April 2, 2019

Scotland, Part 2 | my first trip to scotland

Before you view this blog post, there are five things you should know:

1. There is swearing/cussing/cursing/whatever in this post.

2. It’s ridiculously long (feel free to skip the reading).

3. There are both cell phone snapshots and DSLR photos.

4. If you’re looking for “part 1,” you can find it HERE.

5. This is best viewed, while listening to Scottish/Celtic/Outlander music.

 

You may have noticed that the title says “my” first trip to Scotland.  I didn’t travel alone. My husband, Ben,  and I took this trip together, to celebrate our 20th wedding anniversary. It was the first time either of us had been there and something we’d been dreaming of for literally 20+ years. So, while this was “our” first trip to Scotland, this post represents MY perspective of the trip, both in words and in photos. Ben and I are very distinctly different people, who experience and interpret things differently, so I feel that needs to be said. As mentioned above, this blog post does contain some crappy cell phone photos, but as the saying goes… the best camera is the one you have with you. I take pride in being a light traveler, so deciding what to bring in terms of camera gear took a lot of thought and consideration. At the end of the day, though, this was a romantic trip with my husband,  not a photo shoot (and I am NOT a travel photographer!), so I traveled with the lightest gear possible (for me). I brought my Canon 6D (no grip) and a 40mm f/2.8 pancake lens. There were, of course, times that I wish I’d had a wider angle lens to capture more of the scenery. Other times, I wish I had a longer lens, though, when I couldn’t get as close to things as I wanted to. All in all, though, I think I made a good choice, as I was able to get most of the shots I wanted and it was so light and small that it fit in my  purse.

Sidenote: The weirdest thing happened today. When I woke up, my house was filled with a warm scent from a wax warmer downstairs (Ben was up before me and turned it on). It was sort of a mix of honey and cinnamon, I’d say. Anyway, I instantly thought, “That smells like Scotland.” I don’t mean Scotland, the country, smells like a wax warmer. I meant that it reminded me of something in Scotland. Only, I had no idea what it was! I texted Ben and told him, half expecting him to say I was crazy. He said he immediately thought the same thing when it warmed up! Neither of us could place WHAT the smell was or WHERE we smelled it. After much discussion, we think it’s most likely the apartment we stayed in on the Isle of Skye, but we definitely aren’t positive about it. Anyway, I just thought it was interesting timing, seeing as I was going to post this today!

DAY 1: PORTLAND to GLASGOW

This was my husband’s first time traveling internationally and I hadn’t done so (by air, at least) in over 20 years. The first thing we noticed was that the international terminal of the airport is like 500 percent more chill than the rest of the airport. It’s quieter, less crowded, and everyone is happy. The first leg of our trip was from Portland, Oregon to Reykjavik, Iceland. We seriously considered staying in Iceland for a couple of days, but in the end, we decided we wanted to spend as much time as we possibly could in Scotland…and we are glad we did! We could easily spend a few months in Scotland, seeing and doing everything on our wish list.

The flight from Portland to Reykjavik was non-stop and about 7 hours long. Ben and I were quickly made aware of how old and falling apart we are, as we started to get pretty uncomfortable about 3 hours into the flight. We were up and moving around a lot, stretching, going to the restroom, etc. We knew this would be an issue for us, as I’m just a crappy airplane traveler (I have flying anxiety) and Ben was still recovering from some surgeries, so we booked two aisle seats. Um… the two people sitting next to me (middle and window seats) NEVER got up. Not even to stretch or to go pee! Impressive. Anyway, we landed in Iceland while it was still dark (early morning), so we didn’t get to see anything other than the airport. We both agreed that their airport wasn’t making our list of favorites. It was small, crowded, had a weird boarding routine, and required us walking outside, in the dark, on the icy ground, to our plane. We had about an hour to refill our water bottles (by the way, the best drinking fountain water I’ve ever found was at that airport. I swear, it comes straight from a fucking glacier), go to the restroom, check out the gift shop, etc.  Ben was able to sleep a bit on the plane from Portland to Iceland, but I wasn’t. So, by the time we got to Iceland, I was pretty tired, but also excited, knowing we were so close to our destination!

We got seats next to each other for the short flight between Reykjavik to Glasgow. Ben was able to sleep a little again, which wasn’t the best idea, in hindsight, as he isn’t very alert after naps. I needed him to be fully functioning in Glasgow! At least one of us was getting some rest. Once we landed in Glasgow, things were pretty quick. We went through customs, where I got to hear my first real life Scottish accent… in actual Scotland. Suffice it to say, I was realllly excited. Customs was a breeze, as was getting our luggage. From the time we got off the plane, to the time we were in a cab was less than one hour, I’d say.

We arrived at our hotel in Glasgow around noon. Check-in wasn’t for a few hours, but we decided to ask about early check-in, as we were EXHAUSTED and I could barely keep my eyes open. If we hadn’t been able to check-in early, I would’ve just slept on the lobby floor. No exaggeration. Thankfully, they had our room ready and we were both asleep within 5 minutes of checking in. We crashed out for a good 3-4 hours!

We decided to book a hotel for the “city” portions of our trip, as it just seemed easier to get around. We knew we could do different accommodations for the other portions of our trip. It worked out well and we’d do the same thing again. Public transportation is pretty easy to use and you can see a lot, even just on foot. After reading a lot of travel blogs, we decided we definitely didn’t want to have to drive in the city!

We stayed at the Holiday Inn Express – City Centre / Theatreland. It was a small, basic room with no view, but it was a place to sleep and was conveniently located. The staff was really nice and helpful and the place was clean. Continental breakfast was included and it was pretty good. They had cereals, yogurt, fruit, beans, eggs, bacon, sausage, muffins, etc. We quickly learned that the travel bloggers were right about people eating giant breakfasts in Scotland and then just eating a late lunch/early dinner. We ate BIG breakfasts, adventured all day, and didn’t eat again until late afternoon. It took me a couple of days to embrace this, as I’m more of a grazer. Ben, however, had no trouble making the adjustment, as he tends to eat huge meals anyway.

After our nap, we decided to explore Glasgow City Centre. For dinner, we ended up at a chain burger joint because most of the places were closed, by the time we decided to eat.  I don’t even remember which one, but it was delicious! Most people we spoke to in Scotland were natural storytellers, so I was constantly entertained. Hell, I loved their accent so much, they could have been telling me how much they hated me and I’d still be entranced. The guy in the CBD shop told us all about their Cannabis laws, how the shop used to be a real police booth back in the day, etc. In case you are wondering, only CBD products are legal in Scotland (not sure about the rest of the UK), but it’s “easy to purchase products with THC if you just look on instagram and they’ll even deliver to you on bike.” I purchased some CBD oil, in hopes of it helping me sleep (I struggle with insomnia, but even more so when I travel). Well, it worked, but I wasn’t able to  keep using it because HOLY HELL, it tasted like sewer water! I tried mixing it with a variety of  beverages, but because it wasn’t water-soluble, it was nasty no matter what I did. I almost puked.

