Thursday, April 26, 2018

A Wee Camping Trip In The Highlands Part 9 - The Glencoe Horror

As Pam unpacked the sleeping bags, I was working the thermostat and it wasn't looking good. Soon I was on the phone with support for the campervan company and they wanted me outside in the snowstorm, switching gas bottles. I was outside in the snow with a wrench in one gloved hand and my cellphone in the other while trying to figure out how to switch out the gas bottles. I am sure the horse was amused.  You'd think, given my life of camping, I'd know all about this, but it had never been my job before to handle the specifics of a motorhome. The good news was, the camper had a spare bottle..the bad news was it was empty! I was told to drive to the nearest place that sold LP gas and the company would reimburse me for my expense. At this point, my fear of being found like a couple of popsicles on the side of the road overcame my fear of driving in the snowstorm. In the meantime, it was the two of us in sleeping bags with a giant quilt on top....I did sleep very well.

I woke up Tuesday morning to snow everywhere. The horse was inside his old freestanding stall, barely looking out at me. I knew he had a blanket on his back, but even he knew this was way too cold for April. This time I knew it wasn't about curiosity or friendliness, he was just waiting for breakfast to be served. 

Something wasn't quite right in the van. It was cold, real cold, and I had the heater running all night. It was about 10 degrees C inside the van and there was no way I was going to be able to get Pam out from under the covers. You'd think I would have put on all of my clothes and sat back to relax, knowing that it was going to be a while before I had to get back out on that highway. I sure didn't want to find out if they had rush hour traffic in the mornings. But...I now had something new to worry about. I had been fussing with the control panel in the back and it was telling me that the Leisure battery was "Poor" and the truck battery was "Poor". If there was one thing I knew about diesel engines it's they need a really good battery to get started when it's cold.

I was looking at my cellphone and seeing that the special cellular card I had purchased for use in Scotland was about next to useless up here in the highlands. I had 1 bar, half a charge and didn't dare use the truck battery to charge it up. I'm not even sure that I could accurately describe where we were if we needed help. "Hi, I'm on the side of the road, looking at a horse, does that help?". I worried about it alone about as long as I could and then pulled the covers off of Pam so she could share the load. She wanted me to get the van company on the phone and then let her talk....we didn't do that. She was really sure that she didn't want me driving in icy conditions after our first day out...she didn't have any fingernails left to chew.  Fortunately, the van cranked right up, and we headed on down the road, checking the indicator for battery health and making sure my phone was getting charged. 

We made it to Glencoe, and toured the museum there, while noticing campers were right next door. We had been advised to pull into a campground and plug in and make sure we got a full charge on the batteries. The museum was just okay, I could probably have gotten the same information from the internet without paying the hefty entry fee...but we were newbies on this trip and didn't mind too much. They had a café, staffed by wonderful people serving food like you would expect from 7-11 in the States, with the exception of some world-class coffee. They had the machine and knew how to use it. We ate more there than I would have liked, but I wanted to pull right into that campground and stay until the batteries were topped all of the way up. I was hoping for a bottle of gas, but that was not to be found. There was a really cool guy that ran the campground. He was quite a character. He was very proud to show me his giant camper bus that came all the way from Texas! Why in the world somebody would want to drive something like that up through Loch Lomond, I have no idea. His motorhome, while quite ordinary in Florida, was a real standout there in Glencoe, populated mostly with VW popup vans and small vans like mine. He was also great at showing me how to get everything working on the van, how to fill the water, how the drain the grey water, etc. It was during this time, while the sky was turning greyer, the snow seemed to be coming down harder, that he told me the tale that changed our trip for good.

He told me, that compared to Florida, Scotland's a pretty safe place. No alligators, no sharks, no giant pythons, just those Eastern Europeans. I wasn't really sure what he meant, but I thought he was referring to gypsies. He then went on to say that a few months back, there was a English family of four, with two young children, enjoying their holiday, camping in the wild of the highlands.  Scotland allows you to camp just about anywhere as long as there isn't a sign prohibiting it. They call it 'Wild Camping'. You lose the safety net of a of having other campers all around, but you save about $35 a night and get closer to nature.  It was a beautiful night with a clear sky and a full moon. The family had enjoyed roasting marshmallows over a small fire and had finally gone to bed for the night, not knowing that danger was lurking nearby. A group of those 'Eastern Europeans',  snuck up on the motorhome and sprayed carburetor cleaner in the air vent, effectively knocking them all out. They broke in and leisurely stole everything the family owned.  Upon waking, the people found the door open, all of their money gone, cellphones, toys, their clothes, everything! To top that, they took the keys to the motorhome. Happy Holiday...

