Full disclosure: We are now home safe and sound. The reason for the late post will be explained in a day or two. Let’s just say that British Airways and I are not on friendly terms right now.
No map today, you should know where we are by now! Day 7 was a no travel day. We took a nice city bus tour of the city of Edinburgh. Then it was up to the castle.
The castle is very imposing. It sits atop a rock that is eons old. There has been a royal castle at this location since the reign of David I in the 12th century. Archeological finds have dated human occupation on Castle Rock to the Iron Age in the second century BCE.
The view from the castle is quite spectacular.
Back in the 17th and 18th centuries, they would fire a canon everyday at 1300 (1 PM) so that folks could set their timepieces, but more importantly, so the ships could set navigation.
Alas, were not allowed to take photographs of the crown jewels nor the Stone of Scone. But it was amazing to view them.
After our visit to the castle, we had a free day to explore Edinburgh. Before we headed off to the Royal Mile to shop, we had to stop at the grass market area for lunch. The grass market was exactly what the name implies. It served as the city common area. Everything was done here centuries ago, the market, offical announcements, and even the hangings of those sentenced to die. Today, there is no longer a grass area, it’s been paved and it’s lined with shops and pubs.
After a very nice lunch (and local beer) we headed to Greyfriars Kirk. The church was originally started in 1602. We didn’t go into the building, but instead walked among the old cemetery.
I was looking for a particular tomb. This is said to be haunted! I’ll leave it to you to read about Bloody MacKenzie.
And no visit to Greyfriars is complete with a vist to the statue of “Greyfriars Bobby“.
I have to admit that as beautiful as the Royal Mile is, it has become a tourist trap. The majority of shops that claim “Authentic Highland Tartans” have the same mass produced crap. It took some doing to find a shop with quality product without having to go over to the “expensive” street. So I didn’t take any pictures of the buildings. Besides all you’d be able to see were the tourists anyway!
But I did find this:
As the saying goes, all good things must come to an end. As so we had to say goobye to Bonnie Scotland. Day 8 was an early morning cab ride to the airport and some interesting flights home. That will the subject of another post.
The traditional highland goodbye is “Hasten ye back!” And that we shall.
This was another short coach trip day. I’m really happy about that as the cramped seats are starting to get to me.
Stop number one was Glamis Castle. Ian, our braw tour director says this castle always wins the unofficial voice poll of favorite stops. Not for me, I prefer Blair Castle (day 5) simply because of the extensive grounds. But I will say, Glamis does look more like the storybook castle. I blame Disney. Photography was not allowed inside the castle, so this is it.
Next up was St. Andrew’s. The home of golf. My dad and older brother would have enjoyed the old course and other sites in that area. I’m not a duffer so while it was interesting,and i do watch enough golf to recognize the important places, I had other plans.
We were dropped off about the center of town for a free afternoon. After a good meal of fish and chips (I can’t believe that it took me until day 6 to get fish and chips), we headed to the ruins of St. Andrew’s Cathedral.
Legend has it that St. Rule brought some of the bones of Andrew, one of the twelve apostles, to the “end of the earth” from the Constantinople. And in the 8th century or so, Scotland was on the western edge of the know world. The cathedral was built around 1158, but there has been a church at this location at least as back as 748 CE. It was abandoned after the Scottish Reformation of the 16th century.
We ended the night with some (cheesy) planned entertainment The Spirit of Scotland. The best I can say is the piper was excellent.
Edinburgh castle and a free afternoon to explore the city awaits!
My apologies for the tardiness of this post. We did quite a bit of walking yesterday and I ended up in the bar later than usual. No real surprise there. Also our braw tour director does Ancestry research and several of us met with him to pick up some research tips.
I have an hour before breakfast so I will hopefully get this posted right away.
The day started off in a shambles. Our coach driver, Neil, was required by law to have the day off. Much like truckers in the USA can only drive for so many hours before they must stop, the same applies here.
The fill-in driver was over 30 minutes late. Poor Ian, our braw tour director, was beside himself. Ian called our two stops and got us rescheduled.
