Scotland ‘Ooo aye’ Part 1

Throughout the last couple of years I have travelled a fair bit, and I want to share my adventures with you!

June saw me up in Scotland about to embark on a 6 day highland adventure, courtesy of MacBackpackers.

Their 6 day tour encompasses the east coast of Scotland, via the Highlands and up to Orkney Isles. It was amazing. Firstly, we were blessed with the best weather I have ever seen in Scotland, sunny clear skies all the way, the first day was actually the hottest day of the year, 27 degrees! We had singlets on and actually had a paddle down at Loch Morlich, it was just like a beach! Too bad I didn’t pack my bathers… who takes bathers to Scotland in June?!

Our first day took in the historical town of Pitlochry, Culloden Moore and then all the way up to Rogart. Here our accommodation for the night was converted train carriages. Amazing. Cosy little bunk beds in each compartment, and a bathroom at the end, and kitchen come sitting room in a spare compartment. Such a great concept for a hostel!

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The next day we made our way north up to Castle of Sinclair Girnigoe which sits on top of a cliff overlooking the ocean.

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Then it was to the port of John O’Groates where we got our ferry over to Orkney. It really feels like you’re on another planet when you’re all the way up in the Scottish Islands. You see the landscape change from humungous mountains and forests to a sparse island with no tress at all. Even the accent changes! There’s also a lot of Viking history in this region and a lot of ruins and standing stones. A truly fascinating place.

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Look at that sky! This is the kind of weather we were blessed with 80% of our time there. AMAZING.
And just as well, the winds out on the coast are fierce, I cannot imagine being up there in winter, I think the wind would just cut right through you.

Some of the places we visited only see sunshine about 10 days a year, so it really puts this weather into perspective!

 

 

 

 

Once we were on Orkney, we made our way to Kirkwell where we spent the two nights. On the way we were able to take in the view;

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The photos really don’t do it justice but you can see how flat and sparse the vegetation is on the island.

As I said there is a rich history out on these islands, and that means lots of ruins! We stopped in at some standing stones, I’m not sure where they were exactly, but I do know they are over 5,000 years old!
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And they’re huge.. it’s amazing to think they’ve been there for thousands of years..

 

 

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For some perspective… I’m tall and that thing is still towering over me!

 

 

 

Then it was onto Skara Brae, which is a Neolithic (3200 – 2200 BC) settlement, still intact on the cliffs. It attracts loads of tourists every year, it’s even been included on those ‘things to do before you die’ lists.. it’s quite amazing that something so old is still there and for the most part, intact!

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I tried to get a shot without a hundred tourists in the background. But this is essentially what their houses looked like. A hearth in the middle, an area for sleeping and an area for food storage. Reminds me a bit of Hobbiton with all the green grass growing around them.

Then it was up to the Kitchener Memorial where there are some of the prettiest cliffs I have ever seen.. we were on the hunt for Puffins.. they know how to hide from birdwatchers and tourists. We did eventually see some but it involved hiking out to an island you can only reach at low tide and waiting on a cliff edge. Totally worth it, they are the cutest little birds.. sadly I didn’t get a picture because it turns out an iPhone zoom is pretty useless in such instances. Oh well, the cliffs are pretty!

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Can you spot the puffins?

More spectacular coastal scenes could be found back on the mainland of Scotland up at Duncansby Head. These massive sea stacks sit in the ocean like giant witches hats. Truly an amazing sight to see up close…

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I have been to Scotland 5 times now, I love the place. Clearly. This tour was SO good, nice to see areas of the country that most tourist companies don’t go to. We definitely still went to the usual places, Loch Ness, Glen Coe, Culloden etc, but it is nice to see the roads less travelled. I loved this tour so much that I immediately booked to go on another one a day later, covering the west coast and islands out that way.. the joys of not having a set travel plan!

I’ll share that adventure with you next time.. but if you are thinking of going to Scotland and don’t know where to start, I highly highly recommend MacBackpackers. They make everything so easy, their guides are authentic Scottish locals who know their stuff, and they let you choose the itinerary. – They have a rough guide for the week but if you want to see something in particular and it’s not included, they can make it happen. Plus on the tours I did, there were no more than 12 people on the bus which ensured… hilarity, great friends that I hope to stay in touch with for a long time yet, and a real personal experience – you could actually forget you are part of a tour group because it just becomes travelling around on a bus with a bunch of mates.

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Homecoming?

How can you feel at home when part of you feels like your home is on the other side of the world?

