From Seattle to Keflavik!

With our luggage, passport and ISK curency in hand, we headed off to catch the Quick Coach from Vancouver to Seattle – more specifically to SeaTac airport to catch our Icelandair flight to Keflavik! Since Icelandair only provides limited seasonal (summer) service through YVR, we had to take a bit of a detour through Seattle.

Our journey down to SeaTac was very smooth. We got through U.S. customs very quickly – as it was 7am on a weekday. The bus also made good time through downtown Seattle – we must have missed the busy morning commute! So we arrived at SeaTac wayyyy early at 10:30am for our 3:30pm flight. At least that’s better than being late!

The Icelandair check-in counter wasn’t open yet, so we had lots of time to hang out before we could drop our luggage off. So, of course, we amused ourselves with people watching and selfie-taking!

Ioana spotted this group of blue-hued flight crew making their way through SeaTac!

Once we dropped off our luggage and went through security, we went off in search of food!

The Icelandair flight did not have complimentary in-flight meals, unlike all of the other transatlantic flights that we have been on. We found it a bit strange for an almost 8hr international flight. If you upgrade to Economy Comfort or Saga Class, then you do get a complimentary meal from the in-flight menu. There is, of course, food and alcoholic beverages for purchase on board. There is even a discount if you pre-order your food before your trip.

We decided to get some food from the small food court by our terminal so we could have a bite to eat during the overnight flight.

Finally, it was time to board our plane!

A pleasant surprise awaited us when we got to our seats – a pillow and a cozy blanket! Haven’t seen these on a flight in a while and they kept us comfortable and cozy for the whole flight ūüėŹ

Once we had taken off, we were treated to a gorgeous view of the Cascade mountain range surrounding Seattle.

Travel Tip: If you are taking an Icelandair flight, check to see if meals are included with your fare. If not, you might want to consider pre-purchasing your in-flight meal, bringing your own food and snacks or purchasing something from the airport before boarding. During our flight, we got complimentary beverages (juice, coffee and tea) but no snacks. And 8 hours is a long time to go without food!

There was an in-flight entertainment system on the back of the seats, with some new movies and older ones, as well as TV shows to keep you entertained on this transatlatic journey. The girl sitting next to us had some trouble with her entertainment system and the flight attendant quickly offered her an entertainment system on an iPad.

We tried to catch some sleep, so that we would be ready for out first day of exploring and adventures when we landed!

We smoothly landed at Keflavik Airport and cleared customs – earning a new stamp in our passports! Before we arrived at the baggage claim, we passed through a large duty-free shop. We had read that locals prefer to purchase their alcohol here, as it is cheaper than buying it in the city. So following the locals and the many flight crew members who were purchasing their alcohol here, we browsed the selection and came away with some wine and cider. (No Thistly Cross though, to our disappointment!)

Keflavik is about 50 minutes away from Reykjavik. We booked our transfer through Icelandair. We exchanged our paper tickets for a FlyBus+ “orange zone” ticket. This meant we did not have to change buses at the BSI. Others with different colour tickets had to get off at the BSI and change to smaller minivans and buses.

About an hour after getting on the bus at Keflavik, we pulled into the Icelandair Reykjavik Natura – our home for the next few days!

Stay tuned for more on Iceland! Next up? Off to explore the city and take a walking tour! Follow us on Instagram for our Icelandic adventures ūüėŹ

From Vancouver with Love,

Ioana and Natalie

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¬© Letters of Wanderlust, 2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of any written material and/or photographs without express and written permission from this site‚Äôs authors is strictly prohibited. Please get in touch if you would like to republish any of our materials or if you would like to work on a project together!

HAGGiS Adventures – 10 Day Compass Buster!

After a couple days in Edinburgh and at Dalhousie Castle, we were off on another adventure – a 10 day Compass Buster tour of Scotland with HAGGiS Adventures.

We definitely busted some compasses on this trip!

After having been on a Shamrocker Adventures’ 7 Day All Ireland Rocker Tour, we had a bit of an idea of what to expect going into this trip.¬†We knew it would be shared accommodations, there would be exploring and adventures (legs day! ūüôĄ) and that there will probably be switches in tour guides and tour groups.

