Monday, June 26, 2017

Family Trip to Scotland: Accommodations

On this trip we booked three different (but similar) kinds of accommodations: a bed & breakfast, a self-catering flat, and an AirBnB flat. No hotels this time.

Although the five of us all planned to arrive in Edinburgh within two hours of each other, we knew when we started looking for places to stay that first night that any of us could be significantly delayed. We therefore didn't want to try to drive all the way to Oban to catch a ferry that same day, but rather decided to break the trip near Tyndrum.

Bed & Breakfast

By luck and by chance I came across Ewich House in Crianlarich - what a gem! I'm sure I found them on Trip Advisor or some such site, but I never book through those third parties. I contacted the hosts directly, told them we'd be 5 travelers coming from Germany and the US and would need three rooms, and they responded very quickly, ending the email in German! It turns out the couple who has been running the B&B for the last year or so is Swiss. We asked if they had rooms also available on our way back to Edinburgh from Mull a week later, and they did. 

Their rooms are spacious and comfortable, and they have a living room available to their guests with a TV, DVD player, and a bookshelf full of DVDs and books - many of them in German! We felt right at home. There's a wood-burning fireplace, though it was warm enough not to need a fire our first evening. Wifi/WLAN worked beautifully, and although there's no mobile phone reception inside the house - even for the hosts - because of the thick stone walls, that wasn't a big deal.

The town of Tyndrum is just a short drive away, so after we unloaded we drove to the Real Food Café for fish-n-chips. Neither Liv nor Steph are fish fans, but they both tried the haddock and agreed it was pretty good!

M and I sat in the living room after supper for a glass of wine, and the hosts (Silvia and Daniel) will provide wine glasses if you ask. It was nice to relax and discuss our plans for the next few days. Silvia also let me put in her refrigerator the string cheese Al and Liv had brought for me from Wisconsin so it wouldn't go bad overnight.

Silvia told us breakfast would be served between 8:00-9:00, which was perfect for us. They offer everything you could possibly want, and Al ordered the "full Scottish breakfast", which included an egg, bacon, sausage, sauteéd mushrooms, baked beans, a grilled tomato, toast and black pudding. They provide cereals and yogurt, juice, fresh fruit, something special such as Hefezopf on Sundays, and of course tea, coffee, or hot chocolate. Coffee!!! We heard the familiar sound of a Jura Kaffeemaschine coming from the kitchen and knew the coffee would be good.

a full Scottish breakfast
After our week on Mull we returned to Ewich House, knowing already we'd be happy here and looking forward to the coffee! Silvia and Daniel helped us out tremendously with our ongoing rental car problems. Since we didn't get mobile phone reception inside, I asked if I could give their land line number to the rental car company. They needed to call me back three or four times that evening and the next morning, so it was important they had a way to reach me. Check-out is 10:00, but since the local mechanic couldn't get there until after 11:00, Silvia and Daniel told us we could wait in the living room. She even offered the kids something to drink, which they found so sweet. 

We would so happily stay here again and recommend it to anyone who is traveling through this area of Scotland.

Self-Catering Flat

I have written plenty about Glengorm Castle and Estate, so here I will only write about what was different from previous visits. 
The ground floor windows show where the Terrace Flat is.
We stayed in the Terrace Flat, which is situated along a long corridor at the front (facing the sea) of the castle's ground floor. The rooms here were once the accommodations of "visiting ladies' maids and gentlemen's valets," according to the wonderful book The Story of Glengorm, written by the current owner's mother and available from the castle.

This was our view from the Terrace Flat windows.
The flat can sleep six, with one double room and two rooms with twin beds. 

There is a small table with four places in the kitchen, and a dining room that comfortably seats six.
The kitchen is supplied well enough with pots and pans and utensils, but as usual M brought his knife sharpener, which was needed. One big meat knife, though -  and I wish I'd taken a picture of it - was so abused by a previous guest that it was beyond repair. The blade was bent and damaged to the point that we wondered if someone had tried to open a beer bottle with it. Come on, people! Do what you must with the spoons, but respect the knives!

The spacious bathroom had a shower and tub, though we never used the latter. We're all about quick showers so we can get on and do something fun! When I asked Steph how the water pressure was, she said, "Like being licked by a cat." So those of us with thick, long hair weren't always as quick in the shower as we wanted to be. But it was fine.

