Edinburgh – Scotland’s Royal City

Royal Edinburgh 

Edinburgh holds a special place in my heart, and that was before I’d even been. The first and last words of the Harry Potter series were penned in this magnificent city, and that was enough to make me see the delights it had to hold.

Though it is Scotland’s capital, Edinburgh is smaller than Glasgow. We arrived to a heavily overcast city and in the middle of a freezing February day! My hat and thick coat came in very useful.

We decided that the best way to see Edinburgh was through the city sightseeing tour. We added Edinburgh castle tickets which came to around £35, with the bus included.

This allowed us to see the sights that we wanted to, and get off at specific spots.

Edinburgh has a multitude of levels, so be prepared for the cold. Especially if you go in winter.

The bus departs from Waverley Place, conveniently next to the train station. We showed our tickets and headed upstairs (silly mistake!). It was ridiculously cold however, it gave us good views of the sights.

We stayed on the bus as it maxed its way through the sites. From Haymarket to the cafe where JK Rowling first penned Harry Potter, there’s plenty to see. Our first stop was at the bottom of the Royal Mile. Here, Holyrood Palace, Holyrood Park and Holyrood (Scottish parliament) are within touching distance. Useless fact number one. Holyrood means Holy Cross.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Trailing Arthur’s Seat 

We hadn’t bought tickets to Holyrood Palace, but you can get fairly good views from the gates.  You can easily get good photos as well if you stick your phone through the bars. The Parliament building was also not in session, so it wasn’t open, but it was still cool to see where the powers that be try to officiate. It’s a quirky building, which isn’t hard to miss!

From here, we (or more I) wanted to see Arthur’s Seat which meant a short walk to Holyrood Park.

From the entrance to Holyrood Park, we ascended up the dirt path to Arthur’s Seat. In my eagerness, I followed Google’s advice. Silly mistake. Not only did that take us up the path with cobbled stones, and mud, but the drop grew as you walked up. Nicole decided after 10 minutes, she’d gone far enough and wasn’t proceeding further. I promised to come back one I’d reached the top. The views as you go up we’re pretty amazing, and I’m sure they’d be even nicer in the sunshine! Glasgow 1-0 Edinburgh. As it so happened the pathway only led up to halfway, and Arthur’s Seat summit was another long trek. I started to climb up the trail but decided after ten minutes or so it was way too slippery and I didn’t fancy a trip to Edinburgh hospital. I followed the road back to city level where some helpful Americans had helped my sister down. Next time, there’s a road (my bad!).

We decided it would be fun to do more some walking, and walked up the Royal Mile. There are numerous bars, shops and traditional Scottish shops to get lost in. We even managed to catch a Scotsman in full kilt, playing the bagpipes. The tourists’ dream! Not so great when everyone is stopped to take photos, whilst you are trying to get to the castle. At the top of the Royal Mile, you’ll find Edinburgh Castle. Useless fact number two. The residents of Edinburgh used to be crammed into houses along the Royal Mile, until the World’s End, where the city gates ended.

Edinburgh Castle sits high above the city, giving excellent views across the city in a number of directions.

We spent around an hour and a half in the castle. It’s a huge castle with various vantage points of the city, where you can numerous landmarks and take pretty pictures. Inside, you can visit a multitude of rooms and buildings.

From the Scottish war memorial to the Royal Palace, there’s plenty to see. There are also numerous guns pointing towards the city, that make for amusing pictures.

Once we had left the castle it was getting later on in the day. We headed inside St. Margaret’s cathedral (you have to pay to take photos inside – don’t)!) We had a brief wander around before heading into the Thistle Chapel. I hadn’t a clue what it was, but my sister was more intrigued. I now know it’s a hugely high honour for Scots who have given exceptional service. The Queen appoints all the members. Useless fact number three. Naturally, the queen has the most powerful seat. To either side are two chairs. One for Anne/Charles and one for Phillip/William. Basically, there’s only room for one on each chair, so only one of each pair is supposed come at any time.

