Scotland & her beautiful lochs, passes & castles

14 02 2015

Scotland is well known for its beautiful landscape, the picturesque highlands, lochs and majestic passes, isles, castles etc. Given that I do not have the luxury of time to see all the wonderful sights in Scotland, I decided to focus on the Western Highlands.

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Travelling past Stirling Castle, I made my first stop at stopping at the medieval Doune Castle.

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For those who have watched Monty Python’s “Holy Grail” and “Outlander” (series based on the books by Diana Gabaldon), you will find Doune Castle familiar as this was one of the filming site. I was surprised that the actual castle is pretty small versus what I saw on the films. The directors really did a good job in picking the right angles to shoot!

My next stop is the beautiful Loch Awe and the superb ruins of Kilchurn Castle, stunningly situated at the head of Loch Awe. Surrounded by towering mountains, though it is not as well-known as its famous brother Loch Ness, Loch Awe’s beauty surely does not pale in comparison with Loch Ness. In fact, I found it nicer than those Loch Ness photos that I have seen from friends. Kilchurn castle ruins were also amazing. The great weather made the sights even more bright and beautiful. I was told that an interesting natural phenomena in Scotland is the ability to experience four seasons in a day. The Scottish weather, like the rest of England, is unpredictable. It could rain, snow and then suddenly you get bright sunshine. So I must be really lucky to such wonderful great weather.

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I stopped at Inveraray for lunch. The historic 18th century town is the home to the Duke of Argyll. Inveraray is situated on the shore of Loch Fyne, Scotland’s longest sea loch, unlike the typical fresh water lochs that we usually see in Scotland such as Loch Awe, Loch Lomond and the famous Loch Ness. For Downton Abbey fans, do you find the Inveraray Castle looks familiar? This is the “Duneagle Castle” seen in the 2012 Christmas episode of the series ūüôā

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Driving on after lunch, I reached the top of a mountain (or the “Pass” as it is called in Scotland). This is the “Rest and Be Thankful Pass” which is certainly a peaceful place to rest and relax before continuing my journey to Loch Lomond. The good weather continued and so I decided to stop at the pass for a while and to absorb in the calmness of the surroundings. A good place to “rest and be thankful” indeed.

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The conservation village of Luss, set on its ‚Äúbonnie, bonnie banks” of Loch Lomond is another popular sight thanks to the successful drama series “Take the High Road”. If you have not watched the drama series (neither have I), the charming village with its cottages made of identical sandstone and garlanded in rambling roses is nevertheless a good stop to explore the Loch Lomond area. Loch Lomond is sung in a famous Scottish folk song called “The Bonny banks of Loch Lomond”, which is often the final song to be played at the end of a dance or dinner in Scotland. The song tells of the old Celtic myth that if a Scot dies outside his homeland, his soul will find it’s way back home by the spiritual road (aka the low road). As I walked along the banks of the Loch, I could not help but started to hum the song “By yon bonnie banks an’ by yon bonnie braes, where the sun shines bright on Loch Lomond, where me and my true love will never meet again, on the bonnie, bonnie banks of Loch Lomond…”

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Before heading back to Edinburgh, I made a brief stop at the Forth Bridge. For Grand Theft Auto fans, you will likely recognised the red bridge which was what the Garver Bridge in the San Andreas game was modeled after.

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Unfortunately, I was pressed for time and hence did not manage to make it to Isle of Skye which many have said that it is really gorgeous and many more of the beautiful Lochs, castles, etc. Scotland has so much to offer and I am surely looking for a chance to go back to there again.

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The Carefree Traveller’s book of ABC ~ E is for Edinburgh!

1 12 2014

It has been a long time since I started with the Carefree traveller’s book of ABC as I realised that I have not travelled to any city that starts with E. So I was telling myself that I NEED to get to Edinburgh so that I can continue my A to Z list lol. So again, in between “study breaks”, I was jet setting to Edinburgh, a short flight from London.

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Wow, I must say that I was blown away by this beautiful city within a day. Indeed, this awesome city lives up to its name of being one of the most beautiful city in Europe. Draped across a series of rocky hills overlooking the sea, Edinburgh is a tale of two cities, with the Old Town and the New Town being a sharp contrast against one another. The Old Town is an UNESCO World Heritage site. Sitting on an immense rock is the iconic Edinburgh Castle which is a “must-see” sight if you ever step foot in Edinburgh. The top of the castle offers superb panoramic view of the city all the way to city‚Äôs best views are from the top of the castle where you can see all the way to the Firth of Forth fjord. From the castle, the Royal Mile stretches a mile (as the name suggests) and most of the Old Town major sights such as the National Museum of Scotland and the Scottish Parliament are located along this well-known Mile, ending at the Holyrood Palace which serves as the Queen’s residence when she visits Edinburgh.

