Monday, September 24, 2012

A Whirlwind Recap of a Whirlwind Road Trip

Yesterday was the first frost of the season. If I’d been in the States, this would have invoked a trip to Starbucks for a peppermint hot chocolate and a movie night at home complete with vegetable stew. As it is, a trip to Starbucks involves paid parking, and last time I went, I was told they had no peppermint syrup. It was devastating.

And since Jonathan left at 6 AM this morning for Krakow, there was little sense in making vegetable soup since it feeds an army and I didn’t want to waste precious Rotel and long macaroni noodles on myself. Needless to say, I felt a twinge of homesickness over this lost fall-time tradition.

I think the hardest part so far of living abroad is missing out on traditions. I always looked forward to that first cold snap; that first excuse to wear my uggs, order hot chocolate, and cook a nice warm and snuggly soup.
Last year's first peppermint hot cocoa and Ugg boots day of  Fall.
Never fear, Fall and Winter span the majority of the year in Aberdeen, so I’m sure I’ll get plenty of opportunities to cook my favorite autumn recipes and I’ll probably get so sick of my ugg boots by next May that I’ll toss them in the fire once summer comes. But you don’t want to hear about my nostalgic Fall fantasies, you want to hear about my road trip with April, don’t you? Well, on to that then…

There is so much to tell and my mind is having a hard time processing all the great adventures we had along the way. Today I’ll just give you a summary and throughout the week, I’ll break it down into a more detailed retelling.

I’ve always wanted to take a cross country road trip, though I never imagined my first one would take place in Scotland and not the US. The first leg of our trip was from the Edinburgh airport to Aberdeen. Aberdeen has it’s own airport, but it was one less flight and 300 less dollars for April to fly into the larger Edinburgh airport, so we opted for that.
When she arrived, the Scottish weather was really showing off. I mean, not a single cloud in the sky. Just pure and brilliant sunshine. Since I knew the weather was handing us a rare gift, I pushed April through her jetlag and we stopped in Stonehaven on the way into Aberdeen for fish and chips, ice cream, and a tour of Dunnottar Castle.

It was a great first taste of Scotland, and a glimpse what she had in store for the remainder of the week. We spent the next three nights in Aberdeen where I took her to some of my favorite haunts around the city:

Crathes Castle and surrounding grounds....

Milton of Crathes Tea Room and Artists' village....
Countesswells Woods and various other dog walking routes around the house...
Lairhillock Inn, my favorite dinner spot...
and High Tea at the swanky Marciliff Hotel for my birthday.

Tuesday morning we loaded the car and headed towards Inverness. We made pit stops along the way at Touched by Scotland and Johnston’s Cashmere Shop which are two great places to find non-touristy Scottish souvenirs.
I even managed to find a few things for myself at Johnston’s, like this doggie door stop.
One ‘quirky’ thing about traditional Scottish homes is that they have doors leading into every single room.  The idea of an open living plan is pretty lost on the Scots, and so we tend to just keep all the doors in the interior of our home open so that the flow is not so disjointed. The problem is that if you open a window, all the doors will slam shut, so you need something decorative to hold them ajar. Enter adorable mardi-gras-colored-tartan-scottie-dog. Yep, that should do that trick.

Oh, and April found most of her souvenirs at Johnston’s as well. I definitely recommend the stop if you’re passing through Elgin. Once we were done shopping we made our way to Inverness.

The weather looked spotty so we decided to forgo the Loch Ness boat tour and just drive on to Urquhart Castle, stopping for some photo ops along the way.

The sun was shining when we got to the castle so we decided to tour the ruins first before heading to the visitor’s center for the informational film.
April shares my affinity for Scottish farm animals.

We had a great time taking in the views and learning some of the history of the grounds, but for sure the highlight of the day was when the rain rolled in and brought this little beauty with it.

I probably took 53 pictures within 5 minutes of this unbelievable sight. We both felt so blessed to witness such a stunning moment. Of course, the rainbow became the first of about a thousand we would see in the next 48 hours, but we had no way of knowing that at the time.
We spent the night in Inverness and I enjoyed a pleasant morning run along the river before we loaded up again and headed towards the Isle of Skye.

