Posts Tagged ‘Adventure’

The Land of MacDonald & the Search for Nessie.

I never thought I could walk to the Old Town from St. Andrew’s Square in 1°C temperature and not feel frozen to the bone, but after a day in the Highlands dealing with -13°C, anything above freezing didn’t feel quite so awful. After 13 hours of touring (mostly on bus) and 400+ miles covered, I can say that I have seen a good majority of Scotland, albeit briefly. The tour that I did today with Timberbush was the longest one day tour offered in the whole of Britain – from Edinburgh to Loch Ness/Inverness and back. Once you undertake the tour, you realize how far Loch Ness is from Edinburgh. The views of the Highlands make the journey worth it, but if you have the time, a two-day tour (also offered by the company) would probably be more fruitful.

I started the day bright and early, with a 7AM wake-up call and was at the Timberbush pick-up point in front of Edinburgh Castle by 745A. On the way to our first stop, we passed by Stirling Castle & the Wallace Monument, but the fog was a bit too thick to get a real glimpse of either site. The Wallace Monument was erected in the 1800s but is a testament to William Wallace (famously portrayed by Mel Gibson in ‘Braveheart’), Scotland’s most famous hero from the 13th century. We also passed by Doune Castle, made famous by Monty Python & the Holy Grail. Funny enough, our guide mentioned that the gift shop sells coconut shells for people looking to re-create the famous clip-clopping of horseshoes along the nearby paths (if you’ve seen the movie, you understand)!

Our first stop at 10A was in a town called Kilmahog, where we grabbed coffee, morning nibbles and some scenic views of the passing lowlands. We also got to see Hamish, the famous Highland Cow that lives in the region. She was born in 1993, making her nearly 17. Apparently in ‘hairy coo’ years, that’s the equivalent of being a centenarian:

After our stop, the scenery noticed a dramatic change as we crossed the border of what is typically thought to be the lowland/highland turning point. One of the dead giveaways when leaving the lowlands and entering the Highlands? The signage. The road signs are written in two languages – Gaelic & English, with Gaelic taking precedence; it is spoken in the Highlands by some natives in order to keep the language alive.

The snow was a bit intense in the Highlands – it looked as if the earth was completely blanketed with cotton. At some points, there was only a sliver of blue sky separating the snow-covered grounds with the clouds in the sky. The views are pretty dramatic when the terrain begins getting rugged and the pictures were pretty incredible. The sunrise over the mountains made for some amazing shots as we traveled through Rob Roy Country and entered Glencoe. The Three Sisters (the three peaks which overlook Glen Coe) are absolutely stunning:

As we entered Glencoe, we got to hear the story of the MacDonald Clan massacre, something that I found particularly interesting considering my ties to the great Clan MacDonald. Interestingly enough, the mountains that we passed through was the area that the MacDonald Clan escaped into when they were attacked by the Campbell Clan in 1692. Apparently, the MacDonald Clan took in the Campbell Clan for a few weeks, feeding them and sheltering them before the Campbell Clan turned on the MacDonalds, intending to massacre all persons under 70. When the MacDonalds heard the ruckus and fled, they fled into these snowy mountains. Ironically, a visitor center was built just a few years back and the man put in charge was a Campbell. As you can probably imagine, that didn’t go over so well.

After Glencoe and a quick bite for lunch, we headed up to Loch Ness. Along the path that we followed there were a total of four lochs (lakes) that we were able to see (Loch Linnhe, Loch Ness, Loch Lochy, Loch Urr). The white snow, bright sunshine and lack of wind made for the most amazing views – the water was incredibly still. Some of the smaller lakes and ponds were actually frozen to the point that you could probably ice skate on them!

After hours of driving, we made it to Loch Ness at around 215P and jumped on a cruise boat for an hour cruise on the lake. I tried desperately to look for Nessie, but the peat-saturated water made it difficult to see below the surface (no doubt adding to the enigmatic nature of the loch and the monster). Aside from the tale of the Loch Ness monster (which apparently dates back to the 6th century), the lake itself is pretty fascinating. It’s 24 miles long and 1 – 2 miles wide, but is better known for its depth: around 750 feet deep throughout with parts going down to 1000 feet. If you were to take all of the bodies of water in the rest of Britain (all bodies – lakes, rivers, ponds, etc, — from England + Wales) and added them together, they wouldn’t fill up Loch Ness.