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The Old Town is indeed amazing. The historical sights, lively pubs, gargoyles, medieval cobbled stones streets and narrow alleys (or closes as they are called in Edinburgh) and atmospheric spires teleported one back to ancient time. As I walked along the narrow closes, taking me deep beneath the Royal Mile, time seemed to froze since the 17th Century, reminding me of the terrible plagues and crimes that took place here, sending goosebumps on my skin…. Yeeks!

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Divided by the Princess Street Gardens, the New Town on the other side has neatly planned and wider roads. Here is where you will find wonderful shops, departmental stores and nice gardens. The New Town is not really that new. In fact, it was built during Georgian period where the rich found the Old Town too “unlivable”. Even today, walking down the nicely path streets, neatly planned and spacious New Town, one could feel the stark contrast with the Old Town. Of course, after exploring the historical sights in the Old Town, it’s always refreshing to cross over to the New Town for a little retail therapy lol.

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Tips:-
1) Travel to/from the airport: when you walk out of the airport, you will see the Airlink buses which is the express bus service that takes you to Edinburgh city Waverley Bridge, making a few stops along the way. This is the cheapest way to get into the city and it costs only 4 pounds (or 7 pounds if you buy return ticket). You can check with the ticket office on which stop you should alight to get to your hotel.

2) Currency: Yes Scotland is still part of UK and uses sterling pounds.

3) It is surely worth the ticket price to get into the Edinburgh castle so make sure you don’t save on the ticket. The castle has quite a fair bit to see so give yourself sufficient time to explore the castle.

4) The Scotish highlands, lochs and castles are really beautiful. Since you are already in Edinburgh, why not just plan an additional few days to get out of the city into the highlands? I will write about the highlands and lochs in a separate post.

Food:
1) Number One at Balmoral Hotel is where you should go if you want to enjoy a Michelin star dinner. By the way, for Harry Potter fans, this is the hotel where JK Rowling finished writing Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (in room 652).

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2) Fish and chips: Scotland is famous for their fish and chips and there is even a competition on who serves the best fish and chips at the National Fish & Chips Awards! Though one thing to note – in Scotland, there is usually only one type of fish used for fish & chips which is haddock. Most shops sell pretty decent fish & chips so you usually won’t go wrong.

Accomodation:
I chose to stay at The Place, a hotel in the New Town instead of the old town due to the convenience of shops and public transportation (my hotel is just a short walk from the bus interchange). The hotel is super clean, located close to the city’s shopping area and is a short walk to the Old Town. One downside though, the hotel does not have a lift/elevator so it may be challenging if you are carrying big luggages.

Many tourists love to stay at the Old Town to experience living in a medieval city and being near to the major sights. Do note that there is no bus in the Old Town (the nearest being the Waverly Station) and so if you are carrying lots of luggages, my recommendation is to stay in the new town. Both sides of the city are great. So depending on what you like, take your pick ūüôā





Shakespeare’s Stratford upon Avon, Warwick Castle & Oxford

1 12 2013

“Give me my Romeo, and, when he shall die,
Take him and cut him out in little stars,
And he will make the face of heaven so fine
That all the world will be in love with night,
And pay no worship to the garish sun.”

My interest in English literature started in primary school (ie junior school), all thanks to¬†Shakespeare’s¬†“Romeo and Juliet”. I recalled that there¬†were¬†often teasing amongst the girls on when¬†one will¬†find¬†her “Romeo” and how romantic Romeo and Juliet were. How can a young¬†lady ever resist this romantic play?¬†I would not had imagine that donkey years down the road, I would have the chance to visit Shakespeare’s hometown, Stratford upon Avon.

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Shakespeare's house

Shakespeare’s house

The little town is set in the beautiful rural Warwickshire countryside on the banks of river Avon. Upon stepping foot into the town, I really felt as if I was transported back into¬†Old England, back to Shakespeare’s times. At Shakespeare’s house, there were actors acting out scenes from famous Shakespeare’s plays at various hours of the day. Coincidentally, the play that was shown when I visited was “Romeo and Juliet”, with Romeo standing outside the house expressing his love for Juliet who was standing on the balcony!