The living room was also nice for relaxing and watching Braveheart. The closet is full of games, puzzles, books, and DVDs, so for those who aren't hardy enough to brave the weather every day can spend a rainy one inside. There's a wood-burning fireplace and plenty of wood, and across from the living room is a utility room with washer and dryer, additional toilet, and more wood. That was also a great place to dry out boots and jackets from wet and muddy walks, because with the water boiler in there, it was quite warm.

As with all Glengorm's self-catering flats and cottages, the key is in the door when the guests arrive, and you don't see or hear from the owners or the staff unless you need help. We tidied up before we departed and left the place as we found it. We did see Pam in the castle office, because our car problems were ongoing and mobile reception on the island was sketchy at best. She was extremely helpful, allowing us to use her landline to make and receive calls with the rental car company.

This was our fifth stay at Glengorm (M's sixth), and we will keep coming back. 


For our final three nights in Scotland, I booked an AirBnB flat in Leith, near Edinburgh. This was my third time using AirBnB, but M was leery about it. I have read about all kinds of mixed experiences with AirBnB, and I wanted to try it again.

The flat is very comfortable, and upon walking through the door the first thing that hit me was a fresh, clean smell. Clearly the flat is well cared for. It is spacious, the beds and furniture are comfortable, and the photos online are true to what's there. The fact that there were two separate full bathrooms (one en suite) was huge - and a detail I'd forgotten! 

We decided not to cook dinners, mainly out of laziness and because we felt like eating out, but it's good to have a place for breakfast and to make sandwiches for the day if desired. Tea every morning, wine and cheese in the evening...

On the last evening Liv went into the kitchen to get a Coke, and after a moment we hear, "Where's the fridge?!" We all laughed, because we'd all had the same problem (just earlier, like on the first night or morning). It's "hidden" behind the door that matches all the other cupboards in the above photo to the far left.
how the "kids" spent most evenings:
violent games of Peanut
The bus stop (Bus 11) is a very short walk away, and the bus ride to the Scott Monument is just 10 minutes. Although this flat is close to the city and in a busy area, it's on a dead end street and I found it very quiet at night. That's important to us since we usually fall into bed exhausted and hate being awakened prematurely.

I don't know if we're easier than most to please or if we just got lucky, but we were truly happy with all our accommodations. I have read some of the less-than-positive reviews of Glengorm and Ewich House, and I'm left scratching my head in puzzlement. But that's for another post.

For more in this series:

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Family Trip to Scotland: Logistics

Shortly after Christmas my daughter mentioned it would be nice to take another family trip to Scotland, and 24 hours later we'd started looking into accommodations. She (Steph) and my son (Al) were together playing cards at a relative's house in Wisconsin, and we were chatting online. At one point I sent a private message to my daughter and told her to ask my son if his girlfriend (Liv) would want to join us. She laughed and wrote "He literally just asked me how to ask you if Liv could come along!" She said she could pay for her plane ticket, and so we became a group of five adults.

M and I would fly from Stuttgart, Steph would fly from Newark, and Al and Liv from Chicago. We actually found flights on three different airlines arriving in Edinburgh within two hours of each other - and departing within about three hours. We hadn't expected that!

M went through ADAC (the German automobile club) to book a guaranteed Mercedes SUV with unlimited miles and paid several hundred Euros for that guarantee. Unfortunately their supplier (the rental car company) didn't honor that guarantee, so we ended up with a Range Rover Sport with a mileage limit, but more on that in another post. The most important thing was that we and all our luggage fit, plus the groceries we picked up at the Tesco in Oban. It was a tight squeeze, but it worked - though I'm glad as hell I didn't have to drive it!

Waiting for the rental car. Liv didn't love the long flight.

We'd learned that Liv tends to get carsick, but it just happened that we would never be on the road for more than 90 minutes at a stretch as long as traffic cooperated and we didn't make any wrong turns. M had pre-programmed Katja (our GPS/Navi) with all the addresses we needed, and except for a few times when she played silly buggers with us, taking us down a road M would have rather not traveled, she served us well.

