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
Bruges, a beautiful escape from the hustle and bustle of Brussels. If I had a repeat button, I would have liked to stay in Bruges and skipped the crowded noisy city altogether. Brussels has its charm. Much resembling New York, the capital city is a melting pot of culture and history. People have been wondering if I feel safe in Belgium. The answer is – it’s complicated. Brussels has been one of the few places where I diligently keep my head down and mind my own business. Could something happen to me if I were traveling alone? The level of risk seems high. Am I letting it bother me? Of course not. However, I’m glad not to be alone. My Aunt and Uncle traveled from Pennsylvania to visit! We decided on a week of day trips to pass the time. First stop Bruges.
Bruges is a traditional, medieval and UNESCO protected example of true Belgian culture. Magnificent red brick homes, cobbled streets and the smell of family-owned chocolatiers welcome adventurous tourists. The easiest way to visit Bruges without a car is by train. In my case, I traveled from Brussels Midi at 10AM and arrived in Bruges Central by 11AM. Perfect travel time for a day trip. Fill up your day with these awesome stops:
Getting around on foot in Bruges is ideal. The roads are narrow, crowded and parking can be complicated. My Aunt, Uncle and I kicked off our tour with a canal trip. Thirty minutes cruising the deep-water ways proved to be the best way of getting into the spirit of Bruges. For 8€ you can pile into a boat of about thirty other people. Once you get over sitting on someone’s lap and others in your lap – the ride is enjoyable. The captain spoke in about four different languages – French, German, English, and Spanish. It was fun trying to make sure he said the same things in all the languages!
Watch horse carriages trot by as you enjoy a hearty Leffe and a side of Flemish beef. There are many Italian places but, if you look hard enough there are little restaurants that feature local cuisine.
Put that map away! Wandering is made easy because the town is so small. Take strolls down cobbled alleys and quiet streets. You never know what you may come across.
The fact that I myself do not understand the meaning of my paintings at the time that I am painting them does not mean that they have no meaning. -Dali
The Dali museum is not quite for the faint of heart. We all know Dali for the melting watches and spindly elephants. Think precursor to Tim Burton. My brother is a fan of Dali so, I felt I needed to check it out for him. Little did I realize the extent of the man’s strangeness. I may have traumatized my Aunt and Uncle. It’s probably not a great place to take kids – the showcase is rather explicit and you may be in the awkward position of explaining scheisse related art *shudders*. I thought the museum was informative and showcases the lesser known pieces of Dali’s extensive portfolio.
You don’t have to look very far to find beer in Belguim. Be sure to sit outside and enjoy a cold one. The brands that are harder to pronounce are usually the best so give it a go! Just note that their ‘large’ beer is like an American large soda so, just know that I warned you.
Belgium does two things better than everyone else: beer and chocolate. Bruges is dense with chocolatiers who have been in the business for generations. I opted for artisan truffles but, you can choose from a wide arrange of anything chocolate or even homemade marzipan. Not my favorite – yuck.
After all the chocolate and beer it might be a good idea to try climbing the Belfort tower. 366 stairs up and down is the best work out you can ask for! The reward at the top is a view that overlooks Bruges and beyond.
Your Cobweb Clearer, Kate