We’ve all been on awkward dates. My own terrible date memories include salad bits lodged in my teeth for the duration and another where my suitor and I took a stroll in a secluded trail. He meant no harm but, as serial over thinker I prepared to evoke warrior princess mode making for a jumpy and well – awkward self. My first trip into Budapest, Hungary was just as blundering as one could imagine.
I’ll take it from the top: I’d been flirting with Budapest since I started planning my Europe trip. When I found out that the mysterious, history soaked city was a train ride from Wein I jumped at the opportunity to swipe right. I skyped my mom to tell her the news. She likes to know where I visit with the proviso that she will embrace her inner Liam Neeson and reenact “Taken” on the poor fool who steals away her one and only daughter. “You should talk Montanna into going with you” she suggested. Montanna, my bestie, would visit Austria for a week during my stay in Wien. Great! It’s decided – I wouldn’t even have to talk Montanna into it. Here was the catch, time would only allow for a day trip as the cats I was looking after would be mighty hungry should I not return. Challenge accepted!
The efficient way (and for those in a time crunch) to visit Budapest from Wien is by train. Take Wien HBFon an ÖBB train to Budapest-Keleti. Exit the train into Budapest in about 2.5 hours as opposed to 3.5 hours or more. The trade off is that the ticket cost is set steeply at €29 and up for a one-way, direct advance ticket. The plan was to leave on the 8:40 AM train and be there by 11:20 AM which gives us until 7:40 PM which is the last train back to Wien for the evening. That gave Montanna and I a minimum six hour experience, taking into consideration time to situate in the city and also to walk back to Keleti. Budapest is essentially two cities stuck together so, traveling on foot would not be efficient. I researched a Hop-on & Hop-off tour that included free goulash for lunch and various free alcoholic beverage offers throughout the city for €25. Score. The pick up point was at the Grand Hungarian Hotel. Two minute walk from the train station! Perfect!
Anyone who has traveled under my watch understands that I’m passionate about two topics: having a plan A,B,&C so on and being early. Catching trains are no exception. Naturally, Montanna and I arrive at Wien HBF in time to purchase tickets, stop for coffee, some apple strudel, and people watch. 8:40 rolls around and the train is delayed five minutes. Not an issue. Then fifteen. Then thirty. At this moment in time I’m pacing between the timetable board and our spot on the platform. The thought of lateness makes my skin crawl. You can’t control time, I know, I know. Fifty minutes later the train finally arrives. Okay, one hour down. Five hours is still workable with the plan.
Our unreserved seats in second class left us sweaty and slightly bruised from the backpackers and ladies with large bags walking across the train. I refused to let that matter the trip was in motion. By the time the train pulled into Keleti and situated with bus tickets the time approached half past noon. You could speculate what happened next – the bus was late too. Montanna and I waited an additional thirty minutes for the bus to arrive. In the bus’s defense, traffic was horrendous. I had a sinking feeling there would be no time for goulash or shots. At this point we just wanted to witness what Budapest was offering.
Under any other circumstance I’m sure my plan would have been full-proof. Luck was just not on my side. My pictures are hurried and taken from a moving bus but, it’s all I have of my intriguing first date. I want to delve deeper into Budapest, maybe next time, lateness will not be an issue. It’s always an adventure.
Your Cobweb Clearer, Kate
Horseback riding is an excellent way to get lost in nature while your travel. If you have ever imagined yourself galloping across a golden beach or climbing up a misty mountain searching for Mordor – this is your post. Guided tours are available all over the world. Most farms cater to visitors of all experience levels. One thing that seems to be missing in the travel blogging world are tips and tricks to turn your riding experience from night-mare (horse pun) to a rainbow unicorn. There are thousands of travelers who have never touched a horse but, sign up for treks. This is fantastic! Allow me to make your ride a little less stressful.
I grew up on the back of a horse and attribute most of my wanderlust-y ways to my experience with horses. Riding brings out this primal side and inspires me to press on for undiscovered adventure. I have trained in English and Western styles. My specialty is groundwork and saddle breaking young horses. Horses require a delicate balance of acting as an alpha and acting with kindness. They are herd animals and are prey in the wild. This causes their fight or flight instinct to be at the forefront of their decision-making process. You have to act as a team because there are two brains at work.
It’s my personal goal to ride in every country I visit. So far, I have taken treks in Ireland, Iceland, and Scotland. I could be doing better with my goal I must admit.
Take into consideration the length of time, the difficulty of the ride and the number of riders they accept for a typical ride. Check out the About page. Find out the experience levels of the guides. A respectable company will have complimentary reviews. Some key points to look for in reviews include: behavior of the horses, if the riders felt safe and quality of the guide. Corporate and private owners are normally required to carry some sort of liability insurance as horse riding is an inherent risk. Inquiring about insurance is reassuring but, usually not essential. Normally, the day of your ride you will be required to fill in a liability waiver. Be sure to answer the waiver truthfully.
