Scotland: Glasgow

Buchanan Street

Despite flying to Edinburgh Airport, I started my time in Scotland in Glasgow. I wasn’t originally going to go to Glasgow, but when I was considering doing a road trip (and renting a car), I read that it was better to start in Glasgow rather than Edinburgh and booked my first night there. I later changed my mind about the road trip, but since I had already booked a place to stay, decided to start there anyway. Although Edinburgh is a more popular tourist attraction, I really enjoyed Glasgow! I arrived mid-morning and got some food before setting out to explore the city on foot. It was a rainy overcast day, but it didn’t really damper the day much.

George Square
Gallery of Modern Art
Old bank
City Chambers
City Chambers

Glasgow was an industrial city and this is evident as you walk through the city. Despite this, there is a lot of interesting architecture, plenty of (generally free) museums, lots of large murals, and large parks. I actually didn’t manage to fit in everything I wanted to see and could have easily spent 2 days here. After walking down Buchanan Street, which is the main attraction for shoppers, I headed to George Square. From there I walked toward Merchant City, hoping to find Tolbooth Tower/Steeple.

The People’s Palace
The People’s Palace
The People’s Palace
The People’s Palace
The People’s Palace

However, I got a bit lost, and realized I had walked almost to Glasgow Green, so I continued walking in order to visit the People’s Palace. My cousin studied in Glasgow for a semester and had recommended this museum, and I really enjoyed it! Admission is free and there are plenty of exhibitions that show what life was like in Glasgow at various points in the past.

St. Andrews in the Square
Tolbooth Steeple
Tron Steeple at Glasgow Cross
Tron Steeple

After a couple of hours at the People’s Palace, I headed back to Trongate Street and finally found the Tolbooth Steeple. After, I walked to The Lighthouse and climbed to the top for views overlooking the city. At this point, I was tired, so I headed to my Airbnb and stayed in for the night. If I had more time, I really wanted to walk around the University of Glasgow and visit the Glasgow Cathedral and Necropolis.

View from The Lighthouse
View from The Lighthouse
Street Mural
Street Mural

Although very different than Edinburgh, Glasgow is a cool city! If you visit Scotland and have more than a couple of days, I highly encourage you to visit Glasgow as well.

Scotland & Ireland!

Royal Mile, Edinburgh

I just got back from a 12-day trip to Scotland and Ireland. It was a fantastic trip and I have to say, Scotland is one of my favorite destinations so far! It was also my first trip as a solo traveler, and though I was a bit nervous to travel on my own, I mostly really enjoyed it! Here are the general details:

Length of Trip: One week in Scotland, then 4 days in Dublin (where I met up with my sister)

Destinations: Scotland: Glasgow, Edinburgh, 2-day tour to Inverness, Loch Ness, and the Highlands, day trip to St. Andrews and the fishing villages of Fife, day trip to Loch Lomond, Stirling Castle, and the Kelpies; Ireland: Dublin

Lodging: In Glasgow and Dublin (1 night) I stayed in Airbnbs, in Edinburgh I stayed at Haystack Hostel (1 night) and The Baxter Hostel (several nights); in Inverness (1 night- part of 2 day tour) I stayed at a traditional B&B; and in Dublin I shared a hotel room with my sister (3 nights)

Tours: I have never thought I would like going on a bus tour, but also really didn’t want to rent a car (and because I’m under 25, it would have been insanely expensive). I knew I really wanted to go into the Highlands in Scotland, but the train schedules were limited since October is the off-season. So, I looked into maybe doing a tour, and found Rabbie’s Tours. These tours are a maximum of 16 people and the reviews were excellent. I ended up doing 3 tours with them, and really enjoyed them! I’ll share more later about the tours and my trip in more detail.

Transportation: I flew into Edinburgh Airport, then took a bus to Glasgow. I took the train from Glasgow to Edinburgh, and a bus from Edinburgh city center to the airport at the end of my time in Scotland. I flew from Edinburgh to Dublin, then again from Dublin back to the USA. In Dublin, my sister and I traveled by bus or by foot.

