Located along Scotland’s A82 a few miles before the world famous Glen Coe are a series of small lakes. These lakes rest in the open, surrounded by a few hearty trees that stand as silent sentinels braving the area’s brutal winters, unpredictable weather and near-constant winds. These pools rest as beautiful oases in the midst of highland grasslands ringed by the imposing figure of the nearby glens.
As I made my way towards Glen Coe a few hours before sunset I found myself chasing small patches of blue sky glimpsed amidst movie-perfect cotton-ball clouds. The road slowly wound between hills before spilling out into the near-treeless flat lands and as I crested a final hill, I found myself greeted by vivid reflections in the still waters of the highland lochs. Enthralled by the sight, I quickly pulled my sky blue Volkswagen Beetle Coup to the side of the road and strolled across the squishy peat, careful to step around small clumps of blooming heather. I found a small path which led me to the water’s edge, where I snapped this shot of the cloud’s reflection visible in the still waters of Lochan na h-Achlaise. The mountains in the background are the little siblings of the mighty brutes which famously make up Glen Coe and have been featured in movies and songs for generations.
It was a magical moment, one that embodied the ethereal spirit of the Scottish Highlands – a place where nature’s raw and primitive beauty is pervasive.
Make sure to head over to flickr to see the rest of the album.
Tuesday – Woke up feeling a cold coming on. No fun. As a result I’m home a bit early 10:00ish and taking it easy tonight. Hopefully sleep, water, etc. will kick it before it takes hold.
I started the day off by going to the Imperial War Museum. It’s an incredible thing, a maze of winding rooms full of stories, happy, sad, grim, and incredible. They really do a great job of presenting the stories but not overwhelming you with content. One of the most interesting parts was a re-creation area modeled after the trenches from WWI. They have it in a seperate area, with lights dimmed, you wind through tight quarters that look like you’re in the maze and in the action. Though it’s full of manikins and plaster it is still a great bit.
From there I headed into London proper, exploring Hyde Park and wandering all over the downtown. Too many places to list, but I mainly revisited China Town, Soho, Piccadilly, etc. before eventually deciding to pick up another set of theatre tickets for this evening. In the Tube I’d seen advertisements for Tango Fire – a play of sorts. When I got to the discount ticket booth, i debated seeing Phantom or Les Mis again, and decided against it. Of the other shows discounted i saw Tango Fire and decided to go with it. Check the website for them here: http://www.tango-fire.com/ I really had no idea what it was, other than it was a show, and focused on tango – so I figured it had to be good…right? =p
After picking up the tickets I killed 2.5 hours eating, relaxing, and wandering a bit more. Then I started toward the Picadilly Station to head to the Hoburn Station which was closer to the venue. Turns out there was a track failure somewhere and Picadilly was backlogged like you would’nt believe. It was fubar’d so – looking at the lines of people going in, I decided I was better off walking. The walk was a good 15 fminutes forced march, but ended up being perfect as I still arrived with time to spare.
The show itself – incredible. As I understand it, it’s a traveling performance – if it comes to Phoenix…See it! There are 10 dancers (5 male/5 female), a singer, and 4 band members. Violin, piano, bandoneon & double bass. That’s it. For the most part there were only 2 sets. The rest was all dancing or music. The program primarily consisted of the band playing as the dancers danced incredible tango routines – sometimes solo, sometimes all at once. Think of Dancing With the Stars – but 1,000 times better and more impressive. Other times the singer would sing while the band played. Other times the band performed solo. Throughout the entire performance it was tango song after tango song. The sound quality was incredible and each 45 minute half passed in what seemed like moments.
The dancers themselves performed complex steps, kicks, flips, lifts, holds, and of course dips. I’ve never seen tango quite like it. If there are video’s on the web, i’d definitely say take a look.
Now, i’m back at the hostel and preparing for bed. G’night!
After getting checked in at the new hostel I caught the tube into London and got off at Picadilly Circus. From there I wandered aimlessly around Soho, China Town, and the surrounding areas. The weather this morning started out poor but cleared up during the remainder of the day – which was a blessing. Tomorrow I expect to try and make it to some of the museums etc. that I have not seen. I’ll probably start with the Imperial War Museum as it’s almost next door to the hostel.
As I was wandering around I eventually found a place with a semi-decent ‘day of’ ticket price for the LoTR. I’d narrowed it down to Macbeth (Patrick Stewart) or the LoTR. (I saw Cyrno, Les Mis, and Phantom in 04).
