Part 12… An unplanned night in Glasgow and off to see Avenue Q…

Despite my stomach bug, I still love Scotland.  I was inspired to make this video with pictures from 2016 and 2012.

I mentioned in prior posts that we meant to head to Stoke on Trent the day our cruise ended.  I didn’t plan for getting a stomach bug.  Sometimes your best laid plans don’t work out and by the time we reached Glasgow after our messy ride in a taxi cab, I knew I wasn’t going to be able to go anywhere in England that evening.  Our cab driver dropped us off at the Hertz rental car office near the Glasgow Central Train Station.

Let me just say that both the cab driver and the folks at Hertz were just wonderful to deal with.  I looked like I had been run over by a truck and felt even worse.  I had a bag of soiled clothes (explained on my main blog) that needed to be disposed of and a sour look on my face.  My stomach was cramping; I had diarrhea; and probably stank of shit and vomit.  But they all treated me with great kindness and compassion and for that, I am very grateful.

Bill explained to the folks at Hertz that we needed to delay our rental for a day because I needed to go to bed.  The manager of the Hertz office took one look at me and concurred, then helped us book a hotel room at the Hallmark Hotel, a place just around the corner.  One of his co-workers drove us to the hotel; the Hertz guy had even tried to haggle the price on our behalf (that old Scot thriftiness at work).  Unfortunately, the Hertz guy had booked us using his phone, so he got the dates wrong.  They didn’t have a record of our booking and there were no standard rooms left.  We ended up paying a lot for our one night stay in a mediocre hotel.  At the time I didn’t really care much, though.  I just wanted to go to bed.  Besides making me erupt from every orifice, the virus also made me very sleepy.

We were on the first floor, but I barely made it up there even using the elevator.  Once we got into the room, I decided to take a shower.  The only towels in the bathroom were hair towels.  I didn’t care.  I turned on the water and sat down in the tub while the water came down on me.  And then I hurled again.

Once I was finished cleaning up, I crawled into bed and fell asleep.  Bill went out to find me fluids and ended up at the Glasgow Central Train Station, where new cruise passengers were waiting like we were the week prior.  He came back with Milk of Magnesia and very strong ginger beer.  I didn’t try the Milk of Magnesia, since I read that it was a laxative and I sure as hell didn’t need one of those.  Later, he went out and got me some Coke and 7Up, then took himself to dinner while I snoozed.  He also emailed the folks at the Shawgate Farm Guest House in Foxt, which is where I had originally booked us.

Our room at Shawgate Farm Guest House.

The toilet and shower were a little tricky.

I’m pleased to say that I felt a whole lot better the next morning, though I still had stomach cramps and diarrhea.  Bill walked to the Hertz office and came back with a nice car for us.  The manager had upgraded us to a larger car with an automatic transmission and even took off 35 GBP because of the hotel error.  We were blown away by and grateful for how kind he was to us.  If we ever need another rental car in Glasgow, he will definitely get our business.

Once we checked out of the hotel, Bill set about driving on the left for the first time.  I think we were both surprised that he handled it seamlessly.  It took several hours to get to our hotel near Stoke.  As long as we were there in time to see Avenue Q at the Regent Theatre, all would be okay.  Driving from Scotland to England gave me an odd sense of deja vu.  At times, I felt like I was on either I-95 or I-81 in Virginia.  It’s easy to see why my family ended up settling there once they left the British Isles.

Shawgate Farm Guest House…

Our lodging near Stoke turned out to be further away from the city than I’d originally realized.  It took awhile to get there, mainly due to us getting to town as school was letting out.  It was interesting to see all the kids walking home alone or with their parents.  One little girl looked upset as she handed her dad a note.  Maybe it was from her teacher?

Kids coming home from school.

I saw a cheeky ad for a hand car wash.  Its slogan was “Best hand job in town.”  Sex sells.

Our hostess at the Shawgate Farm Guest House was a pretty lady named Nina who had a five month old infant.  She lit up when we told her we live in Germany.  It turns out she is German and hails from Frankfurt.  She showed us to our room with its charming canopy bed and bidet.  The Shawgate Farm Guest House also had lots of mama sheep outside, guarding their babies.  I got a kick out of how they all bravely came forward, bleating at us indignantly, even though we were well behind the fence and were no threat to their lambs.

These were some protective mama sheep!

