A new Doctor Who and speed tourism

The 13th Doctor Who was announced today and sadly, it’s not me. I suppose this shouldn’t come as a surprise since I didn’t audition for the part but just in case Jodie Whittaker changes her mind, I’m available. If there are any BBC casting people reading this then this is a FYI.

Today was so busy. It was my last day on holiday and we have visitors so we did speed tourism which is kind of like speed dating but where you see as many sights as possible. First we went to Burn O’Vat which is basically what it sounds like: a giant stone vat.

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Next stop was the gardens of Crathes Castle.

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Then we made a quick stop at Milton of Crathes which has lots of lovely craft shops, a playground, a brasserie, and a train station for steam trains.

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The last stop was Drum Castle because I needed to get a photograph of the toilets.

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Diversity at Heathrow airport and living in the UK

Diversity at Heathrow airport and living in the UK

I’m back in the UK and waiting at Heathrow airport where I’ve just stuffed myself full of food and am thinking of going back for more. I threw myself at Pret a Manger like a ravenous lion who hasn’t eaten properly for months. I love Pret. It’s one of my favourite eateries. Here’s what I got for £7.95 just now:

An entree of chia seeds in coconut yoghurt with mango and pomegranate seeds.

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A main with rice, beetroot, falafel, beans, broccoli, basil, lemon, and mint, and pomegranate seeds.

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I even got dessert: a delicious coconut chocolate thing.

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Spending a week in Spain made me realise how much I take the wonderful food choices here for granted. I’m only at the airport and there’s so much choice. I always make my flight connections in Heathrow for this reason.

I love living in the UK. There’s so much diversity here and so many options and people are mostly very respectful of differences. The passport control officers themselves were all very diverse. One woman officer was wearing a hijab, there was a man with a sikh turban, and when it was my turn I got a young man with a distinctly Australian accent.

A plate of artichokes

A plate of artichokes

The food situation over the past few days has been diabolical. On Sunday the choice was omelette or meat balls, on Monday night it was steak or fish, and lunch today was steak or pork loin. They look at me with horror when I say I would like something without meat. It seems to take a while to process and they don’t really understand veganism. It’s quite simple really. I eat plants. All plants.

There are 20,000 species of edible plants in the world and when I told the restaurant today that I can eat any plants they brought me this:

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It’s a plate of artichokes. Nothing else; just artichokes. Don’t get me wrong, I like artichokes but a whole plate of them is not particularly appealing.

At the restaurant last night they brought out several plates for everyone to share and every single one had meat on it. First there was ham, followed by prosciutto, then balls with some kind of meat in them, and then octopus. Why is it so hard to produce a plate without animals on it?

There are vegetarian restaurants here and we’ve been to two of them and they were great. But it would be nice if there was something I could eat at regular restaurants also.

Today we went on a winery tour which was lovely. We visited three wineries. Here are some photos.

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This is the royal family summer house.

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This next winery was quite interesting. They ferment white wine in huge century-old clay pots. I’ve never seen that before and apparently this is one of only a few wineries to do this.

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Dublin meetup

I’m in Dublin on a work trip and having a really great time. I’ve never been to Dublin before so it’s nice to have a look around. My coworkers are a fantastic bunch of people and incredibly hard workers so it’s looking like this will be a very productive trip.

However it’s not all work. We had lunch at Rustic Stone today and I ate possibly the most delicious salad I have ever eaten in my entire life.

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This morning I spotted this cargo bike waiting at the traffic lights. It’s a Gazelle and there were two little critters inside.

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Dublin doesn’t have particularly good bicycle infrastructure. Indeed I haven’t see any other than some painted lines here and there. However there are still lots of cyclists and they have what seems to be a fairly popular bicycle rental scheme. Imagine how great cycling could be if they did have the proper infrastructure? And then imagine how much less traffic and pollution there’d be?

We also visited the amazing Queen of Tarts; a great place for coffee and cake:

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Cycling in the rain: BRING IT ON!

I got completely drenched cycling the kids to school this morning. But as I was peddling along and struggling to see through the curtain of rain battering my face the glass half full part of me was happy about one thing: the fresh, clean air. I, and all the other people in the city, have to inhale the toxic fumes from the exhausts of motor vehicles which is definitely less noticeable when it rains. I don’t like the smell of car exhausts very much and I’m certain inhaling the fumes is not good for me, or for anyone else living in a city.

