Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Things About Travel

We’re home. Phew! What a trip! It was 14 days a full, jammed packed, Scottish everything. I thought we were booking when we did Ireland. That trip was a walk in the park compared to this one.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not complaining. I wouldn’t trade this experience for anything. I just got exhausted from it. Which, in my opinion, is a good thing with vacations. I wonder what a “relaxing” vacation actually feels like. Someday I might know, until then it’s full throttle.

As I always do after I travel, I reflect on the entire experience. Not just the places we saw, but the experience as a whole. The Pros and Cons of traveling, if you will.

Most my trips don’t have too many “cons”, and when they do it’s likely something I did to cause it.

A lot of folks have asked me what my favorite part of Scotland was…that’s really hard to nail down. We tried every day to call out the “best” and the “worst” for the day. It wasn’t too long into the trip before we realized there weren’t any real “worsts”. There were “just ok’s”, but nothing “worst.”.

So here’s my list of Cons:
  1. There were a couple of LONG days on the bus. One was because we had to get off the Isle of Mull ASAP to avoid being stranded there due to a storm. The other was just getting us from one place to another. The bus rides, wouldn’t be so bad if it weren’t for their one lane roads and the constant having to pull over to let people pass. Still, it added to the charm of Scotland. (See #2 below).
  2. I’m going to say this, and it’s going to come out not quite like I’m going to mean it…but traveling with people. Janet and I travel so well together that adding two more to our merry band of travelers made the dynamic change slightly. I thoroughly enjoyed having Blueberry and Billie with us. At the same time, I really missed it being just Janet and I. As travelers go though, Billie and Blueberry are good travel companions.
  3. One couple in the tour. We ultimately called them our stalkers. It was like they would purposely seek us out. They weren’t interesting, and she was Miss Negative all the time.
  4. Burning my hair. That was definitely a con.
  5. Burning my hair kinda goes with the whole converter thing. Its necessary. And if I want to continue to travel it will always be, but man it’s a pain in the butt.
  6. Beer. I’m putting Beer in the “con” category because 1) we didn’t get to drink as much as we did in Ireland and 2) I didn’t find Scottish beer particularly interesting.
  7. Not enough scotch. I think I tasted scotch twice. Of course, a Pro could be that I’ve discovered I’m not a huge fan of scotch.
  8. The trip there and the trip back. I hate the actual "traveling" part of travel. Long plane rides are just so long. And this trip, in particular, we were on planes that weren't modern and didn't have TVs in the seats, so watching movies for the entire trip to kill time was out. 

And the Pros:
  1. We had fantastic weather. Just a couple of days of overcast that ultimately burned off, and one day of rain where we were on the bus anyhow.
  2. The crazy one lane roads. As frustrating as they could be, it was pretty cool to see that they hadn’t expanded to fit the tourist industry that has taken over the country. The single lane roads is what I would have expected in Scotland and that’s what we got.
  3. Sheep, sheep and more sheep. Billie and I could not get enough of the sheep. AND, the added bonus was the babies were still babies.
  4. The Globus tour. Say what you will about these types of touristy tours, but to have someone else plan the entire thing for me is awesome. And Globus did a good job. I couldn’t help comparing it to Grand Circle the entire time, and there are things that Grand Circle did that I liked better, but all in all, Globus is a stand out company to tour with.
  5. Castles, castles, castles. I love them all. Some are more interesting than others, and that is certainly true for the 6 we saw on this trip. I prefer the ones that actually look like castles versus the ones that are called a castle, but are really just a huge manor house. My fascination with them is really about the history there and the fact that something was built so many hundreds of years ago and is still standing.
  6. My travel check list. Yes, I have one. It’s been developed over many, many years. Mom and I started it years ago. That list has saved my bacon more times than I care to admit.
  7. And lastly, Scotland. What a beautiful place. If you’ve not been there, you should add it to your bucket list. The lowlands weren’t my favorite, but the highlands…man were they something to witness. None of the photos will do it justice though.
I'm sure I could think of a dozen more for each, but this is what's been on the top of my mind.

Sunday, June 17, 2018

Day 14: Homeward Bound

It's hard to believe it's been 14 days since we left Seattle. It's been a fun trip full of memories that will stay with me forever. My traveling companions Janet, Billie and Sherrie made this trip extra special.

We ate a could you not when you're in a new country.

We didn't drink nearly as much as we did in Ireland. That's mostly because, at least for me, their beer wasn't very interesting. Janet and I managed a beer at dinner mostly, but that was it. I had two favorite beers Innis and Gunn  and then Belhaven Best.

