BRB, Moving to Caernarfon Castle!
The next morning, we set out for the royal town of Caernarfon — I’d read a bit about the castle there — a 13th century castle, right on the water. *heart eyes* Caernarfon Castle is where the investiture of Charles, Prince of Wales, was held back in the 60’s. I thought that was a pretty neat factoid, but the history of this place is so rich…and hundreds of years old. (As a side note, as an American, I find it mind boggling to think about how many hundreds of years old some of these places are…older than our country, which makes the history so much more amazing to me. I absolutely love places rich in history, regardless of their location!)
We found parking, and hit the street to find the castle…which wasn’t difficult to do, given that you could walk up the street and BAM! the castle stands there in all its glory.
It was huge, to say the very least. I enjoyed exploring the castle and learning bits & pieces about the castle, but my all-time favorite thing about the castle was the view. It was SO WORTH climbing each set of stairs.
So, I told Jeff… “I want one!”
That’s me saying — only partially serious — that I want one, and I’m thoroughly enjoying myself, because I want to have one of my own so I can enjoy it all the time. (There were a lot of, “I want one!”s on this trip.) See what I mean? It’s really the most charming combination of farm, fishing, and cute village.
Caernarfon was enchanting and magical for me. I don’t know how else to describe it.
After our castle experience, we hit the gift shop to buy pressies for everyone. I’ll be honest, this is one of my favorite things about being on vacation and visiting cool places. I love to bring back little trinkets for the kids (and shot glasses for us).
One trip to Costa later, and we were on our way to our first Scottish destination — Glasgow! But, not after hitting services about halfway through. I may have mentioned this in my blog post about England before, but I love the service stations on the highways. US rest stops are kinda dirty and intended to be a stop, do your biz, get out type of thing… No, UK service stops actually have multiple food places, stores, and some even have motels. Granted, I probably wouldn’t want to stay in those motels, but still — how freaking accommodating. Plus, pies. SAVORY PIES, you guys. And sandwiches for days, with combinations you’d probably never even consider in the States. I mean, a chicken enchilada sandwich? Curry? Amazeballs.
Anyway, the drive to Scotland was really nice — rolling hills, more livestock, basically dreamy.
We remained on the outskirts of Glasgow — it’s very industrial city, and it reminded me quite a bit of NYC, minus the massive amounts of skyscrapers, and it was a little less corporate than some parts of NYC.
My great, great grandmother was born in Glasgow, so it was on my bucket list to at least see the place. I never knew her, and I know she passed in the States, but for me to lay eyes on a place where I know part of my family is from is just a really awesome thing to do. I have to imagine that things have changed so much over the decades — the city has grown, the people have changed — but there’s still a connection somehow. I wondered how many of the people passing by could somehow be connected, distant relatives.
For me, I always wonder what life would have been like. What did one day in the life look like? What challenges did she face? What was important to her? What prompted the move to the States? Genealogy records are really, really amazing, but they don’t answer questions like this. (Or at least, the ones I have don’t.)
I didn’t have anything specific I wanted to see in Glasgow — it was mostly a lay-eyes-on-it kinda thing and soak it all in. We stayed in a place called Paisley — and of course, I was curious about the name. Paisley is right outside of Glasgow, and it is indeed where the paisley pattern had its start. The place we stayed was called the Watermill Hotel — the building looks super cool — old on the outside and … on the inside … well. It wasn’t bad.
We had a bit of a laugh about the accommodations. Please don’t get me wrong here. It was clean, and the staff was nice. But, it was a little outdated, and our bed was super tiny. Like the tiniest double I’ve ever seen. Nevertheless, we quite enjoyed each other’s company…very close company, haha.
This was the point in the trip where we had an, “Oh, shit!” moment. The next day, we were scheduled to head to Islay, southermost island of the inner Hebrides…and where my beloved Bowmore Distillery is located. Visiting Bowmore has been on my bucket list since I tasted their whiskey. As luck would have it, there are seven other distilleries on Islay, so we decided two days would be the best option for us — even if we hit a small portion of them, it would be a relaxing two days, especially without having to swap hotels.
Well, how do you get to Islay? An island. Right, a ferry. We’d said a day or so prior that we needed to look into the ferry and make sure we had all of the info straight. Since we had a little downtime, we looked at the ferry schedule and … see where it’s going?
