You Call that Irish?2

We made it safely to Dublin, Ireland, but we’re only visiting the airport for the moment as we catch our connecting flight to Scotland.

The flight was uneventful, but I was shocked…shocked, I tell you, that Aer Lingus had NO TEA! You call this an Irish airline and have no tea to offer passengers? The travesty of it all. And I REALLY was looking forward to a nice cuppa on this chilly plane.

Oh, well. Dublin provided a wonderfully, strong Irish Breakfast brew and threw in two complimentary chocolates to boot!

The flight above the clouds offered a beautiful view out the window and I watched the movie BROOKLYN to help pass the time.

Dublin is quite foggy this morning, but not raining.

Next stop? SCOTLAND!

Day 0 – Travel Day

I always count the day/night we fly over to Europe as day zero because we basically lose a good chunk of a day. Thankfully, the weather gods were smiling and our two bus trips and two flights went off without a hitch.

This was our first time flying with Aer Lingus. We had to wait at Logan Airport in Boston for almost an hour and a half on the outer fringes of the airport because there were no Aer Lingus employees there to staff the check in. Interesting they always tell you to get there two-to-three hours early to avoid delays. Frustrating to say the least. We weren’t able sit down and rest with our luggage comfortably and get a bite to eat because we weren’t in the actual airport where all the good stuff lived…like food and better seating.

Once that got straightened out, everything else went very smoothly. Other than not being able to understand the head flight attendant on the loudspeaker (think of the teacher on The Peanuts cartoons) and the sheer audacity of an Irish airlines to not have tea on board, we were happy with the experience. The meals were actually terrific. One drink option, then a beef meal and a yummy blueberry muffin with orange juice about an hour before landing.

Neither one of us slept on the flight. Oh, joy!

Our flight landed in Dublin at the lovely hour of 4:30 a.m. Dublin time. Our body clocks said it was about 11:00. We had a brief stay here then headed out to our walk-on prop plane to fly to Edinburgh. Although the plane looked scary, it was actually great with some incredible views over Scotland. Sadly, as we descended, the fog bank took over and we weren’t sure we’d actually SEE much of Edinburgh, but it turned out great.

We’re both so happy to be in Scotland again!

Day 1 Scotland the Great!

Finally in Edinburgh after a couple of long flights. The fog bank that greeted us quickly cleared revealing the beautiful history, architecture, and gardens of the city.

The weather felt much like Maine this time of year. Stay in the sun, and it’s flip flops & shorty-shorts weather. Move to the shade and the fleece and socks are more appropriate.

Our first stop was an early check-in (thank you Dave) at our hotel near the Royal Mile. The Ibis is a funky, modern spot where we will rest our weary heads for two nights. It’s a great, centrally located spot to walk the Royal Mile and other areas. The rooms are wee and a little odd (took us awhile to figure out how to turn the lights on!) but it’s a good location and the price was right. Certainly geared towards the younger modern set.

Because the weather was so stunning, we decided to venture up to visit Edinburgh Castle. We didn’t pay to do the tour as we did five years ago, but just walked in the main gates. It rained when we visit last time, so this was very nice.

Duncan keeping watch

We then headed out on the hop-on hop-off bus tour and got the tour of the city again with guided narration by a live person. We actually visited a few spots we hadn’t picked up last time. It was also a good way to rest and not exert ourselves to much as we were both pretty tired, but excited.

Our stop for lunch was at The Dome. A former bank, it now consists of several restaurants, bars, and event rooms. However, the Grill Room is by far the most outstanding. An amazing domed ceiling, huge columns, a round bar, spectacular flower arrangements (although they may have been artificial), and beautiful chandeliers. You entered another era in this building and our fleece jackets and sneakers felt very out of place, but the staff treated us wonderfully and we enjoyed some sandwiches and a drink.

Afterwards, Dave and I walked to the Sir Walter Scot Monument. Stunning architecture honoring this famous Scottish literary giant. You CAN walk up to the top, but with over 200 cement spiral steps, I declined!

Then we hopped on the tour bus again and visited the National Museum of Scotland. We chose to limit the exhibits we visited to Scottish history and REALLY enjoyed some of the amazing historical artifacts displayed there and there is a stunning atrium with a glass ceiling.

There is also a lovely terrace garden on the roof with spectacular views of the city. It was then that the dreaded jet lag hit us…and hit us hard! After a slow walk back to the hotel, we both promptly collapsed and napped for a good two hours.

After the refreshing nap, we walked down to The Royal Mile Tavern for a good pub meal. Fish n’Chips and Guinness were in order. We were disappointed they didn’t carry Belhaven ale, our favorite Scottish ale, and the fish was not that great. We’ll do better next time.

