Stirling Bagpipes, Cambuskenneth Abbey & the Majestic Falkland Palace

It was the 5th day of our 5-day adventure in and around Stirling and Edinburgh on October the 8th. We would be returning to Aberdeen by nightfall. Yet, we were determined to make the most of our last day and fit in as much as possible. We set out to see some more ancient sites in the immediate area around Stirling and another Palace belonging to the Stewarts in the small town of Falkland about 30 miles away in Fife.

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IMG_7547After devouring yet another satisfying home-cooked traditional Scottish breakfast, we checked out of the hostel in Stirling and ventured a IMG_7588short distance up the road toward the Church of the Holy Rood.

Behind the old church, there is a massive graveyard that occupies all of the land lying between the church and the defensive walls of Stirling Castle further up the hill.

Lindsay has an ancestor with the surname of Lawson from this town, and he was hoping to find their headstone in amongst the throng. This could be tricky!

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Luckily, there is a hill off to one side that you can walk up to get a great view of the surrounding countryside and all parts of the vast graveyard. It was a beautiful sunny fall morning, and the air was warm, yet the crispness of fall was evident in the early light of the day.

Once we had a birdseye view of the place, we walked back down the hill and began exploring the Old Kirkyard and learning about its curiosities. There are quite a few unique statues scattered about and handy interpretive signage to help guide the way and draw your attention to each unique specimen.

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IMG_7556IMG_7555Our luck was with us that morning because we found the Lawson headstone he wanted to see not long after our search began. He knew it had a statue of an angel on it. Knowing that tidbit of information narrowed it down quite a lot! 

After getting a good IMG_7574shot of Lindsay next to the stone, I decided to backtrack a bit to see if I could possibly get a decent silhouette of the stone against the bright morning sky. It wasn’t exactly the shot I was hoping for. Still, in the process, I found something else of interest to me quite by chance standing right next to me – a headstone with the surname of Frew, which I had never noticed before on previous trips to this particular graveyard. Not exactly sure who this Frew is, but I can investigate later to learn more! What a lucky find!IMG_7575

IMG_7584Lindsay lived in a small town nearby as a young child. We drove through the cobbled streets of Stirling and out of town to see if we could find the house where he once lived. We also wanted to visit an old Abbey nestled in the curvature of the River Forth down in the valley below Stirling.2nd map_LI (3)

When we arrived, however, we discovered the Abbey had already been closed for the season about a week earlier. The gates were padlocked. Oh well.  We peeked over the fence and let that suffice.

I visited this site a couple of years ago and discovered the gravesite of my 17th great-grandparents, James III King of Scotland Stewart (1451-1488), and his wife, Margaret of Denmark. In 1486 Margaret of Denmark died at Stirling Castle and was buried at the Abbey. A couple of years later, her husband James III was killed at the Battle of Sauchieburn, and his body was brought to Cambuskenneth Abbey for burial next to his bride.

Mary Stuart, Queen of Scots, was James III’s great granddaughter, and it is through James that I share my ancestry with her. He was her great-grandfather and my 17th.

I’ve often wondered, like many, how the two different spellings of Stewart/Stuart came to be. Touring the Palaces of the Stewarts over the last couple of days and learning more about Mary, had provided the answer!

The House of Stuart, originally Stewart, was a royal house of Scotland, England, Ireland, and later Great Britain. The family name comes from the office of High Steward of Scotland, which had been held by the family scion Walter Fitz Alan (c. 1150). The name “Stewart” and variations had become established as a family name by the time of his grandson, Walter Stewart. The first monarch of the Stewart line was Robert II, whose descendants were kings and queens of Scotland from 1371 until the union with England in 1707. Mary, Queen of Scots, was brought up in France, however, and it is there that she adopted the French spelling of the name – Stuart. Soooo, it was because Mary decided to change the spelling of her name to suit her fancy to the French language!!! Now I know!

But I digress; back to the Abbey… it fell into disrepair during the Scottish Reformation. After the dismantling of most of the Abbey, the King’s tomb was incomplete, and restoration of it was undertaken by Queen Victoria in 1865. It now stands within a railed enclosure at the east end of the abbey ruins where a chapel used to be.

King David I founded Cambuskenneth Abbey about 1140, to serve the royal castle of Stirling. Most of it was built in the 1200s, and much of the surviving structure dates from then. The free-standing bell tower, which still stands today, is unique in Scotland. Its lancet windows and ornamental arcades serve as an excellent example of architecture in the 1200s. 

On our way back to the main road, we spied a beautiful rainbow arching across the sky toward Stirling Castle up on the hill. What a treat!IMG_7608

IMG_7580Now that it was a bit later in the morning, the shops in Stirling would begin to open. We drove back to town to visit an extraordinary shop called Stirling Bagpipes before we left for home.

To pass the time while we waited for the shopkeeper to arrive and open his shop, we admired the canons on display nearby from the Napoleonic Wars.

The shopkeeper, Alan, soon arrived, and we were delighted to get to go inside and see his combination workshop/retail outlet of high-quality hand-crafted bagpipes!

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It is a fun shop to visit and see all things related to the art and craft of making bagpipes and making music with them. You can tell this is where the pipers come to get quality goods custom-made to meet their needs. He also sells an excellent selection of pipe band CDs to play in the car when we’re traveling about the Scottish countryside! 

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He even had a small rack of second-hand pipe band kilts for sale at a very reasonable rate. Kilts, if you don’t know, are rather spendy. They are used for special occasions such as weddings and can cost about the same as what a new Tuxedo would cost.

A friend of mine was busy at my house building shelving in my garage while I was away on vacation all summer. He also has some Scottish ancestry and would love to have a kilt of his own. As a thank you gift for building the fantastic sturdy shelving for me, I purchased a kilt to take home to him. Alan got it all wrapped up nicely for me and even included the name of the Pipe Band that it came from – Clackmannanshire!  Nice to know its provenance!

Armed with the perfect gift for my friend, we said our goodbyes to Alan at Stirling Bagpipes and started making our way toward Falkland.

IMG_7637We didn’t stop to visit, but we did pass just underneath the 220 foot Wallace Monument standing proud on Abbey Craig overlooking the valley and the Abbey below.

One of Scotland’s most distinctive landmarks, it is an iconic tower commemorating the life and legacy of Sir William Wallace, the 13th-century Scottish patriot, and martyr who inspired the movie ‘Braveheart.’ It seems appro pro to make the monument where it stands since Abbey Craigs also overlooks the scene of Wallace’s greatest triumph against the forces of England’s King Edward I at the Battle of Stirling Bridge in 1297.

Legend has it that William Wallace’s remaining corpse after he had been hung and quartered in London were scattered at various places in Scotland, including Stirling, to make a statement to the Scots. It is said that the portion that went to Stirling was secretly absconded and then buried at Camuskenneth Abbey. There is a headstone lying flat on the Abbey grounds with the initials WW.

After a pleasant drive, we arrived in Falkland and drove to the center of town. I immediately recognized the place even though I had never been there before! Alas, it was yet another filming location for Outlander. In the very first episode, Claire and her husband took a trip to Scotland, and they came to this town after the war was over in Season 1! How fun!  I keep running across these places by chance that I recognize from Outlander during this particular little adventure.

Being so late in the season, it wasn’t crowded at all, and we quickly found parking right next to the Palace.  

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Falkland Palace was a royal palace of the Scottish Kings. Today it is under the stewardship of Ninian Stuart, but who delegates most of his duties to The National Trust for Scotland. (Arms of the King of Scots at right)

IMG_7657Before Falkland Palace was built, a hunting lodge existed here in the 12th century. The lodge was expanded in the 13th century, and it then became a castle. The castle was built here because the area could be easily defended. After all, it is located on a slight hill. The land surrounding the castle eventually became the Palace gardens.