First stop for the day was Blair Castle. This castle was first built in the mid 13th century. And parts of that construction are still in use.
They a have a piper play every hour most afternoons on the grounds.
The castle has 30 rooms that you can visit on your self guided tour. As usual, there are muskets, bayonets and swords everywhere.
There are many red deer on the grounds as well. And it seems they like to mount them!
The Duke of Atholl is the person in Europe that has a standing private army, the Atholl Highlanders.
But for wifey and I, the best part was walking the grounds. We went first to Diana’s Grove (this is the Greek Goddess, not the late Princess. And no, Princess Diana is not buried here. And yes, someone asked if she was buried in the Grove.)
The best sidetrip was a visit to the ruined St. Bride’s Kirk. St. Bride is better known as Brigid. The Kirk, or church, was built around 1275.
From the castle to the distillery. I was looking forward to this visit as I have never heard of this brand of whisky. And now I now why. The majority of the whisky distilled here is used in blended whiskies. They only bottle 0.03% of the product as single malt, and it’s not exported. Hence, I’ve never heard of Blair Atholl.
Our tour guide, Tom, was very good.
But I will admit that I didn’t care for the whisky.
Random shot to prove the sun does shine on Scotland!
We ended the afternoon with some free time in the little town of Pitlochry.
Wifey was happy she finally got to wear her sunglasses
And that’s a wrap. Up next is Glamis Castle and St. Andrew’s.
Only two stops today, and a much shorter coach ride.
The reference map.
I will admit that as of tonight, last night’s hotel was the worst. The room was hot. It may been 50°F outside, but the windows would barely open, there was no fan available, and the down filled duvet was so damn thick and heavy that sleeping was next to impossible.
But we are Scots so we put it behind us. Our first stop of the day would be the Culloden Battlefield. I will admit that I had some major trepidations visiting this battlefield. I had the same feelings when I visited the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington DC some years ago.
I have always read that the Argyll Campbell’s were loyalists to the British crown. According to my sources the Argyleshire men were stationed on the left flank of the army. They’re mission was to pull down a wall and stop the Jacobite cavalry from entering the fray. And history tells us, they were successful. So I expected to find a marker of some sort that backed this up.
To the left of this point stood Cobham Fir Earra Ghaidheal – the Argyleshire Men.
So Campbell of Argyll was here. But what about the other Campbell houses? Argyll may have become the big house, but there are others. Loudon, Cawdor and Breadelbane. We’re they there? And if so, we’re they Jacobite or loyalists?
There were Campbell Jacobites as well. I am strong enough to admit that I was overcome with emotion when I found this memorial. I knelt down and poured a dram of single malt out over the ground to honor the men of the Clan on both sides of this conflict.
I also saw a restoration of part of the wall as well.
It’s a bit hard to see, but what’s left of the wall is just in front of the trees
Culloden has a very nice cairn commerating the battle.
There is also a now restored cottage on the field that was there in 1746.
But the day was not all doom and gloom. Our other stop for the day was at a working sheep farm for a demonstration of border collies. Wifey had been looking forward to this. We have seen sheepdog demonstrations before, but not of this size. This farm has about 3000 sheep on about 11000 acres. The shepard has 18 border collies working with him, and several puppies from 8 months or so, to a new litter only one week old!
Dog momma (wifey) and one of the bigger puppies.
Then it was a quick trip to the Atholl Palace Hotel. A Victorian Era “spa” hotel. We can only hope that tonight is more comfortable.
We are here for two days. Tomorrow is a visit to Blair Castle and the Blair Atholl Distillery. That will be interesting.
We had a long travel day today. Still stopped at some braw locations but we also spent long hours just riding through the Scottish countryside.
The reference map.
The day started as usual with a breakfast buffet. I now now that haggis is a wonderful dish! I do truly enjoy it. Wifey still hasn’t worked up the courage to try it.
Our hotel last night was on beautiful Loch Leven. Since I don’t sleep much anymore, I was up and took this shot of the Loch in the early morning mist.
Then it’s off to the races. Well, as much as a 48 passenger bus can race on narrow country roads. We passed through Fort William, but not slow enough for a picture. Actually, the only thing worth photographing was the ruins of the fort. But we went by it so fast I didn’t see anything to photograph!