With daylight still going strong near 9 p.m., we continued to walk around the Royal Mile, window shop, and took more photos.

We saw and heard several bagpipers today and everyone we met couldn’t have been nicer. Glad to be back Scotland!

Dave and I have a taken MANY photos and if get enough energy to post them all, I will try to while we’re here, but it may not happen until we’re home from the trip itself.

Day 2 Scotland

Day two in Edinburgh was met with mist & drizzle, but we didn’t let that stop us. After a quick bite to eat at the hotel we took a taxi over to Leith to view the Royal Yacht BRITANNIA.

The Britannia was in service as the Queen’s yacht for 43 years, from 1954 until 1997 and it’s a bit of a time capsule from the 1950’s and 1960’s with simple furnishings and mechanical fixtures and navigation that were never really modernized.

The audio tour and the tour process itself was fantastic and the folks this attraction employs were friendly, helpful, and very informative. Dave and I give the whole experience five stars! My mom would have LOVED this!

We were able view the queens private study, bedroom, and sitting room as well as Prince Philip’s rooms. Very simple, but lovely. Then we viewed the crew quarters, laundry, and engine rooms. I was particularly fascinated by the very old communication system they apparently were still using when the ship was decommissioned in the 90’s. It must have felt foreign to any young guests who visited. Having to flip an actual switch to contact another room and deck. VERY 1950’s.

Paying guests are also invited to partake of tea and/lunch in the tea room, which Dave and I did. The weather was still overcast and quite foggy, but it was nice to enjoy a meal out on the covered deck.

I ordered the Cream Tea for One that included tea, a fruit scone with jam and cream, and a glass of sparkling Rosé. The scone was fabulous, as was the jam and the Rosé. And of course the tour ends at the gift shop and I then picked up my first two souvenirs of the trip: a beautifully ornate mug and a thistle shortbread mold.

We then took a taxi to the Water of Leith Walkway, which is a highly-maintained footpath through several lovely areas. One of the locations was one I’ve been admiring on Twitter & Facebook — Dean Village.

What a wonderful, peaceful and serene walk this is. Tree-lined paths meander along side the river called the Water of Leith. There are lovely bridges, waterfalls, ivy plants dripping from trees and ledges and beautiful mossed-covered stone walls. What a lovely oasis for people to visit. We met many out for a stroll, even on this overcast, coolish day.

Fortunately, the sun DID come out, but unfortunately, not until we had left the path and walked back into the city. Figures.

Dave and I continued into the city on foot making a few shopping stops along the way before settling in on a wooden bench at Princess Street gardens where we were able to view the castle one last time and enjoy this suddenly, sun-filled afternoon.

We stopped at the hotel for a brief break, then wandered back to the Royal Mile where we visited St. Giles Cathedral. We stopped here in 2013 and really enjoyed it. We enjoyed it this time as well, although we were highly disappointed the Thistle Chapel was closed. Apparently, people had been stealing when they were simply letting people wander in on their own. Dave and I were truly saddened that such a remarkable landmark had to succumb to such measures. Now only small groups are allowed in at a time and with a guide.

Our dinner tonight was at Whisky Bar where I indulged AGAIN in fish n’ chips and a Guinness and Dave had a haggis tower, which he said was very good. My fish fry was much better than last nights, but still not the best I’ve had. Then it all came back to haunt my poor acid reflux and hiatal hernia and I was left in a lot of discomfort for some time. Perhaps I need to stick to salad for dinner tomorrow, night.

Tomorrow morning we meet up with Helen for further adventures in Scotland, so we need to pack and get some sleep. Thank you again Edinburgh for your beauty, charm, history, and zest for living!

Day 2 Scotland

Castles, Views, and a Wee Lass

Today we were greeted by more cloudy, cool weather, but it wasn’t raining! After enjoying another breakfast at the Ibis hotel, we checked out and set out to meet our friend/guide for the next couple of days.

Although we found the hotel a little too modern & European for our tastes, it served our needs sufficiently and we would recommend it to any of our smaller and thinner friends because the room & specifically the bathroom was very small. Figuring out the lights was 15-minutes we won’t get back and keeping the bathroom door open was annoying. Other than that, the hotel was in a great location for us and we applaud their efforts to create an environmentally friendly atmosphere and establishment. Fewer towels, lighting restrictions, and one-size fits all “bubbling” cleaner are a great start.