The WHO recently announced that air pollution is a “public health emergency” killing more than 3.3 million people around the world each year. London exceeded its annual air pollution limit in just seven days earlier this month. And Rome and Milan had to temporarily ban cars from their roads recently in an effort to curtail air pollution.

Next time you want to take the car out for a trip that could be made using a more active mode of travel, think again. Think about the pollution your car emits that everyone, even those of us without a car, are forced to inhale. Think about our changing climate and how burning fossil fuels is adding more carbon dioxide to our atmosphere. Think about how good for you it could be to adopt more active modes of transport on a regular basis.

The sun has come out now. I hope the air still smells fresh 🙂

 

Igloos and ice-skating

It’s another beautiful day here today with sun and blue sky. The only thing missing is the snow but it’s so warm there’s no chance of that happening. One day I’d love to visit Kakslauttanen Arctic Resort in Lapland where there is guaranteed snow and where kids can also visit Santa Claus.

Kakslauttanen have these fantastic-looking glass igloos:

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I spent a very entertaining 30 minutes or so reading the reviews of Kakslauttanen on TripAdvisor. The reviews were either really, really excellent or absolutely terrible. The terrible reviews were so funny I thought I’d share some of them.

One person says of the glass igloos:

.. it was fully transparent meaning people can see through our igloo.

What were they expecting? Glass is transparent and you can clearly see into the igloos in the photos on their website.

The next one is from someone on their honeymoon:

No tv’s in your room which is annoying as the reception closes at 10pm so there is absolutely nothing to do in the evenings.

What about, er, sex?? If they’re resorting to TV for entertainment in the evenings this early in the relationship then there’s not much hope for the marriage.

Lots of people complained about having to carry their luggage from the reception to the igloos. I have no sympathy for them. We’re a lazy, fat, car-dependent, and spoilt species. A 5-10 minute walk with luggage will do most of us more good than harm. We have two legs. Use them!

Had to haul our own luggage from main reception to Igloo 10 minutes away in a freaking blizzard.

No assistance with our suitcases, told to drag our gear 5 to 10 mins walk from reception in the snow along and ice covered gravel road.

There were a few complaints that sounded reasonable like how it expensive it is and also a couple of people complained about Santa appearing drunk 🙂

We went ice-skating again this morning in Aberdeen and it was so nice. Elizabeth even ditched the penguin for the first time. She’s getting more confident which is so good to see. A photo and a video this time:

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Inverness

We’re in Inverness. My Mum and Doug are still here and we thought it would be nice to go away for the weekend. I have been wanting to explore the countryside in this part of Scotland as it’s particularly beautiful but a bit too far for a day trip. We decided to spend two nights in Inverness so that we can explore the area without having to drive here and back in one day.

I booked a car-club car because although we can catch the train to Inverness, and I have to say it is far nicer to take the train than to drive, we really need the car to explore the surrounding countryside. Inverness is about 3 hours from Aberdeen but it took us slightly longer because I’m a Grandma driver, there was traffic, and we made one stop. But the drive was still far quicker than a trip we made with Mum and Doug to the Coromandel a few years ago. What should have only been 2.5 hours ended up taking almost 7 hours because I’m a Grandma driver, the traffic in Auckland is worse than Bangkok in peak hour (ok, a bit of an exaggeration here but it’s pretty bad) and we got very lost. Fortunately the only things that got lost this time were my mother’s iPhone – which turned up again after a frantic 10 minutes of searching the car – a pair of trousers (my mother somehow managed to discard them in a carpark but fortunately she spotted them just as we were driving away), and the car-club swipe card. The car is totally useless without the swipe card but fortunately I found it sitting on the floor of the hotel corridor where I had dropped it.

This is the first time I’ve driven this particular car. It’s not one of the electric ones because Inverness is too far for the battery and we also needed a 7-seater. It’s a manual but has a foot parking break. Maybe someone can help me out here? How do you do a hill start with a foot parking break in a manual car? My left foot is on the clutch and I can’t have it simultaneously on the clutch and the parking break. When I used to own a manual, many years ago now, I had a hand break that I used when starting on steep hills. Fortunately I haven’t had to stop on any steep hills yet but I can’t avoid stopping on hills altogether so if anyone knows then please let me know. It’s a Kia Sedona. Maybe modern manuals don’t roll backwards?

