More jaunting around Scotland, Ireland, Wales and England
17 Sep 2018
A lovely day today along the road to Inverness, the capital of the Highlands, the home of the McRaes (which is my maiden name)!
Crossing the Firth of Forth, the estuary of a number of Scottish rivers, our first stop was at St Andrews, and we all know who met who there. A stroll along the High Street took me past the university and the cafe where Wills and Kate used to canoodle, to the ruins of the cathedral. It obviously was very impressive in it's heyday, as the ruins are even today.
I came across a couple of Aussies along the way and had a chat and then found more ruins, this time St Andrews castle, but there's not much of it left on the headland. St Andrews is right on the ocean and it's beach is where the movie Chariots of Fire was filmed. I know, I must be old to remember that!
Our lunch stop was at the very pretty village of Pitlochry, another of the places I saw with John. The only reason I remember it was that it has the smallest whisky distillery in Scotland - why I remember that I don't know, 'cause I don't like whisky! Could have bought lots of Westie themed souvenirs, but I didn't, but it was fun to look.
We drove past Culloden Moor, didn't stop this time - it is such a sad, bleak place; and on to Ballindalloch castle and gardens. This castle is still lived in and we got to see some of the inside. Apparently we could have climbed the stairs to the top of the tower - I didn't find out about that until after. I can hear my sister saying "you wouldn't have done it anyway"! Very nice indeed, as was the afternoon tea of scones, jam and cream - is it any wonder my clothes are shrinking! The gardens were lovely but didn't have time to see them all.
Arrived in Inverness rather late so didn't get to see much of it but the hotel was a bit like Faulty Towers, we didn't see Manuel or Sybil! I did go for a short walk across the river the next morning but didn't have time to go far.
First adventure today was a cruise on Loch Ness to see if we could find Nessie, but there were no sightings! The weather was perfect, the loch was like glass and to top it off when we got back to dry land we had ice cream, courtesy of the Tour Director.
I know Matt had an expense account for "flourishes" as he called them but the little treats along the way were unexpected. There was always a bottomless tin of sweets on the coach and other surprises along the way.
The highlight for me in Scotland was a stop at Eilean Donan castle, now owned by the MacRaes. This castle, the most photographed in Scotland (you will see it on bikkie tins quite often), was originally built in the 1200's to ward off Norse invaders but was destroyed in 1719 during the Jacobite rebellion. It was rebuilt in the 20th century to it's former state. I'm into family history and it gives me goosebumps to be able to go back to where my ancestors came from.
We were headed to the Isle of Skye but just a little way along the road we stopped for a photo opportunity and I heard a piper so went off to find him. There were a few other travellers there requesting certain tunes and when he asked where I came from he played Waltzing Matilda and The Road to Gundagai for me - and wouldn't believe me when I told him that I originally came from Wagga Wagga, which is about 50 miles from Gundagai! Even had my photo taken with him!
These days you don't go "over the sea to Skye" on the ferry, but just across the bridge. It was mid afternoon before we got there but we took a drive around the island with a very informative local guide. Sometimes the local guides can be a bit boring in their presentation but this fellow was great - he obviously loved his home! The scenery was stunning, but I don't think I would like to live there in winter! We saw the Old Man of Storr, a rocky spire on the mountain top; the red and black Cuillin Mountains and Portree, the largest town on the island. One of the funny things we saw was a cottage with ropes thrown over the thatched roof with big rocks tied to the ropes, looked like a swaggie's hat! The winds must get a bit blustery at times.
Not a good day for me today. Back on the mainland we drove a few miles to see the WWII Commando Memorial and to be lucky enough to see Ben Nevis without cloud cover. Unfortunately I saw neither one of them after I caught the toe of my shoe on a step and came down like a ton of bricks. I managed to break a toe and am still sporting a very dark left side of my face. It is improving but it certainly was black to start with and I still have a bump on my forehead. You can imagine the looks I get! Lots of people have been surprised that I didn't pack up and go home, had I done more damage I might have but I'm ok. We had a doctor among our group and he took good care of me but suggested I go to Emergency which I did, xray of my left foot showed a broken toe, but the one of my head showed it was empty!
We stopped overlooking Glencoe, where the massacre of the MacDonalds by the Campbells took place in 1692. It is another sad, foreboding place too and the fact that the day was overcast added to the atmosphere. My fuzzy head wouldn't have helped either!
A lovely drive along the Bonnie Banks of Loch Lomond was topped off with another treat - a small dram of whisky or Baileys on the shores of the loch - beautiful!
Arriving in Glasgow we only had time for a drive around the city and a walk around George Square before going out for dinner in one of the nicest restaurants I've seen since Vienna. Again it was a former bank building and I was disappointed that I didn't have my camera or phone to take some photos. The food was good too!
