Prague – A Long Weekend Away

IMG_1891Our final stop on our Thanksgiving Weekend Away was in Prague for ~2 days. This post is going to only focus on what we did in Prague and the history of those spots. I will be doing separate posts on the Christmas Markets and my Recommendations and Tips. I’m going to break this post down day by day as I think that is probably the best way to handle the information in a concise way. And, one final thing before we get into the post, we fully plan on going back to Prague to do a little bit more exploring. I fell in love with the city and I feel like there is so much more to see. It’s only a couple hour drive (or train ride) so it’s totally feasible for us to go back.

Prague itself dates back to around the 2nd century, but it wasn’t until Charles IV came into power that it really started to find a place on the map. Prague has been through its fair share of ups and downs, crusaders, religious upheaval, and foreign occupations. It’s seen war, nonviolent revolutions, and a modern turn towards capitalism (and a big shift in consumerism). The city itself shows all the different stages of its history and I think that makes it so interesting and easy to explore. Every corner holds a different era.

Now, onto what we did in our short amount of time in Prague…

Afternoon Day 1

We arrived about midday in Prague and decided to start our time off at Prague Castle. This was the highest and furthest point that we wanted to go on this particular trip, so it seemed like a good place to start and work our way back from. We used the public transportation system (buses, street cars, and an underground metro) to get as close as we could and then walked the final hill to the castle entrance.

IMG_1942.jpg

Prague Castle dates it’s foundation laying to the 9th Century, with the Cathedral not being completed until the 20th Century. The castle itself is the largest castle complex in the world. The castle itself is made up of three large courtyards with the cathedral being the most prominent. It dominates any view of Prague and for quite a while was the seat of various rulers. In modern day, it happens to be the seat of the President of the Czech Republic.

Before you even head into the castle, the views overlooking Prague are incredible. Within the castle walls, you walk up the street and see St. George’s Basilica. This is the oldest preserved church. Originally built in the 10thcentury, it was rebuilt in the 12th and then “updated” in the 17th century. It is very impressive and certainly dominates the main first courtyard.

Going around the lane a bit further and you come to the incredible Cathedral of St. Vitus, St. Wenceslas and St. Adalbert.  This is the spiritual symbol of the state, building began in the 14th century, but took almost 600 years to complete (with the final touches being completed in 1929). The interior of the cathedral is equally impressive and contains the crypt where the kings were buried, and the crown jewels are housed. It was absolutely gorgeous on the inside (although we didn’t make our way through the entire cathedral). You are able to walk through the rest of the complex and the buildings throughout the complex. We headed out right around sunset and got to watch the sun set on the city, and then see the city start to come to life in the evening.

We checked into our Airbnb (which was a fun exercise) and then headed out to dinner at Restaurace U Houdků. This was a lovely local pub type restaurant and we had a lovely meal of various Czech delicacies. We made it an early night in preparation for the long day ahead.

Day 2:

Saturday was our walking day. I love to walk a city (especially one that is so easily walkable to see so much) and Prague was perfect for that. We woke early, stopped for a quick coffee, and then headed out to be tourists for the day. We started our stroll at the IMG_1969.jpgPrašná brána (Powder Tower). Dating back to the 15th century, this was the entrance that all the kings would use to enter The Old Town. It was a gunpowder store in the 18th century, today it serves as not only a viewing gallery to see over the city, but still is the entrance for a royal route to Prague Castle. It certainly was an impressive sight to see and is a good start to your morning/day out in Prague Old Town.

 

 

 

From there it is a quick stroll down the streets to reach Old Town Square. This main square holds not only the markets, but has been restored throughout the years. The Old Town square is circled by several prominent buildings, the first of which being the Church of Our Lady before Týn. This is easily one of the most impressive buildings you will see during your visit to Prague, aside from the Cathedral at the Castle. This particular church also contains the oldest organ in Prague, dating to the 17th century. The church itself dates back to the 14thcentury.

In the square itself there are several things to see before moving on in another direction. There are various steps on the ground itself marking where executions would take place and other little tidbits of what life was like. There is the Jan Hus Memorial in the central. You can walk off to the side a little bit and go to the St. Nicholas Church. This church was completed in the early 18th century and is absolutely incredible. When we went in they had the organ music playing and the grand chandelier was a sight to see. It not only serves as a church, but is also a classical music concert hall. Before leaving the square, do a quick look see at The Prague Astronomical Clock. It isn’t necessary to stick around for the performance (it’s really not anything to write home about0, but it’s definitely something to peak at before leaving the square.

From the square we walked the side streets up to Wenceslas square. It’s not a far walk and by walking we not only got to see a couple more markets, we also got to see a wide variety of the architecture of the city.

IMG_2160.jpg

Wenceslas square is at the heart of “New Town” and is full of shopping and commercial life. New Town was commissioned by Charles IV in the 14th century. New Town was intended to be the center of Prague and with this new square under construction Prague became the third largest city in Europe (at that time). While New Town may not be very new by age standards, it certainly is the heart of the modern shopping era. Wenceslas Square is set up as a boulevard or (as its original layout and time period would entail) a horse market. Wenceslas Square has served as a parade ground of sorts, seeing everything from celebrations to uprisings. The square backs up into the National Museum and the Opera House, as well as a statue of St. Wenceslas riding his horse.