We ended up skipping dinner because we didn’t really have time to eat and I still had no appetite.  But we did get “blue boxes” at the theater, which offered snacks and cheap wine.  I drank one cup of wine and gave the other to Bill.

Avenue Q was fabulous!  I related to it on many levels.  Not only is it a wickedly funny show, especially for overeducated housewives like me, it’s also got kind of a nice moral to it.  We’re reminded that tough times don’t last.  At the end of the show, they even threw in a hilarious reference to Donald Trump.  We also ended up with front row seats, which was awesome.  For once, I didn’t have a tall person sitting in front of me.  I had been worried about parking and it was a bit of a challenge until Bill found a nearby parking garage.  Then he spent several stressful minutes trying to figure out how to park and pay.

Our view of the stage.


Our breakfast at the guest house was very good, though I was still a little fragile and could barely manage half of it.

On another day, this would have been awesome!


I wish we could have spent the second night at the B&B.  Though Stoke is not a very pretty town, the B&B is located in a lovely rural area.  It would have been nice to take a couple of walks around there.  They only charged us half of the first night’s rate, because they couldn’t rebook it due to our late cancellation.  I wasn’t expecting them to give us a break and really appreciated it.  Not all innkeepers are that understanding.

Unfortunately, Bill started showing symptoms of the virus early Thursday morning, so we beat a hasty retreat and made our way to the town of Watton in Norfolk.  We would be staying there for three nights so I could explore Mildenhall, the town where I lived when I was very young and where my first memories were formed.


Part 1… What the hell am I doing in Scotland again?

Beautiful sunset on the first night of our cruise.  We were near Greenock.

In November 2012, Bill and I celebrated our tenth wedding anniversary in Scotland.  We did two five night cruises on Hebridean Princess, a former car ferry turned tiny luxury cruise ship.  That ten night cruise was mostly marvelous!  We were bowled over by Scotland’s charm and beauty and the fantastic personal service we received on Hebridean Princess.

On that first trip, I felt a real kinship with Scotland, which is where a lot of my forebears hailed from before they ended up in the Rockbridge County area of Virginia in the 1700s.  Not all of my people were Scottish, but as I’ve been studying my origins, I’ve found out that it was once home for quite a few of my ancestors.  I can only guess why so many of them ended up in Virginia when they did.  One thing I have noticed, though, is that Rockbridge County looks a lot like Scotland, only with less water and lower mountains.

Of course, I have also discovered roots in Germany.  In fact, it turns out I have more German ancestry than I initially realized.  Some enterprising members of my extended family have done genealogy work and left it available for slackers like me and I have found ties to places like Rhineland and Hessen… and even Karlsruhe!  Germany also has a special place in my heart, but I live there now, see it most every day, and was badly in need of a change of scenery.

Also, we had a bit of a tragedy on that first Hebridean cruise that kind of ruined the last day for us.  Our sweet old bagel (beagle/basset hound mix) MacGregor became very ill while we were away and while we were on the Princess, we got the devastating news that he needed to be euthanized.  Fortunately, we were able to get back to North Carolina to see MacGregor and get him properly diagnosed.  We ended up taking him to NC State, where he had an MRI.  Sadly, he had a highly malignant tumor invading his spinal column that we hadn’t known about.  Nothing could be done for MacGregor; so we said goodbye to him December 18, 2012.  A month later, inspired by the beauty and splendor of Scotland, we named our next rescue dog Arran, after one of our favorite Scottish islands discovered on that first trip.

For three years, I pined to go back to Scotland and try another Hebridean cruise.  The ship carries only 49 passengers.  The food and service are impeccable.  It’s truly all inclusive and very, very Scottish.  Last year, I steered my mom to a cruise on Royal Crown, the ship Hebridean leases every summer for its European river cruises.  Mom spent two weeks on Royal Crown and had a fantastic time.  When she visited us in July 2015, her stories about her cruise reminded me that it was high time we took another voyage.  I saw a prime opportunity when we got notified of a special offer for the brand new “Spirit of Scotland” tour offered from March 15-22.  This would be a cruise focused on touring whisky distilleries.  A whisky expert would be onboard.  And if we booked early, we’d even get a discount.  I made a proposal to Bill, who had a ball on our first cruise.  The prospect of drinking whiskies all week was a great incentive for him to say yes to the boat.