The sets and parts of the LOTR were incredible, and overall I think I liked it. It definitely didn’t capture me though as the others had. The music was a bit bland and they toyed with the story line in a lot of places and ways that were not needed. I think a big issue was some of the casting. The actors that played Gandalf and Stryder were both really poor, though Stryder more so than Gandalf.
The sets were incredible, the use of lighting etc. – also Galadriel was everything in the play that she wasn’t in the movie. Some truly incredible scenes there. The orcs were also a lot of fun.
Some of the other stuff was just weird – IE: They combined both human kingdoms and re-did the story to interact with the hybrid.
I definitely don’t regret seeing it and enjoyed it, but I think I’d catch a different show if I were to pick again. May try and see another tonight – or an opera. Have to figure out pricing.
After the show, I poked around Leicster Square and Picadilly a bit in the evening then made my way back to the hostel. I feel the tinglings of a cold, so i’m going to take it easy tonight and prepare for tomorrow.
Hello all! I’m currently winding up and preparing for my second evening in Leeds. Here’s a quick update.
Day 5 Cont. – Luckily the weather was a bit more welcoming for the third and final leg of our trip. We left our hostel at about 9:30 and began the trip back towards Edinburgh, however, while it was the final leg it was far from the last part of the trip. The night before upon our return, cold, drenched, and energized from a magical day we cooked a communal stir-fry and then headed down to the two local pubs in the little town we were staying in where we met a few of the locals, celebrated one of the guys on the trip’s birthday, and relaxed.
From our hostel we wound our way to Loch Ness, where we stopped briefly – long enough to see it and for Scott and Ariel to jump into it’s icy waters. Given the temperature outside, how cold the water was, and the fact that i wasn’t very impressed with Loch Ness I contented myself instead with eating fresh blackberries I’d found growing next to the lake. I was really impressed again with wild in Scotland, because unlike other tours we didn’t waste time or money with the castle, a boat ride, etc. – rather we just went down a rural dirt road to the loch…jumped in…saw it…moved on. It was perfect.
From there we wound through the highlands – the farms, towns, etc. were all gorgeous. As we drove the rain come and went but was never super heavy. The wind also had died down considerably from the day before. While the entirety of the drive was beautiful, the only other major stop during day 3 was at an incredible glen. The glen had served as some baron/duke/lord or whomever’s private garden where he’d planted trees from all over the world. The whole thing was built along a beautiful stream about the size of the river that flows through oak creak canyon. There was a beautiful stone bridge built right before one of the more major water falls, as well as a stone watching room built above and across from the main falls which offered and incredible view. In addition to ferns, moss covered rocks and green grass everywhere some of the smaller bushes had started to turn a rich yellow/gold. When we reached the overlook/waterfall we stumbled upon another total surprise. There were salmon running! We stood up at the overlook for a good 15 minutes watching as the salmon made a mad leap toward the waterfall and worked their way up it. It was incredible. One tried I’d say every 30 seconds or so and they ranged in size from a good foot and a half to about a foot long.
From there we headed back to town and passed by the Forth? Fourth? Rail bridge. An incredible creation made out of steel that apparently may have been the motivation for the Eiffel tower. Looking at it, it wouldn’t be a stretch of the imagination that it was.
We got back into Edinburgh about 6:30 that evening. I said my goodbyes and made my way back to the hostel where I checked in for 2 nights and then set out again. After scrounging up some food I spent most of the night around the hostel relaxing and recovering. Met some interesting people, posted my last update and called it an evening.
Day 6 – I started the day by walking down hill and around the eastern face of the castle (previously I’d always gone up and over the royal mile). My path took my in a lazy loop around the front and eventually dumped me into the princess st. gardens. While beautiful, the garden’s were fairly sparse. The most interesting part however, was a floral clock. The clock operates and is created completely out of flowers (arms, digits, everything) the only exception is an underlying mechanical framework.
From the Gardens I headed over to the train station where I made an important discovery – tickets the day before are 1/3 the price. I booked my ticket for Leeds for the following day and then continued my exploration. I wandered up and down princess street and all of the streets beyond eventually making my way to the Botanical Garden, which while beautiful was fairly plain. The real interesting part would have been the greenhouses – a large indoor area full of exotic plants and flowers – BUT they charged and I didn’t want to mess with it. So, contented I began my long trip by foot back toward the castel. Eventually I stumbled upon a large Tesco (think Frys/Safeway) and picked up some food for dinner before continuing back to the castle/hostel.
