Gene has always dreamed of traveling to Scotland and seeing the countryside. So when he retired a year ago, I surprised him with a trip to Scotland. We would spend ten days traveling the country roads of Scotland. I might have signed us up for more experiences than we were expecting. The following are excerpts from our travels.
When we started our tour, our guide explained that Insight Vacations prides itself on "rare authentic experiences and meaningful interactions." He reminded us that our tour was called Country Roads of Scotland on several occasions. We didn't realize until today that he was bracing us for a day's worth of driving a large, Mercedes coach (bus) on rural, one-lane roads filled with suicide sheep.
We drive from Thurso to Tongue, Ullapool and onto the Isle of Skye. They weren't kidding about country roads. We watched our coach driver navigate the narrow one-lane roads as we held our breath whenever we met an oncoming car. There were numerous pullouts along the way and apparently the honor system was in place as to just how daring you wanted to be. Oddly, the drivers seemed to take it all in stride. Sometimes, we had to stop suddenly for sheep on the road (at which point we all jumped off with our cameras and the driver humored us).
This remote part of Scotland is breathtaking and humbling as you imagine how self-sufficient the population must be. Many school children travel into town and stay in dormitories during the week and only get to go home on weekends because the trip is so long. There is a peaceful beauty to it (note I say that while sitting on a luxury heated and cooled Mercedes coach).
The parting words from our tour guide as we left the bus were, "You are on a tour called The Country Roads of Scotland. That means we are going to some remote places with limited hotels. You Americans won't share a bathroom, so our choices are limited. Make sure your shower works and you know how to use it!" I wasn't sure whether to be amused or afraid when we entered our room. Of course, the first place I head is to the bathroom.
As I opened the door, I breathed a sigh of relief. This isn't so bad, right? Sure, the bathroom is tight and there isn't any place to set your cosmetics bag and there is a big sign warning that the hot water is very hot, but it is clean and there is a shower. We have an hour before dinner, so Gene decides to take his shower first. I sit down to journal and within two minutes I hear a scream and someone yelling, "@#&^ $*#&#&@@@ a duck!" Hmmm. I sense an issue with the shower. Four minutes later, the door opens and Gene bursts through wrapped in a towel and shaking his head. "Problems?" I ask. (snicker) He explains that our water choices are scalding hot or ice cold. There isn't any way to regulate the two.
The next complication is that there isn't an electrical outlet in the bathroom to plug my curling iron or blow dryer into. I search in vain and finally unplug the television in the bedroom and plug in the curling iron. Unfortunately, the cord isn't long enough to stretch so that I can see in the mirror. I eventually run the cord under the bathroom door, lean in and grab a section of hair, back out and blindly curl it, and lean back in to see how I'm doing. This takes forever.
I decide to forego the shower until after dinner. I can tell you that the prime dinner conversation (with near strangers) was regarding everyone's shower experience. This becomes an ongoing conversation as we navigate through various rural hotels. Back in the room, as I wash my hands, I realize that there are two handles so you can wash them in scalding water, or cold water, but not warm water. And the hot
water is very, very hot. I stare at the shower and contemplate just how many days I can go without showering and still sit on a bus with the same people. I finally decide on filling the sink with water and doing a sponge bath, but there aren't any wash cloths, so I have to use the big towel. Maybe the next hotel . . . ?
The next hotel offers its own challenges, but I find myself peeking into the door and saying, "This isn't so bad." Gene glances over my shoulder and says, "Do you think it looks good because our standards have been lowered?" I decide to shower first since Gene was the shower tester at the last hotel. "It works, I squeal," and hear a laugh from the bedroom. It isn't until later that I realize that if you sit on the toilet, your knees block the door and you get a great view of the sign saying, "Keep door closed so steam won't set off the fire alarm." This really is irrelevant because the door is self-closing and you don't have any other option, but it is nice to have reading material while on the toilet. Maybe the next hotel and why do I find myself taking photos of bathrooms?
We arrive at our third hotel with the usual caution from the tour guide, "Make sure your shower works, and don't complain about the room. I'm not kidding." My expectations are pretty low at this point as I cautiously open the door to the room. My first two thoughts are, "We have stepped back to the 60's, and what is that smell?" It is very humid on the Isle of Skye, so the musty smell is something I'm going to have to live with. As Gene and I check out the room, I realize that there is room (barely) for two people, and room for our luggage, but not room for both. Of course that is about the time our luggage is delivered and we are asked, "Where do you want us to put it?" In retrospect, I take this to mean, "Why did you pack so much. This is the Country Roads of Scotland tour!"
By this point, I have realized that I'm tired of packing and repacking clothing, so I come up with the plan to start throwing away my dirty clothes. Seriously, if I never see some of these items again, I will be just fine. After picking up my fair share of tartan scarves and shortbread cookies (and scotch whisky, I will not lie), I start throwing away Gene's dirty clothes as well. (Don't tell him. I prefer it to be a surprise.)
We are seasoned travelers by this point, so I take a shower before dinner. I don't get scalded so I come out of the shower with a big grin and say, "It works!" Gene and I do the shimmy so he can get past me to the shower and says, "You swear it works and this isn't a joke?" I laugh. While we are on a streak, we hit the bar and buy ice.
I will tell you that two people were never so grateful as Gene and I when we hit the Holiday Inn for our last night in Scotland. We showered and slept like babies!