It had been two years since Traci had a business trip to the UK. When she has these trips, I normally fly over after her meetings and we spend a few vacation days exploring parts of Europe. In the past, we've vacationed in London (2001) and Paris (2003). In the summer of 2005, Traci found out that she would again be traveling to England on business in the fall. You know what that means... time for another vacation!
We saw rainbows every day.
Scotland is located on the island of Great Britain and sits to the north of England. I was surprised to learn that Scotland is not actually a country. Well, it kind of is and kind of isn't. Scotland, England, Wales, and Northern Ireland are the constituent nations that make up the country of the United Kingdom (UK). As of 1997, Scotland has its own parliament that meets in its capital city of Edinburgh to deal with issue specific to Scotland. However, matters such as defense and international relations are the responsibility of the United Kingdom Parliament which sits in London.
The language of Scotland is English - with a strong Scottish accent! When we first arrived in Edinburgh (pronounced Edin-barra or sometimes as Edin-budda) it was difficult for me to understand what people were saying to me. Every sentence sounded like a fast mumble. Conversely, a few people had a hard time understanding us. I got used to the accent after a day or so.
In addition to English, Gaelic is spoken in some of the northern regions of Scotland. We actually saw a few street signs written in Gaelic and English while touring the Highlands.
The currency of Scotland is the Pound Sterling (GBP), as is the case for the rest of the United Kingdom. However, the money in Scotland is minted differently in than in England. I hadn't noticed this until I paid for a meal at a McDonalds in London with some money I had left over from Scotland. The cashier stared at the money and then asked his neighboring cashier, "Do we accept this?". The neighboring cashier assured him the money is acceptable. One pound was worth about $1.80 in U.S. currency when we were there, so it seemed everything was expensive to us. I used my ATM card for getting British currency (no fee), but used my credit card for most purchases. When I got my credit card bill, I found out that CitiBank Mastercard charges a fee for foreign transactions.
Traci found out the exact dates of her business trip in early October. She left me in charge of putting together the vacation portion of the trip. I had found a nice 10-day Britain Sampler bus tour package offered by Globus through Liberty Travel at a very reasonable price. The tour starts in London and hits points of interest in the English countryside, Wales, and Scotland before returning to London. Unfortunately, the tour was sold out for the dates in which we'd be in the UK.
With Traci's business trip only two weeks away, I was still determined get a vacation out of it. I hit the Internet searching all types of travel sites, U.K. tourism sites, and travel agencies but I could not find a reasonably priced package that included the places we wanted to see. Therefore, I decided to do some research and put together my own package.
The general itinerary we came up with was for me to fly to London and meet Traci in the airport. We would then board a flight to Edinburgh, Scotland where we would spend the weekend. One of these days would be dedicated to a full-day bus tour to the Scottish Highlands. Finally, we would fly back to London to spend two nights and do a full-day bus tour that included stops at Stonehenge, Bath, and Salisbury. Overall, the trip went smoothly with only a few minor glitches.
I took the red eye flight from Philadelphia and arrived at London Heathrow airport at 9:30 Thursday morning. I had told Traci to meet me at the British Airways counter in Terminal One of the airport. Neither one of us had ever been to Terminal One before so I was quite surprised to find out there were several British Airways counters there. Anyway, after an hour of searching (our cell phones don't work in the UK), Traci and I finally found each other and boarded our 1 p.m. flight to Edinburgh.
The flight from London to Edinburgh is only an hour and fifteen minutes. When planning this trip I had originally looked into doing the 4-hour train ride between the cities on BritRail; however, I found out it was significantly cheaper to fly - not to mention much less time. It wasn't until we got to Scotland that I saw and heard advertisements for transportation that might have been cheaper than British Airways and BritRail. The GNER train system and the domestic budget airlines like FlyBE and EasyJet were advertising low fares; although, I'm not sure what kind of fees get tacked on. Anyway, we had finally made it to Scotland.
The Best Western Braid Hills Hotel (locally known as simply The Braid Hills Hotel) is a quaint hotel located in a residential neighborhood three miles from downtown Edinburgh. The exterior kind of reminds me of a small castle. The interior is elegantly decorated in an early 1900's decor. It's an old hotel that doesn't have an elevator.
Our room, although neat and clean, was very small. It was about the size of an inside cabin on a cruise ship. The television stand was so low that you couldn't lay in bed and see the whole screen.
The bathroom was small also. It had a tiny shower with no soap dish. The hotel supplies towels but no wash clothes. This was no surprise since I've never stayed in a British hotel that does.
I had chosen this hotel based on the good reviews I found about it online, its price, its proximity to the city, and because I thought it had a fitness center (wrong). It turns out I was wrong about the hotel having a fitness center. I must have gotten it mixed up with one the many hotels I researched before booking this one. This was a disappointment for Traci who had brought her workout clothes in hopes of sticking to her exercise plan. Sorry about that, Traci:(.
For what the Braid Hills Hotel lacks in size, it more than compensates in service. The hotel has a small staff that is very friendly and helpful. Whenever we needed anything they were at our door within two minutes. The room was kept spotless. Every day, housekeeping supplied our room with complementary tea, coffee, cookies, and bottled water.
Welcome to the Braid Hills Hotel
The price of our room included a delicious breakfast buffet each morning in the cozy dining room. The buffet consisted of eggs, ham, sausage, beans, potatoes, fruit, hot/cold cereals, bread, and fruit juices. Lunch and dinner (not included in room rate) are also served in the dining room but we were normally out sightseeing during these hours.
Braid Hills Hotel
The head server of the dining room was Nino. This guy was full of personality and would bend over backwards to make sure we were happy. He was a joy to talk to each day. Even the morning when the dining room was suddenly inundated with a tour group of 60 people at 7 am, Nino still managed to stop by our table to find out if we were enjoying our vacation in Scotland. This guy is a class act. continue...