Off to the car rental place. It's officially Sunday -- we lost an entire day, which I'm sure we left on the plane. The Alamo rental counter doesn't have a reservation for us. Nothing in the system. He explains that he's had trouble with Auto-Europe in the past and gets on the phone with them. He finally does find us on the system, but the reservation was cancelled! No car.
After a moment of complete and breathless panic, he does find us a car, but it's an intermediate that he wants to charge us an upgrade fee for. I explain that the voucher is already for an intermediate car. The clerk produces an e-mail from Alamo corporate that tells him Auto-Europe vouchers have already been upgraded and that we cannot upgrade two times without paying the difference. I'm bitching (in a very polite way, of course) and ask to have the phone to talk to Auto-Europe myself. Lo and behold, he finds the keys to a Volkswagen Golf -- we snatch the keys so quickly that I think we startled him. [That sounds really snarky, doesn't it? Really, he was trying to be very helpful and wasn't being difficult on purpose.] It's a compact, too, so no price upgrade. We do get the enhanced insurance coverage for £3 a day, just in case. Finally, we're off.
[Update: After talking to Auto-Europe about the mix up (no one is sure how the reservation got cancelled), they apologized profusely, and refunded the entire cost of the car for the trip, because we had problems. I'm impressed.]
The car is a little fluorescent, lime-green Golf hatchback. A truly startling and grotesque color, although we're not likely to lose it anywhere. While we're panicking that we have to start driving on the left, it helps that the car, while backwards, is just like Mark's VW Passat at home. I can't imagine driving on the left in a right-hand-drive car, though. How strange.
We sit in the car for about 10 minutes -- it feels so weird to be on the opposite side. But after one misguided loop around the airport, we were heading off into Scotland.
One of the few reservations we made for the entire trip was for the first two days. We figured that we would be tired, jet-lagged, and needed someplace to crash without having to search out a B&B. After a bit of searching, I found Gilston Lodge, which in Dalkeith, only a few minutes outside of Edinburgh. I was enchanted by the round turretted room, and, through the reliable old method of snail-mail and airmail stamps, secured us a room for the first two days in Scotland. I'm glad I did. We were barely awake enough to get our luggage.
Tish Alderson gave us very good directions to Gilston Lodge -- and we still got very lost and ended up driving through downtown Dalkeith twice because we got too goobered up in the roundabouts. Driving in Scotland seems to a series of hair-raising turns and slot-car-race straightaways. Lots of careening and jolting. I thought it was just us, but everyone -- even native drivers -- seems to do it. The main roads aren't so bad, but the small ones are a real thrill ride. Mark was getting into it -- I spent a lot of time hanging on to the door handle and bracing myself, waiting for us to either capsize or get smushed by a giant lorry because we still weren't too consistent about staying on the left hand side like we were supposed to.
Not to mention, people just seem to park wherever they feel like. They just stop. Boom. The roads are too narrow to do this, really, which results in some real grand prix driving moves through town. I will admit to screaming once or twice. This is NOT a good thing to try with no sleep.
We backtracked and finally found the right road, and nearly caused another accident when I pointed out the blue gate we had been told to look for and Mark promptly pulled to the right side of the road -- oops! A U-turn later, we're parked on the sidewalk, so I can get in and knock on the door and open the gate. Mark is nowhere to be seen. Suddenly, he zips around the corner, and manages to get the car into the drive before the oncoming traffic can reach him, and we're here!
Gilston Lodge, our B&B for the first two days, is pretty impressive -- a big old stone Victorian house with a turret and a huge oak door. The main rooms on the first floor have spectacular plaster ceilings, and the house has a wonderful, lived-in feel. There are three rooms for lodgers on the second floor. Our room is on the left side, with our (private) bathroom in the turret.
The room is a bit small, but the bed is big and comfy and there is a lovely huge window. Pulling the drapes, though, renders the room middle-of-the-night dark. It wasn't until much later that I realized just how nice this was. With the summer days lasting past midnight, keeping the room dark is hard to do. Tish, the proprietress, is very nice. There are three dog beasts (referred to as Dinosaurs on the little note beside the dog leashes that hang beside the door), Titus (a black lab), Tess (a yellow lab), and Angus (a terrier sort of dog). Tish seemed pleased that we like the dogs, and commented that she put the dogs on the ads, figuring people wouldn't call if they didn't like sharing their accommodations with them. They were sweet, but all three had apparently been swimming in the stagnant garden pool! Ugh! One of Tish's hobbies--although I'm not sure it can be considered a hobby when done on this scale--is gardening, and she is justifiably proud of the beautiful flower and vegetable gardens on the property.
From the street, the houses are hidden behind high stone walls and solid gates. I am amazed at the houses and grounds that exist behind the gates. I didn't expect it to be so lush and green.
We crashed, hard, at 12:30. Mark was asleep by 12:31 and I'm sure I was, too. He woke up about 4:30 and asked me if I wanted to get up. I must have grunted no, and we were both back to sleep. About six o'clock, Tish knocked on the door -- she thought she had better get us up or we'd sleep until about 2 a.m. and then be zombies for the next few days. I'm glad she did. We got dressed and bumbled downstairs to talk to Tish's daughter (whose name escapes me) about where to go for dinner. She had some good ideas of where to go, and suggested we go into Edinburgh. We weren't brave enough to try driving on the left side again on the first day, especially considering how tired we were.
We knew where Dalkeith was (having driven through the town twice on our way to get to Gilston Lodge) and headed back into town to search for a posted but entirely unlabelled free parking lot. We left the car and started walking. Dalkeith is quite old -- I don't think a building on the main drag is less than 300 years old -- but it is very charming. Everything seems to be decaying a bit, and all the stone buildings are stained black. Mark said that if you covered over the English signs, it would be every city in Europe. Quite a lot is closed -- it being Sunday -- but we walked around a bit and peered into windows.
We parked next to the Dalkeith Association of Jehovah's Witnesses, what a hoot! There is a partially ruined church in the center of town -- the older section is burned out, with grass growing on the upper edges of the stone walls. We're going to head back tomorrow to look when it's open. There is also a huge walled estate at the western end of town. The gates were closed, but I later learned that the estate is a large public park, and there are often concerts and festivals there.
We had dinner at the Country Hotel -- a refurbished inn, I think. Quite nice. The food was good (they actually do brown gravy properly). We were both a bit apprehensive, which was funny. We eat out all the time, but we didn't know the customs here -- do we tip? or not? are the drink refills free? what is the custom for ordering drinks or salad? We kept trying to spy on the other patrons, but couldn't see what they did. Plus, you apparently don't get a check, they do it all at the front register. Looking back, I think the basket on the desk was for tips, but we bailed without leaving any, vowing to ask at the next place we went how tipping worked. We had the Sunday Roast Special -- two courses. Dessert was apple crumble, with 'cream, ice cream, or custard'. Mark commented halfway through that it was odd, and it took us a while to figure out why -- no cinnamon in the apple cobbler part, nor much sugar, like we're used to. It was quite different than what we have at home.
It was 10:00 by the time we got back, and still very bright outside. We watched a bit of TV -- only four channels -- and out like a light. Every book that I read about dealing with jet lag said to get out, get some sunshine, and get on the schedule of your destination as soon as possible. I don't know that we did a good job of that, but we tried. I wonder if that melatonin stuff really works? How on earth do people who travel for business every week manage? Maybe they never sleep.
©1999-2001 R. Fingerson
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