Between 1501 and 1541, Kings James IV and James V transformed the old castle into a beautiful royal palace: along with Stirling Castle, it was one of two Renaissance palaces in Scotland.  James V extended his father’s buildings in the French renaissance style. He even built a Royal Tennis Court on the grounds of the Palace in 1541.

They loved using the tennis court. Queen Mary became especially fond of the game, and it is said that she scandalized the people of Scotland by wearing men’s britches to play! The court still survives to this day and is the oldest in Britain. The Palace became a popular retreat with all the Stewart monarchs. They practiced falconry and used the vast surrounding forests for hawking and for hunting deer.

We toured the Palace but were unable to photograph anything inside except the Bakehouse and Apothecary in the cellars. I particularly enjoyed these two places, and I enjoyed learning about the different types of bread they made at the time. 

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The Apothecary was full of all kinds of hands-on information where you could grind herbs, etc.

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I really liked the weaved baskets, in particular the weaved sconce filled with lavender. They also had a unique spiral herb drying rack in the corner that I thought was an ingenious method for drying herbs without taking up too much space in the process.

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Lindsay even got to play King for a Day while he lounged on his throne…

After touring the Palace, we headed outside to check out the gardens, the old castle site, the glasshouse, and of course, get a glimpse of the tennis courts!

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As we made our way back toward the entrance, we passed by and got a great view of the orchards and the lovely wrought iron gates where you can gain entry into the orchard in the meadow below. 

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It is a lovely palace to visit, and it was very nice to see firsthand where my ancestors hung out and lived part of their lives. Each place I visit adds one more piece of the ancestral puzzle I’ve been putting together. IMG_7705

By the time we finished the tour, we were kind of hungry, so we headed directly across the street from the Palace to a lovely restaurant called “The Bruce.”  First, we enjoyed some appetizers.  Lindsay ordered deep-fried Haggis, and I tried some of their jalapeno poppers.  Tasty!

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The rest of the day was rather uneventful because we just drove north about 80 miles on the main road to Aberdeen. It had been 5 days of fun-filled adventures, and we had made a whole bushel of new memories to treasure and enjoy over and over again in the future.

We spent the rest of the week taking care of domestic chores and getting together with Lindsay’s kids for barbeques and get-togethers sharing all of our recent adventures with them as well.

It wouldn’t be long, however, before we planned one more little jaunt to finish off our summer’s adventures. It had been raining all week since we returned to Aberdeen, and there was a forecast for a spell of a few sunny days the following week. I only had two weeks left of my summer-long vacation and had been hoping we could get a chance to visit Northern Ireland together before I flew home. The weather gods were shining upon us and offered up a perfect opportunity for another 6-day mini-adventure. Perfect.

Stay tuned, the last installment of our 2019 adventures will take us to catch a ferry from Stranraer to Belfast and the beautiful coastline of Northern Ireland.  Until then…. happy traveling, albeit “virtually!”

 

Isle Hopping in the Western Hebrides – Part 2; Isle of Skye

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In the morning, we awoke to a beautiful calm Sunday in the village of Tobermory. There were some light clouds, and the forecast called for some scattered showers throughout the day. Lindsay commented that it didn’t look like a lovely day, but I retorted, “No, actually, it is an extremely nice day because I woke up to find I am still in Scotland! Therefore, it’s an absolutely wonderful day!”

After fixing a hearty breakfast in the hostel, Lindsay and I decided to go for a stroll along the edge of the harbor and check out the architecture and shop fronts in this quaint and colorful seaside village.

We happened across a couple of signs in the shop windows that I thought were amusing…

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mapOur plans for the day were to catch the ferry at the end of the street. This ferry would take us back to the mainland at Kilchoan. From there, we could drive a short distance to visit a lighthouse and then double-back, following the shoreline of Loch Sunart as we made our way back to the ferry at Carron. We would spend most of the day driving about 160 miles through beautiful countryside, eventually arriving at Portree on the Isle of Skye.

The first ferry of the day was on time as usual, and we were soon well on our way, crossing the 5 miles to Kilchoan on the other side.

Once we disembarked from the ferry, it was another 6 miles or so out to the Ardnamurchan Lighthouse at the tip of the peninsula.

The view of the coastline was beautiful from the lighthouse at this remote location.

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As we made our way back toward Kilchoan, we passed some adorable animals. At first glance, because of the markings, we thought these three critters were goats, but when we got closer, we realized they were wooly and were actually sheep.

We later found out they are called Jacob sheep. Interesting! I’ve never seen that type of sheep before. Usually, they are just all white, or all brown, or black, but not all mixed together like this breed.

In addition to the sheep, these two ponies were quite pretty and turned out to be quite the hams when we stopped to take photos of them. I swear they must have been practicing their poses for the tourists!

We drove east, hugging the shores of Loch Sunart on a mostly one track, narrow, winding road back to the Corran ferry where we could cross Loch Linnhe again and reconnect with the A82 highway heading north toward Fort William.

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We traveled north on the A82 until we reached Invergarry, where we could head west once again to the Isle of Skye. It took us most of the day, but we thoroughly enjoyed driving along with the Gaelic speaking radio station playing music. We can’t understand a word they are saying, but we sure enjoy the selection of traditional Gaelic tunes they offer their listeners.  There was one tune, in particular, that was quite catchy with a word like “mucky shan” repeated over and over again. We later learned it is the Gaelic word for “moccasin!” Interesting how the Native Americans created a word for footwear that is so similar to the Gaelic name for the same item.

As the afternoon faded, we made our way covering the last few miles driving through the misty and magical mountains on the Isle of Skye to our final destination at Portree.

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IMG_4860By the time we arrived at the hostel, we were more than ready to settle in, fix ourselves some dinner in the self-catering kitchen and just relax the rest of the evening with all of the other guests who were also travelers like us.

The next morning, we awoke to a beautiful view of  Loch Portree and the mountain called “Sgùrr nan Gillean” about 12 miles beyond in the distance.

view from Portree Hostel in the morning

mapWe enjoyed an excellent hot breakfast and packed ourselves a picnic lunch to take with us as we headed out for another day of exploration.

The itinerary included a side trip to the west to visit a castle and then a big loop around the northern tip of the isle to visit a unique museum and some stunning geological formations created by volcanoes many moons ago.

We got an early start and arrived at  Dunvegan Castle just as they were opening their gates, so we had the place pretty much to ourselves along with a handful of other ‘early birds.’ Just the way we like it.

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Dunvegan is the oldest continuously-inhabited castle in Scotland and has been the ancestral home of the Chiefs of Clan MacLeod for 800 years. They offer self-guided tours, and you can also take pictures of the exquisite furnishings inside.

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We thoroughly enjoyed our tour of the premises and the beautiful and unique treasures it holds.

Here are a few shots of the numerous rooms we toured and a few select items that I thought particularly interesting.

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As an example of one of the unique items, here is “Rory Mor’s Horn.” Evidently, it is essential for the clan’s survival that a Chief should prove his fitness to lead by filling up the horn with claret to the brim (nearly a half-gallon) and it all must be drunk by the Chief in one drink without ‘setting the horn down’ or falling down himself!

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Down in the lower levels of the castle, we toured rooms that were the servants quarters as a finale.

Once we had toured the castle, we headed back outside to also explore the various sections of gardens Dunvegan also offers.  There is a delightful network of pathways that take you downhill from the castle and across the river, complete with stunning waterfalls. Beyond that is the pleasurable round garden and the walled garden further on where they used to grow their fruits and vegetables. Although we did not partake, you can also book a boat ride to go out and visit the seals and other wildlife resting on the rocks out in the deep waters of Loch Dunvegan.

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Although it was getting late in the season, there was still quite a bit of color left in the flower beds and foliage to enjoy throughout the various sections of the gardens.

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As expected, about the time we were done touring the castle and its grounds, we headed back to the car park to find several buses had just arrived filled with tourists eager to visit the castle. We were quite content to climb back in our car, avoiding that crowd and continue further on down the road. We headed back to the main road and then started making the loop around the northern tip of the isle.

