A Travellerspoint blog

Scottish Islands

all seasons in one day 13 °C

Lockdown Reading

Lockdown Reading

Earlier this month I was looking for books to buy and found Scottish Island Bagging. Click, click, click and it was on its way to me from the publisher (in Sheffield, oddly enough).

Apart from a summer job in an Arran hotel in 1972, for most of my life the Scottish islands were a blank spot on my travel map. I remember a couple of day trips to Stornoway for work, and an overnight business trip to Shetland when we worked for 16 hours out of 24.

I woke up to this a few years ago and started to put things right.

Vatersay/Bhatarsaigh

Vatersay/Bhatarsaigh

In the space of 5-6 years I have visited Gigha, Islay, Tiree, Colonsay, Mull, Iona, Staffa, Ulva, Lismore, Seil, Kerrera, Luing, Easdale, Eigg, Barra, Vatersay, Eriskay, Lewis and Harris.

I have been back to Arran a few times in that period, and to Orkney (which I first visited about 10 years ago).

St Magnus Cathedral, Kirkwall, Orkney

St Magnus Cathedral, Kirkwall, Orkney

From my home in Fife, just across the water from Edinburgh, all these places make for quite a long trip and careful planning is needed. If a ferry is involved, often it means getting to Oban first and that is a 3 hour drive. Mallaig - for Eigg - is a good bit further. Tayinloan or Kennacraig, for Gigha and Islay respectively are also a 3 hour drive.

Usually you have to be at the ferry terminal at least 30 minutes before departure, and with building in a bit of time for toilet stops and contingencies, you have to leave the house at least 4 hours before the ferry time. You will have to make a reservation if you want to take your car on the more popular routes, and well in advance in the summer months. On the smaller ferries you just drive up and get on the next one.

Gigha Ferry

Gigha Ferry

I flew to Barra, Lewis, Tiree and Colonsay. Loganair was the carrier for most of those short hops, but I used Hebridean Air from Oban to get to Colonsay. All those flights are on small planes and lots of fun.

Waiting

Waiting

During the peak season accommodation is at a premium in these small places, so that has to form part of the advance planning. I think I have only once been disappointed by accommodation on the islands, but remember that it is a short season with relatively high demand (in normal times) so what you get may not always seem like value for money if compared with other parts of the country.

Where would be top of my list to return to? Iona. It is special. It has so much of the country’s history as well as being remote and slightly spiritual. I am not “spiritual” but on Iona I got it.

Jura Ferry

Jura Ferry

Where is top of my list to go to for the first time? Well, I will finish my book before I make up my mind, but at the moment Coll, Raasay or Canna.

Coll is a strong possibility because I loved nearby Tiree, and it is on Hebridean Air’s route map as well as Calmac's.

Raasay is easily accessible from Skye, which is a long drive from home but no ferries are involved. My late father had a long involvement with the buyout of the island from its absentee landlord during the 1970s, so I would love to see how it is now.

I loved my time on Eigg, and getting there and back by car, train and ship, so another of the Small Isles beckons. Canna seems right.

My View, Eigg

My View, Eigg

Meantime, I am staying at home and trying to stay safe. A good book helps.

Posted by IainT 23:31 Archived in Scotland Tagged beaches planes boats scotland ferries transport flights lewis airlines orkney barra lismore islay stornoway eigg calmac islandlife colonsay steòrnabhagh leòdhas na_hearadh barraigh vatersay bhatarsaigh eiriosgaigh eriskay Comments (0)

1966

France - Luxembourg Passport Control

France - Luxembourg Passport Control

When I was 13 I managed to get myself included in my high school’s established exchange scheme with a lycée in Metz. I remember some discussion about whether I was too young to benefit, but off I went.

It is strange to think back about those travel arrangements. Our group went all the way from Edinburgh by train and ferry. No planes. No Eurostar or Channel Tunnel. No TGV. As teenagers I suspect it was all an adventure but it must have been hard work for the teachers.

