Honeymoon: Part 6

Then it was time to go to the Isle of Skye. The guidebook actually lists Isle of Skye as the most recommended place to go in Scotland. Yes, Edinburgh is number two.

But before we got to the Isle of Skye, we decided to take a detour to the Black Isle to hike in the Faire Glen. Yep, those are all real things. However, this detour ended up being a bit more of a bargain than we had anticipated. To get there, we knew that we had retrace our steps from the night prior. So we followed the instructions of the GPS. At one point, it told us to take the left exit on a roundabout instead of a right. And we trusted it. The road got smaller, fewer cars, and the area around us got more and more industrial. Then at a final roundabout with a bunch of gates, the GPS informed us, “Take next left and take ferry.” The gate indicated was closed and led to water. Both of us just started laughing at the absurdity of it. No ferry was there. So we immediately turned around to drive the way we knew to get back to the main road. Our GPS kept trying to send us back there but we knew better. Eventually, we got far enough away that the GPS rerouted and stopped trying to get us to take the ferry. But the GPS would have her revenge. When we got to the Black Isle (more of a peninsula), the GPS took us on the smallest roads where we had the long grass hitting our car as we drove by. Fields and fields. Things got even more exciting when we had to pull over for a double-decker bus!

Eventually the GPS led us to the Faire Glen car park. By this time, the rain (first real rain of the trip) had taken hold. But we carried on since it wasn’t terrible. And I had hiking boots, which makes most things palatable.

The hike itself had a touch of magic. We wandered through this vibrant colorful forest in the rain. Along the way, we followed a stream that took us to several waterfalls. Scott and I presented each other to the Fairyfolk, since it is essential to get their blessing. It went well.

It was clear that there was an easier way to get to the Faire Glen as we left the Black Isle. Larger roads and small towns instead of fields and half roads. Ada, our GPS, had had a temper tantrum on the way there. We put her in time out for awhile.

On our way to the Isle of Skye, we decided to take another detour. This time, we stopped at the castle Eilean Donan. This has to be the prettiest of castles, or at least the ones we went to.  It’s set on a tiny island where three lochs meet with a bridge connecting the banks to the castle. It looks the least defensible but it’s pretty sitting out on the loch. As we drove up, the rain started to abate. We got treated to a little rainbow in behind the castle.


Loch Duich, Loch Long, and Loch Alsh?




Eilean Donan

The castle appears to still be used by its clan family. Many of the rooms are furnished for use. Sadly, photos were not permitted.  But it was fun to wander the rooms, and even the outdoor walls to see the world around us. We also could walk on the banks below that clearly are covered by the high tide. We saw evidence of crabs and fish.

And then it was time to go to the Isle of Skye…

That’s all for now!

Honeymoon: Part 5

It was the day to visit Nessie.

We decided to drive through Glen Coe, a region described by the book as “beautiful if the weather was nice, harrowing if it isn’t.” What a description! So many people advised us to go, it was a must.

It was stunning. I think it was more of a cloudy day so it had that sublime quality: beauty and terror. We drove on a road that took us between these giant hills/mountains covered in scrubs and very few trees. You felt the grandeur of nature. Later on, we realized that this was finally James Bond Country.

James Bond Country

We wanted to go on a hike so we had set ourselves on a hike in the town of Glen Coe. We did see people wandering around as we drove but we decided to stick with the book. When we finally got to our destination, it was like we had arrived in a new world. We found ourselves in a beautiful forest. We decided to go on a short hike since we were there. It was a hike uphill between evergreens and trees of exploding colors and around a picturesque lake.

Next time, we are going to hike Glen Coe proper. It will be awesome.

Afterwards, we set out to find food but discovered that all the food places in Glen Coe village were closed. It was interesting to see that all the bed and breakfasts had signs saying “No vacancy.” I’m still not sure if that means that they are full or maybe closed for the season.