And I was just starting to like this place....

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

A Wee Camping Trip In The Highlands Part 10: The Fishing Lesson

It was Wednesday and it started with rain. Rain and cold. Then snow, then sun and the day got better.

It started off tough because of motorhome issues. We were out of LP gas after our second night. No gas meant no heater, and no cooking. Even buying a bottle of LP gas was an adventure in itself. I went to several Petrol stations before I found one that had the same kind of gas bottle. We were supposed to have a full bottle of gas with the vehicle, and that was going to last a week at least. The company rep told us they would reimburse us if we had to buy a bottle…we did. The other issue was that somehow we had a giant water leak in the camper that was to the point that when you turned the water pump on, it just pumped all over the floor of the bathroom and that was about it.  Pam was starting to get frustrated and I was just hoping my handyman skills were going to be up to the job.
I was told that fixing the water leak was going to be pretty easy. All I had to do was lay down on the floor in the little bathroom and unscrew the bottom of the sink and re-attach the hose that must have popped off. All I needed was a Philips head screwdriver….well, let me tell you about finding a screwdriver in the highlands. As usual for things in the Perkins family, a problem turned into an opportunity... Perhaps the best part of the day was our conversation with the gentleman in the local hardware shop in the village.

We found the small building with a large sign that said "Hardware" and it was stuffed to the ceiling with merchandise, just like the good old days and while I examined the contents in detail, Pam was chatting up the clerk. This really cool guy was somewhere near our son's age but missing a lot of teeth. He had that great mishmash of an accent and Pam stopped him about every other sentence to have him repeat what he said. He started smiling and the accent got thicker.  Pam started trying mimic his burr and I started moving back into the corner of the store, so I would appear not to be with this American tourist. He noticed that I was really interested in the fishing gear, and started telling me about the ins and outs of fishing in the loch. Apparently, it was a lot trickier than I thought. Like Hawaii, the mountains continue under water, and there were parts of the loch that were much deeper than most of the ocean. There were also strong tides, so even for fishing from shore, you needed a rig that was more like what we would use for surf fishing. Pam wanted to buy some fishing lures for our son and somehow convinced the guy to go 'on camera' to explain how the rig was to be made and used. Pam promised him that our son and a few others would be the only people that would ever see the video. He was camera-terrified. But Pam has powerful means of persuasion, and a bit of arm twisting finally convinced him that he would not be internet famous. He straightened up on camera and was one of our favorite characters of the whole trip.

We learned about fishing in the loch, we hiked the quarry, went shopping in the co-op, and drove about 20 miles before ending up at a fancy campground in Ben Nevis near Fort William. Ben Nevis is the name of a mountain and one thing that is striking about the area, is that the mountains look like the shield volcanoes on the Big Island of Hawaii, and in fact they are. Most of the mountains have few trees and look like you just might be able to hike to the top…except the ones we saw were covered with snow. 

A big highlight of the day was going to what we thought would be a crappy little diner at the campground in Ben Nevis. Instead, we had one of the best meals of our trip so far.  These people know how to eat and they don’t seem to single out tourists to serve something that will pass for food…and the beer…it is a good thing I don’t live here, I’d have some new troubles to deal with!

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

A Wee Camping Trip In The Highlands Part 8 - The People and the Place

As you might expect, we have a lot in common with the Scots, but it is the differences that make life interesting and I'd like to share some of what we found. Number one would have to be, like here in Florida, not everyone you meet in Scotland is a fact, it seemed more common, they were people that had moved to Scotland from somewhere else. Us, being the people we are, were bewildered by the many different accents. Pam was delighted, trying to guess where they were from and doing her best to imitate their accent while I backed away, trying to appear as if I had no idea who this strange person was. At the same time, most of them had fun trying to guess which part of the States we came from.

My takeaway was that it seemed everybody had traveled more than us. We'd laugh at words that were used differently, 'restroom' was an endless source of amusement until we learned to say 'toilet'. I was really hoping someone would ask me to look in the 'bonnet' so I could demonstrate to Pam how worldly I was, but that never came up, unfortunately. Petrol was pretty easy to figure out, but one scary difference was that they have color coded the gas pumps in the Petrol stations differently. Every time I stopped and somebody noticed my American accent, they pointed this out: Green is Unleaded and Black is Diesel....yes, pumping Unleaded petrol into a Diesel Campervan is a very bad thing.