Packing was another challenge. Liv is an over-packer, so my daughter told Al they'd have to pack in one suitcase. I think he had 7 cubic inches of space to call his own, plus a duffle bag he used as a carry-on. Steph has traveled internationally often enough to be able to pack lightly, but her suitcase was still a good size. At the last minute I decided to switch from my normal suitcase to a large carry-on, because I am the queen of packing lightly, especially when we're going somewhere with a washing machine. And yet I still had two shirts I never wore (one was a tank top - go figure.).

For our week on the Isle of Mull we'd booked a self-catering flat, where we planned to prepare breakfasts, lunches, and most dinners. That required a stop at Tesco in Oban (already programmed into Katja from our 2015 trip) to get everything but meat and milk products. We were already crammed in the car, but everyone besides M took a bag at their feet or on their lap.

After Tesco we parked the car in the ferry queue and went for fish-n-chips, which we ate on the pier with eager seagulls hovering about. Then it was onto the ferry and across the bay and through the Sound of Mull to Craignure, passing the seat of  the MacDougall clan, of which we are a small part.

Dunollie Castle, Oban - seat of the MacDougall clan
M's mother is a McDowell (one of the MacDougall septs).
Islanders will scoff at us, but coming back to Mull is for us returning to a fond and familiar place. There is no place we would rather vacation than here. The road is familiar, and M almost looks forward to the single-track roads, where the driving system is a bit scary at first (for me, not him), but logical. You don't always have the road to yourself, but the locals are as patient as they can be.
The locals do not get out of our way, nor should they have to.
By the way, faced with the above situation, no, you cannot "just" anything. Honk, shout obscenities, drive slowly forward, drive around them, "shoo" them along, herd them off the road with your car... You wait until they are damn good and ready to amble off the road. M learned a few trips ago that backing up the car just a bit can help. That apparently sends them the message that you are not a threat. Then they just give you a look of disgruntled disdain and finally cross the road.

In the next post I'll tell about our three accommodations, all of which we highly recommend!

Friday, June 23, 2017

Midges and Memories

As I sit here scratching the last remains of the midge bites I acquired two weeks ago despite being covered with Avon's Skin-So-Soft® while sitting outside on the phone (no reception inside the B&B) trying in vain to resolve a rental car problem, I am getting ready to settle back into the routine of normal life. I start with a new Integrationskurs on Tuesday which will go until the end of January, and although many families are getting hyped up for summer and vacations they'll take, we are finished with ours for the year.

M and I just returned from Scotland, where we met my two children and my son's girlfriend for a 12-day trip to the Isle of Mull and Edinburgh. The internet connection on the island was sketchy at best, and I had no time for blogging anyway.

There were many highlights and funny moments during this trip, and it was wonderful to spend time with the kids again. I had visited my daughter in Philadelphia last spring, but I hadn't see my son in two years. It is always nice to get back to Mull again, which we've all but vowed to do every two years from now on. The wild, rugged, natural place is good for the soul. Our souls, anyway.

the view from our self-catering flat in Glengorm Castle
We did some of our favorite activities and hikes on the island as well as some new ones, and it was a good week. Despite the rental car issues (we were towed back to Edinburgh despite multiple phone calls to the rental company to tell them the car's dash was warning us the car would not start in 300...200...150...miles) we had a fabulous trip, which ended with a day in Edinburgh and a day visiting the Great Polish Map of Scotland and two castle ruins east of the city.

Returning to a heat wave and dry spell in Germany makes us miss Scotland all the more. It's crazy to see on the photos that a mere week ago we were bundled up and soaking wet. No wonder our rhododendron bushes are looking weak and sad.

We returned with only two sleeves of Jacob's Creme Crackers, which we will carefully ration over the next few weeks, a deliciously-scented bar of Isle of Mull soap and candle, a calendar for next year, no new whiskey glasses but two new slate Mull coasters, more notecards that I won't use because occasions important enough to write on them don't come up, and four new books (five, if I count Ravished by a Highlander, which two of our travel companions gave to me after they read it).

The laundry is done, but the memories are still thick and I'm not quite ready to think about real life just yet. M is back at the office, but I've got a few days of recovery time before I'm back to work (part-time, at a job I love - not exactly a hardship).