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swans

Apart from Shakespeare’s house, I had a wonderful¬†and relaxing¬†walk around the town, with the beautiful¬†houses, parks, gardens and the lovely river Avon with graceful white swans before deciding to move on to Warwick Castle which is around an hour’s drive. As I drove from¬†the lovely town¬†to Warwick Castle, suddenly Shakespeare’s famous quote “The first thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers”¬†came in my mind (rather random though).¬†Hahaha luckily I managed to get out safe…. or possibly Shakespeare was glad that I decided to¬†dump my law notes to visit his hometown and thus spared me? lol

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Warwick castle¬†has around 1,000 years’ history. I enjoyed strolling through the Castle’s lovingly tended gardens, amused myself with the peacock “posing” for photos by turning 360 degree for us to see (and somehow I now know why there’s a saying “as proud as a peacock” lol), climbed the castle walls to get a good paramonic view of the castle grounds,¬†stepped into the¬†gruesome dungeons to get a view of where prisoners were tortured. Oh well, I have visited various castles before in Europe. I would say that Warwick Castle, even though it may not be as magnificent as some other castles such as Neuschwanstein Castle in Germany, is pretty interesting and fun with many activities, dramatic shows and interesting storytelling and demonstrations and surely is a great place for the young and the young at heart (like me lol) ūüôā

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Before heading back to London, I decided to drop by Oxford which is about an hour’s drive from Warwick Castle. Oxford has always been well known for its famous Oxford University, which is one of¬†2 top¬†leading universities in UK (the other being Cambridge). As a Harry Potter’s fan, the first thing that I did when I reached Oxford was to rush to Christchurch College which is¬†the “Hogwarts” in the Harry Potter’s movie. I felt like a muggle venturing into the world of wizards and magic,¬†going into the “Hogwarts library”¬†(which is in fact the famous Bodleian Library termed as “Europe’s most beautiful room”) and the great dining hall. How I wish I have my wand and broomstick with me to try out a few spells and possibly Quidditch ūüôā

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dining hall

For those who are not into Harry Potter, Oxford University is still a pretty place, with nice sights such as the Radcliffe Camera, Hertford College’s Bridge of Sighs which is a replica of Venice’s Bridge of Sighs (minus the canals of course) and other beautiful colleges.

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Tips:

РIt is possible to cover Stratford upon Avon, Warwick Castle and Oxford in a day. However, for those who like the lovely English towns, you could consider staying in Stratford upon Avon for the night and spend more time wandering around the little town. This will then give you plenty of time to explore each sights.

– For those who love Oxford, I would suggest that you make a trip to¬†Cambridge too. Having studied in Cambridge, I can say that I¬†am little bias (and I admit it) but I found Oxford a little grey versus Cambridge which is totally lovely (sorry no offence to those studying in Oxford)! Even though the 2 universities¬†shared some “connections” from historical standpoint, they¬†have a rather different “feel” and I would say that you would not be disappointed with¬†a trip to Cambridge.





London

10 06 2008

2 months have passed since I first landed in Germany and live on my own away from home. My weekly travel adventures have kept me busy and happy. I have a cousin who leaves in London and she has kindly invited me over to spend the weekend with her. Quite coincidentally, a close friend from Singapore who has previously lived in London for many years was also visting London and offered to be my personal driver and guide ūüėČ

Unfortunately, there is a terrible Ryan Air delay (but I can’t complain as it is really dirt cheap to fly from Frankfurt to London – cost be less than $50). To make matters worse, the Stanstad Airport was so crowded on a Friday night (or more accurately midnight) that by the time my friend drove me from the airport to my cousin’s house, it was already 3am!

But thank God the mishaps stopped there. London was amazing! After months in quaint Germany, London was such a strong constrast – the vibrant city, noisy streets, happening pubs, interesting SOHO, the Big Ben, the palace, the famous Hyde Park, Tower Bridge, nice musicals, and of course FAMILY, FRIENDS AND EVERYTHING IN ENGLISH! Wonderful! At last, I am able to understand the signs, the instructions, the people, everything.

The next day, we drove around 3 hours south of London city to Stonehenge. Stonehenge is regarded as a world heritage site. But hmmm, I was a bit disappointed though. Stonehenge is nice but the roads approaching it is unsightly… It’s kind of funny to see it just in the middle of the expressway……

Nice Food:-
– For Dim Sum lover, try Royal China (I tried the one at Queensway Baywater)
– There’s a famous roast duck rice just opposite Royal China’s Queensway Baywater shop
– For Singaporeans and those missing Singapore food, Singapore Garden at Swiss Cottage serves nice Singapore food
– Crepe lovers must try the La Creperie de Hampstead, which is in Hampstead, a nice area north of central London

Tips:-
– The tube is not very reliable, so do buffer in time if you travelling via public transport and ensure that you include in your travel plans the time for commuting between places. I was lucky to have a personal driver so was able to pack many places within just 3 days =)
– The British Museum is a MUST DO! It’s one of the best museum in the world (together with Lourve in Paris, the MET museum in New York and the Taipei Palace Museum)
– I loved the close-up view of Tower Bridge at night just below the bridge from St Katherine’s Way (the picture shown in this blog is taken from here).