Scotland: Isle of Skye, Edinburgh Panoramas

by Mark

We had some great weather during our visit of the Isle of Skye and Edinburgh.

Here are some panoramas of smashing cliff side views of the sea, rolling highland hills, and downtown centers steeped in Scottish history.

Click the links for an interactive view.

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Our First Megabus Gold Experience (Edinburgh to London)

by Karen

When trying to figure out a way to get from Edinburgh to London, Mark & I had tried looking at different types of transportation. Planes were cheap, but had crazy fees and we didn’t want to deal with rushing to an obscure airport. Trains were fast and ideal, but crazy expensive, at least in Britain. Then we looked at buses.

Many people in the US may have heard of a company called Megabus. They provide low-cost bus service between various cities in the US, and sometimes have crazy $1 ticket sales if you are lucky enough to come across them. They are generally these double-decker buses that provide power outlets and free (but inconsistent) wi-fi on every seat. I’ve taken Megabus before from Boston-NYC, and NYC-Albany for $18 each leg, and was generally pleased with it (though the wi-fi could’ve been better!).

Imagine my glee when I found out they also had Megabus in the UK, and for the same low costs. Imagine my even bigger glee when I discovered Megabus Gold: “sleeper buses” from Scotland to London, i.e., overnight 8 hour buses with BEDS.
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Holy crap, I thought, this is exactly what we needed. It would get us from Edinburgh to London for cheaper than a train ticket, AND it would save us the cost of a hostel for a night. Killing two birds with one stone, nice!

I managed to book our “mobile hostel” for £70 total (£35/person). I’ve had previous experience riding sleeper trains before in Malaysia, but never buses, so I wasnt sure what to expect. Our bus would leave from Edinburgh at 11pm and arrive in London around 7am.

Upon boarding Megabus Gold, we were given our choice of beds, first-come. I’ve heard of some routes with assigned seats though. Each compartment had an upper bunk and a lower bunk. The top bunks are secured by a harness and safety nets, almost like sleeping on a hammock. The bottom bunks were mattresses on top of folded down seats.
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Here’s what they don’t tell you on the website: all beds on the right-side of the bus are singles, both top and bottom bunks. All the beds on the left-side are doubles, with a single on the top. They obviously built the doubles with couples and families in mind (yay us!), but not such a great idea when traveling solo (unless you like sharing bed with random strangers)!
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Mark & I picked our double (which was the perfect size for us), but we heard other people on the bus grumble about how tight the spaces were in regards to the heights between the top and bottom bunks. Mind you, both Mark & I are shorter than 5’2″. Most of the other passengers appeared around 6’0″ or taller. If you sat up in your bed, you’d probably get a nasty bruise on your head.

Since our route was direct to London without any pickups, and with only 14 passengers that night (there are approx 24 beds), many people detached their top bunks and created cozy spaces for themselves.

The bathrooms on the bus are pretty much like airplane bathrooms, same tightness of space. On my particular trip, the sink didn’t work, but luckily I brought plenty of hand sanitizer. The “dining room” is downstairs, as are some compartments for the disabled and concierge. There is also a coffee & tea station.

So, here’s what is included:
– a small pillow (like airline pillows), wasn’t too comfy, but I grabbed an extra one off an empty bunk
– a fleece blanket, good size and very warm
– a bottle of water & a muffin as a late night snack
– a juice box and a pastry for breakfast
– a bed, the mattress feels a bit stiff in the middle
– wi-fi (still inconsistent)
– multiple electrical outlets (woohoo!)
– restrooms downstairs (it’s a double decker)
– a call button, in case you need something from their “concierge”
– a fold-down dining table (for doubles only)
– mood-lighting, or your own personal lamp
– your own air vent
– window shades to block out the sun

What you should bring:
– a second pillow, or puffy jacket to rest your head on, I felt theirs were a bit flat
– earplugs or headphones, though to be honest they didn’t help
– eye mask, in case you need it
– carabiners in case you need to put away the top bunk the way we did, in pure ghetto-engineering fashion (rolled up and secured the hammock to its safety supports)
– a sweater in case you get cold, but the fleece blanket is pretty good quality and thick, and they do turn the heat on a bit
– a flashlight or headlamp in case you need to use the bathroom, it’s pretty dark on the bus.

