Scotland Trip: Days 1 & 2
And we're back!
This is the first installment of my Scotland travel blogs, and I can't wait to share everything with you all! I've been back for approximately 3 weeks now, and I find myself flipping back and forth between feeling as if it all happened yesterday, and that it happened a year ago.
I'm combining the first two days here because most of our initial travel from the States occurred between Friday and Saturday. And my oh my, what an experience that was!
The part of the trip that I was dreading the most was the flight from LAX to London Heathrow - it was a 10.5 hour, non-stop flight. Being that I've flown consistently between Phoenix and the East Coast over the last decade, I was trying to view it as two flights to NJ...back to back...
That mentality didn't do much for me, if I'm being honest.
Anyway, we flew from Phoenix to LAX on Delta, who had recently partnered with Virgin Atlantic to reach a broader demographic and clientele. The flight was delayed by 40 mins (honestly, both of the times we flew Delta there were some serious issues in terms of passenger capacity and take-off delays, so I am none too eager to fly with Delta again), and so it gave us a pretty quick turn around to get to our gate for Virgin. Anyone who's flown into or out of LAX knows how quickly what should have been a 2 hour layover gets eaten up when your switching around the terminals.
Now, this is where this blog is going to sound like a paid for advertisement promoting Virgin Atlantic (it's not, but hey, Virgin, if you're looking, I volunteer as tribute). We boarded our massive Boeing 787, which was fun to begin with, but the Virgin planes were truly something else. We were flying Economy, so while we definitely caught glimpses of 1st Class (and it looked amazing) we were more concerned with what would happen to us plebeians in the back.
First and foremost, the lighting - I never really thought about how much lighting a space can affect the general mood of a person, but it completely does! Virgin uses soft, violet lighting on their planes, immediately lending a more fun, exciting vibe to the experience. The seats were larger than I was expecting, new, leather, and we were provided with headphones, a pillow, and a blanket. Each seat was equipped with a touch-screen monitor holding hundreds of films, television, music playlists, etc. They even came equipped with a USB charging port.
The most amazing feature, however, was the fact that 1) All the drinks offered, including alcohol, were free - unless you wanted champagne, and 2) They fed us, actual food mind you, almost 5 separate times! I'm sorry, but at the end of the day, flying has turned into such a chore. You end up paying hundreds of dollars in fees that I swear are complete and total nonsense, only to be crammed into small seats with limited leg room and most of the time peanuts or pretzels for a snack. Massive kudos to Virgin for making even Economy passengers feel valued and comfortable on a long-haul flight. (Four for you Glen Coco! You go, Glen Coco!)
By the time that we landed in London, we'd actually arrived 40 minutes early. We grabbed our things and maneuvered our way to the chaotic mess that is and probably will forever be, Customs. I've gone through Customs a handful of times, and it's never a particularly awesome experience - but this one definitely took the cake.
Dear Readers, there were only two, count them, TWO, customs agents working the entirety of the International Customs line (with no less than three international flights having just landed in London on a Saturday afternoon). I mean, come on! We waited in line for two hours before we were up in front of an agent (they were nice enough to let us go as a group - four girls with Trail-40 backpacks talking to one another seemed to clue them in on the fact that we were travelling together) but still. We ended up missing our original 16:30 train to Edinburgh, and since there were more trains leaving, we decided to get on the Underground to Kings Cross Station without stressing too much about it (Stephanie was more than a little impressed to see that I was not, contrary to expectations, freaking the freak out about this).
All that changed when the Fire Nation attacked.
(Free brownies to any and all who got that Avatar: The Last Airbender reference)
No, but seriously though - I am still so bummed about not having a Go Pro for this next moment. Because you see, Dear Readers, that upon arriving at Kings Cross Station (oh, the Harry Potter feels) we made our way to the ticket counter, in the hopes of exchanging our previous tickets for a later train. Only, I happened to read a memo board which stated that the 17:30 train to Edinburgh would be the last one of the day.
"We have to be on the 5:30 train," I told Stephanie, winding our way through the line.
"What time is it?"
*glances at watch*
You know that scene from the first Home Alone movie? When the McAllisters are sprinting through O'Hare Airport to catch their flight to France? That was literally us in the train station. The ladies at the ticket counter didn't even go through the faff of exchanging the tickets; they just told us to go to Platform 3 and to RUN!
So, we ran. Flat out sprinted - Stephanie and I were the ones who heard which Platform it was, so we just pushed poor Kayla and Abbie out and proceeded to book it through a somewhat full station. We made quite the sight, all of us in our boots and jackets, carrying our massive backpacks. It probably looked like some strange version of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.
The train hadn't, by some small miracle, left yet, and we were able to vault onto the carriage with the military shouting encouragement of a LNR attendant ( "Go, go, go!" ). Completely out of breath and exhausted, we ended up in 1st Class, which I highly recommend for train travel that is over 2 hrs long. I've traveled on many a train when I was studying in Lyon, and it was really nice to chill out with drinks and snacks and WiFi. It was a bummer that we were travelling at night, since that meant that we couldn't see any of the English countryside, but alas, the most important point was that we were officially on our way to Edinburgh!
It was around 10:30 pm when we pulled into Edinburgh Waverley Station, which meant that we got to experience Edinburgh's Saturday nightlife from the get go. I couldn't believe how crazy it was, and the only explanation that I had was that some kind of sporting event had taken place (we later found out it had been a huge rugby match for the Six Nations). People were face painted, singing and drinking, and not one of the four of us could stop smiling.
For our first few days in Edinburgh, we stayed at the High Street Hostel on Blackfriars Street, which boasted an entrance like a medieval castle turret. There was a bit of mix-up, where we were separated into two rooms that first night (thanks, Six Nations!), but we made it work.
As a general disclaimer, this was the first time that I had ever stayed in a hostel. Previously, I used AirBnB exclusively (which I will always highly recommend), but because of the nature of this trip, and our limited travel budgets, hostels were going to be our best bet. Stephanie and Abbie had stayed in them before, with mostly positive experiences, so I was casually optimistic that it would be fine.
I did not remain so.
High Street Hostel was one of the best rated hostels in Edinburgh, and when we checked into our rooms, all I wanted to do was flee. The rooms were completely trashed, with clothes, shoes, toiletries, money (why was it Romanian??) strewn haphazardly around the room. I remember looking at Stephanie being like, "Lucy, you got some 'splaining to do!"
*As a note, this was entirely due to the people we were sharing the 8 person mixed dorm with that first night. Boys, no matter their nationalities, have no general sense of cleanliness, organization, or personal space, unless they go into the military. While our initial reaction to the hostel wasn't great, we found out the next day, after the cleaners had been through, that High Street Hostel fully deserved it's high rating.
We were starving, so we found a little Italian place to have a late dinner at and continued to explore the bustling city a bit more. We had quite the day planned out for Sunday, so we decided to head back, shower, and get some sleep...
At least, that was the original plan. That original plan was hijacked by a pair of well-meaning Welshmen who had traveled up to Scotland from Wales for the rugby match (the match in question was Wales vs. Scotland - Wales won). Cai and Caradog were lively and hilarious, proving that the rumors regarding the Welsh as natural born singers and entertainers were wholeheartedly true. We were serenaded until 3:30 in the morning, when we finally were able to hit the showers and then our beds.
After travelling over the course of two days, and three countries, we were in Scotland. I still hadn't stopped smiling.