You know, with the exception of the ones that would have us getting in to Islay around like 8pm-11pm. That wouldn’t have been so bad, except for the fact that we intended on spending two full days + nights there, not two nights + one day. A little more digging, and it sorta became clear that we were outta luck if we wanted to spend the next two full days + nights dancing around Islay and drinking whiskey.
Plan B needed to happen.
We sat in the (rather empty) hotel bar with ciders, laptop in hand, and pulled up Google Maps.
This is basically how we plan out our trips, I’ve realized. Look at the map, pick a place, take a look at what’s around it, and then roll with it. We discussed a few things, and ultimately decided that our total change of plans would involve an extra night in Loch Lomond (lakes, mountains, outdoors), which was a few days from then…and then going up to Loch Ness, and staying in Inverness. Basically, swap one bucket list item for another, because really, isn’t it kinda cool to say you’ve been to Loch Ness?
We made our arrangements, and we were good to go after that. I can’t even be upset about missing Bowmore — first of all, I would have never been able to experience the Highlands like I did, and second, it means that I’ll just have to go back to Scotland.
We had to eat the cost of the AirBnB on Islay, because we didn’t cancel the reservation within the specified window, but we did have an amazing time in the other places we went. Overall, a win, I’d call it.
"It's Paisley, not Paris."
We decided to go grab a bit out in Paisley after we pinned down our change of plans. We went to a place called Jam Jar. It was a really cute establishment with a really lengthy cocktail menu. Our waiter was a little difficult to understand — really the only Scot that I had trouble with the entire trip, but it may have also been because we were pretty exhausted, too. Our waiter told us, “It’s Paisley, not Paris.” when he was chatting with us, which became something we snickered about the rest of the trip. It certainly wasn’t Paris. Paisley was a bit gritty, and it had attitude. It’s a working town, and based on all of the college buildings near by…probably a fair amount of young people there, too. Art colleges, maybe?
Trying haggis, in Scotland, has been on my bucket list for some time. I’m intrigued by the national dish, and was curious to know if I’d like it. And, the verdict? Loved it. I’d go on to have haggis a few more times on the trip. One thing that struck me about haggis is that it’s both a meal, and used as a condiment of sorts. Even though it doesn’t taste like bacon or remotely resemble bacon, I’d liken it to bacon it is various uses. Want a protein to go with your breakfast as a stand alone item? Bacon. Want to dress up your burger a bit with deliciousness? Bacon. Same for haggis. Want a protein in your meal? Haggis. Want to add some goodness to your burger, pizza, whatever? Yep, you guessed it. Haggis.
How would I describe it? Well, first of all, the traditional preparation involves boiling the haggis mixture in a bag…usually a stomach. The mixture? Heart, liver, lungs of a sheep, mixed with oatmeal, suet, & seasonings. None of the haggis we ate was served in the stomach, and that’s if they even used the stomach in the first place to boil it.
The mixture is a bit crumbly — sort of like if you’d put taco meat in a food processor and pulsed it a few times, so the bits were super small. I expected that there might be a bit of an off-flavor — you know, like organ meats typically have. A little irony, or maybe even a little metallic and/or game-y. BUT, it didn’t taste like that at all. It really just tasted like a crumbly meat mixture, each bit of haggis we had was really tasty. In fact, I’d be willing to bet that if it was put in front of any of you without knowing what it was, you’d probably assume it was some variation on meatloaf.
In doing a little post-vacation research, I’ve been reminded that importing haggis from Scotland has been banned. (Uh, glad I didn’t try to bring it back??) Apparently, the USDA says no food — whether made locally in the USA, or elsewhere in the world — can contain sheep lung, as there were concerns about disease. Some articles make it sound like the concern is unfounded, and has been for years. Either way, I suppose you’ll need to hit up Scotland for traditional haggis if you want to try it. I’d highly recommend it — the haggis, and Scotland.
Also, if I die soon, blame the haggis.
The Highlands, where only tourists wear kilts.
