Scotland for Fall Break…officially my favorite place on Earth.
We left Nido on Thursday, 25th of October at around 6 am on a coach. We went to London Luton airport and we each were allowed to check one bag and then we got on the plane for a short flight. It was early so I didn’t have a problem dozing off. We flew into Inverness airport and we all couldn’t help but be amused. We took stairs off the plane and walked into a building, essentially a room where the toilets, the baggage claim and a help desk were all in one room, and not a large room at that. Quite different from where we had left from in London. From there we had a coach bus pick us up and I could see the mountains on both sides and everything was SO green! It was drizzling a little bit but nothing terrible. Honestly, the misting rain enhanced the ambiance. From the airport we drove a little over an hour to Aviemore and got there at 12:30. It is a town situated within the Cairngorms National Park in the Highlands of Scotland and known for its winter sports, hill-walking and views especially from the Railway Station. We had an hour for lunch and we walked to this small cafe and I got a mozzarella and cheese sandwich with carrots (the carrots came warmed). Before we knew it, it was time to get back on the bus and we headed to Cairngorn Mountain Reindeer Centre. This area is also known for their wandering herds of reindeer.
There we met “Reindeer Jack”, or our tour guide, and he was a very nice looking, very Scottish, man. Very charismatic in the way you fully expect a Scottish man to be :), but anyways he had two large bags with him of granola. That is the food that they give the reindeer. First, we stopped at this fenced in area with about six reindeer. It was nice to take pictures from afar but was similar to being in a zoo. Then we took a hike across the road, down into a small valley with a river flowing through, over a bridge and up a steep incline on the side of a mountain. Once you reach the top of that side it bends off and declines slowly. There is a fence, which Jack says goes all the way around a mountain and a half keeping the reindeer in. It is cut in half to separate the male and females for the time being. We were lucky in that this is the season where they all still have their big antlers intact. So we opened the gate and we were in the females portion at first. The reindeer literally all zoomed right towards us. Not a one strayed off or was unfriendly. I am sure they are fairly used to visitors and know that means food. They walked on the dirt path with us or right beside you. If you were walking too slowly they would nudge you politely with their noses. They mostly followed Jack holding this big potato bag on his shoulder because they could smell their food.
Next we moved off into the males portion. The first one I saw had the biggest antlers; bigger than I could have imagined a reindeer having and I don’t understand how they didn’t weigh down his head so that he couldn’t keep his head up! Some of the reindeer antlers were shedding the fuzzy covering off and looked a little bloody but I am told that doesn’t hurt them. Then they transform to a more wooden material. There was one small guy in there with no antlers. His mother had died and we got to feed him from a bottle. They saved him, Jack said, and he is going to be fine. From there we had about an hour or two to just hangout with them. I was on the side of a mountain, no civilization in site, with mountains all around me, green and beautiful in a pasture full of friendly reindeer. Life really doesn’t get much better than that. We could pet them and we all got a few handfuls to feed them. They don’t have their upper teeth so wouldn’t hurt if they accidentally nibbled your fingers. They slobbered a lot when they ate from my hands. When they are all around you, anxiously awaiting for food, you have to be careful because there are essentially twenty antlers moving in a bunch of directions and you may nearly get your head hit by one.
It was so much fun hanging out with friends and roaming with the reindeer – we left reluctantly, it was probably the coldest day that we were there which may have been partly due to the fact that we were in the mountains. After that we went back into Aviemore to our hostel. For supper we walked down to the town a bit, small town, to a Pizza place, it was a buffet. It was the closest place and we were all pretty worn out, I fell asleep right after we got back. The hostel provided breakfast for us: toast, cereal, tea and juice. Then we left at 9 in the morning for Loch Ness. The coach arrived at 10:30 and the view along the bus ride was just amazing but those roads are quite swirvy! At the gift shop we walked around and waited till our boat was ready to take it down this massive lake that feels more like an incredibly wide river. The second deck had seating all around the edges and we went right down the lake with the highlands on either side. It is not only known for “Nessie” but also its great depth – it contains more fresh water than all the lakes in England and Wales combined. Loch Ness is over 700 feet deep which is just unfathomable and after the man talking over the announcer about various facts I must say, I do believe there is a creature or the Loch Ness Monster :). So as we were going down it was sunny with the mountains and their trees changing colors. It was probably a half hour or so until we could see Urquhart Castle in the distance. It is on a little bit of a peninsula off into the water and we went all the way around it until we stopped at a dock on one side. It was painstakingly breathtaking, it is hard to be explaining all of this when there are no words, or even pictures, that could possibly give any amount of justice to the things that I saw this past week. I really can’t describe it. The castle was
mostly ruins with a few towers left and walls crumbling but I think that only added to its beauty. I enjoyed the fact that we could literally walk through out the castle without guide and could touch everything, even climb on the walls in parts. There was also a catapult, which of course goes by another name that I can’t recall. There was a dungeon, a tower, a prison cell, windows looking out over the water, a kitchen area and so much. We had to walk up a hill a ways to get to the gift shop and from there we hopped on the coach bus to Oban.
