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On Tuesday the 5th of July, I walked a mile in the rain to Hertz and rented what was supposed to be an automatic Audi but ended up being a manual shift Kia.  So, my first experience driving on the left side of the road would be with a stick shift (and the last time I owned a stick shift was in Summer 1999).  I was apprehensive.

driving in UK

But, with a bit of concentration through the first several of the 500+ roundabouts we encountered between Edinburgh and St Andrews golf course, I found myself actually having a lot of fun.

We stopped by a McDonald’s, violating one of my rules for traveling (no fast food…or any other restaurant we can find in Atlanta), because I needed coffee very badly, and the children were hungry for something we could eat in the car.  The man working the drive-through gave each of the children balloons and made us laugh hysterically with his enthusiasm and strong Dutch accent at 9am.  It was the best customer service I’ve ever seen from a fast food drive-through (which is, admittedly, a pretty narrow sample).

me at St A

We arrived at the old course a couple hours later, toured the British Golf Museum, and played the “Himalayas” putting green portion of the Ladies’ Auxiliary course, so that my 2 youngest (who take golf lessons and enjoy the game) could learn what a “bucket list” is as they crossed off the item anyone who plays golf puts atop said list.  L at St A TO at St A

Then we ran along the Wet Sands Beach like chariots of fire.

wet sands beach

We’d originally planned to drive all the way to York, England that evening, but I thought it made more sense to take a train after a couple hours of shifting about the countryside, so we headed back to Edinburgh to turn in the car and catch a train, stopping briefly at Eden Mill Distillery & Brewery so I could have some “daddy time.”

Looking back, the drive to and from St Andrews was one of the most beautiful drives I’ve ever made–windy roads surrounded by unfamiliar shades of green.  The day was as much about the journey as its destinations.

We arrived in York about 9pm and walked into the most interesting sleeping quarters I’ve ever seen!  To be continued…

On Monday, we began our second day in Scotland with hopes of touring the Palace of Holyroodhouse, but the Queen was there, meaning no tours were to be conducted.  So, we walked to Edinburgh Castle and saw the prisons where (eventual) American POWs were kept during our Revolutionary War. Did you ever think about that?  The fact that colonists were taken as POWs and shipped to modern day Scotland to be imprisoned?  I hadn’t until I saw a carved flag in the wood.


We also saw where loyal dogs were buried, the Scottish crown jewels, the Stone of Scone (or “Stone of Destiny”), St. Margaret’s Chapel (built in the 12th century!), and the “one o’clock gun.”

babies in Edinburgh castle

firing canon

A few hours later, we visited the National Museum of Scotland.  We didn’t have as much time there as we needed, but we marveled at the many exhibits from the natural history, textile, and archaeology sections.  The kids were into it, and so were the adults.

inside museum

Then, it was time for dinner at the Elephant House, but the wait was enormous, so we opted for a picture in front of the place where Ms Rowling penned the “Harry Potters” instead; we ate at Pizza Paradise, which was fine.  Then, I bought a pipe that was made in Scotland and a Cuban cigar to enjoy with some coffee before our tour of Mary King’s Close.

where HP born

The latter tour was very interesting, as it included live actors showing us how life in Edinburgh was hundreds of years ago in areas of the city that are now mainly underground (but can be toured in the sections that have been unearthed).  We saw where those afflicted with the plague had to gather and the varying living conditions for the poor vs. the affluent.  At one point, our guide was showing us an old saw maker’s shop through a window, and I looked off to the right, at the end of the “close” (or alley way).  I saw a lady in period costume, much like our guide, but she was translucent.  We looked at each other a few seconds; I glanced away; I looked back, and she was gone.  At the conclusion of our tour, I asked our guide about the hologram of the woman at the end of the hall, and she tilted her head.  “We don’t have–I’m not sure what you’re talking about.”  One of the children said they saw her, too, but no one else in our party did (though none were looking, either).

It was then time to walk back to our flat, but we took the scenic route along Holyrood Park, stopping briefly to ask a police officer which way to walk back to see Arthur’s Seat in the background.  He asked where we were from; we told him, and he said he’d just come back after living several years in Nashville, as he’d married a Vandy grad.  He likes Johnny Cash just like I like Johnny Cash.

