Monday, 11 October 2010

My First Trip - Finally! We depart!!

We moved the dates up for the last week in July and the first week in August to bypass problems with our kids going back to school.

This is the date we left - 25 July 1998. Our (now ex)husbands took us to the airport, the required two hours before departure. It was hot and very muggy and miserable in Arkansas and we dressed in short sleeves and shorts, of course. Why, this was summer and why would one dress any other way?

Time came for us to board our plane to take us to St Louis that would connect with another flight on to London, arriving the next day. Now get this - bad planning does make a difference, so if you're planning a trip please take my advice; pack only about 10% of the stuff you think you're going to use. It'll weigh you down and when it does, you'll remember these words! We got on the plane and it didn't take us any time to get to St Louis. We walked the length of the airport and on the way, got our dinner and bought some cookies (which we didn't eat right away but stashed for a cookie emergency, which we had on the train!). We had just enough time to scoff down the tacos and our plane started boarding.

Looking out of the window (of the person behind me!) I saw what was to be my last sight of America for over two weeks. I was so excited I could've burst. Cathy (first mention of my travel companion and friend!) and I laughed a good bit of the seven and a half hour flight (much to the dismay of the folks in front of us, we later discovered). But heck. We were two girls from Arkansas who'd never seen much of anything - we deserved to have a little (okay, a lot) of fun, right?

No sleep on this flight! The seats we had were cramped (as are most coach seats) and to make it worse, we could actually see first class from where we were - they could've at least closed the curtains! I mean, seriously, can a person sincerely enjoy a paper-plate meal with cardboard cups when one can see others dining on fine china with their own little silver-plated salt & pepper shakers?? Me thinks not!!

This is what I wrote in my journal:

I'm sitting here in a window seat of a 767 aircraft that just took off from St Louis on its way to London. Looks like we'll land a bit early so we'll get to Edinburgh earlier than expected. The clouds are beautiful from this altitude. The sun should be setting soon as we approach the Atlantic Ocean. I hope I can see it from my window! We have about seven hours left to fly - they say the weather in London is clear and warm. I still don't think its all set in yet. This is such an adventure and so much is still going through my head! I just can't wait to set foot on Scottish soil!!

Someone told me back home that when I set foot on the soil of Scotland that I would feel the electricity of it bolt through my body. Geez - they should bottle that up and sell it!

We arrived in London and meandered around until we found where to check in. we did and got on the next train to get the other train that would take us to Edinburgh. Who's idea was this? Right, our "travel agent" ... thanks.

We ran into many people, all kinds, while on our 15 day trip. One of which I'm sure is still telling his story about Cathy to many of his friends. On the express train (train #1) we piled on our luggage (Note: We each took two carry-ons plus two large, heavy check-ins with us. Do not do this. It is entirely bad for the back, no matter what your age! Pack light!!) onto the floor of the train. Little did we know that no one else would be carrying on this much luggage with them on the train, surely everyone thought we must be tourists! And they would be right! Cathy sat next to an adorable young Frenchman. I only know he was French from the words I recognised.

She struck up a conversation with him and talked and talked (this poor man sitting next to her only nodded and said, "yes, yes" to everything she said).. Finally, after holding it in as long as I could, I said, "Cathy, that man doesn't speak a lick of English and he hasn't understood a word you've said to him for the last fifteen minutes!" I burst out into laughter and she rolled her eyes and laughed along. She said, "Well, at least he's polite about it."

We made several stops along the way (we were on our way to train #2, at King's Cross Station) and on one stop a little old man boarded. He was cute, with his small stature and snow white hair. He was dressed in what I called "Sound of Music" clothing. My heart ached for him a little because along with him looked like he was carrying everything he owned in the world.

One thing in his stack of belongings struck me a little funny ... an accordion. Hmm, I thought to myself, how quaint. Then, without warning or advertisement, this funny little man picked up his instrument and with not so much as a 1-2-3, he began to play and dance, right there on the train! All of us passengers thought it was cute, no one snarled at him, we mostly all smiled. It was enjoyable but you didn't quite know what to do...was he waiting for tips? Doing it as enjoyment? Being from America, one wonders about people like this funny little man. I hate that about being American. I hate that I have to doubt everyone and everything and I have absolutely no control over it. This occurred several more times over the course of the trip.

Someone tried to give him money but he wouldn't accept it. Someone else got up and started to dance right next to him. It still remains a warm memory from this first trip.

We got off this train (train #1) and thought we were about to board train #2. Ha! At least we were in London, where people are nice, right? Well, maybe. We found ourselves on the platform looking both directions for a way up to street level, obviously where train #2 was waiting for us, right?? Ha, again! We had to climb three (yes, count 'em, three) flights of very steep stairs with our huge heavy albatrosses, oops, I mean bags. A young Englishman took pity on us and helped us part way up the stairs.

