Dingle, Ireland

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Trad Sesh at Foxy John’s in Dingle

June 11-14, 2017: Dingle, Ireland

We were really looking forward to our three-night stay in this small town on the western coast of Ireland, known primarily for its multitude of pubs and live music.  We stayed in an AirBnb, in the master bedroom with ensuite of a 4 bedroom house, just a few blocks from the action.  We shared a kitchen with other guests and were able to make meals, in addition to the breakfast food provided.

Our drive from Kenmare went through more beautiful countryside, and we made several photo stops along the way, and then visited Muckross House, on the edge of Killarney National Park.  We enjoyed a guided tour of the stately Victorian mansion, as well as the beautiful grounds (€9 for adult ticket), and bought a small Pocket History of Ireland and a couple of CDs at the gift shop.  There was also a traditional 1930’s outdoor farm museum for an additional €9 (or €15 for the combined ticket) but we skipped it because we’d already done the Highland Folk Museum in Scotland.

We arrived in Dingle in the late afternoon and then had an early supper at The Anchor Down restaurant, a 1km walk from our accommodation.  The next day, we drove part of the Ring of Dingle – via Slea Head Drive – which took us for a one hour drive (over four hours with all the stops we made), through Ventry, Slea Head, Dunquin, and north up to Brandon Creek.  I’ve run out of superlatives to describe the Irish countryside – suffice to say, we absolutely loved the drive.

We stopped at a little cafe that looked down on the gorgeous Coomenoole Beach, then stopped by the Blasket Ferry terminal at Dunquin Harbour with its unique steep winding walkway down to the dock.  In the evening, we went to O’Sullivan’s Courthouse Pub to listen to live Irish music led by owner and musician, Tommy O’Sullivan.

On the second day, we did another loop on the peninsula, beginning with a drive over Conor Pass up in the misty clouds with a strong wind blowing us off our feet, and then down the other side to the wide empty beaches just west of Castelgregory, and then out to the farthest point at Ballycurrane, where we watched 10 horses wandering along the road and down onto the beach.  This drive was much shorter than the previous day and we only spent about 2 hours in total, eventually heading back over the same road to return to Dingle. Again, we had dinner at home and then went to Foxy John’s for more live music. This cool pub is a hardware store during the day, and a pub at night.  We had a great seat, right beside the slug bait, and a prime view of the three musicians who were playing that evening. Such fun!

We thoroughly enjoyed our three nights in Dingle, and could easily have stayed longer as there were many more live music venues and lovely drives to explore.  Next time!

Next up: Galway, Ireland

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I want to live here

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Note the speed limit for this windy one lane road

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Muckross House
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Getting sand blasted at Inch Beach
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Inch Beach
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Inch Beach
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Everything written in 2 languages
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Driving over a stream

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Blasket ferry access
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Blasket Ferry Terminal

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This rock was too big to move I guess
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Sitting at the Hardware/Pub in Dingle

Kenmare, and the Ring of Beara

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I’m a sheep addict

June 9-11, 2017

It was only a two hour drive from Kinsale to Kenmare, so we took our time and chose some of the quieter roads closer to the ocean.  Our only stop was to use the bathrooms and buy a tin whistle at Molly Gallivan’s Visitor Centre, (which would be a fun place to spend more time), and for the rest of the trip, I regaled Erik with tunes on my tin whistle while he tried to drive. 🙂

Kenmare is a nice little town that is a great base for driving the Ring of Kerry or the Ring of Beara. It has a main street with a number of interesting looking shops, pubs, and restaurants and lots of guest houses and B&Bs.  However, we chose to stay outside of town this time after we found a neat studio suite in an old building in the rural countryside, about 15 minutes from town.

Because there was no real address to the house, we had to put the GPS coordinates into Googlemaps on my iPad to find our way. And as a side note, I’m happy to say that you can now download sections of googlemaps to use offline.  This meant I was able to use my iPad for mapping for the whole trip, and never needed a SIM card (in the iPad).  This is particularly useful when you are in remote areas with no cell service.

Once we reached Kenmare, we drove a few kms up the Ring of Kerry road and then turned onto a narrow side road with the typical 6 foot hedge on each side, and wound through the country for about 6 km hoping we didn’t meet another car, until we reached “The Forge”. Our room was on one end of a long 200-year-old stone building that had once housed a forge.  The owner met us and showed us around our room which had a small kitchenette, a wood stove, and windows on three sides of the building. It was dark and rustic and so cozy!  We had picked up the fixings for a spaghetti supper in town, and it had begun to rain again, so we settled in for the night.  After dinner, we made a fire and sat in the cozy armchairs by the fire, and even watched a little Netflix on the TV.  I think that was one of the first times I’ve watched TV on this trip!

It was raining and windy all night long, but the skies began to clear in the morning and the day looked like it held promise.  We had been planning to drive the Ring of Kerry,  but after some discussion and a little research, we decided to drive back into Kenmare, and drive the Ring of Beara instead.  It was purported to be “just as beautiful” as the Ring of Kerry (although about 50-75km shorter I think), but without the steady stream of tour busses and stops crowded with tourists.  We were sold.

The initial drive was through the usual countryside – always green and gorgeous with patchwork fields dotted with sheep, and divided by old stone fences.  Then we drove up into the hills, the trees disappeared, and the hills became rocky with short grass. The road narrowed and the views of the valleys and the sea were absolutely spectacular!  We got to the top of one peak, and the wind was blowing so hard, we could hardly stand up. I took lots of pictures but they hardly do it justice.  You just need to go there to see those views yourself.

We stopped at an empty little beach and ate sandwiches we had brought along and then finally made our way back to Kenmare where we picked up more groceries, and went home for another dinner by the fire. Although the weather has been fairly wet on this trip, and frequently windy, we seemed to have been lucky when we’ve really needed it to be dryer.  My only wish is that I could get some better photos with blue skies so you could see the true colour of this amazing land.