This tour was quite different than our tour in Ireland. The company, Globus, as a whole was great. Their website leaves a lot to be desired, but the package they put together for Scotland was top notch. We really did see a ton in Scotland and got a good taste of lowland and highland Scotland. I prefer the highlands myself. Such beauty there.

The plane ride home was long this time. 7 1/2 hours from Glasgow to Philadelphia and then 5 1/2 hours into Seattle. The Seattle leg was sketchy ... a ton of turbulence that, I have to admit, had me worried. Once we landed all I could think about was getting in Wroamin and getting home to my kitties and my own bed.

But fate had another plan. I got my suit case out of Sherrie's car and hit my clicker to open the trunk. Nothing. So I hit it again and still nothing. Wroamin wasn't going anywhere tonight. Ugh. Called Ford Roadside assistance and after waiting an hour, I called them back. The tow truck would be another 2 hours.

Janet had to drive me home and I had to have Sherrie take me back to Janet's the next day. Turns out, newer car batteries will die if not started after about a week and a half.

The jetlag is hitting me hard this trip. All I want to do is take a nap...

Tomorrow it's back to work. Back to earning $$ and vacation time for our next adventure. Our next adventure will be Hawaii in December to celebrate my 50th. After that, we'll be cruising around Norway next May.

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Day 13: Glasgow

A good night sleep! That's just what the doctor ordered. We woke to a partly cloudy and windy day. We'd spend the day visiting two museums and basically "killing time" before we can get into our Glasgow hotel for the last night.

Our first museum is The Riverside Transportation museum. We had driven past this museum on our first day in Glasgow all those days ago when we were on the hop on hop off bus. This museum wasn't that interesting, and full of kids. It had some interesting items, but by and large not my favorite stop. Still we were out of the weather and got to see some old things.

Our next stop is Kelvingrove museum. There's all sorts of art here and Ian guaranteed we'd find something interesting here. I'm not a huge art museum fan so I wasn't sure at all that I'd find something interesting. They had an entire wing dedicated to animals, so at least we got that. Another room was dedicated to Egypt and I will admit, I found that interesting.

The museum was beautiful though. The architecture was so fantastic. That was worth it for me.

Note the photo bomber in the back left by Janet. The "guy" in the photo is our tour guide Ian. He was fantastic and hilarious and full of useful and non useful information. 

Finally, we got to the Radison Blue hotel. It's located downtown. Our rooms weren't available yet, so we took off on foot to find lunch. I asked the desk about where they'd get fish n chips if they had a choice. They recommended Chippy Doon the off we went.

It wasn't easy to find, that's for sure. It was located down this sketchy alley way and we weren't sure it was even open or if we should even bothered. We climbed the flight of stairs and were dumped into this fantastic little restaurant.

Can I just say...likely the BEST fish n chips of the entire trip.

I'm not a fan of the chips in Scotland. I like my chips crunchy and even when asking for them to be crispy they really don't crisp up at all. It didn't stop me from eating them of course.

Tonight was our farewell dinner. Its bittersweet for me. On the one hand, I've enjoyed myself immensely. On the other, I'm ready to go home. The worst part of vacationing happens tomorrow...the long flight home.

We had a good group of people on this tour. Only two slightly awkward and annoying stalkers - they seemed to seek us out and want to annoy us. They were nice enough, but not very interesting and odd. Aside from them, the rest of the group was a ton of fun. Full of a smattering of personalities as you would expect and people from all over the world.

Farewell photo with Alistair the amazing bus driver and Ian the amazing tour guide. 

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Day 12: Isle of Mull...and massive Storm

This morning we headed to the capital of Mull called Tobermory. Our tour guide, Ian, warned us that there's a good chance that after Tobermory, we'll need to get back to the hotel, pack and get the flock off the island. This storm that's coming in is causing all the ferrys to close and as such, we'll need to hit a ferry earlier than planned in order to not be stuck on the Isle of Mull. There are few things that have to fall into place, like where we're going to stay if we do get off the island. Ian and Globus figured it all out while we were wandering Tobermory.

It was sprinkling in Tobermory and a bit chilly. It didn't stop us from going in and out of all their brightly colored stores.

Tobermory has a city cat it turns out. There were two, but one of them passed a couple of years ago. This Tom Cat technically belongs to the distillery, but visits all the shops for some love and food. He was quite sweet and very interested in having attention paid to him. I got to pet him and got a Meow out of him. What I didn't get was his name...