After the cathedral we headed back into the bus, to go back to the remains of the city. We wanted our (my sister’s) monies worth!

Before departing at Waverley Place, we managed to glimpse the final landmark from the to-do list, Calton Hill, home to a fancy looking column (Dugald Stewart Monument).

Edinburgh is a beautiful, historic city that is definitely one for the bucket list. I’ll be back, hopefully, to see England destroy Scotland in next years six nations match at Murrayfield.

Advertisements

Dining in The Dark

img_4215

Poutine from La Banquise, one of Canada’s best exports

Montreal is a beautiful city basked with an array of old cobbled streets, a glorious waterfront and has a distinct European feel to it, with a touch of North America. It’s also well known for it’s poutine, and you can’t visit without a trip to the best Poutine restaurant in town, La Banquise.

The home of one of the most well known comedy festivals, Quebec’s largest city is easy to fall in love with. There are some much to see and do, and there is literally something for everyone.

One of the highlights are The Lachine Rapids. As you’ve probably guessed, you will get extremely wet but a fun experience. Not only that but you get to see more of the city from the water.

The standout experience in Montreal however, is by far a trip to O’Noir. Before I’d visited I was intrigued by the concept, so had to see for myself.

Dining In The Complete Darkness

O’Noir describes itself as a “culinary experience”. You go into the restaurant into a well light area, where you get given menus, and you choose what you want to eat and drink . All the waiters there are visually impaired, so you get an understanding of what they have to go through on a daily basis.

We all chose what we wanted, including “surprise dishes”. This basically gives the chefs free range and can cause a lot of fun later on. The waiters then come to help guide you into the dining area, which is as you probably already guessed, in the pitch black.

In order to help guide you into the dining room everyone is placed in single file, with your arms on the shoulder of the person in front of you. The waiter then guides everyone through the first door, which leads to the corridor. As soon as the door behind the last person is shut, you really can’t see anything. It is an extremely odd feeling, which can’t really be described until you experience it for yourself.

Everyone is guided through to the dining  room, where you get to experience the O’Noir experience. All valuables are put away in lockers before hand, so there is no way to cheat and get light, or even to tell the time (unless you have a glow in the dark watch).

As with a lot of restaurants, we were given bread as an appetizer, which was on the table in front. Unbeknown to us, we spent a little time feeling around to see where it was after the waiters bring it. Some awkward hand touching can ensue!

We had a group of twelve, only two of our group didn’t come, however as you can’t really see where anyone is you find yourself speaking much louder than usual. Our tour leader Jake was at the end of the table, but we found ourselves talking a little louder than we should have to speak to him. Everyone is together in the dining room, so it is a loud experience.

One way to describe the whole experience is “the stage before you fall into a deep sleep, where you can’t see anything”.

As you can’t see anything, it is also a great opportunity to play pranks on your mates. Lauren and Marian spend a lot of the time taking it in turns to keep tapping me. It took me a while, to realise there in fact wasn’t anyone behind me, and I believe I blamed several others including Tom. Lesson learnt, if I ever do anything like this again.

Everyone is given a number before they order, so this helps the waiters know where to go when they bring the food. You really appreciate and understand how hard it must be for them every day.

Our mains included a range of food that we had pre-ordered, and some surprise food that we were given. You aren’t told what you are getting, and they guide you to where it is, so you can eat. I was given some form of pasta, and we shared some “mystery alcohol”, which I think turned out to be red wine. I only managed half of my pasta, I didn’t realise I hadn’t eaten it all as I was so full. Perhaps this could be a new fad diet, to catch on.

Your senses really are enhanced whilst eating, and not being able to see and it was great fun trying to guess what you are having. When you’ve finished the waiters clear your plate, and ask you to guess what you think you’ve had. I don’t think we had a very good success rate. You are eventually told what you ate.

I couldn’t let the chance of a surprise pudding pass, so along with several of my fellow trekkers, enjoyed what I vaguely remember being some form of chocolate.

