Banker Chick Cruises

Ahoy!

My travel blog will cover all kinds of travels.  But I believe that cruises deserve a special mention, as they were really my introduction to international travel.

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A bit about my cruising history:

My first cruise was on Royal Caribbean’s Monarch of the Seas,  for my honeymoon in 1992 (the first one).  The islands we visited were Antigua, St Maarten, St Thomas, Martinique, and Barbados. The trip was booked through a  travel agent,  and I had no idea what I was doing.  The package price seemed right, that was all I cared about at the time.   But hey, we learn from our mistakes, right? Mistakes included:

  • Flying to Puerto Rico the day after our wedding, to catch the cruise that afternoon.  Only now do I realize how lucky we were that there were no delays.
  • Not spending any time in San Juan
  • Booking an obstructed view stateroom without a balcony / fresh air
  • Booking only cruiseline sponsored shore excursions
  • Thinking we would actually get a chair near the pool
  • Getting married to Husband #1 in the first place  (just kidding – I love my kids! I love my kids! Everything happens for a reason!  yada yada yada!)

Here’s the good thing though:  you don’t know what you don’t know.  I LOVED the cruise.  I’ll be the first to admit that cruising is not for everyone, and that it has its drawbacks.  If you are not a somewhat social person,  or if you need peace and quiet and isolation,  cruising is definitely not for you.  Buffets can be crowded and the food so-so,  you may wait for an elevator, seas may be rough, and casinos smoky. But here are the things about cruising that I fell in love with:

  • Unpack once,  see many destinations
  • Interacting with passengers and friendly crew from all over the world
  • Sailaway drinks,  watching an island recede into the distance while you imagine the next one
  • A friendly, low pressure casino –  $5 tables, and they don’t shoot you if you ask questions or make a mistake
  • The majesty of the dining room experience –  back in 1992,  this included dancing waiters and a set table and time each night, with the same cruise companions  (which could be a good or a bad thing depending on the companions!)  I’ve happily since moved on to “freestyle” cruising,  but still enjoy dressing up for a dinner experience even though dress codes have relaxed.
  • Evenings complete with included entertainment, many bars, and no need to drive home = the occasional hangover
  • Beautifully prepared food, especially desserts and yummy chilled soups
  • The overall friendliness of the cruising public.  Never have I experienced an elevator ride on a cruise ship without some chit chat –  where are you from?  I can’t believe it’s Wednesday already!  Did you enjoy xyz island?   I have yet to travel for any length of time as a solo,  but if and when I do, I think my first attempt will be a cruise.  It’s just so easy to meet people and make conversation, because you are all sharing the same experience.

Since that first cruise, I’ve been on (about) 15 more cruises.  This included a number of cruises with my children,  who always enjoyed the kids’ clubs,  ordering whatever they wanted from room service and buffets, bunk beds, and the arcade.  The majority of my cruises have been on either Norwegian Cruise Line or Royal Caribbean, although I’ve also taken a couple of cruises on RCCL’s sister line, Celebrity.  In the future,  I hope to try a luxury cruise line and European river cruising.

So:  The stage is set.  I look forward to posting about cruises, past and present.  Throughout this blog, I will label cruise-related posts under the category “Cruises”.

 

When you play the Game of Thrones, you win or ….you are really entertained

This was a day Oldest and I had looked forward to for months.  Not long after deciding that Scotland and Ireland would be our graduation trip destination, we also decided that we needed to do a Game of Thrones tour.  In fact,  I arranged our entire itinerary around this highlight.

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Originally, I had thought of spending a couple of days in Belfast,  because the GOT sites are all located in Northern Ireland. Between difficulty finding a direct flight between Inverness and Belfast,  and planning for further destinations in southern Ireland, we ended up flying into Dublin and opting for this tour:  Game of Thrones Dublin Winterfell tour –  as far as I could find, the only one originating in Dublin. I promise to return to Northern Ireland and visit Belfast!  This was a very difficult decision.