The tour was gorgeous and totally worth the £34 (with student discount) day trip price. The downside to December is that the days are so incredibly short – the sun began setting during our 3P cruise and the skies were completely black by 430P. If you were to go in the summer, there would be a stark contrast – daylight that goes on forever and completely different (green) views. Either way, I would totally recommend Timberbush tours. Our tour guide, Billy, was awesome (his accent didn’t’ hurt – gotta love the Scottish accent!) and there were enough stops to take in some great photos. If you have the chance to do a 2 or 3 day trip, I would definitely opt for that though… 400+ miles in 13 hours is a bit intense!

Hope everyone’s holiday season is going well! I’m heading back home (to London) this evening and although I’m sad about leaving beautiful Scotland, I’m happy to be able to sleep in my own bed and celebrate Christmas with friends back in the capital.

Lots of love from the UK,

See more pictures here!

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Old Town Love!

Alex finally managed to get out of Edinburgh this morning around 10A, which left me with my first day of solo sightseeing. I started by hitting up a few shops on Princes Street (H&M, TopShop, etc.) to pick up some warmer clothing for my trip seeing as how I only had clothing intended for the Mediterranean warmth. Afterwards, I grabbed my luggage from the Royal British Hotel, where Alex & I stayed for two nights and moved them over to a hotel in the Old Town, where I’ll be staying for the remainder of my journey. I was actually a bit sad to be moving out of my Royal British Hotel residence — the people were great and the rooms were super comf for the price! Though the New Town really isn’t that new, there is definitely a stark contrast between Old Town and New Town. After crossing the bridge, I felt like I’d fallen through a rabbit hole into old world Scotland: narrow streets, cobblestone roads and kilt makers galore. The architecture is absolutely stunning and the shops were entirely too cute.

My hotel in Old Town is way better than I expected (despite not having internet). The room is massive, the bathroom is practically as big as my room in London and the view is stellar! Check this out (this is just half of my room!):

The view:

After walking down the main thoroughfare, the Royal Mile, I stumbled across St. Giles Cathedral (and a statue of Adam Smith)! The Cathedral was absolutely gorgeous and admission was free so I was able to pop in and take a quick look around.

I grabbed some tour information and am working on planning out the next three days of my adventure. I think I’m going to hit up Rosslyn Chapel first thing in the morning (10A) and then check out Edinburgh Castle in the afternoon from 1 – 5P or so! After that, I’m heading to the Lyceum Theatre to check out Peter Pan around 7P! I’m so excited to see all the history in the town — it’s seriously amazing! Thus far, I would have to say that Edinburgh is the most inspiring city I have seen. Just stepping outside and looking around is breathtaking — the history is palpable and the buildings are incredible. Plus, the pride Scots take in their country is pretty exciting — so many fun Scottish stores and proud, haggis-eating Scotsmen.

I’m still hoping to do a trip to the Highlands & Loch Ness on Tuesday and I’m leaving Wednesday to figure out what tickles my fancy. Despite the fact that my bones are frozen, I’m loving this town! Hoping to catch the Ghost Tour tonight at 930P. Edinburgh is supposed to be the most haunted town in the world… hoping I don’t get too frightened :)

Lots of love,

Want to see more pics of snow-covered Scotland? Click here to see the album! Also, keep up with my tweets in the Play-by-Play section to the right. I’ve been tweeting loads of pictures as my adventures continue!

Snowy Scotland!

Once again, I’m bundled up in my hotel room for the second night with warm porridge from Marks & Spencer, hot chocolate & Lily Allen singing in the background. Alex is staying for night number two after her second flight in a two-day span was cancelled. After she spent two hours waiting at the airport, Easy Jet announced her flight cancellation and she’s opting for the train back to London tomorrow morning instead. Outside the window to our room, there’s snow covering the nearby buildings and a Christmas market lighting up the dark Scottish sky. Despite the fact that the days are rather short, the town is really a gorgeous sight.

After running into Edinburgh Castle, snow and oddly gorgeous mausoleums, we did a bit of shopping for Scottish goodies followed by a mini whiskey tasting! Although snow is slippery and ridiculously cold, it does make for the most beautiful pictures of life! Normal roads are a thousand times prettier when they’re covered with snow.

Our whiskey tasting was super mini, but my three baby swigs comprised the most Scotch I’ve ever had in my life! The smell of it normally makes me sick, but since I’m in Scotland now, I feel obliged to live like the Scots do!

