The Beauty of Oban, Scotland

Day 4 continued…

In the afternoon, after we said farewell to the bagpiper and left Glencoe we followed the western coast of Scotland down to Oban.  By the time we arrived the skies had cleared and we enjoyed blue skies with billowy clouds the rest of the day.

Coast near Oban Scotland

The first thing we noticed when we got near the coast was the extreme low tide.  I researched it later and found out that the latitude (distance from the earth’s equator) of Oban is very similar to that of Ketchican, Alaska where we had seen tidal extremes as well.  On the day we were in Oban, there was a difference of 10 feet between high and low tide.  Here’s a little evidence.

Low tide near Oban Scotland

Oban Low Tide

Oban Harbor High Tide

One of our stops in town was the Oban Whisky Distillery which has been in business since 1794.  We wanted to take a tour, but we got there too late and the tickets were all sold out.  We were able to browse in their gift shop and picked up a few souvenirs.  We also picked up this cool Whisky Map that shows the various Scottish whiskies according to location and type of flavors (light, smoky, rich or delicate).  Click to enlarge and see if you can find one that’s familiar to you.

Oban Distillery Scotland

Scotland Whisky Map

We strolled down the main street toward the edge of town, and hiding behind construction scaffolding, we discovered the gorgeous St. Columba’s Roman Catholic Cathedral.  As you can see from the photo, it was built with generous amounts of blue granite.  To give you an idea of the scale of the room, notice that Kevin is sitting on the right side of the aisle near the front.  In the next post I’ll share a little more about the cathedral as well as some tasty food discoveries that we made in Oban.

St. Columba Cathedral Oban ScotlandTRAVEL TIP TODAY:  Be adventurous.  You may find some hidden gems.  We had no idea that this lovely cathedral was in Oban, but we noticed an entrance among the scaffolding and decided to check it out.  We were so glad we did!  You never know what you might find around an unexpected corner, so don’t be afraid to explore a bit when you’re in a new place.

The Bagpiper and Glencoe, Scotland

Day 4 – Go West Young Man

On Sunday we decided that we were going to head west.  The plan was to follow this route from Aberfeldy to Glencoe, then on to Oban before coming back home in the evening.  It would be a lot of driving (about 2 1/2 hours one-way) but we felt the destinations were worth it.

Amy wasn’t feeling well again, so she and Andrew decided to stay back in the room.  We were sad that they couldn’t join us, but Amy got some much needed rest and Andrew had some adventures of his own.  Hopefully he’ll post about it.

Shortly after we left the resort we came upon our first up-close and personal sheep.  They were a common occurrence all over Scotland, but these were crossing the road right in front of our car.

Sheep

Then while driving along A827 through the town of Killin, we crossed a one lane bridge and came upon this gorgeous wide berth of the Falls of Dochart.  As always, feel free to click on any photo for a larger view.

Falls of Dochart

Of course we had to stop and do a little bit of exploring here…even though there was a light rain falling. Overall we had better weather than expected through the whole trip.  Oh, we had a little bit of rain nearly every day, but really only one day where we came home somewhat soggy.  For the most part we could expect the weather to change almost hourly, going from sunny to cloudy to sprinkling to raining and back again throughout the day.

Terry at Falls of Dochart
Falls of Dochart Scotland

An island in the middle of the river on the downstream side of the bridge is known as Innis Bhuidhe. This is home to the Clan MacNab Burial Ground. Its use dates back to the 1700s. An oblong enclosure within the burial ground is home to fifteen graves, nine of which are the final resting places of clan chiefs, plus a medieval grave slab which suggests that at least one earlier burial did take place here. Unfortunately there was a locked gate on the bridge that kept us from getting inside, so this is all we were able to see.  However, if you have a little bit of time, there's a sign on the gate that says you can get the key from a nearby building.
Clan MacNab Burial Ground

After our pit stop we headed back out toward the road to Glencoe.  At one point we had to stop for a few minutes for road construction and I snapped this photo of the vegetation at the side of the road.  I just love the dozens, or would you say hundreds of shades of green…and how many different types of plants can you pick out?