We stayed at The Forge for two nights, and when we headed to Dingle the next morning, we were able to drive part of the Ring of Kerry to Killarney, and so we enjoyed some amazing views in Killarney National Park. What a gorgeous country this is. Sigh…


Driving to Kenmare
Handcut tunnels
Molly Gallivan’s Visitor Centre
Pile of peat drying
Colourful Kenmare
Tour bus squeezing down the road
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“The Forge” our home for a couple nights
Inside The Forge
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Driving the Ring of Beara

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Kinsale, Ireland

Colourful buildings in Kinsale

June 7-9, 2017:

We really enjoyed Kinsale, a small fishing town on an inlet of the River Bandon.  We had a lovely room at an Airbnb in a subdivision just on the outskirts of town, and only a 1-1/2 km walk to the town core.  Again, we spent two nights here and it was just enough time to get a feel for the place, although a third night might have been fun. And if you’re a foodie, you’ll love the restaurants here.

We left Waterford in the late morning, and headed northwest for a little over an hour towards the small town of Cashel where we planned to stop for a tour of the hauntingly beautiful ruins of the Rock of Cashel (also known as St Patrick’s Rock).  Once again it was raining and the countryside ran from misty to totally socked in.  We were glad we were in the car for much of the day.

When we arrived at the ticket office, we were delighted to find out that the first Wednesday of every month is free so we saved €14 (for one adult and one senior). The  tour was excellent and interesting and the guide tried to keep us under protection as it poured off and on during the one hour tour.

I learned a lot about Irish history and how truly “multi-cultural” the Irish people really are.  The island was originally settled by neolithic hunters and gatherers around 7500BC and during the iron age, they built large stone tombs which can still be found all over the UK. Around 1000BC, the Celts began to arrive from Western Europe and slowly the two peoples mixed, retaining aspects of both cultures, eventually becoming known as Gaels.

Christianity was introduced to these pagans around 400AD.  We’ve all heard of St Patrick but I wonder how many people actually know anything about him? He was a real person, born in Britain around 387AD. At age 16, he was abducted by the Irish and brought to Ireland to work as a slave and a herdsman. In his misery, he turned to God, and eventually escaped at age 21 and returned to Britain. Years later, he returned to Ireland to bring Christianity to the pagans where he converted Kings (including the king of Munster at the Rock of Cashel) and built churches all over the land. Other missionaries came and many monasteries were built over the next few centuries.

While the rest of Europe was in the midst of the dark ages, Ireland had an enlightened focus on learning, art, music, and written language. It was around 800AD that the famous illuminated manuscript of the new testament – the Book of Kells – was written and illustrated in such a detailed fashion.  You can see the Book of Kells in Dublin.  The monasteries had great powers, owning large tracts of land, and taking care of the peasants within their stone walls. Many had tall round stone towers to keep watch for mauraders, and some of these towers can still be seen.

However, when the Vikings were finally able to build ships capable of travelling across the Scottish and Irish Seas around 795 AD, they ransacked the monasteries, took some of the Irish as slaves, and built large port cities along the coast. The interior of Ireland was still divided into sections and ruled by Irish Kings, but the port cities were controlled by the Vikings, and so, Norse blood was introduced.  And although their power began to fade 200 years later, their influence can still be seen today in artwork and buildings of Ireland.

In 1150AD Normans  invaded, first under the English King Henry ll, and then later, in 1185, under his son, Prince John. They destroyed the remaining monasteries, took land from the Irish and gave it away to their wealthy friends, and ruled the land for almost 800 years.

And so – the Irish people are a mixture of original Celtic, Viking, and British blood – how interesting! I liked that the tour guide said the country continues to evolve as they welcome new immigrants to Ireland, and stressed that their influence and culture is also valued.

But I digress – I was supposed to be talking about Kinsale! After our visit to the Rock of Cashel, we drove to Kinsale, found our B&B and checked in.  Hetty was a wonderful hostess – super interesting and friendly.  She has two rooms in her beautiful home that she rents out on Airbnb, both named after well known Irish photographers, Bill Doyle and John Minihan. Hetty is a Master Printer and has a darkroom in her garage where she does her amazing work, and many of the photographs adorn the walls of her home.

We had two nights in Kinsale, and both days we had a very late lunch and then went to a local pub called Kitty O’Se’s (pronounced O’Shea), where we listened to live traditional Irish music (called a Trad Session). The first night was a duo who sang folk music, and the second night had a 5 piece group playing accordion, guitar, tin whistle, bodran, and a few other instruments.  They played a nice mix of instrumental music and vocals and my new favourite song is an anti-war song from the 1800’s called Arthur McBride.

On our full day, we drove around a bit to see some of the local sights.  We saw (the exterior of) Charles Fort, (€5 fee), a star-shaped fort built in the late 1600’s, just a 10 minute drive on the south-east side of Kinsale.  Later, we crossed the river and drove to the peninsula of Old Head. The coastal scenery was spectacular!

Next up: Kenmare and the Ring of Beara


Live music at Kitty’ O’Se’s
Near Old Head
Old Head


Old Head
Charles Fort
Hetty, Erik, and Merlo
Rock of Cashel
Rock of Cashel
Rock of Cashel
Rock of Cashel
Bridge over a river along the way
Kitty’s O’Se’s on the 1st night


Tour of the Rock of Cashel
Rock of Cashel


Waterford, Ireland

Erik goes back to his Viking roots

June 5-7, 2017

Waterford, located about two hours south of Dublin, is the oldest city in Ireland. Founded first by the Vikings in 914, the oldest building is Reginald’s Tower which was built in 1003 (the current tower wasn’t built until the mid 1200’s). Although it has a population of over 50,000 (including the suburbs), the core of Waterford is fairly concentrated and makes the town feel smaller. We stayed at the Waterford Marina Hotel which is just a couple of blocks from the Tower and waterfront.  It was well-priced at under $100 CAD a night (we booked ahead), and offered free underground parking, a bonus in this town.