So off we went to our next destination to find food: Fort William. It’s a town next to a beautiful Loch. THe guidebook rightly said that it’s lovely town save the roadway in the way of the harbor. I totally understand. Unlike Chicago and its beaches on the other side of LSD, there’s nothing past the roadway but the water. No matter. We had a lovely meal of mussels and salmon at a restaurant overlooking the Loch. (It also had boat cruises that served food too). I was committed to trying the salmon since it seemed like a common feature on  menus. I was hoping I would grow to like it in the way that I began to love lamb after Wales and green tea after Tokyo. But alas, I still really only like lox. Mussels were damn good. What I loved about the place was the fact that we could watch the waves in the lake. I kept thinking that I could see something in the water, but it just appeared to be the movement of the water.

This would be a great set up for our next leg.

We were off  to Urquhart Castle on the banks of Loch Ness. (We were racing against time) What a beautiful ruined castle. Again, Robert the Bruce burned the castle when he recaptured it! We had a fun time running around it, trying to imagine the constructed spaces from the descriptions. This was more ruin than castle. Totally worth checking out. The castle happens to be next to the deepest point of Loch Ness, which is cool.

Castle Urquhart

Then we ran to go to the Loch Ness Exhibition & Center to learn about Nessie and the myth. I thought it was well worth the trip. I expected a museum of cryptozoology but I feel that I got something better than that even. It was a series of seven or eight short films exploring the sightings and science. We learned about the legend itself, the sightings, optics, the technological advances, the ecosystem of the loch, and so much more. There was a final gallery where you can listen to people give accounts of their sightings and see articles about other lake creature. I won’t ruin the conclusion of the exhibition but I was satisfied.

Who knows what lurks here?

Then we decided to wrap up our day by driving to Castle Dornoch in Dornoch. THis was as far North as we were going to go on this trip. We drove through Inverness, the capital of the highlands, and across a lone bridge with whipping waves beneath.

Castle Dornoch

Our evening’s lodging was an actual castle, courtesy of our groomsmen. It was actually a bishop’s palace and we got to stay in the courtroom. Apt, methinks. It was everything we could have hoped for. When we were shown our room, it had a working fireplace! (though we learned that neither of us is capable of lighting a fire…) All the curtains and bedspread was in a beautiful green tartan and there was brandy. I’ve grown to appreciate brandy straight.  The evening ended with a nice hearty dinner downstairs. It was a smashing good day!

That’s all for now!

Je T’aime Paris

Absolutely horrifying. The attacks on Friday night in Paris are upsetting, hitting you right in the stomach. Then there’s the terrible attacks in the suburb of Beirut on Thursday… What is the world coming to?

As someone who has written a lot about Paris, I feel that I have to pay tribute to the City of Light. I can’t speak for Beirut or Lebanon but I’m sure those who know it can speak to its beauty or its character. Paris is a magnificent city, deserving of all of the grandeur and praise that it was gotten over the years. I love nothing more than to walk its streets, preferably with a Nutella crepe in hand in the winter. There is the beauty in the everyday life there. Walking you’ll see the markets, the food markets were each stall has its speciality, the bird and fish market near Notre Dame, and even the flea markets (if you know where to go). There’s the cafes where people will sit outside even in December! There’s the booksellers along the Seine, the imperial looking streets with buildings and lights tipped with gold. This is the city of the ex-pats, of writers, artists and even the jazz musicians escaping racism in the States. And there are the personal connections. The amazing friends that we have made over the years. 

It hurts to see this city maligned, bruised and battered by brutal people. And yes, I know there is a dark side to Paris, like any city. I love Chicago despite its corruption, stupefying violence, and more. But this I know: Paris will rise from the horrible events on Friday. There may be weeks or months of investigation to understand how this occurred. There will be some unpleasant times to be sure. But It survived two wars in the 20th century, the French Revolution, and so much more. Paris will ever remain Paris.

