My 2013 trip to Europe certainly drained my bank account, and I didn’t think I would be doing another big trip for another couple years. In 2013, when I visited my friends Jack and Amy in Liverpool, they had just gotten engaged, and they assured me they were planning a 2015 wedding, and that I had time to save before coming back to the UK. Cut to a few months later, when Amy emails me to say they set a date… September 5, 2014 :) Jack and I have been friends for 12 years, keeping our friendship up over an ocean of distance, and I absolutely adore Amy, so there was just really no way I was going to miss this wedding. I also am not the type to spend a ton of money on airfare to go somewhere far away for a quick weekend… so I got serious and started planning a trip to Scotland ahead of the wedding, to make the most of my time away! I hadn’t been able to visit Scotland in 2013, so I was excited to see a new country and have some new experiences. It actually worked out so fantastically; I was able to fly into Edinburgh, rent a car for a few days to tour the Highlands and the Isle of Skye, drive to Glasgow and stay free with a friend of a friend, and then hitch a ride from Scotland to Liverpool with the godmother of the bride for the wedding. The planning really came together nicely and my only regret is being stupid enough to travel without a backup credit card. SERIOUSLY, never do this! It is the most idiotic thing you can do while traveling, because really, as much as you may have think you squared away everything with your bank, there is ALWAYS an issue. Always.
Anyways, Scotland was fantastic, and wanting to visit London again as well, I booked a flight to Edinburgh that had a ten hour layover in London. I have to say, I was so freakin proud of myself. Last year, when I went to London, Kevin was flying in from Shannon and I would be in London for a few hours on my own before meeting up with him. I was terrified!! I had never been to such a big European city on my own before. When I got there, I remember hiding out in our hotel room for a few hours on my own. I remember I did eventually meet my friend Adam for a drink, but I was so scared of taking the tube alone!
This time, I was on it. I got to Heathrow, found the closest bag drop to my terminal, paid to store my carry on for the day, and jumped on the train into the city. I still had the London tube map on my phone, so once I got into the city everything was pretty much easy breezy. My big adventure was finding Neals Yard, and I was so happy that I did. I had a great lunch in Covent Garden, and for once it wasn’t raining outside so I really just enjoyed walking around London with the sun on my face.
A few snaps from lovely, lovely London…
Had seen this place somewhere (probably Pinterest) and had always wanted to visit! I didn't catch it on my last trip to London, so this trip was all about searching out colorful Neals Yard...
As I said, it was a quick jaunt in London. After my ten hour layover, I boarded my flight to Edinburgh. By the time I took the train from the airport to my B&B, and did about a mile walk with my bags... I was bloody exhausted! I had been traveling for about 36 hours, and was so relieved to find that my B&B was adorable and cozy, and my hosts were welcoming and gracious. As I set down my bags, Sharon asked me if I would like a "wee dram" before bed... sure, why not? A wee dram was a glass of whiskey, and it knocked me right out. I slept in a little bit the next day, and then made the mistake of ordering the salmon for breakfast at the B&B. Seriously, when will I remember the differences from Europe and the US? It was of course the cold, smoky type salmon that no one wants to eat at 9:00 a.m. lol... but I digress...
So let me just start out by saying Edinburgh is one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen. It might rival London as the #1 city I have visited. Doesn't have the underground system that London has, but this is certainly a great and easy city to navigate by foot. The Royal Mile was a fabulous walk, and I loved Rose Street as well. Lots of character and pretty shop and bar fronts, with flag bunting overhead. I didn't like Princes Street very much... it was all shopping and it reminded me a lot of the city centre of Cork, which was so commercial. But the architecture, the people, the monuments and museums and castle and pubs... I loved this city!!!
The Scott Monument and the Eye...
The Fringe Festival, which is a huge event for the city, was just wrapping up, and so I caught a couple street performers on the last day of it...
Edinburgh Castle! So gorgeous and right at the start of the Royal Mile... this place is so huge, you could spend a whole day just exploring its grounds...
Views of the city from the castle...