An unexpected stop was at the Glenfinnian Viaduct. I’m sure most of you will recognize this from the Harry Potter movies. The train, The Jacobite Express, was not in the area when we stopped. But it didn’t matter to me as I’ve not seen any of the movies anyway.
Also in Glenfinnian is a monument to The Highlander. This monument is near the area where Charles Edward Stuart (Bonnie Prince Charlie) is said to have landed in 1745 to rally the highlanders to his cause to remove George II from the throne. It ended badly for the Jacobite army. I’ll have more on that tomorrow when we visit the Culloden Battlefield.
Monument to the highlanders lost in battle.
Then it was north to Mallaig Harbour to board a ferry to the Isle of Skye.
In Memory Of Those Lost At Sea
Our Ferry, The Lord Of The Isles.
It was one of the smoothest boat rides I have been on. Sadly, our time on the Isle was too short. We had no stops at all. I was really hoping to be able to see The Old Man Of Stor, but we never got close.
As we left the Isle via the bridge, we came upon Eilean Donan Castle. I do believe that the castle was used in the Outlander series, but it may only been a reference not an actual location. I’m sure there’s someone who can set the record straight.
We did however stop at Loch Ness which was also unexpected.
And yes, we saw Nessie! (Think I need a Scots language pack – autocorrect keeps trying to change all the Scots terms.)
Then we finally made to our hotel in Nairn.
That has some coos adjacent.
And that was the day that was. Tomorrow is Culloden, some sheepdog demonstrations and a two night stay at the Atholl Palace Hotel in Pitlochry.
Today we left Glasgow and headed north to Loch Lomond and Inverary. The weather exactly what we expected. Chilly (right around 52° F) and damp. We overheard someone that they needed an umbrella because it was “pouring”. It was barely drizzling. Guess this person has ever been out in a #Floriduh summer shower.
First up was a stop and boat ride on Loch Lomond. Loch Lomand is the largest fresh body of water in Britain. The water was very quiet today.
Our boat was the Lomond Queen.
Then just a short trip to the town of Inveraray, a quaint town on the shores of Loch Fyne. We spent about two hours in town shopping and having lunch.
Wifey standing on Main Street in Inveraray. Several shops and restaurants line both sides.
Our lunch source.
After lunch it was time for Inveraray Castle. As I’ve mentioned before, this is not actually a castle, it is a manor house. Why? Because the Duke of Argyll has this as his family home. We were hoping that His Grace would be home, but he wasn’t. He has a batten (Maybe a baton? Our tour guide has a very thick brogue) of office in his role of Master of the Royal Household in Scotland. And it was “missing”. Our guide in the castle ensured us it was not stolen, but His Grace will take it without notice if he needs it in the performance of his duties.
Then the absolute highlight of the day, maybe the year, maybe even of my life occurred. Our tour guide Ian had a bit of surprise in store. You see, the route from Inveraray to our nexr stop, Glen Coe, passes right by a very special place for me.
I’ve mentioned this castle before and I’ve posted some other folks pictures. But today I got see it with my own eyes. We didn’t get to go up to the castle, just see it from a wayside stop. But here is my picture (one of several) of Kilchurn, one of the ancestral homes of Clan Campbell. Oh, and it’s pronounced Kill-kern. Not like it looks, Kill-churn. I’ve been saying it wrong for years sadly. Now I know better. Thank you, Ian for teaching me this.
From there we continued north into the highlands and (drum roll please) Glen Coe. The Campbell’s have a history with this Glen. I won’t go through it here, as it’s very complicated. If you don’t know the story, here is a Wikipedia link.
On the way to our hotel we got to see the Three Sisters of Glen Coe. II took a panoramic shot to get all three of the sisters in the shot. I hope it works for this format.
Finally we made it our hotel. This little place is way much better than the Hilton we stayed in last night.
They even have a small circle of standing stones on the property.
So that’s it for tonight. As long as the MacDonald ghosts don’t come after this lone Campbell, I will be back with more tomorrow. And when you add that they find Argyll’s batten missing today, AND I’m deep into Glen Coe, I can’t help thinking I’m being set up!
