5 Awesome Places You Have to Visit in Edinburgh Castle

Edinburgh Castle Travel Scout Kate Swavely

 

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.

  1. Extensive Military History

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.

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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.

2. The Views

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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.

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3. The Dog Cemetery

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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.

4. Cannons

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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.

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This is NOT Mons Meg…

5. Get a Glimpse of the Royal Jewels

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.

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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!

Been to Edinburgh? Let me know!

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Your Cobweb Clearer, Kate

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I like pizza, I like cats and I want to go on an adventure

I promise this title makes sense.

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.

I want to live with tenacity, answer to no one but myself, and sit on top of mountains – figuratively and literally.

When do you feel alive?

Your Cobweb Clearer, Kate

What the Fresh Hell Happened in the Blue Lagoon?

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.

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“You were in Iceland last April, right?”

“Yeah”

“There is no blog about the Blue Lagoon?”

*Shudders*

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.

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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!

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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.

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Actual picture of me.

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.

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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.

Tell me about a time you have had an alternate experience? Or a trip that was not so glamorous.

Want to read about some good times in Iceland? Check out:

Iceland Beauty & Rage

Your Cobweb Clearer, Kate

Straight Outta Brussels – Roadtrip to Dinant and Francorchamps

Straight Outta Brussels Travel Scout Kate Swavely

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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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Have you been to Dinant?

Your Cobweb Clearer, Kate

Straight Outta Brussels Travel Scout Kate Swavely

7 Ways to Spend A Day in Bruges

Bruges, Belgium Travel Scout Kate Swavely

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:

  1. Take A Cruise

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!

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That could be you!

2. Have A Bite in the Market Square

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.

3. Get Lost

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.

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My Aunt Toni and I at a brewery.
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More canals.
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Hay barn castle? Hell yeah!
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Cathedral for days!

4. The Salvador Dali Museum

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.

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Least explicit art…
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Don’t skip this!

5. Beer Tours

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.

6. Chocolate Wasted

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.

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7. Climb the Belfort

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.

Let’s talk beer and chocolate. Who rivals Belgium?

Your Cobweb Clearer, Kate

Bruges, Belgium Travel Scout Kate Swavely

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Friday Thoughts and A Very Long Train Ride

Leaving Split was difficult. History hung at every door and I was just getting used to the labyrinth of the ancient Varos district. The sun was hot but, it cooled down at night so the windows could be kept open. The air was fresh and salty. Fishy at times, duh Split was right on the Adriatic. I was comfortable and felt safe. The food was good, the wine was better. Alas, I had to move on. Brussels, Belgium is my next destination. Tomorrow I meet up with my Aunt and Uncle who are flying out of JFK to come and see me!

I think I found my travel groove. Up until recently, I felt some anxiety about leaving my apartment. Mostly because it was tiring to be on point always and relying solely on myself. Did I lock the door? Do I have my keys? Where am I going? Shit, I’m lost. Well, I should eat! Where is my wallet? Keep my purse in front of me. I never skipped a day of adventuring but, the internal checklist was tedious. Somewhere towards the end of the Prague stay I think I finally felt I was holding my own. My stay in Split felt like a breeze!

I flew from Split to Zagreb to Amsterdam. Zagreb airport was magnificent and empty, boy, was it empty for a Friday morning.

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See? Empty.

Long travel day but, it doesn’t stop in Amsterdam. A Thayls train will take me into Midi Station in Brussels. Here are some not so glorious bits of traveling. Those minute details us travel bloggers neglect to tell you. Not only was I queasy from the Burger King Whopper that I just scarfed down but, I’m writing now simply to avoid a germophobic mental break down. This train is filthy. The seats are oily. There was a used dirty tampon at the cabin entrance. Dirty tissues litter the seat pockets. What sent me over the edge was the toenail (or fingernail IDGAF) clippings on my seat. Literal internal meltdown. Is this normal? Or am I on an exceptionally dirty train?

I got to my new apartment and threw my clothes in the washing machine. All of them. Then I jumped into the shower. All good now! Tomorrow I take on Brussels!

What’s your grossest travel experience?

Your Cobweb Clearer, Kate

How to Chase Waterfalls at Plitvice Lakes National Park

Travertine – a lime stone deposit from mineral springs.

Situated three hours North of Split, on the Bosnia-Herzegovina border is the mesmerizing natural wonder and UNESCO protected  – Plitvice Lakes National Park. Over thousands of years, deposited Travertine build-ups have formed dams which gave life to over sixteen natural lakes. The iconic turquoise water is so brilliant because the lake bottom lacks mud and contain minerals which form the Travertine.  The park protects about 73,000 acres worth of untouched wilderness. A wilderness so dense that the park is home to wolves, bears, lynx, and polecats (wild ferrets).

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No idea who this kid is but, he totally thinks the photo was for him 🙂

How to get here:

 As I was staying in Split, I actually booked a tour which worked out better in the long run. It’s about a three-hour drive north of Split. There are many options to get to Plitvice: buses, tours, car rentals. It depends on how long and how far you would like to hike.

Prices and Such:

If you go during the slow season the entrance fee is about 55 kuna or $8. Sounds great right? In peak season be prepared to dodge crowds and pay up to 180 kunas or $26. If you drive, parking is $7 per hour. Be sure to keep your ticket on you at all times and handy if you wish to take a ferry. The wooden bridges are fairly wide but, be prepared to negotiate space.

Bring water and a snack. I wouldn’t spend money in the park unless absolutely necessary. With that said, there is a bar located in the center of the park.

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Swimming is STRICTLY prohibited. Just like touching stalactites in caves, skin oils and acidity can harm the natural process of Travertine forming. As tempting as it may be, keep out of the water.

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Some of the deeper lakes are about 44m (144ft) but, its hard to tell because the water is so clear. The creation story of the lakes tells of villagers who experienced a terrible drought. They prayed to the Black Queen (or witch, depending on the storyteller) to help them. She sent rains and storms to fill the river beds back up. She then told them to protect the area and guard it from being destroyed. In 1949 UNESCO protected the area!

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Here is my happy spot of the day! Peering over a railing you can see how the river snakes through the valley and the terraces that the Travertine forms.

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There are many fish to see! The most common being Brown Trout. They float calmly in the shallows and feed on food that travels down the river.

Nearly all of the trails are bridges to take you through the complicated system of waterfalls and streams. Pay attention: there are no rails and sometimes it’s hard to see steps. Especially, hard to miss while taking in the beauty.

All in all, you don’t have to do much chasing. Rather the waterfalls chase you. Please go see Plitvice Lake National Park. Nature lover or not, the area will get your attention!

Your Cobweb Clearer, Kate

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Visiting Plitvice Lakes National Park

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