Scotland is voting this year (2014) for their independence. Our anthem during our vacation as well as Scotland’s future national anthem:
We had quite the debate on where to go for spring break. Once we had finally found reasonable plane fare we decided upon the land of the Scots. One week before we were set to leave Naples to Edinburgh Lufthansa, our flight provider, decided it was a good time to go on strike. All flights from Lufthansa were cancelled. All week we kept checking as they added more and more cancelled flights. Luckily, the last Lufthansa flight they cancelled was the one right before ours. We made it!
We spent the next couple days in Edinburgh exploring and finding our way around. We visited the Scottish National Gallery and the National Museum of Scotland (which houses lots of great artifacts, of particular interest to us were ancient Viking artifacts and runes, a neat printing press, and Dolly the Sheep (the first mammal cloned from an adult cell). This museum was incredibly nifty, we stayed for many hours. While in Edinburgh we loading up on Christmas gifts, ate too many fish and chips, and tried some traditional fares, such as haggis with neeps and tatties, fresh salmon, mussels, and blood pudding. In case you are wondering, haggis is great, blood pudding is not. We then took a five day bus tour through Scotland, including the Isle of Skye. We stopped about every 30 minutes to go hiking, see castles, ruins, other sites, hairy coos, waterfalls, lochs, cliffs, dinosaur tracks, a white sandy beach, various towns, etc. It was non-stop action packed and we saw way more than we would had we attempted this ourselves. All this and more helped make our Scotland trip one of our best vacations whilst living in Europe.
We made our way through the cities, towns, lowlands, highlands, lochs, glens, and fjords. The weather was generally a bit chilly (which we quite enjoy). It tended to rain at least once a day, though hardly worth getting an umbrella out for. Our day we spent on the Isle of Skye was just the opposite, it rained all day. We still did tons of hiking and site-seeing and we were soaked to the bone (totally worth it). We did rent some wellies from our hostel, so it saved our shoes from the soupy terrain.
Some highlights, outside of all the breathtaking scenery, was one spot in particular on the cliff side high on the Isle of Skye. It was incredibly windy and rainy; you had to shout to the person right next to you. This particular place was the MacDonald castle ruins from about 1600 where Donald MacDonald, the son of the MacDonald chief, and Margaret MacLeod, the sister of the rival clan’s chief, were hand fasted and lived. Donald was a crazy man not to cross. He cut out Margaret’s eye when she didn’t produce a male heir. He sent Margaret back to her home sitting backwards on a one eyed horse (which he also cut out), accompanied by a one eyed servant and a one eyed dog. This reignited the feuds between the clans, and was then known as the Wars of the One-Eyed Woman.
Another highlight was our stop at the 14th century Doune castle, where a majority of any castle scene seen in Monty Python’s Quest for the Holy Grail were filmed. Part of the entrance fee included a headset guide. Justin and I were so excited we were basically running through the castle trying to recognize places. The castle itself is nearly empty inside. On our head sets were lots of facts about the history of dukes and queens staying there and what each room was used for. We realized after all that less interesting stuff they had facts about Monty Python after them. So we had to go through the whole castle again and listen to commentary so we could fast forward it to get to the good stuff, like the history of Spamalot, elderberries, African swallows, and wooden rabbits.
We also saw the Castle Aargh! at the end of the Monty Python and the Holy Grail (Castle Stalker in Argyll). You need a boat or take a swim to get there, which we didn’t have/do, so we admired from a near distance. We saw the viaduct where Harry Potter first met the Dimentias and Hagred’s house location (the house had been picked clean and taken apart so there wasn’t really much left of it other than some stones).
We went Nessie hunting on the great Loch Ness. We did not see her. We did, however, decide to take a dip. The weather outside was about 7° C/45°F. I’m not sure what the temperature in the water was, freezing is my best guess. It was uncomfortable walking in and out because it is all rocky. If it were dirt or sand I’d have stayed longer. What was neat about it was that once we got out of the water we were warm (because the air was so much warmer than the water). We didn’t need to put our winter coats and scarves back on!
Those were the top highlights. Among other notable things we adventured include The Hermitage forest/waterfall/hiking, the Dalwhinnie distillery, Inverness field of bunnies, Culloden battlefield, Clava Cairns (5000 year old burial site/tombs/standing stones from the Bronze age), Loch Maree, Loch Torden, Loch Garonne, Eilean Donan castle, Dunvegan castle, Maddy Faine waterfall by Storr Loch, Fairy Glen, the white sands of Morr, Ben Nevis, Glen Coe, Ceilidh (pronounced like Kaylee) dancing/bar, Glen and Loch Lonan, St. Collen’s Kirk, Kilchurn castle, Rob Roye country, Argyle National Park, Stirling Castle, the William Wallace monument, and of course tons of sheep and hairy coos!
Justin and I spent Valentine’s and President’s Day weekend in Vienna, Austria and Bratislava, Slovakia. Our first day was spent in Bratislava. It reminded me of a very mini version of Prague, though without anything particularly spectacular. The old town is quaint with red roofs. There is a castle where at the top you have a nice view of old town and the river Danube. We stayed the night at a botel right next to the castle and old town, overlooking Bratislava’s famous UFO building on a bridge. The botel was a boat/hotel, if you didn’t pick up on that. It was a little crappy, but very convenient. I can see that Bratislava is a good party town during the summer, but during winter, it is quite empty and lackluster…which was both good and bad. We found a small bar/restaurant with some neat decorations (if you see a small guy in a cage in the pictures that’s where that was). There were a lot of random statues all over the city which was a nice surprise. And there were a lot of people walking their dogs.
Our last half of the long weekend was spent in Vienna. Go from a mildly drab but quaint Bratislava to a city full of nothing but luxurious palace style buildings as far as the eye can see-Vienna was quite the change. Vienna was really fancy and very nice to walk through. There was a magnificent cathedral in the heart of town and a number of museums, two of which we ventured. The Museum of Art History was pretty great. There was a whole room dedicated to Bruegel paintings. (While in Europe I have given myself a bit of a challenge to visit every Bruegel painting, I am a few museums shy, but this was one more to check off the list.) There was an awesome Medusa’s head painting by Peter Paul Rubens, quite a lot of nice Dürer’s, Gustav Klimt’s, and even a couple mummified crocodiles in the Egypt section. Didn’t think about it until later, but we visited a lot of places Hitler did as well…go history!
Overall a great weekend away. Happy Valentine’s Day…Happy President’s Day!