Great Day! My eight days in Scotland were absolutely fantastic! The magnificent landscape, rich history and friendly people combined with knowledgeable tour guides made for an unforgettable visit. I’m already planning my return trip!
Below is a rundown of my itinerary and some fun numbers. I was able to do quite a bit in eight days and I attribute that to (i) going in off-season; and (ii) having a superb driver-guide.
📷 2,644 Photos 🚗 655 Miles 🏰 8 Castles 🦐 6 Lochs 🐟 5 Firths
🏨 4 Hotels 🥃 4 Distilleries 🌈 3 Rainbows 🤺 2 Battlefields
🏛 1 UNESCO World Heritage Site 🎼 1 Bagpipe Lesson
🍱 1 Michelin Star Dinner
Below is an abbreviated version of my itinerary. Though I mentioned a few of the scenic drives - I can't even put into words the beautiful and scenic value of each ride between destinations. Just stunning! (If you are planning a trip to Scotland feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I'll be happy to help you put together an itinerary - including places I plan to visit later this year.) (Apologies ahead of time for the unattractiveness of this table. Evidently, choices are limited in this website platform.)
Polaris Business Class: My 17 Hour Flight (United Flight 1) From SFO to SIN (On Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner)
Recently, I flew from Orlando to San Francisco (SFO) to Singapore (SIN) (right at 23 hours of flying with less than 1 hour layover)! Lucky for me, my husband shared a couple of his United Global Upgrade Certificates so instead of this little blog piece being about a 17 hour flight in Economy Class it's about a 17 hour flight in Polaris Business Class. Yippee! (This story starts after the 6 hour flight from Orlando lands in San Francisco.)
When we landed at SFO our gate was not ready so there was a bit of a delay getting off the plane. Not a big deal unless you only have 45 minutes between flights and need to go to a different terminal in an airport where you don’t exactly know your way around. When I stepped off the gateway and into the terminal I heard my name being announced. OH NO! Thank goodness I have a new hip and can hustle- so off I went to the other terminal as fast as I could. There’s no telling what I looked like by the time I got on the plane - but - I made it (albeit I was the last person to board). My heart was racing a bit to say the least. But it wasn’t long before all was calm and very good!
It's just the plain truth that flights are nicer when you turn left upon boarding the plane. In United Polaris Business Class the special treatment began immediately. I did not even have a chance to take in my little area or put my backpack down before a flight attendant asked me if I’d like a glass of champagne or wine quickly before we took off. Yes, please!
My seat was a window and there was a gentleman sitting in the aisle seat so I went past him saying hi and started to settle in. Ok - the first things I noticed were the pillow, blanket and duvet cover with “Saks Fifth Avenue” embroidered on them that were on my seat. Ooh lah lah. Mama got her glass of champagne and started making her nest!
The cubby areas are spacious - I especially appreciated the one to the right of my head where you can plug in headphones and other electronics as there was enough room for my Bose headphones case and it made a good place to put my chapstick, hand lotion and pen.
The foot space in front was large enough with some extra space for my backpack and there was a little shelf on top of that area as well. Very nice.
Not long after take off there was another drink service as the menus were passed out. Good selection of entrees (beef, chicken, fish, Asian, pasta). Everyone gets all the appetizers on the menu which included some sushi and a salad. I chose the beef for dinner dinner. In all honesty, it was the best airplane meal I've ever had. The beef was very tender and the potatoes were delicious; bread was nice. (Would have been nicer if the butter was soft - but hey - we are on a plane for goodness sakes). There is a whole dessert cart which includes a choice of ice-cream and sundae toppings. After a sundae and another glass of wine it was time to go to sleep. After all, my internal clock was reading about 3:00 am. When I went to sleep the flight screen said 16.35 to go.