Still tired, we were back to our hotel room by about 10pm. Ben was asleep by 11pm and slept until 8am. Nine hours. Mind you, this man doesn’t get more than about 5 or 6 hours of sleep a night when we are at home and he’d already  napped TWICE on the journey over (short naps, but still). Meanwhile, I was up until about 4am, cursing my insomnia ( I didn’t try the CBD until the following night), then slept on and off until about 8am. So, I got about 3 hours of sleep, while Ben was operating on about 11.  I was kind of a disaster the whole trip, in terms of jet lag, but he adjusted the first night. Really?

 

DAY 2: GLASGOW

The next day we had breakfast at the hotel (I heard my first “Oh, aye.” from an older gentleman at breakfast and practically squealed out loud) before heading out on foot to explore more of Glasgow. I’ve had a few people ask me why we chose to fly into and stay in Glasgow, rather than Edinburgh. The main reason was that the flight to Glasgow had fewer stops. It was also a little less expensive. With the two cities being less than an hour from each other, it didn’t seem to us like it would make that much of a difference in the trip we were planning, since our main goal was to visit the highlands. Turns out, we were right.

I love that every block we turned down looked different. There were hints of fall and nature mixed throughout the city. There were old buildings intertwined with new buildings. The architecture was so interesting to me.

We had bagpipes at our wedding and Ben learned to play shortly after we were married. Visiting the National Piping Centre & Museum was definitely on our list of “must see” things this trip. Unfortunately, the museum was closed for remodeling! The kind gentleman that worked there (who was from Canada… I know because I am nosy and I asked) told us that there was another one in town, easily accessible by subway and gave us a map, with directions. Neither of us had ever been on a subway (unless you count BART in California) and this one seemed really easy to figure out, so we decided to give it a whirl! I have no basis of comparison, but I thought the subway was realllly simple and easy to figure out and use. It goes in a circle. One train goes clockwise and one travels counter-clockwise. That’s it. I mean, even if you accidentally got on the wrong one, you’d eventually end up where you needed to be. It just might take a few extra minutes. It hasn’t been updated since probably the 1960s, so the subway cars themselves have an awesome retro look.

The secondary piping center was TEENY TINY, but it was still really cool to see all of the old photos, old pipes, and read all of the information. It also took us on a little adventure to another part of Glasgow, which was cool.

I took this photo for my best friend, Kate. She loves books, but that’s not why I was drawn to this shop for her. To be honest, I’m not totally sure. I just said, “Oh, I need to take a photo of this, for Kate.”

It drizzled off and on, but it really wasn’t bad for a day of exploring the city. We’re from Oregon, though, so we’re definitely used to the rain. I had a great time, photographing things that caught my eye throughout the day.  We purchased some liquor, including a spiced rum (Dark Matter), made in Scotland. We decided to save it for our actual anniversary, to be celebrated back home. (Spoiler Alert: It was NASTY and I think Scotland should stick to whiskey!)

One of our “errands” for the day included picking up Ben’s kilt outfit, to be worn the next day for our professional photo shoot. I’d booked it online and we needed to pick it up by a specific time. It wasn’t within walking distance to our hotel, so we got an Uber (the first time using Uber for either one of us, actually). The driver was kind enough to wait for us to run in and get our order, and drive us back to our hotel. The kilt outfit, by the way, was rented through A1 Kilt Hire in Glasgow. Ben owns his own kilt, of course, but he didn’t want to haul his entire getup halfway across the world. His shoes alone (size 13) would’ve taken up half his suitcase. It was less than $60 to rent the entire outfit (shirt, kilt, socks, flashes, shoes, sporran, and skean dhu), so it made the most sense to do that. Our photographers were beyond awesome and returned it for us, after our photo shoot, since we were heading the opposite direction and they lived in Glasgow.

We ended the day in a pub near our hotel, where I ordered… HAGGIS.  Yep. I ate Haggis. If you don’t know what Haggis is, google it… and be prepared to be grossed out. In all honesty, though, it was pretty good! The texture was sort of like meatloaf, with some oatmeal added in. I didn’t love the gravy/sauce on top, but I didn’t dislike it either. It was just my least favorite part. Ben was NOT down with trying the authentic dish and ordered a steak pie with peas and mashed potatoes, which you can see in the background of this craptastic cell phone shot (I wasn’t about to be THAT touristy by getting out my DSLR to photograph my haggis). Anyway, I ate about 3/4 of this, as well as a few bites of Ben’s food and I was stuffed. Admittedly, I was a little worried at how the haggis would treat my stomach later, but I was totally fine! Ben tried about 1/16 of a bite of my Haggis and declared it to be disgusting. Pfffft.

 

DAY 3: GLASGOW to GLENCOE

We had another big breakfast at the hotel, before heading out for the next leg of our trip. We returned to our hotel room, right as the sun was rising and got this beautiful view (other than this, the view was mostly just cement). I guess I took too long at breakfast or packing up my stuff or something because I ended up rushing around like a mad woman, trying to get out of there by a specific time, yet also look somewhat presentable for photos later in the day. I had to blow dry and curl my hair, but the bathrooms in Scotland don’t have outlets in them, so I had to do it on my bed in the hotel room. Anyway, it was awkward, the room was warm, and with all the rushing, I was a sweaty mess by the time we left the hotel.

I had booked a car online, using Celtic Legend, as I had read several rave reviews about them, on various blogs. It’s a family run business and they were SO helpful and patient with me (and I was kind of a hot mess, trying to plan this). We did not want to drive in the city, so I booked a location quite a ways from the city and just planned on taking an Uber or something. Well, they caught this and emailed me, saying that they had a rental lot much closer to our hotel, but still outside the city (basically, it was on the edge of the city, near the highway) AND that if I chose this location, they’d come and pick us up at our hotel and take us to the car rental pickup location. So, we switched our pickup location and it all worked out perfectly. Yay for nice people!

Although we booked through Celtic Legends, our actual pickup location was an Arnold Clark (from what I have gathered, Arnold Clark is similar to Hertz or Enterprise, here in the United States). Although it wasn’t the wonderful family I’d been emailing with, the check-in/pick-up process with our rental car was really easy. We opted to add satellite navigation (aka sat-nav), since our phones don’t work at all outside of the U.S., unless we have wi-fi (which was basically only when we were at our accommodations at night). We got that set up, only to realize that it was quite finicky and wouldn’t pull up locations, without specific addresses or coordinates. We were driving to a castle (for our photo shoot) which doesn’t have an actual address and wasn’t known to the sat-nav. Super. The rental car employee used his smart phone, though, to look up the castle and find out which town it was in, then entered the town name into the sat-nav. He said it was a small enough area that we could just ask someone when we got there, if we didn’t find the castle on our own. This guy was giving us way too much credit, but okay, whatever. Game on.

We decided it was best for me to drive first. Neither of us had ever driven on the opposite side of the road, or operated a vehicle with everything on the inside flip-flopped. I was less nervous to drive than Ben was and he’s a much better navigator than I am, so this made the most sense.  Um… HOLY SHIT!  It is SO weird to drive that way! Straight aways were mildly awkward, but doable. Turns were like WHAT THE ACTUAL FUCK?  Their roads are literally the size of bicycle lanes here. TEENSY.  Some, of course, were just a single bicycle lane, with pull-outs for passing. Anyway, off we went on our adventure. It was about a two hour drive, from our rental car pickup to the castle. I’d scheduled like 3.5 hours for us to get there, but the car rental pickup and sat-nav debacle took much longer than I expected and by the time we hit the road, we had about 2.5 hours to get there. No pressure or anything.

