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.

 

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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)

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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.

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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?

June In Travel – All the Ruins and Hikes

So, June has come to an end…what?! I remember posting earlier in the month that I couldn’t believe that the year was already halfway over and I am still heavily into that mindset. How are we already at this point in 2019? How are we already in 2019? I’m at a crisis point over here just thinking about how much time has already passed…

But that is not what we are here for today, so we will just put that thought to the side.

Today I am going to be re capping our month in travel, which to be honest is only mildly exciting this month. We have a very big travel month next month and have been preparing to move to our house for most of June (because somehow during our time in the hotel we managed to accumulate stuff, mostly books, and that all had to be packed up and moved). Originally we thought we were going to be moving into our house mid June, but that changed and we scrambled to find some weekend activities.

All that to say, that while we didn’t travel far, we managed to find quite a few fun/interesting things to do with our weekends.

I’ve always been really fascinated with ruins. I love to imagine what was, what could have been, what happened on the site, what the people living there were like, etc. It’s the nostalgia, the idea, the dreams of a different era and way of living. Ruins here are also great because a lot of the sites are open enough for the boys to run around and through the different passageways. It gives them a chance to stretch their legs, and learn how people used to live.

We have quite a few ruins in our nearby area and since the weather was nice, we decided to make those weekends into ruins weekends. We did two sites and then a third hike through the hills behind our house. I’ve got a couple more castles and ruins on my list that I hope to head to over the next couple months after we get back in town from vacation.

The first ruins site that we went to is the one that is closest and is also the one that we had to do a nice little hike up to. This is definitely more “ruins” than building, but we were able to see the barest outlines of what was and head up one of the turrets to see a beautiful overlook. After the ruins, we took another short hike through a nature preserve that we actually plan on going back to complete the full hike as it is a couple hours long.

The second site is Wolfstein Castle which is much more building structure and has a pretty good layout of what the castle actually looked like in its “heyday”. I think this might have been my favorite spot so far as it has so many little crevices and spots to look through. You can go through all sorts of good little rooms and areas. There is also a “turret” or tower that you can climb up to, although we don’t really know the rules for that and it wasn’t open when we were there. It has some beautiful overlooks of the city and there wasn’t a huge hike to get up there. As for castle ruins, right now it’s at the top of my very short list.

The final thing that we did was a short hike in the hills behind our hotel. We have been really outdoors this past month, choosing to be outside and walk as much as we can, but we decided to do something beyond our long walk to the park. We headed up the hills, in the woods, and off to a religious site. Now, religion is big here, so that wasn’t surprising, but the actual spot that we hiked to was so beautiful. I didn’t manage to get a lot of good shots of the actual spot because it was the top of a rock and trying to track both kids on the top of a rock is not good. But, trust me the whole hike was just wonderful!

And that was our month “in travel”. Definitely a little bit different than previous months, but still a really fun one! Next month we will be spending half the month in different countries so that’ll be an exciting month for us! Moving forward our travel will be changing a little bit due to my husbands schedule, so the Month in Travel posts might change a little bit, but I hope to still have a lot to share even if it is more local spots like these.

Things You Should Do and Tips for: Austria (Salzburg and Berchtesgaden, Germany)

We just recently spent a weekend away in Austria, which you can read about HERE, and it is a place that I would recommend that everyone and anyone should visit. It has a wide variety of things to offer for any taste and it is absolutely beautiful. I don’t have a lot of “tips” as some of the things we wanted to do, we couldn’t, but I figured I would share what I did learn with you.

Recommendations:

In Berchtesgaden there are two spots to visit. The first is Eagle’s Nest which we did not get to go to. I can’t say much more other than keep an eye on the weather and go during the July/August time period. There were still weather issues when we visited. The second spot is the Berchtesgaden Salt Mines. I would highly recommend this place because not only does it make the whole concept of a Salt Mine interesting and fun. It combines light shows with music, rides, and costumes. It is great for any age (especially the kiddos).

In Salzburg there is so much…

I highly recommend the Fortress, Hohensalzburg Fortress, at the top of the hill. Not only is the fortress itself pretty cool, but the view from atop the tower can’t be beat. If you are worried about the climb to get to the top, you are able to take a funicular up (and down). The base of the funicular is located near Salzburg Cathedral and is a good “jumping off” point for everything else as well.

