Thursday, April 2, 2015

Scotland: From Glasgow through Glencoe to Inverness

I arrived in Glasgow on April 1st (yesterday) around 2:30pm after a flight from Miami with a stopover in Heathrow. During the flights, I estimate getting 2 or 3 hours of interupted sleep, but that didn't stop me. I rented a car from the airport and (not having booked a hotel prior to arrival) punched in City Centre into the GPS.

Let me back up slightly. When I arrived in London, the Customs agent asked me the typical questions like "Where will you be staying?" and "What is your current employment". He quickly realised he wasn't going to be able to just stamp my passport and move on and was clearly going to go through a routine. I could see him try to remember the "extended questioning". He was very polite and did his job, "So, you don't know anyone in Glasgow? And you don't have a job? Where are you going to stay? How long are you planning on traveling?" Etc. He stamped my Aussie passport and through I went.

After arriving in Glasgow and picking up the rental car (a sweet black Citroën), I drove around for about 2 hours. Snapping pictures here and there. I took a picture of the building affectionately known as "The Armadillo", which is very similar to the Sydney Opera House. I also saw the BBC Scotland building and the Glasgow Science Centre. It was my intention to get free wi-fi somewhere and book a room online to save money, but the wi-fi at the McDonalds wasn't great, so I stopped by three different hotels asking for their cheapest room, eventually opting for the Travel Lodge, which was surprisingly nice. The room was big and clean and the shower was fantastic.

I opted to stay in for the rest of the night, unwind, book hotels for the next night and my last night and catch up on sleep and head off to Inverness in the morning.

That brings us to today.

I woke at 6:30am and took my sweet time getting ready. I walked a block and a half to a Tesco Express to pick up bananas, water, nuts, cereal...basic road food. I had been looking online for routes to Inverness and though there was a more direct route (3 1/2hr), I opted to take the A82 (highway) for one very specific reason. In Skyfall, the James Bond movie, Bond and M are driving through Scotland and stop to have a chat on the side of the road. The A82 is that road and I wanted to see that spot. It would add an extra hour of driving time, but 15 minutes into the drive I knew it was the right decision.

This is no exageration, the A82 was the most fun, most scenic, best paved, most beautiful road I've ever driven on. Even better than highway 1 in California or whatever that road is that goes around Ohau. This was breathtaking. And sure, I'm comparing beach roads to a mountain road, but this was SO FUN to drive. I stopped to take pictures more times that I can count and each time I stopped, I stayed as long as I would allow myself (knowing I still had a lot of road in front of me). The Merril hiking shoes I bought were given a workout. I climbed up small hills or followed footpaths, trudged through mud or snow, squished my way through whatever the ground in Scotland is made of. At one point, I was climbing up this small hill and could've sworn I was on that hill in the Neverending Story that sneezed. I took pictures of mountains and sheep, waterfalls, roadsigns, the road itself and none of the pictures did the place justice.

One hotel/café I stopped at had a sign that read "walkers welcome" and just as I was about to leave, there they were. Backpackers about to walk into the wild white mountains. Scotland is super accommodating to tourists who want to enjoy nature walks or just stop to take a picture every 400 yards. There were SO MANY opportunities to stop on the two lane road. I was worried I'd never get to Inverness because I couldn't tear myself away.

Eventually (after about 3 1/2 hours), I had to turn right onto B852. Again, AMAZING road and I'm sure the views were good, but I couldn't really stop to look becuase this is a 1 lane road...going both ways. So, if a car was coming your way, you'd have to pull over or move into a "passing place" - so labeled because they were 1/2 circles of pavement every so often to allow for squeezing by other drivers. I was 100% focused on the road. There was VERY LITTLE traffic on this road though. I could drive for 10 minutes and not see anyone. At one point a sheep was my oncoming traffic, but he ambled over to some more interesting grass.

Finally, I arrived in Inverness and found my hotel. Again, pleasantly surprised by the room. This time, I booked ahead and paid nearly 1/2 as much as I did for the Travel Lodge. The room at the Glen Mohr is probably 1/5th the size. You know when you're walking up some stairs and there's a landing, you turn, and then you walk up the rest of the stairs. Well, my room is on the landing. I opened the door to find a spectacularly clean room about the size of a prison cell...maybe a little longer, but possibly narrower. This is not a complaint. The room is fine. The twin sized bed is comfortable, the bathroom looks new and clean and the heater will take no time at all to fill the room with warmth. There is room service available, but I don't know where they'd put it. =)

Making the decision to come to Scotland (and to travel in general) was the right choice. I knew it on the A82 today. I knew it on the windy road leading me between two snowy mountains. I smiled for at least a solid hour, talking to myself out loud, "Best decision ever!" or "Ha! Snow!" or "Sheep! oooooooh, cute little baby lamb!" Seriously good day.

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