I guess it's about time I blogged a bit. Not in the mood today, but I have loads of free time and I'm afraid I'll forget if I wait any longer. SO here goes.
Monday morning, after breakfast but before lunch, Bob and I headed to the airport. It's about an hour and a half to London Luton from here. We had pre-paid for a parking spot in the long term area, which was a bargain at 40GBP. Yikes! Our plane tickets were only 100. Long term parking is way around behind all the regular airport stuff: easy to find if you only ever get to it. Once there we found a spot not far from the shuttle pick-up point, got out, locked up, and waited for the bus. We each had a backpack carry-on and we shared one suitcase. The bus finally came, and took us all the way around back to the front of the airport.
There is only one terminal at Luton, and it was pretty easy to find our way around. Checked in fine, and were told to watch the monitors for our gate number. We got lunch at Burger King, after a few difficulties. After eating we went through security, where my bag was targeted for inspection. The power cord for Bob's laptop looked suspicious, but after a careful scanning we were allowed to take it on through. Then we got to sit around and wait for the gate number to be displayed.
We flew EasyJet, which doesn't assign seats. The website indicated people were boarded in the order that they checked in, except for those who paid extra to go first. Not entirely true. The first 30 people to check in got to go ahead of the rest of the group, but otherwise it was a race to the gate to queue up for boarding.
Anyway, we got in line and stood there for awhile, during which time I took an Actifed (decongestant) to help my ears not hurt so bad. When we finally got to go, it was a walk down stairs, outside and across the tarmac and then up stairs onto the plane. They loaded people in front and back. We went for the front, and found an empty row just in front of the wing. I went for the window, and Bob took the isle seat, leaving an empty seat between us. As the plane filled up, I kept expecting Bob would have to move over and someone else would sit at the isle, but it didn't happen. We got to travel in luxury.
The plane was a 737-700. Flight took about 1 hour 15 minutes. (To drive would have taken over 12 hours.) About 25 minutes before landing I experienced terrible pain in my ears, but less in the one whose earplug was inserted properly. It was all over before we landed.
We got off the plane, walked down and across and into Inverness airport. They have only two gates, and one baggage claim belt. It took just a few minutes to get the suitcase, and we were headed out. The Enterprise car rental lady was waiting for us, ready to go, so we took off with her. It was a pleasant drive to the Enterprise office, where we answered a few questions and were on our way in a fairly new Vauxhall Astra. We followed my Google map printout to our hotel (it was almost right). Actually a B&B type, with 6 rooms and parking for 2 cars. We managed to snag a space every night. Checked in and headed for downtown.
I'd read about a used bookstore/coffee shop there, and we tried to find it. But Church street is longer than it looks on the map, and we never found it. We would have tried harder, but they are only open 1-5pm and we just didn't have the time. We found the tourist Information Center, which had about the average amount of info (very little). Then wandered around a bit, going into a closing shopping center and having supper at KFC there. As town seemed to be rolling up the sidewalks, we decided to go for a drive.
We found our way out of Inverness, which is a bigger city than we thought at first, and built on both sides of the river/firth/loch and only has one bridge across. There is one road in and out of town. We headed north-east to the Black Isle, which is neither an island nor black. There is a light house on the beach there and so we went out there and walked around awhile, then sat and stacked rocks and watched a cruise ship and a sail boat and the ferry. When we were done we went back to our room in Inverness for a decent night's sleep on the memory foam mattress.
We woke up when we were done sleeping, had a shower with incredibly high water pressure (you don't know the meaning of the word "low pressure" until you've showered in England), and went down to breakfast. Cold cereal and juice followed by eggs and "bacon" for me (Bob also had sausage, beans, and mushrooms) with toast, coffee for Bob and milk for me. Then we simply got in the car and took off. This may not sound like much to you, but when one has 6 young children one must not just go. A normal trip for our family involves 20 minutes of finding and tying on socks and shoes, 5 minutes of getting diapers and things for the bag, checking diapers before we go, making sure everyone has been to the toilet, thinking about the time and the next meal, then getting everyone in the car and strapped down. But with no children, you just get in the car.
