Ireland: Dublin

After my trip in Scotland, I flew to Ireland, where I would be meeting my sister the following day. My sister was moving to Dublin, and I met her there to provide some support her first few days there when searching for an apartment and such. We also did a bit of sightseeing and walked around Dublin quite a bit. I arrived the night before, grabbed a bite to eat, and spent the evening at my Airbnb since I was pretty tired.

The following morning, I met up with my sister at the hotel we had booked (they kindly let us store our luggage there until our room was ready). We grabbed brunch, then planned the rest of our day.

We had debated between visiting Guinness or Jameson, and ultimately settled on doing the Jameson Whiskey Bow Street Experience since we’re not really beer drinkers. The tour was very good and entertaining! After the tour, you get a free drink, and while we were in the main bar area, we met a woman from Dubai. We talked quite a while and made arrangements to meet up with her the following day. We stopped at a cafe and had scones and hot chocolate/coffee before meeting up with one of my sister’s friends in the evening.

The following morning, we checked out an apartment bright and early, then headed to the Liffey River, where we had booked a kayak tour of Dublin. It ended up being just the two of us, a young man from Hawaii and our tour guide. The river’s current was a bit stronger than usual, so the tour guide dragged us up the river in spurts with his motorized boat. The good thing was that this meant we were able to go further up the river than usual. The guide gave us some information about the different sights from the river and some Irish history.

After our kayak tour, we grabbed lunch at a pub, then met up with our new friend from Dubai for a short walk through St. Stephen’s Green. In the afternoon, we toured a co-working space for my sister (it was really cool), walked around Trinity College, and went window shopping in the city center.

The following day was my last full day in Ireland. We went to a late brunch, then hopped on a bus to the National Botanic Garden. We spent a couple of hours there, walking around the greenhouses and grounds.

Later in the afternoon, we headed back to the city center and went to the Chester Beatty Library, which is more like a museum. We saw some of the oldest maps that include all 7 continents as well as the some of the oldest known pages of the New Testament of the Bible (the handwritten pages are written on papyrus and the oldest dates to 150 AD). Photography was allowed in almost all areas of the museum, and there were so many cool things to see! We stayed until closing time and still didn’t get to see everything!

The following morning, we grabbed a late breakfast, then I got a bus to the airport. I definitely want to go back to Ireland sometime to see the rest of the country, but I was thankful for the time spent with my sister and exploring Dublin.

 

Scotland: Edinburgh (Part 2)

Sorry for the radio (or blog) silence the past month. Life got busy, but I do have two more posts to share about my trip to Scotland and Ireland this past October. You may remember that during my trip, I used Edinburgh as a home base from where I took several day trips. I also spent two full days (and another half day) exploring Edinburgh. I wrote about the first day here. My last day in Scotland was likewise spent in Edinburgh.

St. Gile’s Cathedral, Royal Mile
Deacon Brodie’s Tavern, Royal Mile

On my first full day in Edinburgh, I mostly just wandered around, but there were a few places I knew I wanted to visit, so on my last day, I tackled those places. I started off at Edinburgh Palace. This palace and its grounds overlook Edinburgh and make up one end of the famous Royal Mile. I walked along the Royal Mile up to the castle, then spent a couple of hours wandering around the grounds.

Edinburgh Castle
Edinburgh Castle
Edinburgh Castle
St. Margaret’s Cathedral, Edinburgh Castle
Edinburgh Castle

There is a lot to see here, including some of the oldest buildings in Edinburgh. The oldest part of the castle, St. Margaret’s Chapel, was built in the 1100s, while the newest parts were built in the 1900s. While definitely an interesting tourist attraction, it is also one of the most popular attractions, so it is usually very crowded. The main attraction, other than the castle itself, is the Crown Jewels of Scotland. These have been used in the coronation of several Scottish kings and queens and are really quite stunning, though you generally have to wait in line to see them.

Palace of Holyrood
Palace of Holyrood
Abbey ruins at Holyrood Palace
Abbey ruins at Holyrood Palace

From Edinburgh Castle, I walked all the way down the Royal Mile to Holyrood Palace. Holyrood Palace is the official residence of the queen of England and is open as a museum when she is not in residence. It’s a pretty palace and it’s definitely interesting to get a peek into the spaces the royal family uses when in Scotland. Photography is not allowed inside, but is allowed on the grounds and gardens. There are pretty abbey ruins in the gardens.