For the love of the equine gods wear a damn helmet. I don’t care if it ruins your hair and I know it makes you look like a mushroom head. Take advice from the girl who was wearing a helmet and still had her brain scrambled in a freak accident. Ride enough, you will experience the premature dismount. Don’t let your trek in the Italian country side end in disaster. If the farm doesn’t offer you the use of a helmet you are under no obligation to ride. You may want to look for different accommodations. Wear a damn helmet!
As far as tops go it really doesn’t matter. Take into consideration temperature and weather. A loose-ish pair of jeans are typically the best for a ride. Shorts I would advise against unless you wish to experience the worst chafing of your entire life. Sport pants or yoga pants are okay, but they don’t offer much grip. It’s also important to pick the right shoes: sneakers will do, hiking boots are ideal, sandals are a no-no.
Take a minute to stretch out before you mount and after you dismount. You will thank me later. Cowboys walk all bow legged for a reason. Touch your toes, a quad stretch, maybe a runner’s lunge – anything to wake those legs up!
The secret to staying balanced and center: pretend there is a straight line from your shoulders, hips to ankles. Keeping this position will firm up your center of gravity. Inexperienced riders tend either sit too far back or too far forward which causes your legs to swing too far forward or back. Results: premature dismounting. Keep upright and centered with your shoulders square for best balancing.
The likelihood that the owner of operations would willingly pair you with a dangerous animal is slim but, you should always remember that any 1,500-pound animal is dangerous. Fear is healthy but, remember that the horse knows what it is doing. Freaking out or raising your voice is only going to make the situation worse. If you are having an issue alert the main rider in a low, calm voice. If you truly believe that your life is in danger, dismount.
Those leather pieces you hold in your hands? Those are attached to a metal bar inside your new friend’s mouth. Refrain from pretending to start a lawnmower to steer. Instead, if you wish to turn use short, slow pulls in the direction you want to go. Want to look like a pro? Press your opposite leg into your horse’s side. Viola! Steering. To stop, the normal cue is to pull back slowly on both reins at once and say Woah.
Risky behavior can include riding and taking pictures. It’s all too tempting to whip out your phone and snap some photos. Use your better judgment and disconnect from the world for an hour or two. Consider this too, it’s risky when you aren’t paying attention but, even more, risky for your phone if you drop it. Farms are not responsible for your technology if it gets ruined.
These creatures are gentle and don’t deserve to be treated badly. I swapped horror stories with owners about individuals on holiday (particularly stag parties) drinking while on a trek and hurting the animals. Be sure to listen and respect your guide – it’s their job, after all, to keep you safe! Regarding the mistreatment of any animal:
Horseback riding is my favorite thing to do when I travel. Remember to keep safe and have fun!
Travel food is tricky. Often a traveler must choose between cooking in unfamiliar accommodations or eating out which can add up. From a budget perspective food cost is the second largest money consuming part of travel, right behind transportation. Unless dumpster diving is your thing – to each their own – paying for food is unavoidable. Travel budgets shouldn’t preach all restrictions so, be sure to visit local eateries. My personal budget plans for eating out 2-3 times a week depending on options. Food is a vital part of the culture. If it’s time to splurge just refrain from eating at the Hard Rock Café in Prague. Find something authentic.
Markets seem to be the best option for finding delicious local produce and goods. The abundant selections of meat, cheeses, veggies and artisan goods (bread, pastries, jams) – to cover all food groups! Wandering around a farmer’s market is quickly becoming a favorite. Better yet, all proceeds fall directly back into the pockets of the locals. Markets are responsible tourism at its best. I will shop at a grocery store for fill-in items that I can’t find in a market – condiments, frozen fries and Red Bull.
How do I stay full throughout the day? I pretend I’m the mother of a toddler. To keep myself from getting a case of the hangries I always have a snack in my purse or backpack. A simple apple could be the difference between Kate-Hulk and Post-Snickers Kate. Bring enough food to keep you satisfied. With that said I wouldn’t stuff your bags with excessive ingredients. Remember kitchen sink will never fit in a purse. I’m looking at you Mary Poppins for unrealistic purse expectations.
Breakfast food is often the cheapest. Fry up some eggs rich with protein or my go-to Greek yogurt, granola, and fresh fruit combo. Eating a nutrient-rich breakfast will carry you throughout the day. I often forget to eat during the day as I’m getting distracted by bookshops or wandering around castles. I eat the largest portion of my calories in the morning. Scientifically speaking, this is the ideal way to consume food anyway but, I graduated with a degree in economics not nutrition so… A ginormous breakfast makes it easier to get be satisfied by a salad for lunch. Dinner is usually a free for all. Don’t have access to a kitchen? Sometimes hotels offer complimentary breakfasts. Be sure to take advantage of it!
