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Planning for Scotland 2009 Archives

January 17, 2009

SCOTLAND ! ! !

We've finally decided. We aren't waffling any longer. Our minds are made up, and it is all because of a chance discovery of the most interesting new travel services web site.

One of our top five considerations was always the British Isles. But we just couldn't wrap our heads around exactly how to narrow it down. Initially we were thinking a week in Belfast, two weeks in rural Scotland and a final week in Cardiff. But, the problem with that was the distances we would be covering to get from one place to the next.

It would be like starting in Genoa and going through Venice on our way to Bari with a final destination of Palermo. Our Italy travel friends would all agree just how crazy that would be! So, I eliminated Wales and thought maybe just Belfast and three places in Scotland.

By far my favorite general and comprehensive website on Scotland has been Undiscovered Scotland. But the information there is so extensive as to be almost overwhelming. I was drowning in possibilities without any focus.

Then, I ran across http://www.secret-scotland.com

WOW! The delightful young couple who have developed this site are really onto something. They help you plan your driving tours with customized downloadable plans developed just for you. Their prices are very reasonable (I would suggest that they are too reasonable).

I loved the idea, and I loved their forward thinking.

Unfortunately, I didn't love the focus on driving from one B&B to another every day. SlowTravellers just don't do that packing and unpacking thing very well, do we?

So, on a lark, I emailed the owner of the site to see if they would be interested in helping us research a plan that took into account our desire to plant ourselves in self catered accomodations for a week at a time.

Aurelia, the owner of the site, not only emailed me back promptly, but she jumped right into the project. She even researched this blog to learn more about our travel styles, picking up on clues about the things we like to do and the accomodations we enjoy.

Once she had a handle on what makes us tick. She guided us toward her recommendations of the parts of Scotland we may most like to explore. It was through those suggestions that we realized we didn't even have time for Belfast. We needed to focus on Scotland alone, and only from Edinburgh north at that.

Our dates are set and our general locations for each week are set.

Week One: Around Oban for convenient daytrips to the Western Isles.
Week Two: Around Iverness for exploring the North Central Highlands.
Week Three: Near the town of Balfour on the Orkney Islands.
Week Four: Old Town Edinburgh.

So far we've booked our final week and narrowed down our choices for the other three weeks to just a few properties for each.

Here is Week Four: The Candlemakers Row Flat

As we finalize our bookings for the other three weeks, I'll post updates.

January 23, 2009

All Four Weeks are Booked

Week four was easy. We fell in love at first sight.

Week one was not difficult because we had a very good idea where we wanted to be.

Week three should have been easy, but we made the mistake of setting our hearts on a place before we found out it was completely booked for the summer. Then when we recovered from our pout and began looking for something else, we kept comparing everything to the "one that got away". Fortune did smile on us, finally. And we found a lovely place that is actually better located.

Week two was by far the most difficult. Mainly because we couldn't make up our mind where to make our base. It is during this week that we will be covering the largest geographic area in our daytrips, so location is key. But, we finally settled on a place that will allow us to follow a bit of the Whisky Trail, visit some of the points of interest on our "list" AND, most importantly, give us our National Park fix. We must explore at least one National Park in every country we visit.

So, for now there is nothing much left to do but wait for the summer airfares to come down from the stratosphere. The airlines will soon stop trying to entice people to travel in the spring and turn their attention to the absence of summer travellers. Fares should improve a bit then.

When we will know what cities we will be flying into and out of we can book our rental car.

In the meantime we'll just cool our heels and occupy ourselves with watching Braveheart and reading Scottish history.

Heck, I might even try to work on my geneology a bit. My fathers family emigrated to America from England. But, some documents seem to indicate that they may have really been just travelling through England from Scotland. Wouldn't it be lovely to learn that I have a clan of my own to claim? I hope the plaid has some of my favorite color, orange, in it.

So here is the cottage line-up:

The lovely little village of Balvicar on the southern end of the Isle of Seil, which is in turn a little finger of land jutting down from the western coast of the mainland. We will drive through Oban and across a bridge to get to our cottage which is also called Balvicar.