Itinerary:

Day 1: Arrive Edinburgh Airport, Glasgow: Buchanan Street, George Square, Trongate Street, Merchant City, Tollbooth Tower, Glasgow Green and The People’s Palace, The Lighthouse

Day 2: Edinburgh: Rabbie’s City Tour, Nelson Monument, Stewart Monument, Scott’s Monument, Royal Mile, Real Mary King’s Close

Day 3: Departed on Rabbie’s Loch Ness & Inverness Highlands 2-Day Tour: Forth Bridge, Dunkeld, Pitlochry, Loch Morlich, Tomatin Whisky Distillery, Clava Cairns, Inverness

Day 4: Day 2 of Loch Ness & Inverness Highlands Tour: Loch Ness and Urquhart Castle, Fort William, Glencoe, the Trossachs, Doune Castle

Day 5: Rabbie’s St. Andrews & Fishing Villages of Fife Day Tour: Anstruther, St. Andrews Castle, St. Andrews Cathedral, The Old Green at St. Andrews, Falkland and Falkland Palace, the Forth Bridges

Day 6: Rabbie’s Loch Lomond & Stirling Castle Day Tour: Stirling Castle from below, Loch Lomond, Aberfoyle, Duke’s Pass, Highland cows!, Stirling Castle, the Kelpies

Day 7: Edinburgh: Edinburgh Castle, Royal Mile, Palace of Holyrood, Elephant House, Greyfriar’s Bobby

Day 8: Edinburgh: Princes Street Gardens, Farmer’s Market; Flew to Dublin

Day 9: Dublin: reunited with my sister, Jameson Whiskey Distillery, walked around central Dublin

Day 10: Dublin: Kayak tour on the River Liffey, St. Stephen’s Green, Grafton Street

Day 11: Dublin: National Botanical Gardens, Chester Beatty Library

Day 12: Flew home.

Stay tuned for more!

Apple Adventure

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Nothing says fall in New York like apples. A few weekends ago, our family went on an apple adventure in the Hudson Valley region of New York. Our first stop was at Westwind Orchard. The orchard didn’t produce enough apples this year for u-pick, but there is a nice area for hanging out, along with a small restaurant serving Italian tapas and wood-fired pizza, a variety of hard ciders, and a small store selling locally made goods and foods.

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My sister and I ordered a flight of hard cider to try and we all got some pizzas to share. There are a bunch of tables outside and we played some cornhole while waiting for our food. There were lots of families enjoying the beautiful weather and gorgeous location.

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After eating our fill, we headed down the road to a small U-pick orchard. Stone Ridge Orchard is a traditional apple orchard. The apple trees are 200-plus years old and the orchard doesn’t have the commercial feel typical of many U-pick orchards in New York. There were no lines and the employees were incredibly friendly and helpful. We explored the orchard after a long conversation with one of the employees. In addition to plenty of apple trees, we were encouraged to walk up the short hill to see the 300-year-old white oak tree. The tree is massive and absolutely stunning.

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We picked a bag of apples, then bought some apple cider and donuts. Before heading out, we sampled some of the hard cider made with apples from the orchard.

By then, it was late afternoon, so we headed home. It was a perfect outing on a beautiful day!

Iceland: Westman Islands and Reykjavik

(See my of my posts about Iceland here)

After spending the night in our favorite Airbnb of the trip on Westman Islands, we decided to spend some time exploring the island.

Westman Islands

The Westman Islands are a group of islands off the southern coast of Iceland. The main island, which is inhabited, is called Hiemaey, and this is the island we were staying on. After breakfast and a nice conversation with a French couple at our Airbnb, we hiked from there up a small hill, which afforded us views of two of the volcanoes as well as the coast. It was a particularly cold, rainy day, but the beginning of our hike up was a bit milder. The island is quite small, so from this vantage point we could see most of it. We walked a bit farther on, and looked across the way to a couple of smaller islands, which each appeared to have a single house or building.

After this short hike, we got in our car and drove to the tip of the island, called Storhofdi. We had been told this was the best place to see the puffins. When we arrived, it was unclear where the paths were and it was also extremely windy and pouring freezing cold rain. My dad, mom, and brother decided to brave the elements in search of the puffins, but I didn’t have any other warm clothes to change into after, so I remained in the car, nice and warm.

