Monday, 11 October 2010

My First Trip - On the way to Inverness

First, I want to make sure that I include something I left out before. While we were at breakfast in Culross our first day, we noticed some noise outside the window. We got up to find out what it was and we saw a man, with a wheelbarrow and a shovel, cleaning up the extra dirt from the side of the road. We hadn't noticed till now that we'd not seen any litter. This was odd to us since most every place you go in the USA there is litter everywhere. Another thing we noticed was the lack of billboards. Later, this comes in handy for some awesome photographic shots of the mountains on our drive to Skye.

Now on to the story.

28 July

Today, after breakfast and rolling ourselves upstairs once again, we made our side-trip to Inverness. It would be a six-day trip, leaving most of our stuff at St Mungo's so we don't have to tote it around. The albatrosses will be fine in the tender care of Martin & Judy. We'll miss then, but we'll have fun!

Inverness ended up being the least favourite on my list because of the numerous amount of roundabouts (which I have now mastered, thank you very much). It also felt crowded and we kept getting lost.

We got the things we needed for the trip and were on our way. We noticed the gardens that were practically in every front yard we came to. The gardens at St Mungo's were extensive, in many layers on terraces up the hill. The gardens were magnificent; an aroma rose from them that you could pick up from what felt like miles away!

I try to be as observant as possible. Another thing I noticed immediately, was the road signs. Of course, since I was driving that would be a good thing, right? Sure it was. However, there were many that I'd never seen before. One that sticks in my mind is a drawing of an older couple, complete with the man holding a can that says, "Elderly People" ... it was a crossing sign! Another we saw was a sign at the harbour that was a car going off into the water. No words - just the drawing. The speed signs were circles with the numbers on the inside in tens (not fives). The roundabout signs looked like drawings of spiders!

We saw some great little houses; some looked as though they were ages old; I'm sure they were. We even saw a Blair Castle - but it was a retirement home for miners (not minors!).

On the way to the real Blair Castle, we stopped off in Pitlochry. This is a very pretty place. We were looking for some gasoline (we learned was referred to as petrol), we knew the trip was long and didn't want to run out. We took off looking for a station. We didn't find one in Pitlochry. We actually had to go outside the town a bit before we found one. while we were in town, we saw a shop called Heathergems. A visit there is a must! They take the stems from heather, dry them out, dye them and then compress them until they are all one piece.It kind of looked like cork when they slice it. Then they cut it into shapes, laminate them, and make them into jewellery. Its some of the prettiest jewellery I've seen. Its really not that expensive, either. They have lots of other things in their shop as well, some pricey, some not. We got most of our souvenirs while we were there in that one shop! We didn't spend a ton of money either (no pun intended on the "pound" thing either!).

We did find our petrol. Its kind of misleading, especially for us who are used to buying gas by the gallon. They have it posted that the petrol was like 69p (yes, I said 69p!!) but it was per litre! Ouch! I still don't know how much money we spent on petrol. I don't want to know! We survived on water, Cadbury Dairy Milk Chocolate bars and Pringles.

I also bought a cassette there at the visitor's centre that was called "Ceilidh at the Park" (that's a pub in Glasgow that often has live music). Well, I thought the music on there was great; we played it the whole time we were there. When I came back home, Cathy tells me she hated it. She didn't say anything while we were there, she was afraid that she would hurt my feelings! Sheesh! I didn't catch the hint when she kept turning the sound down everytime I got out of the car! Oh well, I'll know better next time.

We got to Blair Castle (£2 for parking) and the day was bright, sunny, and hardly a cloud in the sky. It was like looking at a  fairy tale standing right in front of us. There was a man all decked out in Highland dress playing the bagpipes. People were sitting all over the grounds having picnics and just enjoying the day. It was warm and beautiful. This was our second castle and we were excited about seeing it.

Inside, the panelling looked like cherry wood - there were rifles and basket hilted swords on the walls, along with shields and many paintings. The rifles and swords were arranged in stars and circles all over the castle. If we'd spoken German, we could've joined a tour group in front of us, but we didn't catch a thing he said!

The first leg of the tour was better than the second. The best room of all was the ballroom. There was a chain mail suit and stag horns all over the walls. You could imagine the gentlemen and ladies all dressed in their best like ghosts in a late night movie! It was amazing. In the centre of the ballroom was a table, covered in glass with a model of Blair Castle inside. We saw a model of a ship in the tour as well.The detail of this was incredible. It looked as if it had taken the better part of a decade to put together. Very cool.

On our way out, we got back on the motorway and saw a ruin of some kind on the side of the road. We were of course, immediately interested and got off the road to see if we could get to it. We drove around for 15 minutes before we finally gave up. I still don't know what it was but it was evasive and untouchable. I decided that wasn't going to happen again. If I saw something I wanted to get closer to, I'd find a way!