One thing I did differently for this cruise was booking directly with the main office in England.  I sent an email to Johnathan Moffat, who I think is in charge of UK sales… Anyway, we quickly got somewhat familiar with each other through emails as I arranged the trip.  Though Hebridean cruises charges a fee for paying with a credit card and only accepts payments in pounds sterling, I think we may have paid less by booking through the UK instead of through the North American sales office.  Also, the UK office didn’t charge us for taking the coach to the Greenock cruise terminal.  On our first cruise, booked through a broker in the United States, we paid $80 for Bill and me to ride the bus… This time, it was included in the price of the cruise.  That’s something to keep in mind if this blog encourages anyone to book a cruise on Hebridean Princess.

So, once we had decided to go, I started making plans for our trip.  I knew we’d need at least one night in Glasgow.  Sure, we could have arranged for the coach to pick us up at the airport in Glasgow, but I knew I liked Glasgow and wanted to see it again.  I also wanted to see Avenue Q, a very irreverent musical currently touring the United Kingdom.  Originally, I had planned our trip to start in Belfast, since Avenue Q was showing there the weekend before our cruise was to start.  But we discovered Max, our dog sitter, was not going to be available at that time.  The earliest we could get to Glasgow was Monday, March 14th.  That would give us one night in Glasgow.  Although I like to try out new hotels, I decided to book us a room at the Carlton George, which is where we stayed the first time we visited Glasgow in 2012.

I have become a big fan of Carlton hotels.  So far, Bill and I have stayed in three of them and they have all been very comfortable and convenient.  Two of the three, Carlton George and Carlton Square (in Haarlem, The Netherlands), even offer free minibars.  That means free booze!  The first time we stayed at Carlton George, I went cheap and booked a basic room.  This time, I booked an executive room, which gave us access to the very nice executive lounge on the seventh floor.

Realizing that our cruise started and ended on a Tuesday, Bill decided to take off work the rest of the following week.  He’s worked very hard in Germany since August 2014, so his boss was very agreeable to the idea of him burning up some leave.  The plan to take the rest of the week off worked out perfectly, since Avenue Q was going to be playing in Stoke on Trent the week following our cruise.  It was on the way to Mildenhall Air Force Base, which is another place I’ve been dying to see for many years.  My father’s last assignment was at Mildenhall and it’s where most of my very first memories were formed.  I wanted to go back there and see it again.  Our initial plan was to spend one night in Glasgow, the week on Hebridean Princess, two nights in Stoke, and three nights in Mildenhall.

Next, I booked our flights.  I chose KLM because it offered the best connections and most reasonable prices.  Our inbound flight came into Glasgow, but I wasn’t sure which airport we should use for leaving the United Kingdom.  I originally toyed with trying to use Stanstead Airport, but the flights I found that worked for us were obscenely expensive.  I dreaded the idea of using a London airport, since I knew Bill would be driving and probably freaking out over that.  Then I discovered the lovely Norwich Airport, located not so far from Mildenhall.  Then I realized that our flight would be early on Easter morning, so instead of staying near the Air Force base, I chose lodging in Watton, which is on the road to the Norwich Airport.  That turned out to be a very good decision.  We had a wonderful drive to the airport this morning.  Seriously… if you’re headed to Mildenhall or Norfolk in the UK, you should consider using the Norwich International Airport.

Once the trip was planned, Bill started working out so he could get back into his dress blues.  We remembered from our first cruise that folks on Hebridean Princess get a huge kick out of US military uniforms!  Speaking of which, I know I have a lot of military readers and many of them have kids.  I want to state upfront that Hebridean Princess is pretty much an adults only cruise.  Kids under age nine are not allowed and, to be very honest, I highly doubt most youngsters would enjoy the cruise.  At age 43, I was among the youngest of the passengers, if you get my drift.  However, it is a fabulous cruise for couples, especially those middle aged and older.  It’s also a great cruise for single travelers and elderly folks, as long as they are active and able bodied.  The ship does not have any elevators and many of the excursions involve walking.

Another thing I want to mention is that the fares for Hebridean Princess are pretty steep.  However, Bill and I have now done three cruises on the Princess and have yet to have a bill to pay at the end of the trip.  When they say it’s all-inclusive, they really mean it.  You pay your fare and literally don’t have to pay another dime when you’re on the ship.   Only a few things are not included in the fare and they generally involve library wines or items from the gift shop.  So yeah, once you’ve paid, you really are a guest in every sense of the word.

