Thursday, September 21, 2017

Scotland and Northern Ireland 2017, Part two...

We left Stuttgart for our trip to Scotland and Northern Ireland on Saturday, September 9, 2017.  I was in a pretty edgy state, thanks to a full summer of worrying.  Although we probably take more trips than most Americans, I have gotten used to traveling a lot since we moved back to Germany in 2014.  Travel is one of the main reasons I like living over here and we hadn't had a trip since my birthday in June, when we drove to Belgium.  I was itching to get out of Deutschland, which only sounds crazy if you aren't living here as an American.

As I mentioned previously, I booked a cruise on Hebridean Princess about a year ago.  It's necessary for us to book well in advance when we cruise on the Princess because it's very expensive.  We chose the Call of the Emerald Isle cruise, which would take us from Oban, an adorable city in Scotland, to ports in Northern Ireland.  We also had a couple of stops in the Republic of Ireland.

This was technically our fourth trip on Hebridean Princess.  Our very first trip on Hebridean Princess was in November 2012, when we took two five night cruises back to back to celebrate our tenth anniversary.  We took our third cruise with them in March 2016, a scotch whisky themed trip which you can read about starting here.  Fair warning.  That series was divided into fourteen parts and I imagine this series will be similarly lengthy!  If you like whisky and are interested in distilleries in Scotland, it might be worth reading.  I did write about our first trip, but it was before I had a travel blog, so it's not a very detailed description.

Since Bill and I are in better financial straits than we've ever been, I decided to make this trip as upper class as possible.  I booked business class tickets on British Airways and got us a Club Executive room at the Carlton George Hotel in Glasgow, which is our hotel of choice when we're in Glasgow because they offer a nice executive lounge and a free minibar ;-).  I did not upgrade our stateroom on Hebridean Princess, though, since doing so requires quite a lot more money.  We stayed in Loch Harport, a category H stateroom which is their cheapest "room", all the way at the bottom of the ship.  The cabins in H have no windows or portholes, but they are otherwise pretty nice.  More on the stateroom in a later post.  We have now stayed in all of the "cheap" rooms with twin/king sized beds, so I can later offer a comparison of the three.

Because Bill changed companies in July, we weren't sure if he was going to be able to accompany me on this cruise.  Had he not come with me, I probably would have either gone alone or Bill's mom might have come with me.  Fortunately, Bill's mom is a good friend and we get along great!  However, she did recently have hip surgery and I was a little concerned about the prospect of her staying in an "H" room, since getting to and from there involves climbing and descending a lot of steps.  Hebridean Princess doesn't have any elevators.  As it turned out, Bill's new boss was very accommodating, so we were able to take this unforgettable trip together.  If he is reading this post, I want to thank him from the bottom of my heart.

So Saturday, September 9th was the big day.  We dropped off our dogs, Zane and Arran, at Dog Holiday bright and early in the morning, then headed for the airport.  We checked in on British Airways, enjoying a brief wait since we were using their Club Europe (business class) service.  After we checked in, we were whisked through security.  One thing I noticed on this trip, our first using the airport since we visited Ireland last November, was that Stuttgart has invested in a new security method that only takes a couple of seconds and doesn't involve any intimate scans or pat downs.  I liked it very much and hope to see its use become more common.

After we passed through security, went up to the very pleasant but small lounge in Stuttgart's airport.  A delightfully cheerful German lady was running things that day.  I remember her well, since her extreme cheerfulness is kind of an anomaly in these parts.


For those who are curious about British Airways' lounge in Stuttgart, here it is...  You get free WiFi, drinks, and snacks.  It was the smallest and least impressive of the lounges we used on this trip, but it was still pretty nice.


We were in Club Europe, which is British Airways' business class in Europe.  Basically, the seats are the same as they are in coach, except you don't have anyone sitting in the middle.  Instead, you get this cute little table thing in the center seat.  Business class also entitles you to a meal and free drinks.



A couple of aerial shots of Stuttgart as we took off.



This was the food they served us.  The first photo is chicken with some sort of potato salad, that I didn't touch.  There was also bread, salad, and key lime pie (which was pretty good).


I also enjoyed champagne.  


Bill had the "beef panini" with red wine.  This was the same food they served us yesterday on our return flight from Glasgow to London, although the red wine was a cabernet.  


And here's an aerial shot of London as we were about to land at Heathrow.
  
A word about Heathrow Airport...  This was probably my first experience there since the late 1970s, when my dad retired from the Air Force after his last job as base engineer at Mildenhall Air Force Base.  I seem to remember we flew Pan Am, which is a long defunct airline.  Because I was a small child in the late 70s, I have no memories of Heathrow during that time and only the vaguest memories of Dulles Airport, which was where we landed when we arrived stateside.  Consequently, I had no idea of what a zoo Heathrow is.  Sure, I had heard stories about it, but I wasn't quite prepared for the madness of the place.  I thought Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris was bad.  Heathrow gives it a good run for its money.  I think I will try to avoid using it in the future, if I can.


This is actually not as chaotic looking as the airport was at the time.

We landed at Heathrow at about noon and had to go through border control.  The guy who stamped us into the country had one of those mustaches that curls up on either side.  He was very charming and we had no problems getting through.  Next, I'm pretty sure we went through customs, then another very obnoxious turn through security, which was complete bedlam.  After that, we found our way to British Airways' enormous south lounge.  I say "south lounge", because there is also a smaller north lounge, which apparently gets very busy.  There is a sign out front that says if you have a long layover, you should use the south lounge, so that's what we did.  It, too, was a total madhouse, though slightly less obnoxious than the airport's facilities for the masses.  Imagine being a captive audience at a large mall which is completely overrun with people, most of whom are walking slowly and not watching where they're going.  It reminded me of Breuningerland in Sindelfingen during the Christmas season.

We spent our four hour layover trying the many drinks and snacks offered in the lounge.  There wasn't a lot of seating available, since apparently a lot of people are either frequent flyers or booked business class on British Airways.  We sat near a man who spent over an hour on the phone speaking what must have been some sort of East Indian language.  He was pleasant enough, but it was like eavesdropping on tech support, since he was clearly talking business and seemed to be instructing someone.  

There are a couple of other lounges for first class passengers.  They are closely guarded by staffers who shoo away any lowly business class passengers trying to sneak in.  The British Airways lounge also has a spa, which I was tempted to try.  I never got around to it.

At about four o'clock, it was time for our flight to Glasgow.  We had to go through yet another annoying security feature.  When we first arrived at the airport after our Stuttgart flight, we had to go through a scanner which involved showing our tickets and having a photo taken.  When it was time to board our flight to Glasgow, we had to go through the same type of scanner and another photo was taken.  Of course, the second photo came after I had spent four hours in a packed lounge drinking wine.  And, naturally, it didn't work properly when it was my turn.  I had to have an agent help me through, which was irritating.  I probably looked pissed off in my second photo.

Once we were settled into our seats, it was time to lift off.  We enjoyed an uneventful flight to Glasgow after a short weather related delay.  I enjoyed British Airways' new safety film.


They showed this on three of our four flights...  It's pretty clever.  Sadly, at first, I only recognized Thandie Newton.  After the third viewing, I also recognized Gillian Anderson, even though I never watched the X Files.

Upon landing in Glasgow, we collected our bags and took a cab into the big city.  Stay tuned for part three.

2 comments:

  1. Ahhhh yes... Heathrow Airport. It comprises the entirety of my time in England, four layovers in total. I remember a lot of walking...

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yeah... I can think of many other places I'd rather be.

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