Oldest and I are both very big GOT fans.  I initially read the books in 2007-2008, during that dark and dreary winter following the banking crisis that seemed to last a dozen years, like in the novels.  Now,  I am a big reader, but I am not generally a fantasy fan.  While I read an average of 30-40 books a year, I have not read all of the Lord of the Rings trilogy,  nor have I read all of the Harry Potter books.  It’s just not my thing;  I prefer historical fiction and crime/murder mysteries. In fact,  I tried at least 3 different times to start the series,  and couldn’t get past the first 50 pages.  Eventually, though,  I plowed my way through about 1/3 of the book and –  ta da –  I was completely hooked.   Finally, after two seasons of the HBO series,  I ended up re-reading all 5 books to jog my memory about the minor plot points skipped over by the TV version.  That’s how much I enjoy it.

**Rant warning**   Finish the d*mn books, George R.R.! **End rant warning**

So, it was quite a thrill to see the setting for Winterfell:

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Castle Ward, the setting for Winterfell. They use a lot of CGI to make the walls look larger
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The yard at Castle Ward

Dress up like a Stark:

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Oldest trying to look mean
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Getting my Stark on

 

and meet two of the beautiful dogs that played the Direwolves Summer and Greywind in the HBO series.

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BEAUTIFUL, and patient, dogs
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Me and Thor.  He looks a little bored
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Oldest and friend Odin

 

Our tour guide Lady Aenne was extremely knowledgeable about both the show and the settings.

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Lady Aenne showing us THE STUMP that can is visible in the series’ opening scene

She was also a FAST walker.  Winter may be coming, but I was sweating my butt off, especially with the heavy Stark-esque cape I wore.  I ended up carrying it for much of the walking parts of the tour.

We enjoyed lunch at The Lobster Pot in Strangford,  which hosts the tour group daily with this hokey but fun drink menu:

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Pretty much everyone on our bus was also a fan (there are always a few bored but willing tag-a-long partners). We played a GOT trivia game, the winner of which was crowned “King in the North”, to whom we later bent the knee and swore our fealty. Of course!  Oldest and I thought we did fairly well on the 20-question quiz,  but this guy was on a whole different level –  he got all 20 questions right.  Impressive.  I swear fealty, milord.

The tour was a long day –  we met at 7:45 am, and returned to Dublin right around 6:00.  There was a fair amount of time on the bus, but the tour kept us entertained with behind-the-scenes videos,  the trivia game, and,  on the way home,  the first two full episodes of GOT.

I highly recommend this tour and   tour company, Game of Thrones Tours–  offering the only GOT tour choice out of Dublin, literally;  when I return to Northern Ireland I’ll eagerly try one of their “Iron Islands” tours from Belfast.

Next up,  we will return to the 21st century and – gulp- drive on the “wrong” side of the road!

 

 

 

Delightful Dublin

After 8 days in Scotland,  now it was time to revisit an old favorite:  Ireland!

We had  a ride to the airport through Inverness Taxi. A cheery, punctual driver picked us up in the morning for a ride to Inverness Airport.  It’s a small,  easy-to-navigate airport, and we encountered no security line whatsover.  The tiny LogainAir plane required a walk on the tarmac –  thankfully, again, it wasn’t raining.  We climbed up the stairs and performed a royal/ presidential wave as we embarked.

 

After a short, pleasant flight to Dublin Airport, we opted for a taxi into the city.  My research told me that this was the lazy person’s way out – the Green 747 Bus would have taken us within 1/4 mile of our AirBnB – but we didn’t care.   The taxi ride almost became embarrassing, however,  when we found out that the driver didn’t accept credit cards, and didn’t think he could make change for my €100 bill.  Having just now entered the EU, we hadn’t had a chance to break our larger bills yet.   Um,  you’re charming and all,  but I’m not giving you a €70 tip!  As I prepared myself to make a big old Jersey Girl stink, the driver magically found change.

Another mention of politics vs. World Cup fandom from the cab ride.  Although our driver was 100% Irish,  he supported England in the World Cup.  This, honestly, surprised me.  I could understand the Scottish having divided loyalties.  His explanation:  “they helped us with cash when we needed it in the recession, no one remembers that”.  I think he is referring to the post-2008 banking crisis.  Oh, and also he is a Liverpool FC fan, and several Liverpool players were on the England team.  Now THAT makes more sense!

