Author: JC

Iceland

The Northern Lights*

We went out into the rugged, wild terrain of Iceland in what is called super jeeps. On our way to the viewing area, we stopped at a beautiful waterfall (the featured image at the top of this article).

From there, we went onto the back roads that eventually turned into dirt roads. And then finally, we reached the beginning of the trails. Just looking at the rocky, precipitous “trail”, you would have said it was impassable. But pass we did! After about an hour, we arrived in a remote area that was free from light pollution. The sky was so clear it felt as though you could see forever.

Then the northern lights came. No, seriously, that is them, above. I had only seen the northern lights in pictures, and what I saw now was a lot more subtle. More like a high, light cloud that stretches across the view. But I get it, they don’t always shine bright. We all stood around drinking hot chocolate spiked with vodka. Might not sound all that good, but believe me, in 20 degree F weather with a stiff wind while standing out in the open looking up at the sky, that stuff was like the nectar of the gods!

As the cold set in, our faces and toes began freezing. We retreated into the Jeeps to get out of the biting wind and wait it out. Our host told us we would wait up to three hours if that’s what it took. Or should I say th-th-th-three-ee hours! More vodka please!

And then it happened. The dance hall in the sky opened for business and the bright green and white lights flared across the sky. We jumped out of the jeeps and stared in awe as the sky transformed into a light show of the heavens.

We stuck around for about an hour more. The lights would fade and dim, then fire up the sky again with shifting hues and dancing lights. You get none of this movement in still pictures. It must be seen in person to be truly appreciated.

I have to say, it was one of the most astounding things I have seen in all my travels. I tried to take a few photographs, but I was determined to not let that distract from my experience. Besides, we had a professional photographer capturing the whole thing (those are his pics, above). I snapped a few and then put the camera away and recorded it with the camera in my mind.

Glacier Hiking

Ok, so a little tough to top seeing the great northern lights. But climbing on top of a giant glacier? Well that’s pretty awesome, too! In case you need a geology refresher, a glacier is basically a gigantic block of ice that forms in exceptionally cold places where it snows a lot, like high in the mountains or near the poles. Massive accumulations of snow that never melts, upon which more and more and more snow falls, until the snow beneath becomes compressed by the weight, forming ice, then more snow, and so on. Think of it as when you scoop up some snow in your hand to make a snowball. You push and press the snow and it becomes more solid. So it’s like that, times a billion.

The glaciers of Iceland, and in fact the world, are slowly melting. Our guide, above explains the sign that depicts the ‘meltage’ history. Yes, you are reading that correctly, 110 meters just last year. That’s 360 feet! And as you can see, it is melting at a higher rate with each passing year.

And because of this melting, the glaciers move and shift and change faster than ever. Streams of water flow on the top, carving a small path in the ice. As it cuts deeper, it gets colder, and the water freezes again. Huge cracks, two and three feet wide form all along the glacier. It’s really kind of sad when you think about it, it’s like a mountain is slowly dying. But, it makes for fantastic beauty and adventure for us humans as we crawl all along it like a bunch of ants.

All told, we hiked about six miles. Mind you, that’s not like six miles in your neighborhood or park – it was on dangerous, slippery ice.

We had climbing axes and wore crampons on our boots. Without these, the terrain would have been impassable.

Note the dark colored ‘dirt’ in the pictures. This particular glacier is formed right on top of a volcano. The dark colored dirt is actually volcanic ash that is being exposed as the ice melts.

Here you can see Jana is actually standing inside one of the larger cracks in the ice. There were others that we had to jump across.

Very strong winds whip the water and the volcanic ash around into an angry swirl that eventually forms ice caves:

Fortunately for us, the wind had more important places to be the day we were there. Here are some pictures from the top of the glacier:

And here is one from the top looking back the way we came:

The river you see is primarily the blood of the glacier, the melted ice. Look to the left and see some really crazy folks getting ready to climb down into that huge cavern. What’s worse is they also have to climb back up!

So that was pretty much it for our Iceland trip. We were here before about five years ago and it was just as much fun as this time. Iceland is a very special place that has to be visited to be understood.