After seeing the puffins, everyone was cold and wet so we drove around the downtown area of Heimaey, trying to find something to do (we had purchased return tickets for later in the afternoon). We saw a museum on the map and decided that would be a good activity for a rainy day, though it did take us a while to actually find the location (the signage wasn’t very clear). We spent a couple of hours at the Sagnheimar Folk Museum, which told about the history of the island and several historic events that took place there. Some of the exhibits included the Algerian pirate raid of 1627 during which over 200 islanders were kidnapped and sold into slavery, the volcanic eruption on Heimaey in 1973, the importance of women on the island, The Festival, an annual celebration that has been held nearly every year since 1874, and a large exhibit about the fishing industry. I thought the exhibit about fishing was very interesting as well as informative.

Reykjavik:

After taking the ferry back over from Westman Islands, we headed to Reykjavik, the capital city of Iceland. While many visitors spend at least a day in Reykjavik, we were more interested in seeing the rest of Iceland, so we only spent a couple of hours in the city. It was dinner time by this point, so we walked along Laugavegur Street, which is full of interesting shops and restaurants. It is a gorgeous street, and there were many places to eat, but we settled on a pizza place since it was one of the less expensive options.

After we ate, we visited Hallgrimskirkja Church, which is visible from nearly everywhere in the city. Its design was inspired by the shapes and forms created when lava cools into basalt rock and it was built from 1945 to 1986. Inside, it has an enormous organ and in front of the church is a large statue of Leifur Eiriksson (970-1020 AD), who was the first European to discover America in the year 1000 AD. We walked around outside and then sat inside for a while. The organist was practicing, so we were able to listen to the organ being played.

Before heading out, we drove by the Sun Voyager sculpture, which is called Solfar in Icelandic. This massive steel sculpture is found along the coast with views of the ocean beyond, and was revealed in 1990. The artist, Jon Gunnar Arnason, said that is both a dream boat and an ode to the sun. It is certainly a gorgeous sculpture.

Where we stayed: Ace B&B (Airbnb)

Costs: The Sagnheimar Museum was 1000 ISK per person (it’s free for anyone under 18). I think our meal in Reykjavik was around $40 USD for two pizzas. All other meals we packed.

Tips:

  • As with anywhere in Icleand, come prepared with warm and water-proof clothes. This was the rainiest part of our trip, but Storhofdi, the tip of Heimaey Island, is also one of the windiest places in the northern hemisphere, so be aware of that.
  • While you can certainly spend a day or two in Reykjavik, we saw most of the things we really wanted to see in a matter of a couple of hours. I would have liked to explore a bit more, but my family wasn’t as interested.
  • Lower costs dramatically when in Iceland by making your own meals and packing simple lunches. We ate peanut butter and jelly sandwiches every single lunch of our trip, and while not the most appetizing meal to eat so many times in a row, it helped bring the cost of our trip down significantly. Food, especially at restaurants, is extremely expensive in Iceland!

So that wraps up our time in Iceland! We flew out the following day after a lazy morning and short walk along the coastline. We really enjoyed our trip (though my mom thought it was rather cold and rainy)!

Iceland: South Coast Part III

(Life has gotten busy so I haven’t posted in a while, but I’m resuming my posts on our trip to Iceland. Check out all the posts about our Iceland trip here.)

After our night sleeping in the tent at Stafafell, we headed back along the South Coast. We were planning to stop at Stokksnes Beach, which is another black sand beach with views of Vestrahorn Mountain, however, we weren’t aware of the cost to enter. It was quite expensive and we ultimately decided it wasn’t worth it. The reason this beach is expensive is because it’s actually on private property. Thankfully, it wasn’t very out of the way, so we just continued on our way to our first stop of the day at Jokulsarlon Lagoon.

Jokulsarlon Lagoon:

Jokulsarlon Lagoon, more commonly known as Iceberg Lagoon, is a small lake filled with glacier water and pieces of icebergs that have fallen off the glacier. It is similar to Fjallsarlon, which we had visited the previous day, but much bigger and with more icebergs. Since we arrived a bit earlier than we had planned, we spent some time walking around and taking pictures of all of the icebergs. They are so incredibly beautiful!