Speaking of Salzburg Cathedral, I would highly recommend a stop in here. It is absolutely stunning inside and just take in the atmosphere and reverence. You can walk through the halls and head down to the crypt to complete your viewing of the Cathedral.

I would also recommend checking out one (or both if you can) of Mozart’s homes. We chose the birthplace, but you can easily do both if you would like to. The birthplace dealt with his birth, early childhood, and some of his composing as well as bits about his family. The residence deals with the bulk of his composing, everyday life in adulthood and has most of his instruments from later life.

On the Sound of Music tours, I personally chose not to do that. The tours that we were finding were close to 4-5 hours (which can be lengthy with children and a husband who isn’t super interested), on the more expensive side of things, and honestly I think you can cover the spots that you want to see pretty well on your own. I picked out a couple of spots that related to the story or the characters and went to those rather than doing a full tour.

Tips:

Tip #1: A Vignette.To drive in Austria you must have a vignette affixed to your car. You can purchase these in gas stations, at the border, or online (each has different date requirements and options), but if you do not it is a pretty hefty fine. They are inexpensive and easy to buy. Driving in Austria is really not any different than driving anywhere else in Europe (exception being the UK)  and even though we made use of the public transportation, we still really enjoyed having our car as well.

Tip #2: Getting registered.I don’t know if this was done this way simply because of where we were staying, or if it is a country wide thing, but we had to be registered by the AirBnB owner while we were staying there and pay a slight tax. By doing this though, we got a tourist “welcome” card of sorts which gave us a discount on some museums as well as free use of the public transportation (trains and buses).

Tip #3: Public Transportation.Seriously the public transportation in Europe is top notch and I really think you should make use of it whenever you can. It is just so easy to hop on a train, go to a city, not have to worry about parking, traffic, or anything with your car, and then hop a train to go home when you are done. The boys love riding the “choo-choo’s” and we’ve just really adapted to them (not that we really had to).

I don’t really have any other specific tips, but as always I recommend looking around on AirBnB for your accommodation. Not only can they be cheaper than a conventional hotel, but you can get some pretty stunning spots. This time we stayed in the mountains without anyone really near us. It was such a relaxing spot and watching the sunrise/sunset, hearing the birds chirping, and the trees swaying brought a whole new meaning to being in the Alps.

 

Do you have any tips or recommendations for a trip to Salzburg/Berchtesgaden?

Fussen Germany – A Weekend Away

In May we spent a weekend away in a small town called Fussen Germany. We booked this trip to go and see the famed Neuschwanstein Castle, as well as Hohenschwangau Castle (same property). We had decided that when we got there we would decide what else we wanted to do that was nearby. We didn’t have too much of a plan and I decided that we should treat it as a little slow getaway. As a chance to relax, live a little bit slower, take it easy. It definitely was that!

We found a room on Airbnb at a place called Mein Lieber Schwan (website: https://www.meinlieberschwan.de). This has to be one of the best locations that we’ve booked and was the prettiest little apartment. We had a full kitchen/living room, bedroom, sitting room (we used this for the boy’s bedroom), and a little terrace that had an incredible view. From our bedroom window you could see the silhouette of Neuschwanstein Castle as well as the main town. This room was a dream and the location was perfect as it was walking distance from just about everything.

-1281214946695758235_IMG_2991Our first evening we wandered around the main town area before heading to dinner. The town itself is full of that European/German appeal that you come to expect. The main street/square is littered with café’s, restaurants, and shops.  It backs up to the Austrian Alps (you are right at the German/Austria border), so you can view the mountain range just about wherever you look. We wandered through the town, headed out to a short nature walk which went through a fort of some sort from 1897. We then headed out to dinner at a restaurant called Ritterstuben.

 

Our first full day in Fussen was our exciting day full of castle’s. We had decided to book to see both Hohenschwangau and Neuschwanstein Castle’s as we were interested in both and if we were already going to be there, we might as well see both. Our tour times were not too early, 9:55AM, but we weren’t sure of the parking situation, we had to pick up our tickets, and they are very strict on the entrance times for the castles. For these reasons, we decided to get to the castle about an hour early and boy, was I glad that we did. There is so much more to see to this spot than just the castles.