We finally made it up all the stairs, out of breath (the out-of-shape southern gals that we were) and found out that the Kings Cross Station we wanted - was actually down the street! So with very bad directions and no idea where on God's earth we were going, we trekked off toting the albatrosses, oops, bags, looking for the chariot that was to take us to heaven (in case you're lost, we were trying to get on train #2 to take us to Edinburgh). Around one corner, around another, down one street, we finally came to a cross-walk. Which way to go? The man said to follow the signs. What signs? I saw absolutely no signs.

Then I spied her. A sweet kindly looking elderly lady walked towards us on the street. I'm not for approaching strangers (especially in foreign countries!) but man, I was beat and so was Cathy. We were looking for the train and this little lady looked like she knew right where she was. Sure enough, with a little Southern Charm and a desperate look in my eyes (not sure which did it, but I'm taking credit for both) she said she'd walk us over. Well, sure as I'm sitting here, the dang station was right across the street! If we'd just crossed that wee street on our own, we would've been doing well. But it was sure nice to run into that lovely lady. We thanked her over and over for getting us there safe and sound and she waved her tiny hand and walked away with a smile.

We got inside the station and dropped all said albatrosses to the ground. Cathy stood watch and I went in search of information. That was my goal - information finder. And boy did I find it! In less than 15 minutes, we were boarding a train for Edinburgh! We finally found a car that wasn't marked first class (them and their darned silver plated salt & pepper shakers!) and on we went. I got on and Cathy handed me bird after bird (see the albatross reference above) and out of nowhere came this knight in shining armour! He helped us on with our bags and asked if we wanted to have a seat at his table. We couldn't walk another step and we agreed.

For the next five hours we sat and talked with Danny (who looked an awful lot like Hugh Grant in my memory), our train #2 companion and shared our St Louis cookies with him and another passenger from Saudi Arabia. We all talked of everything we could think of, from "cabbages to kings" my Grandmother used to say. The Saudi Arabian guy got off at York, we were headed for Edinburgh, and our new friend was going to Fort William to meet friends for the week. We enjoyed each other's company and exchanged business cards at the end of our trip. As he did when we got on, he helped us with our bags to get off the train as well. He said once on our little journey, "This is very un-English of us all." I asked what he meant and he replied, "I'm supposed to be sitting here reading my paper not saying a word, but I'm sitting here talking with two girls from Arkansas. This is Scottish of us, no doubt." I agree.

When we got off the train, we noted how cool it was. Before we left, I would keep a watch on the temps in Scotland in various places trying to keep tabs on the weather. Besides the rain, it was awful cool for this time of year. Someone would later recount that it was the coolest summer in history. We made it to the summit of yet another flight of stairs - this time with the help of another young man who asked me if I was carrying a body. By this time, I was too tired to even smile. We decided to scrap the idea of getting yet another train and take a taxi to the airport to get the car. Yes, again, I confess, this was all my idea...I didn't know it was going to this difficult.

A lady who we bought some travel stuff from before we left told us the ride from the station to the airport was only six miles. NOT! If this was six miles, I'm Truman Capote!! And in traffic no less!!

We got to the airport and after yet another little misadventure, not important enough to list here, we got our car! A little silver VW Rover and it had a moon-roof that was also a sunroof and an alarm system to boot! Wow!

We called home to let everyone know we were safe and sound and that we'd soon be on our way to our B&B in Culross. We loaded our stuff in our car and made our nest (as we say). I was a little nervous about driving on the wrong side of the road and sitting on the wrong side of the car and I drove for the first 100 yards a little slower than normal, but soon got the hang of it. We caught awesome traffic on our way to the B&B, but it afforded us great views of the countryside outside of the city.

I noticed right away that the colours were deeper, the greens were greener, etc. I thought it was because of an earlier rain that cleared up the air, but I was to find out this was the case no matter what the weather; its just all so much more beautiful than I had ever imagined! After about an hour in traffic (and remember, this is after eight hours on a plane, five hours on a train, and who knows how long in between) we arrived at St Mungo's Cottage in Culross.

We knocked on the door and Martin answered, immediately knowing who we were. We'd been writing back and forth to each other for a few months. We were very familiar to each other - we just hadn't met yet. We brought gifts for them - a cookbook of Arkansas recipes and a book of beautiful Arkansas scenery. we wanted to bring a little of our home to theirs. Judy was delighted and showed us to our room. Martin carried the birds to the room and we cleaned up and had our first Scottish dinner right there in Culross.

We were directed to the Red Lion Inn and I tell you what ... this place was a place we ate at more than once and was only disappointed with the service (and never the food) just once! It was awesome food, the house dressing was to die for! We had steak pie, not "meat pie" as we were informed later in our trip. We drank more water than I think I've had my whole life. But it was pure and crystal clear even out of the tap!! After dinner, we made our way back up the stairs - how, I still don't know and we fell into our twin beds. I don't remember actually laying down that night, but I know I had to because that's where I was the next morning. And what a glorious morning it was!!

Next: Stirling and Bannockburn

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