*: The northern lights are notoriously difficult to photograph. Thus, the pictures of the actual northern lights in this article were taken by the professional photographer that was provided by our host. You can visit their Facebook page by searching for superjeeps.is.

The Western Shores

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After conquering the castles of south central Ireland, we continued working our way southwest. We arrived in Killarney just in time to get the last call on dinner at this fabulous hotel/B&B:

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It’s called the Loch Lein Country House. Very elegant and cozy place to stay. They have their own restaurant, and the food was exquisite. We stayed two nights and ate dinners and breakfast there.

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And the view fromthe back (see above) was OMG. Unfortunately, the setting sun in the picture was the last we would see of it for the next couple of days. We had, up until this point, been blessed with unusually fantastic weather for this time of year. But of course we didn’t let that stop us from getting out there and enjoying ourselves!

 

After breakfast the following day, we headed out to a small peninsula on the western coast known as the Ring of Kerry. The circle all the way to the west is where we caught the ferry to Valentia Island. Despite the wet weather, we were able to capture some of the magnificent beauty of the area:

 

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The locals told us there are two different types of weather here this time of year: light rain, and heavy rain. We sure got a taste of it today, but even in the rain, the countryside here is just breathtaking.

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After working our way around the south side of the peninsula, we headed north and then back to our cozy country house for a hot meal, some good wine, and great company.

The next morning we packed up and headed north. Our plan was to loop around another coastal peninsula called Dingle.

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The rain was still sputtering a bit, but not as bad as yesterday.

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And some of you should recognize this pic (above), it’s where one of the scenes from The Last Jedi was shot. It was a hell of a climb up there. I can only imagine those film crews with all that equipment!

We stopped by a place called The Cliffs of Moher. Spectacular views here, and we were lucky the rain had stopped for the time being.

 

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That evening, we rolled into a town called Bunratty. Funny name, but check out the place we stayed at:

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And that was pretty much it folks! That was the final leg of our wonderful Irish Road Trip. Thanks for following along with us. And thank you to our friend, Brandie, for coming with us. And also for being the brave one behind the wheel all this time! Look forward to seeing you again on the Budapest river cruise. OOPS, I said too much! Bye y’all!

Castles of Ireland

The morning after the Waterford factory visit, we set out in a south/south-westerly direction as we headed towards Killarney. I know, what is up with the “kill” city names? There are actually quite a few of them. They have Killusty, Killaloe, Killoscully, even a Kilbrittain! I kept looking for a Killbill, but I never saw one.

Anyway, on our way to Killarney, we stopped by a few castles. Ireland has seen its fair share of war and hard times. Especially during medieval times and extending well into the 18th century, castles were a fundamental underpinning of Irish survival and culture. You could literally spend a lifetime studying the castles of just Ireland.

While an exact count is unknown, there are an estimated 30,000 castles and castle ruins in Ireland.

During our vacation in Ireland, we saw quite a few castles. I will spare you the 100’s of photos I took of them and share with you a few photos from three of the castles we went to as we worked our way southwest toward Killarney.

As The Travelin’ Man, I have probably reviewed at least a dozen or so castles with you, so I hope you aren’t burned out on them! Nonetheless, I’ll keep it brief and try to highlight the most noteworthy aspects.

The Rock of Cashel

The Rock of Cashel is the name of this castle. They had to be creative with the name. I mean, they couldn’t name it Castle of Cashel… or Castle Cashel. Think of all the embarrassing tongue twisters the nobles would have had, especially after a goblet or two of wine!

It’s all just as well since it really isn’t a ‘castle’ anymore. In a highly political maneuver, the King of Munster donated the fortress to the church in 1101. Most of the buildings that remain were built after that. The round tower, shown above, is probably part of the original castle, but the temple was from about forty years after the land was donated to the church (finished in 1137).

Check out the picture at the top of this article. That is the Rock of Cashel, from the peasant’s viewpoint. Absolutely breathtaking and one of the most visited attractions in Ireland.

That statue behind me is the famous Scully’s Cross, built in 1867. But where’s the cross, you ask…. an extremely powerful bolt of lightning struck it in 1976, knocking the cross completely off. Can you just imagine if you could have captured a picture of that! Wow!