Metz - La Gare SNCF

Metz - La Gare SNCF

I stayed with a local family and they were super kind, but communication was a problem. I had been studying French for only 2 years. They took me on excursions to nearby Luxembourg, to the World War I battle site at Verdun, and into the Vosges mountains at Gérardmer.

Gérardmer

Gérardmer

Some memories remain vivid more than 50 years later.

Me (r) at Verdun

Me (r) at Verdun

Verdun is one. It made a lifelong pacifist of me. The key bit for me was the Ossuaire. It is the basement of the memorial building, where they place the bones of unknown soldiers which emerge from the ground as a result of weather or farming. It makes a impression, I assure you.

Verdun

Verdun

Luxembourg was great, and I have been back there several times for meetings at the EU Court of Justice and Commission. Crossing the border by car back then was “traditional” with passport and customs checks by both countries. The city is impressive, being largely surrounded by a deep ravine.

We also visited a steelworks at Longwy… Dante’s Inferno. Quite jaw dropping.

At some stage we went to visit my host’s grandparents on their small farm. The animals lived on the ground floor of the building, and the grandparents up above. The smell was quite something to a child of Edinburgh’s posh suburbs. I remember our lunch there. Tinned sardines on toast.

Gérardmer

Gérardmer

I also remember having a Sunday lunch in my hosts’ home. It was rabbit - again, not what the good people of Edinburgh’s professional classes would eat. My hosts kept the best bit for me - the head. The idea was to knock the top off the skull like eating a soft boiled egg, and spoon out the brain.

Boy, was I having an enriching cultural experience.

Posted by IainT 09:50 Archived in France Tagged trains france transport luxembourg metz verdun gerardmer Comments (0)

1968

Lenin Mausoleum

Lenin Mausoleum

If you have a travel blog but cannot travel, what is the answer?

One is to look back.

My second big travel adventure came along in July 1968, with an educational visit to the Soviet Union. I was a few months short of turning 16. We were a party of high school students from several Scottish schools who were all studying Russian.

We sailed on the MS Mikhail Kalinin from London to Rīga in the Latvian Soviet Socialist Republic, from where we transferred by bus to the airport and flew with Aeroflot to Moscow in Russia. After 3 or 4 days in the capital, we took the overnight train to Leningrad (now St Petersburg).

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/MS_Mikhail_Kalinin

Leningradskaya Hotel, Leningrad

Leningradskaya Hotel, Leningrad

Again we had 3 or 4 days in the city, and then it was back onto the MS Mikhail Kalinin at St Petersburg to travel back to Leith (Edinburgh’s port).

It was quite an experience for a 15 year old.

Red Square, Moscow

Red Square, Moscow

Travel was very tightly controlled within the USSR back then, for nationals and for foreigners. We were warned that our hotel rooms would be bugged, and to make sure we did not say anything critical of the regime. Each floor of our hotels had a “supervisor” stationed at a desk beside the lifts and stairs, to monitor guests’ movements. You could not leave the hotel just to walk around - everything had to be done as part of an Intourist controlled excursion. It was not possible to speak to locals - they would be reported and face sanctions.

My knowledge of the language was quite basic at that time but one thing we all noticed was that on every radio news programme Czechoslovakia was the only story. The Red Army invaded a few weeks later.

Space

Space

Looking back, we took in a huge amount in just a week. Many things are still vivid memories - going inside the Kremlin, seeing Lenin’s embalmed body in its mausoleum, the splendour of the Summer Palace outside Leningrad, the Battleship Potemkin, the Winter Palace and the Hermitage.

The voyages were fun too. We crossed the North Sea in a force 8 gale on the outward trip. I enjoyed it. I found a vodka with Orangina (not the real thing - a Soviet version) calmed my stomach nicely. I remember sailing through the Øresund on the return voyage, with Copenhagen on the port side and Malmö to starboard.