After cooking, relaxing in the common area and socializing, and reading a bit. I bumped into Jonathan – a Canadian I’d gone out with the first night and we caught up a bit. I’d heard about a local salsa club – and despite it being Monday – a holiday for them I decided to check it out. I strapped on my shoes once again and made the trip back off the mile to a little basement bar a bit past princess street. When I arrived the place was mostly empty – as the night unfolded it turned out that because of the holiday the crowd was weird. Mostly late shows and more interested in drinking and dancing club style than dancing Latin. I did meet a friendly bar tender who after a neat conversation offered a few travel tricks she had picked up during her adventures. After a few hours I got tired of the scene and headed back to the hostel. There I bumped into Jonathan, a friend/co-worker of his, and an American girl over for a night. After talking a bit the 4 of us struck out for some late night food – it was about 1:30AM so we made a quick job of it at the local fried goods joint and then went back to relax a bit longer before turning in. People say McDonalds is bad, but the British fried goods places are 10 times worse. Everything is battered and fried. From mars bars to hot dogs. You name it. While I can’t say that it’s delicious…there are definitely times when it hits the spot.
Day 7 – Leeds. I woke up around 10:00 packed everything up and headed to the train station. After a little confusion I found the right train, found my place and was off. The countryside was beautiful, green rolling hills, ocean, sheep and the occasional city. The ride itself was about 2 and a half hours long. Not bad at all! Upon arriving in Leeds I hit up the tourist information center looking for a map and a place to stay. Much to my surprise and frustration it turns out that Leeds doesn’t have a hostel. The next best thing was a row of reasonably priced B & B’s located up by Leeds University, which luckily is just outside the old city and turned out to be where my friend I came to visit is attending. Unable to contact her until I got web access, I was able to find a B&B that wasn’t too outrageously priced and then set off into the city proper to find food, an internet cafe, and explore a little. The food and exploration was easy, an internet cafe took a bit longer. Apparently – as is the case with hostels-Internet cafe’s aren’t overly popular in Leeds. Eventually I did find one and was able to get Meagan on the phone. We coordinated and I headed toward her dorm…after a fashion. Getting lost, backtracking, asking for directions and wandering. About 20 minutes later, I actually ended up bumping into her on the street having made better time than she expected-she was still on her way back. We headed back to her dorm where we caught up, relaxed, and I met a bunch of her flat mates. We all took a break to tidy up, then went out to explore the local pub. Then we headed to the student union which had several other pubs and a welcome/first week dance. We found a nice area to the side and the 4 of us discussed, debated, and mused. Around 12:30 things closed down and I called it a night.
Day 8 (Today) – Woke up early, left the B&B and headed over to the dorms. Dropped my stuff off at Meagan’s room (I’ll be crashing on her floor tonight) and caught up for a bit before heading into the city. The city itself has a great feeling. It’s fresh, booming, vibrant, and modern. It’s a neat mix between modern architecture and old Victorian. The people are also a lot different. It’s a very attractive populace here – in many ways it reminds me of Scottsdale. I headed straight away to the rail station where I picked my next destination – York! Why? Who knows – it’s a major historical local town, has a castle (I think), and everyone says it is a great destination. I’m currently planning on doing York, then London, then leaving England. I may go to Wales though briefly depending on how things pan out. After booking my ticket I made my way across the old quarter to the old corn market and city market.
The Corn Market was a neat circular building, but fairly boring as it was under renovation. The city market however was fantastic. In an old Victorian building the market was full of booths that sold everything…there were butchers to fish mongers to shoe merchants to locksmiths. After wandering around a bit, and eating a great Gyro I left the market and walked to the Royal Armory. The RA was fantastic, full of arms and armor it has well laid out exhibits, an incredible mix of arms and armor and included a fun show. The show was a 30 minute event, that was a lot like the jousting events at the Renaissance Festival. Only instead of armor and fake lances there were dressed in padded garb that looked the part of a renaissance hunt or court. They performed various tricks to show skill with the sword, spear, javelin and lance. The event was fun and also even a bit informative.
From the Armory I wandered back across the city and made my way back to the dorms where I am now. What tonight has in store? Only time will tell!
Miss you all! BTW – I’ve put a VERY limited number of photos on Facebook – currently I can only upload them 2 at a time due to what I think is a university network bandwidth limit. Doh!
