Timeline: July 16-21, 2018
Jared and I left for our “Around the World Trip” on 7/16/18 out of our hometown, Roanoke, Virginia. Our first flight was free using credit card rewards from our AMEX Gold Delta Skymiles Cards. We each got the card and earned 60k Delta points/miles each (total 120k). We were able to book two one-way tickets from Roanoke, Virginia, USA to Edinburgh, Scotland, UK for 30k points/miles each (60k total). We will be using the other 60k for two one-way return tickets from Hong Kong back to Roanoke in December!
So, we got started and had a long day of travel, from Roanoke, routing through Atlanta, then JFK (New York), then Edinburgh! The flight from JFK to Edinburgh was overnight, the equivalent of 10pm to 5am EST (10am in Scotland), so we tried to get a little sleep on the plane. However, by the time we took off, they then served dinner around 11pm, and then woke us back up for breakfast an hour before the flight ended, so about 4am on our body clock. Overall the flight wasn’t too bad, but when we arrived in Edinburgh, we were definitely tired and had to struggle through the first day.
First stop: Edinburgh, Scotland!
When we first arrived, we stayed with our friend’s sister in Portobello (suburb of Edinburgh), Scotland. She was able to help us learn how to navigate the bus system to get from the airport to her house, about a 60 minute trip riding two different buses.
We had each signed up for online bank accounts that allowed free ATM withdrawals internationally, so we were relying on withdrawing cash in the local currency in each country. So when we got to the airport, we withdrew Pounds (proper term: Pound Sterling; colloquial name, “quid,” which is like saying “bucks”) at the ATM. We then bought tickets for the airport bus into the center of town, and we got change in smaller coins because she had let us know we needed exact change for the second bus from the center of town to her house. We were lucky to have the inside scoop from her to understand how all this worked, but thereafter, Google Maps was a huge help with navigating the bus system in each new city.
We both switched our phone service to Sprint, which has free international roaming for most countries included in the standard plans at no additional charge. So in countries such as the UK, texting was free and low-speed data was free, allowing communication and use of internet/apps even when not connected to WiFi. That helped us a lot with being able to use Google Maps when out on the go.
Our First Day in Edinburgh
After we arrived, we got settled in to our room, and we got to know our friend’s brother-in-law for a little while, because our friend’s sister was at work. He gave us some suggestions on the local area. We decided to go for a nice walk from Portobello, through a few parks, and up to the famous Arthur’s Seat hike in Holyrood Park, which offered some amazing views of the city. We ended up walking quite a bit the first day, and then went back and had dinner with our hosts. We definitely slept good the first night after our exhausting day of travel followed by quite a bit of walking on the first day!
Day Two: Edinburgh
This was the day we really dived in and walked ALL over Edinburgh. We walked a total of 14 miles that day, including from Portobello, into the city center, all around the main sights, and back to Portobello! It was exhausting, and beautiful, and magical, and amazing! We love, love, loved Edinburgh. The highlights of our sightseeing included: The Royal Mile, The Palace at Holyroodhouse, Calton Hill, more views of Arthur’s Seat, the Edinburgh Castle, the city center, the Edinburgh Museum, and lots of nooks and crannies in between! We finished our night off at a local Fish and Chips place in Portobello for dinner!
Day Three: St. Andrews
We decided to take a day trip to the town of St. Andrews to be able to see another part of Scotland. Our friends (from back in the US, one from the US and the other from Scotland originally) met and fell in love while studying at the University of St. Andrews and said it was a lovely place, so we were inspired to check it out! We were not disappointed! I learned that golf was invented there at St. Andrews Links golf course; we saw historic sites including castle ruins; we walked the historic streets in town and by the sea; and of course saw the University. I definitely could’ve spent longer there and been very happy! We also got to see a bit of the countryside on our bus ride to and from.
Day Four: West End of Edinburgh
This is when we had to say goodbye to our wonderful hosts! We booked a hotel for our last night in Scotland on the West End of Edinburgh (using hotel points from the AMEX Hilton Honors Card). So we packed up and left Portobello. We did make a stop in the city center to meet up with our friend’s mom who happened to be coming in the same day from the Highlands where she lives to visit with her daughter (our host) and other son (our friend’s brother, who also happened to be visiting)! We were excited we got to meet most of the clan, but we were definitely missing our friends from back in the US whose family we were borrowing!
By staying on this new side of town, we got to take in a few new sights we hadn’t seen, including Dean’s Village and Gardens, the University of Edinburgh, and some local pubs. We enjoyed staying the night in a hotel as well, although it was kind of a pain to move for just one night.
Day Five: Wrapping up in Edinburgh
On our last day, we checked out of our hotel but left our bags at the desk for a while because we had a late flight, so we could still enjoy our last day. We took a walk through the canal area and saw a couple new sights we hadn’t seen. We also walked back through the city center, the Grassmarket area, and by the castle once more!
Flight from Edinburgh to Dublin
We went a little early to the airport to be able to enjoy the free airport lounge using my Priority Pass which was a benefit of my AMEX Mercedes Benz Platinum credit card. This has really paid off during the trip! We were able to have free drinks (including alcohol) and dinner there before our flight, as well as relax in a nice atmosphere with WiFi.
We flew on RyanAir for the first time, which was very to the point. They boarded very early and took off promptly. We paid a little extra with their new “Priority & 2 Cabin Baggage” policy in order to have both our carry-on and personal item. But overall since it’s a budget airline our tickets were cheap and it was an easy 40-minute flight.
Next stop: Dublin, Ireland!
Insider Tips on Scotland:
- Download GoogleMaps to help with walking directions and navigating the public transport.
- You need exact change in Pounds to ride the local buses, so make sure to have small bills and coins.
- In Europe/the UK they have “Contactless” debit/credit cards, so they can just tap their card, not swipe or insert (like Apple or Samsung pay technology). So if you’re asked if your card is “contactless” then the answer is probably no if you’re from the US and have a standard US debit or credit card.
- They drive on the left in the UK which most people probably know, but it actually makes being a pedestrian quite difficult to wrap your brain around! Be cautious with crossing the street and make sure to truly look both ways.
- Apparently tipping is not expected in the UK and Europe like it is in the US! They make a normal salary in the service industry and don’t rely on tips like in the US.
- In Scotland/the UK the outlets are “Type G” (3 pronged) and the voltage is 220-240V, whereas in the US it’s 120V. I thought I needed a device that was both a voltage converter and outlet adapter. However, I found out that most modern electronics (iPhone, laptop) are actually made to operate on dual voltage and don’t need a voltage converter. But might still be safe to have it for any other devices.
- The weather can vary a lot in Scotland in the summer. It’s beneficial to dress in layers and have a light rain jacket on hand at all times. Some days it was very windy and chilly in the mornings and evenings, and even Jared who’s usually hot felt cold!
- Cask beer is warmer than regular draft/draught (keg dispensed) beer. This may be okay with some craft beer connoisseurs, but for my taste it was too warm.
- Scottish bacon is not the same as American bacon. It’s more like ham or Canadian bacon.
- They don’t seem to do regular coffee with “cream” and sugar in the UK like we do in the US. They have several varieties of espresso drinks (flat white, latte, americano, cappuccino, etc) which is the most common thing to order. But if you want regular coffee you say “with milk and sugar,” because they serve it with milk, not cream.
- There is a unique difference in the accents from Scotland, England, and Ireland. I don’t think I ever really thought about it before being there. But it’s fascinating to listen to them talk! After a while, it becomes pretty normal to you though.