And we knew it was going to be epic – of course! It is Scotland, after all! From all that we have read, seen, heard and probably from our imaginations as well, we had built up an idea of what Scotland would be like and how amazing it would be! And sometimes… you end up disappointed because you had such high expectations to begin with.

But for us, we absolutely LOVED it – from the history and the standing stones, to castles, scenery, glens and lochs! ūüíô We had an amazing time exploring Scotland!

Loved the time we spent walking in the great outdoors!

Loved the time we spent walking in the great outdoors!

We felt taking this tour was a good way to see this beautiful majestic country – with our limited budget and time. Sure, it would have been nicer if we could have done a road trip¬†around Scotland ourselves and stopped wherever we wanted to (*ahem* Speyside Whisky Trail and Walkers Shortbread factory!) and spend more time in the places that we liked (The Hebrides and Isle of Skye!). But I don’t think we would have seen as much of Scotland in 10 days time, on our own.

Plus, then we wouldn’t have met our wonderful group mates and friends!¬†ūüėä

I think we have said it before but we’ll say it again here – the people you’re with definitely make or break your trip! Especially on a group trip… Especially on a long 10-day group trip like this one! This trip, just like the Shamrocker’s trip we took earlier, also combined several different tours together – besides our 10-day group, there were people on¬†5-day, 7-day and 3-day tours all combined together as well. So… we did have people join and leave our original 10-day group and we may not have meshed well with the last group that joined us… But our original group of people? I would go on another trip with these guys in a heartbeat. Sure, introductions and group dynamics can be… interesting sometimes (like the Isle of Harris beach incident of 2015) but we are so lucky to have met these wonderful, kind and fun people!! I’m smiling like mad right now – reminiscing and looking at all of our photographs from this trip!

So, what did we think of the trip?

We loved that there was lots of exploring and adventures. To traverse a country as vast as Scotland, there was, of course, travel time spent on the bus. But even on long travel days, stops were scheduled quite frequently and we were able to at least get off for a quick ramble and stretch our legs. I think we went on a (long) walk pretty much every single day – even when it was blustery and pouring rain (We’re from Raincouver, so we enjoy a good walk in the rain!) The scenery and landscape was amazing – from the mountains to the waterfalls to the beaches – yup, I said beaches!

Look at that water!

There were some things that could be improved upon – the route was a bit circuitous and there was some unnecessary (to us – but necessary for operations) doubling back. It seems like this was common feedback from previous groups. While we were on our trip, we were told that HAGGiS Adventures was planning to¬†change the route for the 2016 year so that it would flow a bit better. So it’s nice to see that they take feedback from previous groups and are working to improve things for future guests!

Over the next couple of weeks, we will share our trip and experiences with you all. We hope that our posts and reviews will be helpful for independent travelers trying to decide where in Scotland to visit and what attractions to see, as well as for those considering taking a guided tour of Scotland Рsuch as the HAGGiS Adventures trip that we went on.

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We will make a note here that we paid for this trip ourselves and did not receive any compensation for writing about our experience. Our blog posts and reviews are of our own experience in October 2015 (better late than never?!) and are our honest opinions.

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Here’s the Compass Buster¬†tour description from the HAGGiS Adventures website:

“Think you can take 10 days of it? All the creepy castles, all the crazy history and all the eye bursting beauty? Yes? Then be brave and do the Compass Buster. It spans Scotland from pub to mountain, from beach to monster and all the best bits in-between. And if that wasn’t enough, you get to absorb a ton of knowledge from our legendary guides. So be bold, be smart and take our most complete tour of Scotland.”

The current trip route has changed from when we went but I think most of the locations and stops are still the same. One thing about this trip that was different from our All Ireland Rocker trip was the structure of the trip. The Ireland trip had more of a set itinerary for each day. This Compass Buster trip was less structured and depending on the driver/guide, the places you visit might be in a different order or you might visit a completely different place compared to the group going on the same trip a week after you!

