A Travellerspoint blog

By this Author: TandTtravel

Scotland - islands

semi-overcast 12 °C
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First days - Orkney & Shetland
We had smooth sailing all night and our first day was in Orkney. We weren't able to get either of the tour alternatives I wanted, so we decided to wander the town of Kirkwall for the morning and do the Distillery tour late afternoon. That worked well for us - we saw the Earls castle and the Bishops castle both built around 1600 and in remarkably good condition. We then wandered around streets and the small shopping strip stopping to buy a cross stitch of puffins! After that it was back to the boat and onto the tour we'd booked - we drove to the highland View whisky distillery where we had a great tour - a bit like seeing a craft as it evolved, and they also gave us gorgeous little whisky (or port) glasses! After that it was down past the Scarpa Flow and the Churchill barriers, then onto the Italian Chapel built by Japanese prisoners of war inside two Nissen huts. The prisoners decorated the inside by painting it as a replica of a holy card which had been given Chiechecco by his mother when he went to war. Camp 60 was off to the side of Scarpa Flow and in the middle of a field, so it must have been freezing while they were there.
After that (and the bus breaking down for a little while) we went back into Kirkwall to see the Cathedral. Built in 1120, and added to a few times later so that it's a mix of Gothic and Roman - quite impressive, as was the whole tour
Lerwick in Shetland was quite different. We had no tour here so we had to wait till after 10am before we could get a tender. When we got there we found the village maybe less developed, but the scenery more wonderful! Perhaps that was because we chose to have just a quick look at the fort, church and shops and then went straight to the walks and made our way up and around the bluff, seeing nesting seagulls as we went. We had to be back on the ship by 3pm, so we couldn't see much else, but I think there was lots more worth seeing.

Lewis &Harris
Then it was Wednesday, so that meant we must have been at Lewis & Harris, and tenders would take us to Stornoway. We were on a tour this time, which was lucky because most things are further into the island. We were taken to a Blackhouse for crafters which was an old stone house with thatched roof, a barn for animals, living area for people and a byrne for chickens and supplies all under one small roof. Heating was by a peat fire, the smoke of which filled the place and killed all bugs and mildew! They were found to be health hazards and occupants moved into smaller houses with the last occupants moving in mid 1900s.
We then went on to the Standing Stones of Callanish which are dated to the Neolithic time ie about 4000-5000BC. It was quite an impressive group of stones, and from that circle we could see two more circles. In the middle of this one was a grave and the stones appeared to represent a cross with the circle around the join in the cross. The landscape was very barren and tough, and strangely the stones seemed to fit!

After that it was back to Stornoway and a wander round the town, then back to the ship.

Tobermory, Mull
We have hoped to sea Puffins here, so took the tender filled with anticipation!
The Sealife Survey boat was quite substantial much to my relief, and we were told is all the things in the area that we might see, with the focus on a pair of white tailed sea eagles who have been nesting in the area for five years.
On a nice calm sea, with even the touch of sunshine, we set off. We first saw gulls, then cormorants, then shags and gannets, then through binoculars you could see an eagle in the trees! Having searched for that for a while, with most people satisfied that they'd seen it (at least a sudden of white!) we moved on. We then saw a sea eagle sitting on a rock who then took off, and sailed gloriously overhead. With a wing span of about 2m he was very impressive. Then Trev had his highlight of seeing an otter running across the rocks and jumping into a cave! That was followed by a buzzard circling over the mountain close by, and after that we saw seals lazing in the shallow water, and shags in the cliff face - about 6 adults and a couple of nests with babies in them. This was all in a landscape which was quite beautiful, green, luscious and harsh!

After the tour we had very fresh fish for lunch, then walked around (and up and down) the town. The houses on the shore line are all colourfully painted, and the next row of houses which are at a higher level are really well maintained, and add to the beauty of the town.