First we stopped at Tesco for bottled water and snacks, and then we were off to see Loch Ness. We drove down the north side of the loch, stopping frequently to look and take pictures, all the way to Fort Agustus, and then on the Fort William, and then a little farther to Glencoe. We had spurts of sun and rain. We went into a castle on the loch, and climbed down around a few waterfalls. At one waterfall there wasn't really a trail down, so I stayed by the road while Bob climbed down. A car full of young men stopped as well, and they walked past me, looking for a path down to the water (they were planning to kayak). One youth saw the place Bob had gone down, gave a whistle, and kept on walking. I had to chuckle that my 40-something hubby made it down and these hot shot 20-somethings wouldn't try.
The beauty of the area was overwhelming. Everything was lushly green, huge trees, moss 6 inches thick, waterfalls everywhere, mountains, lakes... We did our best to absorb it, and Bob did his best to photograph it.
We drove back to Inverness on the south side of Loch Ness; a smaller windy road, but not so much traffic. Once back into town we found a "casual dining" place. I had spaghetti and Bob got a cheeseburger. Just a thought - I REALLY like the practice here of having a menu posted outside the front door. This gives people the opportunity to see what is on offer, and you can decide to go in or not. Whereas in the States, you have to go in and ask for a menu (if you've never been to that place before) and then either stay or leave. After dinner we went back to the room for a dip in the jacuzzi tub. Lovely.
Our second day we drove north-west and went to Ullapool. We stopped at two waterfalls, both with swinging suspension bridges that I would not set foot on. We had showers and sun that day, too. On this day we passed through some deserted landscape. Still lush and green, but no trees, no houses, not even sheep. When we looked closely, we saw that the whole area was boggy. In Ullapool we did some shopping. We bought gifts for each other, for the children, and for my parents. We didn't really have lunch, just a few snacks. With the cooked breakfast we didn't want much lunch.
Back down to Inverness, where we prettied up in our room and then walked into the city center. As we walked we heard bagpipes. Just up the street a band had gathered. Pipes and drums, in full kilt. A crowd soon gathered to watch as they went through two songs, and then started marching down the middle of the street (with police escort). It seems they were part of the Inverness Tattoo which was happening that week. We thought for a moment about getting tickets (our first night, in the TIC), but passed. Anyway, we got to see the best part of the show for free. :-) We wanted to have a "nice" dinner, but were very picky in spite of being hungry. Eventually settled on The Room. Bob had steak and I don't remember what I had. But it was nice.
Thursday was the end of our stay. We had until 1. We drove east to Culloden, and then to Clava to see the cairns and the viaduct. Back to town for lunch at a cafe near the train station and parking lot, and then we took back the rental car. The same lady took us to the airport, taking a back road so that we swung by Castle Stuart.
We got to the airport a little early - check in hadn't officially started yet, but they put us through. I was wanting ice cream, but the one shop there had a small freezer that was empty. The one cafe there didn't offer ice cream. I asked at the information booth, because most airports have large shopping areas behind the security wall, but she said there was nothing there and we'd best stay out front as long as possible. Well, they did have internet there, and there was the one shop (I bought a hardback biography of Bonnie Prince Charlie for 99p), and we had chairs. ... We both nearly fell asleep. Eventually we couldn't stand it anymore and went on through security. I was called over to let the female guard check under my headcovering, and then Bob set off the buzzer. He was wearing cargo pants, and forgot the car keys were in a lower pocket. So they wanded him, he pulled out the keys, and then they patted him down and made him take off his shoes. (As a rule, people didn't take their shoes off.) But they decided to let us through.
It was a little crowded back there, but we found a seat. And lest I should fall asleep again, I went over to the cafe to get a soda. There was a sign on the counter about ice cream! So I got us each a pot of organic dark chocolate ice cream, and one soda. It was good.
We tried the same trick with the seats, but this time someone came to sit with us, so it was a bit more crowded. I got my earplugs in better this time, and it was a good thing, too. The row in front of us was a dad and two little girls. They yelled and screamed the whole way, and he never looked at them. I really thought the flight attendant would say something, but she never did. Oh well, they had fun, I guess (it was happy, playing screams most of the time).
Back to Luton, back to the far car park, back on the road home. We stopped at McDonald's for supper, and were home before the children's bed time. They were quite excited to see us - we could hear the shouts from the car as we pulled up.
So I guess I should talk about Friday and Saturday at some other time.