Up until this point, April and I had been retracing the stops along my previous tours of Scotland. This was the first time either of us had ventured West of Inverness so I was very excited to experience a new adventure with her. And man oh man, you just gotta go to the Isle of Skye. The drive alone is spectacular, and with every mile leading to the island, the views get better ...
and better ...
and better.
Right before crossing the bridge onto Skye, we passed by Eilean Donan castle, potentially Scotland’s most famous one.
And it’s easy to see why.
People always ask me what kind of camera I have, and this is usually my answer: I have a Nikon D5000 DSLR and I have an Iphone 4.
fancy Nikon

I-phone 4 camera
But the type of camera is really kind of irrelevant, and I can't take any credit for the quality of these photos. It’s simply impossible to take a bad picture of this stunning country, and Scotland could make a professional photographer out of anyone. Even a simple Polaroid would come out beautifully. And no matter how great these pictures turned out, it really doesn’t do Scotland even one ounce of justice. April remarked early into our trip that she always thought the pictures on my blog were gorgeous, but that they didn’t capture at all what I was really seeing over here. She’s right; you must come see it for yourself!
After eating some lunch with a fantastic view of the castle, we made our way to Skye to hike to the famous fairy pools.
Much more on that later...
After our hike we stopped by the nearby Talisker distillery for a tour, a wee dram, and a photo op behind the bar.
Then we went into Portree for a dinner in the town square and a look around.

Then we headed to our B&B where this little guy was waiting for us.
This was probably my favorite day of the trip. It was truly a fairytale and I was so glad I got to spend it with my best girl. However, my best girl made the mistake of saying: ‘If our luck runs out today, I’ll call this trip a success”. Famous last words. You see, we still had a 6 hour drive to Edinburgh the next day, with a pitstop at the Glennfinnan monument and viaduct.

In the pouring rain. And we arrived in Edinburgh at rush hour. In the pouring rain. In the midst of a massive construction project, which meant the closure of the street which our hotel was on. I was already nervous enough about driving and parking in a big city, and the terrible weather, traffic, and road conditions may have lead me to have a slight meltdown which resulted in me snapping at my dear friend. Sorry, April!

Anyway, the whole day was a wash. After driving around Edinburgh for 2 hours, we finally got settled in our hotel room and dashed out for some Thai food before calling it an early night. But the traffic closure on our street didn’t stop the drunks from screaming all night long right outside our window. And the construction noise started at 6 AM which equaled about 2 hours of sleep for yours truly.
However, it was gloriously sunny day so we got up early and crammed in as many sights as possible, including: the royal mile...
Edinburgh castle...
St. Giles Cathedral...
Holyrood palace...
hiking Arthur’s seat...
shopping at Grassmarket, Royal Mile, and Princes street, stopping at Starbucks for a non-peppermint hot chocolateL, dessert at Love Crumbs...
City of the Dead Undergound tour...
and dinner at The Witchery by the Castle.
Phew, I’m exhausted and out of breath just thinking about it. We called it another early night since April had a morning flight out, and we spent the night packing up and watching Dirty Dancing.

I was super sad to see my friend go, but super excited to get back home to my best guy and puppies. Especially since, Lord willing, I'll see April again in 2 weeks, stateside!

After the 2 hour drive home from Edinburgh, I caught up on the sleep I’d missed out on the previous two nights and just hibernated with my little family for the duration of the weekend. I’m just now coming out of my road trip coma, but I promise more Scottish insights throughout the week. Stay tuned!


  1. Looks like so much fun! But also so exhausting! Glad to have you back for a few days!

  2. WOW!! Looked like so much fun

    I am a Pumpkin Spice Soy Latte in the fall kinda
    Peppermint mocha around Christmas.. :)

  3. Looks like a great trip! Are you going to NOLA with Jonathan in a couple weeks? If so maybe we can meet IRL and have a drink outdoors in the 80 degree weather!!

    1. Yes, we'll be in new Orleans that week and I'd love to have a drink and swap expat stories with you!:)

  4. I'm so happy you and April had a beautiful trip together. It makes me so sad I can't just hop on a plane this minute and visit you too

  5. Found your blog on the web a couple of months ago and have loved it so far!

    I am also quite new to Scotland (grew up in London) so it's great to hear someone else getting settled too.

    I will be visiting Aberdeen in a month. Do you have any city tips for a newcomer - brunch/lunch spots, places to see?

    1. I guess I missed this comment as I'm only now seeing it. If you haven't been to Aberdeen yet, I'd recommend Lairhillock for lunch or dinner. It's in the country, but worth the drive. Union street has all the good shopping and several good eating spots in that area. Lots of good Thai and Indian cuisine here such as Sabai and Rishi's. Our most famous attraction is 30 miles south in Stonehaven. Dunottar castle is a must see and you'll find the best fish and chips in Stonehaven Harbor.