 

Park City

I am in Utah for work and have been so busy I haven’t had the chance to write any posts or read any blogs. It’s a good busy though as I’m getting to meet so many of the talented people I work with. Even going to the toilet can be a challenge because I see people I know en-route but have never met and end up stopping to chat. It’s lucky I haven’t wet my pants yet. Although I did lock my room key in my room on the first day and spilt tea on my breakfast yesterday. I’m also giving two talks today and am a bit terrified about that. I also seem to be suffering from jet lag, insomnia, and have a headache.

It’s a beautiful spot. We’re in Park City which is about a 50-minute drive from Salt Lake City and at an elevation of 2000m. Here are some pics of the local area.

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Stromness to Aberdeen by ferry + train

My post yesterday about Skara Brae and the Ring of Brodgar was rather rushed because we had to dash for a long day of traveling. But both places were absolutely fascinating. Skara Brae was particularly good. How often do you get to see the house, including furniture, of a Neolithic human? All the walls were still intact. You could see their beds and their version of a pantry and fridge.

The Ring of Brodgar was also an amazing place. As I was walking around it and imagining what ceremonial or religious purpose it might have held for early humans, I couldn’t help thinking what a crock of shit all religions are. In 5000 years from now humans will look back on the religions we have today and wonder what we were thinking just as we do with Neolithic humans and their stone rings.

At breakfast yesterday I found myself feeling nauseated just thinking about the boat trip back to the mainland. This time we caught the ferry from Stromness – a very cute coastal port – to Scrabster on the mainland. It was only 1.5 hours on the ferry and the sea was calm. It was actually a very pleasant trip and as soon as we were out to sea my nausea completely vanished. Oh, the power of the mind. I spent most of the trip crocheting:

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There was a play area on the ferry with dress-ups:

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It was raining for most of the crossing but we could just make out the cliffs on the island of Hoy in Orkney:

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Here’s Scrabster from the sea:

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From Scrabster we went to Thurso which is where the train leaves from, had lunch and a walk around before catching the train all the way back to Aberdeen, a trip of about 7 hours.

The landscapes at the start of the journey were quite flat but still pretty. There were lots of green fields with sheeps, cows, and plantation pine. Then it got hillier and we passed beach, loch, and firth. Here are some pics from the train:

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On the front page of the local paper for Inverness was this:

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Ring of Brodgar and Skara Brae

We visited some more neolithic sites yesterday. First stop was The Standing Stones o’ Stenness and the nearby and well-known Ring of Brodgar. Both are stone circles about 5000 years old. The stones are huge and heavy and would have been quite difficult to move and stand upright in their positions. Why did humans build these stone circles? They must performed some kind of ceremonial purpose but what exactly no-one knows.

The next two pics are of the Stones o’ Stenness.

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The Ring of Brodgar.

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Next stop was Skara Brae, a neolithic village built out of stone and in remarkably good condition. It was built about 4,500 years ago and much of their furniture was also built out of stone and is still there to see. I was impressed by the quality of the construction – I’ve seen shoddier homes built by humans today.

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Our last stop was the Broch of Gurness, an iron-age village with a central stone tower.

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Orkney and the Tomb of the Eagles with puking and ticks

We’re in Orkney. We caught the ferry from Aberdeen yesterday afternoon and arrived here just before midnight last night. The ferry stops in Kirkwall, Orkney a few times each week on its way to Shetland. Here’s a map showing the route we took on the ferry and also the route we plan to take back. We’ll be catching a much shorter ferry back to the mainland and then catching the train from Thurso all the way back to Aberdeen.
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When we went to Shetland by ferry a couple of months ago it was relatively calm. Last night was not so. I needn’t have bothered buying dinner because I puked it all up, traumatising Daniel in the process. I didn’t make it to the toilet and had to use one of those paper bags, similar to the ones they provide on aeroplanes. I can remember hearing Daniel say, “I’m not going to look,” and then he shuffled as far away from me as he possibly could. I couldn’t wait to get off that boat and am quite pleased we’ll be catching the train home. We all felt queasy but I’m the only one who puked. Here I am prior to getting sick.

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Today we went exploring and saw a fascinating archaeological site: The Tomb of the Eagles. Some pics of the scenery on the way there:

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The next photo is a Bronze Age burnt mound. It was a building which was using to heat water. There’s a large pool in the centre which holds about 1000 litres of water and a nearby fire was used to heat stones, which they put in the pool to warm the water. They don’t know what the heated water was used for but two possible theories are either for boiling an entire animal like a lamb as a way to cook it or for bathing.