We were too early to check in to our AirBnB: AirBnB Sir John Rogerson’s Quay , so we had a pub lunch down the street at the Ferryman pub.  Guinness pie –  always a favortie in Ireland.    Once again, the AirBnB proved to be a hit,  on the first floor with two nicely sized bedrooms,  and walkable to all our Dublin targets.

Our next stop was the Jameson Distillery on Bow Street.  We’ve both done the Guinness factory before, and Oldest recommended this instead.  We enjoyed the short tour,  which was less cheesy than Edinburgh’s Scotch Whiskey Experience.

 

 

After a brief history tour, we got right down to business with our free drinks at the bar.  There they conconted some excellent and varied cocktails using Jameson’s.  Oh, and the bartenders were cute (whoops did I say that out loud?)

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Drinking having commenced,  we wandered toward Temple Bar.  We got a kick out of finding the famous Temple Bar webcam and waving to Dearest Husband, who we texted to look us up, and then sent us a screenshot of us.  Technology!  Yay!

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Look!  there we are on the webcam!

We enjoyed an excellent dinner at Fade Street Social on Drury street, which Oldest had picked out on Yelp.   It was a definite foodie joint, and a welcome upgrade from the heavy fare we had generally been enjoying. The venue includes both an upscale restaurant and a more casual, loud gastropub.  Since the restaurant was packed, and even the gastropub booths were full, we ate at the tapas bar overlooking the open kitchen and enjoyed drinks while watching the staff prepare the tapas-style meals.   When a man in a leather jacket arrived toward the end of the evening, observing the chefs, having discussions with the manager, tasting the food as it was prepared, and generally seeming in charge,  we googled the restaurant (technology! yay!) and found that he was indeed the restaurant’s proprietor, Dylan McGrath, a star of MasterChef Ireland.

A great day/evening in Dublin ended fairly early because we needed to rest up for …. DUN dun dun dun DUN dun dun dun DUN dun dun dun DUN dun dun dun duuuuunnnnnn

(what the heck is that? find out in my next post 🙂)  When you play the Game of Thrones, you win or ….you are really entertained

The sun never sets on Inverness (in early July, anyway)

Having successfully located Nessie, we enjoyed the remainder of the day and evening in Inverness.  We gathered with locals at the Castle Tavern (located, unsurprisingly,  next to Inverness castle) to watch a very exciting World Cup match with England vs. Colombia,  which resulted in an English victory via penalty shootout.

8smaxMBsQGC3MB42GmoK8wWe wondered:  Do Scots root for the English team, as loyal members of the United Kingdom?  Or is it a rivalry based on a history of war between the two countries?  The answer we found, by asking tour guides and pub patrons, was both.  As we were educated by John Alasdair Macdonald, our Hebrideaen Explorer tour guide, Scotland’s history began well before its famed wars with southern neighbors and Hadrian’s wall. While today there is most definitely a Scottish identity, the history of the people inhabiting Scotland is not as clear cut.  In addition, many modern Scots, such as John, have spent time studying or living in England.  So,  our very unscientific poll revealed that while many Scots eagerly rooted for England’s opponent,  just as many cheered their UK brethren. We just enjoyed watching them.

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Dinner was  at the Black Isle Brewery, which we had walked past several times during our time in Inverness and always seemed lively & busy.  As the name implies,  this is a craft brew house, but with an organic twist.  We were a little bit beered out by this point so we chose the organic wine,  which was delicious.  Black Isle is also famous for its pizza, but Oldest is non-dairy so we chose a vegan pizza with pesto –  I will admit to being doubtful,  but it was delicious.  Highly recommended, and one of our better meals in Scotland, especially if you are growing tired of traditional pub fare.

