We woke up Sunday, August fourth, to lots of rain. We weren’t in the mood to look for breakfast under those conditions. We also had a train to catch. Originally, we were going to leave Edinburgh at about 10:00am, but Bill was fretting that we’d have to switch trains in Stirling. With a tight connection and rain, he worried that we’d have trouble. On Saturday, before he picked up dinner, Bill stopped by the train station and spoke to a very helpful man who told him that if we took the 9:29am train, we wouldn’t have to switch trains. Unfortunately, since it was less than 24 hours before the train was due to run, we couldn’t reserve our seats. But, he said on a Sunday morning, we’d have no trouble getting seats… Yeah, right.
Bill and I decided to brave breakfast at the hotel. We took the elevator to the breakfast area. I immediately noticed that it had a smell reminiscent of French Residence Hall at Longwood College, circa 1991. Longwood is now Longwood University and French is no longer a dorm, but the smell of stale beer and puke tends to leave an indelible mark on the ol’ olfactory organ. To be fair, the elevator smelled more like stale beer than vomit, but I couldn’t be certain. I think someone might have spilled beer in the lift and neglected to tell someone. The floor was sticky and, yes, smelled a bit like a frat house after a raucous party. I wasn’t impressed.
Breakfast is not included in the room rate at the Kimpton Charlotte Square Hotel. However, in addition to the usual buffet offerings, they do have cooked breakfasts at the hotel. It looked like the main waiter was training someone new. Everyone wore jeans and t-shirts with aprons and, having once waited tables myself, I could tell the new girl was doing a “trail”. Unfortunately, as her trainer was teaching her, he failed to notice us sitting there neglected for several long minutes. I finally shot a cranky look at a busser, who kindly clued in his colleague.
I went with the Bacon Butty, which is aptly named. It was basically a soft bun with a bunch of back bacon in it. It tasted okay, but wasn’t the most imaginative dish. Bill had scrambled eggs with smoked salmon, which he seemed to enjoy.
After breakfast, we checked out. I probably sounded irritated as I told the receptionist about the condition of the elevator. She quickly made a note of it, and again, told Bill about their air conditioning woes. I suppose we could have made more of a stink than we did, but I think we were just ready to get on our way to Inverness. The staff called us a cab and we were soon whisked off to Edinburgh’s huge Waverly train station.
We got to the station at just the right time, as a huge flood of Asian tourists showed up minutes after we did. We were able to find benches to sit on, since there was no track assigned to the Inverness bound train. I passed the time by people watching and reading all of the stuff on the walls. I get a kick out of British nannyism signs, as well as the historic notes one finds everywhere in Scotland… even in the train station!
We finally hauled our bags to the correct track and waited for what seemed an eternity for the doors to open. In Germany, when the trains pull up, they let people get on and wait on the train. In Scotland, they don’t open the doors until just before the train leaves. Lots of folks were standing around, peering into the cars. It looked like many people had seat reservations. We did on our original train. At one point, as we waited impatiently for the go ahead to board the train, a recorded female announcer requested that everyone leave the station due to an emergency. It was a false alarm, but some people were noticeably confused and annoyed. I was among them.
The doors finally opened and everyone rushed for a seat. Fortunately, eagle eyed Bill spotted two seats facing the direction of travel that weren’t claimed. Bonus, they were right next to the WC and there was plenty of space for our bags. We were lucky, though. Not everyone managed to score a seat. One American couple got on the train and the wife peevishly said that she couldn’t sit backwards or she’d throw up. That turned out to be a prophetic statement.
I couldn’t help but wonder what second class was like on ScotRail, as the window had an enormous booger stuck on it. It was grossing me out, and I was reminded of the old school bus we rode on in Islay on a previous Hebridean cruise. There were boogers on that, too, but at least they had a good excuse. It was a school bus, after all, and there’s no class system on a school bus.
The loudspeaker on the train was also kind of messed up. It kept cutting in and out, making it sound like we’d landed somewhere in India or Pakistan instead of Scotland. I got a raw video with the sound in it. I’ll have to turn it into something shareable at some point. We had a good laugh about it, though. I posted on Facebook that as long as no one vomited, I’d be okay. Again… I tempted fate.
The first stop after Waverly Station was Haymarket. A young mom with three little girls took the two free seats facing Bill and me. I was immediately reminded of my good friend, Julie, whom I met at Longwood College in 1991, when she was a freshman and I was a sophomore. Julie is a very maternal person. She teaches school and has two sons and, I swear, the Scottish mom who joined us could have been her twin twenty five years ago.
The mom, whose name I later learned was Iona, was amazing. Her eldest daughter looked to be maybe eight or nine years old. She was pretty independent. The other two girls I would guess were about five and maybe two or three years old. The middle aged one sat opposite me. She had big brown eyes and long, luminescent red hair that gently curled down her back. I thought she was adorable, even though she was a little grumpy at first. Iona asked her what was wrong and the redheaded girl, I’ll call her “Em”, said she needed the toilet. Iona asked her why she wasn’t “using her words”.
Over the course of our three hour journey, I watched Iona lovingly tend to her little girls. Em, especially, needed help, since she suffered not one, but two bouts of motion sickness. Iona came equipped with food, games, and even a tiny portable fan that she directed on Em after one bout of vomiting. She never lost her temper and took every opportunity to correct her daughters’ behavior. I thought they were very well-behaved, for the most part. Iona told us they had another long journey once they got to Inverness. They were headed to a northern island to see relatives and would be traveling until at least 5:00pm.
I could not help but be reminded of an experience Bill and I had in France back in 2014. We were on a very full train going from Marseille to Nice. A mom on that train brought her two little girls with her. One girl was about eight and the other was a toddler. Mom basically sized up Bill and me, noted how kind and helpful Bill is, and just left her daughter with us while she took care of the little one in a different car. Iona was a refreshing change of pace. She never let the girls out of her sight and really impressed me with how good she was with them. We should all have a mom like Iona.
We were seated in first class, but ScotRail is decidedly low class regardless of where you sit. There was no dining car and though the WC functioned, we watched person after person fail to lock the door properly. Consequently, quite a few people got interrupted mid whiz, including Bill. Next time, instead of taking the train to Inverness, we’re renting a car. However, I am glad we took ScotRail this one time. The ride up to Inverness was pretty, if not a bit crowded. I also enjoyed meeting Iona and her adorable girls.
We arrived in Inverness in the early afternoon and found a taxi to take us to Rocpool Reserve, the best hotel in Inverness… or so we’ve heard. Stay tuned for the next post for my impressions.