Thursday, June 09, 2016

Scotland 2015 Day 1-2: Pie and Biking in Aviemore

Scotland 2015 Day 1-2: Pie and Biking in Aviemore

Well, here we go! Another amazing trip and a whirlwind adventure. This trip encompassed a bunch of different spots, but our first stop on the map was back to Scotland. I was pretty psyched as I LOVED being in Scotland in 2014 with my best bro Matt, so it was going to be awesome to go visit again.

The day started, as it does, with an insanely early Uber to the airport. Thanks to my newfound United status, we hit up the Lounge and had a nice mini-bagel. The ride to Newark was uneventful until about 20 min before... it was a pretty insanely choppy landing and Michal and I were both looking a bit green. Upon (finally) landing after circling and diving up and down more than one might enjoy in a typical day, the pilot happily announced that we had arrived 40 minutes early! (Yeah, since you drove into the airport at a 90 degree angle!)

After walking a little and letting our stomachs settle, we arrived at the Newark United Lounge, a totally new and re-designed one! Fancy! And with NEW FOOD!!! Yesssssssssssssssss! I/we went to town on the hummus, cheese, olives, etc. Good times. I then tried to "print" something in their "business" center which was a pretty magical 1.5 hr adventure which involved Email to Fax and a variety of other fails. Oh well. We got to the gate to find our plane was delayed 2 hrs, which concerned me as we had booked a pretty tight train connection in Scotland to get up to Aviemore. Back we went to the lounge to drown our travel woes in more hummus. Spring had a great contingency plan for when we arrived in Scotland, rather than doing the complicated plan I had of going to the same mall Lausch and I went to last year upon arrival, she figured we could catch the train directly from the nearest station and also there was a train 1 hr later, just in case (though the tickets said you couldn't switch on them...).

Anyhoo, the flight was fast and very good. I didn't get much sleep, but we made up an hour in flight which was sweet, in by 9am, and customs was quick. We were on the move to get to the Haymarket Station for the 10:40am train! We got money quick from an ATM and took the Airport 100 Express bus to Haymarket. We were too late to get to the South Gyle Centre to get to the big M&S there... and I was kinda sad about not getting awesome snacks for our train ride up north. Of course, given my epic luck, as soon as we got off the bus at Haymarket, my first glance towards the station? "M&S Simply Food"!!!! Yes!!! How fortuitous! This was on Google Maps but not Street View, so I thought it was an error!! Yes!!!!

The ticket printing machine was funny, we were like, hurry, hurry... as it printed ELEVEN tickets?!? Not sure why :)

M&S was insanely epic just as expected. I got a HUGE box of shortbreads, weird-flavoured British yoghurt (of course), strawberries, 1/2 loaf of break, and 2 packs of smoked salmon (one Peat & Oak smoked and the other Aberfeldy 12 Year Old Scotch smoked!) Crazy. A quick coffee for Spring and on we went to the train.

On the train we met 2 crazy local dudes that were pounding beers. They kept talking about having a nice "Can of T" (as in a "cup of tea"), but the "T" stood for "Tennent's Beer". I wonder if that's a real phrase or if they made it up. They were awesome and we talked to them for ages while passing beautiful views of scenery and funny sheep. The weather changed a lot as we got up north.

We stopped at the "Ladybank" station and there was pretty much nothing there, and then we boarded the next train towards the town of Aviemore. We walked from the station with all our stuff to Lilli's place, our AirBnB for the night. We dropped stuff and showered and I packed my water backpack with some snacks. It was go time, since despite no sleep this was our main day for biking in Aviemore and I didn't want to miss out!

We walked down the main road of Aviemore to Active Cafaidh, and I met the owner and got a bike there. Spring decided to get a bike too and we got a map of the area, Lochs, etc. Our first main goal was to get to this quite legendary "Cake Shop" -- people had gone on and on about this place, and how it was one of the "best pie shops in the UK". Mountain Bikers in the UK seemed to have some sort of mild obsession with cake shops, as I must have read 4 or 5 blogs from different riders, all talking about how it was a nice long day on the hills, but thank goodness there was a cake shop close that they could go to post-ride (!!!) it was all very endearing and so insanely British, so we just had to figure out what all the fuss was about. The timing was such that my post-ride cake was actually likely to be a pre-ride cake, so we rode to the Inshriach Nursery and The Potting Shed Tearoom, one of "Britain's Best Cake Shops" as per The Observer. And boy, was it a great stop!