A beautiful sunset over Oban… taken on the last night of the Spirit of Scotland cruise.

Ten things I learned in Scotland and England…

We’re home at last!  And boy, did we have ourselves an eventful trip!  Since we were gone for almost two weeks and a lot happened, I’m going to do something now that I usually do after I write up my vacations.  I’m going to type a list of ten things I learned on our most recent trip to Scotland and England.  I’m doing that now because I know some readers would prefer a quick and dirty recap and I have a feeling this trip report will consist of many moving parts.

Even though Bill and I have been to England and Scotland before– and I even lived in England at one time in my life– we always learn new things when we travel.  And this trip taught us some truly surprising things.  We spent the first week on a whisky cruise on Hebridean Princess in Scotland.  The cruise focused on visits to whisky distilleries, though we also had a few non boozy excursions.   Next, we went to England and caught Avenue Q in Stoke on Trent and visited my old stomping grounds near Mildenhall Air Force Base.  We had an unforgettable trip that I’m itching to share with everyone.  So here goes.

10.  Apparently, Scotland has its own money.  Yes, it’s true.  Even though Scotland voted to remain a member of the United Kingdom, more than once, we ran into problems when we tried to use Scottish bills in England.  In fact, this morning Bill tried to pay a fee at the Norwich airport with a Scottish note and it didn’t work!  He quipped that he’d have to find a “non-Confederate” note.  But, just so you know, Scottish money is legal tender in England.  It’s just that they don’t seem to see it that much or something.

9.  Driving on the left isn’t so hard.  Bill was very nervous about trying to drive in the United Kingdom.  As it turned out, it wasn’t bad at all.  We had visions of Clark Griswold style driving mishaps when we first considered driving in the UK, but Bill did just fine!  And now he has a new skill to brag about.

We did not have any encounters with Eric Idle in England.


8.  There are many roundabouts in England… more than there are in Germany.  Fortunately, none we encountered were as bad as this one.

I heard there’s a really scary one in Swindon, though…


7.  My old house in England still looks the same as it did in 1978.  We drove to Mildenhall Air Force Base, which is where my dad did his very last assignment as an Air Force lieutenant colonel.  I was almost six years old when we left England, so it’s where my earliest memories come from.  Very surprisingly, it was easy to find the housing area where I once lived and the house my family lived in.  I sent a photo to my much older sisters who confirmed that I got it right.

6.  But Mildenhall itself is very different…  There are some things around the base that are the same, but I was very shocked by how many more people are there and how much housing there is.  Also, I was surprised by the traffic!  Forty years ago, Mildenhall was surrounded by small towns and lots of open space.  Not so, now.

5.  The story my mom told me about the street named after my dad was not bullshit…  And I will write an updated post about that eventually to explain everything.  Suffice to say, I found the street supposedly named after my dad and having seen it and noted where it is, I believe my mom’s tale was truthful.

4.  It’s not a good idea to drink from the same cup, especially among strangers.   Even though I am supposedly “overeducated” with master’s degrees in social work and public health, sometimes I still do really stupid things.  I did something dumb on this trip and ended up in deep doo doo.  On a related note, toilets in the UK are kind of weird.  It takes practice to be able to flush them effectively.

3.  Scotland is as beautiful in March as it is in November…  I managed to get some gorgeous photos on this trip.  I also got lots of video, which I hope to turn into a new YouTube film.  I will be busy for the next couple of weeks!

2.  Haggis can be delicious!  I don’t remember liking haggis that much the first time I tried it, but this last time, I thought it was very tasty.  That was quite a surprise for me.  I don’t know if it was because of the chefs on Hebridean Princess or just because of my Scottish ancestry.  😉  Having written that, I think haggis will be one of those dishes I sample only when I am in Scotland among people in kilts and surrounded by whisky.

1.  A cruise on Hebridean Princess is a marvelous, yet expensive way to see Scotland.  Okay, I knew that already, but it was reaffirmed on this last trip, even though I got hit with a stomach bug on the last day.  I will explain more about what happened as I blog… or, for those who have strong stomachs and high curiosity, there is a rather graphic account on my main blog.  I promise to keep the account on this blog more or less PG rated.

Anchors Aweigh!

Now, on with my trip report!