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Nearby is a neolithic tomb where human skeletons, pottery, and various other artefacts were placed some 5000 years ago. This is the Tomb of the Eagles. Entry is via a small tunnel which you either need to crawl through or pull yourself through on a trolley.

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Ben is crouched on the floor in this next photo peering into one of the caverns off to the side in the tomb where a number of skulls were found. They also found eagle skeletons here, hence the name. Ben’s mum and her partner are here on holiday with us.IMG_2096_2

After the tomb we went for lunch where I noticed what looked like a scab on the back of Elizabeth’s neck. On closer inspection it turned out to be a tick so we promptly left and made a dash for Kirkwall hospital to have it removed. Elizabeth had a good look at the tick after they plucked it from her neck. It was wriggling about with legs flailing on the end of some tweezers. I think she would have taken it home to be her pet if she’d been allowed. Here’s a pic I took of it just before it was removed. It was still quite small so I think we got it almost right away.

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To Aberdeen by bicycle via Drum Castle

We cycled back from Banchory to Aberdeen yesterday and it was rather hellish. I thought I was going to die. We arrived home and I collapsed in a heap with a very sore butt and feeling sorry for myself. I’ve decided to give up cycling for good. Just kidding 🙂

We thoroughly enjoyed our stay at Banchory Lodge and none of us wanted to leave on Sunday morning. I love these British hotels that are each unique, without the soulless furnishings of a large hotel chain, and also a little rough around the edges. We stuffed our faces at breakfast and enjoyed lovely views of the River Dee.IMG_1891

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Here’s the view from my chair:

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I like this photo of the kids and the painting above them:

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The day started rainy and overcast so I was thinking we’d have a nice cool cycle back to Aberdeen and dressed accordingly but the sun came out and it got hot again.

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A close-up of the flowers behind me in that previous pic:

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Someone yesterday asked to see a photo of my hairy legs. Here you go:

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Ok, so that’s not really a photo of my hairy legs 🙂

A couple of pics outside the lodge before we left:

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The part of the Deeside cycleway between Banchory and Crathes is just lovely; my favourite part of the whole trip. It’s very leafy, quiet, flat, and right beside the River Dee. This particular section is not tarmac but it was still easy enough to cycle along. It was not like the gravelly bits in some of the other places which I found quite arduous. Busby is not a mountain bike and cycling on gravel is hard. The section between Drumoak and Peterculter is the worst part with lots of gravel and hills. In fact, it’s so awful that we went back an alternative route which was better.

We wanted to visit Drum Castle on the way home which is slightly off the track so we ventured away from the cycleway and along the main road to the castle. We were so exhausted by the time we got there that I think we spent more time resting in the castle café than walking around the castle itself. We’re going to have to go back for another visit to see it properly. There was quite a long hill up to the castle and I ended up making the kids get out of the bike and walk the last stretch. Cycling uphill without kids was easy peasy. I’m seriously considering getting an electric motor for my bike.

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Drum Castle is gorgeous even though we didn’t even get to see it all. The grounds are huge and there are lots of walks you can do as well as a children’s playground. The café is right at the bottom of the castle in what looks like the old kitchen. Since we spent so much time in there here are a couple of pics of it:

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Aberdeen Art Gallery is currently undergoing some renovations and the collections have been moved to various other locations in the area including to Drum Castle. This means that not only is there all the usual stuff to see at a castle – gardens, woods, architecture, furniture, history, sculptures etc – there’s also an art gallery. It was just lovely.

Eventually we hopped back on our bikes for the final stretch home. Unfortunately I drank too many cups of tea in the café and ended up desperate for the dunny the whole way back. I couldn’t very well crouch behind a bush after all my rants about men pissing in the city centre so I had to put up with the discomfort. I’ve probably given myself permanent kidney damage now. This along with a headache, sore throat, sore arse, and a general feeling of un-wellness made what was really only a 1-2 hour trip feel more like 4 hours. But I made it home without wetting my pants and that’s the main thing 🙂

To Banchory on the Deeside cycleway

We stayed in Banchory last night and I’m typing this from a very comfortable hotel bedroom. For a little while now we’ve been wanting to extend our cycle ride on the Deeside cycleway but felt that Aberdeen to Crathes and back was about our limit given we’ve got small kids and the Bakfiets. If wanted to go further we’d need to stay overnight. So about a month ago we booked a hotel in Banchory and made plans to cycle to Banchory on the Saturday, spend the night here, then cycle back to Aberdeen on the Sunday.