This 10-day tour was a pretty complete tour of Scotland – taking us from Edinburgh out to the Hebrides, then up north to the Orkneys, back through Loch Ness, then out west to Oban and back to Edinburgh. Of course, there were some places that we didn’t stop at or didn’t spend a lot of time in, but at least now we know where we want to go when we plan our next trip to Scotland!

Here was the itinerary for our 10 day trip:

Day 1: Edinburgh → Dunkeld → Corrieshalloch Gorge and the Falls of Mesach → Ardmair → Ullapool → Stornoway (Overnight)

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Day 2: Stornoway → The Butt of Lewis → Gearrannan Blackhouses → Dun Carloway Broch → Callanish Standing Stones → Stornoway (Overnight)

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Day 3: Stornoway → Isle of Harris and Beaches! → Tarbert → Portree (Overnight)

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Day 4: Portree → Fairy Pools → Eilean Donan Castle → Inverness (Overnight)

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Day 5: Inverness¬†‚Üí¬†Duncansby Head ‚Üí¬†John O’Groats ‚Üí Tomb of the Eagles ‚Üí Italian Chapel ‚Üí Kirkwall¬†(Overnight)

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Day 6: Kirkwall → Skara Brae → Ring of Brodgar Standing Stones → Yesnaby → Kirkwall (Overnight)

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Day 7: Kirkwall → Invermoriston → Loch Ness → Fort Augustus (Overnight)

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Day 8: Fort Augustus → Glenmoriston → Eilean Donan Castle (repeat) → Old Man of Storr → Portree (repeat) → Kyleakin (Overnight)

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Day 9: Kyleakin → Armadale → Mallaig → HOGWARTS! → Glencoe → Oban (Overnight)

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Day 10: Oban → Doune Castle → The Kelpies → Edinburgh

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We can’t wait to share our stories and photographs with you all! Stay tuned for Day 1 of our Scotland adventures coming up soon!

From Vancouver with Love,

Ioana and Natalie

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© Letters of Wanderlust, 2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of any written material and/or photographs without express and written permission from this site’s authors is strictly prohibited. Please get in touch if you would like to republish any of our materials or if you would like to work on a project together!

A Royal Day Out at Holyrood Palace

After a great first day in Edinburgh and a nice restful sleep that night, we woke up refreshed and ready for another day of exploring Edinburgh!

What was on the menu for today? Our plan was to visit Holyrood Palace in the morning and then explore Arthur’s Seat, Calton Hill and the New Town in the afternoon.

But first, there was something important to deal with – breakfast! So we wandered from our hostel down to Sainsbury’s for a grab-and-go breakfast! We loved how just walking from our hostel to the supermarket, we got to take in some iconic sights, like these telephone boxes/booths and even a castle!

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The iconic, world famous red telephone boxes/booths!

It was a gorgeous day in Edinburgh. So we got to see Edinburgh Castle with a backdrop of blue sky and sunshine. It certainly looks different in the sunshine!

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Check out the “Rock” that the Castle is built upon!

After getting our breakfast and a little picnic for lunch, we slowly wandered down the Royal Mile towards the Palace of Holyroodhouse, enjoying the late September sunshine and admiring all the historic and character buildings along the way.

Walking down the Royal Mile

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The Heart of Midlothian on the Royal Mile

The Mercat Cross on the Royal Mile

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Looking across at Calton Hill – our destination for this afternoon!

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White Horse Close

As we neared the bottom of the Royal Mile, we walked by the Scottish Parliament building, which looks very contemporary and different from the other buildings along the Royal Mile.

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Finally, we arrived at our destination for this morning Рthe Palace of Holyroodhouse or Holyrood Palace.

This palace has been a royal residence for over 500 years. Over the years, there have been additions, destructions and changes to the palace and its grounds Рmaking it the way it is now! Today, Holyrood Palace is the official residence in Scotland for the British monarchy. The Queen usually spends 1 week at Holyrood Palace every summer.

As with our visit to Edinburgh Castle, we got our tickets ahead of time online. Tickets cost £12.00 currently and also includes an audio guide to tell you more about this impressive palace as you walk through it.

The Guardhouse

After getting our tickets checked, we strolled through the Guardhouse and entered the Forecourt. How impressive is this!

