Eight o' clock, the alarm goes off. Groan! Stop bitching, you're going to be in Scotland tonight! While my travel companion is taking a shower, I go about preparing breakfast. We already sorted our luggage the previous night, so after a lengthy breakfast we're on time when the doorbell goes around ten thirty. This is another friend who will take us and our assorted luggage to the airport in her car.
The check-in counter isn't open yet, so we get our first taste of British lifestyle: forming an orderly queue. Since we managed to check in on-line for the flight to Heathrow, we actually get priority treatment after they do open, so we breeze through with enough time to spare for a warm meal, but not enough time for a spell of fresh air. The acoustics at the airport are very good, so it's not noisy at all, and the bathrooms are very clean. Two facts we will come to appreciate later on.
Our flight is on time, and after touch down we realize how huge Heathrow really is. However, after approximately two hours of being cooped up in a winged metal box, we enjoy having a little walk. We have no problem finding the luggage reclaim when we do arrive - which our luggage does not. So, the endless wait begins, while flight after flight which is actually below us on the list gets their belts assigned. Why they and not us? What a cruel world, we think, as we keep checking our watches and start getting fidgety about our connecting flight. Even with our wrist watches already set one hour back for local time, it seems mightily close.
Finally, it's our turn, and we get a trolley and follow the signs to the central bus station, where they rip us off for a ticket to the Gatwick shuttle. A few days later, we will get from Inverness
to Glasgow for the same price! That's London for you. Our bus driver does what he can to get us to our destination fast enough, but first he has to go to Terminal 4 to pick up some more passengers, and getting there alone takes about half an hour. Did I mention Heathrow was huge? Next, we're stuck in rush hour traffic. The bus' clock says five thirteen, so no surprise there. Now we're really getting worried, since our connecting flight is scheduled to leave at seven fifty, and if we're stuck in traffic for a couple of hours, we're doomed. Wait a moment, five
thirteen? Didn't I set my watch and it says four
thirteen? Now totally confused, I switch on my cell phone and it says five thirteen, so the bus' clock is actually on continental time! I switch my cell phone off again. While I relax a bit I get my first glance of Scotland: a car with a Saltire sticker on the back. Finally, two of the five lanes branch off the motorway, and once we're through the junction the traffic starts flowing.
We reach Gatwick South Terminal at ten to six, and the place is a zoo. Obviously an older airport not constructed for the amount of people in it at the moment, it is not only cramped but also very noisy. We find a monitor that leads us to our check-in counter. Luckily, the queue dwindles very fast, so it's out turn in no time. The lady behind the counter asks us some security questions. Do you carry meat products? No. Do you carry dairy products? No, I lie again. After all, the big sign at Heathrow only mentioned about not importing them from outside the EU, and this is a domestic flight anyway. Besides, I'm hungry. After a visit to the bathroom with the loudest hand dryer I have heard in my life - remember nice, quiet, luxurious, provincial Hamburg with the sweeping architecture? - I go about eliminating my meat and dairy products - a ham and a cheese sandwich. With butter on them.
I'm having my dinner while waiting in the departure line, since getting the masses through security is quite a circus. My friend generously shares her water with me that she bought at Heathrow, and we manage to empty the bottle in time before they take it off us. I'm glad I managed to practice at leisure in Hamburg, so I already know what will set the beeps off. I just tell the security guy to give me a box and merrily start dumping my stuff: digicam and clear plastic resealable baggie of 1l capacity maximum with pastes and liquids in bottles no larger than 100ml each from my backpack (now you can pause for breath), purse, leather travel paper container (the metal detectors are not fond of the concert ticket in it), and of course the backpack itself. And this time, everybody has to take off their shoes as well.
After a hot drink we don't manage to finish, we leg it to our gate, which we reach just in time as it opens. Did I say I switched off my cell phone? Luckily, I'm paranoid enough to double-check, because I find I didn't. The airplane is an older model and we sink into seats that hardly allow us to peek above the backrests in front of us. This is the only downside to this flight though - apart from the fact they don't give you a glass of water without charging you 99p for it - since this is the smoothest take off and landing I have ever experienced! And although we leave five minutes late, we actually arrive five minutes early. The first thing I notice as I step off the plane is the air. You know what they say about fresh Highland air? They're not exaggerating. And no, it's not raining. We enjoy the moment as we walk across the tarmac - we made it, we're really in Scotland!
This time, our luggage arrives in no time at all, and we head to the taxi stand, which we find deserted. Except for a few other people hoping to flag a cab. So, I head back inside the airport building and get our taxi organized. While we wait, we enjoy the mild night and listen to the cry of the seagulls. Our ride arrives after not too long a wait, and after our heavy bags have been stored in the boot, my friend heads towards the passenger's seat, since she prefers to sit in front. Our taxi driver's reaction: "You can drive if you want." Oh well, the force of habit... right and left sorted out, we head towards Inverness and I spot my first bilingual road sign at the roundabout: Inverness / Inbhir Nis
and Aberdeen / Obar Dheathain
Our driver turns out to be a friendly chatterbox, and after finding out that we're going to the Runrig concert, he switches to his In Search of Angels
CD. The perfect soundtrack for my first drive down a Highland road, through the night. Darkness, exhaustion and the unfamiliar side of the road and the music I know so well make for a disorienting mix, turning almost surreal while I still haven't fully grasped that we've arrived at last, after almost a full year of planning our trip.
After pointing out the best pubs to us - which unfortunately we will not be able to hit with our too busy schedule - our driver leaves us at our B&B's doorstep with a Highland Taxis
business card. Our landlord walks us up a side road to a different B&B, because he had lost our booking and was double-booked for the weekend. That very day, he had finally managed to get us accommodated for the night of the concert as well, but we would have to move. 17,000 people are quite a crowd to hit the area, and everything had already been booked solid for months. At our new home - which is very satisfactory - we pretty much drop into our beds after admiring the patterned wallpaper and making our breakfast arrangements.