Meanwhile, Pam was noticing some other differences. Girls loved fake eyelashes and lots of orange makeup. Pam thought it was the 'Kardashian' influence. There were a number of fake tanning places in Glasgow, and in truth, if you wanted a tan in Scotland that was the only way to get it. Pam was also getting into the designer coats she saw many of the women wearing. She was determined to get one, but the thought that it would be hanging unused in a closet forever kept her from making the purchase. I promised her that if we ever planned another trip to a cold climate, she could get the coat of her dreams.

We spent a lot of time before the trip, getting the ultimate apparel for the rainy cold weather, but as I had noticed by looking at the google street view before we left, most of the locals just wore tennis shoes, jeans and coats, although I did see few odd men and women of Glasgow seriously dressed for office work.

They live in really old houses. We saw very little new construction and I'm pretty sure everyone there is used to having a nice car, but no closet. The have nice fixtures in small kitchens, and often in campgrounds, the bathrooms were built into shipping containers. It was as if they have already embraced the tiny home concept. Pam tried repeatedly to ask locals about the age of their homes, but the people acted as if they didn't understand the idea that not everybody lived in 300-400 year old buildings. The other part of this was it seemed like everyone knew all about their ancestors...something we need to work on!

Of course, there are the things that follow us, no matter what country we're in. Everybody has cellphones and are glued to them, taking selfies, and hanging out at Starbucks. I swear that Glasgow had a Starbucks on every corner, and I may be actually  under counting the presence of the coffee giant. Nobody has cream or half and half anywhere. No grocery store, no coffee shop, you just can't find it. On the other hand, their milk that is so thick, it kind of negates the need for cream.

Even though I was surrounded by all of these cool accents and people with fair skin and red hair, I still got "No Problem!" whenever I said thank you to a clerk. I had been hoping that we could have left some American things behind, but the internet and TV has long since solved the problem of people being extremely different. I probably had much more in common with a 64 year old sheep farmer up in the highlands than a 25 year old living in Orlando.

Friday, April 20, 2018

A Wee Camping Trip In The Highlands Part 7 - Wild Camping In A Blizzard

As much as I love animals, you'd think I'd know a little bit about horses, but I didn't. I was sitting there, looking through the snow-covered windshield out at the pasture and the solitary horse standing at the fence staring at me. He was covered with a blanket and seemed to have a little stable to go hang out in. Why was he standing there at the fence staring? Was it because he wanted a little bit of company? Was he curious about what kind of idiots would park here for the night in a snowstorm? Was he hoping I had an apple in my pocket? I then heard a gravely noise that meant a car approaching. I couldn't imagine what was coming up next.

We somehow made it out of the skirts of Glasgow by some of the best teamwork of driver and navigator the world has seen. Driving on the left is not as bad as I thought...Pam just kept yelling "stay left!" and that seemed to work pretty well. The country had pretty much given up on traffic lights and gone to using 'roundabouts', which is a pretty exciting concept when you add in lost tourists from foreign countries and big trucks. Thank God Scotland does not seem to have many Fast and Furious drivers. We would see a roundabout coming up and I would start my mantra "look right, stay left, look right, stay left", while Pam shouted encouragement along the lines of "watch out!".

I was starting to feel okay about the van, which made me feel like I was a charter bus driver, from the gear shifting, the sounds, and the way I sat in front. I would sometimes make a little joke, "Next stop, Loch Lomond!", but Pam was too busy worrying about my driving to laugh. Driving on the left wasn't so bad, and these people seemed to be pretty relaxed drivers, so things started looking up until we reached the Loch Lomond area. One thing to note here. Driving in Scotland is like driving around the Grand Canyon in the States. It isn't like suddenly you have arrived at the Grand Canyon, more like you drive by it for a day. Loch Lomond was like that, it seemed to go on forever, a giant long lake, surrounded by snow-capped mountains that seemed close and climbable. It almost felt as thought I was looking at it through a zoom lens. It was all way too close...but not near as close as the cars driving by me.

We had been warned that "Once you get past Loch Lomond, you'll be fine!" or "You might want to drive the freeway instead, the Loch is kinda narrow...". Somehow that didn't quite sink in the way it should have. I was thinking, an old windy road that took perhaps a bit longer to drive, not a 60 mph extremely narrow two lane crowded blacktop with no shoulders on the side and more logging trucks than I could shake a stick at...add in a giant heaping of blizzard, and you had me and Pam for a large part of the day. All I can really remember is me driving 30 mph, 10 cars queued up behind me, wincing every time a semi truck passed me by inches and Pam telling me that I was still driving too fast. Once I ducked a little too much when a truck went by and a left tire went off the pavement and I realized how much trouble I could be in. I wasn't driving my little car at home and this thing could easily go sideways. Pam redoubled her efforts to get me to drive a little safer, however she did not go as far as to volunteer to take over.