In the Cairngorms National Park is a village with the intriguing name Boat of Garten. On the outskirts of that village is our cottage, Wester Balvattan

Just a bit to the west of Kirkwall(Orkney's main town) is the community of St. Ola. And on the south facing shore of the Scapa Flow is a farm called Greenfield. The farm buildings have all been renovated into holiday cottages. We aren't wild about renting a cottage in a "tourist compound". But, this is a very well done renovation and doesn't have that feel about it. Our cottage, Greenfield Cottage, was the first of the buildings to be renovated.

And finally, the beautiful flat on Candlemakers Row that I mentioned in my previous post. What an oasis this will be to come home to every evening after exploring Edinburgh!

March 10, 2009

Secret Scotland is Amazing!

I'm not in the habit of glowing reviews. Just look at my SlowTrav contributions and you see...there just aren't any. I have the best intentions, but I don't seem to get around to it.

However, I feel compelled to tell all my travel buddies about a service I've discovered.

Sometimes, someone comes up with an idea, and you bopp yourself on the forehead and say, "Wow, why hasn't someone thought of this before?"

As I began research for our month long trip to northern Scotland this summer, I first found a very informative website called Undiscovered Scotland. It is quite comprehensive with maps and overviews of all areas of the country. It was the primary way we picked the four general areas we thought we would like to visit. But, it has its limitations. By its sheer volume of information, it is a given that it isn't always up to date. And after reading much of what was said about various attractions, restaurants, pubs, etc, I realized that the site never says anything negative about anything. Since no place is perfect, it tells me that the philosophy of the site is promotional more than informational. Still, it is the best site on the internet for getting a really solid overall impression of the country.

I don't even know how I came across Secret Scotland. I don't know if it was with a google search, or if there was a link to it on Undiscovered Scotland.

It took me a bit of time to figure out what their focus was. It was just so new to me. But here it is in a nutshell.

Secret Scotland creates customized tours for their independent travelling customers. Their strength is the depth of first hand knowledge they have with every single road, inn, pub, B&B, hotel, tourist attraction, museum, castle, etc. that they cover. If they haven't visited it, they don't talk about it. Period.

The vast part of their experience is point to point guides. Assuming that you would start at point A, drive to point B spend the night in an Inn or B&B, drive to point C and so on. Since we weren't interested in packing and unpacking every day and spending every night in a new bed, I almost didn't check any further into Secret Scotland, impressed though I was with their website. I especially enjoyed their own travel diaries which you will find a link to in the "about us" section of the site.

But, then I decided to give it a shot. I emailed through the site, asking if they were interested in putting together a plan for someone who wanted to spend a full self-catered week in each of four locations. The lovely, wonderful woman who answered my inquiry is Aurelia. A native of France, Aurelia co-owns the business with her Scottish husband, Mike.

I explained that we wanted an insider's recommendations, that left us with lots of flexibility. I told her about our travel style. What we liked to do. I gave her the link to my blog and to SlowTrav so she could gain some insight. She took that information and ran with it. She obviously spent hours studying our travel tastes. She even ferreted out the blog entry about the Budapest Card, commented on it and advised me the best way to acquire Edinburgh's version.

The result, for an embarrassingly small fee, is a downloadable pdf file of more than 100 pages of detailed information. It includeds a list of recommended day trips from each of our four locations. Recommended restaurants & pubs. Cautions against others. Picks and pans for tourists sites. Turn by turn driving directions with landmarks and mile markers. Hundreds of website links to all the places discussed.

Quite literally this is our very own, customized electronic guide book. We've downloaded it to a flash drive so we can plug it into our laptop to pull up info we need as we need it while we travel.

I'd like to clone Aurelia for every country we might visit in the future.

March 24, 2009

Does Scotland Have Good Wine? Or Just Single Malt?

Today, I decided to do some research on Scottish Wines, Vinyards, & Tasting Rooms.

I typed into my Google search "scotland wine". Here is the first listing in Google's return:

Scotland Wine - Ratings and ReviewsSnooth has the largest online selection of Scotland wine wine ratings, reviews, and wine labels.
www.snooth.com/wines/scotland/1/0/ - 70k - Cached - Similar pages

Obviously Snooth.com is an example of artifical intelligence gone awry. It appears that the word 'Scotland' carried more weight in the search than the word 'wine'. Plus, it's a boring website. Let's just say GaryVee doesn't have anything to worry about from them! :grin:

I dare you to find any wine in their 300 plus listings under the category "Scotland Wine"

Unfortunately, there weren't many other sites to help me educate myself. In fact, in my brief research, it appears there are only two wineries in all of Scotland. And both of those make fruit wines rather than grape wines. On the upside --- one of them is on Orkney, a place we will be spending the third week of our trip. The other is near Perth, and we will be driving past there on our way from Aberdeen to Edinburgh for our fourth week.