Unless it’s pickled shark, before you contemplate trying it – DONT – run far, far away. Local cuisine can appear unappetizing and smell funny, remember the point of traveling is for an experience, not to be comfortable. Local watering holes are often cheaper than chain restaurants, stop into a tavern or even a food truck!
Whereas I haven’t come across a store yet that doesn’t have Doritos or Coca-Cola, certain foods are just impossible to find. However, because they are imported goods the price tag tends to be slightly steeper than the local brand. Take a deep breath, try something new. If there aren’t any Starbucks around, suck it up buttercup. Coffee is still coffee, yogurt is still yogurt, and carrots are still carrots even in France. Think of it as a gastronomic adventure.
It’s almost a reward to eat fruits and vegetables. Produce can always be found at a reasonable price. Fruits and veggies are filling so your stomach will be full throughout the day and full of fiber – so your stomach will always feel in tip-top shape.
Your Cobweb Clearer, Kate
Day three of cramming as much of the Highlands as possible. I awoke with the birdies and dragged myself to the Kia. Six hours of driving and ten hours of adventuring sure makes for a weary traveler. Repeat steps from the last two days: fuel up and Redbull. Today the goal was to drive to John O’Groats the northernmost point of mainland United Kingdom. I didn’t have anything planned in John O’Groats. I was more interested in the road. The windy A9 would merge into the two-lane coastal A99. I found a map that showed some typical, historical spots and with some help from Atlas Obscura I was rearing to have a busy day. The day was warm and sunny. Thank goodness, the weather held for my entire trip!
As I approached Dunrobin Castle the plan was to breeze through one of many stops. I ended up spending about two hours completely entranced by Andy Hughes and his birds of prey. Falconry dates to 1700 BC in the Middle East. The hunting art involves a hunter using a trained bird of prey to kill and retrieve game such as rabbit, pheasant or other species of bird. Falconry didn’t reach Europe until about 900AD. I’m positive this guy has full-on conversations with his birds. Which inevitably happens the closer relationship to a pet. Been there. I appreciated the birds but, the connection between handler and animal was spectacular to witness. Coming from an equestrian background, I understand herd mentality and the vital balance between being the alpha and gentleness. It’s slightly different working with predators. Their relationship is built on equality and trust. Teamwork is key since the solitary hunter will do what is best for itself. The flock (I suppose?) consisted of about ten falcons and two owls. Zooming around the athletic birds demonstrated their trade by ‘killing’ lures. Dunrobin castle is an excellent stop. The inside of the castle was in pristine condition and had a French flair going. It is home to the Earl of Sutherland and Clan Sutherland.
This is my comrade Cedar – an Eagle Owl. It’s his job to hang out at Dunrobin Castle and hunt rabbits. Occasionally take some pictures with girls obsessed with owls. He works with the aviary and Falconry expert Andy Hughes to hunt as well as teach conservation to travelers who pass through. As a person who also works with animals, it’s heartwarming to see someone who has such an intense bond with the creatures they care for.
Less than a mile down the road is Carn Liath Broch.
A broch is an Iron Age drystone structure that is only found in Scotland.
A broch is typically round and was used as either housing or defensive purposes – archaeologists can’t agree. It’s a splendid example if you fancy ruins and historic archaeology. Travelers only need about ten minutes to check it out. I took the opportunity to have a snack and relax in the sun. The structure overlooks a pasture and the ocean. I had the place to myself so it was delightfully silent.
The Grey Cairns of Camster are some of the oldest structures in Scotland. Clocking in at 5,000 years longstanding the stone constructions show us modern folks perfect examples of round cairns and long cairns. Cairns are typically used as burial chambers. Upon excavation in the late 19th century the long cairn produced several human skeletons untouched, but, in the round cairn, archaeologists found human and animal bones which were all burned. The two human skeletons were incomplete both missing their legs. Archaeologists presume that the round cairn was used for ritual. Guess which cairn was open for exploration? Crawl on your hands and knees or squat walk through a ten-foot tunnel into the round cairn’s antechamber. The tunnel entrance was probably 3X2 and pitch black so, seriously not for the claustrophobic. The inner chamber filtered in light through a slight hole in the top of the structure.
The next ancient site was the Hill o’ Many Stanes. The site confounds archaeologists as there no proof that the plot of land home to approximately 200 stones, arranged in 22 rows is an authentic ancient site. The straight lines and arrangement suggest that the site was a lunar chart. The Hill o’ Many Stanes is not exactly exciting, but, the mauve heather carpet along the hill makes for a unique view in contrast to the blue coastline.
Much like the cairns at Camster, Cairn o’Get sports a narrow entrance leading to a roomy antechamber. Cairn o’ Get is dissimilar to the other cairns as the top has fallen in. This site offers a peek into the structure without having to crawl on hands and knees to reach the center. To find Cairn o’ Get park along the lake and take about a mile and a half walk through some cow pastures. Don’t worry follow the back and white markers. It’s a quiet place far off the main A99. Take in the sound of a burn flowing through the waist-high ferns. Be sure to stay on the paths beyond the pastures as the land is boggy and water saturated.