Today we said goodbye to Scotland and crossed the Irish Sea to Belfast where we again had a tour around the city with free time to wander on our own. Cobbled streets and broken toes aren't conducive to lots of walking so I didn't venture very far.
Two nights in the one place are few and far between, but we had them in Dublin after travelling alongside the Mountains of Mourne and crossed the Boyne Valley which was the site of yet another battle in time past. While in Dublin we saw O'Connell Street where you will still see evidence of the "Troubles" with the IRA as you do in Belfast; Grafton Street where Molly Malone sold her wares - I went looking for her statue but for some reason it has been moved; St Patricks Cathedral; Trinity College and the Famine Memorial statues. A drive through Phoenix Park, which at 1750 acres is the largest enclosed public park in Europe, was a pleasant way to end the day. The park is home to numerous memorials and monuments, the Dublin Zoo, the American Embassy and the residence of the Irish President. The headquarters of the Irish Police Force is there too - maybe the American Ambassador and the Irish President get a bit out of line on occasions.
A full day in Dublin today saw us visit the Guinness Brewery for a pint of the "Black Stuff" and a very interesting tour and explanation of the history and traditions behind the brewing of Guinness.
After lunch we drove through the countryside of County Wicklow to St Kevin's 6th century monastic site at Glendalough where we explored the remains of the monastery. Not much remains of the buildings but the 30 metre high Round Tower is still relatively intact. Don't ask me how they got into it though as the door is 10 metres off the ground!
We had a really enjoyable night out tonight at an Irish dinner and cabaret. Lots of music, dancing and comedy as only the Irish can do. Lots of fun and again we sang all the way back to the hotel.
Today it rained! Not what we wanted as we travelled through Galway to the Cliffs of Moher on the Clare Coast where it bucketed down. Usually when it rains you can't see the majestic cliffs for fog but we were lucky to be there before the fog came in. I might add we got drenched walking from the coach park to the lookout but it was worth it, the view is spectacular, photos don't do it justice.
Last night was spent in Limerick where we spent the evening at Shannon Castle for a very ordinary outing. The food was nothing special and the drinks were apparently watered down, going on the faces that were pulled when they were tasted. Not one of our best outings!
Before leaving this morning we got a quick look at St Mary's Cathedral, King John's Castle and the Treaty Stone before we travelled through the pretty village of Adare with all it's thatched cottages to Tralee where we had time to stroll through their beautiful rose garden. More of Ireland's many shades of green surrounded us as we made our way through the great cliffs, wide skies and ocean views of the Dingle Peninsula on the way to Killarney and the Ring of Kerry.
Killarney and the Ring of Kerry would have to be my favourite part of Ireland. The mountains, valleys, lakes and sea blend into a landscape which is breathtaking. We continued through the MacGillicuddy Reeks, Ireland's highest mountain range, to the Three Lakes of Killarney, which in their wisdom the powers that be called The Upper, Middle and Lower Lake! In the afternoon some of us went on a Jaunting Car ride with a very interesting Jarvie through the National Park. Couldn't get many photos due to the rain and the inconsiderateness of one of our fellow travellers who kept blocking my view when something interesting came up.
Another enjoyable dinner tonight at one of the local restaurants topped off a great day.
I forgot - 5 of us had fun at another Irish Show where the dancing was just great, and the dancers were ok too.
I think I talk enough so didn't need to climb the many many narrow steps to kiss the Blarney Stone today 'though many of our tour mates did. They waited up to an hour before even getting into Blarney Castle! I spent that time enjoying the views and strolling around the castle gardens, where they even have a Poisons Garden. Very peaceful surroundings until the Japanese hordes arrive (and I'm not being racist). They would have to be the noisiest people, chattering and yelling at one another.
Leaving Blarney we were making our way to Waterford when Jason, our coach driver, unexpectedly pulled into a rest stop along the highway. We were all told to get off the coach and just to wait. Matt appeared with a supermarket bag in his hand from which he pulled a McGuigan's wine bottle and a supply of small plastic glasses. The contents of the bottle were poured and handed around and we were told not to drink it until told. On the count of three we had to down it in one gulp - I'm no drinker but was game to try it - well, it nearly blew my head off. It was Poteen! This is illegally distilled with a very very high alcohol content and apparently Matt must have had contacts somewhere along the way - another one of his "flourishes". but I don't think this one would appear on his expense account. How anyone drinks it is beyond me, even some of our seasoned drinkers were taken aback.