When you book in advance though you can’t predict the weather or other unknown factors and we all woke up yesterday morning feeling sick. Elizabeth has had a cold all week and vomited on the Friday night. I woke up with a headache, burning throat, and generally feeling under the weather. Ben also felt unwell. Only Daniel felt fine. But we couldn’t cancel our trip and we were all looking forward to it so off we went anyway.

I didn’t feel as energetic as the last time so we took it slowly and enjoyed the surroundings. It was also really hot and muggy. One of the things I love about a cool climate is that I get to wear tights everyday and because of this I haven’t shaved my legs for months. My husband loves me hairy legs and all and so I don’t really see the need to do it and I just can’t be bothered. It was so hot yesterday though that I had to take my tights off and bare my hairy legs – shock, horror!

Here’s a pic of the kids in the bike – one on the iPad, the other having a nap, and both picking their noses by the looks of it.

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Ben also had some cargo as you can see in this next photo and we spent much of the ride in the vein of the Four Yorkshire Men discussing who had it the hardest.

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This dress of mine is more than 20 years old. I don’t remember it being quite as tight as this so it must have shrunk while hanging in my wardrobe 🙂

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Some of the sights:

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Rachel declaiming:

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We cycled past lots of productive agricultural land including this field of wheat or oats or barley. I can’t tell the difference. Does anyone know? There were lots of fields like this and they never seem to have any sort of irrigation there. They must get enough water from the sky.
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I love getting somewhere under my own steam. There’s something satisfying about that and also about enjoying the sounds and smells of the countryside which is something you don’t get sitting inside a car. However while I’m happy to struggle during the travel part, I like my creature comforts at the other end. So we booked a room at the fabulous Banchory Lodge. It’s right on the river and I can look outside our bedroom right now and see the River Dee. The Deeside cycleway pretty much cycles right to the lodge. Here’s a view of the Lodge from the outside:

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Some pics of the River Dee outside the hotel:

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The nearby Falls of Feugh:
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Craigievar Castle

We booked another Co-Wheels car today. I think I’ve got the system all figured out and have tried a few different cars now including electric, petrol, and hybrid. Most of the problems I had in the beginning were down to user error, I’m embarrassed to say.

We drove out to Craigievar Castle, about 30 miles west of Aberdeen. The drive was just lovely. We drove to Banchory first and followed the same route we took before Christmas when we went to Ballater but how different it was this time! The countryside is in full bloom now and all the trees covered in leaves so it looked very lush and leafy. It was lovely in winter too but I have to say it was quite spectacular today.

We stopped at Morrisons supermarket in Banchory where I made a fool of myself not once but twice. I bought some small punnets of vegetables to plant in my garden and clumsily knocked one over on the conveyor belt at the checkout and sent dirt flying everywhere. Then when we went to leave, I pushed open an emergency door, not realising it was an emergency exit, and set the alarms off. So we high-tailed it out of there for Craigievar Castle.

Craigievar Castle is the stuff of fairy tales. It’s the sort of thing you might expect to see in a children’s picture book:

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I half expected to see Rapunzel lowering her long hair down from one of the upper windows.

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We went on a guided tour which is the only way to see the inside and I can understand why. All the original furniture and art is still in place, as it has been for hundreds of years. The castle was built in the 1600s by William Forbes. I wasn’t allowed to take photos of the inside unfortunately so I don’t have any to share but it was marvellous. The ceilings were plastered by an Italian artist when the castle was first built and they are impressive. The spiral staircase is a masterpiece, and the rooms were more cozy and inviting than I had imagined castle rooms to be. We went all the way up to the roof where we got to enjoy the splendid views.

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The castle motto is Doe not vaken sleiping dogs which means do not awaken sleeping dogs.

This part of Scotland has so many castles that I think it will be some time before we’ve visited all of them. It’s a lovely place to live, not just because of the interesting history, but also because it’s less populous than other parts of the UK, and there’s some lovely scenery with rolling hills, forests, rivers, and beaches.

Glen Garioch and Tolquhon Castle

We have had another terrific day today. I almost feel a bit bad that I have so many terrific days and I hope that I’m not rubbing it in too much by writing about them on my blog all the time. There’s something so fun about writing about my experiences. It’s kind of a way of re-living the adventure.