From Wenceslas Square we decided to hop on the metro and head over to the Charles Bridge Area.

IMG_2341.jpg

Charles Bridge is the main pedestrian bridge used to cross from one side of the Vitava River to the other. Charles IV commissioned the bridge and even laid the first foundation stone of the bridge in 1357 (there is a marking for it). This was originally intended for tournaments, but has since evolved into the bridge it is now. It is adorned with a total of 75 statues throughout the bridge and is a great option to walk from Old Town to Lesser Town.

On the Old Town side of Charles Bridge, you enter under the Old Town Bridge Tower. This is an incredible tower that continued the path of royalty through the Old Town and up to The Castle. You can climb inside the tower and see opposite the tower and bridge. On the Lesser Town side there is the Lesser Town Bridge Tower. This was built in the 15th century and was modeled off of the Old Town Bridge Tower. The smaller tower that is connected is Judith’s Tower; the only remaining part of the original bridge crossing. You are also able to climb up inside the Lesser Town Bridge Tower and see opposite.

Once in Lesser Town we did a couple of stops, the first of which being a bookstore. Massive thanks to my friend Hannah (who happened to be in Prague at the same time we were), who enlightened me to the existence of Shakespeare and Sons. IMG_2288Shakespeare and Sons is a {big} little almost hole in the wall bookstore in a corner of Lesser Town. Situated near Kafka’s house and museum it is the perfect little stop. It has the used and new book atmosphere that I love, with book stacked high along the walls, piled on the floor and behind the cash register. I didn’t have nearly all the time I wanted to browse (thanks to two very active toddlers and one husband who couldn’t believe we were at a bookstore in a foreign country…again), but I did manage to snag a couple books. I got each book stamped with the bookseller’s mark, a reusable book bag, and a bookmark. Such a perfect little stop!

 

After our stop, we knew we needed a little breather from walking and exploring and a little chance to just relax and take it easy. We were right near the sight-seeing boat docks, so we decided to take a little boat tour of the river. Stay tuned for my full thoughts on this in my tips/recommendations, BUT it did what it intended- gave our boys a chance to rest and eat and us a chance to sit for a bit.

IMG_2407.jpgWe headed back to Old Town Square for the Christmas Tree Lighting and the official opening of the Prague Christmas Markets. More on this in the Prague Christmas Market post.

 

 

 

 

Morning Day 3

On our last morning in Prague we spent a little time in the Jewish Quarter (Josefov). The Jewish Quarter (originally the Jewish Ghetto) originates from around the 10th century, however it’s history really begins around the 13th century when the Jews were ordered to leave their homes behind wherever they were, and were banished to this Quarter. The first pogrom occurred Easter of 1389 and it has had a turbulent history since then. The quarter has gone through radical changes, with its people living at the whim of whomever was in charge at the time and at one point was overcrowded. There is a total of six synagogues in the Jewish Quarter, a Ceremonial Hall, and the Old Jewish Cemetery. Ironically enough, the Jewish Quarter was one of the few Jewish spots that survived World War 2 in the area as Hitler decided it could be a “Museum of an Extinct Race”. There is so much history to the Jewish Quarter, that I know I’ll be learning about everything for a long time to come.

We started with breakfast at this cute little café called Mansson The Danish Bakery. We munched on coffee’s, pastries, and meats before heading into the proper quarter.

We didn’t have a long time in the morning to see all of the synagogues and sights, but we tried to make the most of our time to see the absolute must see. We wandered the streets and admired the architecture of the Jewish Quarter before stopping into our first synagogue, Maisel Synagogue.

The Maisel Synagogue was originally built in the late 16th century and founded by its namesake, Mordechai Maisel. After a fire destroyed the original synagogue, the current synagogue dates back to the 19/20th century. This is an incredible synagogue to stop in and details out what life was like in the Jewish Quarter and a bit of the history around the early years of the Quarter. My personal favorite was hearing details about the book and scholarly life.

The second synagogue that we stopped in was the Pinkas Synagogue.

This was built, again, in the 16thcentury. It originally served as a private family oratory by the wealthy family that commissioned it, but later was adapted to add a women’s gallery and new décor for the Torah Ark. This synagogue was reconstructed and turned into a Memorial. The names of the victims of the Shoah are painted on the walls, arranged alphabetically by residence. It’s the oldest monument of its kind and bares 80,000 names on its walls. This was an incredibly moving memorial and absolutely heartbreaking to see. To have all these names laid out in front of you, all around you on the walls, it’s breathtaking.

