Tag Archive: europe 2009



when i made that simple statement at the end of the previous post, ‘and then, at last, i was home,’ it wasn’t quite accurate.  because, while many aspects of this trip were wonderful and i loved seeing spain and scotland and all the good people we caught up with, let us not forget that it was also the Trip of Woe (see exhibits a, b, and c).  which is why it really shouldn’t surprise me that, just to round it all out, i’ve had to compose the following letter to the long-term parking company at the airport. (you may be surprised to learn that i can use capital letters when necessary.)
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Dear Company [name to be updated perhaps, depending how they deal with this],

Recently we parked our car with you for thirteen days while travelling in Europe.  We have used your service many times in the past and always been pleased with it.  However, on this occasion there was a serious problem.

When I landed on Monday morning (October 5), my flight had been delayed and I was unable to call and let you know due to a dead cell phone battery and misinformation from the people in the airport (who didn’t realize there was an 0800 number, which I also did not have – my own fault).  When I arrived at your parking office, there was some confusion, and at first I was told the keys to my car had been misplaced, and then that my car itself was not parked where expected.  In all, it took about 25 minutes for my car to be retrieved from the time I arrived, which in itself is not a source of major complaint given the delayed flight, although it was inconvenient as the weather was rainy and extremely cold, and I had been travelling for 36 hours.

However, when your driver brought the car around, he turned sharply into the lot by your office, dropping the left front tire into a deep puddle at the edge of the sealed road.  There was an audible and rather terrible scraping sound as the undercarriage hit the edge of the asphalt.  I did remark on this to the driver at the time, but he made a noncommittal noise and I did not press the issue, at that moment only wanting to get home.

When I climbed into the driver’s seat, the oil light was on and the oil warning alarm sounded as I drove out of the lot.  (We had been aware of a very gradual oil leak, having found a few drops of oil occasionally, but not regularly, on the floor of the garage at home.  My husband had checked the oil a few weeks before leaving and had noted that it was getting low, but not urgently so, and the oil light had not come on before he left.)  I took the car straight to the Shell station near the airport to check the oil and top up if need be, and asked their associated mechanic to check that the car was all right before driving home.  He refilled the oil (3.5 litres were required) and checked under the car, where he observed, entirely unprompted, that there was a brand-new scrape under the oil pan that had caused a significant crack, from which oil was now dripping at a steady and alarming rate.  He explained that the damage had to be very recent (less than a day old), since the scraped aluminium had not oxidised at all and no dirt had accumulated over the scrapes.  He was concerned at the rate at which the oil was draining and advised me to drive straight to my home mechanic, possibly not even dropping my luggage off at home, in case I ran out of oil again.

The car was duly brought to our mechanic, who has now (after three days in the shop, including one day when the buses were on strike) fixed the leak to his satisfaction.  He confirmed that the rapid oil leak was due to very recent damage to the car’s undercarriage.  Both mechanics are willing to be contacted and will stand by this information.

We ask that you cover the cost of repairing the damage done to our car by your driver.  This includes the labour charge for the repair ($128) and the cost of the oil required to get the car home (4 litres, $97.02).  We will happily provide the receipts if necessary and the contact details of both mechanics if you wish to follow this up with them.

Please feel free to contact us if you require any further information.

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and, update:  no word from parking company, but there is still a slow oil leak, plus – bonus! – i found a fresh puddle of coolant under the car yesterday morning.  awesome.