Wow. With the mattress cushion, seat that lays all the way back, cozy blanket and pillow - I went to sleep (and I don't normally sleep on planes) and slept well. Woke up about 5 hours later because - multiple glasses of vino (oh, and a port with the cheese selection that I forgot to mention) = bathroom. Gracious. The guy next to me is asleep. Hmm. With his seat all the way down and my short legs there is no way I can gracefully step over. So. I wait for a bit then try to gently over-exaggerate a move to get something out of my backpack in hopes it will cause him to wake. Doesn’t work. Keep waiting (remembering that he also partook in the vino) and then about 10 minutes later he gets up so I hop up too. All good. Screen says 11.38 to go. Definitely time for a movie or five.
In Polaris Business Class: During most of the flight the wine is set up and easily accessible. Also, there is a self serve snack tray with sandwiches, fruit, chips, candy, and water. Don't mind if I do! In fact, my seat mate and I start talking and decide to try the different wines (which you can get as a tasting set if you ask) and snacks so that between us we could try everything - for the sake of providing best coverage on the blog - of course!
Snacks, drinks, movies, nap, repeat. Then it's time to get refreshed before breakfast. Breakfast was tasty, also. Before we landed, the Business Class Concierge (I think that was her title) came by each guest to give a little box with truffles and ask thoughts on the flight and service.
The bottom line: The price difference in my flights (and the same flights for more recent dates) is approximately $3-4k. Is Polaris Business Class worth it? I have to say that if you're in the neighborhood of being 50 or older and are traveling for a good time; and don't have a day or two to recuperate from the flight and the time change - then yes - it's worth it because you are comfortable and are not trying to recover from a 12-hour time difference if you can get some decent sleep. Now, on my return flight I had the aisle seat. If my review had only been on that flight then I'd have no hesitation or conditions on saying flying Polaris Business Class was worth the extra money. Until there are no window seats (no moving around on someone else's schedule or feeling like you are being rude to climb over) I have to put conditions on the Yes!
Happy & Safe Travels!
A run down on United Polaris Business Class:
Most large cities that attract tourists have “must see” attractions. Edinburgh’s “must see” list includes Edinburgh Castle, St. Giles Cathedral and Palace of Holyrood House. I did them in one fabulous day and here’s how I spent my second day in Edinburgh.
Let me start by saying that a few days into my visit to Scotland I was enjoying the countryside so much that I was wishing I had planned differently and instead of spending three nights in Edinburgh had booked another evening in Inverness. The way it turned out though, was with me wishing I had even more than three nights in Edinburgh. The city has an abundance of interesting things to see and do, is easy to get around in, filled with friendly people and simply beautiful.
My hotel was perfectly located in New Town Edinburgh so I was able to walk to almost every place on Day Two - which was a Saturday, by the way.
First stop: Grassmarket Saturday Market. Ok. I ended up at the market because I went the wrong way out of my hotel. (Sure would like to say that going the wrong way rarely happens to me but directions are just not my thing. However, in my defense, I headed out originally to go to Gladstone’s Land (a place I saw while on a walking tour the previous day) and thought it was on Grassmarket Street but it is on Lawnmarket Street. So technically I went the right way but that was the wrong way.) Either way, I found the Saturday Market. Yay!
The Grassmarket Saturday Market is set up in the centre of Grassmarket and has maybe about 20 or so tented stalls selling local produce, jams, sweets, arts, crafts, cheese, bread - you get the idea - and some were street-food stalls - including a popular one selling “lovely paella”. Oh, also there were a couple of stalls selling some vintage items. (I tried to find a porcelain quaich at these stalls but no luck. Though I did talk to one of the owners of a vintage item stall and told him that I hoped to come back later this year and he said he’ll find me a porcelain quaich and hold until the end of the year. I said “oh goodie, thanks”. Then “can you look for one for my soon to be sister-in-law too”? Lol.)
Second stop: Gladstone’s Land. Found it! Just walking down the sidewalk you’d think Gladstone’s Land was a shop selling quality tourist items. On closer inspection you find that it is indeed a shop - but it’s also a 17th century high-tenement house that has been restored by the National Trust. My tour guide the previous day had explained to me that because of crowding in the city buildings had to be built up and not out - so the house is SIX stories high. Which level you lived on was an indicator of your social status. You didn’t want to be too high or too low. And the ground levels were used as shops.
