CAR TOUR 2007
04.09.2007 - 18.09.2007
Selling Timmy proved easier than we thought. So after 4 days there we were... A fist full of fifties and no real plan.
One of my mums best friends from childhood lives in Birmingham and, having met the family before and struck up an instant friendship with their son David, that was to be our first stop. Keeping with our normal habit of not planning anything until the last minute, we caught a train up to Birmingham from London and gave David a surprise call from the station. Although we had emailed a few times and let him know we planned to visit, we probably did catch him a bit off guard. That said he and his lovely Lady, Ruth, immediately set out making us right at home and ensuring we got the royal tour of their fair city.
David and Ruth at their Castle
I had been to Birmingham before sand although it was a long time ago, not much remains to be recognised. The centre of town has been nearly completely renovated into a hip café scene. Swanky new apartments and million dollar shopping malls cater for the upper end of the spending set. There is a fantastic concert hall and the public spaces around the centre are filled with installation art pieces, like the iron man. Birmingham appears like a post renovation rescue apartment, only on a grander scale. David and Ruth took us out to a local hangout playing great live music. We strolled the centre of town the next day and discovered a few local secrets, like LIGRIV, and the Floozy in the Jacussi.
David and I picked up exactly where we had left off after the Great Ocean Road trip way back in the '90s. We eventually left them on the Monday for Scotland, with the hope that they will come and visit us in Istanbul.
We had arranged a cheap flight to Edinburgh, well to be honest, David had arranged us a cheap flight to Edinburgh. When we arrived we decided that we would hire a car to "do the top end" of Scotland in style. Thus began "CAR TOUR".
Edinburgh airport is about 10 km out of town, that should take about 10 minutes driving time. We checked in to our hostel about 2 hours after arrival, after unsuccessfully negotiating the relatively easy trip to the centre of town. Needless to say, we took a rather scenic route through some lesser visited suburbs. Somewhere along the way we realised that we had left the only map we had - in the Lonely planet, at the hire car check in counter back at the airport, some 10 km (or 2 hours) drive away. Our Hostel was pretty close to the main action so we had plenty of time to wander around and enjoy the city. What an amazing city it is too. Edinburgh is compact enough that you can see it all in a day, and beautiful enough that you never want to leave.
We did though, after returning to the Airport and collecting our good book, we set off on the drive North to Inverness. Up over the Grampian mountains through Perth to Inverness is an amazing drive and whet our appetite for the highlands to come.
The highlight of our visit to Inverness was the short drive to its famous waterway - Loch Ness. Shortly after the first views of the Loch, you come to the Loch Ness visitors Centre. A new swanky, multimedia experience centre where you get to immerse yourself in the mystery and myth associated with the Lochs most famous inhabitant. Nessie the Loch Ness Monster. Though it was a fantastic exhibition, with movies and actual research equipment that tells the tale from Medieval times, though the sensational early years up to the scientific heyday of research in the 80s, I did notice that quite an important piece of history had been grossly ignored... I know for a fact that the Goodies conducted their own research into the Loch Ness Monster and none of that features. Shame. Seriously though, it is worth the money to go so make sure you stop in and have a look around. A short drive further down the Loch is Urchart Castle. Again a great spot well worth the visit.
Fed up with the constant strain of listening to me repeatedly asking if that ripple is the Loch Ness Monster, Meaghan suggested we push on up further North towards the Highlands.
The drive North out of Inverness gets more and more scenic as you head up over the highlands to the Northern Coast. A lot of the drive is on single lane roads skirting the edges of Lochs, it was pouring with rain a lot of the time so it should have been no real surprise when we were run off the road by a blind campervan driver. We ended up in a ditch in the pouring rain. Luckily the Citroen Picasso is light enough that we were able to literally lift it back onto the road and keep going.
We found our way to a little village right on the coast called Dounreay. The pictures should give you some idea of how cool this place is. We camped at the back of a pub and walked down to the beach the next morning. The beach was a real surprise. I don't think it would ever be warm enough for me to swim, but it was beautiful none the less.
For the next two days the driving just got better and better, the scenery was amazing. The weather didn't really improve much but it was beautiful to see the Lochs, and besides, its the Scottish Highlands, its supposed to be wet, cold and muddy. We couldn't help but wonder about these Scotsmen, they invented gold and they play it is skirts with no undies on, in the mud.
The Scottish Highlands
After driving the coast the whole way across the North of Scotland, we stayed at Kyle of Loch Alshe. The next day we drove way to far on the push to get to the Rugby in Cardiff. We finally get to Wye and stayed in a really cool 150 year old house with a really psycho land lady. Although fearing for our lives, we did manage to get well rested for the Rugby the next day.
On Sat 15 September Australia (The Wallabies) played Wales in the preliminary round of the 2007 Rugby World Cup, at Millenium stadium, Cardiff... And we were there.
We had stayed at Ross on Wye North of Cardiff the night before after a long drive South from Kyle on Loch Alshe. The proprietress proved to be quite a challenge with her incessant stories of her ex husband, ex partners and ex ex's - for a moment we thought we'd discovered the true bunny boiler. The next day, we made the short trip to Cardiff and caught up with Jen and Steve.
What a game, our boys were the strongest team from the opening whistle (although the final moments of the second half had a few Aussie fans hearts in mouths).
We actually met up with a couple of Meaghan's wok buddies. Can you beleive that?
Leaving Jen and Steve (again) we headed off to Oxford. University town and, surprisingly, the most expensive hotel prices yet. After selling two of Meaghan's limbs and offering the hire car as collateral, we checked into the Victoria hotel, 10 minutes walk from the centre of town and enjoyed our final night on Great Britain soil.
Handing back the car the next day we were a little fearful of the cost of repairs to the front end - damage caused by being run of the road by the campervan in Scotland. Not for long though, Megs started a 'discussion' with the recently arrived Eastern European ladychild serving us about the fuel (apparently a quarter of a tank costs 38 Pounds to fill up - that's about 100 Australian Dollars)... Needless to say, the attendant got us to sign on the dotted line and away we went.. Walking away we noticed that under the dotted line there was the following statement...
"Get a receipt and we guarantee no more to pay"
We still think it is expensive fuel but it proved to be really cheap panel beating.
Another nervous moment as we approached the check in desk for our economic, though salubrious, airline "WHIZ AIR"... We were sure that no real airline could be called WHIZ AIR and that we had been the victim of some really funny internet joke. All proved to be needless concern though and the trip to Croatia was uneventful.