Saturday, September 26, 2015

Impressions of Scotland

We've just returned from two wonderful weeks in Scotland. This was our fourth trip there together but our first time back alone since our wedding* in 2006. I am eager to write about it, but there is so much to say! I'm planning a themed multi-post series, so you can easily skip the bits that sound boring to you.

*We still get trouble about this from our parents, but the only guests at our wedding were our witnesses, who live in East Linton (see below).


The short version is that we spent a week on the Isle of Mull in a self-catering flat, then two nights in the Trossachs at a lovely B&B, and ended with three days and four nights in East Linton near Edinburgh at the home of dear friends of ours (my Schwiegermutter's crazy mountain-running cousin and his Austrian wife). From their home we took three day trips. We enjoyed every minute of our time in Scotland!

We hiked walked, we tromped around castle and priory ruins, visited a few churches and one museum, we ate great food, we drank tea, we stargazed, we slopped through bogs, we didn't smash into anything driving on the left side of the road, we climbed Arthur's Seat (that's not a dirty euphemism - it's a hill above Edinburgh), I stood on the tippy-top of Mull's tallest munro - Ben More - though we didn't walk up it - and we walked around the entire coastline of Scotland in one day (stay tuned!), I pet an owl (also nothing dirty), I met my 10,000-step goal every day - often by lunchtime, I touched some standing stones (but they didn't transport me back in time), and we enjoyed crackling fires in the evenings.
this is Tee. I want an owl.

I thought I would start with several things that we noticed in the first few days. These are not necessarily new things for us, but they reminded us that we were no longer in Germany.

Scottish Hospitality

The first thing that struck us almost right off the plane was how friendly and chatty everyone was. I never say that Germans are unfriendly, but they are very business-like and professional and don't smile a lot while working. Nothing wrong with that! We'd arranged a rental car through ADAC/Sixt, and we queued behind a couple at the counter. The woman was punching stuff into her computer and all the while chatting - asking them where they were going, if they'd been to Scotland before, etc. When it was our turn she asked all the same things, and we gave short German answers. I kept it short so she could better get her job done:
"Where are you going?"        "The Isle of Mull."
"Oh, nice! Have you been here before?        "Yes."
We weren't rude - I smiled as I answered. But I've gotten used to not chit-chatting with people who are working.

When we checked in at the hotel that evening, it was the same thing. The lad at the counter was friendly, chatty, and asked all kinds of questions that Americans tend to love answering and elaborating about. By the time we got to our B&B in the Trossachs, we were used to this again and had nice chats with the prioprietors - but not while they were cooking our breakfast!

I think part of German efficiency is asking only the questions that are relevant, and giving only the answers that matter. I do not mean to imply the Scottish are not efficient - we found that they were. They're just also unnecessarily friendly - and that's not a bad thing either!


The second thing that struck us (besides nearly a car) was that driving on the left side of the road sucks! I was in a constant state of alert as branches, parked cars, curbs, and stone walls whizzed by me as M concentrated on staying far enough from the oncoming cars shooting past him. I have grumbled often enough about the narrow roads and lack of shoulders in Germany, but this is worse in Scotland in part because everything is on the "wrong" side. M did a great job driving and avoiding accidents and sheep dashing about, but we were fortunate quite often that the rental car had good brakes. I could have driven according to our rental car agreement, but I wisely did not.

In the end, we actually both prefer the single-track roads on Mull, where oncoming traffic means using a passing place and some stopping and waiting. Part of the appeal is that there's not a lot of traffic on the island.


The third thing that struck us is that we have no idea how to tip in Scotland. None. It's so easy in Germany - round up to an even amount and pad it a bit (roughly 10%). It's even easier in the U.S. - add 15-20% to the pre-tax amount and leave the money on the table. But we (still) have no idea how or how much to tip in Scotland.

Tantallon Castle ruins, North Berwick
We do need to fix that tipping thing, because we're planning to go back again in 2-3 years. Or we'll just avoid it and stay at self-catering cottages where we'll cook for ourselves! :-)

So stay tuned for more about Scotland if you're interested. We're not experts on Scotland, but the more often we visit, the more we long to return. We are drawn to its rugged wilderness, its unpredictable weather, its history, and its spirit.


  1. I'm from the UK and I have trouble with tipping!! I think the usual rule is around 10% in proper restaurants. Since paying separately isn't really a thing, what usually happens when a group goes for a meal is everyone puts in the amount their meal costs plus a pound or two extra for the tip, so whatever extra there is once all the money has been gathered is the tip. You don't really tip in bars and in cafes you might leave a small tip if the service was exceptionally good. Some places where you pay at the counter have a tip jar on the counter. If you take a taxi, you normally round up to the next full pound, so if it's 9.50 you'll give them ten and say keep the change.

    1. Thank you! It sounds like we accidentally did just about the right thing. We usually added to tip jars, we padded the bill when paying in cash, and we didn't take a cab. When we paid with credit card - like at the American chain hotel in Edinburgh - there didn't seem to be an option to add a tip on the little machine. That was what first confused us, and then we were just totally unsure after that.

  2. What a lovely trip it sounds to be! I liked the standing stone reference. Btw, I just finished book 3 - not so bad in a 15 day period, eh?

    I am thinking of a trip to Scotland with a friend. However, I don't know how much we'll be able to see because I have absolutely no desire to drive there and I'd be the one stuck doing it since I'm the one with a license. Too bad that hiring a driver would probably be crazy expensive. That's awesome that your husband was such a good driver.

    1. You could easily spend a week or more in and near Edinburgh without having to drive anywhere, and there's a train connection to Glasgow as well. I think you could do it, but you would not be able to get to the rugged wilderness without driving, as far as I know. The first two days were really stressful, but the driving got much better after that for both of us. M assures me it's do-able, but as I admitted, I was not brave enough to try.