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Tag: Aberdeen

Flying Scotsman Trip – Epilogue

Now some time has passed, the bags are completely unpacked and back on the attic, and I’ve reverted to a slightly healthier lifestyle again, I’m taking some time to look back on my epic Flying Scotsman Trip. In general, it went remarkably well!

Trains & Buses

All the trains I booked well in advance—notably Eurostar, the Caledonian Sleeper to Inverness, and the LNER back to London—were on time, and fully functional. Only the catering side was still a bit sub-par, due to COVID measures, or other reasons: no full menu on the sleeper—which I only know about because of a text message sent to my Belgian phone number, since I only had charcuterie and whisky—and they ran out of bacon rolls on the LNER way too soon!

Most of my ScotRail train tickets were flexible, although most of the time, I took the train I planned on taking anyway. I used the offer to upgrade to first class for £3 a couple of times, mainly because I really prefer solo seats, especially when travelling in a kilt. On one train, the train conductor refused to sell me the upgrade, but let me sit in first class for free, because I was ‘not getting anything in return anyway’… It was nice being able to buy and save all my tickets in-app, an option that wasn’t available yet when I first started planning this trip.

To get to Culloden Battlefield, to Peterhead and Ellon, and to St Andrews, I used Stagecoach buses, usually with digital DayRider tickets. They were never scanned, by the way, I just had to show them to the driver. It’s really convenient to have USB charging ports available on those buses.

In Glasgow and Edinburgh I only used digital tickets as well for the local buses, and for the Glasgow Subway the smartcard I still had from years before. I didn’t buy a single paper transport ticket the whole trip!

Hotels

In northeastern Scotland (Aberdeen, Dundee, and Perth) I stayed in Travelodge hotels. It’s remarkable how different they can be! The first one had two extra single beds in the room, the second one just one, and the third one —just when you’re getting used to having an extra bed to put your stuff on—only had the double bed I actually booked. The last one, in Perth, still used actual keys, instead of keycards!

In Glasgow I stayed at easyHotel, as I had oft before. No surprised there, but I do think I’ve started to outgrow them, or at least their smallest rooms: when travelling for over a week—with a rather large bag and a kilt to air out every night—a bit of extra space is not just a luxury anymore.

In Edinburg and London I stayed at a hub by Premier Inn hotel, in virtually indistinguishable rooms. Even though they discontinued the room control app they used to have, the ease with which you can still control everything—light, temperature, DND sign…—and plethora of USB and power outlets, both UK and EU, to keep everything charged, make these my favourite rooms of the trip. A really nice bathroom helped too… To my surprise the London hub even had a breakfast buffet, which was really convenient on my last day.

Beers & Bars

This was a very beer-centric trip, to say the least… Apart from the BrewDog bars—discussed separately below—I also visited quite a few other bars and taprooms in the towns and cities I visited. Scotland sure has a lot to offer in that department! Unfortunately I missed out on a few, due to their often (still) limited opening hours, especially on Sundays and the first couple of days of the week. I’ll just have to go back another time!

I actually had about a third of my beers in London, and almost half of the bars I visited were there! Considering the only noteworthy hangovers I had this trip were after a day or evening in London, next time I might avoid cramming so many London bars in my schedule…

BrewDog Bars, Stamps & Badges

So the BrewDog bars I visited in Scotland were BrewDog Inverurie, BrewDog Castlegate, BrewDog Aberdeen, BrewDog Peterhead, Dogtap Ellon, BrewDog Union Square, BrewDog St Andrews, BrewDog Dundee, BrewDog Perth, BrewDog Stirling, BrewDog Merchant City, BrewDog Kelvingrove, BrewDog Cowgate, and BrewDog Lothian Road.

When people hear I visited all of them, they tend to ask “Which was your favourite?” Now that’s a very hard question to answer! Some of them will always remain special to me: Cowgate was my first BrewDog bar ever, and where I drank my first BrewDog beers. In Kelvingrove I spent many hours—and had over a hundred beers, according to Untappd—and it still feels like home there… To fully appreciate the other bars, I should really revisit them a couple of times. A hungover afternoon visit, or being the first customer in for lunch, or the last customer on a Monday night, it just doesn’t compare to a visit on a buzzing Saturday night, or when meeting a friend during quiz night…

That being said, I had a great time in all of them. I didn’t catch anyone on a ‘bad day’, and felt very welcome in every single BrewDog bar. And even though I already tried most of the BrewDog beers on tap—and it didn’t take long to try the remaining ones—the guest beers were sufficiently different and interesting to keep me occupied for quite a while, and without having to drink the same beer twice.