I’m taking a airplane, and I’ll be in Scotland way afore ye!
We will soon be somewhere over the Atlantic Ocean flying to first London, and then on to Glasgow, Scotland. Yes that’s SCOTLAND folks! Home of my ancestors, Wifey’s ancestors. Can the island support yet another Campbell family (even if it’s just for a little while)? Well, we’re gonna find out.
On Saturday we will be visiting Inveraray Castle. Not only was this historic castle featured in the TV show Downton Abbey but it is home to Torquhil Ian Campbell, (born 29 May 1968) Chief of Clan Campbell, the 13th (S) and 6th (UK) Duke of Argyll. This makes him my clan chief. But I wonder, is it appropriate to ask him for a “wee dram” should we cross paths that day? Probably not.
Some other highlights we expect to see are Loch Ness, Culloden Battlefield, St. Andrews, The Isle of Skye, and Castle Eilean Donan. I don’t think we stop at Loch Ness, so if we do get a glimpse of “Nessie”, it will be fleeting. If we do get to stop at the loch, I want to bring a whole salmon as bait! “Here Nessie, Nessie!” Eilean Donan is a location used in the filming of Outlander. I’ve not watched any of the show, but Wifey has.
We will be near, but I don’t think we’ll get to see Kilchurn Castle. Kilchurn is considered the ancestoral home of Clan Campbell. At least one branch of the clan. As I’ve posted before, my DNA does not seem to link to any of the distinct branches of Clan Campbell. But that doesn’t mean I don’t claim the name. I very much want to see this ruin, but it may have to wait until the next trip.
As well as The Kelpies. Wifey and I both are eager to see The Kelpie statues. We *may* have a chance to find way to see them on our last night in Scotland.
Any trip to Scotland, or Ireland for that matter, isn’t complete without visiting at least one distillery. Our official stop will be the Blair Atholl distillery in Pitlochry, Perthshire. This is a new distillery for me, and I look forward to tasting a dram or three (wifey doesn’t like whisky, so I get hers too!). Along with all the other brands of scotch (and beer too), we can find along the way. The closest we get to Islay is our stop in Inveraray. So I’m not sure if we will have many chances to sample that style of whisky. Nor will we be near the Speyside area, so we may miss that style as well. I’m sure I will be able to find all the styles at the duty free shop at the airport. I just may need a second mortgage just to pay the taxes!
There will be very little chance to do any genealogy on this trip. Although during our visit to Perthshire we will be in basic area that I can trace my Campbell line to in the mid 1740’s. One day, I will come back to do some research. Or maybe we’ll just move here. That is an option!
I will do my best to post while we are in country. We have a portable Wi-Fi hotspot we’re taking with us. Our tour bus is supposed to Wi-Fi enabled, but I’m not sure how fast that connection will be. Likewise, hotel Wi-Fi can be spotty, and anything but secure.
The biggest problem as far as posting will be that I will only have my Android tablet. It will take some practice using the WordPress app for posting! So I ask forgiveness in adavanced for all the typos.
Here’s to sleepless nights and many “wee drams”! Slàinte!
We are at T minus 30 days for our long overdue trip to Scotland! I say it’s overdue because we’ve been trying to get there for about five years. Well, it’s finally happening.
That’s all for the travel plans, I’ll have more, hopefully when we’re there. The two issues that will make it difficult will be lack of internet connection and that I’m only bringing my tablet, not my laptop, so I may need Wifey’s help in transcribing stuff. You think my regular typing is bad, wait until you see if from a virtual keyboard!
Genealogy – specifically DNA. (Disclaimer: I am very new to this whole DNA stuff. My conclusions may be way off. Please correct anything in the comments.) I have posted about genealogy and DNA before, but this time I have some specifics.
Most of my testing has been done through Family Tree DNA (FTDNA from here on out). The main reason I used them instead of Ancestry (which I have also used), is that FTDNA does Y – DNA testing. For those that don’t know the difference, Y-DNA is a male only test. The Y (and X) chromosome are sex chromosomes. Men have one Y chromosome and one X chromosome, women have two X chromosomes. Each father passes an almost exact copy of his Y-DNA to his sons.