At the town of Uig, we decided to take a break, stretch our legs, and get a latte ‘to go’ down in the harbor. Many times when I order a coffee ‘to go’ they look at me funny like they don’t know what I mean. That’s when I need to correct myself, speak their lingo, and rephrase it to say a coffee to ‘take-away.’

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We continued on until we came to the small village of Kilmuir on the northern coastline. There is a fascinating and unique museum in this remote location. It’s called the Skye Museum of Island Life.  It consists of about seven or eight crofts. ‘Crofts’ are the stone houses with thatched roofs that the farmers of old used to live and work in. Each of these thatched houses represents an aspect of the crofter’s lives and contains original tools, implements, and items used by these people daily.

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For instance, the first one you come to depicts what a typical home looked like and what the furnishings were like inside. Quite a contrast to the castle dwellings we just visited!

This croft house had three rooms and was the home of John & Annie Graham and their 10 children. There weren’t many trees on Skye, so the homes were built out of what was available. Just about everything they had was hand-made; the cloth to make their clothes, they also raised sheep and spun their own wool, grew their own food, etc., etc. Talk about some stalwart and a resourceful bunch of people!

Next, came the barn where they kept the precious cow warm during the winter to provide milk, cheese, and butter to the family year-round.

The next one was the Ceilidh House (pronounced “Kay-lee”), where they would play music and dance and get together with others in their tight-knit community. There isn’t any dancing going on inside any longer; however, it’s filled to the brim with interpretive panels that are filled with stories and pictures about crofting and some local legends to read about.

Here are some of the pictures of the people who lived in these houses and how they worked the land and managed to survive despite the hardships they endured.

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After the party house, the next building held all sorts of tools: nets, traps, & floats for fishing, threshing machines for separating grain from the sheaf, and tack for the horses.

Of course, you would have to have a loom at the Weaver’s house and a few spinning wheels…

…as well as some seaworthy boats…

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…and some were lucky enough to have another building that held both a grocer’s shop and a blacksmith shop next door as well!

I think it is absolutely fantastic that they have created this museum of island life and preserved the many artifacts of what life was like for these stout and hard-working people to serve as a testament to the life they led on this isle.

We got back in the car and continued driving around the tip of the peninsula, enjoying the views and the magnificent examples of geological features in the terrain.

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People come from all over the world to see these fine specimens of rock called the Quiraing and the rocket-shaped outcropping of basalt called “The Old Man of Storr.”

Skye is nicknamed the “misty isle” because often, these formations are shrouded in a misty cloud, and they are obscured. However, today we were fortunate. It was kind of cloudy, but at least they were high clouds, and the formations could easily be viewed.  What a treat! There is a car park at the side of the road where you can find the trailhead that leads up to the formations offering fantastic views of the surrounding terrain. We did not, however, hike this trail!

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We also stopped to view a beautiful waterfall flowing under the main road and a magnificent view of the ocean and small picturesque beach below at the river’s mouth.

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After a full day of exploring parts of the Isle of Skye, we returned to Portree, found a delightful restaurant with delectable fresh seafood entrees, and settled in for a very yummy and satisfying meal at the end of the day. That night I enjoyed seared fresh scallops on a bed of risotto!

mapOn Wednesday morning, September 18th, we checked out of the hostel at Portree and started making our way back to the mainland once again. When we got to Broadford, we took a detour over the mountain to catch a small ferry at Kylerhea to Glen Elg on the other side. A couple of years ago, I found two Bronze age Broch’s up a canyon near Glen Elg that I wanted to show Lindsay.

I also wanted him to see, and ride on, this unique turn-table ferry, the last of its kind.

IMG_4965We crossed Kyle Rhea on the ferry and made our way to the first broch called Dun Telve. These ancient dwellings date from around 2,300 – 1,900 years ago. They are quite unique, with double walls.  Only a portion of them remain intact but they are fascinating to explore just the same.

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This interpretive sign gives us a glimpse of what the dwelling must have looked like inside and how it was multi-leveled.

A little further up the road, there is a second site, called Dun Trodden, that we also explored.

We returned to the ferry at Kyle Rhea and crossed once again back to Skye to continue our tour.  While we waited, we went inside the lighthouse and found all sorts of information about the ferry, the local wildlife, and the cute little lighthouse itself. They also had many souvenirs for sale like coffee cups, t-shirts, and decals regaling the many qualities of this delightful little unique ferry. I bought a decal sticker for my car!

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IMG_5113Soon we were crossing the water once again and driving back over the mountain on the one-track road and approaching Broadford once again on the Isle of Skye.

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We turned left on the main road and then another left soon thereafter to take us to the southwestern tip of the isle to visit Armadale Castle, the seat of Clan MacDonald.

The castle was built in 1815, so it isn’t ancient. About 40 years later, a fire destroyed most of it. In less than 100 years, even after being remodeled after the horrendous fire, it had fallen into disrepair and deemed unsafe.

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You can’t walk amongst the ruins; only view them from the outside behind a small wooden fence. Still, it’s interesting to walk around it and the grounds on which it sits.

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There are numerous paths to follow on the vast estate grounds. These paths lead to herbaceous flower beds at various levels, giant rhododendron bushes you can walk underneath, and cute little bridges to cross the creek which meanders throughout the grounds eventually flowing into the picturesque pond.

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There is also a museum located on the grounds. It is filled with all manner of MacDonald finery & weaponry, as well as beautiful specimens of musical instruments and a complete, and lovingly restored regatta racing boat that has never left the Isle of Skye since it was built in 1897.

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After we finished touring Armadale, we drove the remaining short distance to the ferry landing, where we would catch one more ferry back to the mainland, landing at the town of Mallaig about five miles away.  While we waited for the boat to arrive, we decided to treat ourselves to a latte and some sweets at “The Shed” nearby to tide us over until dinner.

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The ferry was on time, and soon we were boarding. It sure was a LOT bigger than any of the ferries we had utilized while we hopped from one place to another along this trip. I felt like we were boarding an ocean liner or something!

Five miles later, we arrived in Mallaig, found our hotel, “The Steam Inn,” and relaxed the rest of the evening with a nice meal of shrimp ‘n chips in their restaurant onsite. What another fantastic day it had been exploring ancient dwellings from the Bronze Age, castles from the 19th century, and riding very unique and one-of-a-kind ferries with a delightful traveling companion who has a great attitude!  Who could ask for more?

This concludes 4 more days of our 10-day tour. In the third and final blog post of this adventure, we will be leaving the western isles. We will head inland to explore the road less traveled along the eastern shores of Loch Ness. We will experience a fun and exciting visit with some new friends we met at a Highland Game event in August,  and we will complete a circular tour around the Black Isle north of Inverness. Stay tuned for Part 3 coming soon! Until then, happy traveling!

Isle Hopping in the Western Hebrides

It had been several years since Lindsay had ventured west from Aberdeen to the Isle of Skye, and he had never visited the Isle of Iona. Hence, we decided to take a 10-day road trip together to visit numerous Isles on the west coast of Scotland. The 800-mile route we took is displayed on the map below.  I’ve been writing a book about taking Road Trips in Scotland, and I wanted to do a bit of research as well while I was at it.

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We started out on Friday, September 13th, driving south from Aberdeen through Perth to the harbor town of Oban on the west coast.  Along the way, we took a bit of a detour through Glencoe because I mainly wanted to see the beautiful sight of the Three Sisters along the A82. It is so breathtaking!

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We arrived in Oban in the late afternoon, got settled into the hostel along the water’s edge, and then explored the town a bit looking for a decent place to get some fresh fish ‘n chips for our evening meal.

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After dinner, we checked in with the Cal-Mac Ferries to book our spot on the ferry the following morning to Craignure on the Isle of Mull. Unfortunately, the weather forecast was rather stormy, and we were informed that the boat was probably not going to run the next day due to the foul weather predictions.