It turns out Ben was nervous no matter WHO was driving the car. Like SUPER uncomfortable. I drove on what was hands down the WORST part of the entire trip (for driving). There was a stretch of road for about 45 minutes that was windy and curvy and each lane was about 8 inches wide, with rock walls right up against the road. People in even the tiniest of cars were pulling in their side mirrors! That’s how tight it was. We hit a point where there was a fucking semi truck (aka a “lorry” ) broken down in the middle of this 1.5 lane bridge. A SEMI-TRUCK.  You know what? Everyone just figured it out and took turns going around, despite the non-existent room to do so. I really wish we had photos of how tight these roads were, but Ben was a nervous wreck and there was NO way he was going to be taking photos with his phone. He really thought I was going to take the mirrors off, get side-swiped, etc., but we made it through, without a scratch!  The photo below was right after we got onto the highway and I pulled over to take a photo (before the tiny laned curvy roads). We were fooled into thinking the whole drive would be like this and were all like, “We got this.” (Narrator: They would later find out they did not “got this.”)

We made it to Loch Awe right around photo time (2pm), but of course we were unable to find the castle on our own. We stopped in at the Loch Awe Hotel and asked for some help. The concierge informed us that we’d just passed it, only a mile or so back, but that there had been some flooding and she thought that the parking lot (aka “car park”) was inaccessible. Awesome.

I captured these shots from the hotel’s back patio. In one of the photos, you can see the castle. This was my first castle! I was so close! So, we hopped back in the car and made our way to the car park, which was closed, and then accidentally found a road that took us right behind the castle. Trying to meet up with our photographers, when we couldn’t get to our meeting spot and we didn’t have any phone or internet service,  was quite the adventure, but I’ll let you read more about that on my blog post featuring all of the photos by Jo+Liam (formerly Jo Donaldson Photography).

We eventually found Kilchurn Castle!  When planning our trip, a photo session was the first thing I booked, after our airline tickets (seriously, I didn’t book any of our accommodations until 3-4 weeks before we went). Jo was kind enough to send me a list of castles (with links) to choose from, for our photos ( I was adamant about doing them at a castle). I decided Kilchurn Castle was the one. Built in the 15th century, it is now in ruins, which is exactly what I wanted. It seemed easy to access, without being as busy as some of the others. Although we weren’t able to go inside, due to the flooding, it still felt magical and awesome because, hello, it’s still a freaking castle in Scotland! This was one of those times where I wish I’d had a longer lens, but I also knew that Jo+Liam would get some good shots.

After our photo shoot (which was SO MUCH fun), we followed Jo and Liam to the Green Welly Stop, where they turned to head home and we stopped for a few minutes. The Green Welly Stop was similar to a truck stop you might see here, but without the gas pumps. It was also nicer, with a cute gift shop, liquor store, etc. I purchased myself a Harris Tweed Handbag. My mom slipped me some money on the way to the airport and said to spend it on something I wouldn’t normally allow myself to buy. Well, that’s what I heard anyway. I guess it was for “us” to spend, but you know what? Ben asks me to hold his stuff all the time, so this is obviously for him, as much as it is for me. We snapped the candids below, in the parking lot of the Green Welly. We were happy, in love, relieved, and riding on cloud 9.

Jo and Liam said that we were traveling to Glencoe at the perfect time, since it was getting close to sunset. They weren’t kidding. I only wish my photos did the scenery justice. The drive from the castle to Glencoe was only about an hour, but we made a few stops, so it took us closer to 2 hours. One nice thing about the way we planned our vacation was that these short trips kept us from getting worn out, but also took us to quite a few places and all of the drives were breathtaking.

They also said we’d know when we were arriving in Glencoe, based on the scenery. Again, they weren’t kidding.

Despite this being a poor quality phone pic (below), we printed it as a 5×7 and have it displayed in our bedroom, right along with the professional photos that we had done. We love it! Here we are, 20 yrs and a few grays later, still in love and enjoying life together…finally in Scotland.

By the time we arrived at our Airbnb stay in Glencoe, it was dark. We had the sat-nav to get us to Glencoe and then the directions from our host, explaining how to get to the house. There was no address (not uncommon, as we learned), only the  directions ( “turn at the church, take a right at the fork, it’s at the end with two brown storage sheds.”). We were pretty sure we had made it to the right house, but it appeared nobody was home and we were second guessing ourselves. This was simply a room we rented in someone’s home, so we didn’t want to just walk right in, without them being home (come to find out , that would’ve been just fine by them). I don’t know how, but by some miracle, Ben was able to make ONE phone call from his work phone and reach the hosts. We tried before and after that one time, to make calls, but no luck. It was a total fluke. Anyway, they reassured us that we were at the right place and to go on in and get settled.

After about 30 minutes of zoning out (our day had been pretty busy and very long), we decided to go find some dinner. As we were heading to our car, we met our hosts, Pamela and John McGregor. They were just getting home, with their GIGANTIC golden retriever named Jamie, from a day of running errands. I’ll be honest… the dog was one of the reasons I booked this place. I love dogs. I love Golden Retrievers and I’m obsessed with Outlander, so a redheaded dog named Jamie was kind of no brainer. He turned out to be a total sweetheart and I wanted to take him home with us. Anyway, they were nice and welcoming, asked us what time we wanted breakfast, and made a dinner suggestion.

We hadn’t eaten since breakfast, aside from some bananas for a snack, so we were famished. The only place open at that hour (around 8:30pm) was the Glencoe Gathering at the Glencoe Inn, so off we went, just a few miles down the road.  To our surprise, it was kind of busy. Not too busy to get  a table, but I think we got the only one left! The place was cozy and casual, with an order-at-the-counter setup. There was even a dog relaxing under someone’s table (yes, of course I loved on it). I ordered the fish and chips, which came with peas (I didn’t realize how common peas were with meals in Scotland, until this trip). The fish was over a foot long and probably 6 inches wide. I’m not exaggerating. I had an oblong shaped plate and it was hanging off of both ends. Ben got a burger with fries (that’s his go to and he ate that a lot on this trip). We both agreed that the food was delicious. After we returned to the house, I took a nice long bath in the huge soaking tub (we had a private bedroom and a private bathroom, but they were not connected… had to walk down the hall about 10 feet). I didn’t have any trouble falling asleep this time, as I was simply exhausted.

 

DAY 4: GLENCOE to ISLE of SKYE

We were pleasantly surprised by our view the next morning (we couldn’t see anything in the dark the night before). I wish I’d taken a photo of the breakfast. Pamela had made a HUGE spread of food for us, which we ate in the dining room, just the two of us, by candlelight (how cute is that?). I ate the best scones in my entire life. We will forever talk about “Pamela’s Scones” and wish we could order them online or something.  In addition to the fresh scones, we had croissants, fruit (oranges, apples, bananas, strawberries, grapes, etc.), nuts, cheese, lunch meat, eggs, yogurt, cereal, coffee, milk, juice, granola, you name it! You should have seen Ben’s eyes light up. Haha.