Portree, Skye
Unfortunately it was raining slightly by the time we got the tender, then came down quite heavily once we made shore, but we had only one chance to see the Skye, so we still walked. We wound our way across the foreshore, and ended up slightly lost in suburban Portree (where the large number of B&Bs were all full) but the found our way back to the typical main drag. Lots of souvenir shops with lots of woollen and other local wares (but it appears on the islands that anything from any island is considered local - Harris tweed being the best example). We stopped for coffee when we found a place not full - rainy day in a port where a cruise ship is in makes for crowds!
We then found the information centre and got a map for a few walks, so it was up to the craft fair in the community centre, then past the medical centre and church to head around the point and up to the lookout. The track we were told to follow was quite overgrown and with the current summer, also quite muddy, and my shoes were no longer waterproof! We then stopped for lunch and thought about getting a bus up around Uig, but thought we really needed a full day for that, so we opted for another walk. This time it was across to the other point, and to the Clan MacMacnheil (now known as Nichol) memorial, which provided a lovely view.
After that we were feeling wet and tired enough to return to the ship for drinks!

Posted by TandTtravel 12:04 Archived in Scotland Tagged and skye lewis orkney harris shetland mull Comments (2)

Glasgow and the highlands

Fort william

rain 13 °C
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A short visit to Glasgow so we just did a bit of walking, then some resting for my back!
We decided that a visit to the highlands was a must, so we bought train tickets to Fort William and headed there.
The journey itself was three and a half hours each way, but we got to see lots of beautiful scenery - starting with the outskirts of Glasgow (which didn't take long, and showed much "sameness" - all 2 up narrow houses in village like groupings), moving to gentle hills and lochs, then getting to steep mountains and bigger lochs. It was all quite beautiful!
When we got to Fort William it was drizzling (apparently there are less than 50 days a year when it's totally dry) but we just wandered round the town for a while, going through a beautiful Episcopal church then heading for the loch and walking round there till we found an old for which used to protect the mainland during wars and another old castle called Inverlochie (I felt I had to go there as Kate had mentioned Inverloch just recently!). We were actually wandering in the Grampians - another reminder of home, and we're at the foot of Ben Nevis. I keep being impressed by the mountains on this side of the world, and feel I could live here, while the cities for me are really just for visiting!
We had five hours in Fort William then headed back for another lovely view along the train tracks.
It was well worth skipping some Glaslow time for some highland time!

Posted by TandTtravel 02:35 Archived in Scotland Tagged trains ben nevis highlands Comments (0)

Edinburgh

overcast 16 °C
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It was a long train trip coming from Lille through London to Edinburgh - it went smoothly enough (apart from the Eurostar being half an hour late, which is apparently unusual but made us miss a connection and have to wait an extra hour!), but the view was really only worth it in parts. Maybe I should have looked closer at air travel?!

Still, our arrival in Edinburgh went OK and we found we had a lovely apartment just off the Royal Mile (although the building is a bit seedy!). We spent a couple of days wandering and looking, including hours at Edinburgh Castle where we found fascinating views and history around every corner.

Then we decided to change plans and go straight to look for Puffins! The original thinking was to wait and see if we see any on the cruise, then if not, we could visit the seabird centre. But when Trev realised the centre was so close, and he worked out how to get to it by train, there was no stopping him! He booked a catamaran trip around a couple of islands to be sure to see Puffins, and planned for some time at the centre. The Scottish Seabird Centre is at North Berwick and had live feed from cameras on Bass rock and four other islands nearby, all of which have various birds nesting at the moment. We got to see a young peregrine falcon sitting calmly on the rock, hundreds of gannets sitting around, normal seagulls and of course lots of puffins. There was one camera down in a burrow and we saw puffins there making a nest! It was wonderful!
We then walked down to the departure point for the boat, but that's where our luck changed. The weather was quite cold and breezy, but had been getting steadily worse, so the captain said they'd decided it was too rough and dangerous to go out! We got a refund and decided if we didn't get to see puffins when we're up in the northern isles, we will come back and try for the boat the day before we go home. Trev was a bit disappointed (I was relieved because I could see how rough it was getting!) so we stopped at the Lobster Shack for half a (small) lobster. They actually grow lobsters here, putting them into the ocean when they are still tiny (half a finger length) and then catching them when they are big.