I am aware it has been a long time between posts and since I last wrote I have moved back to Perth, Australia. A lot has changed in my world back here and after 5 months I am still struggling to fit in. The first major change is a lot of my friends have become parents while I’ve been away. I am really happy for all of them, but it does at times, leave me feeling a bit inadequate. Our conversations have changed (naturally) but more than that, we are no longer on the same page about a lot of things. And how can we be?! Having a child changes your priorities massively and now all my conversational contributions seem trivial in comparison. Here’s me pondering my New Years Eve options for this year, while some of them would just be happy with a good night’s sleep! Don’t get me wrong, these aren’t bad things, and for those friends who might be reading please don’t be offended it’s just all new and different for me.

For the entire time I was away, in the back of my mind I would be thinking of home, Perth and all my friends and family here. Part of me was always excited at the prospect of coming home and being reunited with everyone and for life to go on as normal. How naive of me to think that just because I left the country, my whole world would be on pause, just waiting for me to come home so things could start again.  It’s the realisation that actually a lot has changed, that’s completely thrown me. I find myself with a handful of good friends in Perth who have actually made the effort to see me, and whom make me glad to be back. While at the same time feeling like my best friends, my ‘crew’ if you will are on the other side of the world. I will miss London for the rest of my life, there is something about that city that just clicks with me, but the thing I miss the most are my people there.

So when I catch up with people and they ask, ‘are you glad to be back? Or are you missing it already?’ my first instinct is to say “I miss it so much, I’d be back on a plane tomorrow if I could be” but instead I am trying to focus on the positives. And there ARE a lot of positives.. aside from people..firstly, the air quality. Doesn’t sound like much I know, but when you’ve lived in a big city that has one of the world’s highest pollution levels, you notice the clean, almost sweet smelling and tasting air when you step off that plane. Secondly, the light. I never appreciated how lucky we are in Australia to have so much daylight. Something my body ached for when it was dark at 3:45pm in the dead of winter and you’re walking to and from work in the dark. Thirdly, the beach. It’s not officially summer here yet, in fact it’s barely been spring with the weather we have been having (British summer styles) but I have managed to get to the beach (and swim!) twice already! There really are no beaches like West Australian beaches. Soft white sand, clear waters.. they’re the best.

So I guess what I’m trying to say is, something they don’t tell you when you move away, is that coming home is a lot harder than leaving. I honestly thought after 5 months I would have some semblance of a normal life in place, but alas I don’t. I don’t have a full time job, a car, my own place.. and don’t even get me started on the Perth dating scene.. but I’m trying to STAY POSITIVE… as a good friend recently pointed out to me, ‘unfortunately things will have changed, but that doesn’t mean for the worse’. So my motto moving forward (perhaps an early new years resolution?) is EMBRACE THE CHANGE.. may as well, there’s no point chasing the past, what’s done is done, time to look ahead and make the future as exciting and interesting as possible!

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Ps – I am going to try a lot harder to be more consistent with this blog I promise!
Pps – If you have gone through something similar to this, I’d love to hear from you!

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A Danish Weekend

I recently went to Copenhagen for a whirlwind weekend visit. I’ve never been to this part of the world before, but since having some family friends live there I thought it was the perfect excuse to visit!

From the moment I hit passport control, I knew I was in for a good holiday… the first thing the man said to me was ‘Princess Mary is from Australia, maybe you will be the next one!’ Much more inviting than the usual smirk and stamp treatment I am accustomed to.

Copenhagen is set on a series of canals, that open out to the ocean. You can cruise the river in a ferry to get from A to B or if the tide is too low or it’s too windy, you can easily jump on the Metro, that’s if you can’t be bothered walking. It’s a very easy city to get around! The city centre has over a mile of walking streets filled with all kinds of shops. From big department stores to Lego, it’s a shoppers’ paradise! My mission was Christmas markets! There were several dotted around the city and I think I found all of them. Little stalls set up selling everything from woolen hats and scarves through to mulled wine and hot ciders. Not to mention crepes and Bratwurst sausages! I don’t know what it is about these markets, I just love roaming through them! Everyone is in the Christmas spirit, the carols are playing, everyone is just so happy! Maybe it’s the Danes.. they are the loveliest people!

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In the centre of town is Christianborg Palace. It used to be the headquarters for parliament, however now it is a tourist attraction in the form of a free look out at the top of the tower. From here you can see all of Copenhagen and beyond!

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View from the Tower

Hans Christian Anderson is famously from Copenhagen, and his famous fairy tale The Little Mermaid is immortalised in one of the city’s canals. The statue has been there since 1913 and is very popular with tourists. It’s a very small, and modest statue, I think many are often disappointed by it, as it’s is so well known, a bit like the Mona Lisa.