Third stop: The Real Mary King's Close. Old Town Edinburgh in the 17th Century was over-crowded because everyone wanted the protection of living inside the city walls. Off the main road were these little alley ways that are narrow, gated (and locked) and lead from the road to a courtyard that was used by residents of the apartments surrounding the courtyard. Real Mary King's Close is a steepish underground close that you can tour. The tour is led by folks in period costumes. Similar to Gladstone’s Land, Mary King's Close, allows an interesting look into life in Old Town Edinburgh in the 17th Century.
Fourth & Fifth stops: National Gallery of Scotland & Portrait Gallery. Free admission to both; some really wonderful paintings by Scottish artists in the National Gallery; BP Portrait Award Exhibit in Portrait Gallery. The Portrait Gallery building itself is magnificent inside so it’s worth a stop to just see the foyer. (On my next visit to Edinburgh I will spend more time at each of these galleries.) (Up to this point I had walked to each stop. After the Portrait Gallery I taxied to the remainder of the stops and back to my hotel.)
Sixth stop: Georgian House at Charlotte Square. Georgian House is the equivalent of Gladstone’s Landing in New Town Edinburgh. It was interesting to say the least to have the comparison between life in Old Town and New Town in the 17th Century. (Tip - New Town was the place to be. :))
Seventh stop: Edinburgh Gin Distillery. Gin is happening & hip in Scotland. Edinburgh Gin is right in the thick of things in New Town. Their advertising mentions the words “rabbit hole”. When you visit you will know why. (Well, you’ll also know why because I’m about to say. HeeHee.) Edinburgh Gin Distillery is all of a sudden -right there- tucked behind the Waldorf Astoria. You see the banner flags and walk downstairs to the Distillery. Yep. It’s underground - rabbit hole style! Tour is fun and informative. Plus, you get some gin at the end! I’m a gin drinker so really enjoyed this and plan to see some other gin distilleries on my next trip to Scotland. (Which I hope is later this year.)
Eighth (and, whew! last) stop: Mother India Cafe. Indian Food - Tapas Style. Wow. I love love love Indian food and I love love tapas! Did they pop-up this restaurant just for my visit! Surely not. But heck yeah! - I want me some Indian tapas! Delicious! I’m reviewing the restaurant soon but rest assured it was yum yum yummy!
The day was long (sort of like this post) but completely enjoyable and a great way to spend my final day in Scotland.
Happy & Safe Travels.
I don’t play golf but lots of folks that I love do play the game so I was very excited about my day trip to St. Andrews to see the famous Links. Little did I know that even though golf is major major major here, it is only a part of this completely charming town.
Golf first. A quick recap of what I learned about St. Andrews and golf: golf has been played here since around 1400 AD (that's a long time); there are seven courses (all public) at St. Andrews of which three are championship; the little bridge connecting the first and eighteenth holes of the Old Course is over seven hundred years old (it was initially built to help shepherds get their animals over) and is named Swilcan Bridge; the fees to play aren’t nearly as expensive as I thought they’d be - ranging from 8 GBP to 175 GBP (depending on course and season); and the Old Course is closed for golfing on Sunday so that the public can walk along the fairways.
Enough golf talk for now.
It seemed like everywhere we drove in Scotland was beautifully scenic. St. Andrews was no exception. Seeing the castle (which has been among other things, a prison) backdropped by the North Sea is stunning. Any way you turn in St. Andrews you have a great view whether it be the coast line, the golf greens, the beautiful buildings that make up the University of St. Andrews, the Cathedral, or one of the many historical monuments that pepper the town.
You may recall in an earlier post that I mentioned John, driver guide master. Well, St. Andrews is one of John’s favorite locations and he was as happy as me to be spending the day here. I imagine I got the best tour you can get of St. Andrews and we managed to do quite a bit on this day visit. To try and share a little more of the Old Course, John and I (well, I just turned the camera where I was told) did a little video while driving across the Old Course. And it is posted below.