On the way to Glencoe

Next we were finally on to Glencoe, a lush, misty and gorgeous part of the Scottish Highlands!  It is also the historic home of the tragic Glencoe Massacre of 1692 which adds an even more haunting air to the area.  We were told by those who would know, that watching the hovering clouds and mist shift and change in the valley is the only way to see the glen.

Glencoe mist

Glencoe ScotlandYou many not be able to see it in these pics, but there is water everywhere in the glen.  Seasonal rivulets cascading through the crevices of the mountainsides.  An amazing amount of water!

At one of the roadside overlooks we also came upon this bagpiper picking up a few extra pounds (sterling, that is).  He was decked out in the full kilt ensemble so tourists could pose for photos with him or just snap a few pics, like we did.  What’s your feeling about tourist teases like this?  On one hand it’s hard to condemn the man for trying to make some money and he’s providing a service in some way.  On the other hand it feels a bit contrived and artificial.  I’d love to hear your thoughts.

For those who may not be aware, the kilt is a knee-length garment with pleats at the back, originating in the traditional dress of men and boys in the Scottish Highlands of the 16th century.  I think the look is quite handsome myself and love the endless varieties of tartan plaids that are used to represent the different clans.

Glencoe Bagpiper

Soon we were getting hungry and realized that there weren’t too many options for eating establishments ahead, so we decided to stop in Glencoe Village to see if we could find a place for lunch.  This is the main street in the village, just a little wider than one lane so pay attention as you drive, in case you need to share the space with an oncoming vehicle.

Glencoe Village Main Street

The village sits at the entrance to Glen Coe and is surrounded by spectacular mountain scenery.  It’s popular with serious hill-walkers, rock and ice climbers. The picturesque mountains have also been seen in numerous films, including Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban as the home of Hagrid.  I didn’t realize it before we went, but it’s possible that we could have gone on a Harry Potter Safari.  I guess that will have to wait until next time.  Here’s a list of all the movies, to date that have scenes from The Glen.  [This is a bit off the subject, but after living near Los Angeles (the film-making capitol of the world) for 18 years, I’ve always thought it would be a dream job to be a location scout.  Wouldn’t you just love having the responsibility of searching for all those amazing spots where they film your favorite movies?  But I digress…]

IT’S ALL ABOUT THE FOOD: We parked our car in the public parking lot and walked down the street until we found the Glencoe Cafe.  Since the town is very small and relatively remote, we really had no idea what the quality would be like.  Sometimes remote areas (in the U.S. too) don’t have the competition to encourage high quality foods, good service and/or low prices, so we were taking our chances here.  I have to say that the owners obviously take great pride in their establishment because they had an extensive menu of freshly made fare, cheerful service and some delicious offerings!  We were NOT disappointed. This is a photo of my lunch.  A light and tasty shrimp salad sandwich made with homemade lemon mayonnaise, accompanied by a wonderful green side salad. Mmmmm!  I loved it and the rest of our group was just as pleased with their choices! Be sure to stop by and enjoy the culinary creations of Justine Macleod and James Robertson if you’re in the area someday.

Seafood Salad Sandwich with lemon mayoGlencoe CafeAs we left the Glen and headed down the coast toward Oban, we were greeted with this rainbow.  One of many that we’d see in our 2 weeks of vacation, but this one was a double treat with the reflection in the water.  Truly a gift from God.  We knew then that it was going to be a great day!

Glencoe rainbow with reflection

I’M A FAN OF…WATER:  Living in the desert for decades has created a deep appreciation in my soul for water of every kind and this vacation was a true refreshment for me.  How do you feel about rainy days?  Do you cherish them or do you just survive them?