After enjoying some traditional music at Inverness’ most famous pub, Hootananny’s, we took one last stroll along the lovely River Ness.  By this point in our trip, I had successfully “closed my rings” (Apple-speak for getting enough exercise) for 7 consecutive days, and I wasn’t about to stop now.  By now it was fairly late:  in fact,  it was midnight. And yet, off to the southwest,  was a bright glow.  Indeed,  this far north, and less than two weeks past the summer solstice, Inverness’ sky never really darkened, and it was as bright as day by 3:00 am.   If you travel to Inverness during this time of year,  bring an eye mask if you like your mornings dark!

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Timestamp on this photo is 12:01 am

Thus ended our visit to Scotland.  The country’s wild beauty,  combined with its residents’ fierce patriotism, heartiness, and charm, won us over completely.  We may not have become whiskey connoiseurs, but we will undoubtedly return.

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Finding Nessie

Our next day in Inverness found us checking off another bucket list item:  Loch Ness.  Although many travel advice blogs and comment board afficianados will tell you that Loch Ness isn’t  Scotland’s prettiest loch,  and that there are many better sights in Scotland,  and they may be right, it’s still LOCH NESS.  Come on.  Even as an American child growing up in the Midwest,  the mythology of the Loch Ness Monster captivated me.  Perhaps because I grew up before technology, I believed the storytellers and witnesses,  just as I believed in Bigfoot. A few decades, uncovered hoaxes, and the internet later,  I am clearly aware of the non-existence of these imaginary creatures.  But that doesn’t make it any less fun to look for them.

Prior to arriving in Inverness,  this day was completely uncalendared and free for exploration. But as we rode the train into the Highlands from Edinburgh, coming closer and closer to Loch Ness,  both Oldest and I realized that we could not deny ourselves the opportunity of Nessie hunting.  So we booked the 4 hour “Sensation” tour with Jacobite Cruises.   Departing from Inverness bus station, the tour included a cruise on the Loch, a visit to the Loch Ness Monster exhibition, and Urquhart Castle.

Another perfect day –  actually it was a bit warm and we both got a bit of a sunburn! – resulted in some pretty amazing photos:

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We learned that Loch Ness is Scotland’s second deepest loch, and contains more water than all the lakes of England and Wales combined.   And because of the high peat content in the soil,  its waters are very dark and murky.  With soft movement along the water’s surface, it is easy to imagine a large, dark form lurking just beneath.

And best of all:  WE FOUND HER! 😉

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Inverness and exploring the Highlands with a Macdonald (no, not a quarter pounder)… Warning: photo overload ahead!

After an active and lively 5 days in Edinburgh,  Oldest and I were ready for a little downtime.  We traveled via ScotRail train from Edinburgh Waverly station to Inverness.  The train was overcrowded, and the attendant a bit grouchy because people were putting their bags anywhere and everywhere.  We were grateful to have a seat, though, and the beautiful weather continued:

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After checking into our Airbnb in Inverness,  a lovely, 2-story, 2 bedroom attached home, (Inverness Airbnb), we enjoyed a relaxing walk along and through the islands of the River Ness.  No hills here on this walk!  At all!  My thighs thanked me.   Here are a few photos from our stroll:

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amazingly clear water!

Early the next morning, we were greeted by John Alasdair Macdonald, proprietor of The Hebridean Explorer, a private tour company based in Inverness.    Looking back,  Oldest says this day was a highlight of the trip.

John Alasdair Macdonald (I love saying all 3 names) spent time as a businessman in England before returning to his homeland to start his tour company and study for a Master’s in History.   He grew up speaking both Gaelic and English. Additionally,  he is a proud member of the fabled Macdonald clan.  A really interesting tidbit I found on the MacDonald clan,  courtesy of www.greatscottishclans.com:

 There are more than half a million Macdonalds worldwide, and a recent study suggests that one in four can trace their origins back to Somerled, the clan’s founder and “The Greatest of all Celtic warrior kings”.  Only one man has more living descendants:  Genghis Khan.

/returns from digression/

As we had a Loch Ness cruise tour booked for the following day,  I chose the “Hebridean Explorer Tour with Eilean Donan Castle”.  Unlike most Inverness day tours,  which  journey to the Isle of Skye and back,  this tour heads further north toward the Apple-cross peninsula. My planning thought process here was that we would return one day to Scotland, and spend a few days exploring Skye –  I wanted to do something that would give me a flavor of ‘wild’ Scotland, without the summer crowds expected on Skye.