We explained to the attendant that we had reservations on Mull the following evening and asked if they knew of any other route we could take instead. She suggested we drive north a short distance to Carron to catch a ferry there and then drive to another ferry landing at Lochaline that also goes to Mull and lands at Fishnish. Those two ferry crossings are very short and not as subject to the rough waters as the ferry from Oban to Craignure. We thanked her immensely and made the necessary adjustments to our plans.

As luck would have it, it turned out to be a much better route to take than what we had initially planned. Even though we had to take two ferries instead of one, they were both very short ferry rides, less expensive, and we had the opportunity to drive through some stunning and remote countryside not often traveled by others! To me, that’s a huge plus!

The drive north to Corran from Oban in the morning was only about 30 miles. About halfway along the route, we happened upon a delightful little cafe and gift shop where we enjoyed a fabulous traditional Scottish breakfast that also offered up an absolutely beautiful view of Castle Stalker situated on an island to enjoy while we ate. What a special treat!

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In addition to the many selections on their menu, they also had some absolutely yummy looking desserts in their display cases that were difficult to resist! I was particularly intrigued by the first option called Banoffee, which is made from bananas, cream, and toffee!

We drove the rest of the way to Corran and boarded the small ferry to cross Loch Linnhe at its’ narrowest point to the other side about 1/4 mile away. Before we could turn around, we were on the other side and well on our way, driving across the countryside. There was no getting out of the car on this short hop of a ferry ride!

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The traffic along the one-track road was horrendous, as you can easily see, as we made our way to Lochaline about 30 miles south!

After a beautiful drive, we arrived at the water’s edge of the Sea of Mull at Lochaline and positioned our car in the front of the line for the next ferry that would take us over to Fishnish on the Isle of Mull about a mile across the water.

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Once we landed at Fishnish, the third and final leg of our day’s journey took us south and west across the Isle of Mull to the tiny village of Fionnphort about 35 miles away.

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The drive is very scenic and full of surprises around every corner.

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When we arrived at Fionnphort, there were busloads of people waiting for the last ferry crossing of the day. It was stormy with choppy seas and threatening to rain all night, just as predicted. The travelers were all quite worried they wouldn’t be able to cross the water the short distance to the Isle of Iona. Many people make a pilgrimage to Iona, where the iconic Iona Abbey is located. Most of the people were attending a week-long spiritual retreat on the Isle and were quite worried about where they would spend the night in this small village if the ferry didn’t run. Lucky for them, however, the boat did allow them aboard after all, and they made one last run for the day.

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Lindsay and I had reservations in Fionnphort at a lovely B & B called the Seaview.

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We hunkered down and spent the stormy evening warm and dry in our cozy accommodations and also thoroughly enjoyed a delectable and hearty dinner in the pub next door.

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We also thought our placemats were quite comical.

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Fionnphort is a delightful little seaport village, and the ‘hairy coos’ have the run of the place. It appears that their job is to keep the bushes trimmed all over town.

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The following morning, after a good night’s rest, we awoke to an absolutely gorgeous day!

We enjoyed a lovely breakfast at our B & B with beautiful views of the beach from the breakfast room.

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beach at Fionnphort ferry landing

The seas and the wind had both calmed considerably. Soon, we were making our way on the first ferry crossing over to the Isle of Iona.

bay view at ferry landing on Isle of Iona4IMG_3584Safely across the water to the Isle of Iona, we began our explorations of this tiny island’s treasures. A handy map of this village points out the sites we will pass as we make our way from the ferry landing to the Abbey nearby.

According to the interpretive signs provided, “Iona is one of the most iconic and sacred places in Scotland. A place of pilgrimage, we welcome thousands of visitors every year. Whether attracted by the islands’ peace and spirituality, its wildlife and inspiring landscape, or its unique, friendly atmosphere, there is something for everyone to enjoy here on Iona. Saint Columba’s arrival on Iona in AD563 heralded the spreading of Christianity across Scotland.”IMG_3583The first site we came upon was the Nunnery ruins… 

IMG_3602 We continued along the path toward the Abbey passing additional sites along the way. I particularly liked this rock stile built into the fence. It makes it easy to go over the wall and walk IMG_3605across the field to the opposite corner.

Just across the way, we happened upon Macleans Cross. Medieval pilgrims paused here to pray on the approach to the Abbey.

A little further on, we passed IMG_3609the quaint Parish Church and the Larder, which is now a gift shop.

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Like many places across Scotland, the vine-like plant, called Kenilworth Ivy, grows wild on rock walls, and this particular display was plentiful and quite decorative against the hard rock surfaces.

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Just after passing the former home of the Reverend and his wife, the sacred graveyard, and the Abbey beyond came into view.

IMG_3630“As old as the Abbey itself, Reilig Odhrain is Iona’s main burial ground – the final resting place of abbots, monks, great lords, and warriors. Tradition says it is also the burial place of ancient kings. Medieval sources name 48 Scottish kings laid to rest here. However, recent scholars have cast doubt on this long-held belief. Whether or not there are royal burials, Reilig Odhrain holds the remains of some powerful people.” Below is an old drawing of the sacred burial grounds.IMG_3791

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Inside the chapel were some intriguing stone slabs and curiosities.

Next, we began exploring the Abbey itself…

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IMG_3699We happened to arrive while the Sunday service was being held inside. Therefore, we walked all around the outside of the Abbey and visited the Abbey museum located in the back. It was filled to the brim with fascinating artifacts and told the whole story of Abbey’s history.

After we were done looking at all of the artifacts in the museum, the church service had ended. We were able to enter the Abbey and begin exploring its interior.

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I particularly enjoyed the cloisters located in the center of the church.

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The carvings on the stone posts and columns throughout the buildings were particularly magnificent.

Just as we were finishing up our tour, we noticed that the ferry had brought over busloads of tourists from the mainland. It was so lovely to catch the first ferry of the day. Doing so made it possible to have the Abbey to ourselves instead of having to deal with so many other tourists. That was excellent timing. Since they were arriving, it was time for us to make our way back to the ferry and the Isle of Mull to continue our travels for the rest of the day. From Fionnphort, we drove about 50 miles to the northern end of the Isle to the town of Tobermory.

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Along the way, we saw all manner of sights!

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Also, there were a few free-range cows that directed traffic!

There were also some very creative and whimsical scrap art creations along the way…

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About halfway through our journey, we stopped at Macleans Castle. We didn’t tour the castle, but we sure enjoyed a yummy bowl of hot soup in their Tea Room!

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IMG_3972Near the end of the day, we arrived at Tobermory. It’s such a cute little harbor town, full of colorful buildings all in a row. Our hostel was right in the thick of it at the water’s edge. It’s the pink and white building in the photo below. We also particularly enjoyed the view of the harbor from our vantage point at the hostel.

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It had been another fantastic day exploring the ancient and iconic Abbey, driving through beautiful countryside, and riding on yet another ferry. We finished up our day just enjoying the view while we ate our spaghetti dinner with Italian sausages that we made in the kitchen at our hostel.  A perfect ending to a perfect day!

That brings us to the end of the first 3 days of Lindsay at Tobermoryour 10-day trip of Isle Hopping. In the next post, we will travel from Tobermory (by ferry, of course!) in a northerly direction, visiting a lighthouse and our adventures will continue on the Isle of Skye for a couple of days. I hope you’ll return to continue following my adventures. Until then, happy traveling!

 

Amsterdam on Bicycles!

We had two full days to enjoy and explore the fun and quirky city of Amsterdam. There is so much to see and do in this canal city. When we were here a couple of weeks earlier, we only spent one night. We walked around and took trams and buses to get from point A to point B during our limited explorations. This time I thought it would be more exciting and a whole lot more fun for the girls to experience Amsterdam on a bicycle instead. Literally, everyone rides a bike in Amsterdam to get around, young and old alike. It is an integral part of their culture, and I didn’t want Errin and Grace to miss out on that unique aspect.