TRAVEL TIP TODAY:  A bit random, I know, but something to consider.  If you have hair that’s difficult to manage in wet weather, try to find a style that’s easy to take care of before you leave home.  Talk to your stylist and see if they can provide some suggestions.  My hair is generally straight in the bone-dry desert, but I knew that the little bit of natural curl would quickly respond to the rain and humidity where we were going.  I asked my stylist to cut my hair short enough so that I could just let it go curly and not worry about it sticking out here and there in my normal style, which I did.  I also asked for a suggestion on a product that might help it stay curly and she recommend Redken Ringlet 07 Curl Perfector which worked like a charm to “encourage” my wavy hair to hold some curl.  This cut down on the amount of hair products and styling tools that I needed to pack. Plus it shaved precious minutes off the time that I needed to get ready each day and lowered the stress on keeping my hair in place.

Aberfeldy and Pitlochry, Scotland

Day 2 and 3 – Getting Settled

Friday afternoon when we landed we met the kids and picked up our rental car from the airport.  Our son, Kevin had already been in Scotland for a couple days and had a rental car too.  We decided that we’d pay for an additional driver for each car so that each of the 3 couples would have the freedom to go somewhere on their own if they wanted to.  It turned out to be helpful on a few occasions and the fact that a car that seated 6 people (plus luggage) would have had to be quite a bit bigger, we were glad that we didn’t get just one vehicle for all of us this time.

Andrew Practicing his driving

The experience of driving on the left side of the road with the driver on the right side of the car, was quite a culture shock for the guys, especially for Terry.  Add to that the fact that the rural roads in Scotland are VERY narrow, have virtually no shoulder, are often lined by stone walls and sometimes are no more than one lane, it makes for a stressful drive.  Fortunately our son-in-law, Andrew LOVED driving.  Here’s a pic of him practicing in a parking lot before he went on the road for the first time.  The next day he went out driving by himself and tried to find the narrowest roads he could drive on, just for the fun of it.  The week they were with us Andrew always drove and Kevin drove a lot of the time, even though I don’t think he enjoyed it as much as Andrew.  Then when we were in Ireland Terry came down with a cold and felt pretty crummy so Kevin drove almost the whole time there too.  [We were thankful that the guys were willing to do that.]

Dinner at Moness

Our home base was in the small town of Aberfeldy, right in the heart of Scotland.  The 6 of us were staying at the Moness Resort in a 2 bedroom time-share (with a sofa-bed in the living room).  We had a functioning kitchen which saves on time and food costs when you can prepare a few of your meals at home instead of eating out all the time.

On Saturday we all slept in a bit to try to catch up on sleep after our long travel days.  We envisioned a relatively low-key day since we knew we needed to acclimate to the new time zone before the schedule got too busy.    The plan for the day was to drive about 15 miles to do a bit of exploring in the town of Pitlochry.  The young guys wanted to check out some of the whisky distilleries there and the rest of us just wanted to start discovering Scotland.   When we got there we went to the Information Center on the main street and asked for information about how to find the distilleries.  After we started walking Amy wasn’t feeling too well, so she decided that she didn’t want to do a long walk.  I volunteered to stay in town with her since I didn’t have a huge interest in whisky and we sent the other four off on their adventure.

[Note:  Whisky is spelled without an “e” before the “y” in Scotland, but with an “e” in Ireland – and in the U.S. since my spell check keeps highlighting it as a misspelled word.]

Here’s a photo (above) that Chelsea took on their hike (and I hear it was quite a hike) to the Edradour Distillery.  This happens to be the smallest distillery in Scotland.  You can read more about their story here.  Since I wasn’t with them I don’t feel qualified to write about it, but I’m hoping that Terry (or someone) will give us their account of the hike and the tour that they went on.

While they were exploring the world of whisky, Amy and I visited Victoria’s for a delicious cup of tea on their outdoor patio (note the Rick Steve’s Scotland Tour Guide on the table).  Afterward Amy decided to go and nap in the car and I spent some time exploring the shops.

Here are a few of the sights.

Germans in Kilts

I thought these guys in kilts looked authentic until I heard them speaking German.  Not sure if they were trying to blend in (which they didn’t) or if they were there for some other reason.