Our final stop was the Old Jewish Cemetery, which can be accessed through either the Pinkas Synagogue or next to the Klausen Synagogue. The Old Jewish Cemetery is one of the oldest in the world, having been founded early in the 15th century. The Cemetery contains burials from before 1440 until 1787, when a decree came down prohibiting active burial grounds within inhabited areas of the city. There are around 12,000 tombstones, but even more graves as some of collapsed into the ground and others have been destroyed by the elements. Now, if you’re wondering how the dead are actually buried in this manner (with the tombstones being the way they are), don’t worry, we were too. The community actually would add new soil to the ground when they needed more room, so there are several layers of graves in the cemetery, one above the other. The gravestones became crowded as each site holds multiple graves. Both Rabbi Low and Mordecai Meisel, two big names who helped build the Quarter up, are buried here.

Words can’t even begin to describe this sight. It was incredible not only with the overcrowding of the tombstones and the idea of how old the graves were and how many people were actually there, but just the sheer size. At some points it seemed never ending. The amount of history in this relatively small area of Prague is incredible to think of.

We wanted to see both the Old-New Synagogue (the oldest preserved synagogue in Central Europe) and the Spanish Synagogue (the most beautiful in Europe), but both were not open when we were there.

And that ended our short little weekend in Prague! We are definitely making plans to go back and see more of the city, and have already added a couple of spots to our must-see list. Have you been to Prague? What was your favorite spot? If you haven’t, what would you like to go see the most?

Karlovy Vary – A Day Trip

IMG_1651This year we decided to go away for our Thanksgiving Weekend and do a trip to the Czech Republic. We stopped at a total of three locations and I’ll be doing a blog post on each location and a Recommendations/Tips post for Prague. With that little tidbit of business out of the way, let’s get into our first stop!

We spent Thanksgiving Day in a small little town called Karlovy Vary. Karlovy Vary is the most visited spa town in the Czech Republic containing 13 main springs and 300 smaller springs coming from the Teplá River. Charles IV founded the city in the late 1300’s and quickly shared high praises to the “healing powers” of the hot springs. This led to Karlovy Vary becoming incredibly popular and growing in size.

There isn’t a lot to the history of Karlovy Vary as it seems to have stayed out of all the major conflicts and just been a little escape area, so I’ll share some fun facts that I’ve learned…

IMG_1673

Karlovy Vary is home to two funiculars; the Imperial Funicular which is the oldest in Europe and one of the steepest in the Czech Republic and the funicular to Diana’s Tower.

Karlovy Vary is also quite popular in the film industry with several movies having been filmed there OR being the inspiration for backdrops/sets. They also host the Karlovy Vary Film Festival which is one of the oldest film festivals in the world and one of the more popular ones in Europe.

Karlovy Vary also boasts of some famous residents and visitors over the years. Apparently both Beethoven and Goethe visited frequently and would take walks along the colonnades and rivers. Fryderyk Chopin vacationed with his parents in Karlovy Vary (then Karlsbad). Princess Michael of Kent lived there for a time, as well as various sports and fashion persons.

Finally, Karlovy Vary was actually a mostly German Speaking, German populated city UNTIL 1945 when they expelled all the German Residents.

So, with the history bits out of the way, let’s talk about our visit and any tips that I have for YOUR visit.

To start with, we spent about 24 hours or so in Karlovy Vary and I think that that is probably about the perfect amount of time. You can “add it on” to a trip that you are already planning to the Czech Republic (granted it isn’t too far out of your way) and just spend a day or so wandering the streets and seeing the sights. We stayed the night at the Krasna Kralovna Hotel (Hotel Renaissance Krasna Kralovna), which is a very nice hotel right on Stará Louka. I would definitely recommend checking the hotels out on this street as you are right in the main town area and within walking distance to most of the sites.

After checking in, we started off just walking down the streets. The sites that you’ll want to see, including the various bath buildings, the river, and then the churches and statues, will be found just by walking around. We didn’t really have a plan of anything that we HAD TO see (save for one church and a memorial), but more just decided to walk around and see whatever came across our path. I honestly think this is the best approach to a town like Karlovy Vary. In Karlovy Vary specifically there are hiking/walking trails and the funicular, but again, you’ll find those by walking around the town.

The first “site we saw” was the famous Hot Spring. IMG_1674The Hot Spring was the first hot spring to be discovered around the 16th Century. The geyser of the Hot Spring is a natural phenomenon gushing to ~12 meters high and giving ~2,000 liters of mineral water in a minute. It was absolutely incredible to see, and it is almost completely continuous day and night.

We also got to see two churches while we were in Karlovy Vary, the first being the Church of St. Mary Magdalene. This is a catholic church originally dating back to the 14th Century. The current church on sight dates back to the 1730’s. The second church we got to see was the Orthodox Church of Saint Peter and Paul. This is an incredible Russian Orthodox church (modeled after a church near Moscow- very obviously) that dates back to the very {very} late 1800’s. This particular church was paid for by money contributed from the wealthy and aristocratic Serbian and Russian patrons.

We were able to stop at both the Mill and Market Colonnade’s. The Market Colonnade was originally a wooden colonnade and is in the location of the oldest baths in Karlovy Vary. The present-day Colonnade dates back to the late 1800’s and is the largest colonnade in the city. It seeps five of the mineral springs and is where we decided to test out the waters healing powers.