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After a satisfying breakfast at the Vondelpark Hostel, we headed outside and entered Vondelpark from the convenient access gate at the hostel’s doorstep. Although the hostel has lots of bikes to rent to their guests, unfortunately, they had run out, so they referred us to another rental place close by called Black Bikes.  They had plenty, and soon, we were on our way!

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To get used to our new mode of transportation and to become accustomed to the rules of the road locally, we rode back to Vondelpark with its extensive configuration of bike and footpaths in a vast park setting.  Doing so really helped the girls get used to all of the other bike traffic zipping in and out, the designated bike lanes in the streets along the way, etc.

I always enjoy a pedal around Vondelpark. It’s such a beautiful park filled with ponds, statues, pavilions, fountains, wildlife, and a wide variety of interesting people to watch.

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After getting used to the bicycles and enjoying the park, we headed out into the streets and decided to go across town a ways to find the Anne Frank house. We had a good ride, but unfortunately, we didn’t realize we had to buy our tickets online to enter. Since we didn’t have access to any Wifi, we decided we would have to return another time. Still, we got a picture of the statue and the building and front door of where she lived for starters.

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For lunch, we found a street vendor selling delicious sausages. We had found gluten-free hot dog buns in the supermarket for Grace, and she had said she wanted to find a street vendor who sells the sausages. The street vendors do not generally carry gluten-free buns, so we were prepared. Our luck would have it that we actually found one and enjoyed every delicious bite! She was enjoying it so much I almost didn’t get a picture of her and her precious hot dog before she devoured it! They were so yummy!

Our next stop was the Friendship Amsterdam loading dock, where we could cruise around the canals to experience the next busiest mode of transportation in Amsterdam – boats!

We had purchased some discount tickets from the hostel. I was rather impressed when we arrived at our destination. The last time I had bought canal cruise tickets from the hostel, they were affiliated with a different tour company, which was (how can I say this nicely?) somewhat ‘typical touristy type’ with seating for about 50 or more.

This experience was a step or two above! While we waited for our designated tour boat to arrive in a few minutes, they sat us inside their other boat reserved for special occasions like weddings, big private parties, etc. It was quite comfortable and served as an elegant waiting room at that. They even provided snacks!

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Not long afterward, our boat pulled up to the moorings. It looked like a whole lot of fun too! Since we were the first to board, we got our pick of the seats also! Guess where we headed? Yep, that’s right – up on the comfy looking bow.

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The cruise was about an hour-long, and it wound its way through the various canals in a circuitous route filled with all sorts of beautiful and picturesque architectural specimens along the way.

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About 3/4 of the way along our route, I noticed the expression of the woman that was serving us beverages and snacks in the photo below. I also saw the ominous dark clouds just above the skipper’s head gathering together and looking slightly menacing.

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Thank goodness for bridges! We hunkered under this one for quite a while. The deluge of rain that released from those clouds looming overhead was impressive and I was thankful we had shelter from the pelter.  

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After quite a long wait for the rain to subside, we were on our way once again and equipped with handy umbrellas. It was still raining slightly on that open deck, so they took us the quickest way back to our starting point before it started on its second onslaught.

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There were still some fascinating buildings, canals, bridges, and houseboats to be admired along the way, even though it was a bit rushed.

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That was fun, but we were wet, and the afternoon was turning into evening, so we unlocked our stowed bicycles once again and rode back to the hostel to change into dry duds.  Upon entering, we noticed a lovely smell emanating from the kitchen, and the ‘Chef’s Special’ marquee announced that they had some hot homemade tomato soup. I promptly ordered 3 servings for us while we warmed up and relaxed in the hostel’s cozy surroundings after a day’s adventures.

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The morning light greeted us with a bright blue and sparkling sky.  The hostel had some bikes available onsite so it wasn’t long after a hearty breakfast that we were on our bikes and headed out for more adventures.

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Unlike the Anne Frank museum the day before, I did know that I had to buy entrance tickets to the Van Gogh Museum online ahead of time if we wanted to get in. In fact, I had purchased the tickets before we had even left home! The museum is just a few blocks from Vondelpark, so it didn’t take us long to get there in time for our designated tour time. We hung around outside until the appointed time and enjoyed the activity in the plaza surrounding it.  There were even classical musicians serenading the crowd while we waited. It was lovely.

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The museum does not allow any photography of the artwork once you’re inside, so I’m sorry, but I do not have any pictures to share with you. It is a fantastic museum about an incredible artist that is a must-see when you’re there. Just be sure to get your tickets online ahead of time to do so!

After a couple of hours touring through that huge museum, we headed on our bikes to the Bloomenmarkt, which is an outdoor, year-round flower market. They have every sort of bulb you might want and then some! There was a collection of Calla-Lillies I would love to have in my garden at home – at least one of each variety and color!

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At the end of the lane of the flower market, we spied a little cheese museum, so we popped in there to check it out, and the yummy samples of Dutch cheese.

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Instead of walking back down the lane and through the crowded and busy flower market, we crossed the canal and walked back to our parked bicycles in the direction of the Munttoren Tower with the clock. It has a pedestrian passageway under the tower that was originally part of the medieval city wall and where the city gate was long ago.

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According to the ‘Amsterdam Welcome’ website: “The Dutch word ‘munt’ means ‘coin.’ Inside the tower, 36 bells were cast in 1651. The whole process of installing the bells in the tower was very complicated. Some of the bells weren’t even meant for this tower! But they ended up there, and they are still used today. Every 15 minutes, a happy jingle comes from the tower, so you will always know the exact time when you are in the neighborhood.”  It is lovely to hear the bells chime too. I particularly enjoy them.

Occupying the building the tower projects from is the Heinen Delft Blue shop. It holds exquisite pieces of the famous Delft Blue pottery to drool over and admire.

We also found this bakery with all manner of yummy treats tempting our every step.

We realized just how hungry we really were about this time, so we decided to pass on the temptations and instead ride over to the botanical gardens nearby. I knew of a beautiful quiet spot away from the crowds that we could enjoy our picnic lunch at. We even had a few guests join us!

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After lunch of ham and swiss cheese sandwiches and a couple of our new favorite snack – Stroop waffles, we rode a short distance to the zoo! A surprise I knew Grace would enjoy immensely because she loves animals so much.

It’s really quite a pleasant zoo with a wide variety of animals scattered in various sections of the well-kept grounds. A nice little green space and oasis in the middle of the city too.

There were birds…

Large mammals…

Some adorable small mammals…

Some more birds…

A few reptiles and tortoises…

A shining star in the Seal Show…

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Awww, a baby elephant!

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Some marsupials…

IMG_2052A very tall giraffe…

 

 

 

 

 

Some adorable and curious meerkats… and a pair of dueling rams!  They had it all!

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We strolled back to the entrance enjoying the colorful flower beds along the main promenade, passing the motionless camel on the way back through. He hadn’t moved an inch since we went past him earlier!

It had been yet another full day of beautiful sights. We were ready to relax with a couple of made-to-order lattes back at the hostel and enjoy our last evening chilling out in Amsterdam after touring all over on bicycles for two days.

IMG_2123We also had some packing to do because, in the morning, we would be headed back to Schipol Airport to catch a flight back to Aberdeen, Scotland. It was hard to believe we had come to the end of our 3 solid weeks on the European continent, exploring The Netherlands, Germany, and France. It felt like it had just flown by!

We still had a couple more weeks left of our vacation together once we got back to Scotland, and those tales are yet to come. Stay tuned for more adventures and escapades back in Scotland!

 

 

The Eiffel Tower and a Train Ride Back to Amsterdam Again

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Another splendid sunny summer’s day greeted us on Tuesday, August 13th. The one last thing Grace wanted to see in Paris before we left was the Eiffel Tower, so we made straightway for it. We spent the morning walking to it, around it, and admiring it from every angle. Although we could have, she had no desire to go up it, and neither did Errin with her fear of heights. We were content enjoying it from ground level.