Notre Dame at Night

What remains for us? I think George Takei on his Facebook page said it best: “There no doubt will be those who look upon immigrants and refugees as the enemy as a result of these attacks, because they look like those who perpetrated these attacks, just as peaceful Japanese Americans were viewed as the enemy after Pearl Harbor. But we must resist the urge to categorize and dehumanize, for it is that very impulse that fueled the insanity and violence perpetrated this evening.

Tonight, hold your loved ones, and pray or wish for peace, not only from guns and bombs, but from hatred and fear. If it is our freedom and joy they seek to destroy, give them not that victory. Against the forces of darkness and terror, love and compassion shall always prevail. ‪#‎JeSuisParis‬

I will pray for peace. To this, I add: don’t run away from Paris. Now is the time to show that it means something to you. Is it scary to contemplate going to a place where such brutal acts occurred? Yes, yes it is. But we have to live our lives. We cannot let these terrorists terrorize us.

Eiffel Tower

Show your love to Paris in any way you can.

That’s all for now.

Honeymoon: Part 4

On our fourth day, we were going to hiking. The weather on our trip had been perfect so far. But looking at the forecast and the reputation of Scotland, I feared that the rains would come in and blow away my enthusiasm for hiking. Little did we know that we had come at the perfect time in Scotland; it was the dry season. There hadn’t been rain in a month!

So we bid Stirling castle goodbye and drove to Loch Lomond,  the largest freshwater inland lake in the UK.. It sounded like the place to go. We had some difficulty finding a good place to hike. Again, we weren’t aware that Scotland allowed wandering, meaning you could wander onto land freely as long as you don’t squat. We ended up in a tiny town named Luss on Loch Lomond. We did a short hike out of town onto the nearby hill/mountain. It was perfect fall day. The trees were a splash of colors. Little brooks babbled. Idyllic. The hike took us back to town, past several pond/srivers, past the graveyard to the lake itself. It was absolutely beautiful. We toyed with the idea of renting a boat or kayaking but we decided that we wanted to do a longer hike.

Loch Lomond

Our destination was Ben Aan. I had read about it in the book; It sounded like the ideal hiking for us. A decent hike, a few hours at most, in the Trossachs region of Scotland. (Loch Lomond is part of it too). We did have some misadventures when we missed a turn for the hike and the GPS neglected to tell us to turn around. It decided that it wanted us to go completely around Loch Katrine. After miles of tall trees and other greenery, we did find ourselves in an area of scrubland, covered in orange and red shrubs. It was beautiful and strange place. It felt like James Bond Country (nope, we later found out). We eventually figured out what the GPS did and turned ourselves around.

After driving curvy mountain/hill roads in this forested area, we eventually found the car park for our hike. For some reason the original entrance of the hike is under construction. The website claimed it was to refurbish the trail but there was a lot of logging in the direction of the old hiking path, so I’m not sure. It was a beautiful,  though slightly harrowing forest. Tall trees shot up into the sky leaving a slight darkness below. And lots of mud. It was evident from the beginning that this hike was going to be uphill for most of it. At times, we had to hold onto ropes to get us forward, though that might have more to do with the giant mud areas than steepness. It was well traveled; People had dogs and I even saw a woman with a baby on her back. I was deeply impressed as I was huffing and puffing.


View from Top of Ben Aan

Then there was the final ascent. It must have been the steepest hikes I’ve ever done. Lots of very carefully placed feet. Gazing on it at the top and at the bottom, you definitely wonder “How the hell did I climb that?” But we did. We earned our dinner that night. At the top, we had a lovely view of the other mountains/hills and lochs in the area. Astonishing. But we could see a lot of deforestation too, which was awkward. After taking the obligatory triumphant photos, we descended.

It was time to check in at our next bed and breakfast in Callander, the center of the Trossach region. The B&B was a little bit out of the center of town but it was comfortable. Tea and cookies in the room because that is service! We opted for Indian food that night to try something different. It was tasty enough but the gentleman next to us was a bit inebriated. He and his companion had a bottle of wine each. When he found out that we had been recently married, he had some rather ribaldry things that he said. Thankfully, his accent was so thick that I only understood a small portion of them. But I understood enough. He really was the only person we had difficulty with the accent. More to do with the drinking than anything else.