The Royal Mile, in the "Old Town" of Edinburgh, starts at Edinburgh Castle and ends at Palace of Hollyroodhouse, with a little more than a mile in between the two, hence the Royal Mile. Get it? The architecture was stunning all along the mile, but I liked the bottom towards Hollyroodhouse much better... it was prettier, almost like you were heading into the country, and there were less tourists and less cheesy shops. I went to a great pub at the bottom of the mile called the Kirklin Bar, which was very traditional and old school, with gas lamps and dripping candles everywhere. I actually went there on a date.... I managed to nab a date within a day or two of being in Edinburgh! It didn't quite work out... I mean I ended up finding him so annoying that I was literally running away from him towards the end of the date, but still. It was nice to have someone to spend a couple hours with in this awesome city. He took me to another great bar called the Oz Bar, which was sort of an Australian backpacker bar, but really fun all around.
Other cute pubs around Edinburgh...
The Grassmarket Square area...
Cemetery where Greyfriars Bobby is buried...
The Writers Museum was sort of odd. I wasn't really sure how to tour it; there was no one greeting me and no brochure or audio tape or anything. It felt like a library/ gift shop, and one woman who I finally saw working was eyeing me like a hawk. It made me feel weird, so I ended up leaving. But the building courtyard outside is pretty and peaceful.
The Scotch Whiskey Experience was one of the coolest tours ever! You take part of the tour on moving whiskey barrels, like a ride through a haunted house at a carnival, and then you get out and get to do a tasting after you learn about the different regions in Scotland that produce whiskey. I tried the vanilla-y (excellent description, I know) one from the Highlands... they give you a scratch and sniff card, and that one smelled the most appealing to me! They also had the most whiskey bottles I had ever seen... like my whiskey room selfie? :)
Taking my turn on the eye... I rode it with a 7 year old named Hamlet whose father was afraid of heights... hilarious! I didn't realize until I was on the wheel that you can climb up into the Scott Monument. I wish I had stayed ignorant about that haha...
Jenners Department Store, which is right across from the Eye and the Scott Monument...
So yeah, my biggest regret from Edinburgh... I paid the 4 pounds and climbed up the Scott Monument... if you have ANY problem with heights at all, DO NOT do this! Seriously, I DON'T have a problem with heights, and I basically felt like I was going to die. This was absolute madness. I thought climbing Blarney Castle was hard... that was NOTHING compared to this. I had to actively tell myself not to panic and to feel my feet on the ground. You just go up and up and up in the tiniest staircases ever created, and it's hard not to panic or get vertigo. The views are great but if I had the choice again, I would have enjoyed this monument from the ground :)
The architecture in Edinburgh! So incredible.
Calton Hill was one place that I kept hearing I had to watch the sunset from. Everyone was right... this place was glorious. This first photo is part of the walk up...
See? I mean my pictures do not even do it justice. I will say there are lots of people that go up to Calton Hill for this purpose, and it was pretty hard getting just the right angle. But it was beautiful and serene nonetheless... and it was also so frustrating because it made me realize that I am horrible at landscape photography and photographing structures that are completely backlit!
I loved Calton Hill so much I went back the next morning! Unfortunately there wasn't much of a sunrise and the light was very dull and flat, but it was still a very peaceful morning with incredible views.
The Balmoral Hotel is certainly one of the most recognizable landmarks in Edinburgh...
Other things I'd recommend in Edinburgh:
Hop on/ hop off bus: I basically recommend the hop on/ hop off bus anywhere you go in Europe that has it. You really cannot go wrong, and it gives you such freedom to see the city at your own pace. One day I was in Edinburgh it was just a great weather day, and so after seeing the Writer's Museum, I jumped on the hop on/ hop off bus for a tour around the city. I rode from near the castle, back to the castle because I had forgotten to go to a big shop there that I wanted to check out (sort of like the Blarney Woolen Mills of Edinburgh), then jumped on a different "vintage bus" for another loop around, where I got off at The Scott Monument and climbed off. After I climbed the Scott Monument, I was able to grab another hop on/ hop off bus over to Leith, because my friend Spring had recommended a great restaurant there that I needed to check out. Even the next day, when I wasn't able to leave Edinburgh right away as planned, I was able to use my hop on/ hop off pass to kill some time, because your hop on/ hop off pass is good for 24 hours (in most places).