After breakfast, we walked around town for a while, until checkout time. Glencoe is absolutely beautiful. Again, my photos do not do it justice. The light is magical (well, it’s amazing all over Scotland, but something Glencoe light was just different). It was a quiet morning, with the only real noise being the chirping of birds. There was something so peaceful about the stillness of that morning. I kept imaging how nice it would be to live there.

As much as we loved Glencoe, we eventually had to get on the road, as we knew that we FOR SURE did not want to have to navigate any part of this leg in the dark. This was also the first day Ben drove. We had mapped our journey before leaving Pamela’s house that morning, using google maps, but also put our destination into the sat-nav. For the first portion of the journey, the two matched up, in terms of directions, but eventually the sat-nav started giving directions that differed from the google maps directions we’d looked up earlier. We went with the sat-nav and hoped for the best.

Our first stop was at Glenfinnan Church, at the head of Loch Schiel. Like most of our stops between destinations, it wasn’t planned. I just saw it and asked Ben to pull over. I loved the church, as well as the surroundings. For Harry Potter fans, this is only half a mile from the Glenfinnan Viaduct.

These were probably the best roads we drove on. They were quite a bit wider than the narrower stretches we were on the day before, there were plenty of places for slower cars (ahem, like us) to pull over, and  there weren’t a lot of cars on the road. There were, however, approximately 2.7 million roundabouts. Technically, those started before we even got out of Glasgow, but we had to navigate several, each time we passed through a town.

We found ourselves in a cute little town, around lunch time. We hit a few little shops before deciding on a place to eat. We weren’t starving, but we didn’t know when we’d be able to eat again, so we decided to grab a light meal. Until I started this blog post, we had no idea what the name of the town or the little cafe was. It took a bit of google sleuthing on my part to track it down. All I knew was that it was somewhere between Loch Shiel and Mallaig, which was a stretch of about 40 miles (yes, they measure in miles and mpg, not km). Anyway, the name of the little town was Arisaig and the place we had lunch was called Cafe Rhu. If you click on that link, the little table, with two chairs, by the window (top right photo on that page) is where we sat! Anyway, the restaurant was tiny, adorable, and the staff was super friendly and laid back. The view was also really nice. I ordered a vegetable and lentil soup, which came with a chunk of warm bread. Ben ordered a pulled pork sandwich, which came with baked beans and coleslaw. I ate his coleslaw, since he doesn’t care for it in general, and it was really good. My food was exactly what I needed. It was light, but filling enough to get me through the rest of my day, and it was freaking yummy. Ben was equally as satisfied with his meal.

(Yes, I am well aware of how good looking my husband is. Duh.)

What’s an adventure, without a surprise ferry ride? You may be wondering how we expected to get to an ISLAND, without taking a ferry. Well, smartypants, there’s a BRIDGE that goes from the mainland to the Isle of Skye. That’s the way that google maps had us going, but the sat-nav landed us in Mallaig, instructing us to take the ferry. Surprise!  As you may have noticed, there were a lot of “firsts” on this trip. Ben had never been on a ferry before, so this was yet another first for him.  He was a bit nervous, as he tends to get seasick, but I assured him it’d be big enough and slow enough that he’d be fine. (Narrator: …but he would Not be fine.)

Anyway, we went in and managed to get some tickets for the next ferry to Skye, which was scheduled to start boarding about 45 minutes later. Perfect. We had time to walk around Mallaig, which was a unique little town. It reminded me a bit of Astoria, Oregon, but you know…more… Scottish. We really weren’t sure what time we’d get settled in Skye or what would be open when we arrived, so to play it safe, we stopped at a market and grabbed some frozen items we could make for dinner, as well as some breakfast items and beer. Not just beer, but Coors Light! Anyone who knows my husband knows it’s his favorite. Up until this point, though, we hadn’t seen any in Scotland, so he was thrilled. After some groceries and finding some coffee, we headed back to the ferry to begin the boarding process.

The ferry was much smaller than I was expecting and Ben didn’t feel great, as it really was a bumpy ride. Even I got a little queasy at times (I suffer from seasickness too, but it takes more for me than it does for him). I felt brave, venturing up to the top deck, in the wind and rain, but I certainly didn’t stay up there for long. The ferry ride itself was only about half an hour, but when all was said, with loading and unloading, it was closer to an hour. The unexpected ferry ride put us on Skye a couple of hours later than planned and we knew we’d be losing daylight soon, so the pressure was on to find our Airbnb!

Funny Story…

Remember how I said they don’t always use addresses? This was one of those times. We had directions, from our host, but the directions were coming from the bridge, not the ferry! We had NO idea where we were (oh yeah, I’d left my road atlas that I’d purchased for this trip, at home), how to even find the bridge, to take directions from there, and we didn’t have an actual address. We basically drove around aimlessly, getting annoyed at the situation, and cursing at the rain and impending darkness. I think we might have also been getting a bit hangry at that point too.

When we found ourselves on a random country road, we spotted a mail carrier. Ben pulled over and said he was going to get out and ask for help. I was all, “And say what? That you can’t find Hector’s house?” I mean, I get that mail carriers know where places are, but we didn’t have an address! We just had some directions  from our airbnb host, Hector. Anyway,  Ben got out and is talked to this guy, in the rain, for quite a while. They were laughing, the guy was pointing, etc.

Ben returned to the car and guess what?  THE MAIL CARRIER KNEW HECTOR!
Ben showed him the screenshot of the directions we’d been sent and he says, “Wait, is this Hector’s house?” I mean, are you shitting me? What are the odds? Yeah, this guy was friends with our host and gave us really good directions to get there. Low and behold, we finally arrived at our apartment on Skye! Not only that, but our host left us a bottle of champagne, with a note that said, “Happy Anniversary!” (I had mentioned why were were traveling there, when I booked our stay through airbnb). Our apartment was the little portion of the house that you see on the left side of the photo. It was called “Cleadale Flat.” It had a living room and full kitchen with a breakfast bar downstairs and then a bedroom and bathroom upstairs. The kitchen had a small washer and dryer (all-in-one), but we couldn’t figure out the dryer, so ended up hanging our clothes around the apartment to dry. I made sure that we had access to a washing machine about halfway through our trip so that we could get twice as much wear out of our clothing.

Right after we got settled into our apartment, we made some dinner (oven pizza for me and steak pie for Ben), and of course… Coors Light. We watched tv, played on our phones, and just relaxed. It had been a long day, it was dark, and it was just what we needed. Plus, we knew we wanted to be up early the next day, in order to see ALL the things.

 

DAY 5: ISLE of SKYE

We were in Scotland while the United States was getting hit with Hurricane Michael. To say that it was windy on the Isle of Skye is an understatement. Oh. Mah. Gawd. Aside from the wind, though, it was a gorgeous day! It was cold in the morning, but the sun was shining, and it didn’t take long for it to warm up. I learned on day 2 that doing my hair, while on this trip, was futile, so I gave up all together. It spent the trip either in my face or in a bun.

We mapped out a little day trip, which included stops at the Old Man of Storr, Kilt Rock, a distillery, and a few other random places. It also took us on some back roads that were seriously breathtaking. I sound like a broken record, but these photos do not do the scenery justice. We both agreed that the Isle of Skye was our favorite place to visit on this trip.

