Return to Scotland: Part Four

On our third day of the tour, we were off to the Fairy Pools in the Isle of Skye. Normally these pools are closed off to tour groups to preserve the land, but due to the small size of our tour group we were able to enjoy the wonderful views. The Fairy Pools are a collection of scenic waterfalls with pools glittering like jewels in green and blue hues. After admiring the scenic area and the dense cloud cover over the hilltops we headed on over to Inverness.

Fairy Pools in the Isle of Skye

Inverness is considered the gateway to the Highlands. It was here we stopped to enjoy the town and do a little shopping at Primark before reaching our hostel in Loch Ness. Once we arrived, we had some food and then headed to our Loch Ness monster boat ride. For those who don’t know, it is rumoured that deep within the waters of Loch Ness, there is a large creature with a long neck that resides within them. Due to the waters having little to no visibility due to the high peat content, the mythical monster named Nessie remains hidden in these waters. Over the years, people have claimed to see Nessie and have taken photographic evidence of her. Whether you believe the folklore or not, the individuals running the tour were incredibly engaging and entertaining and it was a great relaxing boat cruise. When the cruise was over it was time to play some trivia at our hostel before going to bed in preparation for the next day.

Loch Ness boat tour

Tomorrow we would be planting trees for a planting initiative called Trees for Life before heading to Culloden Battlefield to learn about the deadly battle that occurred on that field.

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Return to Scotland: Part Three

On the second day of our tour, we were on our way to the Isle of Skye. However, our first stop was the Glenfinnan Viaduct. For all you Harry Potter lovers out there, the Glenfinnan Viaduct is the location where the Hogwarts Express passes through in the films. The viaduct’s primary purpose however is to serve as a bridge which services a railway that passes through it. For some of my tour mates, they decided to take the Hogwarts Express train to relive their childhood memories. For the rest of my tour mates including myself we decided to skip the costly train and instead rode on in our bus to where the Viaduct was located. Once there, we took our very own Harry Potter inspired photos while enjoying the scenic mountain area.

Glenfinnan Viaduct

After this, it was time to take the ferry to the Isle of Skye. There is now a bridge which runs to the Isle of Skye, however for the sake of adventure we were made to take the ferry on the way there. After arriving to the Isle of Skye, we needed pass the time as our Harry Potter train riders had missed the ferry. As a result, we decided to check out Armadale Castle. Armadale Castle has castle ruins dating back to the early 19th century. A fire in 1855 destroyed the castle’s interior and it was left to slowly deteriorate as the family moved to a new house. Today the ruins are fenced off but visitors can enjoy the frame of this once beautiful estate. The frame is adorned with climbing flowers which bloom a beautiful fuchsia colour in the summer. In addition to the castle itself, there are magnificent surrounding gardens as well as small nature trails to enjoy where wildlife can be seen.

Armadale Castle

After Armadale Castle, we headed over to a small woodland trail in which we climbed rocks through the misty rain and observed various marine plants adhered to the slick rocks surrounding the water. The colour of them was a vibrant yellow which contrasted beautifully against the overcast sky. After climbing rocks and indulging our inner child, it was time to pick up our Harry Potter stragglers. Once doing so, we headed to our hostel where we made ourselves comfortable, ate some food, and settled in for the night. The next day we would be headed to the Fairy Pools in the Isle of Skye which would prove to be extraordinarily beautiful!

Beach in Portree (Excuse the instagram tag, this is the only photo I captured of it

Return to Scotland: Part Two

The next morning began the start of my journey into the Scottish Highlands. As we left Edinburgh behind we ventured off to check out the Wallace Monument in Stirling, which commemorates Sir William Wallace. While I did not particularly know much about the history relating to it, the views from the balcony were fantastic and worth the journey. After this, it was time to visit a pair of famous Hairy Coos, which are a Scottish cattle breed. Here we got to feed the cattle from behind the fence and admire the funky looking cows. Although it may not seem like much, it was an entertaining pit stop that I was happy we were given the opportunity to do.

 

Feeding the Hairy Coos

Now onto the stuff that dreams are made of. After checking out the hairy coos, it was time to go on a scenic hike through Glencoe Mountains. The nature lover in me was beaming as we hiked higher and higher with water streaming from the mountain throughout the trail. It was a surprisingly warm day in Scotland that day and I was forever grateful the weather held up. Once we reached the end of our hike, we had a moment to sit back and relax and drink water directly from the mountain spring. It’s one thing to buy bottled water that claims to be from mountain springs, and another thing to actually drink directly from the spring itself. I’m a city kid so this was an experience I don’t come across too often. This would be end of our first day of the tour, and after the hike we headed to Oban where we spent the night filling our bellies and preparing for our journey to the Isle of Skye the next day.

