wildflowersoul: (strawberry shortcake)
So my latest project has been diving deep into Irish indie rock (which, thus far, is proving way less interesting than Scottish indie rock). Whilst poking around YouTube tonight, I re-discovered a Scottish indie rock song from the 90s that I had completely forgotten about, but I now remember fondly playing it a lot on my radio show. I must have listened to it a ton because the words are still lodged in a nook in my brain. I'm so excited to have re-found lost music, and it turns out to be Scottish!

wildflowersoul: (strawberry shortcake)
Day Five, Friday, Inverness-Loch Ness-Fort William-Loch Lomond-Balmaha

Our biggest driving day, and the first day of the trip when it super rained for a lot of the day.

We started off bright and early and just made it onto the first Loch Ness cruise of the day. It was an hour boat ride, the wind was brisk (ok, it was freezing), the sky was gray, but it was awesome.

After the cruise we headed on to the Loch Ness Centre & Exhibition. It came highly recommended by our tour books, and we obviously needed to do something Nessie related, but I can't say that I echo the recommendation. It was kind of interesting, but it was basically just a bunch of videos in different rooms.

Next, we went down the road to Urquhart Castle. Here's another part of the castle. It was a nice tumbledown castle. Drew says some of the Highlander movie was filmed there. We managed to explore the entire castle and get inside the visitor's center for lunch just as the rain started, and it was pouring by the time we left.

The rest of the day was rain, rain, and more rain. Luckily, this was the day we'd planned to be just driving for hours after the castle, so we got in the car and I white-knuckled it down the A82. The views were still amazing even in the rain, and hey, I didn't crash the car or run it off the tiny windy roads! Victory! We stopped in Fort William (unremarkable except for Outlander nuts like me) for a quick break- mostly, I had to pee and I needed to stop driving for a few minutes. T went in search of a stamp, and Drew and I went off in search of a bathroom, and ended up ducking into the free West Highland Museum strictly for their bathroom. Classy! Also, I got a Tunnock's tea cake somewhere in Fort William, and it was a taste sensation. I might be obsessed. So we got back in the car for more driving. We drove through Glen Coe, stopped to step onto Rannoch Moor (very desolate, rainy, and barren), and drove the length of Loch Lomond (very pretty but too scary for me to appreciate because OMG the road). Our hotel for the night was on the other side of Loch Lomond, in Balmaha, The Oak Tree Inn. Look at how cute and picturesque it looks! Reality was a little different. I do think that in the summer, on nice days/nights, it's probably really beautiful and nice. On a rainy, cold night it left a bit to be desired. This was, sadly, the most uncomfortable night of our trip because the rooms are tiny and there's no sound insulation so we heard everything going on in all the rooms around us, and it sounded like they were all having parties. The inn is a big draw for hikers who are setting out or coming back from the West Highland Way, and I think if that's your thing it's perfect for you, but since that was not our thing, it was just kind of meh. We got dinner at the inn, and Drew & I did a bit of reading in the bar, but the bar was crowded and hot, so we grabbed some drinks from the store that's part of the inn and retired early to our room.

Day Six, Saturday, Balmaha-Glasgow

I had planned for the night at Balmaha because I wanted one more night in the highlands, but knowing what I know now, I do wish we had just pushed on to Glasgow and had two nights in Glasgow. However, our Glasgow hotel was weird and I think I would have been disappointed to spend two nights there. In retrospect, Drew maintains that he loved the hotel because it was like a British sitcom. The hotel appeared to be managed by a very nice lady who was super helpful in the morning, but she kind of disappeared in the evening. Her son, the lead singer of this band was bartending that night and we did have an awesome conversation about music. He got so excited and gave me a huge list of Scottish bands to check out, and I was able to give him a few bands he'd never heard of. That was actually a highlight of the trip and was super awesome. Talking about Scottish music with a guy in a band! OMG.