The other types of DNA testing that are common are Mitochondrial (mtDNA) and Autosomal (atDNA). I won’t go into specifics of each test, but everyone can do these types of tests. Ancestry does atDNA, and FTDNA calls their atDNA “Family Finder”. These kinds of tests look at genetically stored data that give you a greater sense of where your origins are. They can help you find cousins, half siblings (that maybe you didn’t about), and also help adoptees find birth parents. But are accurate to only five to seven generations back. Y-DNA and mtDNA can go back (generally) thousands of years.
But I’m interested in finding where my male line comes from. I have several goals in this endeavor;
Find the “Immigrant Ancestor”. Who, and maybe why, did they leave wherever they called home? And when?
Where did the ancestor come from? Family stories indicated Scotland. According to my dad, specifically Argyll. Of course, Argyll is a large area in the southeast part of Scotland. Not exactly a simple place.
Do we have any connection to older peoples living in whatever area I find?
Can we go beyond that time? Was it even possible since there wouldn’t be any written records.
I did my first Y-DNA test with FTDNA way back in 2008. More than 11 years ago now. The first test gave me a very generic Y-DNA Haplogroup of R-M269. Think of a haplogroup as a branch on a tree.
The R-M269 haplogroup is the most common group in Europe for males. It is estimated to have arisen about 11,000 BCE. And makes up a large part of the R1b main branch of the haplotree. The image below may help.
Starting near the top of the image, you’ll see the M269 subclade, just left of center in the red. Follow that straight down and near the bottom of the red go left to the big P312 in dark green with yellow letters. From there continue left to the light green with yellow letters L21. Now it gets a little harder. From L21, you go down and slightly right to DF13, then a little more right you’ll find Z39589. Almost there, don’t give up, as we zig just a tad right to Z251 and stop there, for now. My line continues down from here, but this tree doesn’t go that far.
About eight branches further down the tree you will, hopefully, find BY69143, just not on that image above. That’s as far as my DNA can be traced at the moment. It’s referred to a “Terminal SNP”. But it’s anything but terminal. In the less than 6 weeks since my last test has been completed, I have moved “downstream” two branches. It’s a constantly changing environment.
So, lets jump back up to my lists of goals. How does this DNA test help me? I was hoping to find a cousin with the Campbell surname that had some more of a paper trail than I have. The biggest problem that I have encountered in this genealogy quest, which I started back in 1999 before DNA tests were commercially available, is the fact that my father was an only child. That means I had no Campbell uncles. I knew his father’s name, but that was about all.
I was lucky that my dad’s mother had many pictures and notes from her late husband. And then just by chance I found my oldest sister’s baby book in a long-forgotten box at our mom’s house. In those pages I found my great-grandfather’s name. That allowed me to find him, and my grandfather and his siblings in census records in the correct area of Pennsylvania. But not the next generation. I had several leads on that generation, but I couldn’t nail it down. Basically, I was looking at two men, a James R. Campbell and a Richard Campbell. Each of those men had different fathers.
Enter DNA. My hope was that one of my grandfather’s siblings’ son’s (my great uncle’s) had done a DNA test, AND that we would match enough to be sure of our findings. That cousin hopefully also had a good paper trail to help me along. Yeah, it was pretty one sided at this point.
However, I do believe that any one named “Campbell” is deathly afraid of taking a DNA test! I had absolutely no matches with a Campbell surname. Nothing, not even a fourth or fifth cousin. I guess they were afraid of being charged with cattle theft or some such thing from medieval Scotland. Only thing left for me to do was to order a more advance test. And wait… Lots of waiting with this DNA stuff.
Out of nowhere I received an email one day. I did have a Campbell cousin that had completed a Y-DNA test. Not from a sibling of my grandfather not even my great-grandfather. But from a sibling of my great-great-grandfather. Just like that the problem of which man was my 2x great-grandfather was solved. James Richard Campbell was my line, and a different Richard Campbell (not the one I was also researching) was this cousin’s line.