The Granary, Leith: As I said, my friend Spring recommended this restaurant to me, and by the time I got there I was exhausted! I had been sightseeing all day, and I accidentally missed the stop closest to the Granary, so I had to walk a couple miles with my camera bag on. However, as soon as I arrived here? Heaven. I loved this place. So relaxing, good music playing quietly (so you can actually hear yourself think/ talk), big comfy couches, big windows looking out on the street and the canal. Not to mention my waiter was ridiculously good looking and ridiculously nice. I had a three course meal here, and still didn't want to leave. I think I finished half the book I brought on my trip with me at this place. Very relaxing and would highly recommend, especially for solo travelers.
Ramsay's B&B: I absolutely adored my B&B in Edinburgh! It was pretty much in the center of the city, although on the opposite side of the Royal Mile... regardless, it was so easy to walk to and from everything at this B&B. It was so well maintained and Sharon and Norry were the best hosts. You could tell they took absolute pride in their establishment, and the breakfasts were superb. Yes, even the cold smokey salmon that I ordered by mistake :)
Things you can miss:
City of the Dead underground tour: I do feel bad saying this, because it was a friend that recommended this to me, and Edinburgh does seem like the perfect city for something like this. That being said... UGH! This was terrible. Maybe I just had a really bad guide or something, but this whole tour seems to rely on cheap thrills and not actual stories. I think most of the tales we actually heard were of strange things happening during tours in recent years... you go in expecting to hear the creepy history of the city and how many people had to live underground, and scary stories from that time period. I really hated this tour... especially at the end when another tour guide jumped out in a black cape to give the teenagers on the tour a scream. Very cheesy and very orchestrated... save your money.
On my last morning in Edinburgh, I was so excited to be leaving the city and heading to the Highlands for the next few days. I ate an early breakfast in the B&B, and then headed over to Enterprise rental car, which was right near my B&B, to pick up my car. This is when the nightmare started. Basically, long story short, the night before I had tried to get money out of the ATM to pay for the rental car. The ATM would not dispense me enough cash. So I got what I could and went to a different ATM to get more. It wouldn't dispense me any more cash. At which point I realized there must be a daily limit, and I must have hit it already. I figured no harm no foul, there was nothing else I needed to buy that night... so I went back to my B&B and chilled out. What I didn't realize, because I did not have my phone set up for international calling, is that my bank was trying to call me. The multiple ATM use triggered security measures, and when they couldn't reach me, they figured my card had been stolen and they turned it off.
Cut to me at 8 am, at the rental car place, trying to get my car. And of course, my card not working. And me not having enough cash, because the ATM wouldn't give me any more the night before. And me, panicking, with a full day of plans and sight-seeing ahead of me, and no way to pay for my car. I had to walk back to the B&B, where I was able to hang out until 10:00 a.m... but I basically couldn't stay longer than that because they had their daily cleaning crew coming in and my room was being used for new guests that night. Why didn't you just call the bank, you ask? Well because Scotland is 5 hours ahead of us, and my bank doesn't open until 9:00 a.m. Which means, friends, that I couldn't even call the bank to get this worked out until 2:00 p.m. Scotland time. To say I was losing my mind was an understatement. I AM A PLANNER!!! Through and through. I have plans. I can't just relax. It's a fault sometimes... but here I was, wanting to get out of the city and to explore more and see more of this amazing country I was in, and I was stuck with absolutely NO MONEY in Edinburgh! So basically, my morning went: hang out at B&B until 10:00 a.m., leave bags at B&B and go wander the city penniless, remember I can use my hop on/ hop off tour ticket until noon, do that until the last possible minute, get out at Princes Street gardens, and basically lay on my back looking at the sky for 2 hours, go back to B&B and use their phone to scream at my bank, walk down to car rental place again, find out I have to have my passport with me to pick up my car, walk back to the B&B, get my passport, walk back A THIRD TIME to the rental car place, finally get my car, swing by the B&B and pick up my bags, and get on the road by about 2:30. I'm not kidding, that was my morning. Good parts and bad parts. Mostly bad.
