Saturday, May 27, 2017

So Long for Now Beautiful Isle and Onto Whiskey and Lake Monsters

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I awoke to the sun shining on that last morning on the Isle of Skye.  Finally, I was able to get a clear glimpse of that fantastic view from atop that hill.  After yet another hearty breakfast, I was once again back on the bus and off the tackle more adventures around the Highlands of Scotland.  On this day, we took a different route off the Island and drove off the Isle of Skye instead of taking a ferry.  Perhaps due to my ancestral connections to the island, I felt sad at leaving it, almost like leaving home.  It was a rather strange feeling like none I ever experienced when leaving any other places I've visited. 
The view from Hillview

As we drove along those scenic country roads, I heard more stories and folklore about the people who shaped the land.  Stories such as the five sisters of Kintail and fairies stalking the glens and knolls of the countryside.  Our first stop of the day was the Glenlivet Whisky Distillery  Now, I'm not a fan of Whiskey.  In fact, I don't even understand how anyone can sip on it and not gag or throw up like I almost do every time I take a sip.  The option was there for anyone who didn't want to take the tour to stay on the bus or go for a walk around the area.  Since whisky seems to be as much a part of Scottish culture as kilts or bagpipes, I opted to take the tour and, despite my dislike for the drink, it was quite interesting. I may not appreciate the taste of whisky but I can certainly appreciate the amount of time and work that goes into making it!  At the end of the tour, I kept an open mind and even tried the sample that was offered to me.  I took a tiny swig and promptly gagged.  At least I gave it another chance.  Whisky just doesn't agree with me.  I don't know how everyone around me looked like they were thoroughly enjoying and even savoring it while I felt like my throat was on fire after a little drop. 
The whiskey sample I was given at the end of the tour.  I could only drink about half of it before I gagged.
Learning how whiskey is made - just some of the sights in and around the brewery

Our next stop was the pretty little town of Beuly where we stopped long enough time to eat lunch and  wander the village.  I decided to walk the entire length of the main street and see what was available for restaurants and cafes.  There were quite a few places but there seemed to be lineups and large crowds at every one of them.  A couple of tour buses from other companies had arrived in the town at the same time so I decided to keep walking for a bit to allow the crowds to disperse.  When I returned to where most of the eateries are, my eyes locked onto the one place that didn't look too crowded, a little cafe called Corner on the Square.  I ordered a veggie quiche and some other delicious-looking item that I had never heard of before and can't remember the name of.  With food in hand, I found myself in a bit of a dilemma; there were no tables or anywhere to sit inside so I had to find a place to sit outside.  I once again wandered around the town looking for a place to enjoy my meal.  All the benches and picnic tables were taken so I sat on a ledge near a bus stop in front of a town-hallish looking building.  Others soon followed and soon the entire ledge was bustling with tourists eating lunch in the midday sun along a busy street in the pretty little town of Beuly.

I've been told that a trip to Scotland is not complete without a visit to one of the most famous lakes in Scotland and possible the whole world, Loch Ness.  I'm pretty sure everyone reading this is probably aware of what makes the lake so famous and had it not been on the itinerary of this tour, I don't think I would have made a special detour to try and spot a monster that may or may not be still alive if it even ever existed.  That being said, my afternoon on the Loch did end up being a highlight of the trip.  We left Beuly and drove a long stretch of highway until we reached Urquhart Castle.  After a walk through the visitor centre, I ventured off on my own to explore the ruins of the great castle with instructions to meet in an hour to board a cruise on the Loch.

Once again, I found myself wandering around an ancient castle and imagining what it was once like and trying to wrap my head around some of the (both brutal and historical) things must have transpired on that very spot over hundreds of years.  The setting of the ruins is breathtaking with what's left of the once stately castle sitting on the banks of Loch Ness.

With the hour almost up, I made my way to the docks by the lake and climbed aboard the Jacobite Warrior and I took a seat on the upper outside deck. The air was a little cook but this was the best place to get the best view of the lake and surrounding countryside.  The winds had picked up a bit but the sun was shining on the Loch, giving it a crystal clear, glass-like finish until we got out to the middle of the lake where it was quite rough.  I scanned the deep waters looking for signs of the famous sea serpent that is said to live in the loch but Nessie remained elusive.  Some sonar equipment is on display so passengers can watch to see if any large objects are lurking beneath the surface.  I saw nothing there either.  Some say Nessie died and that is why she has not been seen in a while.  The gift shops, amusement park, boat tours and Nessie merchandise give me the impression that perhaps she never existed except to attract foreign tourists.  Yes, I am a skeptic until I see it with my own eyes.  
Loch Ness
Sonar equipment used to detect Nessie...or more likely jsut any big mass on the lake.

