Thursday, February 2, 2017

My Journey to Scotland's Cities, Highlands and Islands

For some reason, this fall my family and friends were more accepting of my travel plans than they usually are. I didn't get any off-the-wall comments like "what are you thinking traveling somewhere so dangerous?" or "you are so crazy traveling all the way over there by yourself". I guess to them Scotland didn't seem like such a dangerous destination compared to, say, Mexico or Costa Rica. They encouraged me to go and said things like "you are so lucky" and "have a great time and take lots of pictures". I was quite surprised. Maybe they're finally getting used to my just-getup-and-go way of life. Maybe they're warming up to the idea of me traveling to far-flung destinations by myself after seeing me return unharmed time and time again.

I didn't have much time to plan this trip. My work schedule was up in the air, car repairs drained my bank account and I just couldn't decide where I wanted to go. I started researching potential destinations for my next trip months before. I would choose one, make plans and something would come up to derail them. All I knew for sure was I wanted to avoid Central America and the Caribbean only because I've already spent a lot of time in that region and wanted to try somewhere different. Greece was my first choice. When that didn't fall through, New Zealand was my chosen destination. That got derailed too. Finally after researching, planning and cancelling, I settled on my final destination; Scotland.

I've wanted to visit Scotland my whole life partially because I am half Scottish and partially because everyone I know who has been there tells me how beautiful it is. Since my finances were pretty much depleted from car repairs and surprise expenses, I decided to cash out my hard-earned AirMiles for this trip. If you didn't already know this (as I do now), AirMiles are pretty much useless for flights from Canada to Europe. I say this because I was able to search return flights to Glasgow and Edinburgh for under 600 bucks on various dates. When I searched with AirMiles, I was able to find return flights that would only use a quarter of my miles (about 3500 miles) and set my bank account back 850 bucks in taxes and fees. Yes, you read that right. It's cheaper to fly from Canada to Europe with cash only. Save your AirMiles for domestic flights which only carry fees of about 200 bucks or less. This was a disappointment to me because, as any of you AirMiles collectors know, these miles were set to expire on December 31st (that has since changed and now the miles carry no expiration date).  I did have another option available to get an almost free flight to Europe and that was my WestJet Dollars. I used my expiring AirMiles to order a new tablet and a pair of snowshoes.

Everything came together perfectly at that last minute. Before I knew it, flights were booked, hotels were booked and a 5-day Highland and Isle of Sky tour was booked. I even managed to find some advanced tickets to enter Edinburgh Castle without having to wait in line. Early on the morning of September 15th, I hopped on a shuttle to Halifax Stanfield International Airport to catch my flight that evening. I was lucky to only have to share the shuttle with one other non-chatty, non-annoying traveler so I was able to catch up on sleep that I knew I wouldn't get on the plane.

I made good use of my 7-hour layover in Halifax by charging my gadgets in the onlyoutlet I could find, catching up on text messages, eating fast food, reading, rearranging my carry-on luggage to make it the right size to be taken on-board, booking my return shuttle, exchanging currency, chatting with the lady trying to get people to sign up for a credit card, twiddling my fingers and staring at the ceiling. When it was time to check in, I made a silent plea to the luggage gods asking them to please, please let me board the plane with two pieces of carry-on luggage and a purse. The ticket agent looked at my bags and asked if that was all I was taking on-board.  I said yes, asked no other questions and pretended not to be surprised when she asked me to proceed to security. I quickly walked away before she could change her mind but couldn't help but smile at the realization that I had finally done it; I, a former over-packer, had managed to pack all of the necessities needed for a 9-day, transcontinental voyage in two carry-on bags.  

Flying with one of my favourite airlines, WestJet, is always a pleasure.  Besides a bit of turbulence, the flight was uneventful and I arrived in Glasgow almost an hour ahead of schedule. As I walked off the plane and headed straight for customs and immigration (which was a surprisingly quick process that day), I took great pleasure in not having to worry about waiting for checked baggage! With the last leg of my journey to the Old Country complete, I set out to start the next journey; an overland trip to the city of Edinburgh. This was a part of the trip I didn't plan ahead of time. All I knew was I had two options; a train or a bus. I didn't care which one I took as long as it was affordable, safe and quick. Welcome to Glasgow, Scotland.  Next stop....the city of Edinburgh.

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