Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Into the Highlands

This day was everything I wanted from a trip to Scotland.  We were back with Rabbie's Tours, with the same guide, Gordon.  Our trip this time went up the west coast of Loch Lomond, to Inverary, a castle whose name started with K, into Oban, then north to Glencoe, across Rannoch Moor, and then back down around Loch Lomond and down to Glasgow.  There were other stops at some small villages and another castle.

The weather was stunning.  Sun and a few fluffy clouds.  Too hot for my preference, but most places had a breeze.

Compared to our previous stop at Loch Lomond, this one was much better.  A real beach with a real view.  We could clearly see Ben Lomond, and I'm told it doesn't always decide to put in an appearance.  The views were beautiful all the way north.  I am fully willing to agree it is the most beautiful loch in Scotland.

In Inverary, we took a brief stop to see the outside of Inverary Castle, the seat of Clan Campbell.  A very pretty castle indeed.

Just next door is the Georgian town of Inverary, all white-washed and dark-timbered. It's right on a loch and just very picturesque, while at the same time still feeling very alive and lived-in.  I mentioned to the boys when we were there that it was just my speed.

From there we went on to the castle that starts with K.  I'll have to ask Tom to remind me if it's name.  The castle is a ruin.  It used to be the Campbell clan seat before that was moved to Inverary Castle.  It used to be in the middle of a lake, but the waters have receded, so you can walk out to it.  It took us about twelve minutes.

Quinn and I enjoyed poking around in the nooks and crannies and many photographs were taken.  Tom enjoyed it as well, and took several of the photos.  I believe we also encountered our first midges.

Next it was on to Oban, a decently sized fishing village on the coast, which is also where most of the ferries leave for the islands.  We had delicious seafood in a restaurant overlooking the bay.  (Fun fact--Oban translates to Little Bay, so Oban Bay is Little Bay Bay.)

Then we were on to Glencoe.  I had not done my research, so I expected Glencoe was another village.  Incorrect.  Glencoe is the most stunning Glen in the Highlands.  Dramatic hills, beautifully green.  Little waterfalls cascading down.  The fresh, crisp wind, and the ghosts of history.  It is all there in Glencoe.

We parked on the side of the road and with most of the other tour members I clambered up the hillside for a better view.  Here I found myself with my arms spread wide, face to the sky, and the kiss of the wind all around me.  Easily the highlight of the journey, though the next stop gave it a run for its money.

Both boys stayed in the tour bus.  They don't like heights, and everything is certainly precipitous.

Up, then, and out into Rannoch Moor.  This is another place I've long wanted to see.  Miles of moor, much of it peat, scattered with boulders and surrounded by hills.

We made another roadside stop here.  Quinn joined me this time.  We hiked up a small rise that looked out over a small lake with a few trees.  The ground was spongy underfoot.  A strange sensation.  Don't stray from marked paths on Rannoch Moor.  You can sink in places.

There was much more, but I am too tired to do it justice.  All I know is this one day makes the whole journey worthwhile.

Monday, June 19, 2017

The Bonny, Bonny Banks of Loch Lomond

Today was the first of three small group tours with Rabbie's Tours.  We arrived at the pickup point a full hour early, which we will hopefully avoid doing next time.

Our first stop was Stirling Castle, which was built by James the Fifth.  It stands on a volcanic plug over a broad lowland, with the William Wallace monument on a nearby hill.

Here I discovered that Quinn and I share an interest in where random stairs lead and finding stealthy hidey-holes.  Also, every single one of us managed to hit our heads on something.  I was actually ducking when I did it.  I just didn't duck far enough.

The weather has been unusually hot, and I was grateful for the breeze that blew over the hill.  The buildings are impressive as is the artwork inside.  Bright, colorful, and lots of carved wooden faces on the ceiling.

After gathering the rest of the crew, we headed into the Trossachs and Loch Lomond national park.  Lots of nature and lots of twisty roads.  Hooray for Bonine.

We stopped for lunch in a village whose name I can't remember, but it had good food and a wool center where we finally found Quinn a hat.  (He forgot to pack his sunglasses.)

On then to Loch Lomond, the largest lake in Scotland by surface area.  I've long wanted to see Loch Lomond, having grown up with the song referenced in the title of this post.  Tom and I didn't see a lot, though I did touch the water.  Quinn took an optional hike up to a higher vantage point while Tom had some "luxury ice cream."

Our last stop for the day was a whiskey distillery.  Both boys declined to take the tour, but I did it.  This included a tasting of the whiskey, to which, may I just say, "How?  Why?"  It was super strong, even when I cut it with water.

The tour itself was very hot and super stinky.  Basically a sauna that smelled like feet.  Still, it was interesting to learn about the process.

Back to the hotel finally, with take-out sandwiches for dinner, we took the opportunity to cool off before bed, and heading out for another tour tomorrow.