That’s all for now. Tomorrow we will check out Glen Coe, Castle Urquhart, and Loch Ness!

Honeymoon: Part 3

On our third day of the honeymoon, it was time to leave Edinburgh and explore the rest of Scotland. We spent the morning making our goodbyes by checking out the Museum of Edinburgh. (In large part, so we could say hello to the Grayfriars Bobby’s bowl and collar). We finished walking the Royal Mile to see the palace of Holyrood at the very end (and the interesting architecture of the Parliament). Holyrood is where Mary Queen of Scots saw her secretary get murdered…

We wandered up to one of the hills overlooking Edinburgh for the Nelson monument. My husband is a big Horatio Nelson fan and is committed to going to every single one in the UK. It’s going to take a while. This was a tower that you could ascend and get a nice view of Edinburgh. Historically, they used to drop a ball from the top of the column at 1 o’clock so that people knew what time it was (or at least once a day). However, if it’s foggy in the city, that technique didn’t really work so they moved to a cannon-shot at 1 each day.
Nelson's Monument
Then it was time to pick up the car at the train station. We decided to go with Eurocar, which will be the last time. We didn’t realize that we were required to pick the car up at a certain time (We thought it was like a hotel, any time after X o’clock). We got there to find that they had rented out our car (pre-paid of course). The models above and below were gone so there was only a car three levels up. After arguing for a while about upgrade fees, we ended up compromising on insurance. But we did get a GPS (for better or for worse).
Then we were off…it was a little tricky/nerve-wracking to get out of the center of Edinburgh but we managed. Our first night out of the city was in Stirling. We were there for Stirling Castle. We went directly there. After a decent lunch of chicken stuffed with haggis, we took a mini-tour of the castle with one of the docents. He talked about how this castle too was burned to the ground after Robert the Bruce captured it!
Stirling Castle: Great Hall
We also got to see the infamous Great Hall that had very controversial reconstruction. There’s a whole podcast on 99% Invisible that just came out a few weeks ago on it: http://99percentinvisible.org/episode/the-great-restoration/
Basically, when you redo a work of art or building, when do you reconstruct it to? When it was first created? What people see it as? For the Great Hall, they decided to redo it in a peach (or yellow) color that is very striking compared to the other gray/brown structures nearby. The color was from the original construction (or something) of the Great Hall. A lot of people really disliked it. But being there, I can see that the peach color was found in bits and pieces on the other buildings so it’s not that out-of-the-way. And it’s more peach than yellow.
There was also a wedding being set up in the Great Hall. Can you imagine having your wedding at Stirling Castle? So cool! We snuck a peek in the chapel where the violinist was setting up. Then there was the main castle buildings that had beautiful bright rooms. One had a series of tapestries recently made by local groups depicting a unicorn hunt. Apparently, these tapestries (and their originals) are the only unicorn tapestries in addition to the famous ones at Cluny. Quite beautiful! There was one room that we could not go into because there was a cocktail party for the wedding. Sounds of Celtic music came out. That was the room that I most wanted to go in!
Tapestry Room
We also saw a reconstruction of the wooden carvings on the ceiling. There were these medallions of people carved from wood that showed a lot of different types of people. Pretty neat. The National Scotland Museum had some of the originals.
Stirling Ceiling Reconstruction
Stirling was pretty neat. We decided to check into our Bed and Breakfast, Castlecroft, which was quite close to the castle. What a lovely place! Our hostess showed us around, recommended some place to go, and then made tea for us. Absolutely perfect! We wandered into town after refreshing ourselves with tea and biscuits. We walked along a path next to pastures where there were beautiful hairy cows. Then we took the path up into the little forest below the castle and found some pretty amazing wooden sculptures, including a beheading. Very cool but very strange!
Fuzzy CowStatues in the Forest
At the top of the hill, we found a lovely cemetery with strange monuments (and views of the castle nearby). After dinner, we were planning on going on a ghost tour but discovered it was sold out! We had a nice evening walk home to our B&B through the former gardens of the king and queen. I recommend using flashlights!
Stirling Castle at Night
That’s all for now!

