Our last trip was to Great Britain. It was our first trip outside of North America and was a great trip to get our feet wet on for going overseas. We were there during the end of March and the beginning of April 2010. The time of year may not have been perfect, but we had a great time. The biggest problem with this time of the year is that many of the sights to be seen do not open until after the Easter weekend. Those that were open were working short hours. having a place open at 1000 or 1100 and then closing by 1600 doesn't allow for seeing many sights in a day. Particularly when they are spread out over a large area. The trip started out in the highlands of Scotland, and then moved to London. We traveled with two friends, both of whom had been abroad and to the UK before. Janet, Geri and Donna arrived four days ahead of me as I was working, and had sixteen days over there. I had twelve days and was happy with that.
Scotland is a beautiful place. Her land and people are as fine and gracious as you will find anywhere. We stayed at the Highland Club on the shores of Loch Rannoch, just outside of the tiny village of Killoch Rannoch. It is tucked up in the highlands below the Rannoch Moors, west of the A-9 at Pitlochery. Donna owns a week here during the last week in March and we found it to be a great base to adventure from while in Scotland. Its main drawback was it was so far from the main highway through the area. Being early spring, the mountains were still shedding their snows higher on the slopes, and the plants were just beginning to awake after a long winters rest. It is beautifully hard land with steep mountain slopes and deep stream filled valleys, with stone fenced pastures surrounding fine estate and manor homes. A postcard around every turn.
The day after I arrived, we drove up to Inverness to see the famed Loch Ness and area around those parts. Inverness is a nice city and driving through we saw many lovely homes. We went on out to the loch to take a small tour boat ride. It was a nice day on the loch and we went up the loch to the old Urquhart Castle and back. It is quite a sight. In its day it must have been a very formidable place. Then we were off toward Speyside and the whiskey trail. Because of the short days we didn't make any distilleries that day, but made a grand tour of the highlands on our way back home for the evening.
The following day we went down to Edinbrough to visit the castle. It was very impressive, but must have been a miserable place to live. Edinbrough was a nice city and it would have been great to have had more time to spend seeing its sights. I would have liked to take more pictures of some of the Royal sites and things, but it seems the Queen has a problem with people taking pictures of her things. It was kind of her none the less to allow us to view them. We did get back to visit the Cardugh and The McClellan distilleries the following day and it was quite the experience. The Girls had already been to The Edradour, the smallest distillery in Scotland, before I arrived and had a great tour there. Then it was time to head for London.
Having a week in London is like having an aspirin before surgery, it just isn't enough. But a week is better than nothing. We found a couple of nice interconnected apartments online a couple of blocks north of Hyde Park near the Marble Arch for our stay. A great location for our visit. Within a quarter mile of our place, there were six tube stations including Paddington. Getting around was easy with our Oyster Cards.
We started out on our first day doing the Big Bus Tour to get a feel for where things were. It was an easy and inexpensive to get the highlights of what was around the heart of the city and learn a little about the town. After that, we just kind of rolled our own and did what we wanted. Between the Tubes, trains ,and buses; we had little trouble getting to where we wanted to go.
The four of us had tickets to see the musical "Wicked", which is playing at the Apollo Victoria Theater next to Victoria Station. What a fantastic show! We all loved it. It is a great show if you get the chance to go. Janet and I also went to see "Love Never Dies" at the Adelphi Theater. It is an after story to "The Phantom of the Opera", which is a musical that has special meaning to us. It is done by Andrew Lloyd Weber and we saw it in its fourth week out. This is most likely the best cast the show will ever have and we were thrilled to see it. It was an amazing show and some of the effects they did have still got me scratching my head.
Janet and I went to the Royal Observatory at Greenwich. It is a beautiful place and setting for such an important piece of history. In a day when we take for granted accurate time and sub-meter position accuracy, it is hard to remember that it was only a few hundred years ago that such was worth a kings ransom. It was very special for me to be there.
The apex of the trip for Janet and I turned out to be something we had not planed or even thought of doing until we were there. While we were sitting around playing Triomino's one evening, Geri and Donna mentioned that we might consider making a day trip to Paris on the train. Being on an island and Paris on the continent, the thought hadn't even crossed our minds. So we went online and found a decent deal on a package day trip to Paris.
The shuttle picked us up at our apartment at oh so early thirty in the morning and took us to Saint Pancreas Station to meet our guide and board the Eurostar for the Gare du Nord in Paris. The Eurostar gets you to Paris in two hours and fifteen minutes. At 186 MPH (300 KPH) it is the fastest I have ever been on the ground. The ride was very smooth and comfortable. The route took us through the Chunnel and across the beautiful French countryside into Paris.
When we arrived we were taken to our tour bus which took us into the heart of Paris past the Arch de Triumph to the Eiffel Tower. There we were given time up on the observation deck to look around and enjoy the view. Then, we went down to the restaurant for lunch. My was it good! everything tasted like butter. After lunch we walked down to the River Seine for a little cruise on the river, around the islands upon which the city was first built. After our river cruise, we boarded our bus and were off to the Louvre. One of the great things about being in the tour is that you don't have to wait in lines to get in to these places. I think that in itself was worth a good part of the price of the tour.
At the Louvre, we saw so much in our whirlwind tour. It would probably have taken better than a day if we had tried to see what we saw on our own. We saw the foundations of the old castle the Louvre is built upon, Winged Victory, the Venus de Milo, and of course the Mona Lisa. The Louvre is so large one could easily spend a couple of weeks there alone, just to spend a minute or two on each of the pieces displayed, and viewing the architecture and rooms. And then it was back to the Gare du Nord, the Eurostar, and London. What a day. We will never forget it.
We did a lot more of course, but those are some of the highlights of our trip. It is one that we hope to continue and expand upon in the future. To go back to see and do some of the many things we didn't have time to do this time. I hope this hasn't put you to sleep and you have enjoyed hearing about our little adventure. Maybe it will inspire you to make one of your own.