A Travellerspoint blog

Scotland: End of the Road Trip

Back to Edinburgh: Canaletto, Highland Coos, & Guacamole

Edinburgh is a city I can return to again and again. Having begun my trip in the touristy old part of the city in Grassmarket, I decided to end it in the commercial, busier part. I stayed in the Ibis Styles just off St. Andrew Square close to Princes Street where all the main businesses are. Edinburgh is a compact city, so everything is within walking distance. If you are not a fan of hills or steps, you can easily reach old town and the Royal Mile by walking across the North Bridge. The hotel is also close to the train and public busses if you are going to travel out of town.

I was happy with my choice of the Ibis Styles and its quirky decor, free breakfast, and friendly staff. That was topped off by a free tea and coffee stand in the lobby as well as a cappuccino machine that was available all day, as were snacks and drinks at the cheery bar. An added bonus was the wallpaper in my room that featured my new best animal friend, the Highland Coo. I defy anyone to be in a bad mood who wakes up to this:

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Edinburgh Castle overlooks the city. It is located at one end of The Royal Mile, high on a hill. Since I visited the castle on an earlier trip, I skipped it this time, but it is worth a visit to set the colorful guards outside, the views of the city, and the castle itself.

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On the other end of the Royal Mile sits Holyrood Palace and the Queen's Gallery. The Queen's official residence in Edinburgh, Holyrood was also the home of Scottish royal history. The Queen has so many palaces it is easy to understand why many Brits think the monarchy is an unnecessary expense. When you learn the fraught history between England and Scotland, it is even easier to understand why there was a recent referendum to allow Scotland to become independent. The referendum failed, but there is talk about bringing back.

As luck would have it, one of my favorite artists was being featured at the Queen's Gallery which is across the street from the Palace. I have long loved the work of Canaletto. Years ago, it was his paintings of Venice that triggered my desire to see the magical city that floats. Venice is one of my favorite cities and the Canaletto show is a small gem. The exhibit is there until October. I recommend you buy tickets online and avoid a wait. By the way, the gift shop is FILLED with mementos of the royal wedding.

https://www.royalcollection.org.uk/visit/the-queens-gallery-palace-of-holyroodhouse

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When you walk down the Royal Mile to the Queen's Gallery, you pass a myriad of touristy pubs, fish & chip stands, and souvenir shops, but you can also find some quirkier shops and some great, small cafes. There are more good eateries in Edinburgh than there is time to eat in them. Luscious on Canongate Road is one of those small, easy to miss places that has great, fresh food for reasonable prices.
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If you love good food, which I do, the best part of staying on St. Andrew's Square was its proximity to Thistle Street which is restaurant row. There are restaurants and cafes at every price point and serving every ethnic food you can imagine. My favorite was El Cartel, a small taco-centric place with both a regular menu and a daily blackboard special. I had sweet potato tacos and the best guacamole I've ever tasted. I loved it so much, I recreated the recipe when I got home, which meant I needed to learn how to open a pomegranate. It was well the effort. Here are my pictures of El Cartel's guac and my recipe.
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GUACAMOLE

(Adapted from El Cartel)
2 ripe avocados
1/3 medium onion, chopped
1/2 teaspoon cumin
4 teaspoons lime juice, fresh or unsweetened
1 plum tomato
1-2 ounces queso cheese
1 pomegranate

1. Halve and scoop the avocados. Pulse the avocados, onion, cumin and lime juice in a food processor or mash well with a mortar and pestle until fairly smooth.
2. Cut the tomato in half. Scoop out the flesh and seeds and discard. Dice the rest.
3. Dice or shred the queso.
4. Remove the seeds from the pomegranate by scoring the skin and leaving in a large bowl of cold water for a few minutes. Then, open the pomegranate under water and remove the seeds. You will only need 1/3 cup of seeds so store the rest in the refrigerator or freeze them.
5. Gently stir the tomatoes, queso, & seeds into the guac and serve with your favorite dipping chips. Enjoy! Let me know what you think!

Posted by teethetrav 05:47 Archived in Scotland Tagged edinburgh guacamole canaletto the_royal_mile luscious holyrood_palace the_queen's_gallery highland_coo ibis_style princes_street el_cartel guacamole_recipe Comments (0)

Scotland: From Skye with Love

The Scottish Isles are Braw

The journey was coming to an end. The weather was way more than I bargained for, as was the terrain. Rain, rain, more rain. Even when it didn't rain, the wind in the Highlands was powerful and at that altitude, it was brutal. I was completely over the weather, but I could never be over the scenery. If you stand in one place, you can binge watch nature for hours since it changes constantly. The broody clouds cast shadows on the mountains; the fog and mist drift in and out; the water in each loch has its own color and movement and it is all quite braw*. The Cullin mountains of Skye cast a spell and, although I am the first to admit I am a wimpy rough traveller, my small taste of the inner Hebrides islands of Scotland left me wanting to see more. There is something compelling about being in the middle of nowhere, in nature, in silence, surrounded by water. I am a water person. I can't be too far away from a sea, or at least a lake or a river. Scotland is surrounded by water on three sides and within its boundaries lie 38,000 lochs. Along the edges lie clusters of islands: the inner and outer Hebrides, the Shetlands, and Orkney. I need to explore them. Next time, I'll bring warmer, water-proof clothes.
Here are some final views from Loch Lubnaib. Tomorrow it's back to Edinburgh for one final fling.