To keep myself from forgetting to get my Beer Visa stamp, I usually put the booklet in front of me on the table. More than once, a crew member would come to my table with the stamp when they noticed it. It was really nice to see how much pride some took in making sure the stamp was the nicely centred and the right way up, and rather funny to get warnings about other bars, because ‘they always put the stamp upside down’…

I tried to get a pin badge in all bars as well, but some didn’t have any: I seem to be missing the ones for Inverurie, Ellon, St Andrews, and Merchant City. Another reason to go back soon?

Even though they swiped my EFP card in about half the bars, none of the digital stamps appeared automatically. After reporting them online however, they soon showed up, and even the Homedog and coveted Flying Scotsman challenge now appear as completed!

Kilts & Compliments

From the moment I alighted the Caledonian Sleeper, until the day I went back to London, I was wearing my eight yard MacLaren kilt, and I loved every minute of it. Some of the time I wore it with brogues—not ghillies!—and with proper garter ties, especially in more formal settings, like museums and memorials. Most of the time though, I wore it more informally, with a T-shirt, hiking boots, and the hose scrunched down, showing off my calf tattoos… Since I hardly ever wear shorts, I don’t get to do that very often!

As I’ve experienced before, even when a kilt isn’t an everyday occurrence, even in Scotland, no-one blinks an eye. If there is any reaction at all, it usually is a smile. On a couple of occasions, I even got a “Nice kilt”, or “Love your kilt” shoutout—thank you Glaswegian girls! When in one museum I suddenly noticed being followed by a guard, it turned out he had recognised my tartan, because he used to be in the Clan MacLaren Society council.

Only once this time, I was asked “Is Scotland playing tonight?” Apparently for some, that, and getting married, are the only reasons to kilt up! I don’t really need a reason though, and next time when I’m going to Scotland, I will definitely do it kilted again!

Flying Scotsman Trip – Day 3

Aberdeen, St Andrews, and Dundee

Although I actually planned to go for a run this morning, when I heard the park I planned to do it in was closed, I decided to sleep in instead. Actually quite enjoyed that…

This meant I had all the time in the world to get to BrewDog Union Square for one of my favourite breakfasts: chicken and waffles. As weird as it may seem, hot sauce and maple sirup drizzled over deep fried chicken and sweet waffles make for a great combination! This last Aberdeen BrewDog bar visit and its accompanying stamp also marked the completion of the Home Dog challenge…

Since the Union Square shopping centre is connected to the train station, it was a smooth transition from breakfast onto my ScotRail train to Dundee. Although I would be staying the night there, I only quickly dropped off my bag, before jumping onto a Stagecoach bus to St Andrews, where I would spend most of my day.

My first stop was the museum of the university, the Wardlaw Museum. As far as university museums go, this was a really nice one. I especially enjoyed the Philip Colbert exhibition, ‘the godson of Andy Warhol’.

I then took some time to breathe in some of that fresh sea breeze, while admiring St Andrews Castle, before heading to the taproom of the local brewery, St. Andrews Brewing Co.

The main purpose of my visit to this university town—where most of the accents I heard weren’t local at all—was of course BrewDog St Andrews. While I had had most of BrewDog’s own beers by now, the guest list here was impressive, and kept me occupied for quite a while.

I also gave the seitan ‘wings’ a try for the first time, and I must say, I kinda like them! Just serve them with the (non vegan) blue cheese dip, and they’d be perfect!

Then it was time to get on the bus again—this is the only Scottish city with a BrewDog bar, but no train station, if you don’t count Hop Hub—to Dundee. After picking up my bag again, I first had some fish ‘n’ chips at Tailend. In a city right next to the sea, with so many fishing trailers in sight, I simply had to! And even though I’m not a big fish eater, I really enjoyed it.

After checking into my Travelodge hotel, it was time for one more stop in Dundee: BrewDog Dundee. Quite quiet on a Monday night, but with a couple of interesting guest beers on tap, still a nice place to spend a couple of hours. Seeing all the arches and huge stones, I would love to know more about the history of the building!