Before lunch I was able to stroll along the cobbled streets and see the site where Patrick Hamilton was burned at the stake for teaching Lutheran doctrines in 1528 (Yikes! I just looked at the picture of the placard and realized he died on February 29 - Leap Year), the Whyte-Melville Fountain, and do a little shopping including at a very cool little liquor store (Luvians) that has a vault room with treasured (tres’ expensive) bottles of whisky, wine and cigars. (That's Archie from the shop with me in the vault room pic below.)
After lunch at the Links Clubhouse (fish n chips) we went to the roof of the building and made another little video (I'll post it soon). Then it was time to check out the (i) Cathedral ruins with a most fascinating Cemetery (even though the photos below are magnificent they don’t nearly do justice to the beauty and serenity of the grounds), (ii) Castle ruins, (iii) beach, (iv) oh goodness, another site where someone (George Wishart) was burned at the stake for heresy in 1546, and (v) a fantastic little church a few minutes out of the main area of town near the Castle Course.
A wonderful day! St. Andrews is a superb small town with so much to offer - golf & much much more! A day trip wasn’t enough and I can’t wait until my next visit to Scotland to spend more time in St. Andrews.
Happy & Safe Travels.
p.s. If you are planning a trip to Scotland send me an email and I'll be glad to share my itinerary and suggestions.
I’m pretty sure it’s the law that if you visit Scotland you have to go to at least one whisky distillery. So, to avoid being locked up abroad or a broad locked up in Scotland (:-)) a distillery visit was indeed on my itinerary for day four.
But whisky came early when my driver guide met me at my bagpipe session and essentially said: if you don’t jib jab too much after the lesson we can hit a distillery this afternoon on the way to Loch Lomond. (More on driver guide extraordinaire -John- in later posts but suffice it to say that working in a wee dram of whisky within minutes of meeting made a good first impression.)
We visit Glengoyne on day one and Glenmorangie and The Dalmore on day four.
Here’s what I learned about making whisky: (1) there are three ingredients - water, malt and yeast; (2) these ingredients are ground, mashed, fermented, distilled and aged in different types of casks from different origins; and (3) if (2) is done correctly, then, just like that you have a barrel of whisky (after 10 years)!
Despite the basic process being the same each distillery I visited had a distinct personality. Top things gleaned and my impressions about each:
Glengoyne (Valley of the Geese). As you walk up to Glengoyne and see the waterfall right in front you quickly know why it’s dubbed as Scotland’s most beautiful distillery. Glengoyne sits on the highland/lowland divide line so they make the whisky on one side of the road in the highlands and then it goes across the street and is aged in the lowlands. That is their badge of uniqueness.
Glengoyne is the only distillery of the three I toured that gave the wee dram tasting before the tour. And I liked that because while they were explaining the casking and what is done to get certain flavors in the whisky you have a reference point since you already had a taste. I also liked the way the darkening of color with aging process was displayed.
As a first time visitor to Scotland it was a delight to see Glengoyne because the property itself looks storybook. And this, I think, gives the distillery a romantic aura.
Glenmorangie. When you drive up to Glemorangie you see their signature rich mustard gold colored sign. The distillery is located right on the loch and the views are fantastic. The grounds look like a little village. Glemorangie’s uniqueness is in its’ stills. They are the highest in Scotland - as tall as a full grown giraffe (so, yes, they do sell stuffed giraffes in the gift shop).
Glemorangie does a very informative tour and I was quite impressed to learn that they receive and process 300 tons of malt a week! That’s a lot of malt! Also Glenmorangie distillery originally had sixteen men who took care of the distillation process. They were called the Sixteen Men of Tain. Today, despite a much higher production rate, the staff has only increased to twenty-three.
It was a treat to tour the grounds and taste the whisky at Glenmorangie. This distillery has a sophisticated look and feel. (It isn't surprising to learn that Glenmorangie is part of the Louis Vuitton brand. You really want to leave there with something in one of those gift bags!)
The Dalmore. The Dalmore is sitting right on the Cromarty Firth (sea). And it’s surroundings are gorgeous. The tour guide told us that a lot of times during the year seals sun on the rocks right outside their doors. What a treat that would be to see during the work day -eh? The Dalmore is unique because they have the oldest stills in Scotland - parts of one still are from 1874! Also, their stills are shaped a bit different with flat tops.
