My Highland (and other Scotland) Adventures

Hello!

I’m so excited to tell you all about Scotland. And sadly, no, I did not find my Jamie Fraser… (but any redhead scots reading this, the comment section is below 😉 haha!)

Flying from Cork, we landed in Edinburgh and picked up our rental car and headed for the city. Our first night in Edinburgh was more of a touch base and a much needed rest. From there we headed to the Isle of Skye. You better believe I played the intro song from Outlander on our way there.

Sing me a song of a lass that is gone. 

Say could that lass be I?

Merry of soul she sailed on a day

Over the sea to Skye

And that’s what we did. Well, minus the sailing. As soon as we started driving towards the North, the scenery began to change. In Ireland, everything is lush and this bright Kelly green; almost like all the grass and plants are young and just beginning life. In Scotland, everything is also lush, but it is a deep forest green that gives a feeling of maturity; like the land has lived a long life and has stories to tell. 

I know I probably sound off my rocker, but that’s truly the feeling you get when you see the stunning landscapes; especially when you are in the valley with the Highland mountains imposing all around you.

It took us forever to drive up to Skye because we wanted to stop at every castle and outlook to take in the highlands as much as possible. Here are some of my favorite pictures from the drive.

Duke of Sandringham’s estate in Outlander.
“Stress of Paris” in Outlander.
Outlander’s “Lallybroch”
Edit
Near “Lallybroch” and a filming spot for season 3 of Outlander!
“Lallybroch”
“Lallybroch” and also the heart wrenching scene where Jamie is whipped.
Outlander used this castle as Fort Williams, Black Jack Randall’s military base.

Once we arrived, it was well past midnight and sleep was taking over. The next morning we woke up to the cutest coastal town view that we completely missed the night before. There were sailboats, little shops, docks, and colorful houses lining the coast.


We then went on our way to Inverness, but of course, stopped whenever we saw anything awe inspiring… which was a lot!


While in Inverness, we saw Nessie! Okay…so we saw Loch Ness, not necessarily Nessie, but! She could have been under the water just swimming around. So, there is a technical possibility we “saw her” and I’m going to hold on to that!

Our hotel was actually an old estate or palace, with an absolutely beautiful front entrance. So beautiful in fact, that we didn’t think it was our place and turned around!

They gave us robes and we had dinner and breakfast at the hotel restaurant which was AMAZING. Have you ever tried pigeon before? No, me either. Until now! I also had this watermelon beet salad that was out of this world; and it was probably my first healthy meal since I arrived in Europe.

We also visited a Celtic burial ground and I was able to live out my Outland “Craig na Dun” fantasy. Unfortunately, I was not transported to another time and it was slightly anticlimactic because of it. We did go at dusk to give it an extra eerie feeling though!

The next morning we went to the battlefield of Culloden, which is where the final battle led by the Bonnie Prince Charlie and the Scottish clans verse the British was held. If you watch Outlander (and if you don’t, a history lesson!), you’ll know that it was a bloody and unsportsmanlike battle by the British… and after the defeat, the clans were broken up on orders from the King. As my friend who lives in Aberdeen put it, “I always get a dark and sad feeling when visiting Culloden… there was just too much death that happened there.” And she was right, there was a sullen feeling surrounding the area, even in a bright and beautiful morning.

One of the many headstones used to mark the grave sites of the different Scottish clans on Culloden’s battlefield. Also, used in Outland to mark the Fraser clan (i.e. Jamie Fraser).

Next, I took a side trip without the parents to Aberdeen to visit my friend Jess! It was a great break and an even better time to see her and to see “her Scotland” as I put it. It included some great tapas and paella, an basically empty Irish pub with the singer singing towards the wall…, a hilarious karaoke bar with lots of sad songs and Frozen being sung (Let It Go never sounded so off key), and a rave-like nightclub that made me feel like a dancing sardine (but it was so much fun)! All-in-all, a pretty amazing trip. I also got to talk to some Scots about American stereotypes and that was hilarious.