Flying Scotsman Trip – Day 2

Peterhead, Ellon, and back to Aberdeen

The second day in Scotland started—as it probably will a couple more times—at the Travelodge breakfast buffet. After that was time to fulfil the last Corona formality: taking the self test, and mailing it. It was even more extensive than the tests performed by professionals, probing both throat and nose! After I got rid of this biohazard, I still had time for an espresso macchiato at BrewDog Castlegate before my bus to Peterhead would leave.

I arrived at BrewDog Peterhead just after they opened, and managed to order the last Smokey Joe pizza, since they apparently ran out of smoked sausage. I was hoping to see some of local brewery Brew Toon, but neither bottle shop nor taproom was open… The bus I planned to take to Ellon afterwards, apparently didn’t run today, so I had some more coffee at Symposium Coffee while I waited.

Luckily the staff at DogTap was happy to change my booking, and when I arrived, the welcome was as warm as it could be, and I don’t just mean the indoor wood fires. They even had a goodie pack for me, because they felt sorry they couldn’t yet provide the tour I was hoping for! Seriously guys, thank you!

It was nice to have a slightly different menu here, and I really enjoyed the oak fired chicken. Frickles—fried pickles—however, are not really my thing. After devouring the chicken, I did my own tour, in the publicly accessible parts, that is. There’s even a indoor roof terrace with a view on the humongous canning line!

After I made it back to Aberdeen, my first stop was the Fierce Bar: quite a cosy bar, and a great tap list!

My last stop of the evening was at CASC. I didn’t try any of the cigars or whisky: just the beer did do just nicely. Even though they’re still only using less than half of their lines, among what was available, were some bangers!

Flying Scotsman Trip – Day 1

Inverness, Inverurie, and Aberdeen

After a day of quite heavy drinking in London, and a nightcap on the train, I fell asleep—or did I pass out?—as soon as I put my head down. I even forgot to take out my contact lenses, or set my alarm, so when I eventually woke up, I was already late for breakfast! Luckily not too late, and mere minutes after getting up, I was enjoying a Highland breakfast and tea.

The Caledonian Sleeper arrived ten minutes early in Inverness, leaving me with a little less time than planned… In the rush, I couldn’t find my toiletry bag until the very last minute—it was on my bed under the blanket—leaving me with a rather peculiar hairdo for the rest of the day.

When I alighted in Inverness, I had still some time to kill before the first Stagecoach bus to Culloden Battlefield would leave, so I first had a coffee at Velocity Cafe and Bicycle Workshop.. The bus then dropped me off right in front of the visitor centre and museum. As a fresh National Trust for Scotland member, I had free access to the exhibition.

After that, I walked upon the battlefield itself. It was a chilling experience to stand on the exact spot where the MacLarens must have stood in 1746, in line with many other Jacobites, just seconds before advancing to the enemy, and for many of them, towards their death…

At Culloden I also learned that the perfect amount of social distancing is two Scottish broadswords long, or four targes. I think people would keep their distance much better if everyone was actually still wearing broadswords!

Back in Inverness, I had a pizza for lunch at the Black Isle Bar, where they of course also served beer from their brewery on the other side of the firth. Before getting to the train station, I had to little walk through town, and quickly visited Leakey’s Bookshop. After all, since handing over a sixpack of 75cl bottles, and a couple of cans and small bottles in London, I had plenty of room in my bag for books!

After this little excursion, it was time for the first Scottish BrewDog bar of this trip, and my first stamp towards the Flying Scotsman reward: BrewDog Inverurie! I was still a bit rough from the day before, so I just had one beer there, and a whole lot of water. The staff was great though, and the Craig Fisher graffitis were awesome as usual!

My last train of the day brought me to Aberdeen, which would be my home for the next two nights. I checked into Travelodge Aberdeen to get settled, and to check out my obligatory day two Corona test kit. It looks like I’ll get to play doctor on Sunday!

All settled, freshened up, and hair finally combed, I then headed to BrewDog Castlegate for dinner. I didn’t account for the Saturday night crowds, however, and had to wait outside for a bit. Not for long though, and I only just had the first sip from my second beer, when the lovely staff told me they found me a table! It then didn’t take long before I was tucking into a Korean fried chicken burger, this month’s special.

My final stop of the evening was at the OG BrewDog bar, BrewDog Aberdeen. Here BrewDog News Podcast’s Rob left me a bottle of MMXXX I won in a prize draw a couple of months ago. Thanks for that, Rob, and we’ll surely meet in person another time!