Back on the road we arrived in Waterford to visit the House of Waterford Crystal to see how it is made. Very interesting to see the glass blowers at work and the other master craftsmen complete the finer aspects of crystal making. Of course we had to have a look through the showroom, can't call it a shop, where I found a crystal version of Cinderella's carriage, on sale for 40,000 Euros - around $80,000! Pity the suitcase is full! Also saw a full sized crystal grandfather clock, but thought it was rather ugly.
Happy 21st birthday to our special 2nd eldest grandson Benjamin!
Another ferry trip across from Ireland to Pembroke in Wales today, this time it was about 4 hours so we were up early for our 2 hour drive to the docks. Once in Cardiff we had an insider look at this unique castle, the construction of which was started by the Romans 2,000 years ago. The refurbishments done in the 1800's can only be described as outrageous to opulent, bogus to brilliant and some say that the architect smoked his opium pipe too much. The architecture includes Arab and Islamic art, Hans Christian Andersen's fairy tales and even Aesop's fables. A real dog's dinner!
An evening out at the Millenium Centre this evening where we were entertained with beautiful Welsh music, stories and singing.
The city of Bath was one of our stops today where we visited the Roman Baths, the incredibly well preserved remains of one of the greatest spas of the ancient world, where the natural hot springs still flow. Bath is a beautiful city and a walk around the Georgian streets and crescents would have been wonderful, but we had to be content with a drive around before leaving to visit Glastonbury where we saw the remains of the Abbey and more hippies than I've ever seen in the one place at the same time. Nearly every shop in the main street seemed to be full of incense etc., I wondered how they all made a living.
From Glastonbury we continued south to Torquay with a stop in the very pretty town of Looe where Matt treated us to dinki di Cornish pasties for lunch. Very tasty, but just a bit peppery for me. The seagulls here are a speckledy brown colour and the biggest seagulls I've ever seen and the greediest too!
An ice cream, just to get rid of the peppery taste of course, a window shop walk along the main street and we were back on the coach for our two nights in Torquay.
Driving into Torquay we saw a sign advertising the town as the "English Riviera". All I can say is that someone has a vivid imagination, I thought it was rather tacky. It does sit right on the seaside, but along the main street there appeared to be nothing but Amusement Parlours, fish and chip shops and betting shops; maybe I missed something. The hotel sat on top of a very steep hill and the first night we had to fend for ourselves for dinner. Cynthia and I didn't want much for dinner so decided to have something light in the hotel dining room but when we ventured in were told that they were fully booked for the evening. There were about 6 people there! We ran into Matt and Jason and I sarcastically commented that they wouldn't serve trashy tour groups and Matt nearly had conniptions. We finished up calling a cab and had a nice dinner in a restaurant recommended by Jason and when we got back to the hotel the restaurant was empty! Matt had a few very choice words to say the next morning.
Today we drove to Plymouth to see the Mayflower Steps, where so many left England to make a new life in the USA or Australia; the Barbican (the wall around the city), and the Plymouth Hoe, where Sir Francis Drake supposedly interrupted his game of bowls to see off the Spanish Armada. We also had a cruise around the harbour with Sid the Squid who pointed out all the places of interest.
I've just realised that we had lunch in Looe today not yesterday. We travelled back to Torquay across the desolate Dartmoor where we saw some rather shaggy Dartmoor ponies and not much more.
Tonight the "trashy tour group" were welcome in the dining room for our farewell dinner before returning to London tomorrow.
We started our last day with a visit to Stonehenge. I'm convinced that someone keeps moving the rocks - when we first saw it in 1995 we got off the coach quite close to actual monument; in 2012 we had to go through the visitors centre, and walk under the road before we got there. This time we got off our coach in the car park, walked a distance, got on another transit bus for an almost 2 mile drive before we even saw the stones! Now you can't even get close to the structure, you can only walk around the perimeter. Nevertheless it is still an amazing sight and I don't think anyone is any closer to coming up with an answer as to how it was built so long ago. Lots of theories from Druids to little green men from outer space - who knows, but it would be interesting to know.
It wasn't long before we were back in the rush and bustle of London for our last night so five of us went to the pub across from our hotel for a last hurrah before going our separate ways. Cynthia and I need to be up early tomorrow to be picked up at 5am for our flight to Croatia.
It has been a great trip, saw so much more than our itinerary showed thanks to our Irish tour director and Welsh coach driver who ventured along some very hairy, narrow roads to get us to scenic spots. In some places the road was so narrow that oncoming traffic had to back up quite a distance to let us through. They were both so much fun to travel with as were most of our fellow travellers.
CROATIA AND THE BALKANS
Nothing very interesting today, just 2 flights, one London to Munich and the next Munich to Dubrovnik, with lots of waiting in between. We now wait at the baggage carousel with everything crossed that our luggage made the journey too!