The Old Wick Castle lovingly called the “Old Man of Wick” sits on a gaunt, neck of land that juts into the sea. The bones of the castle date back to the 12th century and has some ties to early Norse visitors. There is not much left of the castle, but, it’s a great walk along the coast and a bit of an adrenaline kick peering over the cliff sides. The tower is surrounded by sheer drops on three sides.
The last castle I saw was from afar. Sad times. It was on private land!
Other honorable mentions that I missed, but wanted to see:
The Yarrow Trail
Sinclair & Girnigoe Castle
See? Three days is not enough time… If you have been following along the past three posts you will know that I had three AMAZING action-packed days. I didn’t even scratch the surface of the extensive hiking trails and historical castles and archaeology sites. I think I might spend a month in the north next time!
Missed the other posts? Here ya go:
Your Cobweb Clearer, Kate
The delights of eighteen hours of sunlight are just that – seemingly endless daylight. The con is being roused by the sun at 4:30AM. Maybe I’m a bird. Dark skies put me right to sleep, but, when that sun rises – I’m ready for that worm. Or rather coffee. Goals for day two of the highlands road trip was driving from Inverness to Skye on the northern A832. On the way back visit Eilean Donan and return on the A87. Six to seven hours driving time leaves me with about eleven hours to hike, drool over castles, and get caught in a deluge at least once.
I set out at 6AM for the gas station number one rule of road tripping: never run out of gas fill up on the quarter tank mark. I picked up Red Bull and sandwich supplies from the local grocery store. Number two rule of road tripping don’t let yourself become hangry. Scotland’s narrow one-track roads don’t support road rage induced jackass behavior.
The first leg of the trip on the A832 required concentration. The landscape was stunning, but, there were too few places to stop along the one land roads. There was also a surprising amount of traffic so, it would have been impolite to pull off in a passing track. That is a sure fire way to immerse in the art of Scottish creative swearing. Plus, I was beelining for the Fairy Pools. If I arrived early enough, I could avoid the hordes of other people who want to catch a fairy by the tutu. There was plenty of signage to lead you to the trailhead once you crossed the Isle of Sky bridge. The descent into the misty valley is about ¾ of a mile. It’s a bit steep, be sure you have proper footwear. You can view the River Brittle cutting through the vast field from the trailhead but, you must hike down to the vein to feel the magic. Once you cross a series of streams and stepping stones the reward is pristine water and cerulean waterfalls tumbling into deep basalt caldrons. No fairies, but, the path lead on into a wilderness zone. Obviously, I took the opportunity to stretch my legs and was keen on a visible rock scramble. The looming mountains in the backdrop are the Black Cuillins. The gunmetal, basalt cliffs are entrancing. In the blink of an eye, I was transported into a Tolkien landscape.
Next on the docket was Eilean Donan! Brooding over the tidal island caught in a Loch trifecta is the infamous Eilean Donan castle. The Gaelic word Loch means lake – in case you were wondering. The castle sits in the middle of where Loch Duich, Long, and Alsh meet. In the early 14th century, the land was a stronghold for Clan Mackenzie. Following the first Jacobite uprising and the Battle of Glen Shiel (1715), Eilean Donan was essentially leveled. The castle was restored in the early 1900’s and has appeared in advertisements and movies ever since including a Pierce Brosnan incarnation of James Bond. Eilean Donan is iconic to Scotland. Truth time: taking pictures outside of the castle was probably the best part. Entrance into Eilean Donan seemed a little steep for what it was. Of course, it’s all preference. The rooms were filled with artifacts and notes on Scottish history but, I had absorbed the information from other locations. If this is not your first Scottish rodeo, snap pictures, eat lunch and move on.
Another great stretch of land was the twining valley of Glen Shiel. The foot of the Five Sisters mountain range is a tiny pull off with a trailhead leading up to Sgurr nan Spainteach (The Peak of the Spaniards). You will miss it. Luckily, I had the highway to myself so I just flipped it in reverse. The hill walk was the site of The Battle of Glen Shiel which ended the first Jacobite uprising and sealed the demise of Eilean Donan. Here Highland clans and a frigate of Spanish soldiers engaged the English army by ambushing them from the sheer hills. Their battlefield advantage ultimately failed them due to lack of arms and provisions. The hike up the hill was exciting and set the glutes on fire. The ferns were as tall as hip height in a few spots – quite the experience. At the top of the ridge is a remaining stone barricade and a few lichen covered structures.
Just when you thought I was done. I made one last stop. Back in Culloden is an ancient burial ground called the Clava Cairns and standing stones. There are three bronze age tombs surrounded by 8-10 standing stones. It’s a great area to read or absorb nature. There are trees you can sit under. The roots even provide comfortable seats.
The stones are the alleged inspiration for Craigh Na Dun from the Outlander series. However, Craigh Na Dun is purely fictional. No time traveling for the Travel Scout. Although, that would inspire a wicked niche blog, though, right?