IMG_1728We purchased a little souvenir cup and decided to go for a cup from the Libuse Spring. This spring was discovered while they were rebuilding the colonnade in the 1800’s. I will say, I don’t know that the water is healing, but it pretty much just tastes like mineral water. It was a fun little bit and the souvenir cup leads to a good memory.

We took a little mid-day break for tea/coffee and cakes at Café Franz Joseph and enjoyed a little rest with some delicious treats.

We walked along the main streets a little more before heading up the hill a little way. We made an end of the day stop at the Jean De Carro Park. This spot gave a beautiful overlook of the city (although there are several spots to do this!). IMG_1773This park was founded in the late 1850’s and contains a little fun legend. There is a sculpture of a cat sitting atop a column in the lower portion of the park. Baron Lutzow used this cat sculpture to protest the location of another statue in a neighboring park. The cat is facing away from the town hall as a way of highlighting the “good for nothing” nature of the councilors work.

We stopped for dinner at a charming little restaurant called Restaurace U KŘÍŽOVNÍKŮ near the Church of St. Mary Magdalene. The food was delicious, and they had a good variety of Czech options to choose from.

And that was our day in Karlovy Vary! I think if I had to do ONE more thing, I would have done the funicular up to Diana’s Tower. This was one of the things that was on my maybe list, but I kind of figured we wouldn’t be able to get to it due to other circumstances. So, if I had to share something that I wanted to do and think you should do, it would be that. I would also recommend doing the hike on the far side of town as there are quite a bit of rotunda look out points to see the sheer beauty of the area.

We had a lot of fun on our little day trip to Karlovy Vary and I would say that if it fits into your itinerary, you should totally go! It’s a great little town to just wander through and take in the sights (and waters ha-ha)!

Round the Kettle Ep, 21 – A Bit of Wanderlust

Happy Sunday…is it Sunday?…It is Sunday. The days of this past week have kind of blurred together. Combine that with my husband having an extra two days off (Monday and Friday) it’s all kind of become a mess in my head.

Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, Happy Sunday! How has it been? I haven’t actually sat down to write a blog post in what feels like ages (although in reality it’s only been a couple of weeks). It feels good to be using my brain again in a way that doesn’t involve my little boys. To be fair, I use my brain a fair amount in conversations with friends, but this is a little different.

Anyways, I’m really over here waffling about today about nothing, aren’t I?

I’m going to be completely honest; I think we’ve gotten a whole travel, home, travel, home routine down now. It’s funny because we will spend a fair amount of a month to a month and a half away, between day trips and long weekends, and then we will have a month to a month and a half at home. It’s become a bit of a thing over the past bit of time that I’ve noticed. It’s interesting because right when I start to want to just be home for a bit, or starting getting that travel bug, we will go into a stretch of that time.

We’ve been home for about a month and a half (at this moment), since our last Castle-ing Weekend (HERE, HERE, HERE), and I’m starting to get that travel itch. I’m starting to long to explore new places, find new adventures, and learn about different places around us. LUCKILY, our travel times line up well with this, otherwise I’d be looking for last minute options just to do it. We have two trips planned in November, A LOT of Christmas Market trips in December, and a Winter Holiday after Christmas. I would guess that by the time we will finish our Winter Holiday, I’ll be ready to be home for a while again.

 

I’m not sure of any other way to do it. It’s funny because I always figured we would approach traveling as maybe do one to two bits a month, with the longer vacations whenever they factor in. That hasn’t really worked for us though. Between Robert’s schedule for work, and just how the cookie has been crumbling we’ve found these stretches of time that we can do a lot during before everything buckles down. It’s like an on again off again schedule and it really ends up working out better for us.

 

Truth be told, I don’t know if I’d like to travel any other way than for what seems like weeks on end (it’s not really weeks on end, but more back to back day/long weekend style trips).

 

Tell me, how would you like to travel? Would you like to go, go for a chunk of time and then be home for a chunk of time OR just take a long weekend every couple weeks, with the bigger trips factoring in the same two times a year? I’m curious as I feel like everyone is different in this aspect.

 

I would also be curious to know whether you would start off your travel with close to “home” short trips OR if you would go as far as you could? We are all such different travelers that this is something fun to chat about and share experiences.

 

Beyond that, I’ve been spending the past couple of days looking forward. I’ve been looking at December’s blog posts (all travel and/or Christmas related) as well as starting to look at some of the intentions and goals that I have for 2020. It’s crazy to think that the year (and decade as everyone keeps reminding us all) is coming to an end. It’s been a wild one for us and I’m excited to look back at it, as well as look forward into the new year.

 

What else to share? There’s not really anything else. It really hasn’t been too exciting over here. But it’s coming. The excitement is coming.

 

How are you? How have things been? I’d love to hear!