Backing up, we got into Glasgow in the morning, panicked about the lack of parking by the hotel, Drew and T got the very nice hotel lady to help clear out a spot for me to park in the tiny hotel "parking lot." We were close to the Necropolis (giant Victorian cemetery on a hill) so we hiked up there and explored that in the rain. The rain cleared out and we got some stunning(?) views of industrial Glasgow. We checked out the Glasgow Cathedral, then started our march to explore the city. It rained off and on pretty much the entire day. Like, it would downpour for ten minutes, then clear and be sunny, and repeat. We walked around the city center until lunchtime, got lunch, then Drew set out for his soccer game. T and I kept walking around, as I had a couple of record stores I wanted to check out. We found them and checked them out (Mono records, owned by a guy in the Pastels, and Love Music). I talked to a record store guy about the new Twilight Sad single. Yay! We continued on and eventually took a break at the Willow Tea Room. We kept on walking until we needed another break, and stopped at the Kelvingrove Museum for a bit. Then we pushed on to our meeting place with Drew, The Sparkle Horse. This was one of the placed I was really looking forward to, and it lived up to my hopes! It's owned by a guy who was in the band Bis. Upon internet research after the fact, I am 99% sure that guy served me our first beers. OMG! Drew joined us, we stayed for dinner, then got a cab back to our hotel because we were super on the other side of the city. I'd love to go back to Glasgow and stay in the West End area, it was very much the Cambridgey/Somervilley college area of the city. Had our music chat evening at the hotel bar, and that was the end of the day.

Day Seven, Sunday, Glasgow-Maryland

That's it. We drove to the airport without mishap, had our flights without any problems, and got back to Baltimore to a very excited and happy West. I wish we could have had a few more days on our trip, but I think in reality we pushed it as far as we could be gone from him, and I really missed the little dude by the time Sunday rolled around. So that's our trip! We flew back to Boston on Monday because it would have been too much to try to fit another flight into the day. So glad we did that! Hopefully someday we can go back to Scotland and do a slow travel vacation where we stay in one place and really relax and possibly get outdoors and hike a lot.
wildflowersoul: (strawberry shortcake)
I think I fixed all the broken picture links in my previous entries. At least, I hope I fixed them.

Day Four, Thursday, Fintry-Doune-Pitlochry-Newtonmore-Inverness

This was the point in the trip when we lost all track of time and were like "what day is it? It can't be Thursday!" This day was my favorite day of the whole trip.

Our goal for the day was to make it up to Inverness, where our B&B for the night was, but with stops along the way. First stop was Doune Castle. This castle is where a lot of Monty Python and the Holy Grail was filmed (look familiar?), some shots of Winterfell on Game of Thrones were filmed here, and most importantly, it is Castle Leoch on Outlander. Here's the courtyard inside the castle walls.

We had some minor road snafus on our way out from the castle but eventually found our way to the highway and started north into the highlands. We stopped in a super cute little town called Pitlochry for lunch. I will probably add a picture when I get my film back from being developed, though it's possible I just didn't take any pictures. It was a cute town, lunch was tasty sandwiches consumed on a bench next to a babbling brook.

We carried on up to Newtonmore, to the Highland Folk Museum, aka Jennie's Happy Place. The day was gorgeous and sunny, and the museum is an amazing place with old timey buildings all over the place that are decorated as old timey businesses and stuff, and there are people in costume dropping knowledge bombs about history. We had a nice chat with the lady pretending to be a 1930s school teacher in a one-room schoolhouse, then hiked up to the area of the museum (the grounds are huge) where Outlander filmed the episode Rent. It looked just like the show! You can go inside all of the historic stuff and touch things and poke around! here's an inside of a 1700s croft. Also, there were ponies and sheep. Seriously, I can't overstress how much I loved this place. It was incredible. And it was free! OMG. I would have paid 20 pounds to go in (I did give a donation in the donation box, I'm not a monster). I'm guessing they are going to see a huge uptick in visitors because of Outlander.

