3:50am. The iPhone alarm chirps us awake. An early start to an easy travel day. A puddle-jumper from Aberdeen to London, arriving in time for a late breakfast. If there are any signs that today would be an unusual travel day, I miss them.
4:15am. The door to Cluny Hill’s glass-enclosed foyer locks behind us. At this northern latitude, it is already light out, crisply cool, clear and blue skies. Ali Sun and I are buoyed by our good fortune – not a drop of rain as we wheel our bags downhill, through the empty downtown Forres, over to the bridge to the tiny train station.
We briefly meet the Caddy’s, taking the same train towards Aberdeen, with a final destination of Bali. Jonathan built Cornerstone in 1991 for his mother Eileen, Findhorn co-founder, where she lived until her passing in 2006. Her home was our home for two weeks. We had very much hoped to meet the Caddy family during our stay.
5:19am. The train is precisely on-time, almost two hours to our destination, unremarkable save for the rolling green hills of Scotland on which sheep and cow rouse for the new day.
7:50am. After a passable breakfast in the airport pub, we navigate through security and find a couple seats in the crowded terminal. It is as crowded as the fog is thick outside. No, it is crowded because the fog is thick outside. The arrival and departure boards are in triage, filled with diversions, delays and now cancellations.
8:20am. Our flight in twenty minutes is delayed another twenty minutes, trivial compared to some flights four hours behind.
8:30am. Our flight is cancelled. We are directed through the Arrivals gate, back into the main terminal. We queue up, I purchase Boingo Wireless, and log in.
Aberdeen is a small airport. Small airports are characterized by very few flights to the place you want to go. I find us two seats on an easyjet flight at 8:55pm. Perhaps we can sleep in our non-refundable London hotel room tonight.
We check in with the Caddy’s – let’s just say Aberdeen > Birmingham > Doha, Qatar > Bali is not a route characterized by good and frequent options.
9:45am. Ali Sun and I retreat to the airport pub, commandeer a corner table, split a salmon salad, resign ourselves to a twelve hour layover.
11:40pm. An airline rep at the counter gives me a tip. She walks me over to the windows at the front of the terminal and says, See that building over there? You can’t see it when the fog is too thick to fly.
1:00pm. The fog rolls back in. I can’t see the building.
1:15pm. I am on the phone with easyjet. They will refund the evening flight less €60 per ticket. Good enough, I suppose. We take a taxi to Dyce train station, the train arrives two minutes later, we arrive at Aberdeen Station three minutes after a train leaves for London.
I buy not-cheap tickets with two transfers, call the London hotel, let them know we will arrive around 1am. At this point I am not looking forward to my phone bill from AT&T.
3:50pm. The train leaves the station for Edinburgh with us on it, travels south down the beautiful east coast of Scotland. Sun, rain and clouds alternate. My eyes are heavy; I doze for a few minutes at a time as we stop in towns with legendary links courses such as the venerable Carnoustie. The conductor on the PA says something about flooding on the western destinations.
6:00pm. A half hour outside of Edinburgh, we lament that we can’t have dinner with dear friend Hani Hong, in town with her love Andrew for TED Global, before we continue on to London.
6:32pm. We arrive ten minutes late to Edinburgh. No matter – our train to Wolverhampton isn’t on the board. Cancelled. Floods.
6:50pm. I call Hani from Edinburgh Waverley, she answers. I’m three blocks away, she says. Come drop your bags, we’ll figure it out. What an angel.
We roll our bags through Edinburgh. It is magnificent. Architecture, churches, public spaces, picnics in the park – all the trappings of a cosmopolitan, liveable city. What a blessing to see a postcard’s worth, and a tease too.
It is graduation weekend at the University of Edinburgh. Five thousand graduates, ten thousand relatives, hotels are booked solid. I find a room for $140 in a guest house a couple kilometers away on Hotwire and book it.
As we leave Hani’s hotel for dinner, I ask the concierge to call over to our guest house. The phone number is disconnected. The mobile number is answered by a robot. You have reached 0 – 3 – 4…
I have the taxi driver swing by – the place does exist. A guest answers the door, suggests I call the mobile number to get our codes and keys. Hani, Ali Sun and I go eat Turkish.
10:35pm. We hug Hani goodbye, take a cab. Our guest hotel is pitch black. I call and call, ring the door bell, knock on the door. The same guest graciously lets us in, I prepare to sleep in the living room when my cell rings. The owner is grateful to get ahold of me, very apologetic. Also because there’s no cold water and no light in the bathroom.
5:00am. The iPhone chirps us awake. We sleep until six, head off to the local train station for the five minute ride to Waverley. All westbound trains are cancelled. Mudslides. I am fully prepared for locusts and pestilence at this point.
The next train is 7:40am. We are warned it will be crowded. It is not an understatement. We wheel our bags around pillars on the landing, the doors open at precisely the right time. I haul our bags onto the train. Printed tickets mark reserved seats. We score two unreserved, available seats – separate but equal – in the same car. I find a home for our luggage. The train fills and fills and fills. Bodies are packed together, a number of lads between me and the toilet across the aisle, and yet a couple more separating Ali Sun and myself.
An hour and a quarter to the first stop. Half the train is drinking beer, not all of them en route to a to a Stone Roses-headlined festival in Manchester. The crowd is jovial and good-natured as bladders are filled and then released. One chap from Edinburgh keeps track of who is in line for the loo, with the queue squeezing in from both directions.
8:55am. People don’t get off at the first stop – they get on. Our train is drunk and packed. A chain of three lads passes back water then a banana from Ali Sun. There’s your lunch, one says. Breakfast too, I reply.
We roll on another hour, relinquish our seats, find a couple square feet to gather our bags in the center of the car. The train slows at Preston, the girl next to me shows me her iPhone – our train to London is cancelled. We stay on the train instead of disembarking.
We stand for the next hour, continuing on to Manchester. Ali Sun meets a motley crew – a ribald red-faced Scot who flirts with her and the other ladies, a concertgoer in a mini skirt, a well-dressed young man destined for the UN. She’s ten feet away from me, separated by a sea of people. I can occasionally catch her eye through the crowd as someone shifts their weight from the left foot to the right.
10:45am. The UN-bound chap helps us queue at Manchester Station. We find seats on a Virgin train to London. Dinner plans are on with Leia and Neil.
Ali Sun goes to the toilet on the train – a girl recognizes her from Paris in September, remembers her name. Wing and Stephen are in route to London for a wedding. Friends of Chris and Pausha. We hired Stephen for some design work last year. Ridiculous bumping into someone you know on a train from Manchester to London. I later email Chris a photo – he can only reply, Holy sh*t. No f*cking way.
1:20pm. We arrive at London Euston, swim against the crowds. Our Oystercards have enough money loaded from three weeks prior to get us on the Tube, under the Thames, exiting at Vauxhall on the east bank of the river.
Our hotel is luxurious. Thirty-five hours after rising in Forres, Scotland, traveling a mere 500 miles, we roll our bags into our room in London, just an hour flight away. Shower. Room service. Internet. Then off to the National Museum and dinner with friends. The next morning we depart for Paris.