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The remnants are still where they fell on the ground at the base of the statue. You can also see the statue rising above the wall in the picture at the top of this article (it’s on the left).

Cahir Castle

Classic European 13th century battle castle. Strategically placed right on the river. Embroiled in battle, warfare, politics, and scandals well into the 17th century.

Location, location, location! Roomy castle with bird’s eye view of the beautiful Suir river.

It was built on an earlier native fortification known as ‘cathair’, which translates to stone fort, which is where the name ‘cahir’ comes from.

It was used as the location for a battle scene in the 1981 move Excalibur (the entire movie was filmed on location in Ireland).

Blarney Castle

More of a keep, really, than a castle. Although it did see it’s fair share of wars and sieges throughout the years. Poor ole Blarney has been torn down, blown up, burned up and rebuilt so many times over the last 800 or so years that it’s hard to say when it actually became a fortress. But most of the remaining buildings date back to the 15th century.

Ah, the Blarney Stone. What is the magic of this stone that draws millions of people thousands of miles just to risk their necks to kiss it? Before answering that, do you know what blarney means? The word blarney refers to pleasant flattery or charm, especially as related to persuasion.

You can see in the picture, above, I have circled the location of the stone from the outside. You have to climb the tower, lay down flat and lean out over the battlement while someone holds you by the ankles.

Now the Irish are great storytellers, and great whiskey makers. So depending on who you ask and what time of day you ask, you will get an assortment of colorful, imaginative stories that explain the stone. But I can’t leave you with that, can I? My favorite story involves the builder of the keep. Here it is quoted from Wikipedia:

An early story involves the goddess Clíodhna. Cormac Laidir McCarthy, the builder of Blarney Castle, being involved in a lawsuit in the 15th century, appealed to Clíodhna for her assistance. She told McCarthy to kiss the first stone he found in the morning on his way to court, and he did so, with the result that he pleaded his case with great eloquence and won. Thus the Blarney Stone is said to impart “the ability to deceive without offending”. MacCarthy then incorporated it into the parapet of the castle.

So yes, of course we climbed the tower and kissed the stone. Who wouldn’t want the power of blarney in their personal toolbox?

Waterford (Factory), Ireland

When we arrived in Ireland and met up with our friend, Brandie, we puttered around a little in Dublin, which you can read about by clicking here. Then we rented a car and ventured a little south of Dublin where we saw the amazing gardens and waterfall of Powerscourt. We stopped of at the ancient, mysterious ruins of the Glendalough Monastic City. You can review that story by clicking here.

We stayed that night in Kilkenny, then did a day trip out to the Waterford crystal factory, which oddly enough, is near the town of Waterford.

I always knew that certain select pieces of crystal were labor intensive, but we learned during our tour that almost all of the Waterford crystal pieces are hand cut and crafted.

Is that the award for BEST WIFE EVER? Well it should be. 🙂 Actually it’s the very prestigious Solheim Cup (women’s golf championship). Made by Waterford right there in that factory.

They also do a lot of other famous sporting event trophies and high profile political and acting awards. But get this, when they do a high profile award or trophy, they always have to do TWO of them in case one gets broken.

If you saw what went to making just one of these amazing pieces, you would understand why that’s such a big deal. Note that none of this is on public display. You have to get the behind-the-scenes factory tour to see it all. Definitely worth it. Oh yeah, and the Man with Golden Gun has nothing on the Cat with the Crystal Revolver!

After touring the factory, we visited the showroom, where we spent our life savings on beautiful crystal glasses, vases, and decanters that will find a nice, lonely home on the top shelf of our glasses cabinet…. never to be seen again.

Ugh, it’s just so pretty I want to eat it! On the return trip to Kilkenny, we swung by the Walsh distillery. It’s one of the newer Irish whiskies on the market.

We did the tour and the tasting. Their specialty is The Irishman, which they have been making since 2006.

The property is absolutely beautiful. More along the lines of what I would have expected at a wine vineyard.

They also make a whiskey called Writers Tears. They were both exceptional, and some variations of them are only available in Ireland. But they do have a large distribution for their most popular products, which are available where we live, in Stockholm.