At the end of the property there is an absolutely beautiful spot; a lake that backs right up to the Austrian Alps that you can walk along for a stretch. The whole area is breathtakingly beautiful but for this lake/mountain/nature loving family it was something truly spectacular (honestly, no joke or exaggeration, rounding the corner to this took my breathe away). We got to have a beautiful start to our day watching the fog breakaway from both the lake and the castles, and the boys got to mingle with some very friendly ducks.

Our first castle tour was Hohenschwangau, which is the smaller of the two castles, the older of the two, and the most “finished” of the two. There is absolutely no photography allowed in the castle’s themselves and while I don’t precisely know why, I suspect the reason is twofold- price of the tickets and preservation of the castle. The interior is all original, from the fresco’s and paintings to the furniture, layout, and lighting. The preservation itself is phenomenal and the tour gave us a little insight into the lives of the royal family at the time. Hohenschwangau was predominantly used as a Summer and hunting home by King Maximillian II, his wife, Marie of Prussia, and as a childhood home for their children, King Ludwig II and Kong Otto I. The castle made it through both world wars without damage and portions are still in use today by members of the former royal family.

The tour is semi guided- you have a tour guide who opens the doors and points out little tidbits, but on the whole the tour itself is given in audio format (via little devices that you can either plug headphones into or hold up to your ear). All in all, the tour lasted about 30-40 minutes and gave us a pretty good look at the interior and the family’s life.

We had about an hour or so before our second tour began so we decided to take a carriage tour up to Neuschwanstein. There are three options to get from the Hohenschwangau castle to Neuschwanstein: bus, walk, or horse drawn carriage. Now we have two little toddlers who are excellent walkers, but also love to be carried. We had already walked quite a bit that day (and they did really really well on this past trip with walking) and we knew that we still had a lot more to go. We ended up deciding to take the horse drawn carriage up to the castle (I know horse drawn carriages have their own issues) and it was definitely a fun way to feel special heading up to the castle. Every girl can dream of having that Cinderella moment and this is a good way to get that experience.

If you were impressed by the beauty of Hohenschwangau castle, just wait till we talk through Neuschwanstein.

 

This takes the castle concept to a whole new level. In fact, Neuschwanstein castle inspired the “fairytale castle” for Walt Disney and Magic Kingdom. Neuschwanstein was built by King Ludwig II (fun fact- he could watch the castle being built from his room in Hohenschwangau, he had a telescope set up in the room to do so).

It was built in the 19thCentury, however the interior was not fully finished, and King Ludwig only spent a very short amount of time in the castle before his death. This castle also made it through both world wars without any damage. On the tour we were able to see the King’s Quarters, the Throne Room, the Grotto and another. The tour is handled in the same was as Hohenschwangau, an audio tour led by a guide and once again, I felt like we got a really good amount of information about the castle and the King.

The final stop on our “Castle” Day was Marienbrucke.

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This is a bridge that crosses a valley on one side of the Neuschwanstein Castle. It provides not only a beautiful look at the castle, but also at the nature and mountains all around. It is absolutely stunning and well worth the short hike to get to it from Neuschwanstein (even for me who is absolutely terrified of heights/being suspended in air). Once again, an absolutely breathtaking sight. Most of the pictures that you see of Neuschwanstein are from this view point.

IMG_2068.jpgWe ended our day with another little walk through the town and dinner at a place called Gasthof Krone. This is a medieval restaurant that offers typical German food with the medieval environment. Beer is served in large mugs, soda’s and other drinks in pottery cups. They do set up shows and such, but for special groups and other times. It was a fun experience to have and we really enjoyed our meal (especially my husband who got some local dish). After dinner we headed out on a little mini hike back down to another bridge where we watched the sunset on the lake/alps. A Beautiful end to a perfect day.

 

Our third, and last full day in Fussen, we decided to do a morning breakfast at one of the cute café’s and then a hike. We’ve always loved being in nature/outdoors and if we can find something out in nature we will do it. This particular hike promised a fantastic overview of Fussen and a memorable experience. Breakfast was at one of the cutest little cafés’, Bio Café Baumgarten, that had both a fantastic backdrop and delicious food/drink. We fueled up with Crepe’s Croissants, and a Cappuccino for me, Blood Orange Juice for Rob. We actually stayed in this little spot for around an hour (the longest we’ve ever stayed like this) and it was just the most perfect start.