IMG_1579One aspect of it had changed, however, since my last visit. Before, one was able to walk right underneath it and gaze up at the inside.  Lines were formed for the various tours around the plaza beneath it.  This time there was a tall glass barrier wall completely surrounding the base. You could only go under it IF you had a ticket to go up; otherwise, you stayed outside. That was disappointing because I had hoped to walk the girls through the garden area on one side of the tower. There’s a pond, a little waterfall, and some lovely small winding paths that meander around. We could only see it from the other side of the fence. Such a shame as it is such a beautiful little garden.

Before crossing the river on the north side of the Tower, we explored an eatery area along the quay. They were cooking up some yummy looking sausage, onions, and peppers. Not sure what its name was, but it sure got my taste buds watering.

IMG_1582We opted for another ice cream instead. Grace had been sampling Pistachio in every city we visited; she really liked Paris’  version!

We crossed the big bridge and meandered over to the Gardens of Trocadero with its beautiful canon-like fountains to eat our picnic lunch.

We also had very excellent views of the tower from this vantage point. It was quite a nice spot to picnic. We watched the water spray, admired the Eiffel Tower and enjoyed a bit of people watching while we were at it.

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IMG_1595The clouds were starting to form up, and Grace was still a bit tired and feeling kind of puny, so we spent the rest of the day back at the hostel in Montmartre, had some dinner, and got a good night’s sleep in our cozy hostel. We had some packing to do as well because we would be taking a train back to Amsterdam in the morning.

Predictably the morning came, and it was so pleasant to wake up to see the dome of Sacre Coeur shining in the mornings’ light one last time outside my window.

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After breakfast, we checked out of the hostel, said au revoir, grabbed our belongings and proceeded to walk a short distance down Rue de Dunkerque to the Gare du Nord – the North Train Station. We got some coffee and tea (and some new names) from Starbucks in the station and found a place to sit amongst other travelers as we waited for our train.

As usual, Grace made friends with the nearest canine!

Before long, we had boarded and got settled in nicely for the 4-5 hour ride.

We had to change trains at one point about halfway through the journey. I think perhaps it was Brussels, but don’t quote me on that. Luckily we didn’t have to wait long cuz there wasn’t much available seating on the platform.

The train ride was uneventful, and once again, the view from the window seat left much to be desired as far as scenery. We arrived in Amsterdam late in the afternoon. Grace had the bus and tram scene in Amsterdam nailed at this point, and she navigated us through the city to our next hostel at Vondelpark.

By this time we were famished. It had been a long time since lunch, so once we stowed our gear and got settled in our room, we walked over to the Leidseplein nearby and started looking for a bite to eat and something to drink. That’s when we discovered the Bull Dog bar where Grace could enjoy some sweet potato fries. Yum.

Afterward, we wandered along the back streets of the area, looking in shops as it began to grow dark and until we really had to get something substantial to eat for dinner. We came across this table for three on a sidewalk cafe that fit our fancy perfectly. Besides, it had a very tempting special: Ribs, Steak, or Chicken dinner with salad and potato!

IMG_1669We plunked ourselves down and enjoyed a very satisfying meal.  Errin and I ordered the steak; Grace wanted Chicken. It also was served with a free drink of our choice.

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After we devoured that meal, we were quite surprised to find out from our waiter that it also included dessert and an after-dinner drink!  Errin opted for Apple pie, I chose Flan, and Grace ordered a trio of fruit Sorbet. Such a deal for 13.50 Euro!  We were pleasantly satiated, and it didn’t cost us a bundle! Wow!

Needless to say, after that meal, we went into sleep coma mode, so we sauntered back to the hostel, cozied up in our duvets, and slept like a rock after a long day of traveling.

We had two more days to spend in Amsterdam, unlike our first visit of only one full day. In my next post, I’ll be showing you all the fun we had touring that city upon a bicycle! The only way to get around in Amsterdam! Until the next time!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Off to Uberlingen!

Errin, Grace, and I had been on the road exploring Germany for a full week stopping at various villages and towns for only one day and spending the night before traveling a bit further on the train.  We had covered a lot of territory and seen some fascinating sights.

map from Karlsruhe to SingenWe left Karlsruhe by train and traveled to the border town of Strasbourg, France.

To begin the next leg of our adventures with a new mode of transportation, we rented a car near the train station in Strasbourg. We then drove through the countryside to the lovely little town of Singen about 80 miles south and east near the border of Switzerland and a vast lake called Obersee Bodensee. We spent the night at the delightful ‘Art & Style’ Hostel, as mentioned in my previous post.

The following morning we left that cute little ‘artsy-fartsy’ hostel and only had to drive about 25 miles to our next destination – Uberlingen – on the shores of a large and lovely lake. Luckily, it also didn’t take us very long to get there, so we had the whole day ahead of us to investigate its charming sights.

Singen to Uberlingen map

The hostel was huge and had all kinds of amenities. Unbeknownst to us until we arrived, there were also hundreds of 10-13 year old boys and girls staying there as well for a couple of days. They were attending the final bash of the season before school started without their parents – Summer Camp! They were having loads of fun, but it was also rather hectic and a bit loud!

IMG_9935After checking out our room and it’s view and rather than be subjected to those high levels of energy bouncing about the halls, we decided to go down to the village nearby instead, leaving the hostel to the kids for the time being!

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IMG_9948The town’s square was delightful. Armed with a delicious ice cream cone, we located the Tourist Information office and inquired about the town and the features we should seek out. The first place they directed us to was the city park and gardens just down the lane.IMG_9950

Similar to the village of Bacharach, which we had visited a few days earlier, Uberlingen had also been a fortified medieval village complete with surrounding walls, towers and it was situated at the water’s edge. It even had a deep mote on its perimeter!

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The city park was a delight and full of all sorts of pathways, flowers, and features. One of the first curious things we spotted near the entrance were these intricately carved tree trunks.

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We continued wandering along the pathways discovering all manner of colorful flora.

The paths wound through the floral landscapes leading us to a couple of the massive towers along the towns’ perimeter walls and eventually to what used to be the mote between the sandstone facades of rock. 

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Next, we climbed the stairs to the top of the bluff and enjoyed the views below from the wooden gazebo at the top, gaining a sneak peek at additional sections of the garden still to explore. 

While we were still up on the bluff, we noticed a very cute little ‘Hansel and Gretel’ house nestled back in the woods a bit!

Back down in the garden below once again, we wandered past the various floral beds.

and marveled at their cactus gardens too!

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They included lovely ornamental fountains and even had banana trees with fruit on them!

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IMG_9976Near the western boundary of the garden park, another inviting area opened up with water pools, lily pads, a large rose garden, and comfortable and appealing seating places to rest, relax and contemplate life.

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Next, we decided to work our way through the village to the lakefront to check out what it had to offer.

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IMG_0021Everyone seemed to really be enjoying themselves along the water’s edge and out in the water. Ferries were running, and sailboats were sliding quietly on the surface while tons of people were enjoying meals and libations in the sidewalk cafes set up under canopies and umbrellas. It was a happening place!

Families were enjoying a game of miniature golf, and there seemed to be a lively game of Bocci ball too! A little something for everyone!

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Even the butterflies were fluttering about, and the bees were happily buzzing in the sunshine and blossoms!

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To finish off, we headed toward the “historic” part of town where the church and the Town Hall were.

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We came upon the Rathaus (Town Hall) with its beautifully decorative hinged wooden door…

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…and the Archive Building as well.

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We had experienced and seen so many beautiful sights in this town, and we could tell it is a top-rated destination for locals and tourists alike.

It had a certain charm of warmth and welcome to it with no shortage of activities to partake in.

IMG_0037It had been a long afternoon, and well-spent exploring, however, we were getting hungry, so we headed back to the hostel at the end of the day for our dinner.  They offered a nourishing and healthy meal. The Summer Camp kids were still having a marvelous time with all of their many activities. We enjoyed a relaxing sunset from our dorm room at the end of a very full day of enjoying beautiful sights and learning more about German history and traditions.