A Cuppa Cosy Summer Holiday 2019 – Bastogne, Luxembourg, and Heading Home

Once we finished our blissful few days in Inverness, it was time to make the trek back home to Germany. When we were planning our trip, we decided to split our return trip into three different days. This gave us a chance to somewhat take our time. It also made sense because we were coming back from the furthest part of our travel and we didn’t want to push too hard.

We spent our first night back from Inverness in Cambridge. This was the hardest day of travel as we were already pretty worn out from the 11 days of nonstop going and this was our “long haul” drive. I had a couple things picked out to look at in Cambridge if we had time, but we ended up getting to the hotel that evening and just crashing in our hotel room. We had a quick dinner at the hotel restaurant and all quickly fell asleep.

Our second day of travel on the way home was probably the most stressful. Our goal was to stop in Bastogne in the afternoon and we had specifically planned all of our times out for us to have a few hours to spend walking through the museum, seeing the town, and enjoying a little break from the car. HOWEVER, this did not end up being the case. We rose early to make it to our tunnel time at Dover, only to find out that one train had been canceled and the other trains had then been delayed about an hour to accommodate the overage from the cancelled train. We got a break from the car a bit earlier than we expected, and we spent time browsing the duty free shops, letting the boys go crazy in the kids area, and trying not to think about how much we were going to have to “book it” to get to Bastogne.

Somehow we made it to Bastogne with exactly 10 minutes to spare (last entrance was at 4:30PM, we pulled in at 4:20PM), so thankfully we were able to at least take a look at the Bastogne War Museum. I would highly recommend stopping in this museum. Not only does it have a lot of artifacts from the Battle of the Bulge, The Band of Brothers, and the Germans, but it also has some really interactive demonstrations.

There were three theatres placed throughout the museum that put you “right in the action”. Make sure that you get the audio guides from the entrance desk as that is your tour guide and be ready to devote at the very least an hour and a half to the museum. We also took a look around the memorial that is just outside and the art display right outside (I think that display changes throughout the year).

 

IMG_2870 2.jpgWe ended up getting to do a little drive through the actual town of Bastogne, including seeing an Umbrella Ceiling, which was really cool, before heading to our hotel in nearby Luxembourg. Belgium is a country that is still on our list to visit, and I definitely want to come back to Bastogne to have a little bit more time to look around.

 

 

 

We stayed the night in Luxembourg as a)it was on our route and b) we wanted to stop at the American Military Cemetery that is located in Luxembourg.

This is the cemetery that General Patton is buried in, along with several Band of Brothers and a single Female Nurse. With my husband being in the military and a major history/WW2 buff, he was determined to see the graves and cemetery while we were in the area. This also marked the last stop on our Summer Holiday.

To be honest, the three days of traveling home consisted of us being in a general state of exhaustion and desire to just be home. I think that that definitely played a role in what we did and did not end up doing, as well as the lack of “stuff” in this particular blog post. We definitely have learned that our travel limit is 10 days for this season of life and while we loved every minute of this holiday, we also learned a couple of things to implement on future trips.

So, there you have it…our Summer 2019 Holiday. Did you enjoy reading about our travels? Did you learn anything new or add any new destinations to your list of trips to take? What was your favorite part or destination? Let me know in the comments below!

A Cuppa Cosy Summer Holiday 2019 – Inverness

When looking at Scotland and where to travel within the country, I was torn as to where exactly to go in The Highlands. I knew that I wanted to be in The Highlands, to be near, but maybe not in, a city, and just have a couple of “slower” days to start ending our trip. Honestly I was torn between going to Inverness and going to Isle of Skye. I did a lot of map looking, a lot of price looking, and a lot of activity looking. Ultimately I settled on Inverness. I just felt like that area would be exactly what we wanted. I would like to go back and spend a little bit of time back in Scotland and not only be in the Highlands, but also go over to visit the Isle of Skye. There is just so much beauty there and I really just felt like my heart felt at home.

I’ll talk about the drive in a minute, but want to talk about this first. Our accommodation in Inverness was actually located on the Black Isle’s, about 20-30 minutes outside of Inverness city. IMG_8042We stayed in an Airbnb called the Taffs Barn and it was absolutely perfect. It is a former barn that has been renovated to fit 2 cottages (with a passage in between, so you don’t share walls or anything) and it had the dreamiest field/highland views. It felt secluded enough that we didn’t feel anything other than peace there. I highly highly recommend staying at this location if you stay in the area.

The drive from Edinburgh to Inverness is only a couple hours max, consisting of true highland country roads. We decided to make a pit stop on our way up to give us a little chance to see something that I wanted to see, as well as just stretch our legs.

 

IMG_7984.jpg

Our pit stop was the great Balmoral Castle. This is a favorite private residence for the Queen of England, and I can totally see why she loves it. It has never been used for formal royal functions, but rather is a country home for the Royal Family. A private estate, the tour consists of the gardens, a walk along the estate, a walk along the river, and a tour of an adjacent ballroom used by Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. We may not have gotten to see a lot of the castle itself (and I wouldn’t want to as it’s a private residence), but what we did see was just beautiful.

