Just some thoughts and ideas that came out of our wonderful trip to Scotland.
First – Scotland was more than I ever imagined. I saw things that I didn’t expect, such as Kilchurn Castle, Loch Ness (even if Nessie was a no show), a Clan Campbell Jacobite memorial stone at Culloden, Greyfriars Kirk and the tomb of Bloody Mackenzie, just to name a few. But there were things I didn’t get to see; His Grace, The Duke of Argyll (my clan chief), the Kelpies, Holyrood Palace (it was closed due to a visit from the Royal family), and a much too short visit to the Isle of Skye. But I would not have traded it for anything!
Here are a few things that, as an American, I found odd;
- No top sheets of the beds! All our hotel room beds did not have top sheets! Just a bottom sheet and a down filled duvet. Some nights this was very uncomfortable. The windows in most of our hotels only open a few inches, wifey and I both had trouble sleeping.
- No air conditioning. This is understandable since the climate is much cooler than what we have here in Florida. But add to this the first bullet point, and again, very uncomfortable.
- Lots of nose rings. Not sure if this is a Scottish thing or what, but lots of younger folks had rings in their noses! While I will never tell someone how to decorate their body, it is not a look I find attractive. Just my opinion.
- Why do the toilet paper rolls have the paper going under the roll? This was not only in Scotland, but on the British Airways flights we were on. It is so much easier to get the paper from the front of the roll than behind it. Yet almost every restroom (toilet to them), was behind the roll.
- The traffic lights go yellow between each cycle. Here in the USA our lights go green, yellow, red, green. In Scotland it’s green, yellow, red, yellow, green. I kinda felt like I was at an NHRA Dragster event!
- And if you want a bottle of water, you have two choices; still and sparkling. The names are apparent AFTER you ask for your first bottle. Luckily, we stopped at a little convenience store across from our hotel and got to read the labels and didn’t get embarrassed when asked.
Let’s give credit where credit is due. And I will start with Wifey. Not only did she start the whole ball rolling several years ago in planning this trip, she made sure that once we booked we had everything we needed. We purchased some very nice rain jackets just for this trip. She made sure that they had zip out linings so we could use them here at home after our trip. And in all honesty for me, they were more than was needed. I was sweating the majority of the time when we were walking around. I have really become heat intolerant in my later years. But, the jackets were so very needed on those “Scottish days” of 50 F and rainy weather. And there were several of those.
Our tour director/guide Ian Walker. The man is so very knowledgeable of the entire tour. He could point out areas of interest long before we would get there. Now, anyone can be able to point out landmarks of buildings or maybe mountain peaks and such. Ian had such detailed items such as trees and bushes along the road that were (hopefully) blooming at the time. How many people can tell you things like that?
I didn’t get our driver’s last name, so I will refer to him as “Sir Neil”. Sir Neil was the most professional driver I have ever encountered. On the day we went to Inveraray Castle, Wifey and I were in the front seat of the coach. We were going through some very narrow country roads. At times another tour coach or large truck would be headed towards us (did I mention that this is right hand drive country? Sir Neil was driving from the opposite side of the vehicle, on the opposite side of the road), making it very scary to us Americans, yet Sir Neil never had a worry. His hand would go up in a wave to the other driver, and there was never a concerned look on his face.
So, let me recommend a few things. Just in case you’re looking for a tour.
CIE Tours. This is the company we did the tour through. Just a few of the reasons to use CIE:
- No hidden charges! Everything was as described and paid for. One of the little things that I noticed was at many of our stops there were other tours arriving as well. They either didn’t get dinner or breakfast as we did. But something that I thought was nice, was we had porters get our luggage, both from the coach on arrival and again in the monring when we left. Those other guys had to get their own luggage. We had ours brought to the room and picked up outside the room on those mornings. That was a big plus to me.
- All tickets to the castles and other events were paid for. One price, all inclusive! Other than trying the local beers and whiskys, everything food wise, other than lunch when in town, was covered as well.
- We booked through a third party company that closed shop just after we paid. Needless to say we were extremely concerned that we would lose everything and not be able to travel. The wonderful folks at CIE held my virtual hand the entire way. They relieved all my fears on every call (and there were many calls).
Roaming Man. If, like me, you don’t want to either pay for an international plan for data or get a local SIM card for your phone, how do you get Wi-Fi and such? We used Romaing Man. I rented a portable Wi-Fi hotspot for about $10 a day. It supports 5 devices at a time and connected almost everywhere we went. It did have trouble up in the Highlands, but with those mountains anything would have issues connecting.
Now, let’s talk flights. We booked everything through British Airways. Since this our first trip with BA, I will give them the benefit of the doubt as to the quality of service. Who am I kidding? They’ll get everybit of praise and critisim as I can muster. “Take No Prisoners!!”
From the beginning, we had issue with our booking. I cannot blame BA for all the issues we had, as we booked through Priceline. The issue was with checked luggage on our return trip. For whatever reason even though we had checked luggage on the trip to Scotland, we were not allowed to bring any checked baggage back home. I’m not saying we had to pay for any checked luggage. The website specifically said “No Checked Luggage Allowance”. Were we supposed to leave everything in Scotland?
I contacted BA well more than a week before our flights to try and get this corrected. I started all this the week I was at a conference in Orlando, and could not get anyone to answer the phone.
Once I did get a rep on the phone, it took almost an hour to get everything setteled. But, I was told, the rep couldn’t get the credit card to go through and had to send it up “one level”. I should expect everything to be cleared the day before we flew.