IT’S ALL ABOUT THE FOOD:  I visited a few other stores, but nothing really jumped out at me that I HAD to have.  Then I spotted The Scottish Deli and their sign in the window that read “Scotland Deli of the Year 2011”.   Despite Scotland’s reputation for having relatively bland, boring food, I had to see what this little place had to offer.  Inside the cozy shop that could only accommodate 2 employees and a few customers I found some wonderful surprises.  The huge blackboard behind the counter listed about 30 different sandwiches available.  There were unique treats like Smoked Local Duck with Chilli Jam or Dunked Local Smoked Salmon with Star Anis & Pink Peppercorn Mustard.  It was such a creative variety that I was disappointed that it wasn’t meal time.  I vowed to bring the gang back to have a meal here or to order some of their picnic lunches to go.

The Scottish Deli - Pitlochry
The Scottish Deli - Pitlochry,Scotland

While I was there I wanted to at least pick up some cheese and crackers that we could all enjoy in the room.  I browsed the various artisan cheeses in the case and asked the woman behind the counter to wrap up a Scottish Gouda as well as an Isle of Mull Cheddar to compliment the crackers I found. Then it was time to pay.   The register was in a corner of the deli area with a counter about 2 feet wide and there was already an older woman being served by the young man behind the counter.   She was having some difficulty with her bag and needed to have her items transferred to a new one.  Simultaneously I was paying for the cheese and crackers at the same small counter.  Soon the older woman was finished and walked out of the store.  Since I was waiting for them to give me my cheese, I stood at the counter, finalized my payment and looked at the clerks.

They looked at me as if to say, “I think we’re finished.  You can leave now.”.  But I still didn’t have the cheese that they had wrapped up behind the counter.

I’m sure I looked puzzled as I stood there and finally asked, “…my cheese?”

They both looked at each other and blurted out, “Oh no!  Mrs. McDougall must have taken it!”  The young woman tore out from behind the counter, ran out the door and down the street shouting for Mrs. McDougall while the young man apologized profusely about the missing cheese.  A few minutes later the young woman returned, a little out of breath, with my purchase.  She apologized again, we all had a good laugh and all was right with the world.

Pitlochry ScotlandThis is one of their beautiful garden areas in the town center.  It’s a charming little town, well worth a day trip.

Before we left town we headed for their grocery store, which was probably equivalent in size to a Fresh-n-Easy Market in Arizona.  We picked up food for one dinner, breakfast each day and a few snacks and drinks for the week.  With the itinerary we had, we knew that we wouldn’t be home much at meal time and we were right.  We planned the food perfectly, with just enough to get us through the week.  Here are some of our treasures.  Bramble preserves (which could be blackberries or raspberries – delicious), Crumpets (these remind me of an English Muffin that’s not sliced-very tasty) and Ginger Crinkles (a crispy ginger cookie or “biscuit” as the Scottish call them).

Crumpets, Cookies and Bramble Preserves

Dinner at our Home Away from HomeThat night we enjoyed a home cooked meal of vegetable beef soup, salad, bread and wine.  It was delicious!

TRAVEL TIPS TODAY:

1. Rethink the automobile: We have spent a majority of our vacations in the western United States which are filled with wide open spaces and sprawling cities where a car is almost necessary.  In older areas on the east coast of the U.S. and “across the pond”, we’ve found that a personal vehicle isn’t always required because so many sights are within easy walking distance of each other.  Plus sometimes its more hassle than its worth…with parking woes and navigating congested streets…consider other dependable modes of mass transit and walking, of course.

2. Every meal doesn’t have to be at a restaurant:  Depending on your accommodations, it might be possible to buy a few items to keep in your room to save on eating every meal at a restaurant.  You can also think about picking up a sandwich as takeout from a deli and enjoy your meal in the park.  We usually plan to eat no more than 2 meals a day out.  Often a late breakfast and early dinner work out well.  Then, if needed, an evening snack in the room will hold you over until the next day.

How do you handle your meals when you travel?  Any tips for saving money without starving?

Our Scotland and Ireland Journey Begins

Day 1 and 2 – All travel, all the time.