A note on the whiskey tastings on this trip. Our friend Brandie is a “whiskey collector”. And while she will give a humble smile and deny that she is an expert on whiskey, she actually is. This made the trip in Ireland all the more enjoyable. We drank only the best on this trip, and we actually knew what we were drinking! Needless to say, it was very fun and educational.

Kilkenny, Ireland

I know what you’re thinking. “OMG, they killed Kenny!” Haha, I thought the same thing but there is no correlation of the name of this town to South Park. It didn’t stop me from suddenly shouting it out on several occasions, though…

The morning of our second day, we had a nice breakfast at the hotel in Dublin, then took a taxi over to the car rental agency. Brandie and I approached the desk while Jana stood watch over our luggage. When the guy tells us our car is a VW Golf, I look over at our mountain of luggage, then at Brandie, who then looks at our luggage and back at me. We both look at the clerk with raised eyebrows. The clerk looks at us looking at the luggage, then he looks at me with a look that says ‘seriously dude?’ Jana looks over at us and wonders why everyone is looking at her. Needless to say, we upgraded to a compact SUV, which is actually a big car by European standards. When we see how all the luggage barely fits into the SUV, we knew we made a good choice over the tiny car.

They drive on the left side of the road over here, like in the U.K. Being a democracy and all, we voted that Brandie would be our driver since she had the most experience driving on the left side of the road. Eager to begin the “Great Irish Road Trip”, we pile into the car and hit the road! Note that our course for the day would take us south of Dublin, then break inland to the west in route route to Kilkenny.

Powerscourt Gardens And Waterfall

Our first stop is the Powerscourt Gardens, which is only about a thirty minute ride south of Dublin. It’s a 47 acre 150 year old garden situated at the foot of the great Sugarloaf mountain. In addition to the amazing gardens, it has a resort hotel, spa, and golf course.

These pictures are better appreciated when viewed on a pad or PC.

The grounds here are meticulously crafted and maintained. You can see faint traces of the drought that has plagued Europe this year. I am so thankful that it ended for Ireland a couple of weeks before we came out. Note Sugarloaf mountain there in the background.

The mansion was originally a 13th century castle. It was gutted by a devastating fire in 1974. It sat abandoned and empty for over twenty years until it was renovated in 1996.

Here are some more pictures of this amazing park:

If you read the article on Dublin, you know what a great town that is and what a good time we had. But I must admit that Dublin is not the showcase of the legendary beauty of the Irish landscape that I had heard so much about. But during our trip out to these magnificent gardens, the beauty of Ireland really started to show itself and I began to understand what all the fuss was about:

Who would have thought ten years ago that you would be able to take photos like that with your cell phone?

There is also a Powerscourt waterfall, but it requires a small drive and charges an additional fee:

It wasn’t the most spectacular waterfall I ever saw, but it was a short drive and it is actually the tallest waterfall in the country. It is also where King Arthur fought Sir Lancelot in the 1981 movie Excalibur.

Glendalough Monastic City

This ancient settlement was founded in the 6th century. Some of the building here date back to the 10th and 11th centuries.

Although the cemetery is the most dominating aspect now, back in the day, this monastery included workshops, areas for manuscript writing and copying, guest houses, an infirmary, farm buildings and dwellings for both the monks and general population.

The large, round towers were popular during this time. They were primarily used as bell towers to call meetings, bring in the monks, or warn of viking attacks. One thing I have noticed about Ireland is they present many of their ancient ruins essentially “as-is”. Even though it is rougher around the edges than a place that has been commercialized and enhanced, the as-is approach maintains the ancient aura of the area.

Once we finished up there, we continued through the beautiful countryside in route to Kilkenny.

Kilkenny is a great little town with some very dramatic beauty. It is very laid back and is definitely off the beaten path. Kind of a relief after the crowds of Dublin.

As evening sets in an we are once again at that magical time where we get to seek out a great Irish pub for dinner and drinks. Grabbed this shot, above, as we crossed the bridge and headed to Matt the Millers.