The drive to Inverness was something else. More rolling hills more mountains, more rivers, streams, lakes. More sheep, more cows! How could you go wrong with that? So, I loved Wales A LOT, but I loved Inverness A LOT, too!! We planned out our drive so that we’d be able to drive through Cairngorms National Park. I was really just excited to finally be in the Highlands — the original trip plan with Islay didn’t include the Highlands — there wouldn’t have been enough time. But the Highlands! GORGEOUS.
Also, Highland cows.
I should mention that Highland cows are the real reason we went to Scotland. Seriously.
If you’ll recall, I mentioned in a previous blog post that we were planning an anniversary trip to Germany, because going to an Oktoberfest in Germany is on my bucket list. Then, I saw an episode of one of Andrew Zimmern’s shows in Scotland, and the cows were just too cute. I joked about how it wasn’t too late to change our plans because the only thing set in stone was our plane ticket (caught a good deal on LAX to London). Jeff said he didn’t care one way or another, and so, Scotland and Highland cows became our new anniversary trip.
I didn’t see nearly as many Highland cows as I’d have liked, but I’m not disappointed. Look at them!!!
As we were driving, we happened across a sign for the Malt Whisky Trail, and very literally decided in a snap that we’d do it. So, we took the next turn. The drive was beautiful, and amazing. Lush green fields & hills, and the cutest little streams. Little farmhouses and cottages littered the landscape, and I was so happy to see fields of livestock no matter where I turned. A little Google Fu told us that there are eight distilleries on the trail, seven of which are still producing — Benromach, Cardhu, Glen Gran, Glen Moray, Glenfiddich, The Glenlivet, Speyside Cooperage, Stathisla. The eighth, Dallas Dhu, is an historic distillery.
It would have been amazing to make all eight of the distilleries…but we made it to a grand total of one — The Glenlivet! Truthfully, if we’d taken tours of each of them, we’d have been in no shape to keep driving to Inverness. I’m not a lightweight by any means, but the drams at The Glenlivet were generous.
Right before we got to The Glenlivet, I saw a little pull off / picnic area that I wanted to stop and see. We hopped out, listened to the rushing water and took in this beautiful little area that had super cute old bridges. Little did we know that we were looking at the inspiration for The Glenlivet’s logo, and this water source was precious to them and what they craft.
We hit The Glenlivet distillery and took a tour — our tour guide, Chris, was an Aussie that moved to Scotland for the whisky. (Sounds dreamy, eh?) Thoroughly enjoyed the tour & the drams of whisky. Came away with a lot of cool info, and a much greater understanding of why the older whiskies are so expensive — hint, it has to do with taxes, and it also has to do with quantity due evaporation during the aging process, making it much less plentiful than younger whiskys. We brought home a special bottle that we were able to sample, which is apparently not readily available in the States, so we’ll call that a win!
Hitting this tour — and the distillery a few days later — has given us a bit of food for thought, so we’re currently debating brewery versus distillery for future plans. Note to self: research would be good.
We finally made it up to Inverness, caught a glimpse of the North Sea, and thoroughly enjoyed walking along River Ness before & after dinner. We stayed at the Columba, right along the river — the accommodations were nice, and I quite enjoyed the location – right across the river from Inverness Castle. I thought that Inverness, in general, was a really great place to be. It had enough of a modern feel to it, but was so close to wide open spaces, and it wasn’t difficult to tell that it was located close to the coast, as well. (Growing up on the coast, there’s always a familiar feel. It doesn’t matter if it’s the Florida coast, California coast, or the coast of some foreign country. You just know you’re there.)
Our trip to Scotland would have not been complete if we hadn’t made it to a Scottish pub, so that’s what we did later that night. There was a place just a clip from our hotel called Glenalbyn Bar, and that’s where we stopped. But, mostly because there was a quote on the building out front: “Friendship is like whisky, the older the better. Too much of anything is bad, but too much of good whisky is barely enough.” There was no attribution on the quote, though the second part of it has been widely attributed to Mark Twain. Either way, we had a good time. I was surprised by the number of locals in the bar, given that Inverness seemed to have a fair amount of tourists walking around. Given its close proximity to Loch Ness, I imagine that it may been a more affordable alternative than staying right on the Loch. Another table (of Americans) wound up being serenaded by a drunk Scot — repeatedly — and this just made my Scottish pub experience the very best it could have been.
The next morning, we’d be catching our first glimpse of Loch Ness.