Just the day before I had been daydreaming about living in Glencoe and here I was, daydreaming about living on the Isle of Skye. I imagined living in one of those little white houses and sitting on this bench. Ahhhh.

This windmill was right outside a little market, where I finally bought some whiskey.

This (below) was one of my favorite moments of the trip (yes, there are a lot of them). We happened to pull over to check out a spot with a good view, when we spotted the ruins of small castle, in the distance.  Once we realized you could access it publicly and saw another couple making their way back from the building, I decided we were walking out to it. The entire island was windy, but this spot was INSANE. The two walking back to their car were struggling a bit, against the wind, so we asked how it was. The woman said she had to hold on to her husband, to keep from falling over and was trying to stress to us that it was VERY VERY windy. Ben was like, “Hmmmm. I don’t know if we should…” and I was all, “Awesome, let’s go!” Let me just say that the woman who warned us was not being dramatic. It was hurricane strength winds. We really did have a hard time staying upright and it was definitely outside of Ben’s comfort zone, but boy was it worth it. The view, from that spot, was just incredible. Come to find out, this was Duntulm Castle and the small monument next to it was honoring a bagpiping school, which used to be nearby.  This castle was build in the 14th and 15th centuries and as with many castles, there is an interesting legend. Supposedly an infant fell out of the window, to the rocks below, while under the care of a nursemaid. That nursemaid was then sent adrift at sea in small boat, as punishment.

As we were nearing the end of our little road trip on Skye, we stopped at a grocery store, in one of the villages. In the parking lot next door, they had a few buildings clustered together, to serve as little shops. They were about the size of coffee stands, so cozy and small. There was a jewelry shop, an antique store, and a couple of other little businesses. In the antique shop, a few amazing things happened.

1. I found the perfect gift for Ben: a kilt pin. (More on that later.)

2. We met Karen.

Karen was the woman who owned and operated the antique shop. She was, in essence, the Scottish version of our Karens. You know, the “I don’t mince words, tell it like it is, might need to see your manager” type of Karen. Anyway, Ben asked if she had any bagpipe items in the shop. She misheard him and thought he was asking if there were any bagpipe shops nearby. Wouldn’t  you know it….Ross has a bagpipe shop, just down the road. No only that, but Karen knew him personally and just called him right up, to ask about us visiting him and his workshop. Once she got Ross on the phone, she handed it to Ben, who proceeded to fumble with his words and not really get out what he was trying to say. You might think this was due to nerves or the accents or something, but no. Ben is really pretty bad at talking on the phone to any sort of business or customer service person. He just takes forever to spit out what he’s trying to say. I’m always in the background, mouthing, “OMG, just get to the point already!” Well, he was doing such a poor job that Karen eventually yanked the phone out of his hand and finished up the phone call for us. After the call ended, she looked at Ben and, in a very Scottish accent and matter-of-fact attitude, said, “Can I just say…you’re shit on the phone.” I about died. Of course, when SHE said it, Ben saw the humor in it. Good ol’ Karen. She also asked where we were staying and I jokingly replied, “Hector’s house” and she said, “Oh, over on lower Breakish Road?” That’s right… she knew Hector too! Turns out a lot of people in Skye know Hector because he owns a fish and chips restaurant right across the bridge.

After a hilarious visit with Karen, we decided to drive over and see Ross’s bagpipe workshop. The bridge was shorter than we expected and we made it over in no time at all. Ross Calderwood is the owner of Lochalsch Pipes, which is run completely online. His workshop, which is located next to the B&B he and his wife own, isn’t really open to the public, but he was happy to give Ben a little tour and lesson, thanks to Karen. The shop sits practically on the water, with a gorgeous sunset view in the evenings. Beautiful, to say the least.

Ross, a former engineer, makes small pipes, which are quite different than the ones my husband plays. The small pipes get air from a bellows, which is operate by your arm. My husbands plays more traditional pipes,  which is run by lung power.  Each set of pipes takes about 18 months to make, as Ross starts from scratch. He literally goes out and CUTS DOWN the tree he uses for each set of pipes. What?! He’s not playing around.

We had the privilege of listening to Ross play, which of course seemed effortless on his part. One nice thing about these pipes is that they’re much quieter than the ones Ben normally plays, so indoors isn’t as obnoxious. After a brief overview of how he came to be to be a pipe maker and how he makes them, he gave Ben a lesson! OMG, he was in heaven! It only took him a few minutes to get the hang of it and by the end of the lesson, they were playing a song together (the fingering was essentially the same)!

I decided to let them finish their piping, while I took a stroll to capture a few photos. Oh, and guess what? Ross knew who Hector was too! In fact, Hector’s fish & chips place was just down the street from Lochalsh Pipes. By this point, we knew Hector’s would be the perfect place for dinner! Come to find out, he has two places: one is a sit-down restaurant and the other is a “to go” place, where you just order at the counter. Only the latter was open, so that’s where we ended up. I asked if Hector was there and this guy asks, with one of the thickest accent we heard our whole trip, “Why? Does he owe ya money?” Turns out Hector is quite the jokester. Anyway, we told him who we were (we checked in with a lockbox at the apartment, so we hadn’t seen or talked to anyone there) and we chatted for a few minutes, while we waited for our carry out order. Again, I got fish and chips, while Ben ordered a burger and fries. Our portions were HUGE (I could only eat about 1/4 of mine), perfectly greasy, and tasted fantastic. The beauty of it all was that we didn’t have to feel bad about making the place smell like fish. Ha! (Don’t worry, we took our trash out.) Looking back, I wish I’d taken more photos of our food. It’s just not something I normally do (and to be honest, find kind of dumb), so I didn’t think about it.

 

DAY 6: SKYE to INVERNESS

I was so excited for this day! Although we had technically already seen 2 castles, this was our CASTLE day. Like, get to go inside of and walk around them, castles. We hit the road early, in order to arrive at Eilean Donan Castle shortly after opening. With a few stops along the way, it took us about an hour to get their, from our apartment in Skye.

The Eilean Donan Castle, built in the 1200s (and rebuilt several times) sits on it’s own little island, only accessible by boat or bridge. I believe I read somewhere that this is the most photographed castle in Scotland, which I have no problem believing. Even my cell phone photos looked good. If you want to see some really stunning images of this castle, just do a quick web search (and be prepared to swoon).  We entered the castle on the very bottom floor (cellar level) and then worked our way up. The first bit of the tour is just stone and cement (very rustic), but then we went up some stairs,  rounded a corner, and entered the dining room (no photos allowed in most of the castle). It was set up to look exactly like it did centuries ago, including some authentic relics on display. I was most definitely taken aback by the grandioseness of it all. The size of the room, the size of the painted portraits on the walls, and the fact that I was standing there. In that castle. It felt like another time or as if I was in a book.  I was awe struck.

One of my most favorite music videos was filmed at the Eilean Donan. When I first saw the video (click HERE to view), I was mesmerized. I watched it over and over. Warning…if bagpipes make you cry, have some tissues ready at the 3:30 mark. Anyway, I decided YEARS ago, that I wanted my ashes to be sprinkled here. I had NO idea I would ever actually visit that castle! (Sidenote: Now that I’ve been there, I no longer feel like I need to be sprinkled there.)