We left Dublin around 10am, and heading south on the M11, which runs a little closer to the ocean, and made our first brief stop in the town of Wicklow.  It was fairly non-descript on this cloudy morning, but we enjoyed watching a bunch of kids catching crabs at the bridge. We went for a long on the pier and met an older gentleman who talked our ears off for about 15-20 minutes.  It turned out he had worked at the Waterford Crystal factory for 30 years before being pensioned off early just before the slow-down, and he was a fount of information about the factory, the area of Wicklow and Waterford, and about life in general. Nearby are the Wicklow Mountains and Glendalough County, which is supposed to be beautiful and well worth a visit.

We continued on our way, taking the N30 towards New Ross where we stopped briefly to see the Dunbrody Famine Ship.  As it was pouring with rain, we took a couple of quick photos and then ran back to the car.  It looked like it would have been a nice place to wander if the weather had been nicer.  For €10 you can tour the ship and while I’m sure it would have been interesting, I’ve seen a couple of similar exhibits and decided to pass.

The plight of the Irish immigrant during the famine caused by a potato blight that started in 1845 is terribly sad and made me a little angry as well, as over 3,000,000 poor tenant farmers, who lived primarily on potatoes and water, were left to starve while the wealthy British landowners continued to exact steep rents and export vast quantities of food abroad despite starvation at home.  Over a period of ten years, the population of Ireland dwindled by about 1,500,000 as many peasants died or escaped to North America on the “famine ships”. More detailed information about the famine can be found here.

We arrived in Waterford in late afternoon.  As it was still pouring rain, we were happy to have underground parking although we did have to make the trek from the parking lot to the hotel outdoors.  We were in desperate need of clean clothes so we packed up two day packs and drove to a coin operated laundry facility that was located under a narrow shelter at a gas station.  It cost €4 for a load of wash and we got soaked just getting the laundry into the washer. We waited in a nearby mall for about an hour or so while it washed and dried. Unfortunately, our backpacks were now wet and we had to shove our dry clothes into the wet backpacks and get them into the car. Just one of the joys of travelling!

We had dinner at the hotel and stayed in because we didn’t feel like walking around town in the rain. The next morning, it was dryer, although still overcast. After breakfast, we went for a 30 minute drive to the coast (Annestown) and drove along the Copper Coast for about another 30 minutes, then looped back to Waterford.  We stopped at several beautiful, yet empty beaches, and thoroughly enjoyed the countryside – the sun even peeked out a few times! It was exciting, if a little nerve-racking to wind along the single-track roads, with 6′ hedges along both sides, and never know when you are suddenly going to come around a corner and meet another car.

When we got back, we walked around the “Viking Triangle” near our hotel, then had a delicious lunch on the rooftop patio of the Reg Bar.  In the late afternoon, we went on a tour of the House of Waterford Crystal which was really interesting, although a bit pricey (€23 for the 2 of us), as is the crystal itself. It was cool to see each stage of the making of the beautiful pieces, and I got lots of short videos.  I especially liked seeing them taking the hot glob of glass out of the furnace and blowing it. In the showroom, we tried to find the most and least expensive pieces for sale.  There was a shelf with some small items for €40-50 and the most expensive listed pieces was a fairy-tale styled carriage with four horses for about €40,000.  Yowza!

Overall, I thought two nights in Waterford was warranted and I wouldn’t have wanted to have only had one afternoon to try to see everything. Now we are just hoping the weather turns around!

Next up: Kinsale, Ireland



Laundry day!
Waiting for laundry
Dunbrody famine ship in New Ross
Ruins in Wicklow
Chatting with locals in Wicklow
Wicklow bridge sign


Great sandwich at The Reg Bar
Reginald’s Tower
Lower steps are worn from the waves
Annestown Beach
Wood forms
Viking Ship in Waterford
People’s Choice Awards


Annestown Beach


Dublin, Ireland

The most popular bar in Dublin

June 3-5 2017: 

Our Ryanair flight from Edinburgh left almost an hour late, for no apparent reason, but once we arrived, we quickly found our rental car and drove 45 minutes to our Airbnb in Churchtown, a suburb on the south side of Dublin. The reviews for the B&B were excellent and we were excited to be staying in another lovely room in an old Victorian home. However, as we walked up to the house, and passed the “conservatory”, a glassed-in sunroom that appeared to be used as a junk storage room, we began to wonder if we were at the right place.

A young girl of about 20, checked us in and took us upstairs to our room.  The doors to the rooms along the entry hall were partially closed but I could see piles of junk and clothes and art supplies as we walked by, and the carpet was worn and a little dirty. When we got to our room, it did look more or less like the pictures but with almost indiscernible differences.  The  light coloured carpet had stains, there was a large throw rug that wouldn’t lie flat and was a serious trip hazard, and the room had the smell of deodorizer attempting to cover up unpleasant odours.  The room had a big bay window that looked out onto a overgrown yard, a far cry from Mary’s lovely garden in Stirling. However, the bed seemed clean and comfortable, and overall, the room was large and relatively comfortable.

We settled in, unpacked, and then walked a block down the road to catch the Luas light rail tram into town (€4.20 each for a return ticket but you can get a day pass for €7 for unlimited travel if intend to make more than one return trip).  It was an easy 15 minute ride that took us right down to St Stephen’s Square.  We walked around the town and found a place to eat.  It was busy all over but we chose a quiet place that was closing soon and had a light meal, then we headed back home as we’d had a long day. We went to bed around 11:30 but could hear people talking until well after midnight.  Still, I had a decent sleep and was comfortable.