One more thing, the weather was off and on for us while we were in Inverness. We had one day of gorgeous sunny warm weather and one day of grey, wind, and rain storms. I’m kind of glad that we got both weather options because, like I said in my Edinburgh post, I love getting that typical Scottish rain, but I’m also glad that we got some sun and warmth to go with it. It worked out really well for us, and once again, the day we left it was pouring it down rain.

Day 1:

Our Day 1 was all about battles and military force. We had decided that we would have meals at our AirBnB since we were a little further out in the countryside, so once we left the barn, we simply headed straight to our first stop, Culloden Battlefield. Now, if you watch Outlander or if you’ve read the books, you’ll know Culloden. If you don’t, Culloden Battlefield is the site of the battle of the final Jacobite Rising. There is an entire history spanning many years and many family lines in regard to the Jacobite Rising, The Stuart Family, and such, but this site is where it all came to a head in 1745. This site is where they battled, often to the death, for what they believed in. It was the last pitched battle on British Soil, lasted less than an hour, and had a death toll of around 1500. To say that the site was moving is an understatement.

I think I always have this kind of “shock” moment when I walk through some areas of history- the landscape and area is just so gorgeous here in particular with the highlands and the fog, but you have this history of such death and destruction of life. It’s something I’ve always kind of marveled and wondered at, even more so since coming to Europe. (Dachau in particular is one that really comes to mind- we had such beautiful weather and the area is gorgeous, but you have such a senseless loss of life, of the pain and torture of a large scale amount of people, and so much more that just puts you at odds with the beauty)

IMG_8181.jpg
They also have Highland Cattle at Culloden and I made good friends with this sweet one. 

Along with the battlefield, the visitor center has a really informative, well laid out exhibit that talks about the history and what led to the battle, along with the battle itself. There is also an immersive battle experience in one room that places you right in the center of the field. There are also speakers there to talk about the folks involved on both sides of the battle, from high up in the military, to what would have been considered royalty, to the everyday commoner. It allowed for a true experience of the battlefield and time period.

 

 

 

 

 

From there we decided to continue on the history timeline and head over to Fort George. Fort George is a military fortress from the 18thcentury. If you’re wondering on those dates and timelines, yes, Fort George was built/replaced shortly after the battle in response to the rebellion. It is still in use today and because of that certain areas of the installation are off limits. Even with those limits, there is so much to see, and this is such a cool fortress to explore. Not only is there a lot of fortress information and you can spend a couple hours wandering its rooms and battlements, but they also have a museum that breaks down the history of the unit that is stationed there. There is quite a lot of artifacts from various engagements that they’ve done (including a lot of WWII and Japanese items).

The view from the battlements is also quite gorgeous. It overlooks the Moray Firth and you can see across the water over to the little towns, not to mention on one side there is the possibility for Dolphin siting’s! We were there at the wrong time and the weather/water was too rough for us to see them, but it would be a cool spot if you could (it is regardless, but that’s an added bonus).

Our final stop on the way home was Chanonry Point.

This is a spot almost opposite of Fort George where you can look out at Moray Firth and the other water spots and potentially see Dolphins. Since it was the same day, same storm, we did not see any, but it is a simply beautiful spot to just sit and spend a little time (which we did do…).

Day 2:

We started our morning back at Chanonry Point right at the tide time to try and spot some Dolphins. This is a fairly regular occurrence and we heard it’s one of the largest most active pods, but in the time that we were there, we did not see any of the pod. This was a tiny let down, but being against such clear, calm, water on such a beautiful sunny morning was the perfect start to our day.

Since the weather was so perfect we decided that we would head over to see Loch Ness. Now, Loch Ness is basically a massive body of water that has a superstition attached to it. It is incredible in that the amount of water is astounding, so it is worth viewing and learning about even if you don’t care about the superstitious side of things. We started at the visitor center which details a lot of information about the Loch itself. It gives stats, shows movies detailing the different ways they’ve tried to survey the lake, and show various displays about different events occurring at Loch Ness (plane crashes, boat issues, world speed record attempts).

Once we finished the visitor center we headed over to Urquhart Castle.

IMG_8613.jpg

This was what was heralded as THE place to go to get a good view of Loch Ness. As it is also a ruined castle, we were especially interested to see it. I’ll leave most of my tips for this in my tips and recommendations post, but I found this particular spot to be OK. We got some very pretty views and a decent history of the castle, but I felt that the views were better outside the castle itself.

That wraps up our time in Inverness! Honestly, we wished that we had one more day in this area to actually go into Inverness properly and have a stroll round the city (we probably still could have done this, but we were so exhausted by this point), but overall I think we hit the nail on the head for the sights we wanted to see.

I hope that you enjoyed seeing Inverness through our eyes! Have you been? What was your favorite? What would you most like to see?

Recommendations and Tips For: Edinburgh, Scotland

We have recently come back from our Summer Holiday in England and Scotland and I’ve been recapping all of our travels for you in the past blog posts. Today I am going to share some of my tips and recommendations for a stay in Edinburgh (you can see the “what we did” post HERE).