Glencoe Mountains

 

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Return to Scotland: Part One

If you have been following my blog, you will know that I visited Scotland once before in 2014. After four long years and watching far too much Outlander, I decided it was time to head back and really take the time to discover this beautiful country. This time, I would be heading to Scotland to appreciate the Fringe Festival and the Scottish Highlands.

Scott Monument
National Gallery

The Edinburgh Fringe Festival is the largest arts festival of the world featuring thousands of performers. This festival usually takes place during the first three weeks of August and it is something I truly believe everyone should experience. The first time I was in Edinburgh, it was a quiet and charming city. During the festival, this all changed. The quiet calm had been replaced by loud excitement and cheer wherever you went. Anywhere I turned there were street performers and flash mobs happening. When I first arrived, I watched a play about women’s role in the Vietnam war, followed by a comedy sketch by the lovely Jilberto Santos, and lastly a circus performance by the incredible Circolombia. What I loved about seeing Edinburgh in festival mode, was the diversity. Whereas it normally isn’t quite diverse, it was now filled with people from across the globe to celebrate this festival. During this day, I would also check out the National Gallery and revisit Calton Hill as I did so many years ago. This would be the beginning of my journey, and the next day would be the beginning of my adventure into the Scottish Highlands.

Comedy Sketch by Jilberto Soto
Circus Hub

 

As the sun began to rise the next morning, I got ready and headed towards the meet up location for Haggis Adventures. It was with this tour I would spend the next five days exploring the Highlands which would include visits to the Isle of Skye, searching for the Loch Ness Monster, and taking part in a traditional Scottish Ceilidh (dance). So stick around, and see what this new adventure would bring.

Traveling through New Orleans

My decision to go to New Orleans, like all my decisions in life, was a sporadic one. I had recently gone back to school, and I was in a desperate need of a holiday. So when the first semester was over, I headed to New Orleans for a change of scenery and a little bit of soul searching. It would be my first trip being solo for the entire duration of the holiday. While the trip would not end up being what I expected, I think it was an important journey to take. It was an important journey to take because it made me realize I was capable of travelling completely alone.

One fantastic thing about New Orleans is their public transit system. The streetcar lines that run through the city will get you to all the main spots of where you want to go. Simply download the CTA transit app on your phone and you can buy unlimited ride passes for 1,3 or 7 day passes to be used on the streetcars. It should be noted that these passes are only valid for the CTA transit routes, so make sure when planning your transit travels to check which transit operators you will need to use before purchasing passes.

Cityscape and Streetcar in Background

Another good thing about New Orleans is the abundance of seafood that can be found. A great place for local cuisine is a place called Neyow’s Creole Cafe. The wait to be seated in this place is painfully long but it is so worth it. Looking for great breakfast food? Check out The Bean Gallery located near City Park for delicious paninis and sandwiches.

Sydney and Besthoff Sculpture Garden

Speaking of City Park, this lovely park is a must see before you leave New Orleans. This park is full of beautiful greenery and has an amusement park for children called Storyland. For the adults visiting, The New Orleans Museum of Art is located within the park and attached has the Sydney and Walda Besthoff Sculpture Garden. In other words, City Park is your one stop shop for art, nature, and amusement.

Now, if you are into partying hard then Bourbon Street is where you want to head on down to. If you’ve been to Phuket, Thailand, consider this the equivalent of Bangla Road. It is full of people with over-sized drinks in their hands, partying in the streets, and music blaring from various establishments. While I avoided this street like the plague due to travelling alone, my brief walk through it to get to my destination said it all. Want to party? Bourbon Street will be your best friend.

French Quarter- Entryway into Bourbon Street

If you’re looking to enjoy New Orleans fantastic music scene without the havoc and mayhem, check out Frenchmen Street instead. I made it a point to visit Balcony Music Club while in this area and I am glad I did. The place was fairly large and offered great live music that soothed the soul.

Aside from music, don’t forget to check out their incredible art scene in New Orleans and consider supporting their economy by investing in some pieces. Before heading to Balcony Music Club, I checked out Secondline Arts And Antiques. Like everyone else in New Orleans, the staff were incredibly pleasant and made my experience shopping there an absolutely great one.