Anyways, because of the severe dent in my available daytime touring hours, I wasn't able to be as lackadaisical about getting to the Isle of Skye as I wanted to be. One cute town I did find myself passing through was Aberdour... I was actually trying to get somewhere much further past it, but while I was there the sky opened up and I figured if it was going to rain this terribly the whole way to the Isle of Skye, I better get moving towards that direction right away...
I made it to the Highlands! Much later in the day than I expected but the drive through the Highlands was beautiful.
And onto the Isle of Skye... these were all taken in the subsequent days... by the time I got onto Skye my first night there, it was almost 11:00 p.m. and pitch dark and I was actually terrified that my B&B wasn't going to let me in! I'm telling you, the driving situation and the phone situation left me a lot more stressed out than I ever was in Ireland. If only I had not lost that Ireland/ UK GPS chip when I got home, and if only I had had an unlocked phone to use in Scotland. Both would have saved me so much trouble.
Isle of Skye is pretty, no? :)
Obsessed with Kilt Rock!
I got to be in Scotland at a very interesting time. They were about to vote on their independence from the UK, and everywhere you went you would see "yes" or "no" signs. Lots more yeses than nos, but I was not surprised when they did not break free. It seemed like the nos took a lot of flack for their opinion, so I'm sure a lot of them kept it quiet and opted out of putting up signs!
The capital of the Isle of Skye is a lovely little town called Portree...
I loved the colors... and the alleyway with flower pots going up the stairs! That totally begged me to stop and take a photo.
One big expenditure that I booked for the Isle of Skye was a mentoring lesson with a landscape photographer there. His name was Tim Wilcock and he was absolutely fabulous. I'm not sure how I found him; I think on Skye's webpage of tourist attractions, him and a few other photographers were listed as people you could do photo hikes or mentoring sessions with. Regardless, he had me meet him at Neist Point Lighthouse in Glendale for our session at sunset. It actually worked out perfectly, because Neist Point was right near a restaurant a friend of mine had recommended, so I made reservations for after our session. More on this later...
I arrived a few minutes early... the first couple shots were the view from the parking lot!
Trying different angles and learning about landscape photography...
As you'll see from these next few photos, it was one of those nights where the sky changed a thousand times... and I learned so much playing around with gradient filters!
The next day, I had booked a Misty Isle boat tour from a little village called Elgol, and driving there that morning I remember basically wanting to die again. DRIVING IN SCOTLAND WAS SO HARD!!! Especially on the Isle of Skye. There was no signage! You'd go for miles upon miles, and you'd think "There's absolutely no way I'm still on the right track, I'm definitely lost..." And you'd have to pull over and wait for another human to pass (which could sometimes be a half hour stretch), and you'd be shocked to find out you WERE on the right track. I think the other thing is that everyone here drives so fast. They tell you "Oh it's just a half hour drive from your B&B..."... yeah, that's cause they drive like maniacs! If you're a normal driver, multiply the time locals give you by 3 :)
Our tour guides pointed out a seal colony as we approached the Cuillin Hills. Three times visiting the seal colony on Inishmore in Ireland and never saw any... was so excited to see these guys!
Exploring Loch Coruisk...
Later that day, I headed to the Fairy Pools... talk about a great walk! This was one of my favorite things in Skye, and my only regret is not biting the bullet, stripping down and jumping in the water. I saw a few people cliff jumping at different points on the way up, but I was too chicken :) I think I would have been braver if I had someone with me egging me on!
Other don't misses on Skye:
The Blue Shed Cafe: I really liked this place. I can't really describe why. There's nothing super spectacular about it... the food was just toasties, scones... typical cafe food. But it was in the perfect spot at the perfect moment, on my way back from Elgol, and I really liked the woman running it. Plus, you can't beat the view. So I'd say it's a good stop-off for a light lunch, if you're coming to and from the boat tours.
