Scotland, Here I Come…

I should be working on my termpaper at the moment. And I will continue to do that later tonight, because I really really have to work on that. I started working on it yesterday and this afternoon and realized that it definitely will take quite some time to finish it. I’ve still got two weeks, which should be enough, but it won’t write itself.

Actually I had planned to write this blog post already yesterday, but then I decided to spend some time at the White House and the watching just the 2h season premiere of season 4 turned into watching the first four episodes in a row. I could go on and on about how much I enjoyed watching it and how much I love this show and it’s characters, but I’d risk boring most of you, so I won’t do it. Just some keywords for my fellow West Wing Fans: Donna in charge in Indiana, CJ on the Rock the Vote stage, Sam’s hockey talk with Mallory, Charlie being a “Big Brother” and even Debbie Fiderer. I liked her a lot when we first met her and I’m sure she’ll be a great addition to the staff. Oh, well there were so many things…

But back to the original purpose of this post. On Wednesday evening I booked aprox. 90% of my summer vacation. Rather spontaneously now, although its basic had been planned or been thought of for a while now. I wasn’t sure if I could actually go on vacation this summer or if it would clash with some work stuff and Greens stuff, because we’ve got elections at the end of August. A few weeks ago I also considered getting a bigger apartement and even started to look around and then I thought maybe I should spend my money (and time and thoughts) on moving and not on vacationing.
Until I realized that both ideas seem to have stalled each other. I suddenly wasn’t sure which one to pursue first and thus seemed to not really act on any one of them. When I realized that though I just spent a short time thinking about which was more important. Or better which could be carried out later this year as well. And that obviously was not the vacation. There will be suitable apartements available later this year. I don’t have to start looking now and miss out on a summer vacation because of that.

On Wednesday I talked to my coworker on the phone and I brought up vacations plans, because the office has to be manned and we can’t go on vacation the same time. He has his own cottage and is more flexible and It turns out he’s fine with me going first. So on Wednesday evening I set my vacation plans in motion. As I worked out most of it some time earlier this year it was pretty easy and done quickly, even though the whole trip and organization might look rather complicated at first. The thing is: I don’t want to travel by plane. It’s not that I don’t like flying or am afraid of flying.
But during a grad school seminar about Climate Change last year I realized that cutting back on my airmiles might be an easy but also huge step to reduce my carbon footprint. It’s not that I flew that much before anyway, but I definitely flew more than I actually needed to. Because getting on a plane to cover a certain distance is so simple and fast and cheap. But as a member of the Greens I actually believe in certain things and I advocate a change in consumption and lifestyle and such and I try to live by that, because I basically think it’s the right thing to do. I still hopped on a plane a few times without considering the enviromental impact of this action. I’m human after all. And I’m still feeling a bit guilty about the spontaneous London trip last year, even though I donated money to carbon offsetting via atmosfair (for every flight I took in the recent years, though).
So I decided to cut back on my airmiles in the future. I won’t give up flying entirely, because I want to go back to Canada/US some day (soon). But this year’s vacation was definitley supposed to take place without getting on a plane. I guess it’s a good thing that I actually like getting somewhere on a train. Much more than taking the car or a coach bus. I started to research which of the few European countries I want to visit some day could be reached by train in a bearable amount of time. And it turned out that Scotland is in fact within a days reach. A day on trains but still just a day. 11 hours to be exact. Considering the time it takes to get to the airport, the time you have to be there in advance, the length of the flight, the time it takes to wait for your luggage and to get from the airport into the town, going there on plane would take about 6 hours. Which is still 5 hours (half a day) less than the train, but it’s not really that big a difference. At least to me it isn’t. And the big advantage of going by train is that I can do a stop-over in London either on the way to or from Scotland, which would be difficult to do while flying.
The next thing I had to research were the costs of course. Which turned out to be a bit tricky to find out. You might think that it’s much more expensive than going on the plane, but that’s not necessarily true. It takes a while to find out the best deal though and of course you have to give up the flexibility of being able to just take any train at any time you want to. But you’re not at all flexible with flying either. You book a flight and have to take exactly that flight. And just like with booking a flight there are special prices for different weekdays / times of days. Like I said it was a bit tricky to find out and took some researching and playing around with different schedules and travel plans. I actually changed parts of my plan completely on Wednesday, when I started to actually book it all.

So here my vacation schedule for the summer: I’ll be leaving for London on noon Friday 19th June. Officially at 12.55 pm at my home train station but I might take an earlier train. I have to catch the 2.44 pm in Cologne going to Bruxelles, where I will change to the Eurostar and will be arriving at St. Pancras at 06.07 pm. This trip will only cost 54 EUR (special London deal of German Rail company DB). I actually wanted to stop in London on my way back, but this special deal wasn’t availabe for the trips in the early morning of any of the days around the time I had to start my vacation. I haven’t been able to book my return trip yet, because you can only book this offer three months in advance, which will be some time next week. It’s a tiny risk to have booked the rest of the trip without knowing that I can get back from London in the end on an equally cheap way, but I’ll take that risk. And I might get some other discounts on the standard travel with booking this far in advance.

I’ll be staying in London until Tuesday 23rd (booked my hotel in West Kensington on the HRS website on Wednesday as well). Train travel in the UK seemed to be a rather complicated matter, with different train companies and it’s really not that cheap either. Which might have been a deal breaker for the whole vacation idea because there are just so many things you can compromise on when you’re scheduling going from one place to the other. I don’t know when or how I found out about another special offer (from the DB, but originally BritRail), the BritRail FlexiPass. Which allows European citiziens residing outside the UK unlimited train travel in the UK on a certain amount of days. I just need it for two days: going from London to Scotland and back. I’ll have to pay extra for the trip from Glasgow to Edinburgh, but that can’t be that expensive. This pass costs 122 EUR and there is just no way I could pay any less if I bought regular or even any kind of special deal tickets in the UK. Plus I’m more flexible in my travel, except for the dates of course, but that’s bound by my hotel bookings after all. The whole transportation consequently hopefully costs me less than 250 EUR and I doubt I could have gotten a Germany – London – Scotland – Germany flight for that price.

I’ll be staying in Glasgow for four days (haven’t heard anything back from the hotel I booked yet, which troubles me a tiny bit, but I’m sure I’d find some other place to stay if the one I choose doesn’t work out). I want to visit Loch Lormond and New Lanark which are both easier reached from Glasgow, that’s why I’m staying there a whole four days. On Saturday 27th I’ll be transfering to Edinburgh and do a 5-days-tour of Scotland. This was in fact the second item to book once I had gotten the special deal train ticket to London :-) In a minicoach with a small group and hopefully a great guide. Highlands, Isle of Skye and all the beauties of this country. And after that I’ll stay another four days in Edinburgh to explore the city (accomodation is already booked as well) before I will head back home viia London and I really have to keep my fingers crossed that this special “DB London deal” offer will be available for that day. I’ll just have to wait and see.

So, now you know in detail how I’m going to be spending parts of my summer :-). And trust me I’m already insanely excited about it. I think making up my mind to choose vacation over apartment hunting and to actually set it all in motion was just what I needed after this past few days with all the annoying and crappy health issues. Things to look forward to. Happy things. Exciting things. And it’s going to be exciting to make some more detailed plans, especially for my days in the cities. I have no idea how to spend my time in London, but I’m sure I’ll think of something :-) And I will spend quite some time reading all my travel guides over the weekend. And I definitely have to go shopping at Globetrotter in Cologne and try to find a new suitcase or backback (or a combination of both, which I have seen in a catalogue some time ago). All very very exciting and just what I need right now…

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