The next day, we planned a full day in Dublin.  We went downstairs for our breakfast time of 8:30.  The kitchen door was closed so we went in and were met in the somewhat cluttered kitchen by three boisterous dogs, complete with doggy smells.  We weren’t sure what to do so we stood there for a few minutes and hoped someone would show up.  Sure enough, John, the owner, came in from outside, and eventually took two of the bigger dogs outside, and then came in and made us breakfast. He was friendly and helpful and gave us some good advice about where to go and what to do for the day.

We learned that he lived there with his wife (who we never met because she was working), his young adult daughter, and two son adult sons off and on. After breakfast, we headed back to the tram and into Dublin.  We bought tickets for the Hop On Hop Off bus (online because there was a 10% savings) and we sat on the bus and listened to the live commentary for about 2 1/2 hours.  It was pretty good and we enjoyed learning about the history of the city.

After one complete loop, we got off and wandered around a bit, stopping at a pub for a pint of Guinness and some lunch, and then did a bit more wandering. We didn’t bother to go on the Guinness or Jamison’s tours – they are pretty expensive, and touristy – but we did check out most of the free sights. We enjoyed the Temple Bar district and saw lots of touristy places to hang out. We were glad we watched the Netflix miniseries called “Rebellion” about the Easter Rising when the Irish fought the English in an effort to regain control of their own country in 1916.  This seems to have been a common theme on our trip this year – the Scots and the Irish both had to fight the English to end British rule.

Although we didn’t actually go into any of these places, here are a few of the most popular things to see and do in Dublin. In many cases, it’s advisable to book online, often in advance, and then just show your digital ticket (but read the fine print carefully first in case some insist on a printed ticket). Usually, you will save 10-20% as well.

  • Kilmainhan Gaol, where the Irish rebels were executed (€8, book tickets ahead, online)
  • The Book of Kells, in Trinity College (€13)
  • Dublin Castle (€10 guided, €7 unguided)
  • Guinness Storehouse (€14 and up)
  • St Patrick’s Cathedral (€6.50, plus €5 for audioguide)
  • National Botanical Gardens (€5 for guided tour)
  • Monument to Oscar Wilde in Merrion Square (free)
  • Literary Pub Crawl (€12)
  • The Temple Bar Pub, in the Temple Bar district (the cost of a pint)
  • Hop On, Hop Off Bus – There are three companies (see list below for links) and each has a slightly different route and options with additional offers attached to the ticket such as discounts on sites, or a free pint in a specific pub. We chose the least expensive (yellow) and were happy with the tour. Plus we bought our tickets online at a €3 discount.
  • Yellow – By Cityscapes – €15 for one day pass (not 24 hr), or €12 if booked online
  • Red – €19 for 24 hour pass – 15% off if booked online
  • Green – by DoDublin – €16 for 24 hour pass

If you intend to visit a lot of the sights I have listed above, you might consider getting a City Card such as the DoDublin Card which gives you free access to a number of sights.  The DoDublin card is €33 but I’m sure there are others as well.

In the late afternoon, we took the tram back to our B&B to relax for a few hours before supper. John and his two sons were outside when we arrived and we said hello. One of the sons seemed a bit taciturn, and almost rude, but we figured, whatever.  We went up and relaxed and discussed how we were going to review the place.  We couldn’t believe it had so many good reviews, given the state of the house.  There was a definite musty odour in the bathroom, the painted clawfoot tub was peeling, the shower curtain had seen better days, and the toilet seat was cracked and could pinch you if you weren’t careful. We are not super picky – how can we be seeing the place in such a different light than other guests??

Around 7pm, we walked one kilometre down the road to a popular bar/restaurant called the Dropping Well, named because so many starving peasants dropped dead from exhaustion after stopping for a drink at the river during the potato famine in the late 1840’s that they had to build a morgue – and a pub, because why not? Supper was good and we walked back to our B&B as it got dark.

When we arrived, the “weird” son was out front and grunted a response when we said hello.  We went upstairs to relax before getting ready for bed around 11:30.  We could hear fairly loud voices, both inside and outside the house and had to close the bedroom window because of the noise and cigarette smoke.  There were doors slamming, and some loud yelling that sounded aggravated or angry.  Erik confided that he thought one of the young men was a little ‘off’.  His dad had mentioned he had ADHD and had gone to a special summer camp in Canada one year but we began to wonder if he didn’t have more serious psychological problems.  We discussed the fact that our bedroom door had no lock and I decided to drag the heavy armchair up against the bedroom door, just to be certain. I know, probably a little overkill, but it was late and I was tired.

We went to bed, but I still had a terrible sleep.  The loud voices and slamming continued until close to 2am and I never really felt safe. In the morning, Erik went down for breakfast, but I skipped it. I couldn’t face the dog-smell kitchen and the weird family again.  We checked out as soon as we were ready and left Dublin. I guess that just goes to show you, you can’t always trust reviews 100%.  Sometimes, you just get a dud.  We’ve had so many awesome accommodations, I really can’t complain, and there were a number of positive things about the accommodations including the excellent location relative to transit, and the reasonable price for a fairly expensive city.

Next up: Waterford, Ireland

River Dodder, by the Dropping Well
River Liffey
Dublin Castle


Inside Temple Bar Pub
Temple Bar Pub
GPO, Irish headquarters during the Easter Rising


St Patrick’s Cathedral
Luas Tram
We had lunch here

Callander and Stirling, Scotland

Walking near Callander

June 1 – Callander, June 2 – Stirling

We checked out of our B&B in Oban around 10:30am and then drove a little way along the “esplanade” which was lined with lovely old guesthouses.  We stopped at the Dunollie Castle and museum parking lot and took some photos, and then drove further around the cape to a beach on Ganavan Bay.  We were mostly just killing some time since we had less than a 2 hour drive to our B&B in Callander, and we wanted to see a little more of Oban.  However, it was raining off and on so we didn’t spend much time outside.