It’s about 11:00PM Sunday evening here – and I’m just winding down from an incredible 3 day tour of the Isle of Skye and Scottish highlands. After arriving and meeting a few of the guys in my sleeping area we hit up the town and explored a bit.
Day 1: The first night a group of 4 of us formed up and headed down to the local Three sisters Pub which has a large outside area and was showing the Scotland-France soccer game. The pub was packed and the energy level was insane – after a lot of back and forth Scotland eventually scored which resulted in an explosion of activity and excitement…everyone was jumping up and down and shaking things, pints, and pint glasses fell to the ground left and right, and the whole crowd was jumping up and down in excitement. After things settled down a bit Scotland eventually won, 1 zip which led to another round of celebration. From there we explored a few other pubs, met a number of other travelers and eventually found our way back to the Hostel.
Day 2: I woke up fairly early, did some wash, got settled and set out to explore the town with Chris – one of the guys from the night before. We started with a 3 hour free walking tour of the city, which covered history, and was just a great general intro to the city. Edinburgh is really incredible, because as a capital city – it’s incredibly small and has a fantastic historic/old town. In addition to the old town and tenement buildings, the closest part of the new town was all built in the Victorian era at the same time on a master planned design. So it has an incredible classical uniformity, beautifully laid out pedestrian and motor oriented areas and a great standard look. When the tour ended we explored the city proper a bit, found a market, the bus station, the train station, and a number of other random stops before returning to the hostel, cooking dinner, socializing with a few randoms in the kitchen, then taking a quick snooz. About 10:00 we woke up and made our way down to what I hoped was going to be an active Salsa club. Unfortunately, it was a standard night and the turnout was poor – i’ll try again Monday (which is a designated salsa night). After leaving the salsa club – pretty much upon entry we walked around a bit more and sampled a few other random pubs. Unfortunately, while Edinburgh has a ton of natural beauty, it’s missing natural beauties. About to give up and call it a night, we stumbled into an odd Cafe/bar that had a great local crowd and was full of attractive, friendly girls. After an hour or two we called it a night – both having early mornings.
Day 3: I decided to do a 3 day Isle of Skye/Highland Tour to really get a good taste. The tour consisted of 10 people. Myself, Simon (our Driver/Tour Guide, 2 other Americans, A Tasmanian, A Hungarian, 3 People from Taiwan and 2 Germans. From Edinburgh we made our way straight into the country side. Our first stop was the castle where Mary Queen of Scots was born for coffee/tea and to introduce ourselves. From there we made our way to a historic battle field where Simon shared a mixture of folklore and history with us. After the battle field we meandered through the lowland country side – which included a brief stop to feed/see a harry island cow (had to throw tater and carrot slices at the fat thing to get it to come visit/eat some more). When we crossed into the highlands we made a quick stop to look at the country side/rolling mountains/talk about peat at which time Simon also pulled a bottle of single malt Scotch Whiskey from his pocket and explained what made it special, before teaching us a traditional toast and then passing the bottle around. The bottle of scotch followed us throughout the trip and served as a fun little tradition whenever we had stops that were exposed, especially cold, or rural and significant.
After our introduction to the Highlands we continued on making a few other stops to explore lochs, glens, or take pictures. Eventually we arrived at the valley of Glencoe made famous in songs and folk lore that recalls the massacre that occurred there. The place itself is incredible. A riveting valley with rich waterfalls and steep, graceful walls all around you. We parked and walked the 1/4 of a mile or so down to the river where we paused for more lore/history before making the way back up to the bus. When I get photos up – this is definitely one set you need to see. From Glencoe we continued along our way making a few other stops and eventually coming to a reconstructed version of an old castle. The castle sat out on a small island and was connected by a bridge. Rebuilt to spec in the early 1900s it was incredibly picturesque. As the sun set, and the golden rays of dusk started to reach out and embrace the castle we took a few photos, shivered from the cold northern wind and piled back in the bus. From there we had one final brief stop at a super market to pick up food for the evening and headed to the hostel. All the while the sunset was one of the most incredibly and gorgeous sights I’ve ever seen. In fact, it was so incredible, as we wound down a 1 lane rural road we stopped to just take it in for about 15 minutes (the whole sunset lasted a good hour).
We reached the hostel which was a great little place, then started cooking – as part of the tour we all paid an additional £35 which included lodging, breakfast, and dinner. We BBQd Ribs, Hamburger, Sausage, and Chicken before all heading to the local (tiny) pub to meet some of the locals and reflect on the day.