I have Thursdays off and Daniel has been home all week with chicken pox (he’s not at all ill though) and Elizabeth woke up in the night with a sore ear so we decided to keep her home as well. We booked another car-club car – a hybrid this time – and took off for Glen Garioch distillery and Tolquhon Castle.

We’ve been to a couple of whiskey distilleries now but this is the first time we’ve been able to go on a tour and it was wonderful. Whiskey production is far more complicated than I thought. How did they ever figure it all out? Following the process from milling of grain all the way through to storage in barrels was fascinating and the smells along the way, splendid.

Glen Garioch is not pronounced as you would expect. They pronounce it Glen Gerry. It’s one of the oldest distilleries in Scotland and the most eastern distillery. It’s also only 30 minutes from Aberdeen by car.

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I took this next photo because of the dog in it. Apparently dogs were very important for distilleries in those days. The grain they kept here (grain is stored elsewhere now so I think it’s less of a problem) attracted rats and they kept cats to deal with the rats but the cats left headless corpses lying around. The dogs finished off the task. I love the Doric on the photo too.

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These next photos are of the distillation process iself:

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Lots of barrels of whiskey:

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I got to have a go at popping the bung in the whiskey barrel by pounding either side of it with this hammer. Only I accidentally hit the cork at one point and wedged it in further – yes, very clumsy of me I know – so it never actually popped out. Ben had a go after me and managed to do it. You have to slam down quite firmly.

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I didn’t taste any this time as I was driving but Dad and Ben did and both enjoyed it very much. You can bottle your own while you’re there too. The staff were so friendly and knowledgable and I thought it was a bonus to be able to take the kids. Most distilleries don’t allow children.

Then we went to Tolquhon Castle which is not very far from Glen Garioch. This whole area of Aberdeenshire looks to be an incredibly productive farming region with field upon field of barley, rapeseed, and maybe oats and wheat too as well as the usual sheep and cows.

Tolquhon Castle is one of the lesser-known castles and not so popular with tourists but we all absolutely loved it. Perhaps we loved it because there was hardly anyone there? But it’s also a very beautiful castle, apparently built for aesthetics (in the 16th century) rather than as a fortress. It was also run-down enough not to have to worry about the kids trashing it – they ran freely from room to room playing hide and seek – but not so much a ruin that you couldn’t imagine how all the rooms looked once before and how the inhabitants might have lived.

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They must have been really short in the 16th century:

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More photos from the Shetland Islands

Dad came with us to the Shetland Islands and took much nicer photos of the puffins than I did so I thought I’d share his photos as they’re really terrific.

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He also took some nice ones of Shetland Ponies:

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And some of the beach:

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Seals (that’s Lerwick in the background):

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A photo of Scalloway:

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And I took this one of the local dialect:

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There’s a visible Viking influence in Shetland which is left over from when the Vikings arrived in the 8th and 9th centuries. Every year they celebrate Up Helly Aa, some kind of fire festival which celebrates the end of Yule. Some of the place names and words they use also have Nordic origins like Eid which is apparently old Norse for isthmus. The museum we visited next to Scalloway Castle was also opened by the Prime Minister of Norway. There is quite a lot about Norway and the wartime resistance movement known as the Shetland Bus in the museum. Up until about 6 or 7 years ago you could even catch the ferry from Lerwick to Bergen in Norway, a trip of similar distance to the one we made from Aberdeen to Lerwick. I wish that ferry was still going as I’d have loved to try it. I guess it would be similar to the trip the Vikings made on their boats but without the mod cons! I took this photo of a model of one of their boats in the ferry terminal (I don’t think they had an onboard cinema):

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I have to say I’m very keen to return to The Shetland Islands so perhaps we’ll go back sooner rather than later. I’m already dreaming about where to go next. Any suggestions? It has to be near enough for a day trip or a one- or two-nighter since we all have work and school commitments.

The Shetland Islands

I’m not quite sure how to begin this post. I’ve just had a fantastic adventure in the Shetland Islands and saw and did so many wonderful things so this is probably going to be a long post.

On Friday evening we boarded a ferry, the MV Hjaltland, for the Shetland Islands. The Shetland Islands are at 60deg north, the same latitude as Bergen in Norway and St Petersburg in Russia. It’s an overnight trip which leaves Aberdeen at 7pm and arrives at Lerwick in the Shetland Islands at 7am. As we left Aberdeen we stood out on deck to farewell the city and there were dolphins in the sea near Aberdeen beach. The kids got very excited about this.