We had still more driving to do to get to the Inverness area. I had planned one more stop to see Culloden, but it had been a long day and we were nearing the time for the Culloden visitor's center to close anyway, so we decided to just continue on into Inverness, find our B&B, and chill for the evening. Our B&B was so fabulous! Inverness is mostly B&Bs, and I had a hard time finding one that had two rooms open on this night, so I went through a long list to arrive at this one, but I'm so glad we ended up where we did. The owner was so nice, the rooms were cozy, and the breakfast was the best breakfast we had on the whole trip. Drew and I walked around looking fruitlessly for a store that would see him a Scotland soccer jersey. Then we all went out for Indian food. The food was good, though it was sweeter and more coconutty than the Indian food we get here. We learned that night there is a vast cultural divide between American diners and UK restaurants. Apparently it's considered rude for waiters to bring the check to the table without it being specifically asked for. Meanwhile, we think it's rude to bother waiters by asking for the check. So we sat at our empty table long after they cleared the plates away, wondering if we were ever going to get out of the restaurant. The restaurant owner came over for a chat, and we were just like seriously, how do we get out of here. Drew and I ended the night going to read books in bars- we tried one very gritty local pub and felt super out of place (or at least, I did, because I was the only woman in the pub, it was weird). We landed at the hotel bar next door to our B&B and it was comfy and pleasant. Oh, and here's the view from our B&B. It looked cool at night, too.
wildflowersoul: (strawberry shortcake)
Day Three, Wednesday, Edinburgh-Stirling-Fintry

We bid farewell to Edinburgh with only a modicum of directions/road induced panic. Our first stop of the day was Linlithgow Palace. Like many crumbling castles in Scotland, Linlithgow has some Mary Queen of Scots and various-kings-Jameses claims to fame. It's basically an empty shell of a palace, but there were lots of nooks and crannies to explore. It also happens to be an Outlander filming location, which was my main motivation for wanting to visit. It had a cool fountain. There weren't many visitors that morning, just us and a school field trip where half of the children were dressed in historical garb and giving reports about history to their classmates. As you do. I like this picture because it feels so empty, but you can imagine the old timey days when it would have been a... thing. The view from the top of a tower (possibly the tower where Queen Margaret or some other fancy lady went to cry, at least, according to the guidebook). When we returned to our car in the parking lot some rando dude was taking pictures around our car, causing me to leap into a panic. I ran to him yelling "what did I do wrong? I thought I parked right!". He replied that he was just taking pictures of the wall our car was parked in front of- an answer of which I'm still dubious because it was an unremarkable modern wall and there was plenty of it that was not directly in front of cars. But whatevs.

Next we trundled on to Stirling. We had originally planned on visiting the Wallace Monument first, but parking and my inability to understand a map dictated that we do Stirling Castle first. Before that we walked down a huge hill to a cute little pub for lunch. Then we walked back up the huge hill to the castle that was atop still more hill. The theme of Scotland, by the way, is HILLS AND STAIRS. Everywhere. Stirling Castle was awesome, it was the most done-up castle we visited, with sweet unicorn tapestries and weird face ceiling decorations. There were even a few costumed people pretending to be historical folk. Look at this proper castle realness. Magnificient view, too.

Onward we rolled to the Wallace Monument. The photos of smiling people on that website are a lie. The monument is perched atop a very high hill that you must ascend to get to the monument. The monument itself consists of 246 stairs with a couple of landings where people grimace at each other in communal self-pity for paying 10 pounds to walk up 246 stairs. That's a lot of stairs. The stairs are all turnpike stairs, very narrow, and there is only one set so people are going up and down the same tiny twisty staircase. Here's a nice picture of the Scottish flag at the base of the monument. The view from the top of the monument was spectacular, but I was too winded and nervous about the two-way stair traffic to really enjoy it. Also, I guess I only took pictures up there with my clicky disposable camera, which is currently being developed somewhere where film still gets developed.