I’m now deciding what to do tomorrow in terms of sightseeing. Roslin Chapel and some other goodies are on my list of must-sees. I bought a ticket to see a live production of Peter Pan at the local theatre on Monday and am booking a Loch Ness/Highlands tour for Tuesday to get the most out of my Scottish excursion!

Any must-see sights in Scotland? I have tomorrow and Monday to fill with goodies!

Sending love and warm thoughts,

Where in the World is Shannon Elizabeth?

This is a story all about how
my life got flip-turned upside-down.
Now I’d like to take a minute,
Just sit right there —
I’ll tell you how I became a
victim of a traveling scare.

So, where in the world is Shannon Elizabeth?

Would it be weird if I said I didn’t know the answer to that? Heh. Well, that’s not entirely true, I suppose. I do know where I am. And I most definitely know where I’m not: I’m not in London like I should be. Here are some pictures of the madness that was my day. See if you can put this together and figure out what’s happening in my life.

Fun story: Our flight from Malta to Gatwick was cancelled due to poor weather conditions (read: London’s inability to deal with snow). Quite problematic, mind you, because I had a trip to Edinburgh planned for Sunday and Alex has a trip to California planned for Monday. All flights to Gatwick were cancelled and we were left with two options: fly to Newcastle today or fly to Newcastle or Gatwick on Monday. Unfortunately, Monday won’t work for either of us, thus we were left with one viable option and grabbed the flight to Northern England instead.

Where did we go from there? Well, that was a feat as we navigated the cold wintery weather up North (thank God for iPhones, laptops & Wi-fi). We hadn’t planned to end up in Newcastle and neither of us really had a plan of attack (or proper cold-weather clothing). We were offered a transfer from Newcastle to London via coach, but considering the gross weather and the 25 mile per hour ride involved with taking the coach, that would put us in London at around 3AM after a 7 to 10 hour coach ride. Ten hours on a stinky, stuffy coach is not my idea of fun.

Instead, we decided to take a train from Newcastle to Edinburgh, a much shorter ride than the one that we would have experienced from Newcastle to London. While we were in the train terminal at the Newcastle Airport looking at the train map someone stole my huge bag from literally behind my back! I noticed within 20 seconds that it was gone and Alex and I chased the culprit down and managed to retrieve my bag (thank God)!

After we arrived at Waverly Station in Scotland, we had to scale three sets of  these ridiculous stairs with huge 45 pound bags:

After getting to the top of the stairs we spotted a hotel across the way from the station — perfect price, Wi-fi, showers & warmth! Fortunately, I had over-packed for my Malta trip and have a load of extra clothes to wear in Scotland + my computer + chargers + my books, etc. Now Alex and I are warming our souls with Marks & Spencer salads and music to re-ignite our spirits after this soul-wrenching day. At least our window comes with a pretty gorgeous view:

Love from Scotland,

PS. Thank you to the best family for staying with us at the airport during this whole fiasco! Love you guys! We appreciate all of your support!

PPS. Paul & Charlie – I know you guys read this occasionally, don’t be afraid to comment on my blog; I love blog comments :)

Solo in Scotland

So, after much deliberation about Paris versus London for Christmas, I have decided (much to my surprise) to head up to Edinburgh, Scotland for my pre-Christmas solo adventure. I actually hadn’t given Edinburgh much consideration, but after looking at the costs of Paris from the 20th to the 23rd, I decided to explore other options. Had I booked Paris a few weeks back, I probably could have snatched a pretty decent bargain on the trip, but having had waited until just a few weeks before departure, the prices have gone up. Although it wasn’t exorbitant, it would have cost around £350 – £400 for the four-day jaunt. Edinburgh’s running me just under £210 including roundtrip flight (on British Airways) and three nights in a 3-star hotel within a half mile of all major sites [courtesy of Expedia]! I know that I’ll visit Paris at some point during the year, and due to the fact that it’s much pricier than Edinburgh, I’d rather split those costs with a traveling buddy and put my euros to better use elsewhere.