Edinburgh is such a cool spot because it perfectly melds the old world, dark, dreary city with pops of bright colors and trendy spots. It’s quite obviously a tourist spot, but you can certainly find the little gems that are maybe off the beaten path a little bit. Even with all of the tourists, Edinburgh holds a special sort of charm in its way of life and we did love our time there.

Recommendations:

Edinburgh Castle. I think this one is a fairly obvious choice, but there is quite simply SO MUCH history here in this castle. There is A LOT to see (not as much as say The Tower, but still a fair amount). They also fire a canon from the rampart every day at 1PM, and that is something you will definitely want to see. Stop in the gift shop near the Soldier’s Memorial for a little whiskey tasting and then wander through the main square. You are also able to view the Scottish Crown Jewels, which have quite the history.

Arthurs Seat. This hike was one of the most incredible hikes. If you even have a little physical experience you could make it to the top, however there are a couple of different false peaks if you’d like to just stop and admire the beauty around you. Once you’ve finished the hike and you are on the way down, there is a little lake that has ducks and geese that would be the perfect stopping point for lunch (just be aware that there are also fearless pigeons).

Holyrood Palace. This is the official royal residence in Scotland (Balmoral is a “country home/private residence”) and it is really cool to walk through the halls where they host dinners and foreign dignitaries. What might be cooler (depending on who you are) is walking through the very rooms of Mary Queen of Scotts, and hearing about the attempt on her life by her husband- you can even walk the very staircase they did to get to her chambers!

If you had to choose between Edinburgh Castle and Holyrood Palace, I would go with Edinburgh, much more/wider variety of history, but I do think it is worth it to do both.

Finally, if you are a Harry Potter fan, then you will be familiar with Victoria Street. This is the street that inspired the “look” for Diagon Alley and it is indeed one of those good spots to walk along and browse the shops. It embodies the feel of dark, old world, with the bright pops of color and shops. I would recommend walking up the street (as you will have to regardless) on your way to Edinburgh Castle or the Royal Mile.

Tips:

Walk. Honestly, Edinburgh is laid out in such a way that it lends itself to walking or riding a bike. It is such an easy way to get around and you are never super far from anywhere really (or a bus stop). We didn’t actually use any of their public transportation, but they do have buses for ease of use or if you don’t want to walk in a Scottish Downpour.

That brings me to my next tip, bring a rain jacket and some sort of water proof shoe (or at least something that won’t have water seeping in). Our rain jackets really came in handy the whole second half of this trip. Scotland is super rainy and, to be honest, it is a rain that really just soaks you. There is also no real telling when it comes in or when it will start, it just does. So, make sure you pack at the very least a rain jacket, if not an umbrella too.

Finally, check out the little café’s and diners that are in the city. For our two breakfasts, we stopped at cute little café’s that were not only the quaintest little spots, but were absolutely delicious. Our favorite dinner was at a little spot that filled up quickly. Know that these places will fill up quickly and so consider potentially eating an “early or late dinner”. I know that some of the spots would take reservations so that is something to think of too. I just find that you get such a good idea of what the local life is when you dine in their own spots, rather than sticking to the main tourist attractions.

A Cuppa Cosy Summer Holiday 2019 – Edinburgh Scotland

Our second “long” stop on our Summer Holiday was to stop in Edinburgh Scotland. This was the one city in Scotland that I knew that we had to stop in. Edinburgh has a long history both in Scottish history and Scottish/English history. It also has a very unique feel to it (or so I thought when I talked to others/looked at pictures) of olde world meets modern times. So, when planning our summer holiday, I knew that our Scotland portion would include Edinburgh and then one area in the Highlands.

The drive from London to Edinburgh wasn’t too terribly bad. It’s a long-haul drive, but with stops and the pretty countryside it made for a very nice drive. We rented a flat in Edinburgh that was maybe a 10-minute walk from “old town” Edinburgh. It was a pretty in the middle spot for both sides of Edinburgh that we wanted to visit – the castle and the palace. The flat itself was a really cute set up with a surprising size kitchen and private entrance.

Weather wise we got exactly what I expected- rainy and grey. It was brilliant (I’m a person who loves the rain) and definitely added to our Scotland experience. We made great use of our rain jackets as we walked everywhere, even in the rain.

Day 1:

We started our day off with breakfast in a really quaint, but trendy café called Cult Espresso. We just picked up a couple of baked goods, coffee and a smoothie and were pleasantly surprised by how filling and delicious everything was! I loved the feeling of this little café and it was the perfect way to start our day off. Once we finished, we headed up to Edinburgh Castle. We had pre booked a morning at Edinburgh Castle and we still managed to spend 3-4 hours on the castle grounds looking through all of the different areas. They have their own set of Crown Jewels which were really cool and the history behind them was very interesting (lost, found, stolen, lost, found, etc.). We also managed to stay long enough to watch them do their 1pm Canon Firing, which they do at that time every day. The boys really enjoyed seeing that (after Colton got over the jolt of it) and we enjoyed doing a little whiskey trial.