Kilted in Aberdeen

In a blog named Kilted Guy, it wouldn’t be right to skip the subject of being kilted in Aberdeen.

Usually I change into my kilt once I check into my hotel or hostel, but since we had the convenience of a private cabin in the Caledonian Sleeper, I could just put on my kilt in the morning, before even touching Aberdonian soil.

As usual in Scotland, people never seem to be fazed by the sight of a kilt — unlike in Brussels — and wearing my MacLaren kilt, I never received any remarks about it. Well, the lady at the left luggage facilities at the train station inquired about it, but she seemed to be seizing any opportunity to chat about anything…

During our stay in Aberdeen, we noticed two other kilties. The first one, a guy in his twenties, was wearing his kilt very casual. Read: halfway down his calves, way too low to my taste…
The other one was wearing a beautiful kilt, obviously made by 21st Century Kilts, easily identified by the typical kilt pin. He was wearing it exactly as you see it worn in the ads of the kilt maker, complete with high boots and scrunched down hoses. Now I look at their photos again, it might very well have been the white-bearded guy featuring in a couple of them!

For the Punk AGM I decided to wear my black ‘beer kilt’, complete with BrewDog-bottle-opener-converted-to-kilt-pin. Only minutes after leaving the hotel, someone noticed my BrewDog outfit, and wanted to take a photo of me.
At the AGM, someone else even made close-up shots of my kilt pin!
Then, while I was on my own for a couple of minutes, a Scottish lady — who obviously had a few beers too many already — came up to me to ask me why I was wearing “a schoolgirl’s skirt”! At first I thought it was because my black kilt is not the same high quality and yardage as my MacLaren kilt, and her Scottish eye spotted it was probably made in Pakistan. But no, it was merely because it was black! Apparently, in her mind, only a tartan kilt is a kilt.

I guess even some people in Scotland still have to get accustomed to ‘modern’ kilts…

Our Aberdeen Trip: BrewDog

BrewDog

We’ll be leaving for our next Scotland trip soon, and there were still two subjects about the our Aberdeen trip I wanted to discuss. One of them is BrewDog, since visiting their Punk AGM 2016 was the main goal of this trip!

We managed to visit eight different BrewDog bars — six of them for the first time: Camden, Soho, Clerkenwell, Aberdeen, DogTap, Underdog, Castlegate and Shoreditch. On top of that, we visited the brewery in Ellon, and of course the Punk AGM, where we also had the opportunity to have a drink at Truck Norris. On our way back we still had the opportunity to visit BottleDog Kings X and buy a great looking growler, filled of course!

We’re quite experienced BrewDog patrons by now — we’re Equity Punks after all — but it still strikes me every time again, how passionate everybody who works for BrewDog is about craft beer, and about their company!

We usually stick with beer when visiting BrewDog bars, but this trip we also had lunch one time, at BrewDog Soho. The patty melt and hot dog were tasty for sure, but I wouldn’t go out of my way to have lunch or dinner at BrewDog.
The Dear Green coffee on the other hand, was a surprise: it surely was the best espresso we had in Aberdeen!

Our Aberdeen Trip: Aberdeen

Aberdeen

It was our first time in Aberdeen, so on the first day there, we booked a tour to be shown the sights of the city. First stop was Footdee — locally known as Fittie — a quaint, little fishing village at the east end of the harbour. In the old town of Aberdeen, we made stops at University of Aberdeen and St Machar’s Cathedral. Apparently, that’s about all there is to see in Aberdeen…

The second day we visited the Tolbooth Museum, a 17th century jail, and the Maritime Museum. It had quite a nice collection of old ship models, and interesting exhibits about the history of the harbour and oil industry in Aberdeen. I couldn’t help feeling like there was quite a bit of greenwashing going on though… I really hope that a lot of that oil money is being invested in sustainable energy!


We tried finding a decent espresso bar, but they don’t seem to have them yet in Aberdeen. The best coffee we had, was actually at BrewDog Castlegate!