As Dave & I waited outside on the curb with our baggage, we were transported back to five years ago when we met up with Helen from Afternoon Tea Tours for the first time. Then her smiling face appeared in her car. Hugs all around, and we were off.

We were instantly reminded of Helen’s passion for her homeland of Scotland and her generosity with guests in making each adventure special. Although we have kept in touch via social media, it was wonderful to catch up in person.

As we headed north, the morning fog over the water started to lift and by the time we reached our first inland destination the sun was shining and the air was warm…TOO warm in fact. That thermal shirt I wore this morning really wasn’t necessary here and jackets were soon shed.

Our first stop was at Glamis Castle (Pronounced ‘glams‘) in the county town of Angus. Glamis Castle has been the ancestral seat to the Earls of Strathmore since 1372. It was also where the mother of the current queen, was born and where the sister (Margaret) to Queen Elizabeth was born.

I had seen an older YouTube video of the spectacular entrance drive to the castle, so I decided to film it as we entered. Shot through the windshield, I think it came out pretty good.

The castle is really stunning and we arrived just as a guided tour was beginning, so we latched on to it and followed along. Our guide was wonderful and led the group through only a dozen or so rooms with humor and just enough history to keep one interested. The thickness of the castle walls was amazing and there are even a few ghost stories to be told. Unfortunately, no photos were allowed inside, but once outside we were able to shoot the castle and surrounding gardens and woods, which were spectacular.

We enjoyed a nice sandwich lunch outside on a picnic table with a view of the castle and continued to catch up with one another and discuss our trip. Glamis is lovely and I can see why the Queen Mother had such affection for it.

As we headed east for our next destination, Helen took us through her hometown of Forfar where she grew up before leaving for Edinburgh when she was 18. Forfar is famous for it’s meat pies called Bridies. What a delightful area amongst the rolling fields of brilliant yellow rapeseed and Hawthorne bushes. Looking across the Valley of Strathmore provided a wonderful view of country life and the large amount of farming that is done here. Potatoes, strawberries and raspberries are among the chief crops.

Our next stop on the east coast of Scotland is the highly-anticipated 13th century ruins of Dunnottar Castle. (Pronounced ‘done-otter’)

Dave and I had read and seen it was going to be quite a walk to get there, and it’s all true, but OH is it worth it! As we began the walk from the car park and approach the first view of the castle, we heard bagpipes and instantly thanked Helen for arranging that just for us…but alas, even her magical tour powers could not take credit. What a special surprise though.

There is a sandy path, wooden steps and then stone steps that leads one to the entrance to the castle. It’s a hike…especially for Dave and I. We are SO out of shape, but feel we’ll be in better shape when we leave Scotland than when we arrived here due to entrances like this.

From photos we had seen online, we weren’t prepared for the number of intact buildings and rooms we found and the views…well, there aren’t enough words to accurately describe it. Spectacular! And I’m always a sucker for the sound of the ocean crashing along the shore. Waves, a view, and castle ruins…perfect.

Of course as we finished our tour, then we had to walk BACK to the car park along the same sandy, wooden, and stone path. It was harder on the way back, but we did it. This is by far MY favorite castle we’ve seen in Scotland. Dave moved it up to 2nd on his list behind Urquhart Castle we visited in 2013.

Other than some gusty winds, which you’ll get on the coast you know, the weather couldn’t have been nicer for our two castles today. And Helen’s tour of her home town and areas she grew up around added that personal touch.

We then drove to the coastal town of Stonehaven where we checked into the Chapel of Barras Farm B & B for the night. Owners & cattle farmers Michelle & David met us at the door and gave us a lovely warm welcome to their beautiful 5-room B&B.

Dave and I had a very nice room on the second floor and Helen was below us on the ground floor. Our room was nice and roomy with a terrific view overlooking their fields and garden. It was so nice to hear birds chirping and no buses or people yelling outside your window as we did right in the city. And as we were resting for a bit, the cows sauntered into the field outside our window.

After a quick shower, we went in to Stonehaven Harbor and enjoy a lovely dinner overlooking the wee harbor…even though it was VERY low tide. No, I did NOT have a third try at fish n’ chips, but Dave tried it and said it was very good. I opted for lamb kabobs which were delicious.

We walked around the harbor a little bit and headed back to the B&B where Helen surprised us with a gift of Belhaven Black Scottish Stout (because she had read in my blog how the pubs we’d stopped in had none), also a bottle of Schiehallion Lager, a box of shortbread, and some Melrose Tea. What a sweet and thoughtful gift! But then that’s just Helen — sweet and thoughtful. Dave and I drank a toast to Helen with Drambuie and the three of us enjoyed each other’s conversation and planning for a potential return to Scotland and where we might go! That’s the spirit!