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edinburgh, the end

on our final full day together, we traveled from peebles to edinburgh, via carluke (to meet another friend from tonmo and see his amazing house-in-progress, a renovation of an old barn that will include one of the original stone walls as an interior feature wall… WANT).  we parted company from the pebbles senior in the morning, and so were left to our own devices in auld reekie.  upon arrival we checked into what was by far the flashest hotel of the entire trip, and spent a few moments admiring the four-poster canopy bed before setting off for the golden mile.  we wandered up market and cockburn streets and made our way to the castle, then opted for a tour of the vaults to get out of the increasingly spitty weather for a bit.  we had a great guide with lots of interesting stories (we went with a fairly historic tour, as the  ‘grisly tales of horror and torture in the darkness!’ options didn’t really appeal), including one about paisley close, which we later spotted for ourselves.  back on the surface, we strolled down to holyrood house, pausing to drool over a tartan wedding dress (well – one of us was drooling) in a shop window, and taking a few detours down the closes.  as evening fell, we walked back to our hotel via the rather sinister-looking scott monument, whose uppermost narrow spiral staircase apparently scarred the pebbles for life last time he was in town.  we finished the day off with an absolutely delicious italian meal near our hotel (although i unfortunately wasn’t able to subtly photograph our dining neighbors, one of whom ordered a calzone that – without exaggeration – was 18″ long and 8″ tall).
early on saturday morning we took the train to doncaster (and were treated to a spectacular sunrise along the coast, and the brightest rainbow i’ve ever seen, which stayed with us from sunrise until we arrived two hours later) for lunch with some relatives.  the pebbles stayed on for a few more days (remaining in england an extra week for his nana’s 90th – happy birthday, trudi!), while i was due to fly out from heathrow that night and so made my way back to london.  my flights (via hong kong) went reasonably smoothly, apart from a plague of crying children (i admit that, as the flights wore on, my inner monologue changed from ‘could you please comfort your child so the rest of us can sleep’ to ‘SHUT YOUR KID UP OR I WILL DO IT WITH THIS AIRPLANE FORK’), and a first officer who fell so ill after everyone was already seated for departure from hong kong that he had to be removed from the plane.  but then, at last, 41 hours after leaving edinburgh, i was home.

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if the appeal of visiting peebles isn’t immediately apparent to you, the following photos may get a little repetitive.  it’s actually a nice little town in its own right, and certainly makes rampant use of its three-fish crest, but basically… PEEBLES!!! (apparently the pebbles kept waiting for me to break out ‘we gotta go to the crappy town where i’m a hero‘ but i wasn’t quick enough… and if i’d only known, i could have worn the t-shirt!)

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more scottish scenery, och aye

on thursday we departed fort william for points south, most notably peebles (more on that shortly).  the weather was brilliant and the drive back through the highlands rather spectacular.  we also stopped at the william wallace monument (near stirling), a massive gothic edifice that can be seen for miles around.  the tower itself was closed but we hiked up the 97m hill it sits on and were rewarded with a glimpse up the statue’s kilt.

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all aboard, and wands at the ready!

behold, the jacobite steam train.

on wednesday it chugged us all the way (84 miles round-trip) from fort william to mallaig and back again, past lochs, inlets, meadows, and high cliffs, and over the rather famous glenfinnan viaduct. mallaig was a cute little town but the hour and a half we had there were just about right; mostly the journey was about the scenery. (at least for us – an astounding number of trainspotters lined the tracks, often in remote and unlikely locations, to watch us puff by.)

after our return we went to check out nearby neptune’s staircase, an impressive series of eight locks that raise (or lower) boats 64 feet over a quarter-mile stretch between the great glen canal and the inland tip of the inlet.  from there we also got the clearest view (all relative) of ben nevis, which made us so hungry we had to stop in at the nearest pub for hot chips followed immediately by dinner.  we took one last farewell stroll through fort william as the moon rose, and packed up to move on again in the morning.

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on tuesday we left the ayr-glasgow region and made our way to fort william. the drive took us past loch lomond (of ‘ye’ll take the high road’ fame) and through some of the spectacularly beautiful highlands. the weather was apparently typically scottish in that it was cool and misty with the occasional light drizzle, but it seemed mystical and fitting for the landscape. we stopped in at glencoe along the way, site of an infamous massacre, and made it to our lodgings by early afternoon.

we had realized a few days earlier that fort william lay only ~30 miles from the southern tip of loch ness, and had discussed a slight extension of the drive that afternoon depending on time and how we felt about each other’s company in the car by then. well, no one was exactly wild about more driving, but it seemed a shame not to take advantage of our proximity to britain’s largest and perhaps most famous body of fresh water, so we piled back in and set off. alas, no mythical beasts were in evidence, although a very good audiovisual exhibition offered a number of plausible explanations for the 1000+ recorded ‘sightings.’ we lunched and then wended our way back south, pausing briefly to crane our necks for a glimpse of the iconic (yet frustratingly shielded from the non-paying public’s view) ruins of urquhart castle, and spend the evening enjoying quaint fort william.