I would be happy if the fabled Scottish weather would kick in.  This heat is blech.

Until tomorrow!

Sunday, June 18, 2017

From Evensong to VI-Poo, with some transportation for spice

The boys didn't get a lot of sleep last night.  Quinn read in the lobby for an hour at 3:00 AM.  In the end, though, we all felt much better today.  Tom ordered kippers for part of his breakfast, so Quinn and I both tried our first bites of it.  Surprisingly not bad!

Our plan was to start the day with the City Tours Sightseeing bus, but after three buses didn't show as scheduled, we gave up and walked down to the Riverside Museum, where we discovered why the buses weren't running.  A men's 10k race.

The museum has all varieties of transportation.  Trams, trains, motorcycles, cars, bicycles, tricycles, skateboards, boats, caravans. If you can name it, they probably have it, including the second oldest Rolls Royce in the world.

There were lots of entertaining and educational interpretive videos, some things you could climb on, and enough variety to make the museum consistently engaging.  I enjoyed learning about the Indians and Pakistanis who had come to Glasgow to work on the trams.

After finishing up the museum, we went out and visited the tall ship moored behind it.  Then we discovered the tour buses were finally running.  I'd decided I wanted to attend the Evensong service at Glasgow Cathedral, but the boys didn't want to join me, so I popped off the bus on my own.

I was a bit early, so I visited St. Mungo's Museum of Religious Life and Art.  It was small, but enjoyable.

I also discovered the Glasgow Necropolis, which was quite a surprise, because I'd never heard of it before.  On a hill overlooking the cathedral, it covered with grand and beautiful graves and memorials.

The Evensong service was lovely.  I'm not familiar with the Church of Scotland, but the service very much reminded me of the Anglican service at Canterbury Cathedral.

The choir members wore red robes with red tartan stoles or ties.  They were ten voices strong, and I'd bet they are students from the local colleges.  Very skilled and very young.

There's something impressive about choral music and organs in a cathedral.  Moving and powerful.  I'm glad I went.

After catching the rest of the tour on the bus (with live guide instead of recorded, this time!) I made my way back to the hotel, where the boys were waiting.  We hit the local Sainsbury for food and ate it on a park bench near the hotel.  The same park bench I'd sat on to read yesterday while the boys napped.

Scotland has some very . . . interesting . . . ideas in its commercials.  All three of us were flabbergasted by the VI-Poo commercial, where a young cinema starlet speaks in colorful terms about having to make stinky "number two's" and the embarrassment that follows.  But wait!  Just spray the toilet with VI-Poo and it will prevent unsightly odors, thus making you more likely to get a job?  Or something like that.

Toto, we are not in Kansas anymore.

Heading out of the city tomorrow.  Looking forward to it!

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Yay, jet lag!

Our flights went surprisingly well.  No major turbulence and an easy transfer in Reykjavik, despite only fifty minutes between touchdown and take-off.  The IcelandAir folks run a smooth operation.

Quinn was pretty excited to see some of the differences between home and Scotland.  The first--unexpected--difference was the potent humidity.

A lovely gentleman taxi driver brought us to our hotel, with some tight city driving.  We dropped our bags in the lobby and headed off for the Kelvin grove for lunch and attempting to stay awake.

Lunch--success!  Tom had rack of lamb, Quinn had fish & chips, and I went boring with a burger.

The highlight of the Kelvin grove was the pipe organ concert that was going on.  Nice music, beautiful location.

Unfortunately, the heat and the jet lag won, and we all retired to our now-available room.  I tried to get Quinn to stay awake longer, but he slept for about four hours, while Tom & I had about an hour and a half.  I found a nice little park, sat on a bench, and read.

Dinner was Chinese food from a mostly take-away place.  Pretty tasty!

Hoping that we'll finally manage to fight the jet lag enough to make exploring the city a less daunting proposition.

Is it bedtime?  I think it's bedtime.

Until tomorrow!

Friday, June 16, 2017

Scotland, ho!

It's two hours until our plane starts boarding.  We've been in the airport for about two hours already.  The boys had pizza and I had some spaghetti.  Aside from the couple of Luna bars we packed, this will be our last food before Scotland.

It all feels quite surreal.  Quinn just got out of his last final three and a half hours ago.  I wrapped up the last of the prep at work yesterday.  Hopefully getting off the plane in Glasgow will make it real finally.

Despite me asking specifically whether Quinn had packed his sunglasses and compression socks, and him answering in the affirmative, we have already discovered that he forgot both.  Sigh.

Planning to sleep as much as possible on the flight.  Have to wake up to switch planes in Reykjavik, but it's a decently long leg that far.

Hoping to have lots if fun things to share in the coming days.

Scotland!  We're coming for you!