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British Airways
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Traquair House


April 30-May 1

We went back and forth for months about our airline tickets for this trip -- in the past, we've banked on Mark's Amazing Travel Karma to get upgraded and spent at least part of the trip in stretched-out bliss in Business Class.

This time? We searched for a sale for business class and bought tickets from Denver to London on British Airways fabulous pod-seats. Fully-flat seats, on-demand movies, and actual metal utensils. It was definitely a splurge for this trip, but it's out 20th Anniversary, and there wasn't a lot of arm-twisting involved, to be honest.

Sales pop up occasionally, and they tend to last for about 72 hours, so you have to act fast, but we got tickets in business class for just a little bit more than what we would have paid for the "Economy Plus" seats that we always get (to try to keep Mark from becoming a pretzel in a regular coach seat. Trying to squish a 6'4 frame into a seat built for a waifish jockey is not a comfortable way to start a trip. Yes, I was lobbying for this entirely for his benefit. Really!)

We sailed into the airport, checked all our luggage straight through to Edinburgh (the BA desk had one person in line) and walked up to the Departures lounge to drink a glass of wine and have a couple of sandwiches while we waited for the flight, and relax in the big reclining chairs. Yeah!

They had a confirmed case of Swine Flu in Denver - in fact, one of the baggage handlers at the airport was the case -- and we were warned to wash our hands frequently and not go wandering around the airport in bare feet (really? that happens often?). A leisurely dinner and then on to the plane to have champagne until we take off. I could really get to liking this sort of thing! Sigh.

The flight was not full, and beyond a quite decent dinner, nothing terribly exciting. We both slept most of the way there. The pods recline into completely flat beds, they are narrow and not overly comfortable -- but certainly better than sitting upright with a blanket wedged around yourself. I woke up in time for breakfast and did whatever ablutions are possible in a tiny airline bathroom (you'd be surprised - a wet wipe and a little acrobatic ability and you can definitely emerge freshened up and ready to face the day).

Terminal 5

We landed in the infamous Terminal 5 in Heathrow, which has been much maligned and, I'm afraid, rightly so. The rules regarding when gates open and are assigned and who can pass through at certain times is a bit frustrating. The lines for security are ..well, lets just say that for a country known for its queuing, it was a mess. No one knew where to do, there were four or five entrances lined up and some went immediately to the security lines and others snaked their way across the lobby first. I'm sure that it actually is more efficient, but it certainly didn't seem like it to a bunch of people getting off the plane after 10 hours. Part of security now is to actually take pictures of passengers who are making connection, and those pictures are compared to the person in line when the plane is boarded. Someone in line was trying to tel me that it was a retinal scan (no, it's not) and that there was a bit to-do in the UK about how the data was being used and discarded. It's supposed to be discarded immediately after the flight is boarded, but I have to admit being a little skeptical about that.

The customs official was friendly, and seemed surprised that we were just going to rent a car and drive around aimlessly for a whole month. We produced the required return ticket and assured her that yes, we had plenty of money to handle a month-long holiday. She was very insistent that we have an address in the UK for the trip and I'm glad we had one to give her at least for the first night. I wonder how she would have handled it had we not had a reservation at all? I mean, I get a room for the first two nights just so we have someplace to crash and aren't trying to navigate and find a room while jet lagged and getting used to driving on the left. But we wouldn't have to - rooms are pretty easy to come by in May. At any rate, we were duly stamped and sent on our way.

Following the enormous, milling crowd, we found ourselves in the muggy terminal, waiting to go through the security scanners. I am continually amazed that normal, apparently high-functioning people can't remember the rules for carry on luggage or going through security scanners. Take off your coat. Take your laptop out. Don't bring bottles of stuff with you. We saw half a dozen people who had to throw away full-size bottles of shampoo and such from their bags. When they say empty your pockets, take everything out. Yes, your wallet too. And your keys. ANd probably your watch. Geez, people.

Not enough toilets to fly...

The business lounge in the airport is huge and blissfully air conditioned. Not that the terminal wasn't, but even cooled, it is so much more humid than we're used to, that we're both sweating like pigs. I changed clothes and we settled in to wait for the ongoing flight to Edinburgh. Which was, of course, late.

And not late in the "please wait in the lovely cool lounge with free drinks and sandwiches with the crusts cut off", but late in the get on the plane and bake in the hot sun while we sit at the gate. They got us all loaded on the plane and THEN announced that they couldn't fly this one, it only had one working toilet, the other two being clogged. Apparently that's a no-no and you have to have at least 2 working toilets. So we sat on the tarmac, in the plane for two hours with the one working toilet, twice as long as the actual flight would have been if we had just taken off and landed in Edinburgh with one toilet working. It was bureacracy at its best. We couldn't just get off the plane, either, because the computer stuff that controls the gates and door access wouldn't let us back into the airport until they had a way to control our access and get us back out again. This apparently required about fourteen people to sit in a room and discuss how it should be done. Meanwhile, we're sweltering and taking turns using the one loo.

But we arrived in Edinburgh, got our car rental worked out while we waited for our luggage to show up. We had strongly asked for a VW, any VW, since we know that Mark fits in them. What they had was a Vauxhall Insignia (which the car rental guy reminded us about fourteen times was a 40K pound car!) and we dubiously headed to the car lot to see if we were going to fit. I wasn't sure what we'd do if we didn't -- call Auto Europe and look for a different rental company, perhaps, or come back the next day to return the car and try a different model, I guess). Surprisingly, he did fit (it's most like a Honda Accord, I guess, and quite roomy). A couple of minutes getting used to the very odd sensation of being on the wrong side of the car and we're off.

Best Gadget Evah!

The GPS is WORTH EVERY PENNY. I wasn't sure it was going to be so useful, to be honest. But type in a post code and it blurts out concise instructions that got us out of Edinburgh without a false turn and on our way towards Innerliethen and Traquair House.

Just getting us out of the airport and into the main road was a trick (in previous trips we've had a few rounds where we circle the airport and miss a few turns. I can see that this is going to be a helpful gadget. Hah!

Traquair House is gorgeous, and Helen, the housekeeper, popped her head out the second floor window to welcome us when we knocked on the door. Our room is in the "new" wing of the house (still dating to the 1740s or so) with its own entrance in the wing of the house. Helen recommended the Traquair Arms Hotel in Innerliethen for dinner, and we quickly changed and drove the few miles into town to eat. Dinner was lovely (keel and potato soup, salmon cakes, steak and ale pie, and lamb chops, washed down with a pint of Guinness. The ale for the steak and ale pie is from Traquair House. We tottered back to the car and once again were thankful that the GPS got us back to the house to sleep.