Tuesday, May 27, 2014

The Highest Bidder: Laying the Foundation for a Vacation

In early 2013 I attended the Theatre Vertigo annual fundraiser with my friend Laura. Along with some great items for the silent auction, the live auction (ie paddle raise) mostly included season tickets, drinks or dinner with the actors, etc. but one item in particular got my attention - up to a three week stay in a one-bedroom flat in northern England, with no expiration date. It was listed as worth $1,500 so I decided to bid on it, knowing that Greg (who was not with me that evening) & I had already discussed a possible vacation to nearby Scotland in the future. Needless to say I won the auction (winning bid $300) and Greg was quite stunned when I came home and said "You'll never guess what I 'bought' tonight!"
Alnwick, England

Unless you're a devoted fan of the Harry Potter films, you, like me at the time, have probably never even heard of Alnwick, England. Located 5 miles inland from the North Sea and 87 miles south of Edinburgh, Scotland, Alnwick, with a population of 8,000, is mostly known as an historic, well-preserved market town. In 2002, it was recognized as the most desirable place to live in the UK by Country Life magazine. The castle and gardens are the high profile tourist attraction, in no small part because the first two Harry Potter movies were filmed there (the castle was featured as Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry).
Are you ready for a Quidditch lesson???
We had already decided to go to Alaska for our big vacation last spring as it was near the top of Greg's destination list. Scotland was probably midway down (of places that are doable on a 1-2 week vacation), partially because we had spent an entire month exploring Ireland on our around-the-world trip in 2011 and we were concerned that the scenery would be comparable in Scotland and therefore we would be spending a lot of time & money on something very similar to what we'd already seen.
Would Scotland look a lot like this? - Ireland's Dingle Peninsula
So how did we decide to make the trip this spring? We were ready for an "active" vacation (as opposed to laying on the beach somewhere). We love Europe. Neither of us have done any significant travel in this area (although I visited York and Edinburgh previously in 2008). Greg is a history buff and was interested in visiting some key sights like Hadrian's Wall. We knew we had already "paid" for part of our accommodations and could use the flat in Alnwick as a base for our exploration of northern England & Scotland.
Walking on Hadrian's Wall - check!
As for timing, Greg could only take two weeks off work. I have more flexibility with my job at Irvington House since there is a cleaning company that can turn over the rental units when I'm not available. The administrative tasks are mostly handled by the owner anyway; he took the opportunity of my extended absence to fly to Portland to be onsite for part of the time in case of emergency. Besides the cleaning company, I also arranged for a friend who lives nearby to keep an eye on the house and be "on call" should something unforeseen happen. As it turned out, nothing crazy happened until the day after I came home!
You behave while I'm gone!
We typically take our vacations in the spring and late fall. Portland's most predictable warm weather (ie summer) months are July, August and September, so there's no reason to "escape" during that time. This year Greg has already committed to running the Portland Marathon on October 5th. He starts training on June 16th so he wanted to be back from any extended travels by then.
Greg enjoyed the Half Marathon so much last year, he signed up to run the Full Marathon this year!
We began planning the trip in earnest in mid-January. Using Rick Steves' Great Britain as our guide, we created a shared Google Doc and listed our top choices of places we'd like to see with notes about entry fees, hours of operation, distances, etc. Once we determined that two weeks would be sufficient to hit the highlights (but with little to no downtime), we started looking at flights and other logistics. I'll leave those details for my next post!
I think I've seen this place somewhere before!