We were up by 4am to catch a 7am Delta flight on Thursday from Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport to JFK, then on Aer Lingus to Dublin, Ireland.  The last leg took us on RyanAir from Dublin to Edinburgh, Scotland, landing on Friday around 4pm.  It was a long journey, but well worth it for the upcoming adventures.

Kevin’s girlfriend, Chelsea met us at the Phoenix airport.  I’m sure she was apprehensive since we hadn’t spent a lot of time together.  She and Kevin had only been dating for about a year and he was working overseas most of that time, so we only saw her a few times when Kevin was in town.  She was quite brave to commit to a 2 week vacation overseas with her boyfriend’s family with all of us staying in the same 3 room unit. [Thanks Chelsea for being willing to take the plunge.  It was wonderful to have you with us.]

Chelsea

I could go into detail about the hurdles that we encountered on our travel days, but think that would be pretty boring.  To sum up:

  • We were NOT impressed with JFK airport or their TSA agents.  It is one of the most unorganized and poorly run airports that we’ve ever been in. (Have you had the same experience there?)
  • Aer Lingus airplane seats are not as comfortable as Delta.  My legs kept falling asleep on the transatlantic flight.
  • RyanAir flights might be cheap, but their baggage restrictions are quite “restrictive” and expensive.
  • Good news – a 123 mph tail wind really helps with flight times.  We left JFK an hour late and still arrived in Dublin 45 minutes ahead of schedule.
IT’S ALL ABOUT THE FOOD: If you know anything about me, you know that part of the fun of any trip is enjoying the variety of foods that you can find.  And of course, part of enjoying the meal is taking pictures of it, so you’ll learn more about the foods of these countries during our journey.
This is part of our first meal outside the US on this trip, in the Dublin airport.
Dublin Airport Food
Dublin Airport Food
  • Hunky Dorys are a brand of potato chips (although they’re called crisps in Ireland – chips are French Fries) and we read every word on the bag for a description of “Buffalo” flavor, but couldn’t find anything. The web site says it’s inspired by the herd of Buffalo based near the factory in County Meath.  I would describe it as a kind of barbecue flavor.  They were pretty good.
  • The lemon water had too much of an artificial flavor to it, but I haven’t found one that I like in the states either.   Have you?
  •  The BLT was quite tasty, but we learned very quickly that the Irish like to put mayonnaise AND butter on any kind of sandwich, if you’ll let them.
  • Often a “salad” is some version of cole slaw (with more mayonnaise) and sometimes corn is added.  By the end of the trip we were really missing our fruits and veggies.  Both countries have very carb-heavy menus.
As we go on this adventure together, I’m planning to share one or two travel tips in each post.  I’d love to get your input and travel suggestions as well.
TRAVEL TIPS TODAY:  
1. Choose your reading material carefully:  This one’s from my hubby – I’m hoping he’ll write a post about it during this series.  History comes alive when you take along reading material that focuses on your destination.  Terry always brings along a book or two about our travel locations, because its a great way to fill in the blanks and enrich your experience with the history and culture of the area you’re exploring.
Learning about Scotland on the way there

2. Or instead of reading, do some writing:  I’ve found that I’m too excited about the trip to concentrate on in-depth reading, so I use my down time writing in my journal.  I try to write every day, even if its just as simple as listing short bullet points about what we did, where we went or reminders of stories I want to expound on later.  I have learned that if we have a jam-packed vacation it’s easy to forget about some of the best little gems of the trip if I don’t write something down.  When I have the time, I fill in more details throughout the week.  This trip I kept the journal in the car so I could add notes as things came to mind.  We’ll talk more about journaling along the way.  I’d love to hear how you record your vacation memories too.

Thanks for coming along for the ride.  I promise we’ll have some great adventures!

Happy Blogging 5th Anniversary!

Today is the 5th Anniversary of my little blog!

Wow!