Here are their two links:
http://www.orkneywine.co.uk/
http://cairnomohr.homestead.com/

June 9, 2009

In a Countdown and Not Ready

It is really not like me to leave so much to do until the last minute. We're 10 days away from our departure for Scotland.

I need to:
1- Reconnect with the four people we are renting our various cottages and apartments from.
2- Get the handle fixed on one of our suitcases.
3- Load Skype on our new mini-notebook computer.
4- Organize my travel folder.
5- Reconfirm airlines, car rental, and ferries.
6- Begin considering weather & wardrobe. (Unlike most people, I tend to underpack.)
7- Provide travel dates and itinery to bank & credit card company.
8- Arrange for neighbor boy to mow lawn and water plants.
9- Put mail on hold.
10- Stop adding food to freezer and fridge, and begin using up what is there.
11- Transfer wine to basement to keep it cool while air conditioning is turned off.
12- Give my neighbor info on where we will be as well as contact info for our daughters. (It is very reassuring to have a policeman living next door!)
13- Update my e-mail address book to make sure I have everyone.
14- Decide on stash of gifts to take with me for all the wonderful people we will be meeting.
15- Make list of people to bring gifts back to.

I'm sure there are at least 15 more things that should be on that list. But, I can't think of them now.

And, of course there is a much longer list at work!

June 10, 2009

Chocolate and Scotch

Trying to decide what to take as small 'token' gifts. My usual are photo books of the Missouri Ozarks and St. Louis and a few local cookbooks. I'll take those, anyway. But, a great new idea struck last week.

patric1.jpg

I was visiting with Alan McClure of Patric Chocolate about our plans to do a bit of the Whisky Trail on this trip.

It turns out that Alan is almost as much a connoisseur of single malt as he is chocolate. He talks about the two with a very similar vocabulary. Mouthfeel, aroma, tannins, viscosity.

After our conversation, he sent me this link to his most recent blog entry - which happens to deal with the subject in depth. Single-Malt Scotch Whisky: The Fine Chocolate of the Beverage World.

I've now decided that the one little extra gift item I will be taking with me is Patric Chocolate. I ordered ten bars of the 67% Madagascar.

When Dan and I visit the tasting rooms of the less commercial and more artisan Scotch producers, I think we will open a bar of Patric Chocolate to pair with our tasting. We will also offer it to our host at the tasting room.

patric3.jpg

Hmmmm, now I'm thinking about a tasting party when we get home. Perhaps when we have our SlowTrav GTG at the end of August I'll plan a Chocolate and Scotch tasting for our Friday night festivities. Maybe I can convince Alan to join us.

OK, time to go research these Talisker folks that Alan is so keen on. Need to see if they have a public tasting room anywhere near one of our four rental locations.

Post script: Drat! Weren't planning to visit Skye at all. Now we have to rethink one of our daytrips. Talisker

Post, post script: Photo credit to Casey Meshbesher of the Chocolate Note blog. While searching for the photos, I ran across her fabulous blog, which is now on my "follow list".

June 11, 2009

Where Will We Be Sleeping on June 20th?

Eight days until we leave for our month in Scotland.

We'll fly into Edinburgh; pick up our car; drive right past the front door of Susan Boyle's house in West Lothian on our way to Oban on the western coast.

From Oban we turn south and cross the "Bridge Over the Atlantic" onto the Isle of Seil.

And this cottage will be our home for the first week of our trip. Balvicar.

The owner has been a dream to work with, and a magnificent source of information about the immediate area.

I'm so ready for a vacation. Mentally and emotionally, that is. I'm nowhere near ready in the literal sense. So much to do to mothball the house, tie up loose ends at work, begin thinking about packing.

This page contains an archive of all entries posted to Old Shoes - New Trip in the Planning for Scotland 2009 category. They are listed from oldest to newest.

Planning for Budapest, Montenegro, & Montemigiano, 2008 is the previous category.

Planning for Spain & Portugal, 2007 is the next category.

Many more can be found on the main index page or by looking through the archives.

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