on.

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Yes, Virginia, another train ride

Heading up to Thurso from Inverness where I had a good stay at a B&B ten minutes walk to the center. A sweet little place and a bit more room than my Skye retreat in Portree. Inverness seems to be a mini-Edinburgh. Very manageable. I took a local bus out to the Culloden Battlefield where they had a great audio tour and presentation of what went on there in 1746…the final Jacobite battle where 1500 Jacobites were killed and 300 Britishers. I’ve always wondered why they were called Jacobites. You probably know this but Jacobus is the Latin for James. And it was James Stewart they wanted back on the thrown. His descendent “Bonny Prince Charles” spent some time trying to reclaim the thrown, all for nought. He died on the continent a sad sorry alcoholic. Happens to the best of us…the alcohol, that is. There was an eclectic group of people touring the site with their audio guides. Very interesting observing and being observed.

Here’s a good place to interject that American women traveling solo (the only ones that seem to travel alone) are pretty eccentric. Whoops, who’s looking in the mirror? Present company excepted. I met one woman going out to the battlefields on the bus and though I resisted talking as is my usual mode, she insisted on telling me how the bus driver told her the wrong information and she had to wait for another bus…seemed very put out.

And then I was sitting alone (is there any other way?) at the Mustard Seed in Inverness having a pretty good darn meal when they seated a woman at the adjacent table. It’s a trend. Anyway, she turned out to be from the Marshall Islands by way of Iowa and had been teaching in the Marshall’s for 18 years. Seemed nice but every once in a while she went into a reverie and sort of lost it with how excited she was to be traveling…she said this was the trip of her lifetime. It was pretty sweet and, of course, I helped her document the event. I was on my best behavior.

There are some lovely walks along the River Ness which runs through Inverness and, as you guessed, is an outlet for Loch Ness.

Oh yes, here I’m interjecting a church graveyard where, after they imprisoned the rebel Jacobites in the church, took them out and executed them. There are even two stones lined up which, it is said, were used to line up the musket with the prisoner. Nice use for a churchyard. By the way, it’s not a Catholic Church. And it is along the River Ness.I managed a boat trip (yes, Jacobite cruises!)

He’s Scottish, not American…I know what you were thinking.

out to the Loch and to Urquhart Castle. I had bought my ticket the day before and boarded just fine. However in disembarking I was asked for my yellow pass. No yellow pass. I’m sure this has never happened before…no, no. Well, they let me off without the pass and then on the return had to go through the whole rigamarole again. It was a lovely trip though and a lovely day. Lots of climbing at Urquhart…just can’t get away from that in Scotland.

I had a chat with an Irish woman (living in Scotland) who was on the boat (Jacobite cruises!) who was taking the Contemplative Cruise – that is, you sit on your can on the trip up to the Castle and likewise on the way back. She asked a lot of questions and gave a lot of answers. Not too contemplative. I, of course, took the Discovery Cruise which included climbing around the castle and busing back.

Highland Coos

Speaking with ‘what’s her name” I felt like it was an episode of an English soap opera. So much like Hyacinth Bucket (Bouquet). Cheery and chatty and curious (nosy)…Are you traveling alone??? She and her husband were hosting a good friend of theirs on this trip up and down the canal to Loch Ness who has Parkinson’s. Keeping up Appearances.

Now here in Thurso…and being picked up by Dave’s taxi. Just a short jaunt up the hill to a B&B. Still beautiful weather. Who knew? Off to Orkneys tomorrow.

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Trains buses and footsies

Sitting on the train (yes, train) from Skye to Inverness. I had no idea there was a bridge and that it was so close to the “mainland.”

I arrived from the south via a ferry crossing and leaving to the east in the 2 car train. Whew! They just turned on the a/c. Not a beautiful station on the Skye side but adequate.

Skye weather was amazing and highly unusual. I recommend packing lightly for summer AND fall. This is June/July and the weather can change in a blink. I also recommend skipping Skye if you’re not a hiker and not interested in geology at all. But if you insist, the scenery is amazing and you can tour the island via a local bus day pass which allows one to stop wherever you will.

OK, maybe for some…not so exciting.

The buses don’t run all that often, and the last bus back is pretty early, so beware.

I did one stop at Old Man of Storr which is a geologic formation and quite impressive. You can also climb, at a 45 degree angle, up to the top. Why not, she said? It’s only 1 1/2 kms. I took the more circuitous route thinking I’d be rested for the last bit at about 60 degrees. Ha!

Not a chance. Once I had spent myself on the lower section I told myself “you don’t need to do this”. This time I actually listened to myself. Took a couple of pics and headed down which was a bit more treacherous then going up since I headed down the scree path.

I then continued around the peninsula on the local bus for more eye-candy scenery.

Recommended place to eat is Scorrybreac in Porter, Skye. Best meal I’ve had in Scotland. Not usually a venison lover, it was wonderful. I had to ask if it wasn’t filet mignon they were passing off. Also had pigeon for starter (uh, you know, squab) which was delicious as well. Great wine list and detailed information from the sommelier/owner.

Continuing on my train ride. I’ll be in Inverness shortly…2+ hours with all the local stops.

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Harry Potter and the Curious Dilettante

Here I am sitting on the “Harry Potter” train heading to Hogwarts…oh, no I mean Maillig. I’ve learned more about the Jacobites in these couple of days than I knew in all my long life. This is called now the Jacobite train trip since Harry retired. Well actually long before.