We were also looking for a town or grocery store, and were still too green on the trip to know that finding a grocery store in the highlands is not so easy. We came to a small grouping of old buildings, one that was lit up and I gladly pulled over, wondering if we could just camp right there until some time when there would be no traffic. It was a tiny old grocery store and it was right next to the road. I was literally parked in front of the door and afraid to move the van anywhere else. As small as that van was, it seemed huge everywhere I put it. We bundled up and ran quickly inside the store to find something out of the past. Every nook and cranny had food, snacks and more. I thought I might be content to hang there for a real long time, except they were getting ready to close the store. There was a nice young guy with red hair, tall, thin, around 16 years old, working the register. Pam asked him where the soup was, and he just looked puzzled like she had spoken in Japanese. We were starting to realize the folks in Scotland could not understand us if we spoke fast. The reverse was true as well and when he answered, Pam turned to me and said "What did he say?" A woman about our age came out of the back and rescued us. She had quite a bit of experience with foreigners and helped Pam find some good stuff to put in our mini-fridge in the camper. Pam and her struck it right off and the conversation veered off into life in the highlands and taking care of our parents, etc. Pam inquired about a good place to eat and the lady wasn't sure. "I never get to eat out, I'm always working!" But, she did point to a pub a couple of buildings down and said that she heard it was good.

We hurried down to the place in the blinding snow storm that seemed to be building and quickly found ourselves in a 'locals-only' kind of bar that happened to serve food, if you liked it fried. That worked for me, and I soon had Bangers and Mash with a 1/2 pint of their cheap stuff, sitting side by side with Pam looking out a giant window that had a view that most people would pay a million dollars for. This falling down old place with about 5 people in it besides us, looked out of Loch Lomond and an endless vista of mountains that looked as if you could touch them. The food was good, and by the way, Bangers and Mash is mostly sausages on top of mashed potatoes...goes really good with beer. I could already feel my health declining and I'd hadn't been in the country 72 hours.

We came out of there feeling rested and ready to spend our first night of 'wild camping'...that is because Scotland has a law that you can camp anywhere you want, as long as there is not a 'no camping' sign in place. Free instead of $40 a night for a campground. That was perfect for me, and soon I found the perfect spot. There was a pull-off on the left side for some kind of trail and I took it. Seconds later, I was looking at a horse in a fenced in area, and a farm off in the distance. It was getting too scary to drive and I was excited about sleeping in our new home on wheels.

Pam fixed her suitcase and checked out the kitchen stuff while the horse and I watched each other. Then a car pulled up to the fence and an old woman got out with horse food and I realized that the horse wasn't really there for me, it was feeding time. The lady paid us no mind, she'd probably seen it all before and was glad she was going back to her warm fire in the hearth at home......while I struggled to get the heater to work as I saw the temperature dropping on the inside thermometer. Good thing we brought the serious sleeping bags... 

Thursday, April 19, 2018

A Wee Camping Trip In The Highlands Part 6 - Whitey the Great

  We found her, or she found us, using the old “both of us on the phone, waving our arms in the air and asking if you see me yet..” method. Yvonne was our bonnie young lass that we had spoken to on the phone before and she was a sight for sore eyes. We had been trying to find her for over 1/2 hour. She was about 30 years old, tall with long black hair, bright red lipstick, long black coat and clunky red high heels. She quickly led us to the side of Whitey The Great, our new home for the next two weeks. The van was parked in a spot that I never would have found on my own, so I was quite happy that she went the extra mile in tracking us down. Yvonne went through the instructions for how to operate the motorhome, while she uneasily eyed the police car parked behind her. “I’m double parked” she said as she made sure no one was sitting in the police car. I asked her how all of this worked, did another driver follow her and take her back to work in Edinburgh? (A plan was slowly forming in my mind)…I looked at the size of Whitey, the small busy streets, and the stick shift placed in the wrong spot, the steering wheel on the wrong side.

It turned out that Yvonne was going to take a bus back to her home in Glasgow in the suburbs, or the West End as she called it proudly. We ended up talking her into driving us to a gas station near her home and from there it was to be a straight shot to Loch Lomond. That alone, probably saved our lives. I was getting a little bit less nervous, as I pushed the fear of driving on the left in a foreign country a little more into the future.