The Forecourt

The Forecourt Fountain

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The amazingly intricate details of the fountain

To pass through into the Palace, we walked through another set of doors, this one with the Royal Arms of Scotland majestically above it.

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No photographs are allowed inside the palace, so you’ll have to visit and experience this grand palace for yourself! We got to explore the palace with the included audio guide, which provided a lot of great information on the history and architecture of the palace, the people who designed the palace and the various additions, as well as the stories of the kings and queens who resided here.

We got to see the State Apartments, which includes the Royal Dining Room, the Throne Room and various drawing rooms. All of these¬†are still used by members of the Royal Family for dinners, receptions and other state events when they are in Edinburgh. All of these rooms are richly decorated, with velvet, ornate furnishings, paintings, intricate plasterwork and incredibly detailed tapestries. Several tapestries were brought up from Buckingham Palace by order of Queen Victoria during her reign and these tapestries still hang on the walls of Holyrood Palace today! We also had the chance to see the Great Gallery, the King’s Apartments, the Queen’s Apartments.¬†

What we found particularly interesting was the chambers of Mary, Queen of Scots. Her chambers were on the second floor of James V’s Tower. It was intriguing to hear about her life, what happened in her chambers – particularly the Outer Chamber where David Rizzio was murdered and where there is allegedly a bloodstain that could not be washed out. The Outer Chamber currently has on display a large collection of relics and treasures that are associated with Mary, Queen of Scots, the Darnley family, the Stuart family.¬†

After exploring the inside of the palace, we headed outside to explore the Holyrood Abbey. There are guided tours available during the summer months but we just spent our own time wandering through the beautiful ruins.

Holyrood Abbey was founded by David I in 1128, after which additional buildings were added to serve the growing community in this area. By the 15th century, there may have been guesthouses, and later royal apartments, built to accommodate royalty here at Holyrood. Many significant events such as births, coronations and marriages occurred here, as royalty preferred Holyrood instead of Edinburgh Castle. However, throughout the centuries, much damage had been done to the Abbey Рfrom wars, raids, mobs to the collapse of the abbey roof during a storm. Today, the nave is the only part of the original Abbey that remains standing.

Entering the Abbey ruins

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We really enjoyed our time in the Abbey Рadmiring the beautiful architecture of the ruins.

After visiting the Abbey, we explored the palace gardens. The Gardens of Holyroodhouse are very expansive and include amazing views of Arthur’s Seat. The Queen hosts an annual Garden Party here in July! (That would definitely be THE party of the year, if we were ever invited!)

The Fiddler

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Look at Arthur’s Seat peeking out in the background – what an amazing backdrop for a garden!

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Outlines of where some of the Palace outbuildings might have been…

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In a video we watched at the Palace, we saw the Queen exit the Palace and walk into the Gardens via these stairs. So naturally we had to find it and take a photograph!

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There is a café Рaptly named Café at the Palace, should you need some refreshments after your visit to the Palace and Gardens. They even serve Afternoon Tea here or for a special occasion Рthey serve a Champagne Afternoon Tea at the café!

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Café at the Palace Рset in the Mews Courtyard!

As our final stop, we walked through the gift shop, which was full of corgis, plaid-wearing teddy bears, gorgeous tea sets and some Christmas ornaments! We both got this Piper Teddy Ornament to remember our trip to Holyrood Palace!

Our biggest regret? That we didn’t buy all the Corgi-themed souvenirs¬†– from the stuffed animals to the cozy Corgi slippers and Corgi-topped pencils! Looks like a trip back to Holyrood is in order to stock up on these! ūüėČ

After waking out of the palace grounds, we crossed the street and looked up at… Arthur’s Seat and Salisbury Crags.

For more on our adventures in Edinburgh, stay tuned for our next post!

From Vancouver with Love,

Ioana and Natalie

LettersofWanderlust3


© Letters of Wanderlust, 2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of any written material and/or photographs without express and written permission from this site’s authors is strictly prohibited. Please get in touch if you would like to republish any of our materials or if you would like to work on a project together!

A Walk Through Edinburgh

After our visit to Edinburgh Castle, we wandered down the Royal Mile for our next adventure – a walking tour of Edinburgh.