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pebbles were here


monday was a designated pebbles family history day; part of the initial impetus for the joint holiday in scotland had been the idea of visiting the places that had been important to the scottish quarter of the pebbles ancestry.  accordingly we set out to visit the one known living relative with whom contact has been maintained through the years – my (let me get this straight) great-half-aunt-in-law, who sounds delightfully like maggie smith’s portrayal of prof mcgonagall.  we had a lovely morning tea with her, chatting and lavishing attention on her sloth-bear-like dog, meg, by turns.


from there we had four more local stops on the list: the schoolhouse where one of the great-pebbles (either great or great great, not sure – we’ll just say ‘grrrrreat’) went to school in the early 1900s, now a (rather austere) private residence; the cottage where the same great-pebbles lived as a child (sadly torn down since the pebbles senior was last there), in the tiny and deliciously named hamlet of bog end; coodham, the manor house across the road where that great-pebbles’ father had worked as a gardener (now being renovated into luxury apartments); and the cottage nearby on a hill where he (the gardening pebbles) had been born, to annie raeside, whose family name we have both taken as a common middle name.  (got all that?  … me neither.)







we lunched in alloway, famous as robbie burns’ birthplace; his thatched cottage has been turned into a nice little informational display, and the brig’o’doon is an impressive bit of masonry.









in the late afternoon we did indeed have time for culzean castle (pronounced ‘culleen’), an imposing edifice directly above the sea, which had been a medieval fortress/castle and was renovated into its present stateliness in the 1800s by robert adam. the extensive grounds include a number of arched viaducts and bridges, the castle keep and main house (including an entranceway/armory with wall decor made entirely of weaponry – bayonets, long blades, short swords, daggers, muskets, and over 700 flintlock revolvers), apartments given to eisenhower for his strategic role in operation overlord, walled gardens, mysterious outbuildings and grottoes scattered through the surrounding woods, and a huge man-made lake.  we spent several pleasant hours strolling and admiring, then returned to ayr for a good dinner and sleep and early travels north the next day.



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ae bonny land

scotland, a place i have wanted to visit since, well, forever.  i have a week of it behind me now and am fairly certain i will need to visit again someday – we did many good things, but (like my first trip to new zealand… uh oh) i am left realizing how many more things i want to come back and do next time.  the only thing lacking was internet access, which is why i’ve been awol since leaving england, so bear with me as i work through the whole backlog of our travels oot and aboot.

seems only logical to start from the beginning. we flew up from stansted and landed in prestwick, under a slaty blue-grey sky and over fields that looked much lusher and greener than those further south. we were met by the pebbles senior (my father- and stepmother-in-law), our traveling companions for the week; they took us to our hotel to leave our ever-swelling luggage (thanks to upcoming birthdays and christmas), and to note the presence of a ben & jerry’s ice cream vending machine in the lobby (!!), then for a quick jaunt around ayr and the general region.  it was noticeably crisp on the west coast (i believe ‘bracing’ was the chosen word) and we went for a (very) quick stroll by the beach in watery late afternoon sun, with a stiff breeze carrying wheeling seagulls above the choppy sea.

back in the warm sheltered pod of our rental car (our home for many hours of the ensuing week), we cruised south to take in a few more local sights along the coast.  we were duly confounded by the ‘electric brae’ (and wished we had thought to bring a soccer ball for testing, as another holidaying family had done), resolved to go back the next day for a more thorough look at culzean castle if time permitted, and went for another wander in the gathering dusk among the picturesque seaside ruins of dunure castle.


as you’ve seen, england finished well – the pebbles arrived on wednesday the 22nd and stayed overnight before heading down to brighton for two days’ work.  i finished up at bmnh by mid-afternoon on friday, and we met up with pome for a nice pizza dinner before catching a play at shakespeare’s globe theatre, fulfilling a lifelong dream for me.  the production was love’s labours lost, one i had never seen before – one of the lesser-known comedies, with kind of a strange ending, but extremely well presented (as expected), with great music, beautiful costumes and excellent visual add-on humor.  we returned to our little sofa-bed (oh, did i mention this?  that in the kensington hotel the only bed in our room was a pull-out sofa?) and snatched a few winks before another big day.

on saturday we went to leeds castle (as below) and had dinner with some friends in a lovely local italian restaurant (another recurring theme on this trip – but appropriate since one of the friends is italian).  sunday brought brunch with yet another set of kiwi ex-pat friends now in london, plus the ever-present yet still far-too-little-seen pome.  and in the afternoon, we flew to scotland!

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