The whole dinner and trip to O’Noir, was bizarre but brilliant and a definite to do when you’re in Montreal.

Whilst they may be better restaurants with nicer food, you can’t beat the experience of dining in the dark.

Stunning views overlooking Glasgow from the uni

“Dear Green Place” – Beautiful Glasgow

Bonnie Wee Glasgow

The home to some of the most famous stadiums in the world, Glasgow was high on my to do list in Scotland.

Luckily, I managed to find myself and stay with my own tour guide, my trek America buddy, Lauren.

I won’t bore you all with the details of the train journey from Stirling to Glasgow, but it was happier and friendlier than English trains. Perhaps the multidle of alcohol on a Saturday afternoon had something to do with it.

Overnight bag dropped off, it was time to explore Glasgow.

Glasgow is a city full of arts and museums, many of which are free.

After exploring “Style Mile”, the first stop was the Clockwork Orange. A simple circular subway system. Take note London (admittedly it’s probably not possible there). This led us to the West End of Glasgow and the Kelvingrove Art Gallery.

There is lots to explore but we had come to see one thing, “The Floating Heads”. I’ll let the pictures do the talking for these, but let’s just say they’re a load of heads with varing expressions hanging from the ceiling. Certainly not something you see every day. That alone was worth the visit.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

I’m glad my tour guide was with me because I would have missed out on the amazing Tantrum Doughnuts. Seriously, don’t miss this if you ever come to Glasgow. It’s a mini shop dedicated to an array of different doughnuts. I got myself two, because why the hell not. It’s extremely popular so make sure you come in plenty of time as when the days stock has gone, it’s closing time.

Beautiful Architectural Glasgow

Not far from the Kelvingrove Museum is Glasgow University, the fourth oldest in the United Kingdom. The building is stunning, and has beautiful views over looking the city. Once again, I’ll let the pictures do the talking. It’s no wonder the University is so popular, with a Hogswart-esque architecture. We managed to go during the day and night, which offer two differing vantages. A must do if you have time. The building is made up of a number of rooms, some which you can enter and some which aren’t open to the public. One of the best parts within the University are the cloisters. We had to wait for some overly keen tourists to move before we could get the photos we wanted, and to marvel at the architecture.

After exploring the University, and a few strange sculptures around the grounds, a stones throw away is Ashton Lane. A cobbled street, it comprising mainly of bars and restaurants. There is also a cinema, where you can take in alcohol from the adjacent bar! We managed to go in the late afternoon on a Saturday, which helped soak up the atmosphere. We stayed for a good few hours, consuming a few pints and dining at the Wee Curry Shop. Great name and great food.

We had aimed to get the trusty Clockwork Orange back into the centre of town but there was an incident, so managed a twenty five minutes walk instead. George Square was on the way, so we stopped at had a look at night. It was right, next to the train station so I’d seen it by day.

Our final stop of the night was to the Ceilidh. A traditional Scottish dance, already know to me through my sister and brother in law’s wedding, this time I was slightly sober to enjoy it. We’d had a few drinks but we were definitely not joining in. If you ever get the chance to go, definitely join in. It doesn’t get more Scottish.

In the morning we headed back in town. No trip to Glasgow is complete without a trip to the ground of the best team in the country, Celtic. Sorry to any Rangers fans, but the table doesn’t lie. The stadium itself wasn’t as big as I’d imagined, however it was still impressive nonetheless. Though we didn’t have time to go on a tour (I had to get to Dundee), I still managed to see the famed walkway and the famous stadium from the outside.

Glasgow is a beautiful city, and as the old cliché goes, there is some much to do for everyone.

A special thanks must go to my wonderful local tour guide. Who needs tour buses!

Views from William Wallace Monument of Stirling

Stirling – Scotland’s Hidden Treasure

Travels In Stirling

The opportunity to visit Scotland arose back in October, and having last visited in 2001 for a wedding as an 11 year old I felt it was time to see the country as an adult.