We had purchased tickets in advance for an amphibian boat tour, so after walking around we boarded the boat. There are multiple options for boat tours and while some of the options allow you to get really close to the icebergs (like close enough to touch), the amphibian boat tour still gets quite close and is the less expensive choice. The boat took us around the lagoon and our guide shared information about how the icebergs form. We even got to taste part of an iceberg which was 10,000 years old! Our guide joked he hoped it was the oldest thing we had ever eaten. We enjoyed the boat ride and would definitely recommend it- but dress warmly because it can get quite windy and cold!

Diamond Beach:

Across the road from the lagoon is Jokulsarlon Beach, which is generally known as Diamond Beach. We followed a path from the lagoon parking lot below the bridge and came out at the beach. It’s known as Diamond Beach because when pieces of ice break off the icebergs in the lagoon, they flow down the stream into the ocean, where they are then sometimes pushed up onto the black sand beach by the waves. These pieces of iceberg have begun melting, so they often look like diamonds glittering on the sand. The day we went, there weren’t many larger pieces, but it was still cool to walk along the beach and look at the smaller pieces contrasting with the dark sand.

Vik:

From Jokulsarlon, we drove back along the coast further until we reached the small town of Vik. Along the way, we passed miles and miles of lava fields covered with moss. We had hoped to take the 4:00 ferry over to Westman Islands, but waited too long to book our tickets and therefore the only tickets available were for the tickets at 10:00 in the evening, so we had a lot of time to kill before our ferry ride. We stopped in Vik, which for some reason I thought was a larger town/city but in actuality is very small. We stopped at a gift store and restaurant that was also an information center to find some activities in the area to do. The woman there showed us a map with the main attractions, most of which we had already done before we headed further east along the coast. There was one place we hadn’t been yet, though, and she highly recommended it, so we made plans to go there after we ate dinner (first meal eaten out so far in the trip!) at the attached restaurant.

Dyrholaey:

From Vik, Dyrholaey is a short drive away. Dyrholaey is a small peninsula with fantastic views of the ocean and surrounding area, as well as a popular place for puffins. We drove up to the parking area. The woman at the information center had said it was better to park below and then hike up to the lighthouse above, since the road was quite bad. She made it seem like it was a short walk. Although it was not a particularly short, and certainly not easy, walk up, we enjoyed the hike and the views along the way. We spent some time around the lighthouse, hoping to see a puffin, but it was likely a bit too early in the evening to spot any. We walked back down, and as we were heading to our car, saw a group of tourists taking lots of pictures of something. Hoping it was a puffin, we rushed over there. We got a peek of the puffin before it decided to hide in a location that was completely hidden from our view.

Westman Islands:

After Dyrholaey, we headed to Landeyjhofen, which is where we boarded the ferry that would take us over to Westman Islands. Because we took the 10:00 PM ferry, it was fairly empty and we were able to get a seat at a table in the cafe section. We played a couple of rounds of cards and napped on the way over. Once we arrived, we went to our Airbnb immediately to check in and go straight to bed.

Where we stayed: Gabriel’s Place (Airbnb)- this was one of our favorites of the trip, as well as one of the cheapest!

Costs: We ate breakfast at the campsite and packed a lunch. The Amphibian boat tour was 5700 ISK/person (about $52 USD/person). We also had hot chocolate at Jokulsarlon for about $5 per person. Our meal out in Vik was about $25/person for burgers. The ferry cost about $25USD/person round-trip.

Tips:

  • If you can afford it and have the time, we would recommend the amphibian boat tour. It’s a fun way to see more of the icebergs and lagoon, as well as learn a bit about how the iceberg lagoon was formed. Be sure to dress warmly, as it is windy out on the water and likely cold as well!
  • Dyrholaey was not on our original list of things to see, but we really enjoyed it and the views were truly spectacular! If you choose to hike up to the lighthouse from the parking area below, be aware that it’s a pretty steep hike and be sure to wear sneakers or hiking boots so you don’t slip.
  • Book both the amphibian boat tour and ferry tickets well in advance. We had booked the boat tour and therefore didn’t have any problems, but we neglected to get our ferry tickets in advance and were stuck with the 10:00 PM ferry over.