Alas, I returned to my camper van and promptly went to sleep. It would be another 6AM rally for me. Again eighteen hours of daylight – I’ll be damned it I wasted them.
Be sure to check out my other action-packed road trips through the highlands:
Your Cobweb Clearer, Kate
The drive from Glasgow to Inverness is roughly 300km and three hours depending on congestion taking place the one-track roads. I suggest running the A9 from Glasgow through Glencoe and Fort William. I took a detour to reach Kilchurn Castle but, back tracked to drive through Glencoe. Everyone I spoke with urged the track. Excellent advice. The track was windy, misty and wild. The weather was a little drizzly but, when in Scotland if it isn’t raining – it’s about to.
Stop number one was the ruined Kilchurn Castle which was once a stronghold for Clan Campbell. Now forgive me – I don’t have a lick of Scottish in me or knowledge of the clan structure, but, clan Campbell seemed to be powerful in their time. Various incarnations of the Dukes of Argyll owned castles all over the surrounding areas. The hike into the ruin was short but wet. I made it beyond the walls just before a deluge.
Quick history lesson – The five-story giant had been in use since the 15th century but, fell into ruin before the 1800’s. During the first Jacobite uprising Kilchurn served as a militia stronghold. In the mid 1700’s the castle tower was struck by lightning. Parts of the fallen turret can still be seen in the inner courtyard. The castle was completely abandoned when the roof was torn off in a violent storm.
Kilchurn castle in the mist and gloom looks quite ominous. As it should, there are several legends featuring the likes of an eel monster, haunting and witches. Ghostly cries and children playing have all been reported occurrences as well as a general feeling of being unwelcome. I can’t say I had that experience – maybe I was too busy trying to stay dry!
The detour only took me thirty minutes out of the way. Onward to Fort William! I had one goal in Fort William which was to at least set foot on Ben Nevis. Ben Nevis is the highest mountain in Britain at 1,345m above sea level. Rain and time constraints had me move on rather prematurely, but, I enjoyed stretching my legs nonetheless.
I couldn’t go north and not peer into the murky waters of Loch Ness. To be honest Loch Ness was mostly underwhelming, not just because I didn’t spot Nessie. I just didn’t get any feeling from it. With that said photography opportunity was on point.
Let me first say that my plan was to camp. I was hoping to rent a tent, sleeping bag, and maybe a hot plate. I had no such luck. However, thanks to AirBNB I found a 1970’s baby blue camper van. It was adorable and the family who owned it were just as awesome. The camper van was a saving grace as I stayed much warmer than I would have in a tent. Scotland is cold people. I’m going to refer you to: 8 Outfits I Wore in the Arctic for some layering and outdoor dressing tips!
Once I settled into my new digs I decided to take a walk in the moors. A moor is a track of land that is a grassland or savanna biome with low growing shrubs and poor-quality soil. The moors in Scotland are terribly permeable and are soaked through creating bogs. Victorian stories always warn of the dangers lurking in a moor. I understand now. They are frigid and riddled with sinkholes. Approaching a moor in the daylight is daunting, let alone trying to hike one in the night.
Less than a mile from my van was Culloden Battlefield. The Battle of Culloden was fought between the English and Bonnie Prince Charlie’s Jacobite army. The campaign was to restore a Stuart king to the throne as per the divine right to rule theory. The battle marked the end of the Jacobite uprising in 1746. As a result of the loss the English wiped out the Clan culture as retribution. More than eighteen hundred men died on both sides in less than an hour. Fifteen hundred of them being from the Jacobite side. The English only suffered three hundred casualties.
The battlefield was a heavy place. Much akin to Gettysburg in Pennsylvania. It was certainly spooky visiting at dusk – completely alone. What made the field so unnerving was the bog hissing and cracking from saturation. The soil smelled like wet, rotting leaves in autumn. I always feel a certain amount of electricity on a battlefield no matter how long ago it is. Nature never forgets. Culloden is no exemption.
Your Cobweb Clearer, Kate
Blah, blah, blah I fell in love with the Highlands. Blah, blah, blah, wanderlust. Blah, blah, blah the most beautiful place I have ever been. I’ll save you the sentiment and get right to the juicy bits:
In all seriousness, it took one road trip to Inverness to spark a healthy obsession with all things tartan. I stayed in a baby blue 1970’s Volkswagen camper van in my AirBNB host’s backyard. The property was backed right up to Culloden Moor. I was all set to hunt down all of the filming locations from Outlander only to discover it was mostly shot in or around Glasgow and Edinburgh. Ugh. Well, there was always Eilean Donan and the Glencoe route from various incarnations of James Bond. I’d have to pretend that my KIA was an Aston Martin – a girl can fantasize, right? Regardless, Inverness is the perfect jump-off point to visit several major attractions in the Highlands. From the quiet city, you could plan several hundred combinations of road trips – I only had time for three. I regret not spending the entire week but, even so, I would have barely scratched the surface. Each road trip deserves its own post so, as I gather my thoughts on each of the three days I spent in the Highlands here are some teasers:
There are so many castles to visit! Most of the ruined ones are free. I prefer the ruined ones. There is usually a good walk involved and less people around. You can really feel the old vibes.