We got in Oban at about 7 in the evening. And though you might believe that it couldn’t get any better – it got SO much better. Oban is a smaller community and it is kind of around a bay, Oban in Scottish Gaelic means The Little Bay. The modern town of Oban grew up around the distillery which was founded there in 1794, and the town was raised to a burgh of barony in 1811 by a royal charter. We were on the north side of the bay in a fairy tale castle or rather a youth hostel, literally a five star hotel that over looked the bay and on the other side you could see Scottish homes climbing up the hills. There is a small island out past the bay and then just water and mountains in the far distance. A big huge boat, like the ones that come into the bay in Jamaica, come in and out a couple of times a day. I think I loved most the fact that it was such a small beautiful, gorgeous, quaint town that I would absolutely love to retire to someday. Old ladies would be on park benches along the
semi circle walkway all along the bay and so many couples walking holding hands, not crowded by any means. We had dinner made for us at the hostel with tomato soup with bread, rice with chicken and a vegetable mix, and for dessert a custard frosting on apples. We went to a pub that night to see the locals and got luckkkyyy. There were three older men playing live music there. We were obviously the hit of the night or of the year because they rarely get anything too out of the ordinary. The band consisted of two guitar men and a pianist. They were such nice old men and the pianist, younger of
them, was literally so great! He could play music I have never seen played before in my life. They played a few songs we knew and the whole pub gave them their full attention. We got asked to dance by a few people and we did, one of the guys in my group, Bennett, sang American Pie and the instrumentalists improvised to try to get it with his words and tune, it was near perfect! They were so gracious and kind. I had the best time ever.
The next morning we had breakfast provided for us with cereal and toast. Then we were allotted 3 hours to explore Oban. Though we had originally believed it was too much time, I could have spent forever there and was so happy for that time. Oban goes around this bay and then the rest of the town, which is in this semi circle, sort of climbs upward. At the top of the view, if you were to be coming in a boat from out in the water, you would see this coliseum structure. It is a miniature version of the coliseum in Rome. It was made by this man who was in no way famous but decided he wanted to build it to be remembered by. It is called McCabes Tower. Courtney, Rachel, Lorenzo and I climbed the windy local streets all the way up to it and it was worth it. The houses didn’t have much for yards but I wonder if people realize how lucky they are to be living in these tiny castles carved around these winding roads up a
mountain over a bay. We passed a bed and breakfast with a dad and baby looking out over the bay at the morning sun. Just picture perfect. McCabe’s Tower gave the most epic view over Oban and the bay. Literally breath taking. There were fall leaves on the ground within the structure and only two couples moseying along the paths and benches. After that we stopped at a local cafe for tea. The photo to the left was taken there and it was called Bossards. There were young women who owned it/worked there and I enjoyed their Scottish accents.
We had packed lunches this day and the day before – some GREAT packed lunches!! We drove from Oban to Edinburgh in about four hours
through Trossachs National Park and it was so beautiful, if you can picture driving through Nebraska and the complete opposite – that was it. I just am so at loss of words in trying to describe these things to you because words do not do justice, it is just the most amazing thing – only seen in your best of dreams. We got to Enidburgh around 4 and had free time. We walked around for a few hours and came across a hotel, The Dome, which was totally decked out for Christmas. The tall stone pillars had lights and wreaths climbing them and a huge diamond chandelier, trees, lights and presents everywhere. So that was exciting. It was strange being in a city again but it is very different from London. The architecture is more, maybe medieval or for the lack of a better description “rugged”. We crossed over the bridge from old town to new town and went into various shops – we finally stopped at this place called Madogs and the girls grabbed a drink there. It was a basement with pink and purple accessories and a mini bar. They were curious to hear our accents and the drinks were good too. Then we headed some place for dinner and it took a while to finally find a place which ended up being the “Filling Station” – we soon found out was a classic American restaurant, oops. I got a goat cheese and onion hot wrap, sorry Grandpa, but I think I am becoming more fond of goat cheese. We headed to a local pub afterwords
and it had live music but also a maze of private rooms and we grabbed one of those – it wasn’t quite closed off so we were able to still hear the music and see passerby’s. The girls and I chatted away the night until it got oddly weird with everyone except us dressed up in a Halloween outfit. There wasn’t a single person not in a costume, I guess they do Halloween as a sort of week long celebration, which makes sense. We then went back to the hostel and headed to their pub. It was a lot of people our age and bigger with less of a crowd. I really just enjoyed getting to know all the girls and guys and we had so many laughs. Everyone was in such a great mood given this crazy perfect trip we were having.
The next day we had a hot breakfast with eggs and sausage at the hostel. Then we left the hostel at 9:30 to go explore Edinburgh Castle. It is strategically placed on the top of this high hill in the middle of Edinburgh splitting the old and new town. The road going up to it is the Royal Mile. I would love to live in this place. It was essentially a village within the castle. We could go right up to everything, I saw the crown jewels, the birthplace or rooms where many kings were born, where Queen Mary would sit and ponder, the Great Hall, the prison cells, the barracks and royal apartments. The little church was closed for a Baptism, I guess anyone can get married or Baptized there if they would like to which was unique. Then we went shopping for a little while after the castle for souvenirs and gifts until we grabbed sandwiches for the train ride. My first train ride was wonderful and I
got to stare out the window the entire time. We passed through New Castle, York, Durham and ended at King’s Cross in London. It was undoubtedly the best trip and experience thus far while being abroad. Scotland is by far my favorite place in the world and I am so very happy with being able to go – I hope one day I will be able to see the little town of Oban again 🙂