Posts Tagged ‘Travel’

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!

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!

Family Fun on the Island!

I have so much to catch up on, but I thought a post about the fun family gatherings we’ve experienced thus far would make for a good filler for family keeping up with my homeland hoorah! Too much family fun in four short days; the sadness about leaving tomorrow is hitting me… *tear*

Monday:

{Zija Cikka & I}

Our first family dinner was at Zija Cikka’s house in Qormi — Soppa Tal-Armla (Widow’s Soup), Gbejniet (Maltese cheese), & Gina’s super delish homemade chocolate cake! It was so fun finally catching up with my mom’s Maltese family!

Tuesday

Some good times in Gozo:

{Charlie & Paul at the Azure Window}

Paul & I at Ggantija Temple in Gozo!

Wednesday:

First stop — Ziju Zeppi’s farm!

{Paul, Zeppi & Maria Luisa}

{Paparazzi shot on the farm}

{View from the farm}

Dinner yesterday was at Joe & Sylvana’s house — delicious & entirely too much fun with two little monkeys running around:

Hosts <3.{Joe & Sylvana}

{Rosie & Joe}

{Princess Martina & I}

{Alex & Katrina}

[Falzon – Farrugia – Saliba Family]

I’ve had such an amazing trip thus far and am so incredibly sad to be leaving tomorrow…. I am in love with my family! I’m looking for a super cheap ticket to come back here for Christmas! Otherwise, I’ll be back in summer 2010 for Part II.

To see the whole Malta album, click here!

PS. PSS (you know who you are), I love you to the moon & am so thankful for the amazing trip you coordinated! You and your family are the most amazing people on the face of the planet!

The Isle of Calypso

Looking through the 658 pictures that I’ve taken thus far, I realize I have to play a serious game of catch-up! I still have some fun pictures from Day 1 and 2 to upload, but I’m going to fast-forward to yesterday’s journey. We woke up to semi-warm Mediterranean sunshine and decided that it would be a good day to take a journey to the Maltese island of Gozo (Maltese: Għawdex, pronounced OW-desh). Gozo’s a quick 20-minute journey by ferry from the mainland and though it was windy, it was definitely a gorgeous view!

[The view of Mellieha on the way down to the ferry was pretty outstanding, too!]

We had a pretty great view of Gozo from the ferry. The island is so small that you can literally see the entire thing and capture it from a camera lens from a distance!

As you can tell, it was a pretty blustery day on the ferry but the views of Gozo were worth standing on the sun deck.

Gozo has been inhabited for around 5000 years and has a ridiculously long and amazing history, so our day was jam-packed. Lesson: If your journey is well-planned (and you’re with some Grade A tour guides who take care of you!), you can see all the major sites in a day. First stop on our agenda?

The Azure Window:

The natural arch is thought to have been created millions of years ago and is absolutely breath-taking! The water is insanely blue and the journey to see the arch close-up is a trek along fossilised rock. Probably one of the most beautiful things I have seen yet!

After our trip to the Window, we headed to the Citadella (didn’t really get any pics there) which is set on the hill of the capital city. It was built as a fortress of sorts to protect the island from attacks. We got to tour the inside and it was pretty awesome! After our mini tour (and a mini bout of rain), we headed to the Ggantija Temples which are a UNESCO Heritage site and date back to around 3500 BC.

By the end of the day, we were officially exhausted and napped on the ferry ride back home! Our tour guides had everything planned perfectly — we got sooo much in during a single day! Gozo’s definitely a nice trip for anyone visiting Malta. And the few Gozitans that populate the small island seemed friendly as well! Fun fact: Gozitans speak a slightly different version of Maltese… a little bit more Arabic-sounding. Just a fun fact to throw in your arsenal of goodies during Trivial Pursuit.

Love from Malta,

Wanna see all the pictures? Click here!

Qormi, Malta {Day 1.}

Alex and I are currently cuddled up in our pajamas, getting ready for bed after an extraordinarily long day. I’ll probably go into further detail about this tomorrow, but let me explain the minor situation that took place at 4AM this morning. I woke up at 330A to get ready for my early morning flight and taxi pick up at 415A. I had called to book the cab on Saturday to make sure we’d have a ride to the airport. Shortly after 410A, a cab pulled up in front of my accommodation. When I went to get in the cab, I discovered that it wasn’t the cab that I had ordered. At that exact same moment, I received a  phone call from the cab company letting me know that they wouldn’t be sending a cab for us! As luck would have it, the cab parked in front of my complex hadn’t been booked (what are the chances at 4AM?!), so I was able to get him to take me to pick up Alex and drop us off at Victoria Station. Let me just say — NEVER book with London Black Cabs. I was so disappointed! If (by the grace of God), a cab hadn’t been lingering in front of my complex, I would have been in a bit of a bind considering the tube station doesn’t open until 530A! In any case, after that minor incident, we jumped on the Gatwick Express, made it through check-in and security in record time and got into Malta without a hitch!

We’ve now been in Malta for nine or so hours and have already seen loads of fun places in Qormi, including the house my mom grew up in and the bakery that her parents owned!


