Train travel makes multiple destinations easy By Colin Anderson
One of the most advantageous aspects of traveling to Europe is once you’ve landed it’s generally very easy to see multiple cities, countries and destinations during a single trip. Timely train stations make getting from one place to another economical, and for those who prefer to fly, regional carriers can transport you to new destinations typically in about an hour’s time. If you take the time to make the trek across the Atlantic, don’t be afraid to seek out other destinations from your main locale—they might be closer and more accessible than you think. One of my wife’s and my more recent trips included London and the Scottish lowlands. Through some careful planning we were able to stay in four places within eight days, while not being overwhelmed with travel times and location changes.
One major advantage to beginning your trip in London is the daily direct flights from Seattle to Heathrow. Just about any day of the week you can depart for a red eye that puts you down around 11:30am local time in the U.K. (Note: Fewer flights are available at the time of this writing due to airline recovery from COVID-19). We flew Virgin Atlantic and were very impressed. All meals, snacks and beverages, including alcohol, are included with your ticket, and the staff was exceptionally friendly. There are five different classes of traveler with basic coming in between just $400 to $500 for the round trip.
The United Kingdom is eight hours ahead of U.S. Pacific time. Whether you are able to sleep or not during the 9.5-hour flight, I recommend then you skip the nap after you get off the plane, and force yourself to stay up until your adjusted normal bedtime. You’ll probably still experience some jet lag, but your excitement upon reaching your destination should help keep you awake.
A bustling city and Europe’s financial capital, London can look overwhelming at first but for a city of its magnitude is easy to navigate. Much of London is laid out in neighborhoods, and accommodations tend to cater more to the character of each neighborhood. Covent Garden is near Piccadilly Circus, The British Museum, Westminster Abbey and Big Ben. A stay here and you can easily walk to all these destinations, but you will pay a lot for a small hotel room. More affordable options lay further out from the main attractions. There is no need to rent a car here, as short taxi rides are generally affordable, and ‘The Tube’ (subway system) connects every part of the city so you can easily bounce across town to various locations. My wife, being a Harry Potter fan, had to make a stop at King’s Cross Station, where you can have your photo taken at Platform 9 ¾, well-known to any Potter fan. If you are staying more than a couple of days, an Oyster Card will save you some money on mass transit costs. Also slightly more expensive but a fun way to see the city is by river ferries, which run seven days a week. London is an amazingly diverse place, and while you can get fish ‘n chips at many a pub, you can also find wonderful Indian, Thai, French and Mediterranean options. While we were here for just a couple of nights we were able to see a show in the Theatre District, tour the British Museum and National Portrait Gallery, stroll through Trafalgar Square, see Parliament and Big Ben, and still take in a few local pubs and great restaurants. The options are truly limitless.
The bulk of our trip, however, was to be spent in Scotland. There are about 20 trains a day that run from London to Glasgow, and we hopped on one that took about 4.5 hours. The birthplace of the Steam Engine, this city was home to the biggest shipyards and shipbuilders in the world for much of the 18th,19th and portions of the 20th century.
The city hit a downturn in the ‘70s and ‘80s and was more known for brawling than tourism, but a recent resurgence has seen that image start to fade away again, although not entirely. The saying from Glasweigens goes like this: “We have more fun at a Glasgow funeral than people from Edinburgh do at a wedding.” This was evidenced by our first restaurant stop where the waiter/owner asked us how long we’d been in Scotland. As we told him we just arrived his response was, “OK, let’s get ya drunk!” We wandered the first night from pub to pub, sampling local beers and whiskeys. While you can seek out rougher establishments, we never felt unsafe, and there are also a surprisingly large variety of restaurants here as well. In Glasgow, you can check out the Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum, Riverside Museum and Glasgow Science Centre.
Nearly half our trip was spent relaxing in the Scottish countryside, and it’s just as it’s portrayed on screen. Whereas the highlands are known for dramatic cliffs and craggy coastlines, the lowlands are a sparsely populated area, much of which is covered by farmlands and sheep. Stone fences draped with centuries-old vines line properties, and the country is immensely green due to the mist and almost daily light showers. We rented a car and drove about 50 minutes out of Glasgow to a cottage with a view of Loch (Lake) Lomond. Driving on the opposite side of the road with the steering wheel also opposite is very foreign, but after about 20 minutes or so it starts to feel more natural.
We had dinner in the village of Drymen and unknowingly stumbled into the oldest licensed pub in all of Scotland, The Clachan Inn, which has been operating (legally) since 1734. We took a short day trip out to Stirling Castle, which has an amazing history and overlooks the battlefields made famous in the movie “Braveheart.” And what would a trip to Scotland be without a visit to a distillery? Scotch whiskey enthusiasts will set up entire weeks just to visit the popular distilling regions. We toured Glengoyne Distillery, where we learned the process and sampled 12- and 18-year-old single malts. While the general sense is all Scotch is heavily peated and smoky, different regions and different distillers each have their own signature taste. Many places around the country you can order 25-milliliter (.85 ounce) sizes for between $4 and $6 U.S. This is a great way to try several without breaking the bank—or your liver.
We decided to stay one more night before departing London again and settled on Edinburgh, the Scottish capital. The train ride was not even an hour, and there are dozens of hotels within walking distance of the main station. While much more touristy than Glasgow, the Royal Mile maintains its charm and history, even if it is filled with souvenir shops and trinkets. This section of Old Town contains most of the major attractions all easily accessed along a single street. The view from Edinburgh Castle is particularly striking as you can see the contrast between Old Town and New Town. Old Town is steep, and some of the most fun is to slip in between narrow alleys and see where you come out.
In a week we were able to see everything from a bustling metropolis to the peace and serenity of the countryside. We took in ancient artifacts and paintings, as well as lakeside sunsets and the laughter of the local pub. If you’re planning a trip to Europe, don’t be afraid to venture outside of London, Paris, Barcelona, Rome or Dublin. You’ll be surprised by what you can experience just a short distance away from the main cities, as often these are where you’ll find your favorite memories.