(Unfortunately, they do not provide you with a onesie as promised on their website.)

Essentially you are sleeping in a moving hostel. A very classy moving hostel. In fact, this bus looked and felt a lot nicer than the hostel we stayed in the previous night. I felt more camaraderie on this bus than I did sharing a room in my hostel; this whole experience is very novel to all its passengers, and we were all sharing it together. How do we create more space for ourselves? How do we hack these bunks? What do the light switches do? Oh look, you can adjust your harnesses like this! Let’s see who can snore the loudest! I know this varies on each ride, but we were lucky enough to have respectful passengers on our bus. Everyone was quiet, courteous, and didn’t disturb anyone.
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There are no privacy curtains, so you will be able to see your neighbor across the aisle. But it’s very dark and you should be sleeping anyway. There is a bit of mood & track lighting, but it’s a faint neon blue glow. It can get noisy from snoring, but the bus rattles are louder. To me, they aren’t any more distracting than an airplane engine or a train chugging along.

If you have a tendency to get sea sick or vertigo, this may not be an ideal ride for you. You are lying down flat on a moving bus! It did feel a bit strange with the bus in motion and my feet facing towards the front of the bus, the momentum made it feel as if I was tipping upside-down onto my head. It can be a bit disorienting at first, but with a proper head cushion, it should work out.

And so, the results? I didn’t get a very restful sleep (to be honest, I don’t know if it’s because of the bus, or because I’m an insomniac, I didn’t try to sleep until 2:30am-ish), but Mark slept quite well. The other passengers had mixed results as well: some slept very well, others not so much. It’s all based on your own personal sleep “skills”.

They turn the lights on about 20 minutes before you arrive at the bus station, and when you leave, they give you a juice box and a chocolate croissant for breakfast. Not bad.

I would definitely give Megabus Gold another shot. There are some things I would’ve done differently in order to sleep better (use my jacket as a pillow, wear an eyemask, use a sleepsack so I don’t flail around, left the top hammock alone and used it as our storage rack). I wouldn’t say that you’d gain an extra day of sightseeing just by doing overnight traveling, but if your destination happens to be a 10 minute walk to Buckingham Palace at sunrise, it might be worth checking out that option.
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Scotland, Day 2 Photos – Isle of Skye

via our Facebook page:

http://www.facebook.com/pages/p/190184244496819

Updated Itinerary

Mark & I sat down and re-hashed our itinerary, currently in its 5th iteration. We’ve decided to add more time to Scotland & England, bump Turkey up to post-Morocco, cut Salzburg and Stuttgart, and add some Baltic States lovin’. It’s like we’re playing musical chairs with Europe.

With all these changes, this puts us in Munich for Christmas (which I greatly prefer over Berlin), and Vienna for New Years’ Day (which was highly recommended over Prague).

Mark is worried that we don’t have the luxury of downtime once we come back from Europe though, and it seems like all out major stays — Paris, Morocco, Turkey, Rome — are happening upfront, while our more hectic trips are towards the 2nd half of our journey.

 

Flights to Europe booked!

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Went ahead and booked our tickets for Reykjavik & Glasgow!

The return flight is a bit trickier. We have 40k AA miles and that itself should cover the cost of both our tickets back to Boston. But, being the frugal flier that I am, I want to maximize the value I get from my points and take advantage of the free US stopover that comes with our ticket.

NYC? MIA? IAD? ORD? Possibilities!

Also, I hate the fact that British Airways charges $600 in fees when using these miles. What’s the point of using frequent flier miles if I have to practically pay the cost of a one-way ticket anyways?