Day 4: (The Isle of Skye) – The day was a blustery, cloudy, rainy day – one quite different than the day before. We left our main packs at the hostel (we’d return there again for the evening after making a circuit of skye) and piled into the van. The first 30 minutes or so was pretty quiet as everyone suffered through their respective hangovers and tried to figure out what exactly had happened the night before – but then shortly after that we all got back into touring mode. A good 20 minutes took us to the main bridge from the mainland into Skye and another 10 minutes later we stopped at a lookout that sat across from a huge, majestic, bald, sweeping mountain. At the foot of the mountain and all around us there were – what looked a bit like large ant hills made in the peat. There Simon told us about the folklore that claimed that each was a Fairy den and how the locals avoided harvesting peat from them out of respect. As the weather continued to deteriorate we piled back into the car and made our way further up the coast. After a few other fun stops for local lore, history, or fun photo shoots we came to a set of high cliffs that reminded me of a miniature version of the cliffs of moehr (Moore?) in Ireland – except, unlike those cliffs a waterfall shot out and off the down one side, spilling crystal blue water out and down the 200 or so feet to the rocky cliffs below. On the other end of the lookout we could see the sheer cliffs as they plunged into the sea.
We left the cliffs and made our way to one of the old ruler’s former castle. The castle was perched majestically on the side of a cliff overlooking a bay, with a large island. The spot we stopped initially gave us a great vantage point while Simon told us a bit of the history. From there though, several of us decided to brave the rain and howling winds and make the 10-15 minute walk the long way to the castle. It was well worth it. After arriving at the castle and exploring it briefly the others (who had stayed in the van and come around to walk out a shorter – straight but less interesting path) arrived as well. Hunkered down in a corner overlooking the bay Simon again recounted more of the Castle’s quirky history. As we made our way back down to the van we had to cross a stretch of exposed coastline. The wind was so fierce that you could lean halfway into it. The sheer power of it inflated your cheeks and stole the breath from your lungs as the soft rain stung your face. It was incredible! The energy, power and crispness. The castle behind us, cliff to the side of us, beautiful gray torn ocean out past us and highlands in front of us.
Drenched, cold, and excited we continued on a short way where we elected to stop at a small goods shop. Where we picked up sandwiches, hot pies, and drinks – before heading down to the coast where teh waves were crashing in. Huddled in the van we pulled up onto the dock and faced out into the wind and the bay while we ate our meals and watched the wind blow the rain past us. The sea and sky merged into one gray, glorious entity as the waves came crashing in onto the black rocks dotted with orange seaweed and kelp. After finishing lunch we continued along our way and eventually came to stop at a beautiful waterfall near the road. Behind the waterfall as a majestic backdrop was an incredible stone formation that looked like a spear or spire sticking up from the mountain. Again after a few photos, a lot of water, wind and rain, and a few people slipping and sliding on the wet grass/hill we paused with the waterfall crashing down beside us to listen to Simon recount the story of an old man (who later became the stone spire) and the brownie he helped.
From there we continued along the way – almost all 1 lane roads – surrounded by hundreds of waterfalls, awe inspiring highland mountains, beautiful lochs, and peat covered in blooming heather (a beautiful red/purple low bush) to what Simon called the fairy Glen. The glen was a beautiful little area with a climbable spire – about 100 feet up that offered an incredible view of the valley, loch etc. Just visible through the mist and fog across the valley were huge waterfalls. Meanwhile in the glen there were sheep everywhere, wild ferns, peat, old treas covered in green moss, small streams and a gorgeous waterfall. We explored the glen for a good 40 minutes. It reminded me of some of the opening scenes in the Lord of the Rings/the parts around Rivendell – only it was real, the rain was still falling but more of a light mist and with just a bit of wind.
From there we continued along and stopped for goods and a snack at one of the larger towns on Skye. We checked out an interesting Himalayan bizarre they were having, i grabbed some chips (fries) and then we headed home.
I’ve left bits out, and I’ll try and follow up when I have better internet access – needless to say though – it was incredible.
Day 5: The return – I’m out of time now but it was also a great day. Mixed weather we stopped at Loch Ness, an incredible canyon where there was a beautiful waterfall with jumping salmon and moss covered trees, the last battlefield ever fought on British soil and a quick scenic stop. I’ll have to continue later as I’m out of time. Hope to get photos up soon!