We decided to get out of Edinburgh, so took a small group day tour to Dunfermline Abbey, Robert the Bruce the Bruce monument, Stirling Castle and Rosslyn Chapel. It was certainly worth it! The driver told history as a story and made it all very interesting. He is clearly quite a fan of Robert the Bruce, even able to forgive him for when he stabbed a friend (turning foe) in the back, 17 times! Robert the Bruce sounds like the one true God in Scotland, and the Battle of Bannockburn where Scotland finally defeated the English, is honoured and they had it's 700th anniversary last year.

Dunfermline Abbey commemorate the Bruce with a gold plaque, with his body buried in the church. While William Wallace's mothers grave under a thorn tree is the closest thing they have for him, as he was hung, drawn and quartered in England. The cemetery had headstones dating back to 1760, and many were illegible, so they are probably older - that older than European settlement in Australia! At the Bruce monument they had a large statue of him on a horse, holding his battle axe. His face/head was copied from the skeleton they found at Dunfermline.

Stirling Castle was much like Edinburgh Castle, but slightly smaller and less crowded and with less adornments. From the castle you could see the William Wallace memorial standing like a sentinel on the mountain. For the Bannockburn celebration last year they had commissioned a copy of a set of tapestries of unicorns is which had hung in the palace at Stirling Castle, but which have been moved to NY. The tapestries were done over several years by about twenty people, and we're amazing in their detail as we saw in a display at the far end of the castle.

There are still many things to see in and around Edinburgh, but at least we have a feel for their long history!

Posted by TandTtravel 15:28 Archived in Scotland Comments (0)

Lille and surrounds

sunny 18 °C
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Lille
Train from Munich was a sensible way to arrive in Lille, although stops and train changes in both Cologne (Kohn) and Brussels (Bruxelles) (and I do wonder why we anglicise the names of cities - surely we should just live with the local names!?) did stretch the friendship a bit! But we had a great view of the countryside along the way - noticing the changing green from deep, verdant in Bavaria to lime and fading in Normandy.

We met Julia and Neil the next morning from their Eurostar trip from London, and took possession of our hire car. Then our adventures started! We first had to work out the car and the SATNAV and then we had to find our way to Le Madeleine and our accommodation. There was the freeway then the narrow streets to cope with, and then we were greeted with a narrow steel staircase to a first floor apartment, then again a spiral staircase to the bedrooms! We felt we'd hit the jackpot! In fact, it all seemed a little stressful at the time, but it was all OK, and it was great to be sharing time with friends.

Julia was in search of her great uncle's grave and knew it was in The Strand War Grave cemetery around Messin, near Ypres, so after a slow lunch of pate and cheese we headed off. We made a number of stops, not taking into account the fact that there are numerous Aust cemeteries in the region - but we did know it (or the related battle and field hospital) was near a wood! We finally found the right cemetery and successfully found the grave. It was quite special for Julia, as it had been for Trev in Malta, and in fact it was very touching for all four of us - put some real context into the trip.

We went to Ypres (where we had a slight altercation with a stop sign) and made our way to the Mennin Gate in time to see (or listen to in my case) the evening ceremony. We were in a crowd of a couple of hundred of tourists, school groups and some returned service people wearing part uniforms and medals and mostly stood waiting patiently. Purely by coincidence, the reading that evening was about a young soldier from NSW who served on the Western Front - which made it all seem closer to us. The minute's silence followed by wreath laying, then of course the sounding of the bugle of the Last Post completed the evening.