We sampled some legendary Irish whiskies while reflecting on our day and sharing pictures with a live Irish band playing in the background. A great ending to our first day out in the wilds of Ireland!

Dublin, Ireland

This is the beginning of our Great Irish Road Trip! We will be spending a day in Dublin, then we’ll rent a care and head out into the wilds of Ireland covering nearly a thousand miles! So watch for more updates from the backroads of the Irish countryside!

And before we begin, there is one note I would like to mention. More like an advance apology. The Travelin’ Man is published on my own private server, but I use WordPress as a content manager. I am writing the Ireland series on a new and radically different tool. This should allow me to write the articles even while offline, and it should be transparent to you. But you know how these things usually go, so if there is any weirdness, etc, thanks in advance for being patient.

Without further ado, Jana and I arrived in Dublin and met our friend, Brandie, at the hotel. Brandie hails from Atlanta, Georgia in the US. Last summer, she came out and visited us in Sweden, where we had a rockin’ time!

We didn’t spend a lot of time in Dublin but we did manage to hit a couple of good spots before moving on to see the rest of Ireland.

As we approached the river, we saw there was a large gathering of people all blobbed up on the bridge. I was pretty sure they weren’t there to see The Travelin’ Man since I hadn’t called ahead to let the authorities know I would be in town.

We muscled our way into the throng of people and saw it was an Iron Man contest in progress. Which was a relief, because I hadn’t brought a pen with me to sign autographs.

It would be a sin to come to Dublin and NOT see Saint Patrick’s cathedral. You know, the guy that makes everyone wear green once a year…yeah THAT Saint Patrick.

We spent some time exploring the archives of the Book of Kells at Trinity college. Fascinating how far back these documents go, and that they were able to preserve them through the ages. Makes me wonder, in our modern age where so much documentation is digital, how are we preserving this for the ages to come? If apocalypse hit and the power grid is destroyed, how will people a hundred years later know about The Travelin’ Man?

We went by the capital. You know, after the scare at the bridge, I thought we should check in and let them know we were here. But it was Saturday and they didn’t seem to motivated to call anyone up.

But that’s okay, evening was setting in, and we would be leaving in the morning anyway. So now we find ourselves scouting out a good pub. We went by the famous Temple Bar and, OMG, I never saw so many people crammed in and around a bar in all my life.

The world renowned pubs of Ireland did not disappoint. Places like this, above, are everywhere! We ended up at a really cool place called The Lotts. These guys have a whole new angle on cooking and eating a steak.

They heat up this special black stone, I mean it is really hot. The steak is put onto the fiery hot stone and brought out to you as it sizzles. You continue to cook it while also eating it! Literally eating it right off the grill. Yup, that’s two thumbs up from the Travelin’ Man! And great pic Brandie! It was a fabulous meal – if you like steaks, do not miss this this place while you’re in Dublin.

Dublin is a fast moving, modern city loaded with culture, beauty, history, shopping, and of course those marvelous Irish pubs! We had a great time there.

London, England

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The UK Tour (London)

This was our third tour through the UK and surrounding area but the first time as the Travelin’ Man. We were here with our good friends, Bryan and Melissa. They came all the way from Los Angeles. That’s a whopping eight hours of jet lag! Being that Jana and I are living in Sweden, we struggled with our own one hour of jet lag…

We arrived in London, where we stayed for six days. There is so much to see and do here. And we did A LOT! But London wasn’t the end of the tour. We then rode the train to Bath, where we spent the day taking in the sites, then we flew from there to Edinburgh, Scotland. Bath and Edinburgh are covered in separate articles. This article covers our stay in London.

The Food in London

 

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Some people may not care for the food in England. As The Travelin’ Man, I have been extremely lucky to have been to so many places, seen so many amazing things, and eaten so much good food.

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But honestly, I LOVE THE FOOD HERE! I love fish and chips, bangers and mash, hamburgers, and all the great pies here!

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We even did a food tour through SOHO. Check this out, a fish and chips taco!

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This place shaves the ham right off the flank while you watch – love it!

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And what’s not to love about “afternoon tea”?