After exploring the Eilean Donan, we headed off through the Highlands, towards our next castle! The drive took us a little over an hour and the scenery was, of course, ridiculously gorgeous. One thing I will say is that most of the places we visited, aside from Skye, were fairly brown/orange. Prettier than our brown, but then again, everything seems prettier in Scotland.

Urquhart Castle, now in ruins, sits on the edge of Loch Ness.  This was the only day we really got rained on. We had some light drizzle off and on throughout the trip, but for the most part it was really nice while we were there. Naturally, the rain really picked up while we were touring an outdoor attraction. Urquhart Castle was also built in the 1200s, but was not restored, like the Eilean Donan, after it was destroyed.

Do you see Nessie?

We found what used to be the chapel and decided to do a quick vow renewal within what walls were left. It was something along the lines of, “I still love you and want to be married to you forever, now let’s kiss.” So…we kissed…while getting drenched…in the chapel of an old castle ruin…on Loch Ness…in freaking Scotland. Oh, with a coffee in my hands no less. This is the shit dreams are made of, people!

Just another half an hour down the road and we were at our Airbnb in Inverness. This was our first actual Bed & Breakfast for the both of us, if you can believe that. As luck would have it, though, we were the only guests there during our stay. When we arrived, our host, Wilma, greeted us at the front door. It felt like we had just arrived at Grandma’s house! Wilma and her husband were the cutest things ever. Wilma showed us around the place, explained how everything worked, got us settled into our room, and asked what time we wanted breakfast in the morning. Our room was lovely, with windows facing both the side yard and the street, and adorable turquoise and yellow decor, which reminded me of our bedroom and bathroom decor when we were first married. We had a bathroom attached to our bedroom and our own, separate entrance to our wing of the house, at the back of the home. We decided to kick our shoes off, put on some dry clothes, and have some afternoon tea…and by tea, I mean whiskey.  After we were good and warmed up, we headed out to explore Inverness on foot. Wilma’s house was just a short walk to the downtown area, which was really convenient.  It was getting late, so we decided we would also grab some dinner while we were out.

Oh, here’s our rental car, in case you were curious. It was bigger than most of the cars we saw, but still pretty small.

I really liked Inverness and could totally imagine living there. I know, I know… I’ve said this about almost every place we visited and that I sound like a broken record, but it’s true! I love it all! With the population a little under 50,000 it seemed like the perfect combination of city life and small town living. Plus, the homes were so damn cute!

This is Castle Inverness, but it’s closed to the public. Much to my dismay.

Without meaning to, we ended up a tad drunk this night. It kind of hit us, while we were checking out some local shops. We had also forgotten about our hunger and were suddenly starving. We ducked into what looked like the quickest place to get food, which was Castle Restaurant (named as such because it’s across the street from Castle Inverness). I ordered a baked potato with “pickle” and cheese on it. The choices of toppings were all kind of odd to me (including pineapple), so I just assumed it was pickles, as in dill pickles or something. Nope. Pickle is a condiment in the UK that’s basically pickled vegetables (heavy on the vinegar). I didn’t hate it, but it wasn’t what I was expecting and I found the taste to be a bit overpowering after a while (pictured below, on the right).

While we are at it, can we talk about tea cakes? Jo and Liam gifted us with a box of tea cakes (seen below, on the left). Yeah, they’re my new favorite indulgence. I ate the entire box by myself, within 24 hours. Ben didn’t get a single bite. Hey, in my defense, I did offer! He just kept declining, so…yeah, I ate them all. I have no shame.

 

NOTE TO ALL OF MY FRIENDS AND CLIENTS WHO VISIT SCOTLAND:

Please bring me back Tunnocks Teacakes!

After dinner, we stumbled back to the house and along the way I got these really fun shots. The rain and the street lights were doing this fun little dance together and I love how it turned out on camera.

 

DAY 7: INVERNESS

We started our day with another gigantic Scottish breakfast. Wilma hooked us up with toast, tomatoes (warmed and with cheese), ham, fruit, cereal, yogurt, cheese, and best of all…coffee! I haven’t mentioned it yet, but coffee was a “situation” in Scotland. First of all, finding ACTUAL coffee, as in stuff that’s brewed with ground coffee beans, was basically impossible. There were plenty of mochas and cappuccinos, but they were made with a machine we’d see here, at like a gas station mini mart. We tried some instant coffee here and there, but it was awful. An even bigger challenge was creamer. We both like french vanilla creamer in our coffee and it simply does not exist in Scotland. We checked every single place we stopped, from grocery stores to gas station mini marts, to gift shops. The closest we found was plain, powdered, Coffee-Mate. So, not only did we not have any decent coffee, we didn’t even have anything good to mask the flavor of the bad coffee. Wilma, however, made the best coffee we had our entire trip. She did it right… with actual coffee grounds,  in a french press. She explained that her son lived in the states for a while and taught her how to make “proper” coffee when he returned. It was so good that I hardly even put any sugar or cream in mine (this is saying a lot).

Originally we had planned to see more castles on day 6, but decided to break it up a little and see the two near Inverness the following day. By this point in the trip, we were learning to map everything on our phones, while we had wi-fi and took screenshots of everything, just in case the sat-nav lead us astray. Our first destination, however, couldn’t be mapped or entered into the sat-nav, as it had no address and was not a tourist attrraction. Rait Castle was on a little back road, literally called “no name road,” according to google. This was a castle that I’d found, when I was deep down the rabbit hole of travel blogs pertaining specifically to the Scottish Highlands. In our attempt to locate the elusive castle, we ended up down some really pretty backroads!

There are exactly three things indicating that you are near the castle and all three are suuuuuuper easy to miss. The sign on the left (below) is only visible when traveling from one direction (you guessed it, the opposite direction from the one we were traveling) and the sign on the right (below) is right on a fence post, facing the road, which you really can’t see unless you’re looking for it and driving really really slow. We saw both of these AFTER we left the castle, of course! The third thing is the castle itself, which is just barely peeking out of the trees, at the end of the farm road leading to it. The directions we used were ones I found on a travel blog and they got us close enough that we eventually found the castle ourselves.

This is all that shows above the trees (pictured below).

Unlike the other castles we visited, Rait was completely secluded. As in we were literally the only ones there. WE WERE THE ONLY TWO PEOPLE AT THIS CASTLE! For like an hour. No other voices or any noise, aside from the faint chirping of birds in the distance. The wind wasn’t even blowing. It was peaceful and romantic.

Built in the thirteenth century, Rait was the smallest castle that we visited (well, the one on Skye might have been smaller, but we didn’t get to get close enough to say for sure, since it had a fence around it).  While I didn’t find the castle to be creepy or scary, there was definitely a feeling of… something. I couldn’t quite place my finger on it, but something felt…unsettled, I guess? We found out later that the legend around this castle involves a father chopping off his daughter’s hands, as she hung out of the tower window, causing her to fall to her death. Could’ve been that, I guess.

Here we are, kissing in castles again. Hey, we can’t help it! It’s romantic AF in these things!

The photo below shows  the view from the castle. Not too shabby, eh?