Before hopping back on the bus, I was a bit chilled so I stopped into this chocolate shop and grabbed myself a hot chocolate. The options for this cocoa is plain, or with whipped cream, or with marshmallows OR with marshmallows AND whipped cream. Yes please.

As soon as we got back on the bus, Ian told us that yes we found accommodations in Glasgow and that we needed to get back to the hotel, pack, grab a lunch and then get on the road to hit a 2:15 ferry off the island.

And so we did. Thankfully we hadn't really unpacked too much since we'd only been there for a day. We packed our bags, brought them to the lobby and then plopped down to have a quick bite.

The trip to Glasgow was long and wet. The rain had started, which made taking photos out of the coach difficult. One of the lochs we saw along the way was the famous Loch Lomond. Though you really couldn't see it too well.

We got to our hotel quite late and had dinner even later. I'm impressed with Globus and their quick move to get us out of danger and safely to a city where it was pretty likely that none of us would miss our flights on Friday.

Tomorrow we'll be killing time by visiting some museums in Glasgow. The itinerary has been thrown out the door thanks to this storm, but I'm ok with that. I'm exhausted and I'm ready to be home. I have confirmed that 14 days is a long time to be away and on vacation. IF we had days off, the 14 days may not have been so bad, but 14 days of running and getting up early and seeing everything you can, certainly takes it toll.

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Day 11: Isle of Mull, Glenfinnan and Iona

We weren't too sad to leave the Isle of Skye hotel and head to Isle of Mull. The rumors were somewhat true about this hotel. It wasn't great. But it was clean and warm. There isn't much option for hotels on the Isle of Skye, so I get it. I think my dream would be to open a nice hotel here and easily rake in the dough. Billie and I planned it all out while we were on the bus. First I need to find that wealthy husband...

Our booklet indicated we'd be stopping at the Clan Donald Center and visit he Museum of the Isles. This didn't happen and it wasn't until tonight that I realized it. Maybe I'll ask tomorrow. 

We pulled over ever so briefly at this bronze statue called Commandos. The Commando Memorial  in Lochaber, is dedicated to the men of the original British Commando Forces raised during World War II. It overlooks the training areas of the Commando Training Depot established in 1942 at Achnacarry Castle. Unveiled in 1952 by the Queen Mother, it is one of Scotland’s best-known monuments, both as a war memorial and as a tourist attraction offering views of Ben Nevis and Aonach Mòr.

The Commandos also known as British Commandos were formed during the Second World War in June 1940, following a request from the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, Winston Churchill, for a force that could carry out raids against German-occupied Europe. Initially drawn from within the British Army from soldiers who volunteered for the Special Service Brigade. By the end of the war 25,000 men had passed through the Commando course at Achnacarry.
Reaching a wartime strength of over 30 units and four assault brigades, the Commandos served in all theatres of war from the Arctic Circle to Europe and from the Mediterranean and Middle East to South-East Asia. Their operations ranged from small groups of men landing from the sea or by parachute, to a brigade of assault troops spearheading the Allied invasions of Europe and Asia.

Our  next stop was Glenfinnan. At Glenfinnan we also are treated with a visit to the train viaduct made popular by Harry Potter...of course we were slightly more excited to see that then the other memorial at Glenfinnan. 
The memorial at Glenfinnan is to celebrate the location where Bonnie Prince Charles raised his standard on the shores of Loch Shiel in 1745. 

Then the plans for the day changed. We were supposed to visit the capital of Tobermory this afternoon. But, there's a storm a brewing off the Atlantic that is scheduled to hit Scotland over the next day or two. Our tour director, Ian suggested we try to add a stop that was planned for tomorrow to this afternoon to ensure we get to see it. The small island of Iona. It made for a long day, but it was decided to visit Iona today. Naturally, because we added it to today, tomorrow will likely be just fine. Still, I'm glad we went. We'll visit Tobermory tomorrow morning.
Iona is a small island in the Inner Hebrides off the Ross of Mull on the western coast of Scotland. It is mainly known for Iona Abbey. Iona Abbey was a center of Gaelic monasticism for three centuries and is today known for its relative tranquility and natural environment. Its modern Gaelic name means "Iona of (Saint) Columba" (formerly anglicised "Icolmkill").

The Abbey was beautiful. I could have spent more hours there shooting photos, but alas, we had to move on. 

Such a beautiful day to visit Iona, and if a storm is, in fact, coming in, I'm glad we visited it today. The sun was shining and the weather perfect. 