I had actually imagined the old bakery to be in decent working order and was a little sad to see the once-used building in a state of rubble. Still, the fact that my mom walked in same building when she was a child is pretty exciting!

We’re staying with family that I hadn’t really met  before this trip and they have been so incredibly amazing! Not only did the entire family come to the airport to greet us, but they spent the entire day escorting us to must-see sights, making us Maltese treats plus they took the week off to be our personal tour guides!

I’ll have to catch up tomorrow on some amazing sites that we’ve seen: St. George, San Sebastian, a ridiculous amount of nondescript churches, a Christmas market, a life-sized house made of chocolate and loads of other goodies! We’re planning on hitting up Valletta and Mellieha tomorrow, followed by a trip to Gozo on Wednesday via ferry!

Some fun facts that I’ve learned today:

1. There are 365 churches in Malta. One for every day of the year.
2. Malta is a mere 122 square miles with around 425,000 inhabitants. Despite the low population (in terms of absolute numbers), Malta is the third most densely populated nation in the world! I think that definitely speaks to how small the place is!
3. Gozo is called the Isle of Calypso — referred to by Homer in the Odyssey.
4. Gozo is home to Ġgantija megalithic temples, a UNESCO heritage site, and the world’s oldest free-standing structures.

I’ll post more pics and info tomorrow, but sleep is a must!

xoxo,

My Guide to EasyJet

Happy Holidays, Everyone!

In the spirit of the holidays, I have decided to gift something travel-related:
My Guide to EasyJet.
Keep in mind, most of this can be found on the EasyJet website , but I find that websites can be cumbersome: everything that is relevant to you is mixed in with superfluous information that’s totally extraneous. So, here are the things that I think are important to know when traveling with Easy Jet. As a preface, I can’t really stress how much I prefer EasyJet to RyanAir. Although RyanAir has some really great deals, I find that their advertised “£5” fares actually end up being £40+ when you add in taxes, fees, etc. With EasyJet, I hop online and the advertised fee is what I actually pay. Additionally, EasyJet flies into major airports. If you take the time to peruse RyanAir’s website, you’ll see that you typically don’t fly into the city. Rather you fly 45 minutes to an hour outside of the city and then you’re bused in (for a fee, of course). All in all, I prefer paying a few extra dollars (or pounds, as it were) for convenience and time-saving. You are on vacation, after all and dealing with the headaches that come with travel are something you can probably do without.

Your Guide to EasyJet

When to Arrive:

This is relatively standard across airlines, but arrive 60 minutes early for domestic flights and 90 – 120 minutes early for international flights.

Where does EasyJet fly out of [from London]?

From London, you can fly out of Gatwick, Luton or Stansted airports. Just some info on the locations of these (since I had no idea where they were in relation to one another):

Gatwick is about 28 miles south of London; if you’re GPSing it, use postcodes RH6 0NP (South Terminal) or RH6 0PJ (North Terminal)
–  Luton is about 32 miles from London (North, I think!); if you’re using GPS for this one, use the code LU2 9QT
Stansted is in Essex about 36 miles Northeast-ish from Central London; use postcode CM24 1RW

I would recommend flying out of Gatwick unless it’s significantly cheaper to leave from the other two.

What’s the best way to get to the airport?

You can, of course, get to the airport via taxi, car, bus or train, but let’s look at the most efficient and cost-effective ways to get there: EasyBus or the Express. EasyBus leaves from Central London and goes to Gatwick, Stansted, and Luton airports so regardless of where you’re flying out of, you’re well covered. Prices vary, but you’re looking at between £2 and £9 each way.

– If you’re flying out of Gatwick, the EasyBus pick up is at Fulham Broadway, which can be reached by tube.
– If you’re flying out of Stansted, the pick-up points are Victoria, near stop 6 or at Gloucester Place, near the Baker Street tube
– If you’re flying out of Luton, there are multiple pick-up points:  Brent Cross, Finchley Road Underground, Marble Arch (near the tube), Victoria or Gloucester Place

{The tube works great for getting around within London to find your EasyBus pick-up point if you don’t live close to one!}

The Gatwick Express is also an option, albeit a more expensive one. It leaves from Victoria station and it takes roughly 30 minutes to get to the airport; if it’s like the Heathrow Express, it’s comfortable and convenient. Count on your wallet being about £14 – £16 lighter.

What kind of luggage am I allowed?

Not much, I’m afraid. You’re allowed one piece of hand luggage (a carry-on) that can measure no more than 55 cm x 40 cm x 20 cm. On the bright side, there is no weight maximum, so you can load that bad boy up! Keep in mind, this is not British Airways: you don’t get a carry-on plus a personal item. You get one item. If you’re taking a real carry-on, your purse, briefcase or laptop case has to stay at home or it must fit inside of your luggage. The only additional things you can carry-on are:

a) one of the following: an umbrella, an overcoat or a shawl and
b) one standard size bag of goods purchased at the airport

If you need more than one carry-on (like in the case of my Maltese excursion), you can opt to pay a fee and take some extras with you. It’ll run you £18 for a checked bag which has a maximum weight of 20 kg (44 or so pounds). Do not go overweight on this! Every 3 kg of ‘extra weight’ (on top of the 20 kg that you’re allowed) will run you £42. I’m not kidding. Best plan of attack: put your heavy stuff in your carry-on and the bulky stuff in your checked baggage. I have yet to find size restrictions on checked luggage, but I’m taking a pretty large, full-sized suitcase! I’ll let you guys know if I have issues; I’ve never checked baggage before with EasyJet!