I happen to have a first class seat…la de da…and am sitting across from a couple on their honeymoon heading to Skye for a couple of weeks. She’s knitting away…not sure why.

That’s not her…just couldn’t resist this Scottish man

I have to say, the travelers seem to be a bit longer in the tooth than those muggles and wizards formerly occupying these seats.

The famous span bridge (or bridge to Hogwarts if you will) & avid photographers

The concrete used in the Glenfinnan Viaduct is mass concrete, which unlike reinforced concrete does not contain any metal reinforcement. It has 21 spans.

I had a lovely stay at the Old Pines Inn near Spean Bridge. It’s along the way from the Commandos memorial to the High Bridge…site of the start of the 1748 Jacobite rebellion. See…I told you I learned something about Bonnie Prince Charlie and his groupies. Probably best not to call them “groupies” while I’m in Scotland.

The food was excellent at the Old Pine Inn…this is the lake trout on pesto noodles. Yum.

Ken, the propietor of the Old Pine Inn gave me a ride to the local bus which I took to Ben Nevis and the gondola. Some lovely views and a crazy hang glider. He made it.

The goat said “Hmm…looks easy”.

Back on the Jacobite train: I’m hearing the rhythmic heartbeat of the steam engine. The clack clack clack of the tracks. Gray smoke pouring from it’s chimney. Soot on my clothes, on my hair. Too warm to close the windows…must be that global warming. Here comes the tea wagon. There’s the whistle. Some damn loch coming up now. Now speeding up. How romantic Diana! Yes, Diana, how romantic.

The tour company did a good job. I’m sitting in first class on the best side of the train facing forward. Lovely. People are discussing how the train disengages and turns around at line end. Everyone (including me) seems fascinated by trains. Many seem to be doing a round trip on the steam train. Now I feel better about hogging the view on my side.

Scottish foxglove everywhere. What did you expect?

By the way, it is ridiculously warm here. Everyone is surprised evidently. I thought to get a good tan in Mallorca but it seems a better chance here. My packing left something to be desired, so I ended up buying some shorts and shirts in Fort William. I now have two outfits I can wear for the next 10 days. Not sure how I could have escaped this problem even in looking at the forecast but one gutfull day I’m going to head off with two outfits only and make-do. Sure.

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The Year of Living Travelustily

Oh my, Oh my…I spend about 2 hours a day figuring out where to go next. Such a problem.

Right now I’m in Edinburgh and loving it. Such a Harry Potter world…alleys, dark corners, sinewy stairways, towers, old soot colored buildings. The city is built on two levels with “bridges” spanning the dales below. It’s an odd feeling to be walking on the South Bridge since it doesn’t seem like a bridge at all but rather a wide boulevard aligned with shops and restaurants. But sure enough there are archways below holding up the 1000 foot bridge. Supposedly there are 19 archways below but only one is still visible. Buildings, shops, homes have all been built into and onto the arches so as to defy reality. A good tour to book is the Highs and Hidden Lows of Edinburgh. Full of arcane information and a very small group (six). I was huffing and puffing a bit as we climbed up and down streets and steps for about 2 miles. I tried to put on a good face and managed to keep up.

Off to Glasgow and heading to the Highlands. Why is it that the night before I travel, no matter how far, I have trouble sleeping. No different this time even though Glasgow is only 45 minutes from Edinburgh…worry about Uber and WiFi and pick up and finding the right track and checking my bag into left-luggage at the station. I surely don’t want to carry that around on my 13-day “Grand Tour of Scotland”. It’s a bit costly but worth it…I hope.

The company I organized the private tour with had their associate meet me at the station in Glasgow and handed me a huge envelope of vouchers, maps, timetables, tickets, etc. It worked like a charm…whew that worry dealt with and pointless. Heading to my first 2-day stop at Spean Bridge and the Old Pines Inn…near 4000 foot Ben Nevis in the highlands. Dressed for mild weather…my mistake…more on this later.

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A little note about VAT refunds

If you purchase an item in Europe you qualify for a tax refund when you leave the country. One thing of note: the “country” means the entire European Union. So, if you buy something in Lisbon and then go to Mallorca you are not able to get the refund. Then if you continue on to Edinburgh, you’re still not out of the European Union. Basically you have 90 days from your purchase to get the customs stamp that verifies your purchase and refund. And you must get that stamp from the last country you visit before returning home.

So…a little problem if you’re not heading out within 90 days. But sometimes a sad story will suffice or rather…lying. It all depends on who is manning the customs office and how long the line is. I had some lying luck leaving Mallorca with something I had purchased in Lisbon. (I wasn’t successful with this ruse when I left Lisbon.) The customs agent wanted to see my boarding pass and passport, of course, along with the receipt and the VAT form that had previously been filled out by the shop where I bought the item.

He perceptively noted to me that my boarding pass showed I was not leaving the EU and was heading to Edinburgh. So where was my ongoing itinerary? Well…unfortunately my “friend” had gone ahead of me and had all that information. “Not even an email from the airline with your itinerary”, he asked. No, unfortunately not. Of course, he wasn’t fooled but felt like giving me a break, I guess. So, he stamped my form and YAY, I got my refund.

So, the moral of this story is if you’re not leaving in that 90 day period either lie or give it up. It depends alot on the refund amount…if it’s a small amount, it’s definitely not worth it. And…have a sad luck story ready in detail; go in the morning before a line forms and; hope to god you have a sympathetic agent.

I won’t try this again.

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