Buckingham Palace

Yeah, so the Queen wasn’t able to see us while we were in town, but we were in the neighborhood anyway, so we thought we would drop by. The place is only open eight weeks out of the year, and today was the first day, so a lot of other folks were also in the neighborhood.

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But at least they threw us a small parade while we there.

The London Eye

 

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This was spectacular! It offers a magnificent view of London. It’s not a scary ride at all. In fact, the thing moves so slow that you hardly even notice. Buy your tickets online and you get fast-tracked in with no waiting (thanks Jana!). Otherwise, plan on an hour or two standing in line.

Here are a few of the pictures I took while on the ride:

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The Churchill Bunkers

 

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This is another MUST SEE attraction in London. This is, of course, where Churchill continued his coordination of the war against Hitler while London was being bombed. The entire place is preserved nearly “as is” from when they abandoned the bunkers following the end of the war. I must apologize for the photo quality; everything is behind a wall of glass, creating a terrible, unavoidable glare on some of the pictures. I included them anyway because I wanted to give you a feel for what the place is like.

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Shakespeare at the Globe

Ah yes, to be or not to be…. This was a fantastic production of Hamlet. The Globe presents it as it was back in the day.

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That is to say, the people that are standing out in front of the stage, the tiered seating, minimal props, and no electronics such as lighting or microphones used during the performance. It was a good show – highly recommend.

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The Royal Observatory, Greenwich

We swung over to Greenwich to see the observatory, museum, and of course the world famous Meridian Line (aka Prime Meridian). The point is known as Zero Longitude and it is the line from which all other lines of longitude are measured.

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And there’s our friends, Melissa and Bryan sharing a zero degrees kiss. 🙂

This is also the home of Greenwich Mean Time (GMT). This is THE time zone of all time zones, this is ground zero.

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The observatory sits atop a big hill just east of London and south of the Thames river. And it affords quite a nice view of London (above). Except of course, the grass is supposed to be green this time of year. Horrible heatwave and drought in Europe this summer.

Summary

How does one even begin to summarize London? The list of things to see and do seems endless.

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It’s definitely more unique in the sense that it does a beautiful job of melding the old with the new. Even just that one picture, above, the hi-tech architecture of the Shard offset with medieval church.

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Here’s another great example. This is located almost in the middle of this great, modern city (see above). This is the ruins of one of the most important buildings of medieval London. It was the palace of the Bishops of Winchester. Many great events occurred here throughout history. For example, James I of Scotland and Joan Beaufort were married in almost this exact spot in 1424.

Oh and I almost forgot…the last night we were in London, they started filming scenes from an upcoming Men in Black movie. It was awesome. This was literally right outside the door of our hotel:

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Once we left London, we went to a ton of other places, like Wimbledon, Edinburgh, and Stirling Castle just to name a few. On the site, just click on DESTINATIONS then select either ENGLAND or SCOTLAND to see the places we went. We really enjoyed our UK tour with our good friends Bryan and Melissa. It was a heck of a vacation, and lasted a full two weeks. We did a lot. And I have to say, even The Travelin’ Man is a wee bit tired after this one, but it’s a good kind of tired, ya know?

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Our next adventure will be in a couple of weeks on an island a little west of here; we will be traveling with our good friend Brandie as we tour through Ireland! We are even renting a car and doing the Great Irish Road Trip. So stay tuned to The Travelin’ Man at jcmarxblog.com.

 

 

Edinburgh, Scotland

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As part of our UK tour, we stayed a few days in Edinburgh, Scotland. In addition to enjoying Edinburgh’s old town, we took a mini-excursion out into the foothills, and we visited Stirling Castle. So sit back, relax, and enjoy the tour!

Edinburgh Old Town

This was our second trip to Edinburgh, and it was just as much fun the second time around. The great thing about Edinburgh’s old town is that it is basically a single street that curves up and around the rocky hill and ends at the top, right into Edinburgh Castle.

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That road, flanked by high walls, is the only permitted access to the castle. The rest of the castle is surrounded by cliffs, as you can see above. The rock upon which the castle is built is known as Castle Rock. It affords a beautiful and strategic view of the city and beyond.