It was 10:30 pm, but the park looked like this:

swan lake

It was 3 hours past the children’s normal bedtime on a day that my fitbit showed 20,000 steps, and they’re gazing at swans in front of a pond with a castle in the background. See why we think Scotland is magical?  Because Scotland is magical.

airport Edinburgh (1)

I thought we’d never see this sign.

We arrived at the Atlanta airport in the early afternoon on July 1, intending to fly Delta to JFK around 5pm, but they evacuated our plane right after bumping me to first class, so we caught another plane, where I again got bumped to first class, and I worried whether we’d make it in time to board our plane to Edinburgh about 10pm and land at 10 the next morning, local time.  But instead, we diverted to Rochester, sat on the ground a few hours, and then landed at JFK at 1am.  God was telling me I shouldn’t have left my family back in coach.

Then we stood in separate lines several gates apart (while I sat on hold on my phone) for a few hours, trying to figure out how to get across the Atlantic, as our 3 small children sat on the floor next to all our unchecked luggage.  At 5am, we took off to Heathrow in London and landed in the late afternoon local time.  A couple more hours on the phone and in conversation with a British Airways gate agent, and we were heading to Edinburgh.  We landed at 11:30pm and waited for a taxi outside, which was 50 degrees less than Atlanta was outside when we dressed for our flight, while I texted our Air BnB owner that we’d made it to her country and to please hide the key for us somewhere (she was threatening to go to sleep).  At 1am, our taxi dropped us off at our flat; the owner left us a key with a neighbor.


We climbed to the 6th floor of our building on Royal Park Terrace by Holyrood Park, claimed our sleeping spaces, and caught 5 hours of sleep before our scheduled Sunday morning tour of Loch Ness and the Highlands that would involve 12 hours on a tour bus.  We’d lost our first day, but we would make our first organized tour.  We were all in Scotland for the first time for any of us–land of my paternal grandmother’s people and my bride’s paternal line.  And we were going to enjoy it, dammit.

Cafe Nero provided our first local meal–coffee and more coffee–before we boarded our bus and headed north.  We pulled over once we’d slipped the bonds of the city and entered the Highlands.  We even talked our guide, Kenny, into posing with us for a picture.

Highlands with Kenny the tour guide

A bit more time in the bus, and we were pulling up to Loch Ness for a trip across the black waters in search of a prehistoric beast that looked something like this:

with the monster

The boat ride was interesting, fun, and relaxing at the same time.  They had screens for the passengers to see sonar images of the bottom of the loch, so that we could search for signs of life in the water. The children loved it.  It stopped in front of the Urquhart Castle.

loch ness castle

The guided tour continued a bit farther, turned around, and then returned to the dock.  The children bought souvenirs; I bought a beer.

Then it was back into the tour bus.  Kenny warned us the roads ahead would be hilly and curvy and narrow, but he didn’t warn us that the mayo on the sandwiches we’d taken for the boat ride might have been too warm, and my youngest didn’t warn us that she’d be vomiting all over herself and her mother in the back seat of our bus.

The views were magnificent.  Magical, even.  Lush green towering above black rivers and lakes into a misty canopy that faded into the cloud cover above.

Highlands Commandos

We stopped by a monument honoring the original Commandos (my high school’s mascot!) in 1940–the British special forces that fought in WWII.  Our tour made additional stops to see more areas of natural beauty along the way –old stone bridges, water falls, mountains, and lakes–before returning to Edinburgh on the Royal Mile.  It was sunny past 10pm, so we walked around town for a bit, exploring the closes that branched off the Royal Miles before returning to our quarters.

Our first day in Scotland began early and ended late, but now that I’m back from this 18-day trip to the United Kingdom and have the benefit of hindsight, I can honestly say it was one of our family’s favorite days (or perhaps most favorite!).  Leaving the Atlanta heat and congestion for the wide open green spaces and cool temperatures of this area of Scotland is an activity we now want to do annually!