At 10 pm, it was still this light out.

The Heavenly Highlands with Helen

We awoke to yet another foggy morning, but it was dry and breakfast was waiting! And what a wonderful breakfast it was. Michelle and David were wonderful hosts as a lovely arrangement of fresh produce and other locally-produced goodies were on display.

Cold items like cereal, yogurt, granola, meats, cheese and breads were offered, but the hit of the morning was the rhubarb jam. It was so sweet and tasty. None of us opted for the full Scottish breakfast, but instead had mostly eggs & toast. Just the right amount.

After being invited into the kitchen and checking out, we had a wonderful chat with Michelle & David again and told them how much we enjoyed our stay, the B&B itself, and the room. They also exchanged business cards with Helen as I know she enjoyed it too.

Then we headed out into the foggy mist to drive inland. We made a very quick stop at Crathes Castle, but it wasn’t open yet, so Dave just got out and took a few pics.

Then we headed to Balmoral Castle, the private royal residence for members of the British Royal family since 1852, when the estate and its original castle were purchased by Prince Albert, consort to Queen Victoria. Balmoral remains the private property of the royal family and are not the property of the Crown.

As we headed west, the fog started to rise and sunshine greeted us by the time we reached the car park at the castle…just as Helen said it would. However, we did make one small detour right before going to the castle by visiting Crathie Kirk (Kirk means church) which is best known for being the regular place of worship of the royal family when they are holidaying at Balmoral castle, which is right next door. It’s a wee church with some wonderful history. Then onto the big house – Balmoral!

The castle is an example of Scottish baronial architecture, and after many additions by successive family members, it now covers an area around 50,000 acres. It’s a working estate that employs around 50 full-time employees. There are grouse moors, forestry, and farmland, as well as managed herds of deer, highland cattle, and ponies. The Queen DOES love her horses.

Helen, Dave and I picked up the audio tours and set out to explore the sprawling estate. Helen had never visited here either, so it was fun to experience HER first time there as well. The tree-lined roads and paths offered a lovely respite from the hot sun. Yes, I said hot sun!

The working vegetable gardens were compact, but highly efficient. All planted to be ready for harvest during the Queen’s annual August holiday. They were growing a lot of potatoes, root crops, leafy greens, peas & greens.

There were also hundreds of wee flower seedlings just freshly planted to be ready in time for fresh floral bouquets in August as well. The rose garden was just getting started with new growth. It must look lovely in the sunken garden when they’re in full bloom.

We didn’t hit all of the tour highlight, but many of them within a comfortable distance. A water garden area was lovely and many of the perennial bushes were blooming throughout the grounds.

The castle itself is small, by castle standards, and because it’s also a private residence the only room open to the public is the Ballroom. And because of that you spend more time outside, so we were truly blessed with great weather.

The ballroom is actually the last stop on the tour and it has some wonderful artifacts like all of the Queen’s Christmas card photos on display. And for those fans of the Victoria series on PBS, there is a painted portrait of her beloved dog Dash hanging there. We were NOT allowed to take photos, but it certainly gives off a warm, cozy feeling as it was not very large. I found a fun video on YouTube of the Queen, Queen Mother, Princess Diana. and Prince Philip dancing in this ballroom. WATCH VIDEO ON YOU TUBE.

Lunch was next and we enjoyed some meat pies and sandwiches from the small cafe then we were on the road our last adventure visiting, but not going in to Breamar castle and driving through the stunning Glenshee area.

Helen is often accompanied by a wee stuffed sheep named Morag and she was featured in many photos from Helen’s tours. Five years ago on our first trip to Scotland, Dave and I adopted Duncan. Well, Duncan and Morag had a lot to catch up on. Mainly little Morag, who is now traveling with Morag. We allowed them some privacy to get reacquainted before parting ways again.

As we left Breamar, the fog was starting to move in quickly. We were able to see some amazing mountain vistas before it overtook the glens and stopped in one area to take some photos.

Perth was our destination city for the evening and wouldn’t you know it, the sun came out again. Helen dropped us off at the car rental office, so Dave and I could pick up our rental car for the rest of our journeys in Scotland. Many hugs all around and many, many thanks to Helen for her hospitality, friendship, and touring expertise. We are blessed to know her.

Our B&B for the night is the Rowanlea Guest House where we checked in, met the owners, ordered our breakfast, and settled in. Unfortunately, the brand new GPS Dave bought is suddenly not working. We may have to go old school and use Maps! Stay tuned!