At noon, we were on our way out of town, and we drove through some very pretty green country side with its rolling farmland and lovely woods. We arrived in Callander around 2pm, and checked into our beautiful room in a home owned by a young couple from the Czech Republic. There was a king bed, gorgeous furniture, and two big windows looking down on the street below.

Callander is a pretty town of about 3000 people with a number of walking trails that wind through the woods and along the Keltie River.  However, as it was raining, we didn’t partake, at least not until the next morning.  We had supper at a pub close by and relaxed for the evening.

In the morning, we checked out around 10am and then walked to Bracklinn Falls, which was absolutely gorgeous, and so peaceful, I’d love to go back and stay in the area for several days.

Originally, we had planned to stay with a cousin in Edinburgh  for our last night in Scotland, but her plans changed and it didn’t work out, so we booked an Airbnb in Stirling for the next night (our room in Callander was already booked or we would have stayed a 2nd night). It worked out well because Stirling was close to the Edinburgh airport and we would have an easy drive for our flight the following morning.

Since we had the day ahead of us, and only a 45 minute drive to Stirling, we decided to go to the Battle of Bannockburn 3D Experience before we checked in, and which, as luck would have it, was free with our NTS pass.  We definitely got our money’s worth out of that year pass and we will be able to use it on a number of venues in the UK next fall as well.

The 3D “game” was fun and we learned a lot of about this famous battle in Scottish history as Robert the Bruce, King of Scotland, faced Edward ll of England in 1314. Happily, this was one occasion when the Scots trounced the Brits, and eventually, in 1328, the English finally recognized Robert the Bruce as King of Scotland.

After Bannockburn, we drove a mile down the road (yes, they still use ‘miles’ in the UK), and checked into our B&B.  It was a beautiful old home owned by a widowed (I think), podiatrist. She had only one room that she rents out and it was probably one of the most beautiful rooms we’ve stayed in so far.  It had 12″ ceilings, a huge king bed, beautiful antique furniture, and a big bay window.  She was super friendly and kind, and we enjoyed playing with her two airdales (a big one, Herman, and a small one, Froohe).

After we checked in, we drove 30 minutes to Cullross (pronounced COO-ross), and checked out the neat little “royal burgh” that is still stuck in medieval times.  We visited the Cullross “Palace”, not really a royal palace but a merchant’s home built in the 1600’s. What made this town, and the palace, particularly interesting was that a number of scenes from Outlander were filmed here. And yes, we used our NTS pass to get into the palace for free. We had lunch at a cafe and walked along the streets, before finally heading “home” to our B&B.

We enjoyed staying at Mary’s home, which was in a quiet residential neighbourhood but still had easy access to the town. In the evening, we walked into the old town of Stirling (about 1 1/2 km) and found a pub for supper.  We had visited the amazing Stirling Castle in 2014 but it was cool to see the exterior again.

The next morning, Mary made us a beautiful breakfast, served next to the grand piano, in the sunny bay window of the living room, and we were on our way to the airport, by about 11am.  We dropped off the car, and waited for our Ryanair flight to Dublin, which ended up being about an hour late.

We thoroughly enjoyed Scotland and I really want to go back again to see more – especially some of the islands. In fact, I’ve decided that Scotland is definitely my back-up country. 🙂

Next up: Dublin, Ireland

Walking near Callander
Oban walk
Bracklinn Falls
Cullross Palace garden


Mercat Cross in Cullross
Scone with jam and cream
View from our window in Callander
Mary’s B&b
Breakfast in the bay window
Saying goodbye to the pups
The Kelpies, on the way to the airport

Oban, and the Isle of Iona, Scotland


IMG_9462May 30 – June 1, 2017: Oban, Isle of Iona

Our original plan was to drive from Nairn to Inverness, and then south down the west side of Loch Ness to Oban, with a brief photo stop at Urquhart Castle, and a longer visit to Glencoe Information centre along the way.  However, we noticed an alternate route straight south from Nairn, through the Cairngorms National Park where there was a popular (and free) Highland Folk Museum. We hemmed and hawed about which route to take but eventually decided on the latter.

Since we weren’t planning to actually pay to look inside the ruins of Urquhart Castle (we’ve seen a lot of castles already), and we happen to live on a lake very similar to Loch Ness (with its own mythical monster, Ogopogo), we decided we would prefer to drive through the beautiful Cairngorms and spend a few hours visiting the Folk Museum instead, and we were happy we did.

As per usual, we didn’t rush our morning, and weren’t on the road until at least 10ish.  We drove through beautiful countryside, first on narrow country roads, and then later on A95 and A9, until we reached the town of Aviemore where we managed to track down a set of standing stones, in the midst of a subdivision.

Thirty minutes further down the road, we reached Newtonmore, and the Highland Folk Museum.  We made a donation, bought a guidebook, and wandered in and out of the many historical buildings in the mile-long open air museum, with its 1700’s village of five thatch homes on one end, and an early 1900’s farming village on the other. We spent at least three hours wandering around, had lunch at the cafe on site, and we even managed to finally get some photos of Heilin’ Coos (the adorable long-haired Highland Cows)!  It was definitely a worthwhile stop, especially if you have kids.

We continued our drive down the A9 for another hour and a half, before turning east along A82 after crossing the bridge near North Ballachulish, and finally reached the information site at Glencoe and Dalness. Once again, the site was part of our NTS pass, so we didn’t have to pay for access.

The museum was a mix of geological information about the formation of Glen Coe and the other surrounding mountains, climbing (which reminded me of Angie), and of course, of the famous Glencoe Massacre where 38 members of the MacDonald clan were murdered in their beds by British Soldiers in 1692 because their chieftain was a few days late swearing fealty to the British monarch.  It was yet another tragedy in Highland history.