As it was a family visit, and I was very gratefully able to stay free with my brother-in-law’s dad (thanks Jimmy), the only expenses were the flights up from Southampton to Edinburgh.

If you ask most people to name major Scottish cities they’d probably come up with a few more well known ones before getting to Stirling, or forget it altogether. Most Scots however will not, as the site of the famous Battle of Bannockburn (where the Scots defeated the English in battle) is located within the city.

I spent five days in Scotland, however as per most holidays it is never long enough. Stay tuned for future ventures in Glasgow and Edinburgh.

Two days were spent solely in Stirling, which is not only historically important in Scotland but is full of landscapes that photographers dream of.

Wallace Monument

The first major attraction we visited was the Wallace Monument. It’s located high above the town, which involves a brisk (or slow) walk depending on your mood but is relatively easy to get to.

You can get to it via the road and car, or walk up the pathway (naturally we chose the later, mainly because we didn’t have a car!)

At a guess I would say it takes around 20-25 minutes to get from the town at the bottom up all the steps, and winding roads but it depends on how quickly you want to reach the monument (or how cold it is). It certainly helps when the Yorkshire Terrier (Oscar or Oski for short) is keen to get there before you.

By the time we had got the monument the attraction itself was closed, however the views were more than worth the trek up to the top. The prices however to enter are relatively cheap and range from £4.50 for school group trips to £32.48 for a family of five.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

The view from the monument, overlooks Stirling and is surrounded by breathtaking mountains in the background.

Stirling Castle

At the other end of the town sits Stirling Castle, which can be seen from the Wallace Monument. The castle itself is a hugely historical building which played a key role in multiple historical events. In order to visit the castle you’ll require a car (or any other form of transport). This is mainly because it stands on a crag (volcanic rock). Tickets are relatively cheap, especially when compared to other castles I’ve previously visited. Prices range from £8.70 for kids, to £14.50 for adults (prices may vary depending on the time of year).

The castle itself is a brilliantly beautiful building, offering a look into the historic life of many former Kings and Queens. From the Great Hall, with the £20 million roof to the Royal Palace and Kitchens, you could easy spend a couple of hours enjoying the castle and surroundings.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

There are a number of actors playing the roles of the Queen’s servants, who will regale you with stories and a fun way to learn about the castle.

One of the coolest things with the Castle is the wide array of artwork that has been intricately painted and designed. The standout is perhaps the tapestry that has been designed and created with the castle itself, inside the Queen’s Inner Hall. In the time since I lasted visited Scotland, the tapestry took a mere 13 years to create. Every part was hand made in the walls of the castle.

As with the Monument, the castle gives various vantage points of the town and overlooks a number of locations. From the Monument, to the mountains and the site of the Battle of the Bannockburn you would be lost for pictures to take.

As usual, the trip itself went far too quickly, but Stirling is definitely worth a visit.

One thing is for certain, I plan to wait less than 16 years until the next visit.

The Niagara Falls – Trek America Style

 

 

Brilliant Mist From The American Side Of Niagra Falls

Photo from the one of the many Niagara Falls state park vantage points.

For as far back as I can remember, travel has always fascinated me. The chance to see new people, places and cultures, is something that has always fascinated me.

In the summer of 2015, the opportunity to travel round the North Eastern United States and Canada arose.

I was about three weeks away from ending a contract and an advert popped up on Facebook for Trek America. Before I knew it, I was heading for nine days travelling with a bunch of strangers in a van. It really isn’t as daunting as it sounds.

It’s an awesome way to travel and make new friends from around the world (though everyone was from England bar two, and even they were from Scotland and France).

The trip included a number of amazing experiences, topped by a trip to the Niagara Falls.

Visiting The Falls

img_4062

Approaching the Horseshoe Falls, mostly situated on the Canadian side

The actual entrance to the Falls is a little underwhelming, and you have to walk a small distance from a parking lot, to the State Park to actually see them. We entered on the New York side, which is probably the better side. The American side has a number of awesome vantage points to see them close up and get some amazing images. We obviously hadn’t come just to get a few nice photos.