From Aberdeen, I took a train to Edinburgh for my final days in Scotland (this is where you, as the audience, collectively say “awwwww”). Dad and I hiked to Arthur’s seat. Which no one knows how it got its name. It’s either the place where Camelot is thought to have been or the Wiki page states “William Maitland proposed that the name was a corruption of Àrd-na-Said (Gaelic), implying the “Height of Arrows”, which over the years became Arthur’s Seat.” The pictures below are from the top, almost 1000 ft. in elevation

We also visited the Edinburgh castle and went on a ghost tour of the “Lost City.” The city was never truly lost, but was covered up by the Edinburg government because of the horrid living conditions of its residents. There was no ventilation, sewer and waste everywhere, and death and disease spread rapidly. In an effort to make it seem like those conditions never were, the underground stone “apartments” were permanently closed and hidden by new infrastructure. It wasn’t until two drunk tourists accidentally fell through a weak spot in the ground and stumbled upon the “Lost City” that the city saw light again. Now, it’s used for ghost tours, which I obviously was excited to experience! I didn’t see any ghost, but definitely has a lot of heebie-jeebies. Unfortunately, I couldn’t take a lot of pictures because it was so dark, but here are some pictures of Edinburgh Castle and views from the top!

All in all, Scotland has my heart and I’ll have to make another trip back to see more of the highlands (my favorite!), eat more delicious breakfasts, and hopefully find my Jamie Fraser. 

See you all in London!

Sarah

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See You Later, Ireland

Hello all. 

With a sad heart, I must say my time in Ireland has come to an end. But! This is not a goodbye, just a see you later, because I’m definitely coming back again. And who knows, maybe I’ll make my dream of living in a Northern Ireland coastal town come true. They definitely need someone to keep all the fish & chip shops open, which I’m totally down (and hungrily qualified) for the job.

The next parts of Ireland led us to the west coast. And, of course, we stopped for a few castle ruins. Nothing can make you feel more like you’re in a fairytale than daydreaming outside castle walls.

Saunderson Castle.

We stayed the night in the little town of Bunratty. And when I say little, I mean it’s a castle with some tourist attractions. But oh! was it beautiful! And our hotel was literally outside the castle. Bunratty was more of a rest stop for us, which was surely needed.

Our hotel.
Bunratty Castle, the view from our hotel!

During our travels from town to town, we would stop at different castles, ruins, churches, and scenery, just for the fun of it. Because, why not?! When you’re here, you might as well make the most of it.

We also met some other visitors and locals that are on their our adventures, whether through vacation or life. One kind soul was met outside of St. Macartan’s Cathedral. His name was Jimmy and he was the town’s “fix it” guy and resident chatter box. We actually had a couple from the town warn us that we wouldn’t be able to get away from him… They were correct. And an hour and a half later we walked away with laughs, blessings, and €10 to send to an organization on behalf of my late grandfather.

Jimmy told stories through song; so it felt like I was basically in an Irish Disney movie for the whole conversation. If a topic sparked a song’s memory or was similar to the meaning, he would sing the song, tell you the singer, and the story behind it. You can see why it took over an hour to have a conversation with him! But he was so kind and in beteeen different topics would whisper a prayer for us and the many souls in the stories.

He wanted to know all about us and would guess different aspects of our lives based on the information we gave. I think he also wanted to set me up with his nephew… But he started serenading me about love instead, “put your love in my heart and your words on my lips.”

He might have been a bit in his own world (or maybe a lot), but he couldn’t have been a happier fella. He left us with a few pieces of advice. The first, with a little tune, “Love many. Trust few. And we’ll always paddle our own canoe.” And the final he looked at me and said “Remember Sarah, people change every seven years,” making sure I understood that I’ll continue to grow in (his words) “the biggest school, the school of life.”

St. Macartan’s Cathedral.
Some of St. Macartan’s stain glass windows.
Inside St. Macartan’s Cathedral.

Our next stop led us to Killarney, where we visited the Cliffs of Moher! And they were awe-inspiring. A different feel than the Giant’s Causeway, less magical and more daunting. I had the feeling that one false step and I could be face-to-face with Ireland’s past residents in the afterlife. Maybe that has something to do with walking along the cliffs edge without any railings…

My favorite style of picture-taking called “Add a flower and make the background out of focus.”
The subtle warning.
Letting the wind take ahold of me (and also hiding the ever-so-mild fear in my eyes).
Dad and I at the cliffs.
Me on the wee lookout castle at the top of the cliffs.
The daunting Cliffs of Moher.

Next! We headed towards Cork and to Blarney Castle to gain a bit of eloquence. The story goes that whoever kisses the Blarney Stone will be eloquent for the rest of their days. I’ll be sure to let you know how that turns out. And if for some reason you think my blog gets better from this post onward, well, you know why!

Barney Castel (told you I love this picture setup).
Me kissing the stone and trying to not think about all the other people who have also kissed the stone…
The family outside the Castle.
The banquet hall seen from the top of the Castle.
 