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We also managed to stop by and see where Prince Frederik and Princess Mary live, well their winter residence anyway. It’s a very exposed palace, compared to the British ones. Formed around a giant courtyard, it is comprised of four buildings all facing inwards. We were lucky enough to be there at the time of the changing of the guard, a very strange process that involves a lot of marching and starting at one another.

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These Royal Guards were also out in the streets a little later, some playing drums and singing along to Christmas songs! So naturally, I followed them and they lead me to one of the botanical gardens. Luckily for me the sun was out, but it was so cold I couldn’t stay too long as my face was stinging too much!

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The view looking out from the city

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REAL Christmas trees for sale

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Decorations on the front of the Magasin department store

All in all I love this city. The Danish really have a great pace of life, everyone is happy and pleasant, which really helped me enjoy myself since I had a terrible cold while I was there. It’s easy to forget you’re losing your voice when you have a hot cider in your hands and you’re surrounded by a beautiful city.

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A Weekend in Wales

A few weeks ago my friend and I ventured out to Cardiff for a weekend. A mere 3 hours on a coach bus from London, it is the perfect destination for a cheeky weekend holiday!

The city itself is very easy to walk around, with beautiful walking streets full of shops and glimpses of Christmas markets to come. In the centre of town is Cardiff Castle, originally built in the 11th century it has been preserved beautifully.

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Another beautiful place worth checking out is the Brecon Beacons. It’s a giant national park north of Cardiff city. We hired a car to get out there, it only took about an hour. The scenery along the way was so stunning!

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Then we decided to climb Pen Y Fan, which is the highest peak in Southern UK at 886m above sea level! The climb for the most part was pretty simple, not too steep, but as we got closer to the peak I found myself stopping for some breathers and convenient photo ops! The view was so spectacular on the way up, it made up for the fact that at the top we were in the clouds.. with no view in sight!

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On our final day, once we were rested and de-mudded, we drove out to Barry to have a look at the ‘beach’….

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Not exactly what we are used to back in Australia, but it was great to see it nonetheless.

I was blown away by how beautiful Wales is, and how friendly the people are! Wherever we stopped, we were inundated with helpful tips and friendly banter, which is a refreshing change from the hustle and bustle of London city life!

It was the perfect weekend escape. If you haven’t been, I highly recommend it!

 

Scotland I Love You

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I was lucky enough to spend a weekend up in Scotland recently… god I love the Highlands.

It had been about 4 years since my last visit with my pals Gordon & Hazel. They live in a tiny village called Kilmacolm, it’s only 20 minutes west of Glasgow, but you’d swear you were hours away from the hustle and bustle of the city.

I always sleep well when I go to Scotland.. must be something in the air, that sweet fresh air! Fresh was definitely the word of the weekend, it was arctic temperatures, but it definitely didn’t feel like summer when the central heating is still required and you find yourself wearing 2 sometimes 3 layers… I can understand the Scot’s frustrations with their so-called summer.. it doesn’t look like it will improve anytime soon!

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We went on a road trip north, past the vast Loch Lomond, one of Scotland’s more famous Loch’s (although my hosts weren’t too sure why), through the rain and mist and up through Glencoe where the infamous battle was fought back in the 16th century. Past the brave mountaineers and hikers trudging along in the rain. Despite the weather, I was still able to marvel at the land’s beauty. When the rain cleared enough to see the mountains we were driving past, you could see the natural waterfalls spilling down the crevices. Everytime I see them, it astounds me that these giant green mountains and valleys have been there for centuries, untouched. Coming from a very flat land, I still marvel at the fact that land can naturally form like that! (crazy I know..)

Let the photo spam begin….

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Loch Lomond after the sun came out!

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Snapping the scenery from the backseat

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On my last day, I ventured into Glasgow, a city I have not really been able to explore in the past as it is usually the transit point for my trips. It is a city of change, that is evident in the buildings alone. We began in the old part of the city, taking in the Necroplois which is situated on a huge hill overlooking the whole city… which on a better weather day would have given us a view far and wide… as it was, we couldn’t see a whole lot. We did however, get a good look at Glasgow Cathedral, which sits on the other side of the hill.

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Glasgow Cathedral

I then had a gander at the Kelvingrove Art Gallery & Museum, a free museum that offers everything from natural history through to crusaders and convicts! I found all the Scottish history really interesting, the Jacobites and their fight for their clans.

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Many faces hanging above the foyer of the Kelvingrove.