How do I change a flight, a passenger name or cancel a flight?

You can cancel a flight within 24 hours of making the original booking for a refund (excluding transaction/administrative fees). You have to call in to cancel (0871 244 2366; costs 10p per minute). After the 24 hour period, your flight fees won’t be refunded. You can purchase insurance for £25.

If you’re looking at changing a name (essentially signing your flight over to another passenger), there’s a £25 fee, but it can be done online. You can also call in and handle the name change, but either way it has to be done at least two hours prior to the flight.

Things to keep in mind when flying:

* Don’t forget the liquid rule! No more than 3 oz (100 ml) allowed in carry-ons. Believe me, it sucks having your brand new lotions/shampoos, etc confiscated. Double-check to make sure your stuff fits the requirement and that it’s in a plastic bag! If you forget the plastic bag, they’re pretty good about supplying them at the airport.

* Don’t forget your passport! That could possibly be the worst situation ever and it’s one that’s easily avoidable. Make sure you have your passport easily accessible but safely stored. I usually keep mine in my laptop case or purse in a zipper pocket. Losing your passport is more awful than forgetting it!

* Try to have some relevant currency. Luckily it’s 2009 and major cards are widely accepted, but it’s always nice to have some cash available just in case! I like to keep a mini stash of euros at home because it’s such a useful currency. I like to have 30 – 50 euros with me just in case we need a cab, bus ticket or in the off-chance that an ATM isn’t functioning. I find that being prepared reduces the headaches. Lots of banks will hook you up with a bit of relevant travel money if you pop in before your trip.

Hope that guide helps someone out there somewhere! That’s most of the information that I’ve ever found myself needing! If I think of anything else that is potentially useful, I’ll add it to the list.

Happy travels,

Prepping for an Early Morning Mediterranean Excursion!

Now that today is my last day of term, I finally feel the excitement for Malta building up! Not that I wasn’t excited before, mind you, but I felt so consumed by all things school-related that I didn’t really have time or energy to get as excited as I should have! Despite the fact that I’m 75% Maltese, I have yet to visit the hailed archipelago and am beyond excited to see my homeland (if you will) and check out the places where my mom and grandpa were born! Now, before the excitement can really begin, there are a few minor things to get in order: packing, getting to the airport and purchasing a thank you gift! Our flight leaves at 715A on Sunday from Gatwick airport which means that we have to be there by around 530A to check in and get through security. We’re flying Easy Jet, which means we can only bring one piece of hand luggage free of charge, anything that gets checked in is a charge (£18 per piece). Despite the fee, I’m opting to bring some luggage. Unlike American Airlines or British Airways, you’re not allowed a carry-on AND a “personal item”. Your personal item would qualify as your carry-on. Thus, since I’m bringing a laptop and other goodies, a checked bag is pretty necessary for five days worth of garb. Also, if I didn’t mention this before — Easy Jet is spectacular! We got our roundtrip flights for £58.

Now, here’s our very minor predicament: We need to be at Gatwick airport by 530A. We’re opting to take the Gatwick Express, which leaves from Victoria station, instead of EasyBus (or a similar service) because it’s so quick and convenient. At 430A, I’m all about quick and convenient. That being said, I need to actually get to Victoria Station. The problem? The tube is closed that early in the morning. So, to manage everything that morning, I’m booking a cab (which, FYI, charge a higher start rate when booked — convenience fee, perhaps?) Here’s our plan of attack to make it to the airport:

415A: Cab pick-up at my flat
430A: Pick up Al from her flat
440A: Get to Victoria Station
510A: Arrive at Gatwick on the Express!

I’m hoping that the Gatwick Express is as great as the Heathrow Express! Lindsay and I opted for the latter when we were heading to Heathrow for our Italian adventure. It’s £16ish for a one-way ticket, but it’s honestly so convenient! We were there in less than 30 minutes and it was so much more comfortable than a bus. EasyBus is another options for travelers looking to get some where on the cheap (I think Alex & I paid £6 each way when we went to Germany). The bus does take quite a bit longer though and it’s not nearly as comfortable!

I think I finally have everything in order. The only other bit on my agenda is purchasing a thank you gift for my Maltese family. They have been kind enough to allow us to stay with them for our five day stint and I’m trying to find the perfect something to say thank you.

Any ideas on an appropriate thank you gift?

Hitting up Borough Market tomorrow morning for a last bit of London love before my Malta/Scotland whirlwind adventure!

xoxo,