This leg of the trip was the one that finally made me realise I’m not destined for uneventful travels. I have decided to embrace this with open arms – I’ve learnt to just go where the travel gods take me.
Plans: We drive from Inverness to Edinburgh, where we leave our rental car in a parking garage for most of the next couple of days while we explore by bus and on foot. The first half of this trip was in the Scottish Highlands – if you’d like to catch up on that first, you can read about it here.
When: June 2018
Day 1, Inverness – Edinburgh. The day I forget I don’t like whisky.
Hiring a car in Scotland was a great decision – the green views and opportunities to get lost for an hour at a time are amazing. We leave Inverness very early because we have an Edinburgh Castle tour booked, and with a little bit of effort we find a near(ish) car park, where we leave the car for the next two days. Our AirBnB has three flights of steep spiral stairs, which is a logistic challenge even without a giant suitcase.
I remember in this particular AirBnB we weren’t happy with the linen for the second bed (a sleeper couch) as there weren’t any. We were also next to a daycare centre that played the same children’s song very loudly for two hours every morning. But we did stay slap bang in the middle of the Royal Mile. You win some, you lose some.
We head off to Edinburgh Castle and I’m largely underwhelmed as I have ridiculous expectations. I mean, I did just see Versailles a week ago (I know, I know) so I find the castle a little grim and dreary. I realise that sounds very uneducated and uncultured.
We then go on a tour and tasting at The Scotch Whisky Experience in which I get so enthralled that I forget, for a few crucial minutes, that I do not drink whisky. I don’t let this small hurdle stop me and I enthusiastically select the variant I want to taste like the expert I now surely am (it was the one with the ocean breeze).
I continue to embarrass myself and unintentionally entertain the entire group by loudly protesting as the whisky (and reality) hits my palate. I end up having a Bailey’s-like liqueur in the pub afterwards, since they serve NOTHING that’s not whisky.
I’ve since learnt that I like Jameson. I’m excited. Don’t tell the Scots.
That evening we head off on the single worst tourist attraction I’ve ever experienced. Since Edinburgh is all goth and gore and darkness, I figured a spooky underground vault tour would be fitting. I was very, very, wrong.
We start above ground. The excessively over-animated guide, complete with vampire cape, tells tall tales with way too much theatrics for my liking. I wanted out within five minutes and so did my partner in crime, but we were both too polite to ruin the other’s experience so we both soldier on with feigned interest.
We both stand there, horrified, as the over-animated guide told stories of graphic suicides. The guide even came over and asked us if we were ok and STILL we smile and nod. So we probably at least half deserved it when it got way, way worse as we went underground. Don’t consider it if claustrophobia, extreme pitch black darkness or a feeling of complete lack of oxygen might bother you in the least. This was a family friendly tour. Not our finest two hours.
We head to an Irish pub for live music, a drink, and hopefully one of the MIB memory erasing treatments. The place is great but a Norwegian man has wedged himself onto a 10cm area of bench where my handbag used to be, and he is completely ignoring my snide remarks about him having a wife and children. He accidentally swiped through his pics too fast when he showed me a fjord and it was priceless – even his father in law was in the shot.
Not even bluntly asking him if he would like to sit somewhere else works – in fact, he’s now asked me to scoot over so he can sit more comfortably. He clearly is a gift to womankind, and he’s working hard to prove it. His very drunk friend (who is way beyond the point of being able to speak) is trying his best to sit on top of my very unimpressed friend. We’re tired. It was a long day. We give up and leave while Norwegian number one is mid-sentence.
Not my finest day abroad, but good for hours worth of absolute hysterics in bed afterwards while eating a kilogram of shortbread.
Day 2, Edinburgh. Normalcy makes an appearance
We get on the hop on and off the bus and get a good view of the city. Lené has a Hard Rock Cafe habit (she collects their glasses) and we go shopping after a few of their notorious cocktails.
We need to buy the second extra suitcase of the trip after we finish up in Boots, Superdrug and Primark, like the basic bitches we are. Fight me if you’ve found better sneaker socks or secret socks than Primark. We take a chance and buy business class upgrades for our flight back at a steal. It helps a little for wound-licking purposes – the Highlands stole both our hearts, and for the first time I don’t want to go home after a trip.