After all that, we headed to our hotel destination for the night, Culcreuch Castle. It was a beautiful, sunny day, and the evening was just gorgeous. Check out this amazing castle grounds scenery. We had dinner in the dungeon bar. It was tasty. I had my first and only whiskey of the trip. It was disgusting. Also, our badass room had original, hand-painted wallpaper that was imported from China in 1723. OMG! History! It was really cool. We stayed in a real, actual castle! At breakfast the next morning, one of the castle staff told us that Outlander had filmed on the castle grounds! The actors and actresses used the castle rooms for costume changes! OMG!
wildflowersoul: (strawberry shortcake)
Day One, Monday, Glasgow-Edinburgh

We finally got ourselves sorted, picked up our rental car, and drove off from Glasgow onto the M8 to Edinburgh. By the way, I did all the driving over there, and I rocked it! Nary a scratch on the vehicle. And I kind of suck at driving and really suck at parking / de-parking. No scratches, but our psyches were worn and scratched by my complete ineptness at parking (I often need people to get out of the car and motion me into a space as if they are directing a large plane down a runway).

Our hotel in Edinburgh turned out to be in a charming old-looking building, but our room was super comfy, and it was a very pleasant place. Our first order of business after dropping our stuff off was to seek out some dinner. We wandered about, and after being shut down by a place that seemingly had delicious burgers but did not serve food on Mondays, we found ourselves at Nandos. This is hilarious to me because after coming home I discovered the Nandos is blowing up the internet. How timely of us! It was an unremarkable dinner, and marked the first (but not the last!) time we would be confused about protocol in a Scottish restaurant.

After dinner, we walked down to Princes Street so we could get cheap clothes at Primark to get us through until our luggage could join us. Then, we headed over to attempt to go to The Real Mary King's Close, but they were sold out for the evening. As luck would have it, we were across the street from where all the ghost tours leave, so we wandered there and were just in time to get in on a tour of some underground old timey, totes haunted, vaults. It was pretty creepy, and the tour was entertaining. We ended the tour right down the street from a Brew Dog brewery bar, so we capped the night off with a beer and then headed back to the hotel.

Day Two, Tuesday, Edinburgh

Luckily we had planned for two nights in Edinburgh, so even though were disappointed to have lost half a day of our trip, we still had plenty of time to get in our major must-sees.

We spent the morning at Edinburgh Castle. Pretty sweet, huh? Behold, my inability to properly frame a picture! The castle was awesome, there was so much to explore, and their displays were informative and interesting. Also, one of the areas of the castle is where the Black Dinner was held in like the 1400s or something, and that is what the GoT Red Wedding was based on. Here's a sweet view looking out from the castle.

After the castle it was time to wend our way down the Royal Mile, and we bought tickets for a later tour of The Real Mary King's Close. It's a hugely popular attraction, and for good reason, that was really entertaining and was an hour well spent. Before doing that tour, though, we had some time for lunch (coronation chicken sandwich!). We were right next to St. Giles Cathedral, so here's a picture of it. We did a lot of walking around, so by the time our Mary King's Close tour was done we were ready to call it a day on touristing and settle in for some drinkin'. We went back to the burger bar we'd been denied the day before, had some tasty beers, had some tasty burgers, and then moved along to a couple of different bars. Woo-hoo, vacation!

SCOTLAND!

May. 4th, 2015 12:45 pm
wildflowersoul: (strawberry shortcake)
Vacation in one week! I am sorting out logistics like a boss!

Car service to get us to/from Logan: Check

Pet sitter sorted: Check

Crazy notebook full of driving directions, points of interest opening times, reservation numbers: Work in progress. Notebook supplements my crazy Google spreadsheet, since heaven forfend we don't have internet access to figure out exactly when Doune Castle is open, damnit.

Monty Python & the Holy Grail rewatched to have relevant castle in mind for full appreciation upon visit: Check

All manner of assorted first aid and toiletry items ready to be packed: Check

Just watch, all this planning and I'll forget something completely essential like my passport, but I will have extra travel containers of Advil, Pepto, two things of glasses cleaner in case one isn't enough, and more hair products than is reasonable despite the fact that the inevitable Scottish rain will turn my hair into a frizzball in two seconds.

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