We arrived in Dubrovnik about 4ish and met our Tour Director for our tour of Croatia and the Balkans a little while later.
From what we saw of the city on the drive in, it looks beautiful. A large part of Croatia sits right on the Adriatic Sea with a mountain range not far away on the Bosnian border with Dubrovnik situated in a very skinny stretch of land, so the city climbs the mountain, with the Old Town on the sea side.
Our hotel is within walking distance of the Old Town so will explore it soon.
Our tour doesn't start until this evening so today was free to do as we pleased. We knew we would be shown around the city tomorrow so decided to have a very lazy day - by the time we caught up with washing, reorganised cases etc., and I brought this up to date, we didn't feel like we'd been lazy. Anyway we had a break!
Unfortunately we are back to hot weather, after almost 3 weeks of lovely cool days.
This evening we met our fellow travellers at a get together over drinks. There are 23 of us, all Aussies from all over the country. Will get to know them better as time goes on.
The Old Town of Dubrovnik is surrounded by massive stone walls, completed in the 16th century and is 2klms long. These walls have never been breached by an enemy. The Old Town is easy to navigate, having one wide pedestrian street with very skinny alleyways running off it at intervals. Even I couldn't get lost! There are no vehicles inside the walls and the streets are paved with large limestone blocks and the buildings are built with the same stone. Shops, restaurants and cafes line the streets and it is all incredibly clean and bright. There is also a cathedral, government buildings and a Franciscan Monastery within the walls. There are only 5 monks left and the youngest is 82, so don't know how long the monastery will survive.
It was lovely to meander through the town, would have been nicer on a cooler day, but I did enjoy it.
After that excursion we drove about half an hour out of town to a small family run restaurant for lunch. The family were very welcoming and the food all home grown local cuisine. Might take me a while to get used to it, lots of dried figs, home made cheese and wine, quince paste, olive oil, walnut liqueur and lots of herbs and spices. Three generations of the family are involved and Mumma does all the cooking.
Another day, another country; and today it was Montenegro. Yet another guide and another guided tour through the old town area of Kotor. Thankfully the streets have been reasonable as my poor toe objects to cobblestones. Once again Kotor is a walled city and these walls snake way up the mountainside. I've yet to get an understandable answer as to which marauding hordes these wall builders wanted to keep out!
The countryside here and in Croatia is very scenic, especially on our drives along the coast. It is beautiful!
Lunch today was about a 30 minutes drive out of Kotor at a nice outdoor restaurant. We certainly earned our lunch; we got off the coach and then walked what seemed like a mile to get to the restaurant. A few of us weren't too sure about what was on our plates but it was ok.
Going from country to country involves border crossings and some of the countries belong to the EU and some don't so it's never known how long the hold up will be at the border - today wasn't too bad in the morning but we waited for nearly an hour on the way back into Croatia. Another problem is the currency - it is Kuna in Croatia, Euros in Montenegro and tomorrow it will be Marks in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
We've spent the last 4 nights in Dubrovnik with day trips but today we move on to Mostar in Bosnia and Herzegovina for 2 nights and of course this involved another border crossing - this time we weren't so lucky and were held up for over an hour, and I don't think we even got a stamp in our passports!
Tamara, our Tour Director, mentioned that the streets in Mostar were paved with river stones and the surface would be very uneven so I decided not to do the walk and came straight to the hotel with a couple of the others. Sometimes you just can't do everything!
A very long day today, but an interesting one. We drove from Mostar to Sarajevo, a city I never imagined I would ever go to, but I'm glad I did.
During the war from 1991 to 1995 the city of Sarajevo was completely surrounded by Serbian troops with no way in or out until someone came up with the idea of digging a tunnel - so they did; 200 men took 4 months to dig 800 metres to behind the enemy lines and today we visited that tunnel and walked just a few of those 800 metres. It was only a metre wide and 1.6 metres high so not a Sunday stroll!
Our next stop was in the city where we stood on the actual spot where the Arch Duke Ferdinand was assassinated, thus beginning WWI. We've been told lots of stories about the troubles between the Croats and Serbs since we've been here, but today we had a guide who made more sense and explained everything in simple terms and made what could have been another boring history lesson very interesting.
After we were let loose one of the other ladies and I wandered the narrow alleyways in the old town for over an hour, always keeping an eye on a landmark so we didn't get lost, never to be found again. It was another warm day but apart from that it was a very interesting and enjoyable day - but I was pleased to get back to the hotel at the end of it!
I haven't uploaded all the photos I wanted to, but it is 10.30pm and we will be on the road again by 8 in the morning so it will be a job for another evening.