Saturday, July 11, 2015

The United Kingdom: Leaving the Highlands and heading home

The last day of our tour, was also our last full day in the UK. We thankfully still had a full day of site seeing ahead of us. The day was super dreary and rainy, but as someone once told me, the Highlands are best experienced in the rain and mist. There is something even more magical and mystical about the imposing mountains being half covered in clouds rolling down their sides. It did make for more photos taken from the van!

We made our way back to Eilean Donan Castle and this time we got to take a tour of the inside. Sadly no photos allowed, but basically it is decorated to recreate what a Medieval castle would look like during it's heyday. They had kitchens with fake food and great halls with antique furniture and family crests above the fireplace.

We actually got stuck in the castle for a bit because the rain was coming down so hard outside.

We then made our way over to Loch Ness for lunch and a visit with the Loch Ness monster of course. We grabbed some sandwiches at a local shop and started hearing loud dance music and tons of car horns going off up and down the streets. We eventually found out that there was a massive scavenger hunt type tour company where people can rent cars and drive all over the place taking pictures and honking their horns and playing German dance music. It is called the Garbage run and you apparently also add garbage to your car as you go.

Garbage run car
Luckily as we made our way down to Loch Ness and the still waters where Nessie lives, we heard less and less of the awful music and cars.

Loch Ness is still creepy for me... I totally believe there is some underwater creature down there and whether it is some aquatic dinosaur or just a giant squid, it is there and it is creepy.

We said goodbye to Nessie and moved along through the Highlands taking in the last bit of scenery we could.

We even got to see some Highland Coos along the way

Just before the end of the tour, we made our last stop at Dalwhinnie Distillery for a bit of Scotch tasting. Aaron had been waiting all tour (really all week) for a good and proper tasting at a real distillery.

Each of the Scotch tasters came with a tiny piece of chocolate to compliment the taste of the scotch. Aaron was gracious enough to let the have the chocolate.

It was the perfect way to end a marvelous tour! Such a wonderful way to end a spectacular 3 days in the Highlands! 

We were dropped off in Edinburgh in the early evening. We were staying our last night at a hotel near the airport to be ready for our trip home the following day.

view from our plane window landing in London
Our trip home was very daunting. We made it from Edinburgh to London and then London to New York pretty ok, but I started feeling absolutely miserable upon arrival in New York. I even started falling asleep at the gate and nearly sobbing at the same time... exhaustion is really everyone!!
We ended up giving up our seats in order to stay over night in New York in order to recover before making our last journey home. We finally made it home, but our trip was so incredible!!!

Thursday, July 09, 2015

The United Kingdom: The Isle of Skye

We woke up to blissfully cloudy skies and a delicious breakfast at our B&B!! The lady had little menus that we fill out the evening before and we specified the time we would be ready to eat, and low and behold we came downstairs to a full breakfast! Of course we ordered blood pudding/black pudding, because we were determined to try all the strange local cuisine... and like haggis, it actually isn't that bad if you don't think too hard about what it is.

That view!

Scottish breakfast!
The tour bus picked us up and it was off to explore the beautiful island!

Our first stop of the morning was to a old clan castle that is one of the few castles to be lived in by existing clan members. But while it is a gorgeous castle in beautiful surroundings, it is known mainly for the sea lions that live in the waters near by.


I wanted to just sit amidst this tall grass and wild flowers all day. This spot set the bar pretty high for the day.

We then continued on to Neist Point and the western most tip of the Isle of Skye. It was such a lovely day to see it. Apparently some tours can't make it out here because it is foggy and the visibility isn't that great. We definitely lucked out being able to see it.

Neist Point

Looking back at the pictures we took, I am not exactly sure why we have so many kissing ones. Probably was a pretty romantic place, or more likely it was before no one else was around. Most of the group took the long walk down the lighthouse, which was a pretty nice walk down, but a steep walk back up. I was so sad, but I just knew I wouldn't be able to have the stamina to make it back up the mountain. 

Caterpillar friend along the walking path

We finished up at Neist Point and then it was time to head to a nearby village for lunch. Confession, I spent most of the van rides in between sights sleeping. It was actually quite lovely because on some stretches there would be rain tapping against the window and the driver would be telling scottish history stories or playing popular scottish bands. Then we would stop, Alan would tell us where we were and its significance, and then I would hop out of the van with my camera and be ready to take as many pictures as I could. I never thought I was one for guided tours, but I must say, it was pretty awesome!

couldn't resist a sweet treat after lunch!! Marshmallows, chocolate, peanuts, caramel... need I say more. Also, this is a look of excitement, not pain.

These towers are called follies and they are all over Scotland. They also serve no purpose.
After lunch we headed to Fairy Glenn. It is pretty much exactly what it sounds like. There is a section of the Isle of Skye that people once believed to be cultivated and inhabited by fairies. Aaron and I loved it and wanted to build a summer home there. The trees seems smaller and all the rocks and stone formations looked like fairy castles. People even have come and created fairy rings spotted along the way.

fairy rings

fairy castle

from the top of fairy castle!

our white tour bus in the distance

On the other side of fairy castle there are more and more rolling hills to explore. Along the way we met a few sheep and Aaron quickly made best friends with them.

Aaron's favorite picture of vacation

they wanted nothing to do with me
 We decided this was the spot where we someday wanted to retire and live forever!

"I'm going on an adventure!!!" - Bilbo Baggins
I swear there were other people on our tour! There were also other tour buses stopped in this spot along with us, I don't really know how we got so many pictures of us without many people in the background and mostly pictures with no one at all except us!
In fact one of the more entertaining bits of the van rides had to do with the other people in our group. There was a rather large family (probably 8+) people made up of uncles and aunts and a couple sets of kids. It took me the better part of a day and a half with them to finally figure out where they were from (I guess I could have just asked, but that would be no fun). Their accent was so hard to distinguish and at times it sounded French and other times sounded Spanish. Turns our they were speaking Portuguese and were visiting from Brazil. Also in our van was a husband and wife and all the wife could talk about was the novel series and TV show Outlander, which has just aired its first season. Everything we saw or story we heard would relate back to the show for her. Luckily I had seen the show and read a couple of the books, so I knew what she was referring to, but her level of fandom was entertaining.

After the Fairy Glenn, we stopped at the Quiraing to take in the rock formations. We got a bit delayed here as there was a movie being filmed along the road and we had to wait a bit for them to finish their shots before moving on. It just meant extra time exploring and sitting just taking in the views.

I could have stayed in this spot for years and never grown tired of this view

more sheep!

Brook jumping 
A super cool thing about the Highlands is that you'll be walking along and start to hear running water near you. There won't be a stream in site, but as you walk along all of a sudden there will be a hole in the ground and a stream will have been running below the surface right under your feet! So crazy!
secret stream

The Quiraing
 Finally we were able to/had to move on from the Quiraing and on to our last couple stops and sites of the day.

One of the famous site we saw, but didn't stop very long at was the Old Man of Storr, which is basically just a random tall rock that sticks out the side of a mountain. The story goes that the Old Man of Store rock formation is actually the thumb of a Giant that died and was buried on earth. His thumb was left sticking out.

Our very last stop of the day was at Kilt Rock and the magnificent waterfall! If you look closely at the pictures, you might be able to make out an almost plaid or tartan pattern on the rocks of the cliff face, which is how Kilt Rock got it's name.

Scottish Thistles
After all of our Isle of Skye exploring for the day had come to an end, we arrived back in Portree ready for our last dinner of the tour!

more Scotch of course

delicious dessert!
Another epically picturesque day!