Bill and I flew out of Stuttgart at about noon on March 14th. We dropped off our dogs, Zane and Arran, with Max at Dog On Holiday, and had pleasant flights from Stuttgart to Amsterdam to Glasgow. I was feeling hopeful when I saw the sun out in Glasgow. On our first trip to Scotland, we were greeted by dismal weather. It was dark and stormy that November day. This time, we had almost balmy temperatures and the sun was shining. I had needed a heavy coat in Stuttgart, but could walk around with no jacket on in Glasgow.
I cracked a smile when I saw the guy directing the taxi stand. He was wearing a pair of tartan trousers. I am a sucker for tartans, even though I have yet to invest in a stole of my own. I would love to see Bill in a kilt, especially if he wears it properly… but he’s mostly Irish, so he balks at the idea of having one made. One of these days, I’ll get him to pull the trigger. Hopefully, it won’t be aimed at my head.
We reached the Carlton George Hotel by mid afternoon, deposited our bags, and enjoyed some of the free booze in the mini bar. Through OpenTable, I had made us reservations at a restaurant called Alston Bar & Beef. Bill and I both enjoy steaks and this particular restaurant also specializes in gins. I thought maybe we’d have a couple of gin cocktails, but Bill decided he preferred wine. We enjoyed a lovely dinner there, with a round of cocktails and a bottle of wine. We also had dessert… the first of many over the following week.
Bill was fretting a bit because he’d been dieting to get into his dress blues. Our cruise had two gala nights that involved formal wear. Bill retired in 2014, so PT tests are now a thing of the past. He had put on a little weight, but was able to squeeze into the uniform. I could tell he was working hard not to eat too much steak on our first night in Scotland.
I won’t say too much about the Carlton George in this particular post because I intend to write a review. For now, I will say we enjoyed a very comfortable evening there. The hotel is located very close to the main shopping drag in Glasgow and is near Glasgow Central Train Station. We were due to meet representatives from the ship and our fellow passengers at 3:15pm on March 15th.
Breakfast was not included in our rate, so we decided to eat out on the town. Again, through OpenTable, I found a very cool bar close to the hotel called the 158 Cafe Bar at Hutcheson’s. I made us reservations for 9:00am and we both enjoyed a lovely breakfast on our first morning in Scotland. It would be the first of many sumptuous meals we enjoyed this week.
Once checkout time came around, we hauled our bags to the train station and sat in a bar, where we had a light lunch and enjoyed lots of beer. It so happened the bar we were enjoying was slated to close that Sunday. Consequently, they didn’t have a very good selection of suds. I didn’t mind too much, though, because the location was perfect for watching the train station. It wasn’t long before we saw the folks from the Hebridean show up, ready to welcome a new round of passengers onboard.
Hebridean Princess hires guides for its cruises. They usually change each week and have special interests in the different cruise themes. The week we were on the ship, our guide was John Harbour. He was very easy to spot. Every day, he wore a kilt with a matching tie and v neck sweater. He’s very tall and distinguished and a proud Scotsman. When we showed up with our passel of bags, he commented that we hadn’t packed light. I explained that Bill had brought his uniform. Then John told us that he had served in the Royal Navy for over thirty years. He now has his own tour guide business and has been on Princess five times. Prior to our whisky trip, John had been visiting India. I knew he and Bill would have plenty to talk about during our trip.
When all of the passengers who were planning to be collected at the train station had arrived, John and the bartender, Egon from the Czech Republic, loaded us into the bus and we headed to the airport to pick up more people. Thanks to all the beer I drank at the bar in the train station, I had a strong urge to answer the call of nature. Fortunately, the bus had a toilet. It also had seatbelts, with John incessantly reminded us to use every time we got on the bus!
We arrived at the Greenock pier by about five o’clock. After a quick security check, we were each piped aboard the Hebridean Princess. A young kilted lad stood outside the terminal with his pipes and played for everyone as they made their way to the ship. I managed to get a very quick film of him playing.
The woman who ended up being our waitress showed us to Loch Crinan, our stateroom on the Hebridean deck. The Hebridean deck is where the cheapest rooms are. They have no windows and only a shower. However, despite being the least expensive of the rooms on Hebridean Princess, they are still very comfortable. A small bottle of whisky sat on the credenza over a stocked minibar that included water, soda, and fruit juice. The bathroom was outfitted with Molton Brown toiletries and very thick, luxurious towels on a towel warmer.
We were asked to unpack our bags and set them outside so they could be stowed. Then, we were welcome to make our way to the Tiree Lounge for welcome drinks and the muster drill. The first night, dinner dress would be casual and we would learn about the many distilleries we would be visiting during our week on the Princess. By the end of the week, we would know how whisky is made and the differences between the different whisky making regions around Scotland.
The very friendly and warm staff, mostly made up of Scots and folks from Latvia and Lithuania, made sure to make us feel at home. After I made the steep climb back up to the Tiree Lounge, Egon the bartender handed me the first of many glasses of champagne.