Here are a few shots of nearby scenery and homes, on our way to Cawdor Castle, which was just down the road.

Although we were able to walk the perimeter of the castle grounds, Cawdor was closed for the season. We had missed it by just a few days! It closes for about half the year because someone lives in it during those months! Lucky bastards.  Anyway, we couldn’t see the castle at all, but the property and nearby land was beautiful. We even found a little unmarked  gravestone near the castle, sort of buried in the trees, vines, and leaves.

This guy. I’m taking photos of leaves and I look over, to see him standing like this. There he is, in the most beautiful light, with that ginger beard, looking like he’s modeling in a goddamned travel ad for the Scottish Highlands. He looks GOOD in Scotland, that’s for damn sure!  

Once in a while I’m actually patient enough to wait for a shot. I knew he’d eventually walk right through this scene and line up exactly where I wanted him. Well, almost exactly where I wanted him. Close enough.

On the road between Rait and Cawdor Castles, we spotted an old cemetery. Seeing as we had some extra time, due to Cawdor being closed, we decided to go back and explore the cemetery. In case you don’t know this about me, I absolutely LOVE old cemeteries. The older, the better. I’ve always been obsessed with them. I remember finding a pioneer cemetery when I was in elementary school and spending hours there, reading all of the headstones.

This cemetery did not disappoint. I could have spent all day there, reading and photographing all of the old graves.

I spotted this one stone, too old to read, glowing with a ray of sunlight. Being the Outlander fanatic that I am, I may have convinced myself that this was possibly a traveling stone. As you can probably guess, it didn’t work. I’m totally okay with that, though, seeing as I already have my own (even better) version of Jamie Fraser.

Our last stop, before heading back to Inverness, was Culloden Battlefield. If you’re an Outlander fan (or a history buff), you know all about this location. Being there was sobering, with lines of red and blue flags, to represent the lines formed by the Scottish and the English. We didn’t realize you could visit the outdoor area and gift shop, without purchasing tickets to the indoor exhibits. Admittedly, the inside seemed a little…I don’t know, boring? Being that we’ll probably only visit Culloden once in our lives, I’m glad that we did it. If we were to ever go back, though, we’d skip the indoor portion.

I found it! I found the Clan Fraser marker! As you can see, there have been gifts left on this stone. Don’t worry, other stones had flowers and things as well. In fact, the “mixed clans” stone had the most flowers (not pictured here).

Instead of eating at the museum, we decided to head back to Inverness. We did a bit more shopping (I bought some boots I’d been eyeing the night before… a mere 5 minutes before the shop closed!), and then grabbed some burgers. I don’t know if they were as good as we thought they were or if we were just really hungry, but OMG, they were fantastic. The sun was setting, as we were leaving the restaurant and it was just a really nice end to a beautiful day.

 

DAY 8: INVERNESS to GLASGOW

We hit the road, while it was still dark, as we knew this would be one of our longest days. Wilma wasn’t happy at the idea of us leaving without breakfast (I’m telling you, it’s like you’re at your Grandma’s house, but in all the good ways), so she packed us some light snacks and made sure we knew where everything was, so we could make ourselves some cereal as well. Our first stop was about 2.5 hour drive from Inverness, although a little longer for us, with a couple of short stops along the way, for gas, snacks, etc. I bought some kind of breakfast pastry at a gas station and holy hell was it delicious!

As you can see, I caught a shot with my phone, of the sun coming up. I really wanted to get some shots with my big girl camera, but we couldn’t find a good place to pull over. I did spot a castle in the distance and managed to get a couple of  shots of that, from a distance (one is a cell phone photo and the other was taken with my DSLR…definitely one of those times I wish I’d had a longer lens).

I really went back and forth, the night before, in choosing one last castle to see. We could stop at “Castle Leoch” or “Lallybroch.” It was a tough choice, let me tell you! Doune Castle, where Outlander, Game of Thrones, and Monty Python were all filmed, is a tourist attraction and something we could tour the inside of. Midhope Castle, which is located on Hopetoun Estate and serves as Jamie’s home in Outlander, was something we could only walk the perimeter of, as the building itself is derelict and locked up. Due to location and time, we could only visit one. I knew that if we went to Lollybroch that we likely wouldn’t have time to visit Edinburgh this trip and I really didn’t want to miss that opportunity. I also worried that I’d feel disappointed with Midhope Castle, since we couldn’t go inside.

Doune Castle was originally built in the 1200s and then rebuilt in the late 1300s/early1400s, after it was destroyed in battle. Despite the fact that they were doing some construction during our visit, it was incredibly awesome. We were able to tour almost every single nook and cranny of this place.

People have asked me which castle was my favorite and honestly, they’re each my favorite, for different reasons. I loved Kilchurn because it was my first castle and we had our anniversary photos done there. The Eilean Donan was the first castle I went inside and had a “Scotland” moment, so to speak (like, OMG, I just realized I’m in Scotland). It was also the best to photograph. So, for those reasons, that one is my favorite. Urquhart was on Loch Ness and is a favorite because we kissed in the rain, while declaring our love for one another in the chapel. Rait Castle was my favorite because we were the only ones there and the experience there was completely different than any of the others. Of course Doune is also my favorite because I got to stand in the same rooms and walk the same hallways as Jamie and Claire! It also had the most to explore and so many windows and enchanting light.

This is the view from one of the higher windows of the castle. It’s what Claire would’ve seen, while waiting for Jamie to return, if she hadn’t been stuck in that damn dungeon, with the herbs. In case you haven’t noticed, I’m kind of obsessed with windows. I have always photographed windows, but windows in a castle are on a whole ‘nother level.

I spotted Ben in some cool light and told him to freeze, so I could join him for a selfie. The photo on the left is pretty typical for us: I am being a cheeseball and he’s smiling, adoringly, in the background.

After our tour of “Castle Leoch,” we headed to Glasgow, to return our car. Getting to the rental car drop-off location took us less than an hour from the castle and I cannot tell you how relieved Ben was to return the car. Aside from that first day we had the car, he did ALL of the driving. We figured that since he was a nervous wreck, whether he was driving or riding passenger, I may as well take photos while he was driving (or tell him where to pull over). By the time we had to return the car, Ben was all kinds of frazzled from driving and ready to be done with it. Poor guy. He said he’d still do it again, though, if he had a do-over. There are so many ways to tour Scotland and I think tour groups would be really fun and laid back, but we wanted to be on our own schedule and see more of the country and less of the touristy stuff.

The rental car place dropped us off at our hotel in Glasgow (same hotel as the first leg of the trip) after we finished the final paperwork with them. Although it was getting late in the day, I insisted that we take the train over to Edinburgh. It was our last day in Scotland and I really didn’t want to leave without spending at least a few hours there!

So, we found a train station in Glasgow and managed to figure out their ticket machine and bought two roundtrip tickets. I was excited to ride on a train, which would’ve been another first for both of us, but it wasn’t really a train. It was a light rail, just like the Max, here in Portland. It was a nice ride, though, as it was quiet, smooth, and quick (about a 45-minute ride each way). As soon as we exited the train station, we could see that Edinburgh was quite different than Glasgow.

The Scott Monument, in honor of Sir Walter Scott, was the first thing we saw. As you can see, it’s quite impressive.

