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Touring the best of Britain

On the road in England/Scotland, if it’s Tuesday it must be Liverpool

Posted: October 7, 2012 2:00 a.m.
Updated: October 7, 2012 2:00 a.m.

The shores of Loch Ness in Scotland. No Nessie in sight.

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I’ve always wanted to visit England and Scotland. Half of my ancestors came from the United Kingdom.

It was also a dream of my aunt, Nancy Briggs. Last Christmas, she gifted myself and two cousins (Nancy Ann Olin and Kathy Brueske) with this amazing trip of a lifetime.

The four of us traveled to London in September where we joined the Best of Britain Trafalgar Tour, along with 40 or so others, and spent 12 days and 2,337 miles traveling through England and Scotland. It’s hard to choose a favorite place or experience.

We saw so much during the tour, and after the tour we stayed an extra three days on our own in London.

I learned that we may have a common language, but some things are very different in Britain.

Don’t expect the same ADA or health and safety standards we’re accustomed to in the states.

My favorite example is the Highlander Hotel in Newtonmore, the heart of the Scottish Highlands.

The hotel had free Wi-Fi, (free Wi-Fi was rare), but the keys to the rooms were old-fashioned skeleton keys.

Once inside my room, I turned to lock the door and discovered that the only way to lock the door was with the skeleton key!

This meant that if I had to exit the room in a hurry, in the middle of the night, I would have to find the key, fish it around in the lock and then make my escape.

I decided it was safer to leave the room unlocked as I slept, rather than risk becoming trapped in the room.

During our tour, we traveled to Plymouth, stopping at Stonehenge and the Roman Baths in Bath along the way. We traveled to St. Ives on the Cornish peninsula, which was one of my favorite stops during the entire trip. We ate Cornish pasties along the waterfront.

From Plymouth, we made our way to Cardiff, the capital of Wales, on to Liverpool, where we visited the rebuilt Cavern Club, the home of The Beatles and drove north through Lancashire to the beautiful Lake District.

One of my observations along the way is that England and Scotland have a lot of sheep. When driving through the countryside of the United States I am used to seeing cattle. Across "the pond" they have sheep. Lots of sheep. White sheep, black sheep, sheep with black faces, gray sheep. Let me repeat: Lots of sheep.

We were fortunate to have beautiful weather for most of our trip. When we hit Grasmere, the home of William Wordsworth, we encountered a few sprinkles.

The tour continued on to Glasgow and the Scottish Highlands, my favorite part of the tour. We had some appropriately “gloomy” weather, necessary I think for any trip to the Scottish Highlands, but mostly we were treated to sunshine and clear skies.

We visited the Isle of Skye and stopped at Culloden Moor where Bonnie Prince Charlie was defeated in an epic battle by the Duke of Cumberland.

One of my favorite stops was Loch Ness, a beautiful and picturesque spot. I was disappointed that Nessie refused to show herself!

Our tour continued on to Glamis Castle, the childhood home of the late Queen Mother, and on to Edinburgh, my very favorite stop on the tour.

We also visited St. Andrews, the “Home of Golf” and then to York, (where it poured rain) and to Oxford, then back to London.

We were so fortunate to have Matt Bauer as our tour director and Paul Jacques as our coach driver. Both were consummate professionals of the highest caliber and took good care of our diverse group. I was most impressed by Bauer's high level of commentary as we traveled about Britain. He was extremely knowledgeable and had a great sense of humor. Jacques maneuvered our huge bus in and out of the tightest of spaces with amazing skill.

I was also grateful for Bauer’s obsession with our luggage. It had been a secret worry of mine that my bag, being carefully placed outside my door a good 10 minutes in advance of most luggage calls, would still be the bag that got left behind. I have that kind of luck.

Not a single bag reportedly went astray during our trip, and, as a group, we had a mountain of luggage! I credit Bauer’s single-minded devotion to our luggage for such success.

After our return to London we saw Buckingham Palace, the Tower of London, (where Anne Boleyn and Catherine Howard, the second and fifth wives of Henry the VIII were beheaded) and the spectacular Crown Jewels.

To end our wonderful adventure we booked “Ice Cream Tea” at The Dorchester Hotel in London. I booked our reservation a month in advance, as the teas at the hotel are in high demand.

Here are few things I learned when in Britain:

Traffic in London is, in a word, horrible. I learned to use the “tube” (subway) in London and found it the best way to get around.

I also learned that “subway” in England means a pedestrian walkway under the street, not “the tube.”

Hair dryers in hotels can be found in a dresser drawer, not in the bathroom, as is common in the states. Coffee service, as well, was often stowed in a drawer, not on top of the dresser.

Ice. Yes, ice is an issue in Britain. Even when I requested my diet Coke with ice it often only came with one or two cubes of ice, at most. I ended up requesting a full glass of ice in addition to my soda or water. That solved the problem of insufficient ice.

Coffee seems to be served after dessert, instead of with dessert. I don’t know if that was peculiar to the places we ate, but it seemed to be a universal theme.

Best food: Millionaire’s shortbread. It seemed to be everywhere and I must have the recipe!

Costa is Britain’s Starbucks. I did see Starbucks and other brands I associate with the “states” but never in excess, which was nice.

In Britain the currency is not Euros, but pounds. Change your money at the airport before you arrive overseas. The coins in Britain include a penny, two pence, five pence, 10 pence, 20 pence, 50 pence, one pound and two pounds. I usually just filled my hand with coins and thrust it out to the sales clerk for them to make change. It seemed to speed the transactions along. The smallest denomination of paper currency is the five pound note.

Reading a menu had it own set of challenges. Gammon is ham that has been cured or smoked like bacon. Rocket is arugula.

They use terms like “car park” instead of parking lot. “To let” instead of “to rent.” Motorway, instead of freeway.

I would never, ever drive anywhere in England or Scotland. First, they drive on the “wrong” side of the road, and the entire country is just one giant roundabout. I detest roundabouts.

My best tip: Make sure to sign up for an international text and cell phone plan before you go, and make sure your phone has all the right settings enabled. Do not use the public phones at Heathrow, they all seem to dial Luxembourg for some reason… at an exorbitant cost.





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