Can you believe it?  I’ve been lovingly pouring my heart into this little corner of cyberspace for 5 years.  Sometimes sporadically and sometimes consistently, but always with an eye on sharing a little bit of myself and the beauty in God’s world around us.  I hope you’ve enjoyed the ride and will continue to come along.  I’m excited to say that I have subscribers in countries as far away as Spain, Korea and the UK and as close as just a few blocks away. Thank you all for joining me in this adventure called life.

I have lots of things in store for you in the coming year.  We’ll travel to distant lands and have adventures close to home as well.  We’ll be creative in decorating our homes, cooking in our kitchens, sewing with our machines, celebrating the holidays and oh SO much more…and I hope to launch a new travel-related blog and website, but I can’t share what that will be about yet.

As I’ve mentioned before, we’re heading out on vacation in the next few days and I haven’t had time to set up anything extra special for the anniversary celebration, but I hope to do something fun in a few weeks when we return.  Who knows, maybe I’ll find a treasure in Scotland or Ireland that I can use for a giveaway!  How would you like that?

For the moment, I’ll say so long.  I hope to do at least a few posts while we’re on the road, but we’ll see how much time, energy and internet access allows.    Please know that I’ll be thinking of you often and of what tidbits I can share when the opportunity arises.

What would you like for me to find out about Scotland or Ireland?  Is there something you’d like to see or learn about?

Let me know and I’ll do my best to uncover the mystery for you.

See you soon!

Fort Myers, Florida (Part 1)!

For those of you who don’t already know, I’m in Fort Myers with my mom and my sister, Diane on a short vacation to visit my mom’s sister, Alice.  Unfortunately, it’s after midnight here and we have a busy day planned tomorrow (and most every day that we’re here), so this has to be short and sweet.

I just couldn’t wait to post a couple of pictures of some of the things that we saw tonight when we went downtown to their First Friday Art Walk.  Yes, they have one too.  We’ll talk more about that later.

Right now you can admire this awesome art installation with words shining all over the sidewalk, building, pedestrians and …

…even on the trees!

I just LOVE it!  Alice didn’t really know the story behind the choice of the various words.  Some of them are definitely real words, but others look to be either made up or another language.  I haven’t had time to research it.  Let me know if you know anything about it.

Anyway, this is at the Sidney and Berne Davis Art Center in downtown Fort Myers.

Here’s a close up of the words below as well.

Later we went into this gallery that had some gorgeous textiles!

I found this beautiful hand-dyed silk green scarf for only $15!  What a fun souvenir to bring home as a reminder of the wonderful time that we’ve already had…and it’s only the first day here!

We also enjoyed some amazing music tonight, but that will have to be a post for another time.  In the meantime, do any of you know what a theremin is?  I can give you a hint.  It’s a musical instrument and we got to hear one tonight!  More on that to come so stay tuned…

Day 8 – Rocky Mountain National Park

On Friday we drove about an hour and a half to the western entrance of Rocky Mountain National Park, near Grand Lake.

If you’ve never been there, it’s a gorgeous huge (415 square mile) park with Trail Ridge road slicing thru it’s mid-section. Trail Ridge is the highest continuous paved road in the U.S. climbing to over 12,000 feet in elevation. That’s above the tree line, which could explain why we saw snow in August.
While at the park we were so excited to see lots of wildlife! A herd of elk, a couple of deer, a coyote, and even an adorable chipmunk.
After we stopped for a quick lunch in Estes Park,
we took a drive to one of our favorite spots – Bear Lake. We followed the path around the lake and stopped for a few photo ops. (I’m not sure what was going on with my hair. I don’t remember it being windy. Oh well.)

That noisy little Chickaree (squirrel) wasn’t too happy that we were in his space and thought he might be able to chase us away. It was so cute.

Bear Lake is such a gorgeous peaceful place. We make a point to go there every time we visit the park.

Afterward we discovered a sweet lake nearby called Sprague Lake. We also came upon a family of (what I think was) Mallard ducks. Check out all the ducklings!

The amazing thing about this park is that there is always something new to explore. It’s so immense that you could spend weeks there exploring and enjoying God’s awesome creation.