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Edinburgh Castle wasn’t just some party palace for aristocrats. This is the formal definition of a war castle. It was besieged twenty-six times in its 1100 year history. This is one of the most attacked castles in the world. Was it ever lost? The answer is yes, but it was often under dramatic circumstances, Hollywood style! One instance was in 1314. A Scottish soldier had knowledge of a dangerous path up the cliffs and over the walls. The soldiers braved the treacherous climb, scaled the walls, surprised the garrison and took control of the castle.

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Another dramatic attack was in 1341. A team of Scottish soldiers disguised themselves as merchants. When their cart was just under the gates, they stopped, preventing the gates from closing. Their main force was hidden nearby and stormed the castle.

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Cool stuff! But the thing is, while visiting Edinburgh’s old town, you definitely get a feel for the old days. It’s as if you can sense the ghosts of the soldiers walking up and down the streets.

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Underneath the old town is an even older town! It is a complete underground city where they kept all the people who had the plague. We didn’t go there this time, but we did visit it last time we there and I highly recommend doing this if you’re in Edinburgh. Very creepy.

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Just a ton of great things to do in this cool town. They even have their own giant Ferris wheel. I would rank Edinburgh as one of my top five cities that I have ever visited.

The Palace of Holyroodhouse

Well, if you missed your chance to see the Queen while at Buckingham Palace, then you have another chance here. This is the official residence of Queen Elizabeth II. Which means this is her digs when she’s in Edinburgh. It is definitely a working palace and the sight of many historic events. It is commonly known as the Holyrood Palace. No pictures were allowed inside, but I wanted to share a couple of pics I got while on the grounds:

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This picture, above, is the main entrance and courtyard.

The grounds around this palace are just spectacular. A thousand times better than even Buckingham, in my opinion.

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Nestled out in the gardens is a magnificent and awe inspiring ancient abbey.

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Definitely worth going to this palace if nothing else than to enjoy the grounds around it.

BIRDS!

While staying in Edinburgh, we took a trip out to the coast. We went to the Scottish Seabird Centre in North Berwick. They had a really cool museum presentation that included interactive camera controls so that you could see what was happening on Bird Island. Ok, the name of the island is Bass Island, but they need to rename it Bird Island. Here’s why:

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See that island up there? The top of it is NOT white. Those are birds! Here, a picture is worth a thousand birds – note that each successive picture below gets closer to the island. No other words are needed:

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It was just one of those things in nature that just makes you go, “Wow, where’s my hat….”

The Hairy Coo Tour

I have to stop at this point and hang my head in shame. We did something very, no extremely “touristy”. Ok, here it goes… we rode the big orange gaudy Hairy Coo Tourist bus!

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Now I could have just as easily NOT told you about it and you would have never known. But in all honesty, it was a pretty decent tour. It hit some major highlights between Edinburgh and the foothills of the Scottish highlands.

The remaining sections of this article were done as part of the tour. It was pretty massive, so grab a tankard and kick back for a bit.

The Kelpies

Scottish word Kelpie: “A kelpie is a shape-changing aquatic spirit of Scottish legend. Its name may derive from the Scottish Gaelic words ‘cailpeach’ or ‘colpach’, meaning heifer or colt. Kelpies are said to haunt rivers and streams, usually in the shape of a horse.”

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On our way out to Stirling Castle, we took a little detour to see this majestic and artistic statue called The Kelpies. Magnificent presentation. They glimmer in the sunlight and are 30m (100ft) tall.

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It was definitely worth a small detour to see this.

Stirling Castle

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This is a fantastic, classic medieval Scottish castle. Much like Edinburgh Castle, it sits atop a huge intrusive crag. Up until late in the 19th century, it was of utmost strategic value since it protected what was, until the 1890s, the farthest downstream crossing of the River Forth.

Everything is well presented, inside and out. We did the audio tour and it was great. Tons of history inside these walls.

 

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If you look closely there, off in the fog, you can see a tower on a hill. See it there? That is the tower that commemorates none other than William Wallace himself. It was here where he and Andrew Moray fought the Battle of Stirling Bridge against the English. After losing the battle, the English commanders retreated into the castle, but they were quickly starved out by the Scots.

