Heading to Scotland
This trip has a bit of history around it. It was a trip that some of us had talked about from at least the days when we were in the UK over the last summer. Given that we had some time then, we thought that a trip north to experience Scotland would be a nice idea. However, not everyone was together, and while it would have been a fun trip regardless, it just didn’t end up happening. I personally had considered going up by train a couple times on my own. And then of course Nenad, Pablo and I spent six months in Spain, not convenient for a quick trip to Scotland. That brings us to April 2007, when we have all just finished our dissertation projects, and are in a mood to forget about our studies for a while. As luck, good planning, and an interesting sequence of events would have it, we were all in the UK for a week at the beginning of the month. So we discussed it, and it was decided that the six of us: Nenad, Pablo, Daniel, Sissi, Enrique (Q) and I would go to Scotland for a couple of days.
Preparation & Good Friday
During our discussions it was decided that we would drive to Scotland, that way we would be able to stop whenever and wherever we needed to and it would add an extra dimension of flexibility to the whole trip. So part of the preparation was to arrange for a rental car. Of course, with six people, renting something appropriate is not very easy, or at least cheap. The whole underlying theme to the trip was that money was scarce and that things should be done as cheaply as possible. A very student appropriate mantra. In the end, it became clear that renting two smaller cars would likely be cheaper than a single larger one, and given the two separate final destinations, made some of the logistics easier as well. So Nenad, Pablo and I rented our car online from Europcar. The other “team” of Sissi, Q and Daniel rented from Enterprise and also booked a GPS (Satellite Navigation) unit. Both cars were being rented from Reading, as this was an easier point to leave from than London. However, the long Easter weekend meant that returning the vehicle to Reading wouldn’t be possible on Sunday. Or Monday for that matter. Since Nenad was leaving early Monday morning we didn’t want to deal with the car after Sunday, so we decided to return the car to the Heathrow office, which is always open.
So the first step was to get to Reading, at least for Nenad, Pablo and me. We did this Thursday night and went to visit Sissi. We spent a lot of time trying to book a hostel or some form of accommodation in Glasgow or Edinburgh, or anywhere to have a place to sleep. As it turns out, there were no beds to be found. Eventually we gave up our search and just resigned ourselves to the fact that it would be tricky and possibly we would be sleeping in the cars. That night, those of us without rooms in Reading spent the night at Chris’s place. In the morning we planned for an early departure before 9am, but some people decided to sleep a bit later, cough Q cough and we picked up our cars a couple hours later than planned, and we were finally on the road heading out of Reading by around 11am. The car we ended up with was a Kia Cerato. Not too powerful, but it did the trick for what we needed. The other car in our convoy was a Diesel Ford Fusion, a bit more powerful than ours. Nenad was our driver, and it didn’t take him too long to get used to driving on the left side of the road. Switching years of conditioning about which side you drive on can be tricky, and some of the roads in the UK, once you leave the motorways, are pretty narrow. So it can be a bit of an adventure just getting used to that.
On the road
Unfortunately there isn’t a lot to talk about in the next hours of the trip. We were sitting in the car. That was about it. Pablo slept in the back for a while, Nenad and I chatted, and at a few points we ran into some serious congestion. The other issue with traveling on a long weekend is that you aren’t the only ones. Many people in London and other southern locations in the UK must holiday in the northern parts, perhaps the Lake District. We stopped a couple of times along the way at service breaks along the M6 which is the main motorway we used to head north. Topping up the petrol just before entering Glasgow, we arrived around 19:45 in a parking structure on the edge of the downtown core. From here we decided that we would go take a look around, find something to eat and then look for a place to sleep. We asked the attendant at the parking lot where the main street was, and he said only a couple blocks away. We headed there and tried to seek out somewhere to sit and have a bite to eat and perhaps a drink. Ironically enough, one of my friends from residence last year in Spain is working in Glasgow at the moment, but she was home in Spain for the holiday weekend so we didn’t have a chance to meet up with her. Glasgow, as we were told/warned isn’t much in the way of tourist sights, but it does have a healthy night life. And being in the UK, places get busy at a weirdly early hour. So as we were exploring we noticed that many of the restaurants, even those I would classify as a standard family restaurant, had bouncers out front. I guess if you want to work as a bouncer, Glasgow should be on your list of cities to look for a job. Some of these places had stopped serving food, and others wouldn’t let us in because Nenad was wearing track pants. So we looked for somewhere that would let us in and feed us and ended up in McDonalds. And it is cheaper in Glasgow than in London that is for sure.
After eating, we set out on the quest to find some place to sleep that night. We had already called a lot of places the night before, but we went door to door essentially seeing whether there was room at the inn. Even the really expensive places were full. The reason one hostel gave us was that there was an Irish dancing competition taking place that weekend—in Scotland. Eventually we did actually see some of the dancers in their team jackets or whatever, so I guess that must have been the case. That and the Easter long weekend. After walking around the city for a couple of hours, we made a plan to go back to the cars and head north out of the city, stopping at each service stop to see if there was anything available. After a couple stops at location with fancy expensive places, and a couple others with no vacancies, we found a Travelodge where a woman told us of another place with a couple vacancies. She even called them and got some information and then handed the phone to me so I could see if it would be appropriate. I told the man on the phone that we would be there as soon as possible, and he said he didn’t need my credit card. With a hand drawn map from the lady at reception plus a post code in the GPS, we headed out. As we got closer, the GPS lead us down a long drive way—or I should say, those interpreting the GPS. It was truly spooky down there too, very Blair Witch-esque. With a large stone manor house at the end of a row of creepy trees, it looked haunted, and for whatever reason, we felt it necessary to get out and take pictures in the dead of night. We got out of there and headed back in the right direction and found the Premier Lodge where we would spend our first night. It only cost £50 per room and there were two left, perfect.