As we got back on the bus on the main island of Mull, we found out from some other folks on our tour that if we had walked another 200 yards from the abbey we would have encountered Highland Cows. These elusive creatures have been on our list to see up close this entire trip. We've been given glimpses of them on the road, but no time to stop and pet them. I was bummed when I found out they were right there and we missed them. I did, however, get the photos from this couple. So I'm counting it. 

Monday, June 11, 2018

Day 10: Isle of Skye

Phew. What a full day! I'm exhausted from all the running and going. I'm enjoying every minute of it, but 10 days in and my brain is full.

This company definitely believes in keeping their tour group busy. Which is both a blessing and a curse. A blessing because we're seeing as much as we can. A curse because our brains are full and we can't take in much more.

We drove around the Trotternish Peninsula today. Lot's of bus time again today. The scenery is so magnificent that it's hard to even capture in photos. I likened it to taking photos of the Grand Canyon. You know it's beautiful and big, but until you're standing on the rim, you really can't appreciate it's grandeur.  The same is true for the scenery in Scotland.

Our first stop is the Museum of Island Life. This little museum is a series of thatched huts that are put together to show you what life was like on the island in the early days. The family who owns this has done a great job of setting these up.

Just off the beaten path a bit is a cemetery where the "legendary" Flora MacDonald is laid to rest. I put quotes around the word "legendary" because our tour guide really didn't provide us any history about her, but I saw her name I did a little research.

Turns out, Flora MacDonald (1722 –1790) was a Scottish Jacobite heroine made famous by her part in the Young Pretender's escape after his defeat at Culloden. She helped hide Bonnie Prince Charlie after the battle of Colloden. So there you go!

This wasn't my favorite spot today. It was interesting, but not interesting. The one GREAT thing about this place was their little shop. A couple of days ago I fell in love with this Harris Tweed bag that I wanted to buy for a new computer bag. The other stores all wanted between 95 GBP and 105GBP. I just couldn't do it. THIS little shop has the same bag, but for 60GBP. Now THAT I can do. And I'd much prefer giving this little family my $$ than some bit tourist shop. 

Harris Tweed bags are 100% virgin wool taken from flocks only on the Scottish Islands. They can't put the name Harris Tweed on these bags without verification of the wool...or so I was told. 

I love every thing about this bag. It's roomy, easy to carry and oh so beautiful!

Right...what was next? 

The scenery...I mentioned it was beautiful. We had such good weather too that it makes the green of the island so beautiful against the blue of the sky. 

We pulled off to see these fantastic rock formations called Kilt Rock. There was supposed to be a great waterfall next to it, but there didn't seem to be any real water falling.  It was, of course, windy on this cliff, but that didn't stop us from getting our photos and oooh'ing and ahhh'ing at this coast. 

Our lunch stop today was in the small fishing village of Portree. We stopped in a cafe and had a pretty darn good lunch. We had time to wander around the little town before getting back on the coach. 

The best part of today is our evening excursion to Eilean Donan castle. This castle is THE castle that shows up on almost all postcards, or traveling brochures for Scotland. It was one of the two that I've been waiting and dreaming about seeing since I did my initial research. And it did not disappoint. 

Hopping off the bus you are immediately greeted by bagpipes playing out front of the castle and then you're transported back into time. I don't even know what to say about this castle, other than it was a beauty. 

Eilean Donan is a small tidal island where three sea lochs meet, Loch Duich, Loch Long and Loch Alsh.. Eilean Donan is part of the Kintail National Scenic Area, one of 40 in Scotland. Eilean Donan, which means simply "island of Donnán", is named after Donnán of Eigg, a Celtic saint martyred in 617. Donnán is said to have established a church on the island, though no trace of this remains.

The castle was founded in the thirteenth century, and became a stronghold of the Clan Mackenzie and their allies the Clan Macrae. In the early eighteenth century, the Mackenzies' involvement in the Jacobite rebellions led in 1719 to the castle's destruction by government ships. Lieutenant-Colonel John Macrae-Gilstrap's twentieth-century reconstruction of the ruins produced the present buildings.

Finishing up at the castle, we were treated to a pint of beer at a local pub. And while at the pub we got serenaded by a young bagpiper that was not only good, but deliciously handsome. Of course he was a young buck, but fun to watch and listen to. There was some dancing too. The bagpiper gathered 6 of our team and "taught" them a turned out to be more of a disaster, but a fun disaster. 
Tomorrow we leave Isle of Skye and head to Isle of Mull. Our bus driver Alistair says we'll love Isle of Mull more than Isle of Skye. I trust him, but Isle of Skye will be pretty hard to beat.