The buildings in Edinburgh were much more monotone than those we saw in Glasgow. Edinburgh is obviously much older than Glasgow and you can really feel that when you are there. We got there around the time most people were getting off of work, so there was a lot of commotion and energy for about an hour. We found some pasta place for dinner…not very Scottish, but it sounded good and we were close to getting hangry.

After dinner and some shopping, we walked up to the observatory to watch the sunset. As you can see, the view from up there was quite awesome. If it weren’t for the 327 other people up there with us, I’d have found it very romantic.

On our way back towards city centre, we found an old cemetery. Just right there, in the middle of the city, surrounded by apartments and other buildings. As I mentioned earlier, I love cemeteries. This one wasn’t as old as the one we visited in the highlands, but it was still really cool. There had obviously been a fire at some point, which caused damage to multiple graves and mausoleums (not sure what they’re called there).

After the cemetery, we hit a few more shops before heading back to Glasgow.

Remember, earlier in this post, where I said I’d get back to the kilt pin? Well, here it is.

While in Edinburgh, we stopped in at a kilt shop. Ben really liked the kilt he rented for photos, so after talking himself out of the purchase at every other shop, I finally convinced him to just get the damn kilt at this shop. At one point, he was looking at kilt pins, belt buckles, and other accessories.

Actually, let’s rewind for just a minute.

The kilt pin that I bought Ben at the antique shop in Skye was done so in secret, which wasn’t easy to do, considering how small the shop was. Thankfully Ben’s hearing isn’t the best and he tends to tune background noise out anyway (a skill of which I’m very jealous, by the way). Anyway, the pin had a tree and the word “through” on it, but neither Karen nor I knew what it meant. She even tried googling the answer, but no luck. Nevertheless, the pin spoke to me for whatever reason, so I bought it. Karen knew it was to be on the sly, so I slipped her some cash and she dropped the pin into my purse. I tried searching the internet for any meaning of the word through on a kilt pin, but when you search the words “through” and “kilt pin” you just get a lot of links to instructions on how to wear a kilt pin (as in you put it through the fabric), lol.

Okay, back to the kilt shop in Edinburgh, when all of a sudden I see a belt buckle with the same tree and the word “through” sprawled across it. What?! As luck would have it, Ben was distracted with something else, so I took the belt buckle over to the woman working there and asked her about it. She explained that it was the Hamilton family’s crest and that the word “through” was their family motto, but that she didn’t know what it meant.

HAMILTON.

I had unknowingly purchased a kilt pin with the Hamilton family crest and motto on it. My husband is part of the Hamilton family! His grandmother (also a redhead) was a Hamilton! The Ward name (rather McWard or MacWard) came from Ireland, but Ben’s DNA shows far more Scottish ancestry than Irish, thanks to that side of his family. I couldn’t believe that I’d somehow found this kilt pin, randomly, in a small shop, run by Karen (my mom’s name, by the way). I had to wait a couple of very long months before giving it to him, but I was suddenly even more excited about it.

THE END.

Okay, not the end, but the end of photos.

 

DAY 9: GLASGOW to PORTLAND

Our trip home was the reverse of our trip to Scotland. We flew from Glasgow to Iceland, then Iceland to Portland. This time we could see Iceland as we approached it. Yep, it looked like all the photos I’d seen on the internet, but less impressive, to be honest. The layover was long enough for us to buy some overpriced shitty food at their airport and refill on that (not shitty) glacier water form the drinking fountain (downstairs by the restroom, if you’re ever there). By the time we landed in Portland, we were starving, exhausted, and ready for bed, despite it only being early evening. We managed to stay up until about 8pm before passing out. It took me a good week or two to get out of my jet lag funk and back on a regular schedule. I also came home and found I disliked the coffee and creamer that we’d been deprived of for over a week (I drank a lot of Coca Cola while I was there, due to the lack of decent coffee options). I was really worried that I’d involuntarily stopped drinking coffee! Rest assured, I was back on the coffee train about a week later. THANK GOODNESS!

 

RANDOM TIPS FROM A SCOTLAND FIRST-TIMER:

1) Glasgow is pronounced glaz-go (like letg’s go), not glass-gow.

2) Edinburgh is pronounced with an uh at the end, like ed-in-burr-uh.

3) While the people aren’t bubbly and friendly, they’re very helpful. They just do it with a more “matter of fact” tone and less expressiveness than we do. At first they seem grumpy, but I’m pretty sure they’re not.

4) If you’re a coffee drinker, pack your own. More importantly, if you’re a vanilla creamer person, pack some! I actually did buy some powdered vanilla creamer, but left it at home (with my atlas)

5) Tipping isn’t really a thing in Scotland. Our restaurant receipts didn’t even have a place for a tip.

6) If you have the option to get cell phone service while you are there, and plan to do any driving, get it! Even if it had been really expensive, there were definitely times on our trip where we really wish we’d had it. I would say if you aren’t planning on driving, though, it’s probably not necessary, as you’ll  likely have wi-fi wherever you’re staying.

7) Think before you buy liquor in Scotland. Wilma told us about how they buy Scottish whiskey when they’re in the states because it’s cheaper. We purchased three bottles while we were there: a bottle of rum, for us, a bottle of elderberry gin for my mom, and a bottle of Glenfiddich for a friend. Of course, we found out after we returned home that the whiskey is indeed cheaper, a mere two miles from my house. Haha. Oh, well.

8) It’s more expensive in general there. Most of our accommodations were around $100/night, so that was reasonable, but everything else (gifts, food, etc.) was considerably pricier than they are here. We bought far fewer souvenirs than we expected. Instead, most of our money was spent on experiences and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

9) Almost everywhere we went takes debit cards (just make sure to tell your bank before you leave!). We brought way more cash than we needed (we just used the exchange at the airport, due to time) for this trip.

10) We hope to make a return trip to Scotland in a few years. I plan on booking another session with Jo and Liam, but this time we’ll either do the session in the city or on Skye. We have decided that on our next trip, we will visit the Isle of Skye again (our favorite spot), but this time visit more areas in the north, as there are a LOT more castles further up there!

11) They’re not kidding when the travel experts tell you to dress in layers, if you visit Scotland in the fall. The temperature varied greatly throughout the day, as did the weather in general (rain, fog, wind, cold, sunshine, warm weather…all on the same day). For the most part, I wore leggings and knit t-shirt dresses, as those took up the least amount of room in my luggage and I didn’t have to worry about wrinkles. Also, I packed a giant velvet cape (for photos) that took up half my suitcase, so I was limited on space. I packed a nice outfit, in case we went to a fancy restaurant for dinner, but I never wore it. We were just on the go the whole time and never really planned when we’d eat. I also packed sneakers that I only wore on the first day of travel. It was way too wet to wear tennis shoes there, so I was in my hiking boots pretty much the entire time. On drier days I wore my super cheap ankle boots from Target that I’d packed for photos.

12) King sized beds aren’t a thing in Scotland. What we call queen, they call a king. All of our accommodations had two twin beds, with the exception of our apartment in Skye, which had a “king” sized bed (i.e. what we consider a queen).

13) If you  need to go potty, ask for the toilet (notrestroom, wash closet, loo, or bathroom).