Wednesday, October 26, 2005

They must really not want people to visit Orkney from Edinburgh, because holy hell that was the longest trip ever. I left my house at 6am and checked into my hotel at 8:45. PM. Nearly fifteen hours of traveling. Three trains, a walk, and a ferry. Here’s how it went:

Train from Edinburgh to Perth. I went to Perth, you may remember. It was the town where, when I asked what there was to do there, people frowned and said, “In Perth…?” This is also, I’d failed to mention, the land of no trash cans. I mean it. None. Not even in the bathrooms. Even the women’s bathrooms! I asked about this, and the reason, apparently, is security. So people don’t throw bombs disguised as trash into one of the trashcans.

My question is how that stops people from just leaving, say, a paper bag with explosives in it on a bench. But what do I know?

Then I took a train from Perth to Inverness. It was on this train ride that I’d woken up enough to do something other than just stare. So I started reading the book I brought with me, because I learned a while ago that one should never, ever, travel without a book. And the train was late getting in, so I booked it to the next train, which was:

The train from Inverness to Thurso. Thurso is way (way) up north. I had quite a layover there – three hours until the bus to Scrabster that the Train Information Man told me about, that I couldn’t find. I asked him twice, and he sent me the wrong way the first time around. Said to go right when I needed to go straight. Jerk. The only bus times I could find were for 6:18pm, and an alleged 5:55pm (one bus station said that’s when it would show up at the train station, but the train station didn’t agree).

Or I could walk – Train Information Man said it was about an hour walk. There was very little to do in Thurso – a few shops. I stopped in a bakery and asked what kind of soup they had. “Broth.” Oh! Yes. Broth of some variety. And so I had that, and ascertained that it was, indeed, broth of some variety. With carrot and onion bits.

I got bored after about an hour and a half of walking up and down the same street, wondering about bus times and trying to figure out how the hell I was going to spend another two hours there. So I decided to try and walk. And it was a fine walk, the only problem being that while Thurso has almost nothing in the town, Scrabster has less than nothing.

See, the thing about Thurso and Scrabster is that they’re both towns that you go to in order to leave them. Unless you live there the only reason to go there is to catch anything you can to get out.

Scrabster has the port, a seafood place, two closed restaurants (rumor had it that they were opening later in the evening), and a hotel (for whoever misses the last train, I’m guessing). And a really terrible name. Lovely sunset, though.

With this dearth of, well, anything in the towns I have to say that the ferry is ridiculously swish (isn’t that the greatest term? I thought so!). It’s like walking into a hotel. There’s a restaurant, a bar, a game room (gambling and video games), a shop, lounges, couches, and tvs. I watched the Simpsons for most of the 90-minute trip. Okay, drinking beer on a boat? Crazy weird. The boat, being on water, rocks back and forth and you start to wonder if it’s the boat or the beer that’s causing the weave in your step.

It was dark so I didn’t get to see any of the sights that one is rumored to pass while on the journey, but I wasn’t totally keen on doing more than sit and watch tv so that wasn’t a huge deal.

I didn’t feel like a B&B – I wanted a hotel with my own bathtub (if possible) and food and – okay, I just really wanted to crash. Not much else mattered. It being dark I wandered around the one lit street that I could see, where I did indeed find a hotel and was thrilled to check in.

“What kind of room would you like?” the clerk asked. I blinked at her.
“One with a bed in it, I think.” Unless they have a dining room free. That’d be cozy.
“One with a bed in it,” she repeated loudly, clearly not interested in my attempt at dry local humor.

The distinction she was making, and I know you had this figured out ages ago, was whether I wanted a bath or a shower in my room. Ohhhh, right. Silly me.

Food, bath, tv, sleep, and life is much better, thank you. But all I could think after, oh, noon was “This had better be a fucking impressive place.”

Tip learned too late: If you want to go to Orkney from E-burgh or similar, go to Inverness for a day or two and then go to Orkney, then go and spend some more time in Inverness. Because, and note how I come full circle here, holy hell.

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