We go on an organised pub crawl that night, and to my complete surprise I love it. It didn’t start out super promising, and we’ve now clarified and confirmed and pinkie promised that either of us will veto any experience we’re not fully enjoying. Life’s too short.
But things quickly improve. It’s a small group of about 20 people (I’ve seen pub crawls with 100+ 20 year-olds, which very, very closely resembles my idea of hell), and we chat to a couple from Texas, a mom and daughter from France, and a bunch of Australian theatre students who turned out not to be part of the group. We eventually end up in a bizarre club with neon everything with two cousins from Canada. We booked this tour via Sandemans.
We got taken to interesting places, as well as a couple of hole-in-the-wall joints. Most of the places are gems we wouldn’t have found by ourselves. My absolute favourite was the Frankenstein Pub, which is where we were at midnight – it’s themed in a perfectly over the top way, and people dress up – I saw four wedding dresses on the dance floor.
We take things easy as we need to get ourselves to the airport the next morning.
Day 3, Edinburgh – Frankfurt. Things don’t always go according to plan
Long story short (long story includes three near misses, which means three trips through security with duty free liquids that need to be opened every time, and a flight with 864 German high schoolers that ALL had hickeys and serious hormonal body odour) and we’ve been diverted to Frankfurt due to bad weather.
We arrive too late to catch our connecting flight to JHB. Just like in the movies the security attendant at the other side of the gate shrugs her shoulders as she closes the doors.
It’s almost midnight, and we don’t have any other flight options. In a stroke of genius Lené checks the self service ticket machine and we find that our new flights have been issued for the following evening. We skip the 300-person deep queue that would get us a complimentary hotel room and quickly book our own online instead – I’ve previously spent 3+ hours in one of these queues behind 50 people so I vetoed it.
So here’s the thing – getting out of Frankfurt International is very close to impossible. Taxis aren’t allowed to take you to hotels – I don’t know why not. There’s no Uber. You can only take a hotel shuttle. But our hotel shuttle is nowhere to be found.
After an hour we still haven’t found said shuttle, and the wetness on my cheeks is a mixture of rain, tears and sweat. By this point a woman has rudely taken the phone receiver from my hand while I’m still trying to call a shuttle – it’s an odd system similar to an old-school public phone.
There are HUNDREDS of impatient displaced people with the same problem stomping up and down in the rain so we end up convincing a shuttle driver to just drop us off even though we weren’t on his route. Best 20 Euro ever spent.
We spend a small fortune on terrible refrigerated sandwiches, beer and water in the hotel bar, but we have a comfortable room to spend the night in and figure out what our next move is.
We don’t have our luggage, and our hand luggage doesn’t really have anything useful to offer. We have almost 24 hours. The only thing you can do is arrange an extra day’s leave, wash your big girl pants in the sink, wake up bright and early and explore the city in the t-shirt you bought at the airport.
Day 4, Frankfurt
A quick hop-on hop-off bus tour confirmed that just about everything in the city was closed on a Sunday, so we proceeded to spend the day drinking wine in Romerberg Square with a massive Brexit rally around us. I ate one of the best meals of my life that day – schnitzel, creamy mushroom sauce and kartoffel. Also had a frankurter and sauerkraut earlier in the day (because how could you not when you’re in Frankfurt?) but that was underwhelming.
It turned into a great day, and because I laugh when I get nervous/when things go wrong I suspect it’s the closest I’ve ever gotten to being asked to leave a restaurant. I completely lost my composure halfway through the day and couldn’t regain it for a very long time. A lot of it was because of my hand luggage curse, which you can read about here.
We eventually managed to explain the situation to the manager that initially kept glaring at us, and he ended up laughing with us and keeping our glasses topped up.
When we eventually boarded our flight I was very grateful for the business class upgrade. The luxury is phenomenal treat, and I wish I wasn’t so (ahem) wine-tired so I could experience and enjoy more of it – within a couple of hours all I wanted to do was sleep.
We arrive to a cold, dreary winter in Joburg and renovations to both bathrooms at home (Lené and I share a house). We ate shortbread and D’aim crunchy toffees (along with the Windsor fudge from our London trip) for weeks, and both gained the kilos to prove it.
Scotland has been my favourite travel destination thus far. The Scottish Highlands are exceptionally beautiful, and the people are very kind, generous and helpful. Let me know if you’ve been – I’d happily go spend another two weeks there – in fact, I’ll happily go live there!