Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Day 3 - Goodbye Inverness, Hello Edinburgh! (Alt title: that time we got lost at the top of a mountain in Scotland)

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Monday, May 30th

We said goodbye to Inverness and traveled south. We stopped at the Tomatin scotch distillery for a tour and tasting.

*pic of Dusty at the distillery:


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I don't care for scotch, but Dusty has a taste for it, so this was one of those things that we did for him. But I have to say that the tour was fascinating. It was interesting to see how it's made, and the process is quite complicated.
*Photos of the scotch tour:
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You can see the foamy top on the liquid. This is the yeast getting to work. It smelled very strongly of yeast. Some people in the tour didn't like that, but since I love many products of yeast (bread! pastry!) it didn't bother me a bit. Jake didn't care for it, though. He said it smelled like Cedar Rapids. Hahaha!

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This large copper structure is called a pot still. Heat is applied to the pot that contains the whiskey wash solution, which results in vapor forming. The vapor contains more alcohol than the wash, and when they are condensed, the resulting liquid has a nice high alcohol content. Which I guess is what you want in scotch. What I found interesting is that each distillery has a different shape to their pot stills because the shape of the still somehow affects the flavor of the scotch.


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I love these colorful barrels:

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Jake is standing next to his birth year:

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Dusty smelling the scotch during tasting. By the way, our tour guide's name was Scott. Which I thought was funny, since we're in Scotland. :)

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After the tour, we had arranged to meet some colleagues of mine for lunch at a place called House of Bruar. My friend Dave, who lives here in Scotland, described it as being "right off the main road."

Here's a photo of the place:
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Our GPS had us turn off of the A9 (main road) and up some twisty, turny roads. I was a bit worried, but I figured maybe it was sending us on the shortest path instead of the one with the fastest roads, as I've had GPS do that to me before.  Or, I thought maybe Dave's version of 'right off the road' was different than ours.

But when it had us going up the side of a steep mountain, I knew something was amiss. We drove almost to the top of a mountain and the GPS said, "Arrived."

Um. This is what we saw:
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There was no shopping center and restaurant here. Only completely wild, untouched land. (Well, except for the roads.) We drove around a bend and there was a ski resort, but nothing else. Of course the cell reception up there was nonexistent, so we had some trouble connecting with my friends.

We knew to head back to the A9, and so we drove that way, all the while the GPS was telling us to "Turn around! Make a U-Turn!" It wanted to send us right back up that mountain the whole time. Nice. Never trust your GPS.

It was alright, though, because we saw the most beautiful sights along the way:

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These are the shaggy highland cows you see in movies and on print materials advertising Scotland:

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We finally made it to our lunch spot and had a quick visit with my friends who were nice enough to wait for us. I didn't take any photos here except this one because we were visiting, but here's a shot from the gift shop. You can buy haggis (barf!) in all sorts of shapes and bundles.

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After our very late lunch, we drove on to Edinburgh. Speaking of the drive, I have gotten far more comfortable driving on the left. It almost feels normal to me now. Here's a shot of me that Jake took as I was driving. See? My knuckles aren't even white!

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Here are some more photos from our drive to Edinburgh. I can't tell you enough how stunning this country is:

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We made it to the city, and found the change from rural highlands to Edinburgh quite striking. This is a massive bridge being constructed:

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We made it to our B&B without much trouble and were greeted by our chatty and attentive host.
*Pic of our B&B
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After we got settled, we set out for a nice walk around the area. We haven't even made it into the city center where all of the old Edinburgh historical stuff is, and still what we've seen is gorgeous:

This church is just a house or two away from our B&B:

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This is an old school for the deaf that was too expensive to maintain, so they moved the school to the outskirts of town. It has sat dormant for years, while developers secure the funds to turn it into luxury housing. Our host told us this morning that they're not allowed to build on the grounds, only inside of the structure and that the flats they create will be more than £1,000,000.

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Some more nearby places:

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We finally stopped for dinner at an italian restaurant where the food was tasty but the service was slow. Oh well, we had nowhere to be.
*Pic of Jake eating his seafood pasta:
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After dinner, we came back to the hotel and relaxed before bed. It was 11 pm by the time we made it back, which was far later than this girl usually stays up.

Even though we had some detours and got lost yesterday, it was gorgeous and I'm kind of glad we were able to drive up the side of that mountain. It was a view and perspective we wouldn't have seen otherwise!

Monday, May 30, 2016

Scotland - Day 2: Loch Ness, Culloden, and more of Inverness and the Scottish Highlands

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Sunday, May 29th


We started off the day by having breakfast at our B&B. They had a spread of all sorts of foods, but we wanted to try this famous Scottish Breakfast we'd been hearing about. The dining room was cute with plaid dinnerware, and - look! Jake's barely awake:

*Pic of Jake in the B&B dining room with his eyes closed.

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I decided to try the black pudding and the haggis. My one word review on that culinary experience: BARF. The haggis especially was not for me. Shudder. But, there was plenty of other food to fill my belly, so I didn't starve.

