EuroTrip 2013: Part 14 – Searching for the Loch Ness Monster, Eilean Donan Castle, and Turnberry golf course.

This is the fourteenth post in a series about my 2013 trip to Ireland, Scotland and Great Britain. Part of the free plane tickets were funded by the 40,000 point sign up bonus of the Chase Sapphire Preferred card.

The “Drambuie Incident” behind us, we enjoyed the train ride to Inverness.  It was at this point that I made the possible mistake of opening another bottle of wine.  Things got a little fuzzy for me after that but I remember my Dad trying to take away my glass unsuccessfully with me insisting I bring it not only in the taxi to the hotel, but also into the lobby while we checked in.  A word of advice, when a Scotsman offers you a drink, tread carefully.

We stayed in a Holiday Inn Express for a rate of 93 GBP which was fine because we wanted to get an early start and the free breakfast would be nice.  The next morning, we took a taxi back to the train station and rented a car for the drive along Loch Ness.

IMG_6586Loch is just the Scottish word for lake and Loch Ness is the spot where people over the years have seen the fabled “Loch Ness Monster.” Naturally I wanted to see Nessie too!  This was the closest I could come however…

IMG_6589After a beautifully scenic drive along the coast, we came around a curve and saw Eilean Donan Castle for the first time.

IMG_6590It is situated on an island bordered on three sides by water and was a great defensive stronghold in it’s day.

IMG_6592IMG_6593However, with the advent of the cannon it didn’t fare so well, and it ended up being blown up after being overrun by the Spanish in 1719.  The current castle was rebuilt in 1919 based on the original drawings and the ruins that were still in place. Here is my Dad standing in the interior courtyard.

IMG_6596We had the good luck to go on a reenactment day where people were dressed up in outfits of the day and were firing muskets etc.  It gave a nice authentic feel to the castle visit.

IMG_6598On the way back we made a quick stop at the ruins of Urquhart Castle which is situated on Loch Ness.

IMG_6600We returned the car after a long day and hopped on the train down to Ayr, where Turnberry Golf resort is located.  Since I have Platinum status with SPG (due in part to the 2 stays credit I get from my Business SPG Amex), SPG properties are one of the first I check when I travel.  Turnberry is part of their Luxury Collection and normally charged 330 GBP per night!


However, on the dates we were there I was able to score a cash and points rate of 6000 Starpoints and $110. We arrived late but had time to grab a great meal at the restaurant at the hotel including Steak Tartare.

IMG_6601The next morning I slept in while my Dad played another round of golf and I was able to get some pictures of our room which was quite nice. I felt like it was critical to take a bath when it had a view like this!


I also took a few shots outside of the view from the hotel of the golf course, the sea and their signature lighthouse which is located on one of the holes.

IMG_6604I had originally planned on taking the train from Glasgow to London, but since we waited until the last minute to book the fares were over 100 GBP each and it would take 7 hours.  I checked online and there were frequent flyer seats available using British Airways miles for only 4500 miles and $22.50 in taxes one way so I decided that was the way to go.  Next stop London!

EuroTrip 2013: Part 13 – Playing the St. Andrews Old Course, Aberdeen, and The Drambuie Incident.

This is the thirteenth post in a series about my 2013 trip to Ireland, Scotland and Great Britain.  Part of the free plane tickets were funded by the 40,000 point sign up bonus of the Chase Sapphire Preferred card.

For golfers, St. Andrews Old Course in Scotland is somewhat of a Mecca.  It’s Royal and Ancient Golf Club, founded in 1754 has set the rules for golf in many jurisdictions around the world.  My Dad is an avid golfer so when we expanded our trip to include Scotland, St. Andrews was one of the first places on his mind.  He had also won two rounds at the Old Course during a silent charity auction a few years back so this would be an opportunity to use them. Upon arrival, St. Andrews was just as impressive as I expected it to be.

IMG_6569The well manicured greens right beside the sea were spectacular.

IMG_6570Here is a panorama pic I took trying in vain to capture the whole scene.

IMG_6571My Dad had picked us out a hotel right on the 18th hole, the MacDonald Rusaks.  MacDonald is a regional chain throughout the UK with a pretty mediocre loyalty program, but I signed up for it anyhow.  We had a rate of 282 GBP per night and we were definitely paying for the location because the room was small without a view. But if you are all about the golf as my Dad was, it was perfect!