Secondline Arts and Antiques

Other things to do in New Orleans include taking a swamp tour (avoid in the winter, as alligators hibernate during this time), going on ghost tours to acquaint yourself with New Orleans haunted history, and checking out some of the plantations in Louisiana to acquaint yourself with America’s dark history. Maybe it’s because I majored in history but the history provided on the plantation tours were very simplistic and didn’t truly convey what truly went on during the period of time when slavery operated. That being said, to those not familiar with America’s history it is a decent introduction to what occurred.

Swamp Tours

New Orleans is still a city very much struggling from the events from Hurricane Katrina which left over 1,800 dead and caused $125 billion in damage. As a result, there are many parts of the city that remain rundown and impoverished. The best way to help, is to invest in their economy and support their local businesses when you go down to visit. New Orleans has so much potential and one only has to look at their French Quarter with its beautifully coloured buildings to see its beauty. So head on over to New Orleans and help make it become the city it is capable of being.

Miami Travels: Part Three

The final day in Miami was upon us and man had it been an amazing ride so far. Our plan for the day consisted of going to Vizcaya Museums & Gardens, followed by the Venetian Pool and lastly a stop at Calle Ocho. Our first stop, Vizcaya Museums & Gardens was the former villa and estate of the businessman James Deering. The villa was interesting but  it was the surrounding gardens which won my heart. The gardens were beautiful manicured and included several fountains and beautiful sculptures. While I did not care for the actual history, I admired the property for its greenery and the work in keeping it so beautiful maintained.  So do yourself a favour, and make sure to check out Vizcaya the next time you head to Miami.

After wandering through the grounds of Vizcaya, it was time to soak in the sun and so we headed to the Venetian Pool in the Coral Gables District. This pool is a public pool which has a lovely man-made waterfall and places to lounge around while you get your tan on. After spending the last two days at the beach but not being brave enough to venture into the water, the pool was the perfect way to perfect my swimming skills. After lounging around here for some time, we headed out our final stop of the day: Calle Ocho.

Now I’m going to be real with you in that Calle Ocho didn’t do much for me, but what they did have going for them was honestly the best food I had during my trip. Calle Ocho is Miami’s Cuban district and it was here I had some delicious Cuban cuisine.  We went to Old’s Havana Cuban Bar & Cocina  where I ordered the Lechon Asado with beans and rice and fried plantain. It was absolutely delicious. To top it all off, the staff serving us were an absolute delight.  Unfortunately, I did not get any photos at the Venetian Pool because water and phones don’t mix and at the restaurant I was too hungry to pause and take a photo of the food. But, enjoy all the images of Vizcaya and just believe me when I say Old’s Havana is absolutely worth every single dollar. This concluded our trip to Miami and it was perfect way to unwind after a stressful few weeks. Thank you Miami for your hospitality and while you broke my bank account you were worth every penny.

Miami Travels: Part Two

Waking up with absolutely no responsibilities or obligations has got to be one of the best feelings in the world. As your eyes begin to open, the time on your phone reads 11:00 am. Now, usually this would be a cause for alarm but not today. Today, it’s all about relaxation mija. The only preoccupation is deciding if you should go to the beach first or later. We decided on heading to the Wynwood Art District first. The Wynwood Art District is an area of Miami where everywhere you turn there are murals on the walls. The art, however, is not limited to the walls, but covers every available space imaginable including the sidewalk itself. This district is a place for freedom of expression and it is here you get a sense of the emotions and feelings that run through Miami. You see joy, elation, and celebration but you’ll also see sadness and pain. It is the human experience conveyed through this artistic expression. It was here we spent some time appreciating the artwork and seeing how the swampland and vibrancy of Miami were blended together within art. The soul of Miami was found here and I recommend that anyone who comes to Miami needs to visit Wynwood before leaving.

After immersing ourselves with beauty, we concluded our visit by heading to Coyo Taco. As someone with a love for tacos, these were absolutely delicious! Another plus, the awesome Frida Kahlo painting in the women’s washroom. Following this, we headed to South Beach for the second day in a row and got our tan on. With the sun shining bright and Spotify playing in the background we were all set to relax for the rest of the day.

As the day drew on, we began our hunt once again for food and stumbled upon Il Bolognese on Ocean Drive. I don’t know if its just because I was hungry from all the sunshine and walking, but man the food was delicious. Afterwards, we headed back home to prepare for our night out at El Patio Wynwood. El Patio proved to be just what we needed. Its offered Latin tunes in a cute rustic setting. Our promoter of the night, Chally was an added blessing and as a result it was the best night we had in Miami. So, if you like Spanish music, make sure to check out El Patio and become the dancing superstar you were destined to be.