The Dalmore tour was great. Initially you learn the history behind the Royal Stag that is on every Dalmore bottle. The processes seemed less automated. We were able to see six huge vats (washers) with the malt and yeast at different stages of fermentation. Also, instead of just seeing the difference in coloring with age we were able to smell the different flavors that seeped from the casks to the whiskey at various stages through the process. And we got lucky and saw the ‘still man’ working his magic.
I’d say The Dalmore has a stately elegant atmosphere.
All in all each distillery was unique and provided a completely different experience - oh, and good whisky! The distillery tours were definitely worth the vacation time. If you’re visiting Scotland … gotta put a whisky tour on your ‘to do’ list.
Hmm. I only visited 3 of the 119 whisky distilleries here. Now I’m thinking a fun trip would be to do the Whiskey Trail in Kentucky followed by the Whisky Trail in Scotland and then do a comparison. Who wants to join me?
Happy & Safe Travels.
WooHoo! It’s the day I leave for Scotland. My brother-in-law dropped me off at the train station in Preston, England just in time for me to maneuver my big suitcase, backpack and zipped tote bag to Track 5 to catch the 9:41 to Glasgow.
My first class ticket only cost 35 GBP and because it was on the weekend the train was far from crowded. I had a whole 4 seat/table to myself (which was good because my ‘stuff’ took up two seats). The ride to Glasgow is 2 hrs 20 minutes and my plan was to do some more research for the Scotland trip on the way. Wrong! Not thinking, I made the mistake of sitting backward facing on the train and we were probably less than ten miles out of the gate before I was digging as quickly as I could in my backpack for the Dramamine. Took two (please work before I need a plastic bag to be sick in), moved to the other side of the table, got too comfy and fell asleep until 11:50. Yikes - but at least I woke up with no motion sickness and in time to zip everything back up and get my suitcase from the rack.
Generally when traveling to a new destination I try to do something unique and a bit off the beaten path. From the second Scotland was on my travel map I knew I wanted to do a bagpipe lesson. A little Googling later I was set up for a two hour session with a Master Bagpiper (Donald Mackenzie).
First Lesson: There's more to bagpipes than meets the eye! There are about a dozen parts to a bagpipe. You learn on a practice chanter. The chanter reminded me of the flutophone we played in elementary school except that the mouthpiece was completely different. Ok. I guess the only resemblance is that they both have holes that you cover with your fingers but flutophone was what I was thinking at the time. With one hand you use the pads/tips of your fingers but with the other you have to use the second pads - almost to your knuckles - to cover the holes (otherwise the pinky finger won't reach) and that takes some getting used to. I also learned that the amount of air you blow into the chanter determines whether the ensuing sound is melodic or causes others that can hear you to start looking for injured animals in the area.
My clarinet playing days helped me out a bit and Donald is also a master teacher so I was actually able to play a scale and a few grace notes before the lesson ended!
After teaching me the basics on the chanter Donald played a few tunes on the whole bagpipe. Ok. I've heard bagpipes before in person but never in a small room. When he first started playing it was so loud that I was looking for the windows to break or me to fall out of the chair or something. Those puppies are powerful loud! I love the sound of bagpipes though and it was a real treat.
Bagpipe lesson was great fun! The practice chanter and lesson book are coming home with me and I want to learn to at least play Amazing Grace. Hopefully, the walls in our apartment are thick enough to prevent noise complaints. (Don't worry, when I learn a song I'll be sure to post a video for your enjoyment. LoL.)
Happy & Safe Travels.
p.s. If you are going to Scotland and are thinking of a bagpipe lesson contact Donald at Mackenzie Bagpiping.
Come along with this southern girl on my fun travel adventures! I’m taking the tours; seeing the sites; trying out the hotels; dining at the restaurants; cruising on the cruise ships; and sharing the experiences on this blog. I hope you enjoy reading about my travel escapades and that they will be inspiring and helpful when planning your own fabulous adventures.