This cousin had records too! He had lived in Pennsylvania before retiring here to Florida. He could back everything up with history! Needless to say, I commenced to doing the genealogy happy-dance (you don’t want to see that). Oh, this newly discovered 2x great was a junior. At least that takes some of the guess work out of his father’s name. But my cousin also had his information as well. James Richard Campbell, Sr. was quickly entered as 3x great-grandfather. Now, how to get that next generation?
Another great DNA site is GEDMatch. They don’t offer any DNA testing, you just upload your DNA data to the site. They have so many free and paid tools that will allow you to search their database of uploads for matches. You can do a wide one-to-many search or even compare two kits on a one-to-one basis. GEDMatch takes uploads of DNA data from several different DNA testing companies. You’re still limited by only being able to compare kits from folks that uploaded, and agreed to allow their kits to be searched, you can match folks that have tested at different companies. Ancestry and 23 and Me, do not allow the uploading of DNA to their databases. GEDMatch takes both of those company’s results and several others. By using my DNA, my older brother’s DNA, and this cousin’s DNA, we were able to find another cousin. This time way down in South Africa.
This cousin had the next generation. Once again, the unusual name and the senior/junior come into play. John Campbell. Really? Now there are two John Campbell’s to look for. A father and son. Out of what, maybe 10,000,000 listed in archives strewn all over the internet? Most old records don’t list things such as a senior or junior. Just the names. This new cousin claims to have a passenger list of when this Campbell family came over, but looking at the reference, I’m not positive about this claim. But that’s another job, and another post.
This gave me a partial answer to the first question. I now have two possibilities of the “Immigrant Ancestor”. It was either my newly discovered 3x great, or his father. The “two John’s”. If this is making your head spin, you can imagine how I was feeling. I put all this away for a bit to just look at DNA to see if I could get any answers to my goals.
All these Campbell’s do come from Scotland. The lead we have on John Sr., states he was born in 1745 in Perth, Scotland. Well, that’s not in Argyll on any map, in any time frame. Not a big deal, as the Campbell Clan is quite large, and has several branches. Maybe I am a descendant from one of the cadet branches.
Going back to FTDNA and the Campbell discussion group, I ask if there is a way via DNA to see if one belongs to the right haplogoup that indicates which, if any, Campbell one can trace back to. Sadly, it appears that I do not belong to the Argyll subclade (R-FGC10125), my path branches off right after the Z39589 subclade a couple of thousand years ago. Hey – not a problem. This just means that some ancestor in the way back past either swore an oath of loyalty to the clan chief, was absorbed into the clan (either peacefully or…), or maybe married into the clan and took the name. If I can go back to the mid 1700’s and still find Campbell in my direct line. I’m good with that.
So, if not Argyll, where does my line come from? I do have a DNA marker, S145/M529/L21. This marker, usually just listed as L21, is highly correlated with the geography of ancient Celts. In the words of Bill Murray “I’ve got that going for me.” Just where is the L21 most prevalent? Seems to be in area of Stirling and Falkirk, Scotland. Which is just southwest of Perth! Hey! I may be on to something here. It would appear to my untrained eye that my line stayed in the lowlands area and those with the Argyll marker continued westward across the island. But I’m just guessing here. Could be the other way around for all I know.
All in all, it means my Y-DNA Haplogroup is R1b1a1a2a1a2. At least that’s the last one I can find. I believe that stops at subclade R-P312, and there are 13 further mutations I have listed to get me to the R-BY69143 SNP.
It does appear that I am a Scot, as the top image says. I don’t have to go back 100 generations to find Scots roots. But I can, my DNA points to a Copper or Iron Age Scots ancestry. Wifey too has Scots heritage. Of course, I can’t test her Y-DNA (she doesn’t have any). Her brother has done the Ancestry test, but Ancestry doesn’t give raw data, only their visuals and estimates. Which leaves me unsure of their Y-DNA Haplogroup. Maybe one day I can afford to have him to the Big Y-700 at FTDNA. We’ll probably find out our tribes fought each other all the time!