In order to get up close and personal and experience the Falls from the US side, there are two options; The Cave Of The Winds or the Maid Of the Mist.

As a big fan of the US Office, and having recently seen the episode where Jim and Pam get married on the Maid, I was in no doubt as to which option to take. I was joined by half of my new group of friends.

Travelling On The Maid Of The Mist

In order to get onto the cruise, you obviously need to purchase tickets, which are relatively cheap, and so worth the $15 or so dollars. Once you have your tickets you go through to the Niagara Falls Observation Tower and Deck. From here you can take even more amazing photos. Just a word of warning, if you aren’t a fan of heights, you might not be a huge fan of this part. You don’t realise how high up you are from the river until you are standing on the deck. We weren’t up there for long, and we soon stepped into the elevators that took us down to the entry point of the Maid of the Mist. Each person is given a customary blue poncho as soon off the elevator being heading on board.

Maid Of The Mist group photo with blue ponchos

Our group shot whilst on the Maid Of The Mist. As you can see it was hard to get a good photo.

The actual journey itself is around 30 minutes, and allows you to see the power of the Falls first hand. The major issue itself on the boat as you could probably guess from its’ name, was the mist.

I spent the majority of my time in awe, whilst simultaneously trying to take pictures on my phone and ensuring I didn’t lose either the phone or my sunglasses. Between us we managed to get a few good shots.

Once you disembark off the boat there is a chance to get soaked again by a vantage point, which leaves you truly drenched. From here you can see a number of breathtaking rainbows, and my new buddy Tom decided it was a good time to wash his hair. He’d bought along Lynx shower gel, as you do. It worked though!

img_4090

A rainbow and Tom in the background with his shower gel.

A quick trip back up the elevator and you get back to the New York side. We couldn’t visit the Falls without visiting Canada, so we decided to head across the bridge separating America and Canada, to Canadian side.

Trouble In Canada

The view from the bridge between Canada and America

Overlooking the falls from the bridge that divides America and Canada.

It’s a fairly simple process which gives ever more views before you head to border patrol. After crossing the bridge and waiting in line for our passports to be checked, we stepped forward to a rather bored looking passport control man. At this point I should mention we’d been eating snacks and had bags with us. The passport control guy took a look at each of our passports and then made us wait and told us to empty our bags and pocket. We knew this wasn’t normal considering we’d seen them letting most people through after checking their passports.

Unbeknown to us, the guy at passport control was convinced that he could smell cannabis, and even took it to sniff our passports. In actual fact what we had on us was Doritos. Our tour guide was later convinced he was bored so did this every now and again. Eventually, we entered Canada.

From the Canadian side, we spent a little while gazing at the Falls and taking ever more photos, before heading back across the bridge and to the border to the United States.

All in all, an amazing and very wet experience, but definitely one of the best things I’ve ever done.

The Birth Of Millard Travel

If you’ve got this far, then well done the new site works! As a 26 year old, I’m supposed to be a fully grown adult paying bills, saving up for a house and the rest of boring adult stuff. Whilst I pay monthly bills, I still don’t feel grown up and my current savings for a new home at this precise moment in time reads £150. In total I have visited 16 countries and numerous cities, so as I clock up new cities, countries and places at home and abroad, I thought why not blog to help enjoy the day trips to holidays.

Fresh from two trips in consecutive trips years with Trek America, where I had two amazing trips (Atlantic BLT And Northeastern BLT) and met some awesome new friends this year I’m planning to keep it closer to home and visit more of Europe.

As this is my “so called introduction post”, I’m going to keep it short and sweet. My next trip is with family for five days to Scotland in February. In the meantime, I hope to keep you entertained with posts from various day trips with the dogs, and friends and family to our local haunts.

Travel has always been a key interest and passion of mine, so I hope you enjoy this site as much as I enjoy writing and sharing my photography.

A small side note – The picture at the top of this post is from Montreal. Great city, great culture, awesome people.