the big trip

Planning is underway to set foot in a continent neither of us have ever been to before. And here’s to us being fit enough before then (and having enough money to finance the whole trip and to buying the slew of things we need before we even leave) .

you only live once and i am thankful for all the travel memories we have had so far. but still, there are too many places in the world left to see.

The Scottish Highlands

29-31 October 2012

Conversations with an old schoolmate reminded me that we haven’t been to the highlands and Scotland’s lochs, but that was just at the back of my mind. On the morning of the 29th, the husband remembered that Branson might lose the Virgin west coast rail franchise without us having been on board one of his trains. Well we have been before, but we haven’t tried the fast Pendolinos. Husband asks when we could go to Glasgow – errrmmm….. ‘now?’.

…Booking the trains, I realised why we have never been to Glasgow – the fares are expensive and I can go somewhere else in Europe with that amount.

Washed the dishes, packed a bag, sushi+donut+coffee for breakfast/lunch and 4.5 hours on the train we were setting foot in sleepy Glasgow (wi-fi is not free on board). Truth is, it’s almost like any city outside of London – old buildings (but there are a number of photo-worthy architecture here), the same high-street shops, only less busy and less hurried than London. Cold, but not as freezing as I expected (and me wearing several layers of clothes, it was almost warm).

Hotel Ibis was only 10-minutes walk from the station, but the steep streets will literally take your breath away. ¬†Normally, business hotels like this don’t faze me – they’re cheap and clean and comfortable enough – but this one brought back memories of easyHotel living in London (enough to say it wasn’t a pleasant memory). But still, it’s cheap and clean and comfortable enough albeit with a strong mothball-like smell that arrests you as you go in. Thankfully, my nose got used to it as I don’t want to change rooms. Wi-fi is still not free in the rooms – what is up with that? And breakfasts are not included in the price.

Went out for dinner – great seafood and ok wine at Gambas – nakakaumay lang. And was back at the hotel for a good night’s sleep (but everytime I woke up in the middle of the night, the room smell starts bothering me again).

We went with Scottish Tour/Timberbush Tours to see as much as possible in a day. We were met by a minicoach at George Square early in the morning. The coach was full. My nose was complaining again, this time of curry smells from fellow travelers seated in front. We had been warned of motion sickness because of the long travel time and narrow and winding roads. Good thing the lady in front was prepared as the warning prevented some nasty spills.

The mountains and hills in Scotland is so unlike flat England. It was very scenic outside and quite surreal. Brown heathers carpets the bare valleys, tall pines in the mountain tops. Some of these scenes you can see from the latest James Bond offering – Skyfall. This is also a favourite backdrop of scenes from Mars in films – as you can describe it as un-earthly.

First stop was Loch Lomond, the setting of the famous song ‘Bonnie Bonnie Banks O’ Loch Lomond‘ based on the Celtic legends of gods sending you to freedom (high road) or death (low road). You can see from this area the hydroelectric plant that harnesses the power of the once destructive cascading water from the mountains.

Loch Lomond

Next stop was Glen Coe, site of the brutal massacre of the MacDonald clans in the 1600s, which to this day no one has been held accountable for. It’s a sad, desolate but very beautiful valley overseen by the UK’s highest peak Ben Nevis (which we can’t see because of the clouds).

Glen Coe
Glen Coe

Lunch was at Fort William with it’s facilities and Highland tourist goods where we’ve took home a scotch blended with honey for extremely cold days.

Ben Nevis hid behind the mists for the rest of the tour, though we can make out an outline of it in the distance if we tried really hard.

The final stop was at Urquhart Castle, where we heard the stories of the castle ruins, a quickened stroll across the grounds with its breathtaking view of Loch Ness and finally a boat ride over Loch Ness.

Urquhart Castle
purple Nessie