Whitey was a Fiat high top van, made into a motorhome. 18.5 feet long or thereabouts, and quite handsome, although the tires looked a bit scruffy for something 1 year old and with only 7000 miles on it. Whitey was something I would be proud to drive and I even wondered out loud why something like this wasn’t available in the USA. It had everything you would expect in a nice big American motorhome, just on a smaller scale. It even had a flatscreen TV and a shower!

Yvonne kept us entertained while she drove, telling us about her accent, which is one of the things that makes life interesting on trips like this. She was from Ireland, then lived in Australia, New Zealand and then Scotland. Her true passion wasn’t renting campervans, but Geology, and she took jobs in places where she could pursue her true love: hunting rocks, which made her a kindred spirit with Pam. She told us all about the volcanic past of Scotland, and that knowledge came in handy during the trip. More than a few times on the journey, we saw mountains that looked like the volcanoes we had seen in Hawaii.

We finally arrived at the BP gas station, and I held out hope that Yvonne would be our travel guide for the whole trip, and I’d never have to get behind the wheel and find out if I could really do this. Then she was gone with a ‘ta ta’ and a mention that she was going to her boyfriend’s pub for a pint or two…”hey wait a minute, it’s not even lunchtime!” I exclaimed. I later learned that the beer is so good there, it was decided that you can drink any time of day.

I got behind the wheel, fastened my seatbelt and turned to Pam. “Shouldn’t we go inside and see if we need some snacks for the road?” Pam agreed and we spent the next 20 minutes in the convenience store, looking for good eats for the road, and it was one of the few times in life that I wasn’t chomping at the bit to get going…in fact, as I looked out at the van parked out at the gas pumps, I asked Pam if she was really sure we didn't need to do some more shopping before we took off...

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

A Wee Camping Trip In The Highlands Part 5 - Losing It In Glasgow

I’ve have more than a few times in my life that I’ve experienced what could be described as a ‘bit of apprehension about the near future’.  The symptoms usually include sleepless and then dreams about horrible outcomes. I had a few of those nights leading up to the day I was to take ‘Whitey the Great’ from Glasgow to the Highlands’. I had found a company called Rockin’ Vans UK online and had leased a mid-sized motorhome from them, thinking that it was only the size of a Sprinter van at home and how hard could it be to drive mostly in the country in a nation of friendly people with a population the size of New York City? My original plan was to rent a Mini Cooper and take a tent. Then I found I could get an old VW campervan, which Rockin' Vans had. I had visions of us cruising through the beautiful backroads of Scotland, when Pam interrupted and said "So, where is the bathroom?" We came up with a compromise, one that involved the smallest vehicle that had a bathroom in it. I had always liked the idea of a Camper that was just big enough, but not too big. As it turned out, it was too small and too big at the same time...
As the trip grew nearer, and I read more on the web about driving on the left and roundabouts, I started getting a wee bit worried. My first day in Glasgow was Easter Sunday. This was in the middle of downtown (or City Centre as they call it), and that downtown was a party town on steroids. To all of my young and old friends that long for an urban setting with pubs and Starbucks for as far as the eye can see in any direction, They would  have seen it as a giant fun spot. What I saw, instead was how heavy the traffic was and how little sense it made to me how it worked. Actually, there was less honking than I would have expected, but I did notice a tendency to speed up to run down pedestrians. The proclivity of Northeastern Americans to stick out a foot in the road to make a car stop, was a trick quickly proved to not be effective there.

If I was a worried about driving on the left and the mere idea that my first time driving would be in a big van with a stick shift on the wrong side, then I really had a sleeping problem when I found out about the blizzard forecast for the day we were to hit the road. I called my company, begging them to hold off for 24 hours. Pam was bundled up, mumbling that there was no way in the world she was going on the road in that van with me driving and another 'Beast From The East' on its way. But the consensus from Rockin' Vans was that the weather was only going to get worse, and I needed to hit the road sooner rather than later. 

My nerves were smoothed quite a bit when we first took our room at the CitizenM Hotel. Every single little thing seemed to have a bit of techiness about it. For example, you get on the elevator, put your room card in the slot and the elevator takes you to the floor of your room. The room itself reminded me very much of a nice cabin on a cruise ship.  It was small but very, very nice. Much is made of the fact that there is a iPad in the room that controls the lights, the TV and the blinds. It definitely was cool, although we did have some moments where Pam was grabbing the iPad from me and trying to work the TV. It is possible that we may request 2 iPads the next time we stay there.

The room was nice, but that wasn't what blew me away. It was the display arranged on the desk when we came in the first time.
Owen, our young man that introduced himself at the beginning, had left us presents. Ponchos, a map and a book with camping hints, along with a letter wishing us well on our adventure. I wondered aloud if these were things for us to purchase, like the booze in a mini fridge in a normal hotel room, but it turned out these really were gifts from Owen. I never felt so welcome in a country before! His letter said that the only thing missing from his pile of gifts was a dram of whiskey, and he hoped we'd raise one on his behalf during our journey...which we did.

