Thursday, April 28, 2011

April 28, 2011: The Start of Our Spring Trip to Scotland

April 28, 2011: Spring Scotland Trip
In this new world of conglomerate partnership airlines we learn something new each time we travel.  Our first lesson this trip was that we had to be more careful about which partner we book with.  We made reservations months ago with KLM for our flight from PDX to AMS (Amsterdam) to EDI (Edinburgh) and we selected our seats, 11A and B.  I checked out reservations several weeks before the trip and then again a week out.  Everything was fine.  The day before our flight I went to KLM to get our boarding passes and was routed to Delta’s check-in site.  There I found our seats had been changed to 34 E and F, in the middle in the back.  Furious, I rang up Delta ticketing and discovered that when the flight booking was transferred to Delta the seat assignment doesn’t automatically transfer.  It took an hour and half on the phone and the assistance of a very nice agent and supervisor to get seats at 12 F and G (still not the side seats we wanted) as the best we could do.  It pays to find out first who will do the ticketing.
The rest of the trip went rather smoothly.  The seats, though cramped, weren’t too uncomfortable and the Delta flight crew was friendly and efficient, although the crew in the other isle was more attentive--is that a case of “the grass is always greener?” The dinner was actually a little better than we expected with chicken that tasted like chicken, a crisp salad, and the cheese and crackers good as always.  The breakfast snack left something to be desired: flavor.  A steamed English muffin and plastic egg with no seasoning or sauce was unappealing to say the least.
To rate the flight we would give the following grades (forever the teacher):
Ticketing F
Ticketing Followup B
PDX Check-in
Flight Comfort B
Service B+
On Time A   
Security B (no snarly TSA agents)
UK Customs A (couldn’t be friendlier)  
The overall grade for the trip over is an Excellent.  Flying is not the delightful experience it once was, where you’d dress in your Sunday best.  It now is just what you have to do to get where you want to go, but on this trip it wasn’t too much of a hassle and it certainly wasn’t uncomfortable.
What is uncomfortable, though, is the price we are going to have pay for petrol in the UK.  Oregon’s gas prices are near the $4 mark.  When I picked up my Vauxhall Astra 1.8 rental from Arnold Clark (the UK’s top car dealer and a great place to rent from) I saw that the current petrol prices here are between $9.50 and $10.00 a gallon (figuring the exchange rate)!  Those prices will certainly have me thinking about my driving.  
The photo I have included is of the Ferntower Stone Circle on the Crieff Golf Course.  A nice flight, a lovely day in the 60s, and time on the golf course means this trip is off to a great start.  
By the way, I did say I would tell about trying to kill our Scotland family with KFC.  The story is that Jacky (our B&B host, friend and a le Cordon Bleu trained chef) had been begging us for years to bring American KFC (much nicer than UK’s) over with us.  Last fall we relented.  We brought a vacuum packed bunch of wings and thighs to Jacky.  We thought it would make everybody ill and so wouldn’t try it ourselves, but Jacky threw it in the oven for 10 minutes and the family feasted on America’s 11 Secret Herbs and Spices.  No one got even slightly queasy.  This year we were expected to repeat the Bringing of the KFC.  As good friends we dutifully bought a half dozen wings and four thighs the day before we left, vacuum packed them, and put them in the fridge, where we promptly forgot about them.  Anne remembered the chicken as we were boarding the plane in Portland.  We’ve been told we have to bring a double batch when we return to Scotland in the fall.  

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

April 19, 2011: Preface

     Count this as a pre-entry or call it a preface to the Blog, but I know what the first official entry of "Have Pen and Camera, Will Travel" (apologies to Paladin) will be about.  What I don't know is what it will say.  My first official entry will be about the ease or difficulty of traveling from Portland, Oregon (PDX) to Edinburgh, Scotland (EDI) on April 26 and 27.
     Will TSA screening be an intrusive hassle or merely an inconvenience?  Will airline services (KLM/Delta) provide a comfortable journey or a cramped, back breaking ten hours of torture?  Will airline food continue to live down to recent standards or will we want to eat more than the packaged cheese and crackers? These are a few of the topics of the first official entry.  [Also, check in to see if we kill our adopted Scottish family with the vacuum packed KFC wings and thighs or if we can even get through UK Customs with the requested contraband.]
     In the meantime, a little more background might help lay the foundation for that first official entry.  After traveling with my high school speech team to national tournaments each of the last 17 years of my teaching career, wife Anne and I started traveling for ourselves as soon as we retired in 2000.  The first trip was to Scotland for golf and single malt whisky--sometimes both at the same time.  Next was a two week train trip through Germany, Austria and Hungary.  Back to Scotland.  Then to Ireland.  Back to Scotland.  You can see the pattern.  We fell in love with Scotland--the golf, the whisky, the Highlands, the islands, the people.  In the last eleven years we've made sixteen trips to Scotland, four to Ireland, three to Wales, and four to England--that's 18 months in Scotland, 4 months in Ireland, and four months in England and Wales--and more than 70,000 miles driven on the other side of the road.  Besides our British Isles jaunts we've been to Canada a couple of times, the continent once, one cruise to Alaska, and several US golf trips (mostly to Las Vegas, Phoenix, and the Southwest).  The results of all this travel has been three published guide books (Scotland's Hidden Gems: Golf, Pubs, & Attractions, Ireland's Small Greens, and Hidden Gems II: Scotland and Wales), a soon to be marketed book of travel stories (Ten Years of Travel in Scotland, Ireland, England and Wales), and numerous magazine articles related to our travels.  This Blog--once I officially start it--then, is an extension of all those trips and all that writing.
    Officially that ends the unofficial preview to the first official entry to the "Have Pen and Camera, Will Travel" Blog.  Check next time to see how good (or bad) travel from the US West Coast to Europe has become--officially.