In a way, this trip to Scotland will be a homecoming.
If you are using any of the DNA resources I’ve mentioned and wish to contact me about those sites, please use the links below to contact me on social media (Twitter works best), or leave a comment. I would be very happy to see if there is anything we can do to help each other!
Ah, Scotland! The land of bagpipes, majestic highlands, Nessie, wonderful single malt scotches (the nectar of the Gods), and haggis. Well, the jury is still out on haggis. I will give it a taste while we’re there, but I’m not really expecting much.
Wifey® and I have booked an 8 day, 7 night bus tour for May 2019. This has been a long drawn out process fraught with perils. We started looking at a Scotland trip several years ago but just could not get the time and funds to match. Seems when we had the money saved up, something came up (like the clutch in my truck blowing up), or when we had time off from work we didn’t have the money.
So fast forward to July of this year. Wifey’s® father had passed away and she and her brothers and finally closed on selling his house. And that would be a whole ‘nother post. What a fiasco that was! We had been vacillating between buying an RV and finally making a trip to Scotland since both of our families are of Scots descent. After several visits to various RV places in and around our home, we were just about set on the RV. When one Friday evening it all changed. We really didn’t want to spend all the money Wifey® received from her share of the house “all in one place”. So that made the decision much easier.
I immediately contacted the agency we’ve been talking to over that last couple of years to get updated tour dates and prices. Over the course of the next couple of weeks, we decided on which tour we wanted.
The agency we were using is Exploring Vacations, based out of Ireland. They have a New Jersey phone number, but I think it routes back to Ireland as everyone we’ve ever talked to has a most beautiful accent.
On July 31st we made our deposit. It’s really happening! This began the process of getting everything together. We had to renew our passports (a surprisingly easy process), start buying all the “little things”, like a power converter, RFID blocking passport wallets, pillows and eye masks for the overnight flight. OH! Wait! We need airline tickets too. That means days and days of watching Priceline, Kayak, Booking, Orbitz etc…
Then on August 28th, we made the decision to pay off the tour completely. That proved to be a very wise move. Because on September 14th, I received this email;
Suddenly, we were not sure our trip would happen. Needless to say, my heart just about jumped out of my chest. That RV was looking better and better. I told Wifey® to call the credit card company we used to see if there was anything we needed to do so we wouldn’t lose all of what we paid. But when she looked at the website for the card, she saw that we didn’t pay Exploring Vacations, we paid directly to the actual tour company, CIE Tours International! A glimmer of hope appeared. And sure enough, when I open the PAID IN FULL invoice, it’s from CIE Tours! CIE is also based out of Ireland, and also has a New Jersey phone number. You know I’m calling as quick as my shaking hands can dial.
While I’m waiting for someone to answer I tweet this;
A lovely sounding lass “Alli” is the representative I get to talk to (with an amazing accent too!). I explain the situation to Alli, but she doesn’t know about Exploring Vacations going out of business. Heart rate is starting to go up again. She sends me to a supervisor, Ernesto. Ernesto is either in New Jersey or is from there, he has an entirely different accent than Alli. But right now I really don’t care where I’m calling as long as someone can tell me what’s going on.
Turns out Ernesto is on the ball. He can find our tour and yes, we are PAID IN FULL! Ernesto takes care of the transfers to and from the airport and hotels since that was one step we didn’t get to finish (at no cost!). The only issue he sees it that our tour is reserved under the Exploring Vacations name and not ours. He says that is a minor issue as the receipt has our names.
One thing that amazes me about this entire deal is that Exploring Vacations has been in contact throughout. As much heartburn and stress this situation has caused us, the fact that they emailed me to tell me what’s going on and have answered every email I have sent with questions says that this was a solid company. It also says a lot about corporate America. If this had been an American company we would only find out that they went bankrupt when a letter showed up, or we tried to call and found the phone disconnected.
The email that allowed me to sleep again
We still have lots of stuff to procure for this trip. We need real raincoats (or should I say a “mac”?), more clothes, luggage, and exchange currency. But we have time. I’ll post more about the trip as things get settled. The itinerary is not finalized yet but should be by the end of the month.