Posted by TandTtravel 23:07 Archived in France Comments (0)

Tyrol and Bavaria

Innsbruck and Munich

sunny 32 °C
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We finally moved out of Venice and took the train north through the Brenner Pass to Austria. The train was quite effortless and it would have been quite easy to catch up on some sleep apart from the views! There was green everywhere, and then the sheer lift to the high mountains was amazing. The rivers were swiftly flowing and the greens were so green - not the faded or yellow green I'm used to, but verdant, deep emeralds, closely packed, then with almost lime greens fields occasionally breaking the view, with the mountain tops grey, rocky, snowy peaks just standing dominant!

We arrived in Innsbruck to the sight of trams rolling past the station -making us feel at home! We stayed in the old city which was full of churches, bell towers, guest hauses and expensive shops. But we'd spent enough for our whole trip while in Venice so we were just happy to wander by. We'd arrived mid afternoon but hadn't eaten, so we headed out for some lunch. We expected large serving sizes by now so just ordered salad and soup - but the salad had almost a whole chicken breast AND pork fillet, and the goulash soup was more like a full serve of stew! Both were beautiful though, with the salad dressing being the highlight for me - I had a (small) salad the next night and we asked what was in the dressing, but he said it was a secret! Seriously!

We found our way to the local railway which connected to the cable car to take us up the mountain. The mountains continue to amaze me here in that there's no gentle slopes leading into steeper ones, then into the mountain - here they're just there at the end of the street. From the train it reminded me of the Glass House mountains, and in the town it reminded me of Lhasa, although Innsbruck was lower altitude. We were lucky enough to have a beautiful, clear day to be on the mountain and after the third leg of the journey, when we were at the top (where the serious skiers start from) we could see all the peaks, most with some snow still on them. There was much activity on the mountain, with climbers, walkers, mountain bikers and wandering tourists all finding their own spaces and enjoying the clean air. It was truly awesome!

While the mountains could have held us longer, we had another train to catch. The views on the way to Munich were again great, and kept me from thoughts of sleep! Munich itself was a bit of a shock to the senses - very busy everywhere, and very much the big modern city. Our first wander took through the old town gates to a quite different place. Here new met old, churches hundreds of years old had been refurbished to sit happily beside newer buildings housing shops or restaurants, but it was all in a style that matched. We saw the Marienplatz (and then came back later to hear the carillon play and see the Glockenspeil in action), more churches including St Peters, the Viktualienmarkt where there was Bavarian music and costumed dancers, and of course we interspersed all this with drinks!

We took a whole day out from Munich itself and travelled to the "Eagles Nest" at Obersalzberg, then the village of Berchtesgarten. The Eagles Nest was amazing - both from the histories the guide revealed, and in the place itself. At the bottom of the steep ascent there was a "documentation centre" covering all the history of the place, and Hitlers atrocities through the war. It was not considered a museum as it was not something to be honoured or respected, but was provided purely as history and maybe education. Similarly, Hitler's house had been destroyed by American bombs and its site was not identified to make sure Neo nazis and the like had no place to remember or revered. We reached the top car park by special buses which could manage the twist and turns of the steep mountain, and unfortunately found the fog rolling in! But we entered the marble tunnel and walked some 100m into the mountain then took the gold elevator to the tea rooms at the top. This was where Hitler had meeting rooms and a tea room but not much else, and in fact he didn't use this palatial establishment much anyway. It seemed like an amazing feat of engineering though, considering all the marble and gold used and the altitude that had to be contended with. I had respect for the people who actually built it, but balanced that with the reason it was done, and the power, cruelty and chaos that was Hitler. It was a thought provoking place.
After the Eagles Nest we travelled to Berchtegarten, which is a picturesque village beside a river in the valley. Considerably touristy with many buildings dating back to 1200s, it was a lovely, more positive place to finish our tour! Again Trev and I just wandered around the town enjoying the peace and quiet provided.

We decided that there was enough to do in Munich to visit again for another week at least - there were at least three galleries of science, technology and modern art, and numerous standard art galleries, and of course lots more palaces and churches! Another day!

Posted by TandTtravel 23:02 Archived in Germany Tagged munich innsbruck Comments (0)

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