Thus it was that around 2pm on a Monday, that Pam and I began getting lost in downtown Glasgow, with large suitcases in tow, backpacks on our backs, and a howling wind blowing, with enough snow to leave footprints on the sidewalk. We were searching for the meetup location that I thought I had down pat. Instead of Google Maps being my friend, it was a local man and woman that pointed out that we had marched 30 minutes in the wrong direction….after an hour of hiking in circles around city blocks and some questionable back alleys. Note to self: when using Maps, don't ask for turn by turn directions when walking in a city.  Some of those streets contained some characters that made me wish I was armed to the teeth, instead of constantly checking my phone for directions.
Yup, this day was already churning up my stomach and I hadn’t even seen the van yet….

Monday, April 16, 2018

A Wee Camping Trip In The Highlands Part 3 - The CitizenM

Here we were, feet on the ground in Glasgow, 7:30 in the morning on Easter Sunday, and quickly realizing that nobody gets up that early around there.

I was absolutely positive about which direction to march in to find our hotel, and had high hopes they would let us leave our bags inside until check-in time. Pam had a lot of experience with my map reading ability and was not quite so sure. We had a little discussion about it and took off in the direction I had chosen, while I crossed my fingers hoping I was right. The outside temperature was just about what I had expected: cold beyond belief, and from the looks on the faces of the few people walking by, they weren’t too happy about it either. I decided right then not to tell anybody that we had just left Spring-Break-Florida for this environment.

For once, I wasn’t wrong, and soon we were at the doorstep of the CitizenM Hotel. It’s difficult for me to nail down exactly what they have going on there, but if you like the Apple Store, you would love this place. There is a techy-but-we’re-not-taking-it-serious approach to everything. Upon entering, my eyes were immediately drawn to a large bookcase facing the entrance that contained many interesting items that were black, white or other muted colors and a vibrant solid bright red statue of a raven. We were greeted by a young man with a very well groomed beard, by the name of Owen. He was standing at the head of a long boardroom table that was loaded with large iMac computers. We were told that the hotel was totally self-check-In, but that he would be glad to help if we needed assistance with the technology, us being oldsters in a hipster hotel and all. He was enchanted that a couple of seniors chose their hotel and were planning on camping in the Highlands. “For Two Weeks?!” he said, delighted. I was beginning to think we might set a record for how long someone has survived the highlands…if we made it. I noticed right off that the entire hotel seemed to be staffed by intelligent-looking hipster young people. Lots of smiling faces, and not one with a look of "how come I'm working while you're on vacation?", you know, the kind of look you get from people in the Florida keys. 

He took our bags to stow away and said we could hang out in the meeting rooms or explore the town until check-in time. The whole place was something to take in. Most of the architecture we had seen already looked as if it came from the 1700’s and was made from rock. No need to go looking for castles, just a walk around Glasgow made you feel as if there was no building in Florida that was worth looking at.

CitizenM was in a large new building in an old-looking building area. At street level, I almost walked right past it. I didn't even think it was a hotel,  and inside the look closely resembled the high-tech workplace. Lots of little meeting rooms, 3 big living rooms with couches, egg chairs, and big screen TV’s. We crashed on the couch, trying to find that make-up sleep we needed while a endless stream of young couples came through.

The toilets in Scotland, never call them restrooms unless you want laughter in response, are quite different. I'm not sure exactly what it is, but everything appears to have been designed by IKEA.  The minute I knew that I was somewhere else culturally, wasn't from the fixtures, or the clothing, it was when I walked out of a stall in the men's toilet, and there was a beautiful young woman with long silver hair cleaning the mirror at the sink. That was when I knew I wasn't in Kansas anymore. 

I was already in love with the CitizenM and I hadn’t even seen the room. It felt warm and safe and nothing like driving on the wrong side of the road. I was prepared to sleep on the couch the rest of the trip and call it Scotland, but after 3 hours of me snoring out loud while Pam tried to cover my mouth when people walked by, she had enough and demanded that we get out there and see the town. It was a good thing that she did, because I almost missed it…

Sunday, April 15, 2018

A Wee Camping Trip In The Highlands Part 2 - Boots On The Ground

We left Florida at 6pm in the evening and landed in Glasgow at 7am in the morning. This sounds much like a great opportunity to get lots of sleep on the plane, but of course, my brain would have none of that and I probably garnered about 3 hours of sleep. I was thinking about how I was going to get Pam through customs and get both of our large bags onto the city bus, and what kind of weather we would experience between the bus station and the walk to the hotel. First off, I know that these things do no good, but I was somehow born with the idea that if I worry just the correct amount, less things will go wrong. There may have been some element of rightness in that kind of thinking, but the main feeling I’m left with is that I have not quite worried enough yet. In this case however, we had one of the occasions where Pam has the wonderful opportunity to remind me, “See, it was all for nothing!”