When it comes to beer, Aberdeen has a little bit more to offer, which isn’t surprising, considering this is the home town of BrewDog. But I’ll write more about BrewDog in a separate post.
We visited Six Degrees North, of course, but were surprised—even disappointed—to see the very commercial InBev pilsner Jupiler appearing on the board! We had all of the other Belgian beers before, but luckily they had a couple of beers of their own as well. Just a couple though, so we didn’t stay for long…
CASC was pretty interesting, but we didn’t have much time to spend there, since we were about to leave for London again. We tried to visit it on Friday night, but it was full, not surprising, since the town was being flooded with Equity Punks by then.

Our Aberdeen Trip: Accommodation

Accommodation

Seven days in the UK, that means six nights in a bed away from home. Well, two of those nights were spent in a train, and one of those wasn’t even in a bed… Never again!

In London we stayed in the Belgrove Hotel, mainly chosen for its proximity to our train station. Previously, we stayed at easyHotel, and we would happily have done so again, if only there would have been one near Euston station, so we can avoid taking the underground with our bags!
But the Belgrove Hotel did the trick, providing us with a clean place to sleep, breakfast, and somewhere to store our bags during the day not too far from the station. The latter is quite nice, considering the left luggage service at the train station costs £12.50.

In Aberdeen we stayed at Travelodge Aberdeen Central. For some reason, the ratings for this place were pretty low, but we really can’t understand why: central location, the rooms were clean and comfortable, the staff friendly and helpful, and the breakfast tasty and all-you-can-eat! Not to mention we paid as much for our three nights in Aberdeen, as we did for one night in London!
We had a peculiar wake-up service though: every morning a seagull came pecking on our window! It seems they’ve become accustomed to guests feeding them.

Our Aberdeen Trip: Transport

A week after our trip to London and Aberdeen, we’re well rested again, and all the photos have been collected from the different cameras. Time to look back on our experiences!

Getting there and back again

It all began with getting there, in our case by train, this time. The leg Brussels-London was pretty straightforward, with the Eurostar. The train was still the old model, but even those have power outlets next to the seats, if you pick the right car. But thanks to The Man in Seat Sixty-One, I knew exactly which seats to book to have power sockets, be near the bar vehicle, and be seated facing the direction of travel.

Departure from Brussels and arrival in London were exactly according to schedule.


A day later we continued our trip to Aberdeen in the Caledonian Sleeper. We checked in quite early, so after quickly dropping our bags in our private cabin, we were sipping a couple of beers in the lounge, even before the train started moving. The beds were quite comfortable, easily the best moving sleeping accommodation I’ve had so far.


To save a couple of pounds, we didn’t book the sleeper berths on our way back, but the ‘sleeper seats’. Worst travel decision in quite a while! Apparently they don’t even dim the lights in the sleeper seat section, the seats don’t recline very far, and there are people getting on and off the train all night… For a lower price, we could have taken a Megabus Gold, which would at least have had real berths, dimmed lights during the trip, and no people getting on and off during the night! Lesson learnt…

It was nice though we were able to buy shower vouchers on the train (£5 each), so we could freshen up in the Virgin First Class lounge at Euston station upon arrival.


After spending another day in London, the last leg of the journey was with the Eurostar again. Same comfortable seats as on the first leg, but with a 50 minute delay, which meant a long wait — we were early as well — in a very full and hot terminal at St Pancras station. We arrived in Brussels before midnight however, and made it home without any further hitches.


Budget permitting, we’ll surely take the Eurostar and Caledonian Sleeper again on our next trip to Scotland! It is quite nice to have the privacy of a sleeper cabin, to be able to change into my kilt just prior to arriving in Scotland, the luxury of a sink with hot running water, and a fresh cuppa served with your wake-up call!

Last Day in Aberdeen

Our last day in Aberdeen we needed to recover a bit from the #PunkAGM2016, so it was quite a calm one. Strolling through the city, having an afternoon tea at CUP, and of course a last visit to both BrewDog bars.
The Caledonian Sleeper trip back to London will be slightly less comfortable than the trip up north, since we only booked sleeper seats this time. I already regret it… It’s not that I won’t be able to sleep, but actually having a whole cabin to yourself, is quite nice.
Oh well, there’s always next time. 🙂

#PunkAGM2016

Our first BrewDog “Annual General Mayhem”, #PunkAGM2016, was awesome!
Loads of new beers to try — both by BrewDog and other breweries — interesting business updates and tasting sessions, tasty food — although the lines were a bit long — and great music. Even got a little taste of test batches of Lone Wolf gin!
Our first time maybe, but certainly not our last time!