As it turned out,  this choice was fortuitous –  according to John,  although it wasn’t his most popular tour,  it was the tour that would take the greatest advantage of the incredibly blue skies we enjoyed in Scotland.  He mentioned that he had been thinking about discontinuing the tour, because the views were frequently obscured by poor weather and required a disappointing re-route.  But then, on occasion,  he was blessed with a day like our tour day,  and was only too thrilled to explore the Applecross route.   Sadly,  it appears that the tour is no longer offered,  but I’m sure if you asked John about it he would be more than happy to set it up – and hope for great weather!

I truly wish I had taken more notes during our tour,  so I could do a better job of describing the day’s beautiful photos and telling you the exact route we took.  Then again,  more time spent on my ipad would have meant less time enjoying the incredible scenery.

I’ll let the pictures do the talking now.

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Our first glimpse of Loch Ness
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Eilean Donan Castle
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The drop below him was a good 60 feet.  I’m still a nervous mommy but managed to get a pic!
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The view and beautiful skies from Eilean Donan
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Eilean Donan Castle
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Viewpoint over Loch Carron in Stromeferry
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Near the shore at Sanachon
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The little seaside town of Sheildag was a favorite stop
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View from A896 between Sheildag and Torridon
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The Torridon Hills – made of sandstone
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Amazing viewpoint along A832 near Kinlochewe

I do know that we started off toward Loch Ness, heading through Drumnadrochit (it’s fun to try to say that in a Scottish accent –  spit out the “droch”), a town on the side of the lake and the home of the Loch Ness Centre & Exhibition, which we would visit the next day.  Then we headed toward Eilean Donan Castle,  where we enjoyed lunch in the cafe, and up toward Torridon before heading back to Inverness.  The full tour took about 8 1/2 hours.

The historical tidbits offered by John Alasdair Macdonald definitely added to the trip.  We asked whether he rooted for England in the World Cup (spoiler: he did) which kicked off a long discussion about Scotland’s history.  Although modern Scotland is a part of the U.K., its history and people are a true melting pot of tribal Picts, Normans, Britons, and Vikings.    We also learned that in the 1790s,  after a rebellion of farmers,  Highlands clan lords forced people out of the highland plains and valleys in favor of sheep, which helped them afford their lordly lifestyle.  As a result,  the  majority of Scotland’s population to this day remains near the coasts.

The Hebridean Explorer tour was an outstanding day.  I cannot recommend John’s tour more highly.  Throughout the booking process, communication was top notch.  And the tour itself was memorable for our host’s knowledge, flexibility, and unbelievable scenery.

A note on my planning for Inverness.  I had considered several small group, multi-day tours, to take the most advantage of our short time in the Highlands.  In the end, I opted for booking our own lodging in Inverness for 3 nights, combined with a single day private tour, and  half day tour of Loch Ness.  There were several advantages to this approach, for us:

  • We chose our own lodging, and did not have to pack and move nightly to a new location.
  • We enjoyed a ‘downtime’ evening in our Airbnb, getting snacks from the grocery and watching a movie on our iPads
  • We slept late one morning
  • Our private tour was catered to our interests and tastes, allowing for plenty of interaction with our very knowledgeable guide.
  • We never had to wait for a line to use the toilet, or for lagging tour guests to return to a bus.

For us, even though it was not an inexpensive option, this was the right balance, Given our busy time in Edinburgh, combined with the fact that we were still only halfway through our vacation, we wanted to regain and retain some energy.  Because tomorrow…. we will be hunting monsters!

 

 

 

Ain’t no mountain high enough…

As has been mentioned, there are a lot of hills in Edinburgh.   Like Rome, the city’s position among “seven hills” is no accident.  It is easy to imagine 11th century nomadic warriors establishing a defensible stronghold here. Among those seven hills, I can’t neglect to mention the biggest of them all:  Arthur’s Seat. Some historians claim this may have been the site of Camelot.   Looming imposingly about a mile to the east of Edinburgh Castle,  Arthur’s Seat rises 610 feet from city level, to an elevation of 823 feet.  (creds: Google).  Actually,  that doesn’t sound like much, does it?  I didn’t think so either.

