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A few final thoughts about Scotland

Started: 2014-06-08 12:39:27

Submitted: 2014-06-08 14:03:21

Visibility: World-readable

In which the intrepid narrator contemplates lessons learned from his eleven-day trip to Scotland

Now that I've finished recording our recent trip to Scotland (though I'm still working through the 3.4 gigs of photos I took; you can see the ones I've posted here), I have some thoughts on what worked well and things that I might have done better, in hopes of informing my future trips.

Calvin and Kiesa in the ruins of Urquhart Castle
Calvin and Kiesa in the ruins of Urquhart Castle

We tried to pack all of our clothing for all three of us into one 25" rolling suitcase (with about 4500 cubic inches of volume), which almost worked, but we had to overflow into one extra bag. (We were not worried about baggage fees on the plane -- British Airways gave us two free bags each -- but the logistics of carting bags around on the ground.) The overflow bag was a bit awkward; it was small enough to fit over the handle on the rolling suitcase, which was nice, but it was really too small to fit very much. We left home with our suitcases almost at capacity, and had we done much shopping we would have had a harder time fitting everything in. (Shopping while on vacation is still a past-time that I'm deeply ambivalent about -- my shelves are full with nice artifacts from my travels, but it takes a great deal of effort to find something that isn't crap.) Our luggage was appropriately sized so that I could carry all of the bags and Kiesa could carry Calvin when necessary, if we were in danger of being late for our train.

I packed my clothing in stuff sacks, which did a great job of compressing the clothing to help it fit in the suitcase (and also threatened to overload the airline's weight limit). Kiesa was worried about the external fragmentation between the cylinders formed by the filled stuff sacks, but the end result of packing without the stuff sacks seemed to be that the clothing took even more room. If we were really ambitious we'd get travel cubes to compact and subdivide our clothing inside the suitcase, but I thought that carefully packing specific clothing or other items to fill the space between the stuff sacks worked well enough.

I packed expecting to do laundry at our hotel in Inverness, halfway through the trip, which worked out well enough, though not inexpensively. I did decide that my pants were not dirty enough to justify paying £9 per pair. Kiesa packed enough clothing for herself and Calvin to not require laundry during the trip.

Our mobile phones were a mixed bag. I fantasize that, someday, I'll be able to land in a foreign country and be able to use my phone without incurring exorbitant roaming charges. Until then, I have to engage in wireless plan arbitrage with my bandolier of SIM cards to pick the right rate. The SIM card I got from Three worked great; the £10 of pre-paid credit sustained me through the trip (though I failed to check precisely how much data I had used before leaving, which would influence my future decisions). We failed to check that Kiesa's phone would work on Three's network (her phone was 2G-only, their network was 3G-only), so we did not get the advantage of having one phone each. We didn't really need to call each other to arrange complicated rendezvouses, but it would have come in handy once or twice (especially while roaming the sprawling National Railway Museum).

Jaeger with his rental Vauxhall Mokka
Jaeger with his rental Vauxhall Mokka

Renting a car in Inverness worked quite well: it gave us freedom of movement around the countryside. (Having a car would have been more trouble than it was worth in Edinburgh or York.) The rental agency even rented us a booster seat for Calvin. I adapted well to driving on the left, though now I'm worried that I'm hugging the right side of the lane, having gotten mostly used to driving on the left. The only major hassle was getting to and from the rental agency at the airport in Inverness; I couldn't figure out a good way to get a car without leaving Inverness.

I liked being able to travel around northern Britain, seeing three very different cities (Edinburgh, Inverness, and York), rather than being rooted in one place. But I didn't plan my flights accordingly; flying out of Edinburgh meant I needed to be in Edinburgh the previous night, which took time we might have devoted to more sight-seeing. Had I arranged our flights to fly out of London rather than Edinburgh, we could have spent more time in Scotland before heading to York, or even seen a tiny bit of London on our way out. (Calvin has specifically requested a trip to London to see the clocktower at the Palace of Westminster, which he knows as Big Ben. I am trying not to plan a return trip.)

Calvin walked everywhere we walked, and found something interesting everywhere we went. (Sometimes he wanted all of the interpretive signs read to him, which slowed our progress.)

I took notes on things to visit and our plans for the day on my private wiki, which I've done for most of my recent vacations. This time I installed the Mediawiki extension Collection, which forced me to make some upgrades to my server and wiki, but ended up just using the backend render engine mwlib to create an epub file which I loaded on my tablet. Once I worked around some bugs in mwlib relating to HTTP authentication, the whole thing worked well enough, though I'd still like to improve the workflow to automate the process of transferring the finished document to my tablet.

(This time I even managed to avoid losing my tablet in the seat pocket, though on our flight into Denver we did lose the Scotland hoodie that Calvin is wearing in almost all of his pictures.)

Calvin crosses the River Affric
Calvin crosses the River Affric
Modern mobile phones make my head hurt, and I speak as the owner of a
sheepskin that proclaims me to hold a degree in computer science.
- Charles Stross, What I want for Christmas