We also were able to walk around the village a bit and see the quaint town where St. Andrews College is as well.

IMG_6567West Sands Beach is right beside the Old Course and brought me back to my youth since it was the setting for the famous opening scene from Chariots of Fire!


My Dad was able to play two rounds at St. Andrews which made both of us happy, but we left right after the second round to catch the train up to Inverness stopping in Aberdeen along the way.  Oh, what a fateful stop that would be! The countryside along the coast to Aberdeen was gorgeous.

IMG_6576 IMG_6578 IMG_6579Another one of the reasons I chose train travel in Scotland was so I could drink wine instead of drive!

IMG_6580Upon arrival in Aberdeen, we checked our luggage at the Train Station and wandered around quickly seeing how it got the name of the “Granite City.”

IMG_6581 IMG_6582We made the great decision based on my World Offline Travel Guide to go a restaurant called Moonfish Cafe where we had probably the best meal of the trip!  Here was an incredible cheese platter that we had.

IMG_6583It was at Moonfish Cafe that what we now refer to as “The Drambuie Incident” occurred.  My Dad is the friendly sort, and a meal seldom goes by without him making some new friends and this night was no exception.  Towards the end of our meal, he struck up conversation with a couple at the table next to us.  Long story short, they were from Aberdeen and insisted on buying us one of their local scotches.  Keep in mind this is after a bottle of wine on the train and another bottle at dinner.  I believe it was called Highland Park and boy did it go down easy.  The next thing you know, the pretty blonde was insisting that we try some Drambuie.  Well, blondes have a way with me so who was I to disappoint so we knocked back one of those as well.  At this point we had about 20 minutes before the last train to Inverness left the station.  We explained this to them, but would have none of us leaving. They insisted that we go with them for a quick drink at the oldest bar in Aberdeen and it was even on the way to the train station.  It may have been the wine, or the scotch, or the Drambuie, but for some reason we agreed to this silly plan. You can see from the photographic evidence that we were in no condition to argue.


After quickly finishing our beers at the Old Kingshighway Bar, we barely made the last train up to Inverness, the land of Loch Ness and the ancestral lands of my Mother’s family!

Eurotrip 2013: Part 12 – Belfast, the Ferry to Scotland and Train Travel.

This is the twelfth post in a series about my 2013 trip to Ireland, Scotland and Great Britain.  Part of the free plane tickets were funded by the 40,000 point sign up bonus of the Chase Sapphire Preferred card.

As I took the train to Belfast from Dublin, I reflected on how peaceful the route was with with no narrow, winding roads, no walkers and no bikers to almost run over.  Maybe just taking a train through Scotland is the way to go?

Belfast was a city that my Dad wasn’t too excited about, but I really wanted to check it out.  I remember when I first saw the movie “In the Name of the Father” that the detailed the whole IRA bombing and subsequent witch hunting that took place in Northern Ireland during the time they call “The Troubles.”  We would learn more about the history during our Black Taxi Tour, but I immediately enjoyed some of the architecture such as this beautiful church.

Belfast 1

Our hotel (the Holiday Inn Express Queen’s Quarter) was right across the corner from that  church and just a few minutes walk from Queen’s College.

Belfast 2

Since we only had one night in Belfast, we checked out the Crown Liquor Saloon, the oldest pub in Belfast.

Belfast 3

The woodwork on the 100+ year old booths was amazing!

Belfast 4

The next morning we decided to take a Black Taxi tour where a taxi driver takes you to both sides of the city (the Catholic and the Protestant) and gives you both a mural tour and the history behind the murals.  It was a great decision!  We started on the Protestant side.

Belfast 5

You could tell how strongly things were divided and how badly things were during that time period by the anger and pain in the murals.

Belfast 6

Belfast 7

We crossed through the wall that still divides the two halves of the city. Visitors had scrawled messages of peace and hope along it.

Belfast 8

We then entered the Catholic area which was the stronghold of the IRA.  This was one of their memorials.

Belfast 9

Bobby Sands was the first one to die during a hunger strike while he in jail.

Belfast 10

The violence is mainly over, but you can still tell that it is fresh on the minds of Belfast residents.

