Ted and I landed in Glasgow this morning, our group of 22 Senior Discovery travellers accompanied from Toronto by Barbara, our trip coordinator (“herder” and liaison person in Scotland). Our Glaswegian bus driver and tour guide for the next 2 weeks will be Colin, aka “the silver fox”, who promises to be entertaining as well as knowledgeable. This is our second trip with this Canadian company, who specialize in adults-only excursions, our first experience having been the London England show tour 2 years ago. We loved the “door-to-door” service they provided, and so are looking forward to another terrific trip. Over the next 14 days we will tour both the Scottish mainland and portions of the Orkneys and Hebrides, staying in 9 different hotels, all handpicked by SDT.
Sadly, we were not off to an auspicious start. We, along with almost all the couples in our tour group, were seated apart from each other on the plane ; Ted’s seat in row 15 and mine in row 44! We managed to get moved beside each other in row 17, but not every couple was so lucky. That’s definitely not the kind of organization we expected. Then, since our Air Transat flight arrived early in the day, we were through customs by about 11 a.m., but our hotel check-in could not happen until 3, so the usual 1 hour bus ride was stretched into a mini sightseeing tour, which we were too exhausted to appreciate, having expected a “free day” after 7 hours in the air and over 3 at Pearson pre-flight.
That said, 2 of the stops we made en route to the hotel were quite interesting. The first was Helix Park and the 90 foot tall aluminum (pronounced here as al-u-mini-um) horse head statues called The Kelpies. A kelpie is a Scottish shape-shifting water creature that can sometimes appear as a horse, but in this case the statues are also an homage to the huge draught horses once used to operate heavy lock mechanisms on the canals.
Our second stop was at the Falkirk Wheel, a massive Archimedes Wheel boat lift designed to extremely energy-efficiently do what a less efficient lock would. It stands at the junction of the Forth and Clyde Canals and the Union Canal.
Having determined that the hotel was ready for us, we headed into the gorgeous city of Edinburgh. The architecture is magnificent, with some very French influences (one street reminded me of being in Rouen, with the cobbles and flower-filled window boxes) mixed in with the Victorian chimneys on ornately decorated row-houses; and then there is Holyrood House, the royal residence in Scotland, and Edinburgh Castle itself overlooking the city! BUT….. the roads are narrow, crazily curved, poorly signed, and DEFINITELY not intended for huge tour coaches! After what can only be described as a harrowing drive in the downtown, our driver snuck into a space (facing the wrong way on the street – as if driving through roundabouts on the left side is not already stressful enough for Canadians!) in front of our hotel at around 4 p.m. The boutique style Apex City of Edinburgh Hotel is right in the centre of the old city on Grassmarket Street, just below Edinburgh Castle and across from lots of pubs…. a location begging to be explored…..tomorrow.
After our welcome dinner, a few folks from our group decided that half an hour of fresh air would help us get a really good night’s sleep. The streets are still full of people; in addition to the Tattoo, this is also the month for the Edinburgh Fringe Festival and the comedy festival, which means the city’s usual population of just over 530,000 has swollen to more than 1.5 million. Nonetheless, we did our best to avoid the crowds and took a quick stroll along winding Victoria Street which, with its alleyways, secret stairs, and tiny unique shops,was the model for Diagon Alley JKRowlings’ Harry Potter novels.
Tomorrow promises lots of excitement. I’ll fill you in soon.