There are hardly any straight shot highways. Be prepared for two-lane roads that snake their way through the countryside.
This was hiker heaven. Keep watch for places to pull off as they are not immediately identified. They don’t call me K-Turn Kate for nuthin’.
Two Words: Fairy Pool.
I’m endlessly fascinated by ancient structures. There are hundreds of places that showcase ancient architecture and a glimpse into the past.
I’m going to talk endlessly about the Falcons at Dunrobin castle and how one day I will become a falconry expert myself. These amazing birds of prey were orphaned or injured but, taken in by the conservatory. They are trained to hunt pheasants, rabbits and other small game by the aviary expert Andy Hughes. It’s really cool to see someone who loves their animals. I have much respect for that.
The heaviest place, Culloden Battlefield.
Enjoy! There are more pictures and stories to come.
Your Cobweb Clearer, Kate
Stirling is a little town known as the Gateway to the Highlands. The ancient town used to be the stopping point for merchants in the medieval times as they traded between northern and southern Scotland. Stirling is the perfect day trip and far less crowded than Edinburgh or Glasgow. The streets will mostly be empty and you may have the entire castle to yourself – yep, a castle to yourself. Here are some more history packed reasons to visit historical Stirling:
Stirling is possibly best known for a famous battle between the Scots and English during the Wars of Scottish Independence. Despite being severely outnumbered, William Wallace lead the Scottish army to victory in 1297 and fought off the English. Today you can visit the memorial dedicated to Wallace. William Wallace sounds familiar? He is the very man who inspired the movie Braveheart.
The Church of the Holy Rude is a medieval parish founded in 1129 making it the second oldest establishment in the city. A leader of the Reformation John Knox preached the sermon for the coronation of James VI the king who would commission an English translation of the Bible. This would be the Bible we know today.
James was crowned king at such a young age because Mary Queen of Scots was being tried for an alleged plot to assassinate Elizabeth I. If the assassination attempt were successful Mary Queen of Scots would reign over Scotland, Ireland, and England. Mary tried for treason lost her head.
According to legend. A band of Vikings had their eyes set on land later to be Stirling and occupied by a small group of Celtic villagers. They planned to attack in the dead of night but, upon hearing a pack of howling wolves they decided to retreat. To this day the wolf has been the symbol of Stirling! Here I thought they were just team Stark for the iron throne…
Much like Edinburgh castle, Stirling castle sits high on a hill watching over the town below. Here is your chance to have some alone time with a Scottish castle. I visited on a Thursday and was pleasantly surprised to only run into maybe two hundred other travelers at the max. You have the option to join a free tour or wander about. I’m sure you know that I picked the latter. I even ventured into the underground barracks completely alone. Maybe? It certainly was dark and creepy. Be sure to walk the castle walls, check out the tapestry museum, and visit the royal chambers. Most of the displays are not original but, it seems the curators have taken special care to ensure an authentic experience!
Scotland’s national animal is the Unicorn. Naturally, the enemy of the lion which is a symbol of England.
Get snap happy. Stirling is terribly photogenic. Stroll along the castle walls to gain a 360 dragon’s eye view of the entire town. I don’t need to say much, the pictures speak for themselves:
This lodge was built in the 17th century and was home to members of high society at that time. Be sure to visit the castle first – admission into the lavish townhouse is granted with a castle ticket!
Mar’s Wark or rather the remnants of a lodge from the 1560’s. The location is nothing particularly outstanding but, is in the care of Scotland’s historical society. The ruins are worth taking a peek as you visit the Church of the Holy Rude or the cemetery located behind the lodge. The front of the mansion has interesting stonework.
Your Cobweb Clearer, Kate
Stepping out of Waverly Station the true grandeur of Edinburgh greets you. Crowded yes, but the deeper you get into the city tourists fall away. The first stop on the Edinburgh list was the castle dominating the ancient skyline. Anthropologists suggest that the surrounding area dubbed Castle Rock had been occupied since 900 BC. The first structure, St. Margaret’s Chapel was built in 1130 AD. This chapel can still be visited today! Edinburgh Castle has been visited and sometimes sieged by the likes of Oliver Cromwell, Mary Queen of Scots, and influential Jacobites during the uprising including Bonnie Prince Charlie himself.
If you are a history buff, into military memorabilia and peering longingly over stone walls *raises hand* be prepared to start drooling *wipes away drool*.
The castle was being prepared for the Military Tattoo in August. A tradition since the 1950’s that celebrates and honors various military bands. Approaching the castle, I was a little puzzled by the garish, blue bleachers then the reason became clear.
