Uncertain beginnings - and how a Mini turned into a BMW.
Perth And Kinross, UK
Well, I'm here in Scotland at last, refreshed after a good night's sleep (although for some being awake and writing a blog at 4.30 am is probably not considered "good" in anyone's language), and ready to roll.
The Flight: We disembarked the KLM City Hopper from Amsterdam to Glasgow right on schedule but the trip was not without its hiccups. The flight from Perth to Kuala Lumpur was delayed by more than an hour; in fact when we arrived at the airport the inbound Malaysia Air plane that was to be our transport was still a good couple of hours away from landing. In fact, we watched it arrive, scrutinising every moment from it appearing as a tiny speck on the Perth skyline to docking at the air bridge and then watching every step of the process as the ground crew descended on it like a swarm of ants and systematically and efficiently emptied it of its cargo. The fascination with the loading of the plane for our particular flight was marred, for me at least as no one else seemed particularly bothered, by the distressing sight of crates of live sheep being loaded into the hold. I have no idea why or for what fate these sheep were destined but I don't believe they were off on a two week break to Kuala Lumpur for a change of scenery. It shocked me in many ways as I always associate "live export" with the horror ships that we see so often in the news yet here were something like 40 or 50 sheep crammed into four small, double-decker cages being trundled onto a plane (see main photo). The knowledge that I was sharing my flight with those poor creatures who were heading to an uncertain fate in Malaysia distressed me no end. I have no idea how long they had been waiting in those crates, packed like sardines with standing-room only, with no water or food and most likely standing in a slurry of their own waste. Wherever they were headed and for whatever purpose, my heart went with them and it saddens me to think of their ultimate fate.
Still, in spite of that having put somewhat of a damper on the start to the holiday, we finally embarked and were on our way. The flight was uneventful but after being used to the Emirates ICE in-flight entertainment system the offerings from Malaysia Air were abysmal. I say unevenful but I believe we ended up on a flight filled with an excess of snorting, coughing and sneezing individuals to the point where I thought the first thing I would need to buy in Scotland would be cold and flu tablets! Of course, one of them was sitting across the aisle from me and I can tell tell you that after five hours of listening to one man sniffing and snorting, and watching him wipe his nose on either the Malaysia Air blanket (I hope they wash them well before reuse!), his hand or a rather inadequate tissue I was ready to do murder. I could only hope that he was not flying onwards to Amsterdam. (Mercifully, he didn't).
We were a bit anxious as there was a very short lay-over between flights and as we were around 90 minutes late it looked like we might miss our connection. We were assured, however, that the connecting KLM flight would wait for us. Nevertheless, navigating through KL airport to our departure gate was fraught, and made more stressful by the fact that we ended up queuing at the wrong gate and then having to race to the other side of the airport from Gate C3 to C2. We had only a few minutes to spare before we were boarding again.
It was a long flight but we made up time and ended up arriving in Amsterdam right on schedule. What can one say about a 12 hour flight through the night? We ate (or at least I did) and slept and watched bad movies. I managed to go to sleep by sticking on my ear-phones and tuning in to Wagner's opera "Die Walkure" on the concert channel. While I usually like Wagner I think I slept as a means to escape! Whatever the mechanism - it worked. At least for a few hours. The final 4 hours dragged. I spent it watching "Silver Linings Playbook" - Jennifer Lawrence and Robert De Niro owned that movie - and, finally, watching the animated map of our progress as the tiny plane crawled across landscape from Russia across Eastern Europe, Poland and latterly over Germany. The fact that we were flying at 950km/h did not seem to make much of an impact on the distance but finally we were within sight of Amsterdam. The entire flight had been spent in the dark.
The last leg was a relatively quick hour-and-ten-minute flight across the North Sea to Glasgow. I think there were 4 women in total on that flight. It was filled with Dutch and Belgian males who, I swear, never shut up from the moment they sat down to the moment they got off the plane and who, I think given the array of bright orange football jerseys, were on their way to watch the World Cup qualifying match between Belgium and Scotland.The best part of arriving in Glasgow on a flight orginating in the EU was that there were only 4 of us to be processed at immigration for we "Others" whereas the EU queue consisted of the remain der of the passengers. We were through in no time. Same at the baggage carousel; instead of having to fight hundreds of passengers it was done and dusted in minutes.
The Car: Here the adventure begins. We have not yet managed a trip without something going wrong with the hire car arrangements; usually minor but an inconvenience nonetheless.
This time was good news and bad news. Thrifty actually had the make of car we booked - the Mini Cooper, BUT (notice the capital emphasis) they didn't have the have the S model and it was petrol not diesel and they only had one with a manual gearbox. Alex decided that in spite of having only driven a manual for about a year more than a decade ago that she would give it a go. To give Alex her due she was willing to rise to meet the challenge, however Glasgow in an unfamiliar car with a manual gearbox is not the place to start practising driving skills. After a quick trip out to Braehead and several circuits of the Ikea car park, we came to the conclusion that if we wanted to actually enjoy the holiday then the Mini had to go.
So, the Mini went back. Thrifty were more than happy to switch cars to give us an automatic but the girl at the counter proposed exchanging it for a tiny Kia! Her argument was that it was a similar size to the Mini. Alex then pointed out that while it was the same size, it was not the same class and that she had booked the Mini because it was in the sports class not because of its size! Negotiations complete we happily drove away in a diesel-fuelled automatic BMW 3 series sedan and were on our way - at last!
To Blairgowrie: Check in time at Brooklinn Mill's Jute Store was 4pm so we still had some time to kill. The rest of our time was spent getting coffee for me and breakfast for Alex at Sainsbury's; getting a SIM card for Alex's phone; a brief excursion to the Campsies (where - for 20p - I had an interactive experience with an automated self-cleaning public toilet which spoke to me with instructions on how it all worked while showing me an electronic timer just in case I exceeded the 15 minute time limit) and finally, a scenic drive around the local environs before gathering some provisions from the Tesco in Blairgowrie and arriving at The Jute Store at 4.10pm.
After settling in at this most amazing place, part of a former jute mill in case you hadn't already guessed that from its name, and setting up our wi-fi connection (priorities people!) we took a hike along the river and into town. So, after 25 hours of travelling on a plane then another few hours killing time till check in, we hiked just over 2 miles to clear away the cobwebs and got back just as dusk was falling. It was a pleasant walk with a good few steep steps just to add interest and we managed to see a red deer with her twin fawns in a paddock, a few rabbits showing a flash of white bob-tail and a suspicious black cat who finally dived into the hedge as we passed.
Pizza and garlic bread for tea; showered and refreshed in pyjamas in front of the TV and finally, unable to stay awake any longer, to bed at 10pm. I think I was asleep within 3 minutes of my head hitting the pillow.
So ended our first day in Scotland.