You can book a 4-berth cabin which is what we did. It’s quite exciting to go to sleep in a bed and then wake up in a completely different place. The ferry is large with a restaurant, a couple of bars and lounge areas, a shop, a kids’ play area, and even a cinema.

At first glance Shetland looks very barren. There aren’t any trees and instead just lots of green hills and steep, rocky cliffs. It’s hard to imagine how anyone could have survived here but humans have thrived in this area for thousands of years. There are about 23,000 people living in Shetland now and just a few thousand in the capital at Lerwick.

We were only in Shetland for a day as we took the ferry back on Saturday night, so we made the most of our time and hired a car and drove around to see as much as we could. The first stop was a seal colony next to Tesco’s supermarket in Lerwick. The seals look a bit like large slugs sun-baking on rocks.

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I zoomed in on this next one:

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Next we drove to to Jarlshof, an archaeological site dating from 4000BC. It was only discovered in the 19th century when a storm ripped off the green mound to reveal the ancient human settlement beneath. I just love places like this. I find them fascinating and I’m always so impressed with what humans thousands of years ago were capable of. It seems like such a hostile environment but in fact humans did quite well here and survived by fishing, eating shellfish, and farming emmer wheat (emmer is an old wheat variety), barley, and sheep. There was no wood to burn for fire and instead they burnt peat.

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Next stop was the lighthouse at Sumburgh Head where I got to see my first puffin. These birds are pretty cute and have a distinctive orange beak. They did not seem frightened of us and we were able to get quite close and at one point a puffin was within a metre of where we were standing. The views were also spectacular.

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We left the puffins for St Ninian’s Isle, a tiny island joined to the main island by a sand bank called a tombolo. As a Queenslander I have quite high standards for beaches as I don’t think many places in the world can compete with Queensland ones, but this little beach was right up there with the best. The water was cold but very inviting nonetheless and had I brought my swimmers I think I might have gone in for a dip. Instead we walked along the sand and clambered over some rocks.

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After the beach we went to Scalloway Castle. On the gate into the castle grounds is a sign pointing tourists to the nearby museum to get the key for the castle. It doesn’t cost anything to go in and walk around. When the fellow in the museum gave me the key he said, “Make sure you don’t lock anyone inside”.

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There are lots of Shetland ponies on the Shetland Islands, which is not surprising, I guess. I think there might soon be one more, too:

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The people who live in Shetland would have to be among the friendliest I’ve ever encountered anywhere. The roads are quiet and the whole place feels remote and peaceful: not unlike the very south of the South Island of New Zealand. It’s a wonderful place for a holiday. We’ll definitely go back. I also really enjoyed the ferry. Arriving and leaving somewhere by boat gives you quite a different perspective of the place. I lived and worked on a boat for a few months many years ago and have very fond memories of that time. This boat was a lot bigger than that one but it was still very pleasant. The only negative is that it’s quite expensive and the food wasn’t all that great. But we will still take the ferry again next time.

Dunnottar Castle

I took Dad to Dunnottar Castle today. I booked the electric car again which I had no problems starting but we couldn’t get the plug out of the charging station. I phoned Co-wheels and they weren’t sure either so they said I could just leave it there and that’s what we did.

I have been to Dunnottar Castle before but it’s the kind of place you can visit many times without getting bored. The castle is old and in ruins now but it’s perched on the top of an imposing and scary-looking cliff above the sea. Humans have lived on the site since 5000BC and the castle itself dates from the 13th century. The history of the stone walls combined with the natural beauty of the environment make it a fabulous place to visit and it’s only 18 miles from Aberdeen.

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The guy in this next pic is saying, “How did you get up there?”

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This was the castle brewery:

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Provence

We’re currently staying at a truly magnificent place in Provence. My sister and her husband have organised a weekend celebration for their wedding rather than just the usual day and so a group of about 30 of us have gathered in this lovely part of the world to drink and be merry.

There are quite a few kids and they’re all free-ranging around the vast open spaces. There are no cars, just vineyards, fields, and forest. I went for a run around these grape vines yesterday. It was wonderful.

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I got another nice photo of the sisters again today. You can tell I’m the one who has come from Scotland while everyone else is used to warmer climates. My dress in this next photo came from a charity shop in Aberdeen.

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What a good life I have and don’t I know it 🙂