What a surprise, it wasn’t. I called back and as told it could take “a week or more” to process. Seriously? Do they not use credit cards in Britain? And was told to check again on Sunday. But on Sunday, I say, I will be in Scotland and not have access to a phone. No worries, all will be taken care of. Again, bullshit.
Then, the day before we leave Scotland I get an email stating “we can’t process your card, please call us”. Needless to say, I say “Fuck you!”. We paid for our checked baggage at the airport. We could have saved $12 or so by doing it on line, but the BA site and phone folks couldn’t figure it out. Simply poor customer service.
Yet another result of outsourcing support to a foreign country.
The flight from Orlando to London was only marred by the fact that there were at least 20 kids under the age of 3 on board. I can’t blame that on BA no matter how much I try. The crew and flight went very well. We left on time and there were no real issues, other than crying kids. Likewise the flight from London to Glasgow. Again, excellent crew and an uneventful flight.
The return trip is a completely different story. We left from Edinburgh almost without problem. For whatever reason my left jean pocket showed as a hot spot on the scan. A simple wand scan and we were on our way to London. According to our itineray, we should have had about 90 minutes to connect with our flight to London. In reality we had about 45 minutes to go across the entirety of Heathrow. We managed to find the gate (which wasn’t easy, it was tucked away in a corner with very little signage) with minutes to spare. And what happens? My boarding pass is rejected! Seems the US customs office has “randomly” selected me for a secondary inspection. This is not the first time this has happened to me. I have been “randomly” selected before. It must be the name. But the gentleman that is handling my luggage is very professional, and I’m cleared to board the aircraft.
Not that that does any good. Our depature time was 12:40 PM. I think we made in on board about 12:50 or so. That was our first warning. After sitting in the plane for about 20 minutes, the captain tells us that there is a “problem loading the luggage”. Now seriously, what airline has issue loading luggage? This is something that’s done all day, every day. It’s second nature.
Then, about 15 minutes later, the captain says that a passenger has “decided not to fly with us” has has left the aircraft. Again, after the door is closed, who lets someone off the plane once the door has been closed?
One of the cabin crew said that this person was known to the crew and is trying to overecome a severe phobia of flying. Seriously? Why let a person like that even on the plane? I am bi-polar. I have phobias. While I applaud someone trying to overcome their fears, but not at the expense of others. Book a small private plane and work it out. On top of this, the captain announces that we are further delayed as they try to find this person’s luggage and take it off the aircraft. Again, seriously? I hate to be an asshole, but your luggage is going to Philly with the rest of us. Go find that private aircraft to work it out. They have counselors for this shit.
In the hour or so of “We’re still trying to find the luggage” annoucements, a very strong burning smell starts to fill the cabin. I am, admitedly, near the back of the airplane. The “cheap seats” if you will. The odor is very strong.
Then, all power goes out. All lights go out, and the very weak AC stops. Everything. Captain says that the auxillary power unit has overheated and crews are in enroute to fix it. Well that explains the smell. I would say we are in about 90 minutes of sitting on the plane, at the gate with no where to go.
After at least another hour of “should only be a few more minutes” annoucements, nothing has improved. Still sitting a very hot, dark and slowly growing uneasy aircraft. Many “just have to finish the paperwork” announcements are met with much disbelief among the passenagers.
Then captain tells us that the APU will not be repaired, but is not needed since it only really works while on the ground and not in the air. As an aside he does mention, and was probably missed by the majority of the passengers, that the APU is required to started the engines. So they will have to bring a portable APU to fire up the engines. Not surpisingly, the portable APU fails. They will have to get yet another one to start our engines.
After over 4 hours being held captive in the aircraft, we finally did manage to get the engines started and leave for Philly.
All I can say, is bullshit. There never was a luggage problem, nor someone demanding to get off. British Airways owes all the passangers of BA 0067 on 24 May a lot of compensation. This is totally inexcusable, and is the worst customer service I have ever experienced. And it doesn’t stop there. The pilot managed to bounce a 747 on landing. I have 20 years of military flights under my belt, I have never had this rough a landing. Not only did we bounce, the aircraft did a serious left tilt.
And, of course, we were an hour late in leaving Philly. We missed not only our connection to Orlando, but our shuttle bus home. Our son had to pick us up after midnight and then drive 90 minutes home.
Throughout all these issues, the cabin crew were superb. They went beyond what would be normal by offering cold water and juice on several occasions, even a really good ice cream treat for free. For that, I will not put British Airways on my “never to be used again” list. I will give them the chance to redeem themselves on our next trip to Britian, whenever that may be.
All in all – we will definitely use CIE Tours again. The customer service is beyond compare. The local guides and drivers they employ are so knowledgable and competent that we would have no issue following their guidance on any tour. The hotels they choose are better than what you may find using a reseller. They vet not only their tour guides/drivers but also the hotel staff as well.
Our time in Scotland was too short. Seven days is no where enough time to see a country, much less one with the variety of grandeur that Scotland has to offer. We had a taste of the castles, the highlands, and sadly very little of the Isle of Skye. We would recommend that you do go and visit this, our homeland, whenever you can. The wonders and majesty are there for your taking. There is a link below to my Instagram. There are mor photos there, and I will link to my Google photos once I have them all sorted.
One of the hightlights was a visit to Loch Lomond. I was asked if we sang about the loch as we approached. And yes, we did. Here is a beautiful video of the song we sang.
And as the Scots say: “Hasten Ye Back” and Aye, we shall.