June 11-21, 2014
Our two week holiday got off to an awkward start when I was denied access to England. It was a complete new-to-Europe mistake on my part: England required more than my Swiss ID card to get into the country. Foolishliy, I figured that since the UK was part of the EU, it would be similar to my crossings into Germany, France, Italy, Austria and Liechtenstein. I was wrong. The Immigration Control officer at Calias was polite in informing me of my stupidity – multiple times – and sent us away. .
We still had 12 days of holiday to exploit and with the heatwave that had settled over Europe, we knew that we had to go somewhere. We looked at few different options before deciding to go with something close to our original plan: Scotland. The temperatures looked good and it was some place that we wanted to visit anyway. We found a flight, made arrangements to rent a cottage and a car. We were going to the Highlands!
Our flight was early out of Mulhouse. Because it was a Wednesday morning, most of the passengers were businessmen with their suits and small travel packs and heading for Paris. As Dan and I stood at the gate waiting to board we looked out at the tarmac, watching the pre-fight activity. A few workers were standing around the steps into the rear of the plane when a police car pulled up directly next the plane. We watched as a man in plain clothes got out of the car and walked around to the other side. He was joined by a second officer who, together, bodily dragged a third man out of the vehicle. At first I thought that it was a body wrapped up in cloth, they had to wrestle with it so much. But then we realized that it was a prisoner being taken on board our flight. Interesting!
The officers had settled the prisoner into the back row, up against the wall. He struggled with the officer next to him a couple of times, and I heard his muffled shouts early in the flight, but eventually he settled down for the ride.
Our flight was uneventful. We had to change planes in Paris but then were soon on our way to Aberdeen. We were one of the last people off the plane and stood patiently in line for customs. I had my passport in hand – nothing would stop me this time!
I handed my passport to the woman behind the Immigration desk and she ran it through her machine. Then she typed a couple of things and ran the passport through again. And then she asked me if I’ve ever been denied access to the UK before. Calais was going to haunt me… I explained our attempt to cross without the passport just a couple of days prior. She handed me a form that explained that I should wait patiently while she disappeared with my passport.
Dan and I sat in the waiting area and wondered what was going on. I was doubtful that I would be denied access, but then again, I was also surprised that Calais wouldn’t let me in. The Immigration officer came back after a few minutes and asked me to clarify what had happened in Calais. I explained more throughly and she smiled knowingly. She said that there was a note on my passport that should not have been in the records and she would make a note to have it removed to prevent problems in the future. That would be nice! She stamped my entry and wished us a pleasant stay in Scotland.
I was now legally in Scotland. We had arranged for a rental car to use while we visited, a source of concern for me as not only would I have to deal with driving on the “wrong” side of the road, but I would have to do with with a left hand manual drive car! Fortunately, the pedals and gearing are the same as right hand drive cars, so it was just a matter of training my left hand to reach for the shifter and keeping my right hand on the wheel. Our chariot was a Vauxhall Corsa. It was a brilliant yellow, but that was about the only thing brilliant about it. The car, while comfortable, had about as much power as my 1971 VW Beetle. But it was cheap (literally), easy to find in the car park, and never broke down. I guess I shouldn’t complain too much. I christened it “the Lemon”.
Thank goodness we brought our own GPS and even so, we got turned around in simply trying to leave the rental lot. Soon we were on the motorway and carefully navigating roundabouts. Our cottage was in Aviemore, a mere two and a half hours away – if you took the “faster” route. Instead, Dan lead us directly through the heart of the Highlands. The weather was fantastic and we enjoyed our first views of Scotland. But we were also hungry. We had left Basel at six o’clock in the morning and it was now well after one in the afternoon. Dan kept suggesting that we’d find something “in the next town”, only to find that “the next town” held only a dozen or so houses along the main street and not a single source of food to be found. Fortunately, we finally came upon Kildrummy Castle, complete with Inn and Restaurant. Jackpot!
Kildrummy Castle Hotel
The hotel and restaurant were spectacular. The castle was a pile of ruins across the car park. But we were here for food and we sat down in the bar where the only other patron was enjoying his meal. Dan was unsettled by the lack of people but I tried to explain that it was mid-June and mid-afternoon. I thought that it was perfectly acceptable. And besides, our food was quick to come and our waiter had time to chat with us while we ate.
The castle ruins
After lunch we drove directly to Aviemore, arrived at our rental cottage and unpacked the car. It was a big cottage – bigger than we needed – but it was nicely fitted out with everything that we’d need to feel at home. We walked to the shopping district of Aviemore and found a fish ‘n chip shop and a grocery store. We were set!
The car really struggled on this hill
The Cairn Cottage
Did I mention the excellent weather?
Walking home from the store
It was time to recharge after a day of traveling – and figure our where to go tomorrow.