The flight was great, and getting off the plane took about 10 minutes even though we were some of the last people off. We weren’t in a hurry at all, remembering that it was 7 am Glasgow time and our hotel check-In time was 1pm. Our time in between would be spent as you might think someone from Florida would never spend it, walking around downtown of a large city with full suitcases and backpacks in 30 degree weather. We followed the stumbling group of about 6 people to our bags, first coming to a giant staircase, which would have been outlawed in the States, and an elderly gentleman next to Pam chuckled, “Welcome to Glasgow….” as we worked our way slowly down the first descent of our trip. Once we conquered the stairs we found we were almost the last ones to get our bags, and almost the only folk coming into customs. Our customs official was a tall, nice young guy with a full red beard and he seemed excited that we were really there to go camping. “For Two Weeks?” he said, unbelieving. That wasn’t the last time I heard that phrase from a Scot. Pam replied, “Unless we like it and decide to stay!”….his answer was “Please do not say that to me…have you paid for your trip yet?”

Once we cleared customs, we quickly opened our bags on the floor. One look outside the glass windows of the airport put the fear of God into us quick. The wind was howling, the skies were dark and we could see the light rain falling. In addition to that, it appeared the people walking by were wearing full winter gear and bent over double against the wind. All faces carried the same scowl on them. We took turns, Pam going first, heading into the nearest restroom (pardon me, Toilet, nobody says 'restroom' in Scotland). Pam came out wearing four layers of pants, including full waterproof gear, which we thought we might need for hiking up in the Highlands, never anticipating that we might need it just to get on the bus. I grabbed my giant parka that took up half my suitcase and kissed it right there.

From there, it wasn’t difficult to find the city bus, and sure enough there was room for our suitcases and us, without issue. I had researched it all online, and knew that we could walk up to the bus, hand them a credit card and it was about 7 pounds each for the trip….I knew I had this one covered if the bags would fit on the crowded city bus….well…there were 4 people on the bus, and the two gents manning the station were friendly enough. They acknowledged me right off and told me to swipe my phone over their machine. I had never gotten around to figuring out how to use my phone to pay for stuff, so I  handed them my credit card. “Aye, that’s noah good here. We accept Apple Pay and cash.” All I had was about $50 dollars on me in cash, so I pulled out a twenty and he waved me back saying, “Aye, we dona take no Monopoly money here,” while he laughed a good one with his friend. I grabbed Pam and rushed back into the terminal and went about using the wifi to figure out how to get Apple Pay working on my phone…level of difficulty: no phone service, sitting in a foreign country on unsecured wifi, my credit card information hanging out there like ripe fruit for the hackers. Yes ma'am, I was worrying full time now…

Saturday, April 14, 2018

A Wee Camping Trip In The Highlands: Part 1 - It Begins

The plan was for an epic journey to Scotland, finding the sweet spot between the cold winter and the emergence of the Scottish "Midges", the notorious insect that seems to be closely related to the 'no-see-ums' in Florida. This is the kind of tiny insect that attacks in clouds and makes you sorry to be alive when outdoors.
The plan was a good one and would have worked perfectly except we forgot that the weather can be whatever it wants to be in Scotland. In this case, instead of beautiful flowers blooming on the side of the road, we were greeted with bare-limbed trees and the promise of snow on the ground the day after we landed.
Originally, I was excited about the prospect of following surfing and paddling in the cold north country, but as my planning and research progressed, it became obvious that I was dealing with 'polar bears', the people that see putting a paddleboard in a lake or river when the temperature is below freezing as an extreme sport...and in my mind, they are correct.
As the forecast turned colder and colder, our packing morphed into less hiking gear, and more gear to keep us alive in the highlands when it could drop below 30 degrees Fahrenheit.

When it became the time to leave for the airport, we were excited with suitcases laden with cold gear and sleeping bags. I was my usual nervous self. I was going to a friendly country where English was spoken, but I was to be driving a Sprinter-sized motorhome on the left side of the road and looking at wet and snowy conditions.

