Iceland & Scotland: The Rest

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I would be remiss in my duties as a traveloguer if I didn't document the last few days of my trip. Unfortunately, as I returned Stateside a week ago, the details are more than a little fuzzy around the edges so this could be an interesting test of what my brain can come up with. 

My family seems to be full of adventurers and one of my favorites parts of the trip was simply listening as they told their tales of past trips in various countries, recounting what traveling was like in the dark ages before cell phones. Part of me would love nothing more than to ditch all of my electronics and fly into a new place with no agenda other than immersing myself in the culture. And the other part of me really enjoys being able to text home lots of pictures of delicious food to make my family jealous. 

We left the serendipitously place little town of Blair Atholl in a less than gallant fashion, laughing uproariously as my grandfather announced that he wouldn't mind being the Duke of Atholl. I think that would make us an entire clan of Atholls. That may not be too far off. 

As a logophile, I rather enjoyed reading all of the road signs to note the Scot's turn of phrase; "carriageway" for the highway and "give way" for yield being two of my favorite substitutions. Town names were also quite diverting, particularly Killiecrankie - obviously the town which the Duke of Atholl visits when he's particularly sulky. 

En route back to Edinburgh we stopped in Aberfeldy for a quick respite from driving, eyes peeled for the queen of young adult literature. Just outside of town is the Castle Menzies (pronounced Men-yes but incorrectly transcribed some years ago) which legend says is the fortress upon which J.K. Rowling loosely based Hogwarts. We could certainly see some similarities - the long tables in the event hall; the giant open room of the Great Hall; the turrets overlooking the expansive landscape; and, of course, the brooms, shaped differently than the typical cleaning implements. After touring the potentially magical edifice we stopped in the castle's cafe for a spot of tea and cakes, my kind of pre-lunch meal. 

I could tell we were nearing the end of our trip because I had apparently gotten my fill (for the moment) of traditional Scottish food and opted instead for a good old greasy pizza and glass of wine. Good thing I got a large pizza too, because as we would later find out, our snooty Marriott hotel would nickle and dime us for breakfast, so I just had my pizza!

Leaving minus ten points for not seeing JKR but plus 30 for befriending an orange and gray cat sauntering down the sidewalk, we began what we thought would be short ride to the hotel. As it turns out, M8 is a very short road which turns immediately into M9. Who knew? Well, we do now, after a few well-placed roundabout turnarounds. 

We chose the hotel for its proximity to the airport, but it was a far cry from the amiable comfort of the bed-and-breakfast-style lodgings we had enjoyed earlier in the week. Chintzy as they were, they apparently decided that air conditioning was not a necessity. Well, when you've only got one outfit and no deodorant, keeping the sweating to a minimum is a must. In the end, however, I decided everyone could just suffer through my smelliness and I finally got a little bit of running in in the form of galloping and sprinting piggyback rides for the girls after losing a bet. I even managed to get a disapproving look from a hotel worker, making the sweat stains and ripped jeans well worth it. 

The next day my aunt, the girls and I had our last meal in Scotland (in a non-ominous way) and I somehow managed to save the best for last, thoroughly enjoying my bangers and mash with a local hard apple cider. I'm not always one for a basic meat and potatoes kind of meal, but this was transcendent. 

Eventually we parted ways and departed for Iceland making a quick pit-stop in London since the *ahem* budget airline EasyJet did not run on that particular day. Even though we landed close to midnight, the sun had only just "set" but the sky remained strangely light. This proved to be helpful in finding our apartment in the middle of the night, even if trying to sleep with light pouring in the windows at 2am was a bit disconcerting. 

Our full day in Iceland began with pure sugary goodness - at least for me - in the form of some sort of amazing meringue cake for breakfast. We had two items on our list for the last full day of the trip: horseback riding and whale watching. The former was nerve-wracking for the older two of us (I'd only been one other time) but the girls were naturals. We walked slowly, so I only needed to make sure that my horse stayed on the correct trail, but I won't say that the thought didn't cross my mind to dig my heels in and see what the docile-seeming horse could really do. I didn't, luckily, because not two minutes after we dismounted did it begin hailing furiously. 

Our last meal in Iceland, while terribly overpriced for the amount of food we got, was indescribably delicious and also a bit controversial. The only carnivore, my taste buds perked up when I saw the sign that said the place sold puffin and reindeer and I knew I had to try at least one of them. I got caught in the middle of a sibling war: Lucy was adamantly against the eating of puffin but Stella was begging me to eat it for the sole purpose of older sister antagonization. Naturally, my curiosity won out and I ordered the cured puffin (a little tough texturally but delicious!) and the "Piggy Smalls." This Icelandic doughnut filled with pulled pork and some kind of savory flavored mayonaise was singularly one of the best dishes I have ever eaten. 

That evening we set off for what we thought would be a short walk to the dock, but our boat was terribly marked so we thought we weren't going to make it at all. As it turns out, we did not in fact see a whale, but the ride was still enjoyable. Reprising the role of Michellin Man in red, we decked ourselves out in gloriously hideous bright red coveralls which were actually quite toasty against the frigid wind. Even with no whales in sight, I quite enjoyed chasing the sunset as it briefly dipped below the horizon. 

After two hours of sleep, I awoke at 4:30 Iceland time (12:30am EST) and walked to the bus station, took the bus to the airport, and set out on the final task of locating my luggage. Miraculously, I found it! Just in time to check it in again, crossing my fingers that it would return with me. Fortunately, it did. All told, the trip took me 23 hours from leaving the apartment to reaching my parents' house, with 3 flights and 1 long storm delay causing us to get back off of the completely boarded plane. 

In looking through my photos I'm only just beginning to fully appreciate how delightful this whole trip was and I'm already itching to get back to both countries to explore more.