We arrived in Fort Augustus in the early evening and before checking into our accommodations for the night, we attended a live show at the Clansman Centre.  Inside the dark theatre, a man dressed in period costume and carrying a Claymore sword walked out on stage.  After a brief history on the use of the Claymore, a medieval (and quite effective) weapon used in battles from the 15th to the 17th century, we were shown the proper way to wear a kilt.  I you are thinking the way I did before seeing this demonstration, you probably think that wearing a kilt is simply the same as wearing any skirt.  Well, not quite...and the Scots prefer that no one use the word skirt to describe a kilt.  The kilt is, after all, an item of clothing usually worn by men and was, in the past, commonly worn on the battlefield. I was able to see exactly how the kilt was worn and what went into the actual putting on of the kilt and let me tell you, it's a lot harder than it looks!

Fort Augustus is another pretty little town with a canal in the centre of the downtown area.  Since it was our last night together as a group (some were headed to the Orkney islands the next day with another guide while the rest of us, me included, were headed back to Glasgow and Edinburgh) we decided to go out to dinner together.  However, that didn't quite work out as planned.  Some members of the group decided to call it a night while the rest of us couldn't decide on one place to eat so we ended up going our separate ways.  The American lady I had been sharing a seat with on the bus suggested pizza for anyone who wanted to join her.  I hadn't tried Scottish pizza yet so I went with her.  We found a place called The Moorings that served pizza and a lot of other delicious-sounding meals.  Since I already had pizza on the brain, I ordered a small vegetarian pizza thinking I would take half of it back to the hotel to have for breakfast the next morning.  Well that didn't happen because it was so good and I was so hungry, I just polished it all off in one sitting.  The large windows in the restaurant allowed for a nice view of the little town and because it wasn't overly crowded with people waiting for tables, we felt comfortable to stay and talk for a while after we ate.

I'm a bit of an introvert so meeting new people is a tad of a chore for me sometimes but occasionally, I meet a person who I instantly like and trust and we become instant friends. I don't often meet someone I can share intimate details of my life with after only a couple of days but I felt very comfortable with this person, like I had known her all my life.  We talked about the recent, sudden loss of our mothers at fairly young ages.  We talked about our careers and hobbies and families and travels.  At one point, she blurted out something that both surprised me.  "I'm proud of you".  Of course, I was initially baffled by this statement.  How can a who was a total stranger 4 days earlier be proud of me?  "I wish I could have done what you are doing at your age...traveling by myself.  I was too scared when I was younger.  Keep doing what you are doing and don't let anyone tell you otherwise".  I was shocked.  That was the first time anyone had ever told me they were proud of me for traveling on my own.  I've gotten lots of comments over the years about my solo travels.  Usually they were along the line of "you know, it's time to get your priorities straight and start thinking about starting a family" or "one of these days, you are going to get raped/kipnapped/killed/beat up/robbed while wandering around these foreign countries".  Hearing those words made me feel more confident in my own feelings towards my lifestyle.  I've never felt that I'm being irresponsible, selfish or careless when it comes to my travels but the people around me have tried to make me feel that way my whole life and at times, I wonder if maybe it is true.  It was a relief to hear someone tell me that I am on the right track in life.  This is why I find it easier making friends on the road despite being more on the introverted side.  I'm more likely to meet more open-minded, adventurous people who are living their lives to the fullest.  People who are doing things, who don't live in the tiny bubbles of their little corner of the world with their house, white picket fence, television and 2.5 kids.  Too bad the people around me can't see that just because I don't live a semi-sheltered and structured life like they do, it doesn't mean there's something wrong with me.  It just means I am following my own path and living my life the way I want to live it. And I'm not hurting anyone by doing so!

We left the restaurant almost two hours after we arrived and set out to find a bank machine to get some cash out.  In our wanderings, we forgot to keep track of where we were and how to get back to the main road and back to our guest house.  We walked around for a long time until we found an area that looked familiar and walked up a road that looked like the road that our guest house was on.  It had been a light drizzle all evening until suddenly, we got caught in a straight and heavy downpour.  We walked and walked in that cold, hard rain for what seemed like forever and realized we were on the wrong road.  We returned to the main road and walked and walked again until we found another road that looked familiar.  Nope.  Wrong road again.  Eventually, we found The Thistle Dubh and walked in the front door drenched from head to toe.  I never laughed so hard in my life.  Who knew getting lost in a rainstorm in a foreign country could be so fun.  I guess any situation can be turned into something positive as long as you are in good company. 

I love getting lost in foreign countries.  Not only does it provide opportunity to see things I would otherwise not see and experience things I would otherwise not experience, it provides me with memorable and entertaining stories to share later.  These memories always being a smile to my face and that night was one of those nights that will surely stay fresh in my mind for a long time to come. 
The Thistle Dubh (a cute little play on words if you know the proper pronunciation of those two gaelic words.  Clue: It ends up sounding very much like "this'll do")

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