The day we were to leave, I opened the newspaper to a front page article decrying that today was to be the busiest day in airport history. I already had a thing about dealing with homeland security and the whole baggage thing at our large busy airport, and now we were to wade right into the craziest day of the year....and then it wasn't. In the end, it wasn't so hard to understand. The airport was busy with people coming and going for Easter vacation, but they weren't coming and going to Scotland...and they especially were not going TO Scotland.
I tried to figure everything out beforehand on the internet, but still managed to find us standing in the airport with our bags with that deer-in-the-headlights look, while Pam looked around for help. The very first gentleman she found turned out to be a representative from Virgin Atlantic Airlines and quickly our bags were checked in and we were on our way to TSA. There was a giant mess of people there, but thankfully, we were Pre_check and went through in short order, except that I was pulled over for a frisking. I seem to be randomly picked for that every time I fly.
Once we got on the plane, I saw how this might be one of the better experiences ever.
The giant airliner was a Boeing Jumbo Jet, which has two levels of passenger seating. The big old 747 only had to carry 67 passengers on this trip, which meant Pam and I each had a whole row of seats to stretch out on. The food, the flight attendants, the whole trip on Virgin Atlantic was beyond my wildest dreams and Scotland was beginning to look like the trip of a lifetime.
In typical Perkins fashion, it was the special trip I hoped it would be, but if I knew what was coming for us, I might have turned around and gone right back home.....

Thursday, April 5, 2018

A Wee Camping Trip In The Highlands Part 4 - A Day In Glasgow

Glasgow….I’ve only seen a small part of it, but what I saw would be heaven for most of the young people I know. Here you have the urban life, pubs and Starbucks everywhere, good beer, good whiskey, and music all around. Plenty of good food, and for some reason I haven’t figured out, the price on clothing wasn't bad. Even with the exchange rate against us, we could have found reasonable-priced clothing just strolling along the street. There are parts of the city where the street is clear of vehicles, but it is pedestrian-beware where you do cross traffic. Nobody really waited for the crossing light, but hardly anyone dared jaywalking. I was extremely careful and almost met my maker from walking in front of a taxi I didn’t see coming around the corner.

It was way more crowded than I would have expected on a weekday when everyone should be at work, but I saw plenty of people shopping, and dragging their carryon bags with them. It turned out that many people in the UK get a two week vacation right around Easter and we landed right in the middle of it. We also had the good fortune to book our hotel right in the middle of City Centre, which included the long pedestrian-only Sauchiehall St.

We ate lunch in the Iron Horse pub and the food was good, almost as good as the atmosphere. I was to find later, that the meal I had there was on the low end of what I would find on the journey. I was so proud of myself. I walked right into a crowded pub, oriented myself, and immediately noticed that instead of the music stopping and everyone turning around to look at the strangers that dared to invade their territory, nothing happened. There wasn't a place to sit at all, but two nice ladies noticed Pam and said they were just leaving and offered us their table. I quickly sat down and wondered if this place took our credit cards, what kind of tip to leave, etc. Meanwhile, Pam pushed up to the bar, ordered our food, and a half pint of what they had on tap for me. She then proceeded to carry on a conversation with a couple of the local men at the bar, nodding and laughing. When she finally came back to the table, I asked her what she had learned. She had no idea what they said, she was picking up every third word at the most.  It was a two way problem, they couldn't understand us when we talked fast and we had no hope of understanding them when they got excited and the burr got really thick.
There I was! Eating Bangers and Mash in a pub in Scotland on Easter Sunday! If I had known that for the next two weeks that almost every meal was going to be in a pub, I wouldn't have thought it was such a big deal.

Everywhere, the people were nice, and something I found striking was that jobs we may consider menial were being performed by clean-cut smiling young people. I never really saw a scowling face except outside when the wind was blowing cold and hard. Nobody seemed angry that they had to work on the day. It didn't occur to me until much later that perhaps they were smiling because they were working indoors in a nice store instead of having to be outside!

As much as I loved Glasgow, there was that thing you see everywhere…the façade is maintained, but don’t look out back. In the alleyways, trash abounded and sometimes some surly-looking characters. Glasgow had that look of ‘we had a party last night and sometime today somebody will be up to clean’.

If there was a standout thing to mention besides the fantastic buildings and the incredible cold wind and snow, it was the buskers performing in the streets. I took some video and am still reeling from performances that would rival anything I’ve heard before. That somebody could sit in the street in 30 degrees F and do what they did, made me realize that I have probably no talent at all and should give my equipment away to the homeless...I had wondered before why some performers thought backing tracks were a necessary evil…these performers proved them wrong…really wrong.