Honeymoon: Part 2

On our second day in Edinburgh, our first stop was the Edinburgh Castle. We got there close to opening time so we could avoid the potential crowds (There were stanchions and other signs of long queues in the square outside). They had free tours all day so we found ourselves a tour that gave a little overview of the castle for  45 minutes. We learned that the castle was never taken outright, only by surrender or trickery. We did learn that when Robert the Bruce recaptured it, he had it burned to prevent it from being taken by the Brits again. Apparently, this was a common theme with castles captured by Robert the Bruce in Scotland.

Edinburgh Castle

After the tour, we wandered into the magnificent hall that was covered in swords and other paraphernalia of war. The woodworking is magnificent. They did have docents who talked to us about some of the swords and other weapons in the hall. We got to lift a claymore! (So heavy). Then we wandered into the beautiful war memorial that records all the deaths over the centuries in various conflicts. In this church-like hall, there are many books with the names of the deceased listed by rank and regiment. A secular holy place.

Great Hall

We also got to see the Scottish crown jewels and the Stone of Destiny. My husband was very disappointed that he couldn’t make off with the Stone of Destiny for the British Museum. That would have been awkward to say the least. There were several museums dedicated to various military regiments since the Castle is still used for military purposes including a barracks (I think). What a wonderful place!

After the castle, we decided to wander the Royal Mile and get some lunch. Afterwards, we decided to check out a free Harry Potter walking tour of the area. The first third of it had us wandering around the cemetery that we had wandered in the day before. We got to see where J.K. Rowling got many of her character’s names. We saw McGonagall’s resting place; apparently, he was a notoriously bad poet! Even more thrilling was the tomb of Tom Riddell! Very cool. We also got to see the street that allegedly inspired Diagon Alley. It’s a curvy road with brightly colored buildings on it. Very picturesque.

Diagon Alley?

After the tour, we ran over to the National Museum of Scotland before it closed. It’s a lovely building with a nice open atrium in the middle. We did a whirlwind tour of the place, checking out the T-rex bones and the Lewis Chess pieces. The chess pieces were a real treat for me since they are my favorite at the British Museum. I didn’t even know there were more pieces (though it seems obvious now!). It was neat to see that some parts of the museum collection were paired with thematically similar items rather than separating things by time or geography. I like seeing the connections between ideas in objects.

After our whirlwind tour, we decided to check out Lovecrumbs, a place our friend in Edinburgh recommended, for tea and cake. It’s a little cafe below from the castle and off the Grassmarket. On the way there, we passed a cat cafe and lots of used bookshops.  Edinburgh is my kind of place. This cafe was amazing. The place has all sorts of tables including  piano where you can sip your tea and work. I had violet tea and a tasty cake with neat flavor pairings. Sadly I don’t remember what cake I had but it was among the best cakes I’ve had in a long time.

For dinner that evening, we decided on a little place off the Royal Mile. I had goat cheese stuffed butternut squash, which was tasty. My husband’s dish included fried haggis balls that were simply out of this world.

Then it was time for another ghost tour. We had opted for the 10:20 tour because it was the latest tour…and we would check out the vaults. There are buildings coming off the hill that is the Royal Mile. We learned that these vaults were accidentally created when they built structures around them. The vaults were used for several businesses including a tannery and a tavern. But also all sorts of crime flourished here. And there are lots of reports of ghostly sightings and even possessions by tour guides and others.

The vaults are delightfully creepy. You have to descend several flights of stairs to get to them so you definitely feel cut off from the rest of the world. The lighting is fairly low and dark in some places. You can believe anything is possible here. But the best part of the tour? We were the last group so we got to blow out the candles. Whee! So thrilling!

That’s all for now!