Belfast 11

After the tour it was unfortunately time to go and we headed to the port to get on the ferry to Scotland.  What a great decision that ended up being!


The ferry was a beautiful way to leave Ireland and was very luxurious with a theater, TVs everywhere, free wifi and several restaurants and bars.


Soooo much better than fighting your way through airport security and getting stuck with a middle seat!

We transferred to a bus once we arrived in Scotland which took us to the train station.  Again, the train is definitely the way to travel!  Plenty of room, no stress of driving and you can take in the beautiful countryside on the way.



As night fell, we finally arrived to St. Andrews, where my Dad would get to play one of the oldest golf courses in the world!

Eurotrip 2013: Part 2 – Planning for Hotels in Europe for Maximum Miles

Turnberry Resort by Starwood Preferred Guest

This is the second post in a series about my 2013 trip to Ireland, Scotland and Great Britain.  Part of the free plane tickets were funded by the 40,000 point sign up bonus of the Chase Sapphire Preferred card.

When I started planning the hotels for my Europe trip, I wanted to take advantage of many of the hotel promotions that were going on this quarter and strategically redeem points where necessary when I was getting good value.  I don’t consider myself a hotel expert and rely on the excellent Loyalty Lobby blog to get a lot of my hotel promotions information.  In particular for this trip I accessed the Top Hotel Promotions June 2013 Guide.  I had Platinum status with Starwood and Le Club Accorhotel and Gold Status with Hilton going into the process.  I did a status match with Priority Club and Club Carlson via my Starwood status to get Platinum status with Priority Club and Gold status with Club Carlson. This would insure that I got the best treatment for my bookings on my trip. I saw from the promotions guide that Priority Club, Marriott, Hilton, and Club Carlson had the best promotions currently.

I’m going to give a run down of which hotels I chose in which cities, the prices, and why I thought each was the best choice. I knew we were going to have some expensive stays in Dublin, St. Andrews, and London so purposefully picked some cheaper properties with a good location when I thought I could.

Fairfield Inn by Marriott JFK Airport – $152 on a senior rate (traveling with Dad pays off!)

The Morrison Dublin, a Doubletree by Hilton Hotel – 2 nights @ 246 Euro on a senior rate

  • Hilton’s Daily Grand promotion should give me 1,000 bonus points and 1000 Virgin Atlantic Miles and my Gold Status will get us free breakfast so we can hit the ground running each day without having to go to an outside restaurant.

Waterford Marina Hotel in Waterford, Ireland – 79 Euro

  • This was one that my Dad’s picks because of the golf course located here.

Holiday Inn in Killarney, Ireland – 129 Euro

  • By stacking multiple promotions I expect at least 10,000 Priority club points from this stay (which could be enough for two PointsBreak nights in the future.)

Radisson Blu Galway, Ireland – 2 nights @ 136 Euro on a AAA rate

Holiday Inn Express Queen’s Quarter in Belfast, Ireland – 85 GBP

  • Stacking Multiple Promotions and multi stay bonuses.

MacDonald Rusacks in St. Andrews, Scotland 2 nights @ 282 GBP

  • This was one of my Dad’s picks because of the golf course located here.  They did have “The Club” loyalty program that I signed up for but it doesn’t look like it gives much to start.

Holiday Inn Express in Inverness, Scotland – 93 GBP

  • Stacking Multiple Promotions and multi stay bonuses.

Turnberry Resort, Luxury Collection Starwood – $110+6000 Starpoints

  • This was one I added on because of the golf course and that I could get a Cash and Points rate of $110+6000 star points which gave me a value of 4.1 cents per point redeemed.

Hilton Paddington London – 129 GBP

Radisson Blu Edwardian Vanderbilt London – 2 nights @ 44,000 Club Carlson Points

  • Redeemed 88,000 Club Carlson points for 2 nights in a 328 GBP a night room, yielding a value of 1.1 cents per point

Renaissance by Marriott London Heathrow Airport – 135 GBP

Holiday Inn Express Frankfurt – 114 Euro

  • Stacking Multiple Promotions and multi stay bonuses.

Once all of the points post I will do a summary post to see how I did.  I hope this gives you a feel for some of the thought that goes into booking hotel stays on an extended trip for maximum value.