I was SO overexcited and SO loud (surely getting some glances of "he must be an American"!) on arrival. It was overwhelmingly exciting to be visiting this epic cake shop after reading so much about it and also just so fun to be experiencing Scotland together.  The cake shop was not really on the way to biking but we went anyway, had some tea and cake on fancy china (I got Peanut Butter, and Spring got the Lemon cake), and we sat calmly at the "Viewing Area" for Red Squirrels and Birds and tried not to disturb the few elderly visitors with their grandchildren who were also enjoying the viewing area. :)

I was also going to get a Lindt Chocolate Cake, but we already had a ton of desserts and the day had hardly begun. I was a little tired/jetlagged post-"lunch", but I had to rally.

I biked back along the Loch area and found a sign that said Forestry Scotland (a good sign, given how well they had created the Glentress Trails, I figured this area would be kept very well!) Spring and I then split off, with her taking a shorter way back to the B&B (though she ended up biking almost as long as I did!) and I went off all the way around Loch an Eilein in Rothiemurchus. It was totally awesome, excellent scenery, and the weather thankfully held up! It was supposed to snow! With my warm tea and pie having charged me up, I went exploring the trails and castle ruins in the Loch.

I saw lots of other bikers, all nodding and saying "Hi". I stopped at a cow gate at one point and made a buddy there. "Oh, I'll get that for ya!", he said before an even funnier moment, "Would you like a wee dram?!" haha so amazing. So a funny random Scottish fellow biker on my first day stopped me on the trail and pulled out his flask to share a wee dram of... Ardbeg Uigeadail! "This is a lovely dram, it is" he said, "Just having a moment away from the chaos of the wife and kids!" This part of the trail was the best, some nice features to jump over, water to zoom through and of course it all a little more free-wheeling after a sneaky dram of Uigeadail. I ran into my buddy again a little later and offered to open another fence for him, to which he said, "It's OK, I'll just hop the fence" -- he was going so fast, he was BOOKIN' IT!!! "Can't have TOO much of that Uigeadail!" he laughed and grinned as he took off like a madman. I suppose he maybe realized he was running late for returning to the "chaos of the wife and kids"?!

I continued on up to Coylumbridge, past a clay shooting centre and a reindeer centre!? Random stuff indeed. I wanted to ultimately get to the Glenmore Lodge and Shop but it was time to go "home!" I went back down the Old Logging Way towards Aviemore after a quick stop for my M&S salmon sandwich (see photo!)

Here's the video of our biking fun!

Back I went to the AirBnB, dropped the bike at the house ("Just in the back is fine, probably better than leaving it out front, I suppose!" -- funny that leaving the bike out front, unlocked, was even in the realm of possibility. Assuming not a whole lot of crime in wee Aviemore!) I took a much-needed shower and nap time, ASAP! Spring also biked for 3 hours and we did well. I biked for maybe 4 hrs, but after next-to-no sleep on the plane and super jetlagged, it was time for a wee nap. Do all the things!

After a good power nap, we took off to The Winking Owl for dinner. Lilli's son-in-law is the check and the drunk train guys also recommended it to us. The place was amazing, it was like pub food "turned up a notch". We started with a fried brie and jalepeno jam, it was so good. I have a Fine "Real Ale" (basically warm, flat beer.... haha just kidding... sortof! It was very nice and from the local Cairn Gorm Brewery. Dark and Malty!) Spring had a beer that was more of a lighter beer, with a very nice aftertaste. We were still pretty tired from the travels and biking, so we just had "1/2 pints" which was a nice way to try everything but not fall instantly asleep.

I got Fish and Chips for dinner which came with some super nice lemon. Michal had a Beef Pie with mushrooms that was marinated in Black & Gold Beer. Fantastic, both very tasty and very flavoursome! So hearty too. The chips were SO good, a little basket with half-potatoes. And there were mushy peas too. This was all really excellent and so tasty, like pub food, the food you want anyway, but "fancied up".

The dudes beside us eventually started chatting with us. Michal realized quickly but I realized only after they started having a "couple's argument" at one point, we realized they were a gay couple! About 20 min later after chatting about a bunch of different things together they weaved into the conversation, "Cause, you know, we're a homosexual couple!" By that point it was quite obvious since they talked about traveling together and so on. It was an interesting vibe, the way they mentioned this implied that being a gay couple was perhaps not as simple or as commonplace as in San Francisco, and it almost felt as if they wanted to make sure to chat with us a bunch first and test the waters before explaining their relationship to us. Certainly something folks thankfully don't need to worry about back home in San Francisco, but I got the feeling they were more relaxed speaking with us after realizing where we were traveling from (and thus wouldn't be judgement towards them). Poor fellas! Anyhow, they were great and we chatted a bunch more, talking about SF and how they had really enjoyed traveling there. We got lots of travel advice about Edinburgh too.

We finally said goodnight to our new friends and headed next door to the pub for a quick view of their "Live Music" -- it was super janked! So I had a quick £3.50 whisky (an Auchtenoshan Three Wood) and the back, home, finally, to sleep!

And that, my friends, is how you carpe-diem the heck out of your first day in a new country!

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