So,  after a busy day walking alpacas (see previous post), Oldest and I set off from our lodging for a quick jaunt to the top of Arthur’s Seat.  It was on his bucket list for Edinburgh, and who was I to stop him?  A  round-ish 50 something mom who usually sits in an air conditioned office, that’s who.

We didn’t have a map, or consult any guidebooks prior to starting off.  (what?  I didn’t plan the detail of how to get up Arthur’s Seat?  shocking, I know).  We just started walking up from the direction of Holyrood Palace, not realizing there were a number of potential paths for our ascent. As it turned out, the path we chose was the shortest to the top.  That’s great!  Except it also meant that it was the steepest.  Geometry 101.

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Halfway up, view toward the Firth of Forth

Huff. Puff. Wipe off sweat, take in beautiful views, repeat.  By the very top, there wasn’t much of a path at all, just giant boulders to be climbed.  Not only am I 50 something, I have short legs,  so this was quite a challenge.   I was literally drenched with sweat and breathing like Darth Vader. Oldest was well ahead of me,  checking back periodically to make sure I hadn’t croaked on the side of Camelot.

In all, the climb took me about 40 minutes of serious cardio.  With a diet heavy on french fries and beer so far this week,  the exercise was not unwelcome. And while there were moments when I thought I wouldn’t make it to the top, I am so glad I did.  At the tippy top there is a small marker. The moment I touched it, catching my breath, was unforgettable. Not only had I met the physical challenge , but I was rewarded with incredible views over the city of Edinburgh.

 

 

There is some sort of lovely, deep metaphor in this experience.  Oh I know:

 It’s not the mountain we conquer, but ourselves –  Sir Edmund Hillary

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360 degree panorama from the top

 

My alpaca is a slack-a

On our last full day in Edinburgh, we headed out of town for another adventure.    Knowing Oldest is a huge fan of animals,  I booked the Alpaca Walk at BobCat Alpacas, just on the edge of the city center in the area known as Bonaly.  This was our only pre-booked activity in Edinburgh:  if you’re even thinking about it,  do it!  Click here for more info:  BobCat Alpacas

So a few things to know about alpacas:

  • They are as soft as they appear
  • They are typically very social and stay together in small groups
  • They are very photogenic
  • They take a couple of minutes to warm up to humans, then become quite loyal
  • They are (usually) sweet, mellow, and gentle
  • They have truly learned the meaning of “stop and smell the roses”

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Bob,  one of the proprietors, met us along with group of about 10 others for the day’s walk.  Bob and his wife Catherine manage a herd of about 50 or so alpacas.  Each walker would be paired with one adult male alpaca for the walk; before our assignments, Bob gave us a rundown of each animal’s personality.  Balthazar is a leader.  Eureka and Amadeus are best buddies and will walk together.  Artemis is mellow and likes to trail behind others.  (I’m making up these descriptions because I don’t remember which was which except for our assigned alpacas, but you get the idea).  Oldest was assigned Artie, a very mellow alpaca –  and that is saying something, for an alpaca –  who preferred to bring up the rear.

I was assigned Orlando.  I just looked him up on the website’s herd directory, and I see that he is one of the primary stud males in the herd.  Well, that explains a lot!   I should have known….. while the other alpacas had large, soft, lidded eyes and sweet faces,  Orlando’s  heavier brow made him look kind of pissed off:

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The group started off on our walk.  Bob cautioned that we should expect a slow pace, as alpacas like to nibble on the roadside grass. Yes,  yes they do. Our roughly 2 mile walk took over 2 hours, and mostly went like this:
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Orlando, however,  was rarely part of the social group chewing the soft grass.  Like my Youngest,  he chose the road less traveled. His preferred activity was jumping, eating and rolling, tangling his leash in the bristly bushes along the roadside:

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Also unlike the other alpacas,  Orlando took his time warming up to me (or any humans).  He would duck away and snort when I tried to pet him. And he would simply not be told, pulled, or cajoled to leave those bushes.  He and Artie both did, however,  like to pose for the camera:

 

At one point,  we came across a family and their dogs out for a walk.  Alpacas do NOT like dogs.  And when dogs were sighted just as we crossed a small bridge,  we entered Alpaca Jam 2018.  They just did. not. move.  For about 15 minutes.