Once we finished at Edinburgh Castle, we decided to just wander the streets with only vague destinations in mind. I wanted to walk down Victoria Street (which was totally worth getting us lost and having us walk all sort of back alleys to get back on track) and I wanted to try and make it to The Real Mary Kings Cross. We did not end up getting to go into that museum as the tickets were sold out until the evening time. (pre book, pre book, pre book!!!!) We stopped into the National Library and walked through the exhibit they held there (about enlightenment), as well as a couple shops along the Royal Mile. The Royal Mile refers to the mile walk and road from Edinburgh Castle to Holyrood Palace.

We also stopped in to The National Museum of Scotland. First, the interior of this building is so incredibly cool. Just the architecture of it makes it worth the stop. It’s a free entrance museum and we picked two exhibits to go in to. We started in the Animal Exhibit (so proper- I don’t remember the exact name) for the kids and they loved pointing out the different animals. The displays showed quite a variety of animals and we even got to stand on a scale to see what animal we weighed the same as. It is a very interactive portion of the museum very much for children and covers other topics, such as STEM topics and space/our universe. Once the boys had a little overload from there, we wandered up to the Ancient Worlds exhibit to take a look at the Ancient Egypt artifacts. Fun fact about me: I used to be obsessed with Ancient Egypt. Not sure what triggered that interest, but it used to fascinate me. It was nice to have the interest re ignited and look through the various coffins and mummified bodies they had on display as well as the jewelry and everyday items.

We decided to have dinner at a popular local spot called Gourmet Mash Bar. They do a lot of potato (as the name would suggest) with various meat options. I got chicken, the kids got sausage, and my husband got … We also decided to have some drinks, which gave me an excuse to try some Pear Cider. The Pear Cider was actually quite nice, although I learned that I prefer to drink it out of the bottle or lukewarm, not poured over ice. It got a little too sweet and bubbly when combined with ice. After dinner we were treated to a lovely Scottish downpour as we tried to find our way back to the house which gave us a chance to really embrace the rain and our rain jackets.

Day 2:

Our second day was supposed to be a fairly clear day after some morning showers. We decided to have a bit of a later start (aka our kids slept in and we decided to just go with that) and it ended up maybe working in our favor? We started with breakfast at a little café called Consider It (Chocolate). This is a plant-based donut shop and we had some of the best donuts ever at this café. I also had a very delicious cup of tea and we had a little goof around with photo’s while we were here. It was a really nice, slow start to what would turn out to be quite the day.

There was still rain forecasted for the next hour or so, but we decided to just go ahead and leave the café and move forward with our plans. The main goal of our day was to hike Arthurs Seat and tour Holyrood Palace. Our original goal was to walk the ridgeline between the two, but as you’ll read and find out, that did not become an option. A little background first.

IMG_7602.jpg

Arthur’s Seat is an extinct volcano with an elevation of 251 Meters (823 ft) at its highest point. The Seat itself is the peak of a group of hills that make up Holyrood Park, which is what Holyrood Palace backs up to. You can hike up to the peak and get an incredible panorama of Edinburgh and it is actually a relatively easy hike. There are two options to hike up, one a “back and forth” gentle upward slope and the other being a staircase straight up the mountain. You can create a trail at just about any spot, but those are the two popular sides. Right now, climbing is not allowed due to rock slides. We decided to hike up using the stairs because that was the side that we came to, which actually worked out better overall, and we got about a quarter of the way up before we got hit with a torrential downpour.

Yep, we hiked that hill (I so want to call it a mountain) in a downpour. Honestly, it was epic, and I would not have done it any other way. It really added to the experience and the sun broke just as we reached the summit. It just made for the most incredible and empowering experience. I was a little worried doing this hike and these heights with both boys, but it was totally worth it. We hung around at the top for a little while, snapping pictures, and enjoying the view before heading back down. We decided against walking the ridgeline and instead do the gentle downward walk on the way down as the volcanic rock that you climb down had become very slick with the rain. This gave us a couple more spots to stop and admire and it also deposited us right at Holyrood Palace.

Holyrood Palace was another spot that did not disappoint us in any way. They had several exhibits about the history of the Scots Rebellion, Mary Queen of Scots, and information about the current use of the Palace. We got to walk through several bedrooms (hello Mary Queen of Scots and where the attempt was made on her life) AND they had a whole exhibition set up for Meghan Markle and Prince Harry’s wedding, including the dress and everything!! I knew that there was an exhibition, but I guess forgot that it was at Holyrood. Talk about a pleasant surprise!!! We also got to hear about the disused Abbey that was/is a part of Holyrood, and walk through the gardens.

Overall an absolute gem of a day.

We stopped for a quick dinner in one of the little café’s just off the palace and then headed back to the flat for an early evening.

That rounds out our time in Edinburgh! I hope you enjoyed seeing Edinburgh through our eyes. What was your favorite thing to hear about? Have you been to Edinburgh? What was your favorite spot if you have been? What would you most like to see for yourself?