The sun really came out when we headed out for the hike to Kalvarienberg. The hike is uphill and touches on some religious aspects throughout. It does not have to be a religious experience if you do not want it to be, you can treat it as just a good hike. It is uphill to begin, alternating between steps and terrain and there a couple natural break spots should you need them.

Once you reach the top you are rewarded with one of the most spectacular views that you could ever dream of.

On one side you see both castles and lake along with the Austrian Alps and on the other you get a full look at the town of Fussen.  Again, breathtaking ( I feel like that word is really the only word that can adequately describe everything we saw and experienced on this weekend away). It was truly an incredible view to see.

On our way back down from the overlook we headed to Lechfalls, which is a waterfall system with an Austrian Alps backdrop.

The waterfall themselves were a beautiful sight and it was a really pretty hike to get to them and then get back to the room. The falls themselves are quite simple, it is more the backdrop I feel that adds the level of beauty.

Our final night included dinner at Alstadt Hotel. The dinner was fantastic, as always, and afterwards we wandered the Fussen Castle.

The town of Fussen has its own castle (though not as grand as the other two) and we wandered through its cobblestone entryway, read about its siege techniques, as well as the painting technique on the exterior (hint: all the bits you see are actually painted on to the walls, except for a certain few to give it a much more grand look). The castle itself is now an art gallery, although it was closed when we walked through.

This whole weekend away was beyond my expectations and dreams. I keep using the word breathtaking, but it is really the only word that can even come close to some of the sights that we saw and experienced. I’ll be doing a tips/tricks post, although it will be shorter than some of my past ones, but I highly recommend that you add Fussen and Neushwanstein on to your must-see list!

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May In Travel

I feel like I say this every month, but how has this month already come to an end? We are looking at the end of May and almost being halfway through 2019! I can’t believe we are a)already at that point and b) have already been in Germany for almost 4 months!!! It seems like time is simultaneously flying by and standing still…if that makes sense.

We did a relatively decent amount of travel in May between day trips and weekends away. In fact, I think it’s safe to say that this might have been my favorite month of travel so far! It’s been a fun month of new experiences and although I don’t have all the details tracked out for you yet (coming in the next 2 weeks- stay tuned!!), I will give you guys little peaks into each place.

The first weekend wasn’t too terribly exciting as we adventured back to the big city that is going to be near our house (yes, you read that right, we have a house- more on that at the end of the post!!) and seeing what all the shopping options are in that city.

Our second weekend we did a day trip through our local Outdoor Recreation program that involved taking a steam train through the countryside and trekking through a cave. It was easily one of those cool things that you can do in an absolutely gorgeous location. The boys LOVED the steam train (they thought it was the coolest thing ever) and we all enjoyed leaning out of the windows on the train. The cave has quite the history and we emerged to a gorgeous sunny sky (after a bit of a cloudy start) and a beautiful overlook. It was a really fun day spent with friends. You can read more about it HERE.

Our third weekend in May we spent in one of the prettiest spots that we could ever imagine. Fussen Germany looked like it was a set straight out of a movie (and maybe it was-I’m not sure). I’ve got a full blog post coming detailing our entire trips as well as some tips/recommendations, but safe to say this is a favorite spot. It was the perfect pairing of slow, small town, and beautiful nature/scenery. We were gutted to leave on Sunday morning.

Our final weekend we spent in the absolute beauty that is Austria. We actually flitted back and forth on the border between Germany and Austria throughout the weekend, spending one day in Berchtesgaden and the second day in Salzburg. Once again as with Fussen, I will have a full blog post coming with all the details, but Austria is seriously just so beautiful. The overlooks to see the town are breathtaking, you see the alps from every area and the pacing of the town is just so nice. We aren’t even going to get into all the Sound of Music singing.

And that was our month in travel! We had a lot of fun this month, but are ready for a little breathing room. June is going to be a more “close to home” traveling month with day trips, some down time, and then an exciting move at the end of the month. We’ve finally got a house to move in to, so that along with a very exciting July is playing into a quieter June. As much as I love traveling and we’ve been enjoying it, we are homebodies at heart and are looking forward to a little quiet and peace.