Out back of the museum was a gorgeous view of the mountain and the valleys which are also famous as a back drop to movies such as Rob Roy, Braveheart, Skyfall, and Outlander. Unfortunately, it was an overcast day so we couldn’t get really great photos.

There is another museum (Glencoe Folk Museum) dedicated to the Glencoe Massacre in the town of Glencoe, but it was already closed for the day by the time we were there.

Finally on our way once again, it was only another half hour or so before we reached the coastal village of Oban, whose ferry terminal is the gateway to the Inner Hebrides, and where we would be staying for two nights. We checked into our B&B, and went for supper at a restaurant down on the pier. It had been a long, busy day and we were tired.

In the morning, we were up early, had breakfast at the B&B, and then packed a small daypack and headed down to the ferry terminal where we had booked a day trip to Mull and Iona Islands on West Coast Tours bus line.  The company has a number of tours but the one we chose was £35 each, and included a 45 minute ferry to Mull Island, a bus ride with live commentary across Mull, a foot passenger ferry ride to Iona Island for a 2 1/2 hour wander around the small village, Abbey, and shops, and then return the same way we came.  We left at 9:50am and returned by 6pm.

The commentary on the bus was excellent – super informative, and very funny – and Sheila, our driver, was amazing at how she managed to eek the bus around the crazy narrows roads.  Erik particularly enjoyed the trip because he didn’t have to drive!

We liked Mull and thought we could easily spend a few days on the island, and tiny Iona itself was idyllic. The water was a gorgeous teal blue, the sand leaned towards white, and as there were no cars, it was relatively quiet and peaceful. Well, it would have been if there hadn’t been 500 tourists wandering around.  At any rate, we managed to find our own quiet spots and enjoyed taking photos of the landscape, beaches, as well as the ruins of the Nunnery and the Abbey.

We ate our lunch on a bench in the sun (did I mention it was a glorious sunny day?!!), and Erik bought me some beautiful silver Celtic tree of life earrings that I had been perhaps not-so-secretly coveting. We had dinner in town when we returned to Oban, and then relaxed at our B&B for the evening. Overall, it was pretty much a perfect day!

Next up: Callander and Stirling, Scotland

Rainy day
Highland Folk Museum
Highland Folk Museum
Highland Folk Museum
Heinlin’ Coos
Aviemore Standing Stones
Mull Island
Iona Abbey
Ferry in Oban
Waiting for the ferry
Isle of Iona

Scottish Highlands

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We were lucky to have a gorgeous sunset on our first night in Nairn

May 25-30: Nairn, Scotland

We said our goodbyes to cousin Jim and his wife Lorna, and left Cupar around 10am, driving up into the highlands along quieter roads. Erik is getting very comfortable with driving on the left and we are learning the ropes for driving on the narrow roads with the frequent passing places.  We’ve learned that you pull over for oncoming traffic whenever you can, especially if they are bigger than you, and flash your lights so they know they can pass.

As we left the lowlands, the roads were pastoral, but soon we moved into more forested land, and then finally we climbed above the tree line where the surrounding landscape was stark and bare.  We stopped briefly at Glenshee where there is a ski hill with a handful of runs and several chair lifts and no doubt it is a going concern in the winter. The pretty Clunie River runs along the road, and we crossed it a few times before we began to descend down into the treed valleys once again.

It took us about three hours to reach the small town of Huntly, where we stopped for lunch, before driving another 10km to Forgue for a tour of the Glendronach distillery, my favourite scotch whisky. Glendronach is a relatively small operation which still uses traditional methods to make their whisky, but it’s not particularly well known (for reasons I cannot fathom), and I rarely find it served in restaurants.  I like it because it’s one of the few that use sherry casks (from Jerez in Spain which we visited a couple of weeks ago), and it has a soft sweetness to it. We were lucky to be alone on our tour and found it really interesting to see this amazingly complicated process. It was a little sad to learn that most of the 125 distilleries in Scotland have been bought out by multi-national companies.  This link has some good information if you want to know more about how whisky is made.

Finally, we were back on the road to Nairn where we checked in around 5:30pm. It had been a long day but the sun was shining and the temperature was in the high 20’s – absolutely stunning!  We had three days booked in the small town of Nairn, on the northern coast of the highlands, followed by two nights at a hotel in Inverness, 30 minutes further west, but once we arrived at our B&B, we decided to cancel our hotel and stay for five nights in Nairn.

The suite was roomy with a king size bed, a huge shower, a deck with table and umbrella, and a fridge full of food – we’ve never stayed in a place that left so much to eat! There was bread, butter, buns, cookies, eggs, bacon, sausages, a package of Haggis, Neeps, and Tatties, tea, coffee, milk, OJ, fruit – I could go on but I think you get the idea.  Since we could easily make a day trip in to Inverness, we decided hanging tough for five nights would be awesome.

In the evening, we walked 1/2 km down the road to the seawall and walked along the beach as the sun set.  Nairn sits on the edge of the Moray Firth, an inlet near Inverness which is well known for its dolphins. I kept my eyes peeled but never had any luck spotting any. However, the we had a gorgeous sunset at around 10pm, and I took a ton of pictures, then we came back and sat on our deck a little longer.  I don’t think the temperature dropped below 20C all night, although our room was cool with the windows open.

IMG_9172While in Nairn, we had four full days to check out the sights, and our first order of business was to visit the Culloden Battleground and Interpretive Centre which was about 25 minutes away.  It was covered by our NTS pass and we spent about an hour or so looking at the displays and learning about the history of the Bonnie Prince Charlie (Stuart House) and his Jacobite followers.

Obviously the Jackobite Uprising of 1745 was a much more complex situation than I am willing to write about, but suffice to say, Prince Charles didn’t listen to his advisers and made some poor decisions that resulted in over 1500 Jacobites (Scottish, Irish, French, and some British men) killed in the final one-hour battle that took place on Culloden Moor on April 16, 1746.