We drove to Loch Ness. Let me say a bit more about driving here. It's getting easier, I think, but I still white-knuckled it most of the day. The roads down near Loch ness are narrow and twisty, with no shoulders to speak of. And sometimes there's a little rut on the side of the road that you don't want to fall into or you'll shoot out into traffic when you try to correct. I was still struggling with how close I wanted to hug that left curb when Jake said, "Mom, I don't know if this will help, but when I was in driver's ed, Mr. Fjelland told me that when you're trying to stay in the center of the road, looking further down the road works better than up close."

Huh. He's right. That made it easier, and I had to force myself not to look at how close each vehicle appeared to me as they flew on past. Like this little RV here. Remember how narrow I said the streets are?

*Pic of the road ahead of us:

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The street signs are on the left and not the right, which of course makes sense since that's where you're driving, but still. That took a while. And I still can't figure out what some of them mean. There was a sign that - completely serious here - had only an exclamation point on it. Now what in the hell does that mean?

But this street sign was understandable. *Pic of a reindeer (I keep calling them moose and Dusty keeps correcting me) crossing sign:

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We stopped at a few pull out parking places to take photos of the lake along the way. And I'm not kidding when I say this is one of the most gorgeous places I've ever seen.

*Photos of the lake from the shore:

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Everywhere we've been so far, I've noticed these beautiful mustard yellow colored flowers. They're called common gorse, furze, or whin, and the bush they grow on looks like an evergreen bush with thorns throughout. They pepper the landscape with vibrant pops of yellow.

*Pic of the common gorse:

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We got to a little town called Drumnadrochit that had a visitor's center and other Loch Ness shops. We walked around a bit and got tickets to a boat tour of the lake.

The boat tour was the highlight of the day - it was so beautiful and the weather held out for us. You'll notice in these pictures that one side of the lake had blue, sunny skies, and the other had looming ominous, grey clouds. It was really cool.

The boat captain had trained these geese (ducks? ornithology isn't my strong suit) to hop up right on the boat and beg for bread. It was cute, and they flew away after getting a snack.

*pic of the birds on the end of the boat:

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The boat ride was an hour long and we learned things like the loch divides the land between two tectonic plates and that the northern land is the same plate as Canada. Our tour guide told stories of Sweet William (who was an evil royal from a long time ago) to stories of Lord Lovat - head of clan Fraser who was beheaded, and all sorts of stories of sonar searches for Nessie (the Loch Ness Monster) that uncovered shipwrecks, etc. They recently found a prop of Nessie from a James Bond movie filmed in the 1960s.

The stories were fun to hear, but the view was amazing.

*Pics of the lake from the boat.

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The castle here is Castle Urquhat, which was built in the 13th century. It was blown up from within in 1692 to prevent its use by Jacobite forces.

*Pic of the castle:

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This is a trebuchet they built using only the methods that would've been built when the castle was occupied in the 1500s.
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More Loch Ness beauty:

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I loved the boat tour, and this sign above the wheel made me laugh. It reads: "A collision at sea can ruin your entire day." Yeah, you think?

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After our tour, we went shopping at some fun little shops. It was a picturesque place to wander around and spend money.

*Pic of a shop:

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*Pic of Jake and me near a large statue of Nessie and two little Nessies:

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As you'll find in many gift shops, there were funny items. We found these novelty condoms to be worth a giggle. The one Jake's holding is a McCondom, but there's also one that says 'blow my pipe' and 'want to see my monster'. Ha!

*Pic of Jake in the gift shop:

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After Loch Ness, we drove up to the Culloden Battlefield. If you're an Outlander fan (the book series by Diana Gabaldon) you'll know of this place. It was really cool being in a place that was the scene of such a brutal battle in 1746, especially since it's the backdrop of sorts to the book series that I love so much.

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These are the clan memorial stones, and this is a mass grave site for both the English and Scottish who fought in the battle:

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And, here's Clan Fraser: (I didn't put the flower there, in case you were worried that I was a total freak fan)

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The memorial structure:

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And finally, this little farmhouse. There was a group of clansman who escaped the battlefield and were held in a farmhouse like this one. While this is not the original farmhouse (that one burned to the ground) it's easy to picture Jamie Fraser hanging out in this farmhouse with other Scots.

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The next few hours of our day were spent driving around the Scottish Highlands. I was driving and my companions are not photographers, so there are no pictures. WE wanted to go to a whisky distillery or two, but the first one we came to was closed, so we ended up driving back into Inverness for dinner and to walk around a bit more.

We had a drink at this cute little Castle Tavern that sits at the foot of the Inverness Castle and the River Ness along its side:

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Dusty wanted to shop for some local scotch, and in one of the shops, we saw this. A bottle of scotch that is over £4,000! That's $6000 or more!

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Dusty says that's nothing - you can buy scotch that's tens of thousands of dollars and even more. Yikes.

This is Inverness Castle. It's beautiful - and it sits on a cliff overlooking the river. This was built in 1836 by architect William Burn, but it's built on the site of an 11th-century defensive structure.

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As we walked around we saw a drunk local take a leak against the castle walls. Dusty heard him say something about "storming the castle". Crazy.

We wandered around Inverness the rest of the evening, after having a dinner of fish and chips and ale. I'll end this with some last photos of the night.

Another cool door:

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Dusty checking out the McDonald's menu to see how different it was than ours. It was very different. Had tater tots, some kind of tex mex burger, etc.

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What a gorgeous view of this beautiful city:

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