My trip was very brief, but it was enough to remind me of how much I love this country. I am now making plans to go back and explore the entire place!

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Paris Summer

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Cheese, bread, wine, pastries, sun, strolling along the river… all things I love and all things that I did in Paris. I love this city. It is such a delight, you can stroll along the Seine in the sunshine, admire the bluish/green water.. the fact that their river is not brown is a delight in itself. It creates an atmosphere that instantly makes you feel more cultured, sophisticated and in complete holiday mood.

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My reason for being in Paris was to meet up with one of my best friends, who has moved over from Perth. So we hadn’t seen each other in a year and our first mission was wine and cheese in the park! Our Airbnb apartment was in a prime location not too far from the Arc de Tromph and were lucky enough to have beautiful park Parc Monceau a mere 5 minute walk away. So we settled in there nicely, killing around 5 hours drinking rose and eating the most delicious Brie I have ever tasted… all with a fresh baguette from our local bakery. I could definitely get used to the Parisian way of life!

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Because of our great location, it was easy enough for us to walk down the Champs Elysee, a massive mall fit for a shopping addicts dream. We then took a turn and headed down towards Le Seine that boast a view of the Eiffel Tower and the many bridges that cross the river.

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We also managed to venture out of the centre of town, to Pere Lachaise Cemetery to pay our respects to the late, great Jim Morisson who died in Paris on 3rd July 1971… we just so happened to visit on the 3rd July and then proceeded to the nearest bar for a beer to cool down.

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The only downfall of visiting Paris in summer is the extreme humidity that comes with the heat. It made for some very sweaty exploring, which is why on our last day we decided to play proper tourist and join a bus/boat tour, complete with air-conditioning! It was a great way to tick off all the remaining sights we couldn’t fit in on foot, it was also a great way to avoid the crowds. We zipped passed The Lourve, Notre Dame, The Latin Quarter, Eiffel Tower before boarding a boat to cruise along Le Seine soaking up as much Parisian goodness before having to jump on the Eurostar back to London.

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It was another trip that make me appreciate just how close all the destinations are over here. Two and a half hours on the Eurostar and you’re in the centre of Paris. Making it a very do-able weekender. I daresay, if you got the right priced ticket, it would even be worth going over just for the shopping alone!

Parisians and indeed the French have a bit of a reputation for being somewhat rude or not entirely welcoming to foreigners. I personally have never had a problem with the locals in Paris. I like to do as the French do when I’m in their neck of the woods and at least attempt to fit in with the locals. Every shop I enter or local I encounter, I simply smile and say ‘Bonjour!’ They can then immediately tell I am foreign as my accent is probably completely wrong but they usually just smile and say ‘hello’. I find that if you put in the effort, they respect you a little bit more and do you the courtesy of speaking in English.. even if it is broken!

I find Paris to be a very livable city, I would move there in a flash…if only I spoke French!

I also had this song stuck in my head the entire time…

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A Day in Oxford

IMG_5160Yesterday I decided to go on a day trip out to Oxford. It’s a mere hour away on the train from London, making it a very do-able trip!

It’s a quaint little village dominated by the university. All the buildings resemble the Oxford with honey coloured limestone walls, surrounded by the most vibrant green and well manicured lawns I have encountered.

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It’s very easily accessible on foot and boy did we walk! We managed to join two walking tours.. the first allowed us free access into one of the Oxford halls, which was to be the inspiration behind Hogwarts Great Hall (Harry Potter movies). However, this guide lacked the skills for interesting story-telling and lost us after about an hour so we decided to join a different 2 hour walking tour a little bit later on. It was miles better, and I am now full-bottle on the history of Oxford University, how the town was founded, who was executed there and which pubs to drink in!

Speaking of pubs, the pub we decided on for dinner was none other than the Turf Club, famous for it’s previous patrons. It is where former Australian Prime Minister Bob Hawke downed a yard of beer in 11 seconds – a Guinness World Record to this day! And it is where Bill Clinton ‘didn’t inhale’ that joint he was holding for his friend.. in his mouth!

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There are clearly two types of people in Oxford. Tourists and students. If you’re not dodging another walking tour (there are tonnes) you are jumping out of the way of another cyclist. I think Oxford could give Amsterdam a run for it’s money with the amount of bicycles locked up around the city… it’s clearly a favoured form of transport in these parts.

All up it was a fantastic day, and has given me the inspiration to go out and explore more on weekends. The UK has such a fantastic rail network, it would be a shame not to make the most of it and see a bit more of this great country.

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