The queue (line to reach the castle) was over an hour, but we passed the time by listening to dad talk two poor and way too kind Canadian visitors’ ears off. They bonded over both going to San Jose State and their love of libraries.

Also, no one tells you that you have to lay on your back and hang upside down to kiss the stone. So, here’s me telling you. You have to hang upside down to kiss the stone. If that’s not your thing (like it wasn’t my mom’s), just blow it a kiss and move on. If it is, which I was obviously (eventually) fine with, well, then flip over and pucker up!

My final pieces of advice when traveling to Ireland (or anywhere really) is: 1. Visit the scenery around you because there is magic in the air. 2. Meet the people because they create the magic. And 3. Try Jameson (with cranberry juice!) because it’s magic in a bottle. 

 
Talk to you next in Scotland!

Sarah

A Giant Love for Belfast

‘Ello everyone!

So, it’s been a good minute since I gave you an update! Belfast, Northern Ireland (yes, there is a difference) was the next stop and boy (or should I say lad) was it wonderful! My personal favorite part was the countryside around Belfast, such as Giant’s Causeway (hence my sneaky title). 

The biggest thing that surprised me about Belfast was how relevant and recent the fighting between nationalists and unionists occurred. Also, how much of a rememberence is kept for all those involved with the fightings over the years.

The wall that split Belfast during the fighting.
Part of the Peace Wall with current and past causes around the world.
 

And for your (and to relive my) enjoyment, here is a picture of our food and drink from Belfast.


We also stopped by the Titanic muesuem, which gave me good, sad, and all the feelings in-between… There was just so much pride from the building of the Titanic in Belfast, and then so much sadness from the tragedy.

The front of the Titanic Museum.
The harbor where Titanic was built.

After doing another hop-on-hop-off tour we took to the countryside! We drove along the Northern Ireland coastal route, which also was part of the Game of Thrones filming route. And, yes, I am still fangirling. There were multiple moments that tears were (almost) shed and not only because I was living out my Stark family dreams! One of which was at the Dark Hedges.


It took us a lot longer than it should, because we couldn’t not pull over for every view and castle. Literally, the pictures below were at random stops along the way. So, you’ll just have to visit also to find where they are exactly!


We finally reached Giant’s Causeway and I was absolutely, positively, undeniably blown away by the beauty and grandeur of the causeway. So far, it’s my favorite part of my trip. Even the mild hike to it was perfect and smelled of the sea air! Landscapes and scenery like these make me understand why there are so many fairytales and folklore throughout Irish culture. These places make you feel as if there has to be magic in the world.


When we were at the causeway, we met a family from Belfast that was there on vacation for the grandmother’s birthday. Her name was Norma and she was the liveliest and kindest person. After our families talked for a bit, she pulled me aside and became very serious. She said she wanted to give me some advice. 

“You never regret the things you do, only the things you don’t. So, if I can tell you one thing, if you want to do something, do it. And if you want something, ask for it.” 

And you know, when an eccentric old woman pulls you aside to tell you some advice, you better be listening well. As soon as the seriousness had started, it was gone and a big smile spread across her face. She hugged me and we all said our goodbyes. And I’m pretty sure she gave a little skip as she walked away.

We hiked back to our car and got on the road again. And of course, we continued to stop throughout our drive.

At one of our stops, we met a photographer named Andrew who lives near Giant’s Causeway, but is originally from Scotland. He saw me taking pictures in a field and came over to see what my shot was of. It was of flowers with the cliffs in the background.


He smiled and said “You have an eye for photography” and I don’t think I’ve smiled as big as I did at that moment. In fact, I’m still smiling. 

Andrew showed me one of his film cameras, which was used by Army photographers in World War II. He started teaching me new things about my Cannon Rebel t6i (he also commented on how the Americans changed the name to rebel and laughed). He was so nice and spent so much time going through the different features and aspects of the camera.

Finally, we ended our night in a coastal town at a chip shop that thankfully stayed open until LATE.

And just like that, my last days in Ireland are upon me and the luck of the Irish has definitely been with me. Talk to you all soon!

Sarah

Irish I Could Stay in Dublin Forever

Mornin’ to yer!

We arrived in Dublin safe and sound, and rather tired because of the five hour difference. Obviously, the first stop needed to put some pep in our step, so a good ‘ole Irish breakfast was the place to start! Which, is now forever my favorite meal here. The eggs, ham, sausages, potatoes, beans, toast, and especially the black pudding… I’m in heaven. Pro tip: put the beans on the toast. Don’t worry, thank me later. 