Bolshoy Theatre, Moscow

Bolshoy Theatre, Moscow

Approaching Rīga on the outward journey was special. A party of Latvian exiles was among the passengers. They gathered on deck for the first sight of their homeland on the horizon, and then burst into song.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PU4RW2a2nK0

That may have been my introduction to the “nationalities question” which helped to bring the USSR to an end 25 years later.

Footnotes:-
(1) Leaving aside that the photos are over 50 years old and taken on a Kodak Brownie, they have been scanned from transparencies.
(2) I have only been back to Russia once, for a short business trip to St Petersburg in the 90s. I am privileged to have been back to Latvia many times.

Posted by IainT 23:27 Archived in Russia Tagged moscow st_petersburg scotland edinburgh russia riga latvia airlines leith aeroflot Comments (0)

Going Viral

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Life moves fast sometimes, doesn’t it?

Just over a month ago I was finalising details of a 10 day trip to Tunisia at the end of March, and starting to book flights for going to Russia in June. Tunisia was cancelled obviously. A lot could change before the end of June, but Russia seems a very remote possibility now.

Air France allowed me to re-book the flights to/from Tunis for October at the same price and without paying fees. They showed no signs of wanting to just refund my money. One hotel reservation allowed me to cancel without payment. The other took payment in full - £330.

Cancelled

Cancelled

My car rental reservation can be carried forward to October, but my internal flight from Tunis to Djerba (and back) is just forfeit. Another £100 lost.

Travel insurance? I have it to make sure I am covered for unexpected health problems when on holiday. I am cynical about insurance however, especially the travel kind. The business is good at identifying what risks lead to payouts, and then excluding those risks in the small print.

Did you know that if you want to claim for a lost suitcase, the insurance company will demand a receipt for every item in its contents, and the luggage itself? Keep those receipts… In addition, if the item is not new, they will discount the amount they will pay out based on how old it is. Keep those receipts…

Language Prep

Language Prep

As far as Tunisia goes, once the government there had announced a 14 day monitored self isolation period for anyone arriving from abroad, I knew I could not go. The logistics of complying with that seemed impossible, plus I would not have been allowed to fly home without completing it, and my trip was only for 10 days.

The insurance company will interpret that as me “choosing not to travel”.

Air France cancelled the flights between Paris and Tunis a couple of days later. Oddly enough, after that they were still encouraging me to check in for my flight from Edinburgh to Paris, which had not been cancelled.

Posted by IainT 05:33 Archived in Tunisia Tagged transport tunisia russia airlines Comments (0)

Plans

Dundee Waterfront

Dundee Waterfront

In some ways it is a quiet time at Bread and Tea World HQ.

Malmö seems like a long time ago - 5 weeks. I did have an overnight stay in Dundee at the end of February, but it was only for an ice hockey game and whilst it was a great game (3-3 draw) it is nothing to blog about.

Plenty has been going on behind the scenes, of course.

I will be spending 10 days in Tunisia at the end of March, and as it is a country I have never visited before, I have had research to do as well as make a number of bookings. I am starting with 4 nights in Sidi Bou Saïd, close to Tunis. I hope it is enough time to recover from the travel, unwind and explore the city.

Good Value

Good Value

After that I have booked a Tunisair Express flight to Djerba, an hour to the south. I will be based in Tataouine for 4 nights, with a rented car to drive about in the desert.

IDP

IDP

As soon as I get back after that trip, I will be applying for a visa to visit Russia in June. The consulate will have my passport for most of April. So far I have booked as far as Moscow, via Rīga. I will be renewing a very old acquaintance with Aeroflot - and Moscow!

Comprehensive

Comprehensive

All my research so far is pointing me towards spending a few days in Kazan after Moscow. My guide describes it as the “Istanbul of the Volga”.

Stay tuned…

Posted by IainT 00:46 Tagged moscow scotland transport tunisia russia ice_hockey riga airlines dundee kazan aeroflot tataouine Comments (0)

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