Greyfriar’s Bobby

After visiting Holyrood Palace, I walked towards a couple of other tourist attractions: Greyfriar’s Bobby and Elephant House. These two attractions are close by one another in the Old Town. Greyfriar’s Bobby is a small statue outside a pub with the same name. In the 1800s, this dog became well-known in Edinburgh after he visited his owner’s grave every day for 14 years following his owner’s death.

Elephant House is well-known because it is supposedly where J.K. Rowling wrote most of the first Harry Potter book. It’s a small cafe and generally very crowded. I didn’t go inside, but walked by it. I also walked down two well-known streets in the Old Town: Candlemaker Row and Victoria Street.

The Elephant House
Candlemakers Row
Victoria Street

I spent the evening with some new friends from my hostel. We went to dinner together, then to a traditional Scottish pub for a drink before turning in for the night.

Out at a pub with new friends from Germany, France, and Chile

The following morning I had an hour or so before I needed to be at the airport, so I joined a new friend from Germany for a walk to a farmer’s market. We walked through Princes Street Gardens and checked out the market, then I caught a bus to the airport to catch my flight to Dublin.

Princes Street Gardens
Princes Street Gardens
Princes Street Gardens

I’m so thankful for all that I got to see and do in Scotland, and I hope I can visit again sometime soon! On my next trip, I’d like to go to the islands and northern Highlands, but I just didn’t have time to do it all this trip.

Scotland: Day Trip to Loch Lomond and Stirling

As I mentioned before, I did a couple of day trips out of Edinburgh with Rabbie’s Tours. The first was to St. Andrews and the Kingdom of Fife. The following day, I went to Loch Lomond and Stirling. These two locations are actually part of the Highlands but still pretty close to Edinburgh and Glasgow, so they are a popular day trip option.

Stirling Castle from below
Below Stirling Castle
Below Stirling Castle

The weather forecast was looking good in the morning but rainy later in the day, so our tour guide rearranged the schedule a bit to give us decent weather while we were at Loch Lomond. We therefore started out by going to Stirling, but just stopping below the castle to take in the views, then returned later in the day to visit the castle. The sun was shining and the grass was very green below the castle.

Loch Lomond
Loch Lomond
Loch Lomond
Loch Lomond

From Stirling, we went on to Loch Lomond, stopping near Aberfoyle. From where we parked, there was a trail that led along the lake and then some stones that led up a hill. Our tour guide took several of us up that hill, where there were stunning views of the lake below. It was a slightly overcast morning, but we could see the lake quite well. It was so peaceful! After enjoying the view from the top, we walked down the hill and then had time to enjoy the peaceful lake and walk around as we wished.

Loch Lomond
Loch Lomond
Loch Lomond
Dukes Pass and the Trossachs

We stopped in nearby Aberfoyle for lunch (I grabbed a panini at Liz MacGregors), then took the Dukes Pass back toward Stirling. This is an incredibly winding road, but the views were wonderful, especially with the leaves changing colors. We could see the Trossachs in the distant.

Highland cows
Highland cows
Highland cows

At the bottom of Dukes Pass, we stopped at a farm to try to get a view of some “hairy coos”, or Highland cows. We were lucky and were able to call the cows over to the road to take pictures and feed them some treats. Though they are very hardy and look somewhat dangerous because of their horns, they are actually very friendly.

We went back to Stirling, and had a couple of hours to explore the castle. Stirling Castle is one of the largest and most important castles in Scotland. The castle dates from the 1100s, but most of the current buildings were built between the late 1400s and 1600. Built atop a crag and surrounded by steep cliffs on three sides, it had a strong defensive position and guarded a key crossing of the River Firth. Although it is a fortress, it has been used as a favored royal palace for centuries of Scottish kings and queens. Mary Queen of Scots was crowned here, as well as several other kings and queens, while others were born here.

What is unique about Stirling Castle is that much of it has been restored to its former glory, so that visitors can see the castle as it likely would have been several hundred years ago. This has been done based on extensive and careful research and more renovations continue to occur. The rooms really are stunning, and there are several exhibitions showing what life would have been like in the past. One of the largest undertakings has been the recreation of tapestries that once hung in the castle. They are truly impressive!