The castle has several stops that showcase the U.K.’s extensive military history ranging from medieval times to present. Be sure to take a stroll through the dungeons for a glimpse into the dank conditions.
Get a birds-eye view of Edinburgh in full. Take in the cities green spaces and spot landmarks. From one side you can see right out to the North Sea. The opposite side you can see all the way out to Arthur’s Seat. Over the castle walls offer excellent opportunities to capture the moody-ness of Scottish weather.
In a ruined tower be sure to salute to the four-legged military members. One trait I have noticed about the Scots is their love for animals – the oldest headstone goes back to the 1840’s. It reminds us that our canine comrades are just as important to the national defense as humans are. Whereas you can’t go down to the green be sure to peer over the wall to view the memorial.
The one o’clock cannon goes off at – you guessed it 13:00. Trust me you will know when it’s close to time as the crowd gathers. Not your thing? Now is a good time to try and get some shots with fewer people surrounding everything.
Mons Meg: Another cannon noted for its behemoth firing range. The cannon can shoot over two miles. It was given to James II by the Duke Philip of Burgundy in 1490.
No pictures allowed, however, be sure to visit the Royal apartments and the crown room. Here you will also find the Stone of Destiny. The stone is an ancient symbol of monarchy and has made an appearance at all coronations since 1296.
If you are questioning whether to visit the castle or not. VISIT. Yes, the lines can be long. Yes, its crowded as all get out. Go early or go late. The visit is worth the hassle. I should also mention that Castle Rock was a former active volcano. Need I say more? Click here for 8 Reasons to Get Down With Braveheart in Stirling for more Scotland!
Your Cobweb Clearer, Kate
There is a song called ‘Chocolate’ by Snow Patrol. Song writer Gary Lightbody references a moment in life when you can feel yourself living. It’s a strange sensation when you have this outer body experience. As you fade into thought, absorbing the moment, the world slows down and you can feel your own presence on earth. It’s just you and the blood in your veins. I don’t recall if there is even a word for this feeling.
Feeling alive happened in Glasgow. After panicking of course. What was I planning to do in Scotland for six weeks? I’ve been in transit since April but, this is my longest stay by far. For real though, what was I thinking? I booked a flat outside of Glasgow -with a roommate I’d never met. I’m not the kind of girl to curl up into the fetal position but maybe it was hormones. Maybe I missed home. Maybe I was finally feeling lonely. There were countless ‘maybes’ making my chest feel tight and my skin crawl.
Later that evening after settling into my new digs, that feeling I described struck: I was doing everything I had ever set out to do. I’m living like a local, managing my blog, and having fantastic adventures. Since I started scribbling at two years old, three things have been true about me: I like pizza, I like cats and I want to go on an adventure. I’m not exaggerating – that is a direct quote from five-year-old Kate’s Lisa Frank diary.
Our visions are often our biggest fears. Subconsciously we find ways to avoid accomplishing our goals. Dreading the unknown caused me to question what I was doing when I was accomplishing everything I desired. Silly brain. Finding a route in life isn’t cut and dry. There are detours. Sometimes an overwhelming amount of detours. I always reference my mom when it comes to making dreams realities, she wanted to live in Arizona since she was a girl. Our family has been entwined into the farmlands of Pennsylvania since before the American Revolution. Yet, she saved every copy of Arizona Highways. Years passed, she married my father and raised my brother and I. When our family fell apart in 2010 she made the decision to jump. She packed her belongings and hired a moving van headed straight for Arizona. Years later she understands that this was her detoured path to the vision she had as a girl. What I’m trying to convey is: don’t agonize over the right or wrong of your decisions. Carpe Diem! If dreams are not sought out we are doomed drone on and may never experience feeling alive. It doesn’t matter the situation if you have a vision – work for it.
Your Cobweb Clearer, Kate
Go to the Blue Lagoon they said, it would be relaxing they said. We have all seen images of those ladies strolling around the eco-friendly paths of the Blue Lagoon in Iceland. How badly we all want to be those wanderlusty goddesses. “You can too!” urges their Instagram posts. Inner me said “one day that will be me, oh yes”. I dreamed of the day I would proudly wear my silica mask! Nothing would have made me happier than to float in the pristine magical wonderland, wine in hand and wearing a tiny bikini that would magically fit.
“You were in Iceland last April, right?”
“There is no blog about the Blue Lagoon?”
It was 7AM. My friends and I were making our way to the resort. Giddy awaiting our turn for the wanderluster’s dream come true. Our tickets were purchased for 8AM – early is better, I promised. My white knuckles on the steering wheel were distracting me from fear that the car, fully loaded with four adults and four luggage bags would be blown to Oz. This can’t be good, I forgot my ruby pumps. The parking pad was virtually empty. The hellish journey to the Blue Lagoon began when we opened the car doors and were brutally attacked by the wind. Attacked like it wanted our wallets. On the count of three my friends and I made a mad-dash to the first building we saw.