My maternal grandfather’s ancestors (Mackintosh, Urquhart, Cumming, and Munro) were living in the Culloden area at the time, and it’s possible that some of them (most likely the Mackintosh clan) were involved in the battle.

During our time in Nairn, we visited several local parish church graveyards and looked for old family graves but it’s very difficult to find gravestones with clear writing on them once you go as far back as the 1700’s.

One day, we visited Brodie castle which dated back to the 1600’s, and once again, our NTS passes gave us free access.  There was a very interesting guided tour and I think it was one of the best castle tours I’ve been on because so much of the original furniture, books, and decorations are still there.

Sunday Carvery lunch at Golfview Hotel

On Sunday, we made reservations for the “Sunday Carvery Lunch” at the Golfview Hotel dining room down the road, and had a delicious two course dinner of melt-in-your-mouth roast beef, yorkshire pudding, roasted potatoes and vegetables. We shared the starter and the dessert – smoked salmon cream cheese roulade and raspberry bread pudding with cream and had a table by the window with a lovely view of the sea.  It was a perfect afternoon!

On our last full day, we took a peek at the exterior of Fort George, which is only 15 minutes away, and then drove into the larger city of Inverness. It was busy, but we managed to find an underground parking lot, and walked around for a while to check out some of the shops and then had lunch at the oldest pub in town.

We really enjoyed staying in one place for five nights and had lots of down time to read, write, and even play guitar! The fellow who owned the B&B happened to collect guitars and yet doesn’t play, so Erik was able to bring a couple back to our room.  He even got to play an electric guitar once owned by a member of The Cure.  We always miss having our instruments when we are travelling, so that was a really nice bonus. The last couple of days were more like typical Scottish weather – cooler and showery, but we’ve had so much good weather, that we really can’t complain!

Next up: Highland Folk Museum, Glencoe, Oban, and Iona Island.

Sunday Carvery lunch at Golfview Hotel


Big Castle-y place near Nairn
Everything is so green and so pretty
We ate lunch here in Inverness
Soooooo good
Illicit photo taken inside Brodie Castle (before I found out I’m not supposed to take photos)
The back of Brodie Castle
Visiting dead relatives


More sunset pics
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Beach in Nairn
Glendronach Distillery Tour


Culloden field Hospital. Was also a home for family with 13 kids


Our sundeck, also our rain deck
Our “apartment”

Meeting Cousins in Cupar, Scotland

Lambs on the Hill of Tarvit, Cupar

May 23-25: Cupar, Scotland

We have ten days in Scotland and plan to spend most of it in the Highlands, looking for dead relatives.  As an avid genealogist, I try to fit in some family tree work whenever I am visiting the UK. If the Spain and Portugal sunshine was for Erik, then northern Scotland is for me. A few years ago, when I joined ancestry.com, I was able to connect with cousins that I’d never have met otherwise. In some cases, after emailing back and forth a few times, I added some onto my Facebook.

When my 2nd cousin, Jim, heard we would be visiting Scotland, he and his wife, Lorna, offered their home to us for a couple of nights.  Since they live just a little north of Edinburgh, right on the way to our destination, we decided to take them up on their offer. It would super to meet real family in Scotland.!

Our Easyjet flight from Lisbon arrived in Edinburgh about 2:30pm, so we collected our baggage, picked up our rental car, and stopped to get cash and a UK SIM card for my phone. It didn’t take Erik long to get used to driving a stick shift on the left side of the road, although we did verbalize “stay on the left” frequently whenever we had to make turns etc. It was only a one hour drive and we were settled into our family “B&B” by supper time.

The small town of Cupar (Pop: 10,000), in the “Kingdom of Fife”, is very pretty with the River Eden winding through, and loads of grey stone buildings. An hour north of Edinburgh, it is only a 20 minute drive from St Andrew’s on the east coast of Scotland. After we settled in and had some supper, Jim and Lorna took us for a walk along the river through town, and we stopped a pub for a beer.

As we were staying two nights, we would have one full day to visit and tour around and so after breakfast the next day, they took us out for a drive with lots of stops. First we drove to the coast, south of St Andrew’,s and had coffee at a little cafe in the pretty seaside village of Pittenweem.  We wandered along the shore and took pictures of fishing boats and the sea.

Next, we drove to Falkland, where we stayed three years ago, and which is used as a stand-in for Inverness on the Outlander series, and met another 2nd cousin, Carol, for lunch at a quirky little organic restaurant, called Pillars of Hercules.  We had “toasties” (grilled/toasted sandwiches) and ginger beer (my new favourite thing to drink because it’s SO much tastier than ginger ale) and enjoyed lots of laughs with Carol, Jim, and Lorna.  The weather was beautiful – warm and sunny – not at all what we had expected of Scotland.

After lunch, Carol left us, and we continued our journey, stopping first for a visit to Falkland Castle.  Erik and I bought a year pass to Scotland National Trust for £70 so we can now visit any of their holdings in the UK.  It’ll pay for itself if we visit at least three places.  There was a guide in each room telling us all about the castle and it was quite interesting to hear the history and see how the other half live.

Afterwards, we drove to Cairnie Fruit Farms and had tea and cake on the outdoor patio.  The entire area is gorgeously green and pastoral, and I just adore the rolling hills with stacked stone walls to keep the sheep safe. We picked up some strawberries and ice cream, and then went home where I helped Jim make a vegetarian supper.

Around sunset, 9-10pm, we drove to nearby Hill of Tarvit and walked through the wood and up the steep hill for a spectacular view of the landscape.  We were in the midst of a flock of sheep with their young lambs frolicking about and I got some great photos.  If it wasn’t for the frequent rain that keeps this land so green, I could easily live here.