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Some of the fog had burned off by the time we left. Here is another picture of the tower (above). You can visit the tower. It’s a strenuous walk up the hill, then an even more strenuous climb up hundreds of treacherous stairs to the top. But it’s definitely worth every drop of sweat to see the actual sword wielded by William Wallace. We didn’t go up this time, but we did it last time we were here.

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The grounds and views around the castle are breathtaking. Unfortunately, it was raining and foggy while were there. But even that can’t mar the majestic beauty around this historic castle.

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And who knows… maybe you’ll get lucky and spy a beautiful princess…

Scotch Distillery

No real tour of Scotland would be complete without a tour of a scotch distillery. After Stirling Castle, we made a stop at the Deanston Distillery for a quick tour and a tasting.

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The Hairy Coos

And of course we got to see some actual hairy coos! Native to Scotland, they are basically cows with long hair and a thick undercoat to keep them warm in the highlands. The world is just fascinated with these cows. Bred specifically for Scotland, they have since been exported to other countries.

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Our tour guide not only stopped and let us out to see them, but also gave us some carrots. For the coos.

THE END

And so concludes our tour and our wonderful time in Edinburgh. We did a lot of things while we were there, and I shared the major things we did. It’s an awesome place, we loved it as much this time as we did last, and we will be back again.

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(now you see why I was embarrassed about the bus – haha)

 

 

 

 

 

Cheltenham and the Cotswolds of England

 

 

 

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As part of our 2018 UK tour, we spent a couple of days in Cheltenham, England and surrounding area. As the home of the flagship race of British steeplechase horse racing, the Gold Cup is the main event of the Cheltenham Festival, held every March.

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Fortunately, we missed all that hooplah, and it was a quaint, peaceful, cozy town, or borough, as they call them in England.

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We stayed at the most adorable bed & breakfast you ever saw (above). In all honesty, they sold themselves as a hotel (The Beaumont House Hotel), but it had a very B & B feel to it.

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Checkout the view from our bedroom window. That’s Jana relaxing out back at the table.

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As part of our time here, we took an excursion out into the beautiful Cotswolds. The Cotswolds is a rural area of south central England covering 2,038 km2 (504,000 acres). It’s roughly 25 miles (40 km) across and 90 miles (140 km) long. The area of the Cotswolds is the second largest protected landscape in England (second to the Lake District).

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When you close your eyes and think of the rolling hills of rural England, this is it! Grassland harbour thatched medieval villages, churches and stately homes built of distinctive local yellow limestone. Time seems to stand still here.

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I half expected to see Frodo and Gandalf emerge from this house (above).

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Some of you may actually recognize this house, above. Try and picture the scene covered in snow. This was Bridget Jone’s parent’s house in Bridget Jone’s Diary. Parts of Braveheart were also filmed near here.

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But be sure to book a professional tour guide if you want to find all the most beautiful and interesting spots. We really enjoyed our time here.

 

Bath, England

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Beautiful and historic Bath. Known for it’s 18th century Georgian architecture, hot springs, and of course Roman-built baths. It’s located about a hundred miles west of London and is situated in the valley of the River Avon.

The Baths of Bath

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These extremely well preserved baths were built around 70 A.D. and are a must see attraction. The presentation goes well beyond just the main bath area itself.

All of the ancient artifacts that were uncovered are also displayed here. Wander through caves where the springs and private bath areas were.

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You also need to swing by the Royal Crescent. Amazing architecture by John Wood built in the 18th century. Oh yeah, that grass is supposed to be green this time of year. It’s been an unusually hot, dry summer in Europe.

 

The No.1 Royal Cresscent (above) is the very first one that was completed and it’s open to the public. It is decorated in the style of the time to give you an idea how the wealthy lived in downtown style back then. Definitely worth an hour or so to visit.

The city of Bath just seems to have a natural, inherent beauty:

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And of course, being on the River Avon is a big help:

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With all this, plus great restaurants and shopping, this is a no-brainer if you’re ever looking to escape London for a day or two.

Spend some time just wandering around this beautiful, relaxing town as you take in all the sites and shops. This was our second visit to Bath, and we wouldn’t hesitate to go again.