So, as of this morning, it’s all officially booked. My wallet is £210 lighter, but I think it’s a worthy investment. Edinburgh has some great Christmas markets during that period, so it’ll make for a nice setting for sightseeing and having some alone time. I’m super excited to be able to travel on my own for the first time. Being in a country that shares my native tongue and my primary currency is also a bonus. Plus, since I have four full days (getting in at 930A the morning of the 20th and leaving for London the evening of the 23rd) of exploring at my disposal, I’m planning on using one of those days to head up to the Highlands on a tour to do some extra sightseeing. From all of the literature that I’ve run across, Edinburgh is a pretty small/compact area that can be seen in a couple of days, so I’m going to do my best to make the most out of my Scottish soirée and see as much of the country as possible.

Looks like my room isn’t going to see much of me in the latter part of December: Malta from the 13th – 18th and Edinburgh from the 20th through 23rd. Gotta love Europe!

For anyone that’s been to Scotland –
Any must-sees to put on my list?

Your neighborhood traveler,

Viva Munchen! {Part II: Dachau}

So, you may recall a post from a few weeks back when I preemptively revealed that we were going to be partaking in Mike’s Bike Tour’s Neuschwanstein Castle tour. We were beyond excited to take a trip out of Central Munich into a remote area. Unfortunately, as fate would have it, a tour group of 34 kids decided they were going to do the tour on the same day, effectively occupying nearly all of the bus’ seats. The few seats that were left over were taken by people who had purchased their tickets the day before, so we were seriously out of luck. We decided, however, that we wanted to do something cultural; the beer tents were accessible, but we had already experienced that madness on Friday. Sarah proposed a visit to nearby Dachau, the site of the first concentration camp.

DachauDachauConcentration CampAlthough visiting a concentration camp wasn’t quite as happy as the castle tour, it was definitely an incredible experience. Consider that we can likely see loads of castles within the UK alone, the fact that we were able to see a Munich-based concentration camp was intense. I had no idea when I arrived, but Dachau was built in the early 1930s and actually served as a model for future camps. The camp and the museum were definitely eye-opening and heart-breaking, but it is something that I truly think would be a benefit to all people to see first hand.

After experiencing Dachau, we explored Olympia Park (the site of the 1972 Summer Olympics) and did a little souvenir shopping. After nabbing a Oktoberfest-inspired eco-tote and das boot (in miniature) I was set for our last night at The Tent. We kept our last night relatively low key, eating in and calming our souls before leaving Sunday morning. We managed to make it back to London in one(ish) piece and found our way around Munich using solely public transportation; definitely a bit of a feat for the neophytic travelers that we are. Note to anyone hitting up M-town: we nabbed a 3 day group pass (good for up to 5 people) for 21 euros, and it covered all of our travel within Munich via tram; such a steal. My overall feel for Munich? Despite the amazing history and some pretty amazing architecture, it’s not a city I would visit again. I think there are some places that are a ‘one time’s enough’ kind of deal and for me, this was one such place. Oktoberfest was amazing and the experience is something that should be had by all, but unless you’re hitting up O-fest, I think there are a number of other cities to better spend some time.

Next stop on the map? Scotland.

Lots of love,

Signature Stamp - Shannon

Off to Munich!

Oktoberfest

I have just finished packing 4 days of necessities into a 21″ carry-on. I’m really crossing my fingers that my luggage fits into EasyJet’s 50cm x 40 cm x 20 cm restriction… After being here for about a week, I’ve deciding that I suck at converting metrics. (Side note: When the man at the gym was asking my height and weight, he looked at me quizzically when I gave him my response in inches and pounds versus centimeters and “stones”… I was going to do him the favor of converting it, but I don’t even know what a ‘stone’ is. Probably something I should learn at some point.) In any case, I have managed to pack four tops, two extra pairs of pants, a pair of heels, a jacket, pajamas, an umbrella, toiletries, a couple of books and all of my necessary electronics (camera, phone, etc.) and paperwork (passport, bus information, etc.) into this bad boy.

I’m relying on the fact that a Deutsche Bank exists inside of the Munich airport, otherwise I will be Euroless until further notice. Additionally, the transportation from the airport to the actual hostel is another feat we can deal with upon arrival. I feel as though the lack of planning (read: spontaneity) adds to the adventure. If I find that the so-called “spontaneity” is actually a shitfest, I will do better to plan such mundane logistics beforehand.

That being said, I’m off to Oktoberfest tomorrow! I am incredibly excited and will undoubtedly be returning with a load of incredible pictures. I will also not have access to internet/phone service/general technology, so updating my blog and Skyping with the fam is a no-go for nearly four whole days!

I’ll see you guys back here on Sunday!

Lots of love,

Signature Stamp - Shannon