*braw-fine, splendid, beautiful

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Posted by teethetrav 05:09 Archived in Scotland Tagged scotland isle_of_skye outer_hebrides inner_hebrides braw loch_lubnaib Comments (1)

Scotland: Castles & Kilts on the Isle of Skye

Dunvegan, Eilean Donan, & Kilts

"Why do Scotsmen wear kilts? Because the sound of a zipper scares the sheep." That is an often-told bad joke. The historical answer has to do with the rain, the rugged terrain, and wool. Every clan has its own plaid colors. Now the kilt is mostly ceremonial. And no, they do not wear anything under their tartans. Or so I am told.

If you are overwhelmed by all the Scottish castles and want to narrow down your visits, Dunvegan Castle on the Isle of Skye is one of two to see (the other is Edinburgh, although I have not seen the Queen's favorite, Balmoral). Dunvegan has belonged to the Clan MacLeod for 800 years and is the oldest continually inhabited castle in Scotland. A good bit of the castle is open to the public and the views of Loch Dunvegan are beautiful, as are the grounds and the many gardens. Since I went in May, flowers were blooming. I guess all that Scottish rain is useful for something besides making whiskey. There are motor boats that will take you across to a small island opposite the castle where you can see seals, heron, and other sea birds.

For someone like me who can't trace her ancestors further than my grandparents, I am jealous of Scottish clans. The current owner of Dunvegan is the 30th !! Clan Chief of the MacLeod family. The idea that anyone can track their family that far back blows me away. One of the Clan's prized possessions is the 800 year old Fairy Flag. The tradition says that should the MacLeods be in peril in battle they can unfurl the Fairy Flag and they will be invincible. But the magic will only work three times, and it has been used twice in the past. Fingers crossed they don't ever need it again.
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Also on the Isle of Skye, Eilean Donan Castle dates to the 13th century and stands on a small island. (Eilean means island.) Although it was completely destroyed at one point, a descendant of the MacRae Clan bought the island in 1911 and rebuilt the castle. Today it is a picturesque tourist attraction and can even be rented out for weddings. The castle has also been featured in many films including: Bonnie Prince Charlie starring David Niven (1948), Highlander (1986) and the more recent Made of Honor.

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Posted by teethetrav 05:49 Archived in Scotland Tagged kilts eilean_donan donvegan_castle macrae macleod Comments (0)

Scotland: Isle of Skye

Portree, Bridal Veil, & the Old Man of Storr

Before the Isle of Skye bridge opened in 2004, the only way to get to Skye was by ferry. There are dozens of Scottish isles that are still only accessible by ferry. Skye is one of the biggest and most popular isles and has become quite a tourist attraction. That is not to say it is touristy. It simply means that it get more visitors than it used to and it may be difficult to find a place to stay and you may have to wait to get into a restaurant in the major town of Portree.

Here are some photos of the Bridge to Skye and views from Loch Alsh before crossing over to the Isle of Skye. In the first two photos, the bridge is in the background, to the right.
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The Isle of Skye is rugged and you need a vehicle to explore its many natural sights. One popular landmark on Skye is the Bridal Veil waterfall, with views across to the Old Man of Storr overlooking Loch Leathan. A country of folktales, myths, and legends to explain the inexplicable, there are multiple stories about the Storr rock formation. Here's one: A man who walked up the hill every evening with his wife told stories every evening to entertain her. Faeries hid and listened to his stories. One day, the couple realized that they had grown too old and could no longer climb to the top. The faerie folk who had listened to the stories every evening, offered the old man the chance to always have his wife with him forever. The old man accepted the offer but the faeries tricked them and turned them both into pillars of rock, ensuring that they would indeed always be together on the hill.
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Even today when people no longer believe in fairies these tales still have the power to enchant, fascinate, and explain natural phenomena. Photogenic Scotland is the setting for many movies and the Storr appeared in Snow White and the Huntsman.

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Posted by teethetrav 07:36 Archived in Scotland Tagged isle_of_skye portree Comments (0)

Scotland: Applecross & Highland Coos

Food, Nature, & Missing Wildlife

The Scottish Highlands abound with land and sea wildlife. The mountains, lochs, and sea are home to enormous sea eagles, puffins, seals, dolphins, orcas and salmon. They were hiding when I was there. I did see a couple of stags, way more sheep and lambs than people, and Highland coos-otherwise known as cows.

We passed through the remote and pretty Applecross Peninsula on the way to the Isle of Skye. Depending on the weather, the clouds, and the fog. you will see views from the Bealach na Ba road that are worth the trip. At best, you will see the mountaintops touching the sky at the same time you'll see down to the bay. The road is narrow and gives new meaning to breathtaking, but it is well worth the drive to get to the 2000 feet above sea level heights.
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After the trip, the perfect place for a well-earned lunch is the Applecross Walled Garden where I had the blackboard special, a lamb casserole with perfectly cooked vegetables grown on the site. I had a bit of a guilt attack about eating lamb after seeing hundreds of grazing sheep along the way, but the fact is that raising and selling sheep is a large part of the Scottish economy and many of the crofters rely on the income from selling their product. As any farmer will tell you, they're not pets. Enough said.
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The cattle are not raised for beef, but are mostly kept for the local crofters' personal milk and dairy products. The Highland Coos, which look like characters Maurice Sendak might have imagined, are native to Scotland. They are enchanting, especially when you encounter them grazing on the side of the road on the Applecross Peninsula and they pose with you.
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Posted by teethetrav 06:26 Archived in Scotland Tagged isle_of_skye applecross_peninsula applecross_walled_garden bealach_na_ba_road highland_coos isle_of_skye_bridge Comments (1)

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