We thoroughly enjoyed our two nights in Cupar and it was really special to be able to stay with family we’ve only previous “met” online.  I do hope to see them again some time – perhaps they will decide to come to Canada some day!

Next up: The Scottish Highlands

Bridge over the River Eden in Cupar
Falkland, from the castle window
Jim, me, and Erik


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Jim, Carol, and me
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Carol, me, Erik, Lorna, and Jim
Starting up the Hill of Tarvit
Half way up

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View from the top
Erik and Jim reach the top
Loads of Rhodies in bloom right now

Last Stop, Lisbon

Roman Temple ruins in Evora

May 20-23: Evora and Lisbon, Portugal 

We left Seville around 11am, gaining an hour when we crossed the border back into Portugal,  and made an overnight stop in Evora, another medieval town.  We had the afternoon to check out the cathedral, the old Roman temple, and the palace.  It was hot and muggy, so I went inside the cool cathedral to get a closer look while Erik sat out under some trees. We had a lovely lunch on a beautiful patio restaurant where I had a smoked salmon and cream cheese sandwich on a croissant and thought of my Grandma. My mom will probably smile and remember why.  I am getting just a wee bit tired of Spanish food and I was really happy to have something quite a bit different from the regular fare.

The next morning, we checked out early, and drove to the Lisbon airport to drop off our rental car.  Because it can always be a bit confusing to find the rental return area at a busy airport, I had checked google street view the night before and made sure I knew exactly how to get there.  It’s always so helpful to be able to read the signs when they are stationary. The drop off went well but we still had a couple of hours before we could check into our Lisbon apartment so we took some time to find the Easyjet bag drop in Departures so we wouldn’t have to waste time searching when we fly out Tuesday morning.  I’m glad we did because it took quite a while to figure it out.  We had some lunch and then took the Metro, with one station change, into the Alfama district of old Lisbon.  The Metro system was easy to use, with English directions, and once again, I had read information online on how to use the Lisbon metro system.

We walked along the cobblestone streets in the heat, dragging our luggage behind us, and wound our way up a few narrow streets to the apartment door. We had been given the password to a box holding the key so we were able to get into the suite without meeting our host. The stairs up to the second floor were narrow and very steep, with no handrail, which is typical of older parts of any city in Europe.

Apparently building codes, safety regulations, and lawsuits are non-existent so life is always an adventure.  You just need to use your common sense and be careful.  That being said, I do have a bruised and skinned knee when I stepped off a curb in Ronda and fell to the ground, but hey, I shouldn’t have been looking ahead – I should have looked where I was going. 😉

Anyway – back to Lisbon.  We had booked the apartment through Airbnb and read the reviews carefully (back in February) but apparently since that time, there had been a few new reviews with mention of a musty smell, and boy, did we notice it when we walked inside.  The 2nd storey apartment window opened onto a small courtyard below that housed a few garbage cans, and there was also a seafood restaurant nearby, so I thought maybe some of the smell had come from there. I closed the window and turned on the a/c but it didn’t help.  Eventually we called the host and she suggested we turn off the a/c and open the windows wide, so we did, and then went out for a walk for an hour.  Things seemed better when we returned.  I cooked spaghetti with meatballs for dinner and that made the apartment smell excellent so I figured we were good for the night.

However,  overnight the smell returned and I slept poorly and was quite irritated by morning.  We discussed moving to a hotel, but ultimately decided to stay put because moving was more hassle than it was worth, and we had an early flight the following morning. We had messaged our host and he stopped by with his handyman while we were out for breakfast, but we’d left the windows open for an hour and the smell wasn’t there. Ah well, live and learn. It’s always a chance you take when staying in the older part of a city. Ultimately, we decided the smell was coming from the a/c which had a fan running whenever it wasn’t cooling.  It smelled fine with the coolant on, but not so much when it wasn’t.

But Lisbon – hmmmm, I didn’t love it.  Maybe it was because I was tired and ready to move on to a new country, maybe it was because I was cranky about our apartment, maybe it was because we were in a busy bigger city – I don’t know.  We had one full day which we did enjoy, but overall, I don’t think I’d go back.

There are quite a few things to see and do in Lisbon, but all we really did was catch tram 15 down to see the Padrão dos Descobrimentos, an impressive monument to Henry the Navigator.  It was quite nice walking along the waterfront, and there are several other sights of interest in this area – the Belem Tower, the National Coach Museum, and the Monastery of Jeronimo, as well as a few museums.  Fortunately/unfortunately, it was Monday so everything was closed. We wouldn’t have had the time nor the energy to go inside anyway, so we were content to save a few bucks on entrance tickets.

Lisbon is probably best known for its Fado (music) clubs.  Yeah, I know we should have made reservations and had dinner at one of the clubs so we could enjoy their expressive singing, but we just didn’t feel like it – surprise, surprise.  We had an early flight the next morning, and the music doesn’t usually start until after 10pm so we decided to give it a miss. Later, when we read reviews, it sounded like a lot of the Fado clubs are really just put on for tourists and tend to be expensive with subpar food. A decent show with dinner would have set us back about €100, and we just weren’t up for it.

So – this is probably not the best review of Lisbon, and if you visit, you may absolutely love it.  I think we were just at the tail end of a long 3 1/2 week trip and were ready to shift gears.  I’ve found that when we travel, we are sometimes surprised to find which places exceed our expectations and which places fail to live up to them. It’s all part of travelling I guess.

Next up:  Scotland!

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Vineyard near Evora
Pateo restaurant in Evora
Another lovely cathedral, in Evora
One of my favourite restaurants
Lots of Tuktuks to get your around Lisbon
Our apartment
Lisbon waterfront
Plaza de Comercio
Lisbon, bridge similar to Golden Gate
Henry the Navigator monument
Mosterio de Jeronimo
Torre de Belem, Lisbon
Cute mobile wine restaurant