We arrived in Inverness, a little larger place than I thought it was going to be, but we found our B&B with almost no problems. We only got lost three times. We arrived and met the owners, Bill & Terri and they were quite helpful and kind. Bill even let me use his email so I could message back home that we'd made it to Inverness safe and sound. The day was getting short, so we asked how to get to Urquhart Castle and were pointed to it and were on our way.

When we got close we could see our first ruin. It was extraordinary! We made it to the car park and surprisingly there weren't that many cars there. Come to find out, we were the last group of people let in to the castle for the day. It was a little bit of a walk to the castle but every step was wonderful - the closer I got the better it looked! We got to the castle and it was like strength surrounded us. The location on Loch Ness is splendid!

We were half way looking for the monster. We stared and stared at the water, hoping she'd come up and say hello. Out of nowhere, I turned and there she was!! Nessie!! She rose out of the water and glided along with her tall white ... well ... maybe it was a sailboat instead. Dang. We never did see her - she seems to be quite elusive as well.

Loch Ness ... just a lake? No way! Its so much more than that! Its dark, almost black in places and so deep that they don't really know exactly how deep in many many areas. We stood on the side of the road (they made these little side of the road places to park so people like us wouldn't block traffic!) and just looked and gazed. I've never seen mountains like I've seen in Scotland. They are incredible! Of course, we'll see that more majestic ones and even the large ones did hide from us. On the drive, which was right by the water, we saw one of many many waterfalls that we encountered on our trip. Secretly, I think we were looking for bigger and better falls, but didn't go searching for them. If we did, we'd have seen some magnificent ones, like the ones near Eilean Donan Castle in Dornie.

We have a new word. Pachooka. What in the world would that mean, you ask? The roundabouts we came upon were a little odd for us and with Cathy as my navigator (and an excellent one at that, and no, I'm not just saying that because she'll read this) we had to find a way for her to tell me which leg of the roundabout to take. Well, we found a word - pachooka. We would come up on a roundabout and if I was supposed to take the second exit, she would tell me the second pachooka and I'd know exactly which way to go!

I found out soon how to drive on a roundabout. You pray a lot. The first thing an American has to remember (or anyone else who's used to driving on the right side of the road) is that you must always drive to the left, don't turn right on a roundabout, even if the pachooka that you need to take is on your immediate right. It looks like a short cut but it not only isn't, its also very dangerous. The locals will pick you out QUICK and I saw people doing - I never ever did! Also, if you feel as though you've made a wrong turn, go on to the next roundabout, especially if you know there's one coming up. All you have to do is go all the way around the roundabout and you'll be back on the right track. We felt as through the locals built these especially for us so if we did get lost or take a wrong turn, we could just drive around in circles till we figured out where to go!

Video hint: Don't let anything hand from your rear-view mirror. So it wouldn't get lost, we hung our money-changer from the mirror and it made its upstaging in several shots of the video. Use the ashtray.

Driving on the left wasn't as bad or as hard as I thought it would be. From the moment I got into the car, I was a little nervous about it and never did get used to seeing cars and trucks coming at me from the right side of the road on a sharp curve. However, the easiest way to remember is to remember you're sitting on the wrong side of the car so it would be easy to stay on the left! One thing that's a little awkward is that there is much more car on your left than you're used to and it may take a little while to keep from driving on the side of the road, sometimes on the verge. It didn't take me very long and I got used to it.

The motorways were great. The roads over there were very well put together. The scenery was breathtaking. Drivers were courteous but not overly patient. There aren't very many places you can be driving along and BOOM there's a castle or an old church or a ruin. I couldn't get over the fact these people were jut walking along in a town where there was a castle like it was normal! (Sure, its normal for them but not for us!)

Bad news. The batter in my camcorder ran out and the adapter the guy at Radio Shack sold me was the wrong one! I began making plans to kill the guy at the Radio Shack when we returned. This was not a good thing. Lucky we had two still cameras but we sure missed the video!

When we returned to the B&B after getting lost again, we decided to go eat dinner. The recommendation was a place called the Waterfront. It was a little bit of a walk from the B&B but we didn't mind. We finally tired haggis, not bad but not what I expected.

After dinner, we headed back to the B&B, made our plans for the following day, and got our stuff together and went to bed pretty early. We noticed that it would be almost 11pm before the sky would get dark. Dusk was a commonplace lighting from about 7pm till it got totally dark around 11. We had to rest that night because the next day was going to be a long but wonderful day!!

Financial run-down:

Blair Castle:
    £5.50 (£8.75 today)
Urquhart Castle:
    £3.50 (£7.00 today)
    The Waterfront - which is still there!
        Haggis, Haddock, veggies, potato and leek soup, and the house white - £9.17 including tip

Next: Orkney Islands

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