Whitewave kayaking: YES. A million times yes to this. I am such a huge fan of kayaking, and in Ireland I did my first ocean kayak. I decided it wasn't as scary as I thought it was going to be, and so when I planned my trip to Skye I looked up kayaking and found Whitewave. Again, the morning of kayaking, there was a complete panic about getting there on time... I know this is like the 10th time I'm mentioning it, but driving on Skye was ridiculous! Anyways, I somehow made it on time to Whitewave, where another nice German couple was waiting for me and we all went out with our English kayaking guide Brin for a day on the water. We had an absolutely beautiful morning with sunny, blue skies, and we kayaked out of Uig Harbor. This was one of my favorite activities in Scotland, and I am determined to go back someday and do a weeklong kayaking trip out of Plockton. I'm also determined to kayak everywhere I visit that has kayaking. It is absolutely one of my favorite things to do.
Three Chimneys: This is the restaurant near Neist Point Lighthouse that my friend Stephen had recommended to me. I wanted to have one fancy, expensive meal on Skye... and boy did I get my wish! I cannot even tell you... I knew this place was going to be on the pricier side, but I was absolutely shell shocked when I arrived. They welcomed me into a beautiful, candlelit restaurant where all the waiters and maitre'ds (sp?) were wearing full tuxes, and they sat me at a nice table looking out onto the room. My only saving grace at this point was that my reservation was for later in the evening, around 9:00, so it wasn't as crowded as it probably normally is. This was a saving grace because this is the most romantic restaurant I have ever been to in my life... and I was there with my iPad lol. But even my iPad was ruining the ambiance, what with the bright screen and all, and so I put it away. Anyways, the food was great here, but for a set price menu of either 60 pounds or 90 pounds ($90 or $140) per person, it better be! So the reason I am recommending this restaurant is because if you're part of a couple visiting Skye and want a fancy, romantic meal out, this is definitely the place. HOWEVER, if you are a solo traveler like myself, I would absolutely stay away from this place. If you want AMAZING food at a great price with a great atmosphere for single travelers, read on...
Edinbane Inn: I had heard that the Edinbane Inn was the place to go for great live trad sessions on the Isle of Skye on Sunday nights. My last night in Skye was a Sunday, so after a great day of kayaking and shopping in Portree, I headed to Edinbane to catch some trad music. This place, BY FAR, served me my best meal in Scotland. Maybe the best meal of my life. I am not kidding. The food here was to die for. I had salmon with new potatoes and beet salsa, and it was the most delicious thing I had ever tasted. I don't think I am exaggerating. Everything else that went by me looked scrumptious too. I ended up being invited to join the table of a family visiting from England, and they were great fun as we watched the trad session together. The session was also one of the best I had ever seen. They started with four musicians and people kept coming in with instruments... by the end there was a total of 8 or 9 musicians! It was a lively session and between that and the great food, it was definitely a perfect last night on the island.
On my last morning on Skye, I got up pretty early. I had lost some time with the rental car fiasco a few days earlier and I was behind on a few things I had really wanted to see on my way to Skye. One was the Eileen Donan Castle, which is beautifully lit up at night, but which I couldn't actually visit because it was closed by the time I arrived on Skye my first night. I went to the castle first thing in the morning...
And then spent the day exploring Loch Ness (pictured below)! I didn't take many pictures there, and I didn't see Nessie (#disappointed) but it was gorgeous and I stuck my feet in and took the obligatory "Feet in Loch Ness" photo.
I also stopped at Loch Lomonde, which was gorgeous, and The Green Welly Stop, which was the perfect place to steal wifi before leaving the Highlands and getting to the big city :)
I'm not sure what I was expecting from Glasgow, but I didn't think I would like it as much as I did. I guess I was expecting it to be much more modern and industrial... and it was, in some parts, but it still had the beautiful, old Europe architecture that made me fall in love with Edinburgh. Glasgow was a really beautiful city! If only that tricky Scottish weather had been a little better :)
My friend Stephen is from Glasgow, and so he connected me with a friend of his who didn't mind me crashing in his flat for a few days of my journey. He was a very gracious host (hi Gregor!) and took a day or so off of work to show me around his city.