After walking around Stirling Castle, we headed back to Edinburgh, stopping for a bit at The Kelpies, massive metal sculptures just outside of Edinburgh. Keplies are mythological creatures from Scottish lore. Though they look like magnificent horses, according to lore if you get on the back of a kelpie, they will drag you into the water and eat you! These sculptures are also an homage to the strong workhorses that were a critical part of Scotland’s industrial past.

After walking around the Kelpies, we returned to the city for the evening. It was yet another beautiful day visiting sites!

Scotland: Day Trip to St. Andrews & the Kingdom of Fife

After returning from my 2-day trip to the Highlands, I scheduled a couple of day trips out of Edinburgh, also through Rabbie’s Tours. The first of these day trips was to St. Andrews and the fishing villages of Fife. The Kingdom of Fife is unique in that when Scotland’s various tribes first created a united Scotland, the Kingdom of Fife remained a kingdom. The clan that ruled Fife was powerful and was the last of the clans to agree to unite. The other kings and clans proposed that if Fife would join them in creating a united Scotland, then Fife could continue to be a kingdom, and the leader of the clan agreed. It’s a beautiful region of Scotland that is easily accessed from Edinburgh and is largely agricultural, along with quite a bit of coastline and fishing villages.

Anstruther
Anstruther
Anstruther
Anstruther

Our first stop of the day was at the fishing village of Anstruther. Anstruther is a picturesque fishing village. It’s quite small, but there are several small shops and cafes along the harbor, which is filled with small fishing boats. We had a little under an hour to walk around. It was a chilly but sunny morning and the views were spectacular over the ocean.

From Anstruther, we headed to St. Andrews. There are several things to do and see in this larger town. It is probably best known for St. Andrews University (you may recognize the name- it’s where Prince William and Kate Middleton attended) and the Old Course at St. Andrews (considered the oldest golf course in the world). There are also a couple of streets filled with cafes, restaurants, and stores, as well as castle and cathedral ruins. Our tour guide told us about some of the things we could do, then we were free to explore on our own.

St. Andrews Castle
Remainder of wall at St. Andrews Castle

We had parked near the Old Course, so I walked along the coastal road to St. Andrews Castle. I had purchased an Explorer Pass for the week for admission to several different attractions, and St. Andrews was one of the included castles. To be honest, it was pretty underwhelming. There’s a small exhibit inside the visitor center that gives a bit of information about the castle, but the castle itself only has a couple of walls still in place and there is little information as you walk around. That said, there is one thing to see that might make it worth the price.

Countermine at St. Andrews Castle

In the 1500s, the castle was under seige and the attackers attempted to build an undermine, or tunnel, under the castle walls in order to get into the castle and take it over. Those inside the castle could tell that the attackers were building an undermine, but could only see where it started and didn’t know where it was leading to. However, they were determined to construct a countermine, a tunnel leading from inside the castle grounds to intercept the undermine and prevent the attackers from entering. After several false attempts, they managed to hit the undermine and prevent the attackers from entering. The cool thing is that these tunnels are still there! They are very narrow and the countermine has very low ceilings since they were building under more extreme pressure and time restraints, but you can climb through both parts! It was pretty cool, but not recommended for young children or if you get claustrophobic.

St. Andrews Cathedral
St. Andrews Cathedral
St. Andrews Cathedral
St. Andrews Cathedral

After exploring the castle, I walked a few minutes over to St. Andrews Cathedral. Though technically a ruin, several walls and incredible arches are still in place, and it’s truly beautiful. Admission to walk around the ruins is free, but you can pay a small fee to enter the museum and walk up to the top of a tower (I didn’t have time to do this, so just walked around the ruins). It was built in the 1100s and is the largest church that was ever built in Scotland. It fell into ruin during the 1500s after Catholicism was outlawed following the Scottish Reformation.

St. Andrews Cathedral
St. Andrews Cathedral
St. Andrews Cathedral
The Old Course at St. Andrews

From the cathedral, I walked along some of the main streets and grabbed lunch. I walked very briefly around the Old Course before meeting back up with the tour group to head to our next destination, Falkland.