The warmth of the lobby was promising. It put us at ease.
After changing and showering off as per the rules, we hung out towels on the rungs provided by the spa and made our way to the deck. This was it, we were going to soak in the Blue Lagoon! We decided to bring one phone for pictures because there was one waterproof cover. Logic. As we followed the glass tunnel leading out to the open water, the same fierce wind greeted us only this time it was raining. The rain drops felt like furious icicle daggers cutting right into our cheeks. Who pissed off Elsa? Let it go!
Maybe there was shelter somewhere? We were in the Blue Lagoon dammit, we were going to have a damn good time. The struggle to the silica bar was like trying out for Deadliest Catch. Waves which picked up from the wind slapped us around like Christian Grey would a submissive. The water was warm in patches, which meant that some patches were freezing. Standing up was regrettable too, fearing our nips would fall off. I was stuck in this weird crab crawl trying to move as fast as I could, not leaving the water and not losing my contacts in the salty surf.
There was a sheltered spot a long way into the lagoon. Other travelers were huddled in the same shallow corner too. There was a weird mutual bonding over the hell we had just endured. Majority of the other survivors were sitting on the rock seats in a little ball, trying to keep their ears warm. Was this what it was like to battle the White Walkers north of the wall? A group of Canadians bravely offered to show us where the bar was. I was getting my free beer dammit.
I had to hold the Solo cup with two hands. The wind was that fierce. It was then we decided we were done – so done.
We crossed the high seas one last time only to find our towels had been stolen.
It’s not the fault of anyone, just sheer, dumb luck. Our experience at the Blue Lagoon was not ideal, not relaxing, and not an experience I would care to have again. With that said, I will NEVER forget those two hours of hell despite having no pictures. It’s all firmly cemented into my head.
See?! Travel is not always glamour, puppies and existential epiphanies. Sometimes it straight up sucks – even in the most beautiful place on earth.
Want to read about some good times in Iceland? Check out:
Your Cobweb Clearer, Kate
Trains, buses and my own two feet here in Europe has changed the way I feel about transportation. Cars are simply a luxury and should be taken advantage of when you have the chance. A trip to Spa and Dinant were the perfect excuse to rent a car! There are buses and train routes that visit these two countryside towns however, it seemed a little complicated to visit without a car.
Spa home to the famous Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps which hosts the Belgian Grand Prix and other notable Formula One races. Honestly, I’m clueless to the world of cars nonetheless, Francorchamps was a tick off my Uncle’s bucket list. Who am I to stop a dream? It turned out to be an enjoyable day in the shy Belgian sun and I got giddy over Aston Martins. Win-win situation if you’re asking. Francorchamps is a 150 km trek out of Brussels. What makes the Belgian countryside so spectacular are the bends in the road that open into romantic valleys and picturesque towns. The race track reflected those qualities. To my relief Formula One doesn’t whip around in tiny circles like NASCAR. The course has turns and stretches that require careful maneuvering. The only gloomy similarity to NASCAR and Formula One is that beer in both camps still tastes like piss.
For a simple day at the races, check the Francorchamp website to view start times, race types, and events. Car parking is 5€ per car. Seating is free on the greens and bleachers. If you wish to stroll through the paddocks, pay 5€ to enter. This gives you access to view the cars, private quarters of the drivers and crew as well as a restaurant that offers a killer view.
Pack a lunch and sit in the bleachers? Looks as if you have almost made a free day at the races!
My Aunt, Uncle and I spent about five hours watching the cars go ‘round. We still had the rest of the day to drive around so we beelined for the tiny city of Dinant. The streets were narrow but, everything you would expect of a fairy tale town could be found here. Boats resting on cobbled docks, street art, and a citadel that watched from the cliffs above. A quick decision needed to be made as it was approaching closing time for many venues. The citadel seemed like a productive way to view the city. Two options will await weary travelers at the Collegiate Church of Notre-Dame: hundreds of steps up the sheer cliffside or float up the hill on a ski lift.
The fortress may have been built in the 19th century but, the land had been occupied since the 11th. The fortress is a great museum and gives visitors a rather hands on experience to what life was like during the world wars. The interaction interesting and a spine chilling experience. Everything seems dandy as you travel through the kitchens, armory, and sleeping quarters. Next, you walk into a dark room, the door closes behind you and the fortress becomes a trench labyrinth. A recording of gunfire and cannon blasts echo in the lofty ceilings of the fortress. I would not recommend this section for anyone with anxiety or those who panic easily. Jarring is a mild word for the feeling you experience. Next you walk down a flight of spiral staircases that narrow and slanted as you continue. Much like a funhouse however, I wager the architects were not going for funhouse. The room is either slanted on purpose to confuse invaders or a product of age. Either way it certainly messes up your balance. This was one of the best museum-esque experiences I’ve had in a while. You can’t miss this place!
Your Cobweb Clearer, Kate