The black stuff is black pudding…which I’m still not sure what it is but it’s delicious!

Next, we had to do some sight seeing around town. We did a (very touristy, but I’m not ashamed because of all the photos I got.. which also included me looking like a crazy tourist. Oh well!) hop-on-hop-off double decker bus tour to different destinations. Which was extremely helpful for mom, since walking can become too much after awhile. I would definitely suggest the tour also, because you can pick which sites to see and which to just snap a picture of. AND if (read: when) it rains, you have shelter to get you around.

The first night we went to an upstairs pub and had a typical, but necessary, Irish dinner: shepards pie, cottage pie, whiskey (don’t worry… I tried Guinness after) and bread pudding. Now, if you know me, you know I hate mushy weird textures food, i.e. pudding, whipped cream, custard… oh wait, basically bread pudding. But let me tell you, I had to fight for the last bite it was that good! I know, I’m just as surprised as you are. As they say, the proof is in the pudding!

THE absolute best bread pudding EVER

We ended the night by making friends with the sweetest German couple and sharing  hilarious stories about trying to speak another language, but doing so horribly you end up basically calling someone “a lady of the night.” Apparently, were not the only ones that make honest-to-goodness mistakes. Whoops!

Day two was all about exploring more of the city, especially the muesuems and churches. All the churches in Dublin feel like something out of a fairytale. And there’s no wonder why the made St. Patrick’s the official church of Ireland. 

Me at St. Patrick’s
Inside St. Patrick’s
St. Patrick’s tile work

But honestly, all of the churches are a site to behold!

A little after midday, we recuperated with some tea (of course) and browsed some of the stores in the shopping district. We finished off the night with another pub dinner and a stroll around town. Oh, did I mention, the sun doesn’t fully go down until 10 pm… so there’s no excuse not to get every picture you possibly can. Hence why this blog is filled with them!

Lover’s locks on the Ha’penny bridge

Fun fact from the Ha’penny bridge photo above. Apparently the bridge gets its name because it used to cost a half a penny to cross. And one day, two men approached the bridge and asked if baggage cost anything, to which the answer was no. So, one man jumped on the other’s back and it only cost them a half penny! (I could make so many “free loaders” and “piggybacking” puns right now… but I’ll contain myself… you’re welcome).

Well, I’ll bid a good evenin’ to yer and I’ll see you in Belfast!

Cheers!

Sarah

What to Pack When You Backpack?

Hello hello!


My European adventure is about to begin and I am almost fully packed – backpacked that is! The two questions I hear most often when I tell someone I will be in Europe for about five and a half weeks, is “where are you going?” and “what are you packing?”

My answer to the latter is dependent on the prior. I will be traveling to Ireland, Northern Ireland, Scotland, lower England, Italy, Switzerland, France, and Spain from June (cool spring) to July (hella hot summer). So, my attire will obviously change dramatically because of the season and location.

The first part of my trip, I will be living the “calm, cool, and collected” (me..cool, calm, and collected…in my dreams) life in 50-60 degree weather. The second half will consist of weather in the 60-80s in Italy, the low is mid 40s and the high is mid 80s in Luzern and Strasbourg, mid 60-70s in Paris, and around 80 in Barcelona… SO! A mix of everything.

AND everything has to fit in a a traveling backpack. But lucky for me, I have the Osprey Farpoint 70 liter backpack, which has a full-face zipper like a suitcase and a detachable day pack perfect for carry-on use. No having to dig in my bag and reach for something at the bottom. I also bought packing cubes to help organize and maximize space.

To help any fellow travelers, whether you’ve already explored the world or still dreaming of adventures, here is a summarized list of the things I packed.

I brought six tops, two skirts, four dresses, one jumper, one sweater, one cardigan, one rain jacket, five pairs of shoes, four bralettes (because they’re so much easier to wash!), and some simple jewelry pieces. For toiletries I tried to pack light, but still bring everything I could possibly need (Mary Poppins’ magical bag would be ideal right about now). I had the essentials, such as my Lush shampoo bar and Lush conditioner bar, my soap, razors, makeup, toothbrush and toothpaste, first aid kit, and other little necessities.

And since this is my second large travel adventure, the first was a summer study abroad to Italy in 2015, I used my past experiences (and back pain from a 50 lb bag) to hopefully plan better this time. But we’ll see how everything works out! And I’ll keep you all updated if I have to (goodness forbid) throw away some clothes or a (gasp!) beloved pair of shoes. 

Keep sending your love, prayers, and good vibes my way for safe travels and fun times!

Love, 

Sarah

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