IMG_0038The next blog post will be all about our second week in Germany when we spent an entire week in Bavaria at a resort in Oberstaufen! Oh, what fun we had! Lots of adventures still to come! Stay tuned!

 

 

Mannheim, Germany and the Charming ‘Petite France’ in Strasbourg

As I mentioned in my previous blog post, we thoroughly enjoyed exploring the fairytale-like village of  Bacharach. It was such a magical little village, and I was hesitant to leave.

bacharach to mannheimWe had a train to catch at 10:46, however, to get to our next destination, Mannheim. We leisurely made our way back to the Tourist Information Office on the main street from the park to retrieve our stowed luggage and then waited patiently at the train station platform for our train to arrive and whisk us away.

The journey lasted about 2 hours and traveled about 100 miles south. The train tracks followed the Rhine River for a while affording us some scenic views of several of the towns along the opposite banks.

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After the big turn in the river known as the Loreley, a large rock on the bank at a narrows of the Rhine River near Sankt Goarshausen, however, the train tracks turned away from the river and traveled through the non-descript countryside until we reached Mannheim.

We eventually disembarked the train at the busy train station in the center of Mannheim and began the process of trying to get our bearings. We needed to figure out how to exit the station on foot heading in the direction of the river. We knew that the hostel we would be spending the next couple of days was in a park-like setting nearby between the train station and the water. To gain some assistance, we approached a man who looked like he worked at the station. He didn’t speak very much English, however. Luckily, the older gentleman he had been talking to did, and he began providing us directions.

Before he finished, however, he seemed to be thinking to himself and then said, “If you don’t mind, I think it would be easier if I just walk with you and show you how to get you where you need to go. There is a lot of construction going on that makes it hard to explain.”

That was such a kind gesture. We were extremely grateful for the offer and accepted it. He was right; it was a somewhat convoluted path to try to follow, but eventually, at the end of a tunnel, we found ourselves outside again and at the entrance to the park we were looking for. He pointed in the direction of the hostel, describing which park pathway to follow to get us to it.  We thanked him profusely for his assistance and began making our way in the direction he proposed.

We had barely started walking, however, when a very kind person, this time, a middle-aged woman who was walking nearby, approached us and began talking to us. “I couldn’t help but hear the conversation you were having with that gentleman. The directions he provided to you will get you where you want to go, but it’s actually the long way round. I think I can show you a more direct route if you prefer.”

She proceeded to show us another path to follow instead, and we could see the hostel through the trees as she pointed out the way to take. After thanking her profusely, we started following the route she proposed instead.

It never ceases to amaze me how helpful total strangers can be. Often they seem to appear out of nowhere to assist a traveler.  I call them ‘guardian angels.’ As we made our way, we could see her walking through the park off in the distance but always in view. We surmised that she was keeping an eye on us to make sure we got where we needed to go. When we arrived at the hostel, we waved to her to say ‘Thank you,” and she happily waved back assured we had made it. We entered the bright and cheerful modern environment we would be enjoying for a couple of days and were quite pleased with what it had to offer us.

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Their accommodations were excellent, and after having had a few days in a row of continually being on-the-go, we were ready to kick back and relax, catch our breath and recharge our batteries.  They had very tidy facilities, and they also served delicious and affordable meals.  The staff on duty were extremely professional and helpful, as well. The rest of the day, we enjoyed walking in the park, watching little kids play in the playground, and just hung out.

The next day Grace still needed a bit of downtime to finish recharging her batteries, although Errin and I were raring to go and see what Mannheim was all about. While Grace hung out at the hostel on her own, Errin and I caught a bus into the central part of the city to have a look around. The helpful young women at the front desk of the hostel provided us with a city map, showed us what bus line to catch and where to catch it nearby, and happily brought our attention to the various sights we might enjoy seeing.  Armed with this great information, we set off.

We took the bus route that made a complete loop to serve as an overview of the city, allowing us to familiarize ourselves with the layout of the town. After completing the loop, we started from the beginning and began checking out each individual sight one at a time using the city bus like a ‘hop-on, hop-off’ tourist bus you see in most major cities.

Our first stop was the bustling and colorful marketplace in the city’s center at Marktplatz. It was full of all manner of delightful sights and smells!

There were wonderfully aromatic fruits and vegetables; yummy looking locally-made cheeses too!

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There was delicious looking fungi and all sorts of flora!

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Bordering the square was an impressive old Catholic church called Saint Sebastian, so we ventured inside to have a look around.  On the other side of the tower is the Old Town Hall, but we didn’t go inside that, however.

During WWII, air raids on Mannheim completely destroyed the city center. Mannheim was heavily damaged by aerial bombing raids conducted by the British Royal Air Force (RAF) and the U.S. Air Forces. The RAF razed the city center of Mannheim with night-time aerial bombing, which also killed thousands of civilians. As we sat in the market square, we tried to imagine how terrifying it must have been for the local inhabitants of this city while being so heavily bombarded and to watch their treasured buildings and way of life crumble before their eyes.

Mannheim is unusual among German cities in that its streets and avenues are laid out in a grid pattern, leading to its nickname “die Quadratestadt”- “The City of Squares.”  After visiting Market Square, we visited another one complete with a fountain containing some unusual and quirky characters.

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The eighteenth-century Mannheim Palace, which was the former home of the Prince-elector of the Palatinate, Frederick IV (and only surviving son of Louis IV), now houses the University of Mannheim.

 

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The city’s tourism slogan is “Leben. Im Quadrat.” – Translated as “Life. Squared.”

The civic symbol of Mannheim is “der Wasserturm,” a Romanesque water tower completed in 1886 that rises 200 feet above the highest point of the nearby art nouveau area called Friedrichsplatz.

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We wandered around this monument for a while and enjoyed its water features and carvings.

When I climbed the stairs of the tower and went around to the backside of the tower, the view that splayed out before me was surprising! Quite stunning!

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Needless to say, we spent quite a while enjoying its charms, cooling our feet and soaking up the beautiful scenery all around us! 

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Mannheim proved to be a lovely spot to relax and recharge our batteries.  The following day, Wednesday, July 31st, we were back on the road again, heading a little further south to a town called Karlsruhe. We were just about finished with our week-long tour of the Rhine River.

Karlsruhe turned out to be a total disaster! It was horrible! Without going into much detail, and getting into negativity, suffice it to say that the independent hostel we had booked called Guesthaus Kaiserpassage left A LOT to be desired!  I usually stick with the sanctioned and official YHA hostels. Still, this time, I was willing to try one that wasn’t because there weren’t any YHA hostels available in that particular area.

To make a long story quite short, the hostel was very poorly signed and extremely difficult to find. Besides, it was in a kind of a ‘seedy’ neighborhood. The rooms and facilities seemed ok inside and were acceptable upon the first inspection, but we soon realized that the ‘shared restroom and shower facilities’ weren’t just shared with other women as is the case in most hostels, but we had to share them with men as well! We didn’t like that at all!  We were not accustomed to having strange men walking into a bathroom or a shower area while we were naked and showering.

We also became aware that there weren’t other fellow travelers staying there with us. Instead, it appeared that the other guests were people who actually lived there temporarily. That makes for a whole different dynamic altogether.

We spent one night, and an uneasy one at that, and adjusted our schedule accordingly.  I strongly suggest that if you ever consider staying at that particular hostel – DON’T!!!!!!!! I actually contacted Hostelworld afterward and filed a formal complaint, which I have never done before, it was that bad!

Instead, we headed for the train station to catch a ride to our next destination, Strasbourg, where we had planned to rent a car from Enterprise Rent-a-Car for the following week while we visited Bavaria. Luckily when we arrived in Strasbourg, Enterprise was right next to the station, and they were able to provide us with a rental car a day ahead of schedule. We had to wait for a couple of hours for the car to be available. What a beautiful place to have to explore while we waited – Petite France in Strasbourg!