We finally returned to the farm and were treated to the sight of several newborn crias (babies) with their mothers;  one was as young as 2 days old!  IMG_0828.jpg

Despite Orlando’s stubbornness, he eventually let me pet him and actually seemed to like me by the end of the walk.  Probably because I gave up and let him be his badass self.

 

Ceres Highland Games …. did I mention it’s FREE?

The Ceres Highland Games are held on the last Saturday of June each year. Located at Bow Butts,  a greenspace in the small town of Ceres,  the Games reminded me of a high school track and field meet,  but with kilts.  At any given time,  there were 3 or 4 competitions underway.  The most dramatic involved hurling large bundles of burlap over an ever taller goalpost.

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Meanwhile,  there were dancers, bagpipers, cyclists and runners running around the edge of the field, archery, and shot put.  We found a place to sit on the hill above the field and watched the wrestling.  I’m not sure if it was styled as a tournament?  But it seemed the same 3 or 4 wrestlers,   shirtless, and kilted,  wrestled over and over again against each other.  I was tired for them!  Their nearby cheering sections were loud and raucous,  in a good way.  It was a gorgeous, warm day,  so the Games were crowded with families.  I’m sure there were other tourists there,  but it felt like a very authentic Scottish experience.  I would definitely recommend. And best of all –  virtually no hills to walk up!

 

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not your typical Scottish skies…

 

Oldest had a big day (and, well, a big night before too ;)).  He crashed on the train ride back to Edinburgh.  Say it with me … awwwwwwww!

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To plan, or not to plan? Adventures in Cupar, Scotland

When I plan travel,  I spend a lot of time researching our options in each location.   Other than lodging,  I try to maximize flexibility, and determine what we do each day based on our energy level or the weather.   I generally pre-book only the activities that are 1)top priorities and 2)require prebooking to enjoy or to avoid a long queue.

One of our “options” for Edinburgh was a daytrip outside of the city to the Ceres Highland Games .  The Ceres games boast the title of the oldest free (!) games in Scotland,  having run in every non-wartime year since 1314. Did I mention it’s free? Check it out here:  Ceres Highland Games.  

(More info on the Games in my next post…)

With the promise of a warm, sunny day,  we headed to Waverly Station, and navigated our way to Cupar, (pr. coo-per)  a town about an hour outside of Edinburgh.  From there,  the location of the Games in Ceres was about a 3 mile drive.

We thought there might be taxis waiting at the Cupar station,  but unfortunately  (or maybe fortunately? )  there were not.  We wandered into the station, hoping to find a sign or other indication as to where to get a taxi,  but instead we wandered into the Cupar Heritage Center, which is housed in the station building.   The center was manned by Gavin, a volunteer who boasted the strongest Scottish brogue we heard on the trip, and was very punny.

Gavin:  So whaur di ye hale from?

Oldest: New Jersey

Gavin:  Ach, I have an oold one

Gavin was only too eager to help,  calling us a taxi himself, and informing us that a driver had only just left to take passengers to the Games and would certainly be back shortly.  He then proceeded to show us the important Cupar artifacts at the Heritage Center, mostly dating from the early 20th century.   Porage Oats_TMS_3043These included local memorabilia from King George’s 1937 coronation celebration, WWI shell casings,  and, um, a can of porage?:

 

Gavin’s summary of the town’s history:

“Cupar useta be a viry important toon, but den everyting got oold.”

The charming welcome of the Cupar Heritage Center and Gavin were the type of thing that never would have happened with too much planning. Many of my favorite travel experiences are similar.

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Gavin and Oldest

Anyway, the taxi seemed to have gotten lost between the Ceres Games and the station,  because 45 minutes went by before Gavin called another taxi, and we were on our way to the Games!