Other don't misses in Glasgow:
Maggie Mays: On my first night in Glasgow, Gregor took me to Maggie Mays to have dinner with Martin and Becky, two of Stephen and Hilary's friends who I had met on their visit to the states a few months prior. I really liked this place and the food was awesome.
Scotia Bar: After dinner at Maggie Mays, Gregor took me to Scotia Bar, the oldest pub in Glasgow, where I enjoyed my first Tennents beer. The Scotia was really cool, and you can see the history there the moment you walk in. Low ceilings, old wood beams, little nooks and crannies that tables and benches now fill up, where you can fill in and have quiet conversations. There was a guy with a guitar, though I think he was just a patron and not a paid performer, and he hummed a few tunes, which added to the atmosphere. I would definitely recommend this spot if you are ever visiting Glasgow.
Hop on hop off bus around Glasgow: See! I told you don't miss it in any European city that has it :) It was absolutely bloody freezing the day Gregor and I took it, but eventually we got to move inside and it was much more enjoyable. A great way to see the sites.
A traditional Scottish chippy run: This is a must. An absolute must. Find a good chippy in Glasgow, and go to it. Now. Because before I visited Glasgow, I didn't know that friend pizza was a thing. You read that righT. FRIED PIZZA. But not only is it a thing... it is one of the BEST THINGS. Dear lord, I can't even describe it. On my last full day in Scotland, Gregor and I took a lunch break and went to his local chippy, and ordered all the traditional Scottish fare: fried pizza, fried haggis, chips with vinegar and Irn Bru. HOLY CHRIST. I am pretty sure I raised my cholesterol level about 300 points just in this one meal, but it was worth it. They also call Fried Pizza "Pizza Crunch", so if you ever see that on the menu, just order it. FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, ORDER IT. It is heaven.
On my last day in Scotland, I took the train from Glasgow to Auchinleck, to meet the godmother of the bride. Amy had been kind enough to link me up with her aunt Jan, and she and her husband Pat welcomed me to their home for my last night in Scotland. More than that, they took me to a fabulous dinner with the below photo as our view. They were the sweetest! And it was so great to have people to travel to Liverpool with. It was actually a huge relief, because the next day, I once again had debit card issues. I really couldn't believe it. And had I not been with them, it might have been a bigger problem. But we made it to Liverpool and all was right with the world!
I didn't really take many photos in Liverpool this time, and so I am not including any in this post. I had taken a whole bunch in 2013 (see previous London/ Liverpool post) and while I was visiting this time, I really wanted to just enjoy seeing Jack and Amy and their families (obsessed with Sue and Kate, not going to lie) and have fun at the wedding. It was great because there was another girl Jack had been friends with at Bridgewater State over from the US for the wedding, and so I had a sightseeing buddy. My last few nights were spent with Tim and Kate, Amy's parents, and on my last day Kate used her pull as a National Trust member to get us on a Beatles Tour inside the homes of John Lennon and Paul McCartney! It was super cool, and we finished the day with an archery lesson for myself. So fun.
The following day Kate and Tim drove Amy, Jack and I to the Manchester Airport. They were heading to Asia on their honeymoon, and after two weeks of traveling I was happy to be heading home to Vermont. We got airport beers and caught up a bit, which was great because I felt like the wedding and days after were just a whirlwind and I did not get to see them as much as I had hoped. After a dramatic and tearful goodbye (just kidding), we parted ways and I was back to the states.
So there it is, friends! My trip to Scotland, in a nutshell. Beautiful place that I would love to visit again. Only took me 6 months to blog about it... I think I'm improving as I was averaging about a year on Ireland posts ;-) I hope you all enjoyed the photos... leave me some love in the comments below if you've ever been to Scotland and have a favorite area!
You can also purchase images from my Scotland trip at the following link. Feel free to check it out if you want some Scotland up on your wall at home!