For at least a month our Christmas plans were to go to Innsbruck, Austria for a few days followed by another short trip to Zurich to celebrate New Year's. But after having a really hard time finding anywhere that was still accepting reservations for Christmas dinner in Innsbruck and struggling to get excited about yet more Christmas markets, John had a brilliant idea: Scotland. I went to Scotland in 2006 with my best friend, and John has seen pictures and heard endless stories about that adventure. And since his ancestors come from Scotland, he's had an additional interest in visiting.
We couldn't be happier to have been able to go to Edinburgh for almost a week. It was a great break from being surrounded by German (slightly less confusing after 2 months of daily German classes...but only 0.0001% less confusing), and it was especially nice to have a larger apartment (with a fireplace, no less) to spread out in. We stayed in the best Airbnb--our favorite one yet!--near the University of Edinburgh, and were able to walk to the center of the city in about 20 minutes.
The weather was mostly grey and sometimes rainy, but we still managed to get out for long walks. We hiked up Arthur's Seat (see the two photos below) and enjoyed gorgeous views of the city. I love the green and gray palette of the U.K.
After telling John so much about the Highlands, he wanted to visit. Unfortunately, we didn't have all that much time to make a special trip to stay out there. Looking through some of the travel/restaurant brochures our hosts left for us in the Airbnb, we saw a tour company that takes you out of Edinburgh for the day and into the Highlands, with stops in Glencoe, Ft. William, and Loch Ness. Here's where we should have used our common sense and what we know about ourselves: the tour said it lasted 12.5 hours. 12 and a half hours...because it takes a while to get up to that part of the country (duh). And while it did say there would be stops, we didn't take into account what kind of stops these would be: quick, packed with other bus tours, and at the tackiest gift-shop-and-really-bad-but-expensive food stops. That's a really long day, and we're pretty slow travelers. In other words, we love the freedom to have a long lunch, sit for an hour somewhere to read, and I whip out manual mode on my camera when I see flowers. Believe me, there was no time for manual mode on this tour.
We both cringed when we got to the bus pickup area in Edinburgh the morning of the tour and saw not one but three buses, two of which were 60-seaters. Thankfully, we got seats next to each other, unlike some other late-to-the-tour travelers. Our bus driver/tour guide (yup, all-in-one!) didn't seem particularly happy to be up at that hour of the morning, either. The day was filled with half-hearted stories of Scottish history, Enya songs piped through the sound system, stern reminders that he would leave us at a location if we were late to get back on the bus, and "Oh Yes This Is An Important Place Get Out and Take a Picture NOW! 5! MINUTES!" moments. There was also an American seated directly behind us who regaled her Aussie seat mate with a history of everywhere she had ever traveled. Ever. We had a running monologue behind us of "and THEN I went to [fill in country] and I saw [fill in monument/site/museum] and the people were SO NICE!"
Guys, I will never pay for this kind of tour again. However, the scenery was priceless, so see below. And John and I have a story to tell posterity, so that's always good.
Ridiculous tour day/bad decision aside, we had a wonderful time away for Christmas. We're so thankful we were able to go explore Scotland together and would love to go back one day to see more. Next time: the Isle of Skye.
I hope you all had a wonderful Christmas and happy New Year!