It is the historic quarter of the city of Strasbourg in eastern France. It is located at the western end of the Grande Île, which contains the historical center of the city. The River Ill splits up into several channels that cascade through an area that was home to the city’s tanners, millers, and fishermen in the Middle Ages. It is now one of Strasbourg’s main tourist attractions as part of this UNESCO World Heritage Site.

We started walking around this delightful quarter and found it quite intriguing and abundant in charming and colorful buildings.

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We hadn’t eaten for a while, so our first stop was at a quaint little outdoor cafe with great food and some delightful gelato to enjoy while we soaked up the scenery.

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It was a good thing that we had something to eat because pretty soon, the shop windows were tempting us with all manner of scrumptious treats!  Oh my goodness, it makes my mouth water just looking at them here. Imagine how I actually had to wipe drool out of the corner of my mouth when I could smell those freshly baked goodies!

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We walked along the peaceful canals in the warm sunshine, taking in all the sights and smells of this lovely little corner of heaven-on-earth until we found a sweet little shady spot under a weeping willow to quietly rest under as our explorations were coming to an end.

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IMG_9823IMG_9841As we worked our way back to the train station, we continued to encounter all manner of fun sights like tourist trains, children’s carousels, and all manner of creative pieces of art in shop windows and on the sides of buildings.

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We eventually made it back to the beautiful glass structure of the Strasbourg train station, got our rental car and were soon on our way later that afternoon to the town of Singen in southern Germany.

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We had made reservations online with another hostel in Singen called Art & Style, and unlike our last hostel, we were quite pleased with what we found.

It was a colorful, artful, welcoming, and genuinely warm and inviting and an absolutely delightful experience.

IMG_9900There was funky and quirky art murals on the walls, and the staff was so welcoming and friendly. The breakfast in the morning was outstanding, and the service remarkable. There were a lot of families and young people staying at this vibrant location, and unlike the previous place, I highly recommend you stay at this quirky and fun hostel. It’s an experience in its own right!

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We finished off the day with dinner at a local Mexican Restaurant called Bandoleros. We were quite happy with the decision we had made earlier in the morning to change our plans. We were content that we had trusted our instincts and found something more suitable and to our liking.

The following week, as I mentioned before, we began exploring Bavaria. Stay tuned for those adventures! There will be many more posts to follow with all the details of that lovely land!  Until then…

 

 

The Magical and Fairytale Medieval Town of Bacharach

After eating our breakfast and making a picnic lunch to munch on later, we packed up our bags, left the Pathpoint Hostel, and walked back over to the train station in Cologne to board another train about 10:00 a.m. on Sunday, July 28th. We were headed for the medieval town of Bacharach on the banks of the Rhine River.

cologne to bacharach mapOur train journey lasted approximately 2 1/2 hours, and we traveled about 95 miles in a southeasterly direction.  It would have taken about the same amount of time if we had driven a car instead.

There were a couple of sights I dearly would have loved to visit along this particular part of the route. One such example was Eltz Castle – a castle that has been in the same family for about 850 years and is still intact – in the Moselle River Valley. Another place I would have also enjoyed visiting was Sankt Goar, an old medieval town with a ruined castle.  Because we were on the train, however, and not in a rental car, we had to pass them by. I guess I will just have to return to the Rhine River Valley and rent a car to see everything I missed the first time!  Oh, doo!

When we arrived in Bacharach at the train station, it was hushed; not a soul was around. The station is located just outside the village on the northern edge of town. We started walking down the cobbled medieval streets toward the center of town. The place seemed to be deserted. Everything was closed, and the village was absolutely quiet – that’s when we remembered it was a Sunday! We did finally come across someone local to the area and inquired about a taxi.

We were very excited about coming to this town, not only because it is such a charming old-world treasure, but also because the hostel we had booked in this quaint town was located in a real live castle! The castle, however, was perched high up on the hill above the village. We did not relish having to climb stairs for about 1/2 mile with our bags in tow nor take the longer route following the road which wound about the hill for a mile and a half or so. I had read in a guidebook that one could hire a taxi for a nominal fee, and we were extremely interested in exercising that option. I started digging for the name and phone number of the cab when the local person who was helping us stated, “There’s only one taxi in town, and I already know the number. I’ll call them for you!” “Danke!” we replied, extremely grateful for the assistance!

The taxi arrived in short order, and much to our relief, we only had to walk a few yards downhill the last little bit of the road to reach our final destination!

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As we entered, we oo’d and awed!  This was so much fun! It was already exceeding our grandest expectations! The walkway opened out onto an inner courtyard, and the half-timbered and stone buildings delighted us.

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Eventually, we found our way to the Reception desk and checked-in. The facilities inside were quite lovely, and they even had an armed Knight guarding the entrance!

We were quite pleased to find out that our room was located in the Tower. That’s our window – the second one down from the roof on the right in the photo below!

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We entered the double doors at the ground level, worked our way up the spiral staircase to the 4th floor, and when we got to our room and looked out the window, we were exceedingly pleased with the view it afforded!

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After stowing our stuff and enjoying the gorgeous views, we headed back downstairs to explore more of the castle.

They had a little outdoor cafe on the terrace where we ordered a lovely cup of tea for Grace and a couple of Latte’s for Errin and I. We sat and enjoyed the gorgeous view watching the boats lazily pass by on the river below.

We also enjoyed an ice cream. Mine was an ice cream sandwich of the likes I’ve never seen before. It had a sweet waffle-like crispy cookie on the outside with stripes of vanilla, chocolate, and strawberry ice cream in the middle.  Yum!

After that nice rest, we decided to do some more exploring around the castle following the pathway down around the backside of the castle, which leads to the vineyards along the hillside.

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We discovered some interpretive signs and learned that the castle was built by the archbishops of Cologne in the 12th century. It protected the town and collected tolls from trading ships passing by on the river. The castle was also heavily fortified and surrounded by a partial moat once upon a time. Unfortunately, it was destroyed in the late 17th century by the French during the Thirty Years War. However, it was rebuilt in the 20th century and became the first hostel in Germany.

This is what the town and the castle looked like way back in 1832 (left) and then again in 1932 after it became a hostel. Bacharach 1832Stahleck castle 1932

We explored every inch of the immediate area and had worked up an appetite. Luckily, about the time we wandered back inside, it was time to head downstairs into the dining room for our dinner.

The dining room was a hub of activity. Many of our fellow guests were families with young children, and the place was buzzing. They offered a very nice hot meal for a very reasonable price, and the food selection was fantastic.

Stahleck castle hostel dining roomThey had a superb salad bar, various types of bread and rolls to choose from, fresh fruit, an excellent cheese selection including deep-fried brie, drinks, and a very delicious chicken pasta dish we all savored.

They even offered dessert!  Such a deal!

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Early the next morning, we reluctantly packed our bags after a nice shower and another satisfying breakfast at the hostel. We headed back down to the train station to determine which train we would need to take to Mannheim, which was about 50 miles south as the crow flies. We figured out (with the help of some fellow travelers from the US) that we could catch the train at 10:46. The timing of the train would allow us a chance to walk around the village, taking in the sights of the beautiful buildings and learn a bit more about its charms.

We noticed that the Tourist Information office had just opened, so we went inside to inquire about the sights to see in the town. The lady was accommodating and even suggested we leave our luggage with her at the TI while we wandered about town on foot.

It was a sleepy Monday morning, and the charming village was just beginning to stir as we worked our way along its cobbled and twisting lanes.

IMG_9547The architecture was quite stunning and somewhat intriguing, like this example near the TI, called the “Rathaus.” It was built in the 16th century and was used as stables and saloons for the manufacturing, storage, and handling of delicious wine in this region. Since 1937 it has served as the “Rathaus,” or Town Hall, where the Mayor presides.

Naturally, the bakery was open at this time of day, presenting their freshly baked, yummy looking wares!

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We particularly enjoyed the unique business signs depicting what they had to offer.