Falkland Palace
Falkland Palace Gardens
The Royal Tennis Court at Falkland Palace

Falkland is a pretty, small village located in Fife. It has become a popular place to visit as it was used in the filming of Outlander as a stand-in for Inverness. Many of the buildings and houses are several centuries old, and there is also a small palace to visit. Falkland Palace is a Renaissance palace built in the 1500s. It was built by King James IV and his son, King James V and was one of Mary Queen of Scots favorite homes. You can tour the house, which also functions as an actual weekend residence for a family that serves as its keepers, as well as the gardens. The gardens contain the oldest original real tennis court in Britain. While the palace fell into disuse in the 1600s, it was restored in the late 1800s and is really quite beautiful.

Falkland
Falkland: This house has the initials NM and AO, who were married in 1610 and moved into this house as newlyweds

After touring the castle, I walked around the small village briefly. When we had arrived in the village, our tour guide noted that many of the houses have writing above the main entrance, with the initials of married couples together with the year they were married. Many of these date to the 1500s and 1600s. It’s amazing to see these houses still in use several centuries later!

Forth Bridge

From Falkland we headed back towards Edinburgh, stopping for yet another view of the Forth Bridges before entering the city. It was a beautiful day with fantastic weather!

This is not a sponsored post, but I really enjoyed my Rabbie’s Tour. Check out their website here, and the St. Andrews & the Fishing Villages of Fife Tour here.

Scotland: 2 Day Highlands Tour (Part II)

Read Part I of the 2 Day Highlands Tour here.

As I mentioned in the previous post, I took a 2-day tour with Rabbie’s Tours to Loch Ness, Inverness & the Highlands. This post will pick up with the second day of the tour.

Loch Ness
Loch Ness & Urquhart Castle
Loch Ness & Urquhart Castle
Loch Ness

After a good night’s rest in a quiet B&B in Inverness, we departed fairly early in the morning to the rather famous Loch Ness. While most people know Loch Ness because of its supposed Loch Ness “monster”, known as Nessie, it’s a beautiful and unique loch for other reasons as well. Of the over 31,000 lochs in Scotland, Loch Ness is the largest by water volume. In fact, it’s the largest by water volume in all of the United Kingdom. It stretches over 20 miles long and is incredibly deep (745 feet at the deepest point). Surrounding the lake are the mountains that the Highlands are known for, and it’s a stunning location.

As for Nessie, while no one has been able to prove that he exists, there are recorded sightings dating back as far as the 6th century. St. Columba, a monk that had come to the area to convert the pagans living there to Christianity wrote about the experience in which the monster tried to attack a fellow monk who was swimming in the lake. Since then, there have been numerous investigations and supposed sightings, but everything has been inconclusive. Who knows?

Loch Ness & Urquhart Castle
Urquhart Castle
Loch Ness & Urquhart Castle
Loch Ness & Urquhart Castle
Loch Ness & Urquhart Castle

Everyone in our tour group decided to do the boat ride over Loch Ness to Urquhart Castle, which we then explored. Urquhart Castle is now in ruins and the present ruins were built between the 1200s and 1500s. Despite being a ruin, some walls still exist and one can imagine how beautiful it must have been in the past. There is detailed information telling about the various functions the rooms would have had and an informative video in the information center. Despite being a ruin, I highly recommend a visit to the castle.

Fort William

After wandering around the grounds of Urquhart Castle, we headed on to Fort William, where we ate lunch. It was raining hard when we arrived, so I only walked around a little bit. In the late 1800s, it was decided to extend the railroad to Fort William in hopes of increasing tourism. The town had to decide where to place the new train station. At the time, there was an old and very large fort in the town, but the townspeople determined that no one would want to see such a thing, so they tore it down (one wall remains) and used the space to build the train station and other buildings. So, while a cute town and a popular place to stop on tours and road trips in the Highlands, there is no longer the fort that gave the town its name.

Glen Coe
Glen Coe
Glen Coe
Glen Coe
Glen Coe
Glen Coe

After lunch in Fort William, we drove on towards Glen Coe, which is arguably one of the most stunning areas in the Highlands. We drove long stretches without seeing any buildings or houses, and stopped at a couple of locations to take in the views. Because it was fall, the hills and mountains were quite orange in brown in color, but still gorgeous.

Glen Coe
Doune Castle

We drove through a small part of The Trossachs before reaching Doune Castle, an Outlander filming location. It’s not open to the public, but we got to see the outside before heading back to Edinburgh.

All in all, it was a fabulous day full of amazing sights.