We always like doing a walking tour when we are in a new city. We feel it gives us a good chance to get our bearings and get familiar with the city. We also get an idea of what attractions or locations we want to explore more of and visit on our own. And which ones we are ok with just seeing on the outside and taking a photograph. Doing a walking tour also allows us to chat with the guide and maybe get some tips on sightseeing, restaurants, pubs and the local area.

We went with¬†SANDEMANs New Europe tours¬†and took their “Free Tour of Edinburgh.”¬†This company operates tours in¬†many European cities – we did a tour with them in Dublin and I’ve also done their tours in London and Paris. Their tours are “free” in the sense that you don’t pay upfront. Instead, at the end, you pay what you think the tour was worth. SANDEMANs also runs several other tours in Edinburgh, like their Edinburgh Castle Tours and Pub Crawls. Check out their website for more details and the meeting times¬†of the various tours.

The Free Tour of Edinburgh meets right on the Royal Mile/High Street – at the Starbucks by the Tron Kirk. You’ll know you’ve come to the right place when you see the red umbrella and the crowd gathering around.

Walking Tour Tip: Make sure you wear comfortable walking shoes – it’s not a strenuous walk by any means, but you are walking for around 2.5 hours! Since we explored Edinburgh Castle earlier this morning, we already had our walking shoes on. So we wandered down to the Starbucks and the red umbrella for the 2pm walking tour!

Once the groups and languages (there were also tours in Spanish) were sorted out, we headed out with our group and our guide – Greg. He was, as he described himself, “the quintessential Scottish stereotype – a big, bearded, bellowing flame-haired highlander with a love of tales and a flare for the dramatic.” He definitely had a flare for the dramatic and told us many tales of Edinburgh and Scotland in an animated and engaging manner, which kept us interested, amused and entertained for the entire 2.5 hr walking tour.

We won’t say too much because you really should visit Edinburgh for yourself! ūüėŹ But we will share some of our favourite photographs and let them tell the story – like an Edinburgh Photo Walk. We will also say that we particularly loved the architecture of Edinburgh – so full of character and history!

Here is St. Giles’ Cathedral. We didn’t have the chance to go inside on this trip, but we enjoyed admiring the outside of the beautiful cathedral – especially the intricate details on the windows and the archways.

Reminded me of the phrase – “Playing Devil’s Advocate”

Lady Stair’s Close and The Scottish Writers’ Museum – another attraction that we only saw from the outside this time around. We might have to add it to the list for our next visit to Edinburgh!

The Hub, in the background, on the Royal Mile.

We took a lane that branched off the Royal Mile and ended up here – overlooking Victoria Street.

I love this view of Victoria street and of the city from way up here! All these tall and narrow buildings have so much character… Imagine everything¬†that these bricks have seen!

After the little detour to see Victoria Street, we ended up walking past our hostel and gazing up at Edinburgh Castle again. Earlier today, we looked down from the castle. Now, we were looking up at the Castle, which sits on top of a GREAT rock, which you can absolutely see in this photograph here!

George Heriot’s School – a private (independent) school which is said to be the inspiration behind Hogwarts! (More on Edinburgh and the Harry Potter connection later!)

After walking through Grassmarket and hearing some stories about public executions and hangings (google the story of Maggie Dickson), we headed to the Grassmarket Café (part of the Grassmarket Community Project) for a break and some treats!

After the much needed break, we headed towards our last destination – the area around Greyfriars Kirkyard.

One of the most famous residents of Greyfriars Kirkyard is Greyfriars Bobby. Bobby was a Skye Terrier, who was so loyal to his master John Gray – that after Gray’s death, Bobby spent the rest of his life (14 years!) standing guard at his former master’s grave. Not even the wind, rain or multiple evictions from the cemetery could keep Bobby away from his master. ¬†His story of loyalty and devotion is one that inspired a lot of people, leading to the creation of a statue, monument, books, movies and even a pub.

The monument and statue of Bobby on the corner of Candlemaker Row and George IV Bridge.

There’s even a pub named after Greyfriars Bobby.

Entering Greyfriars cemetery and kirk (church)…

Although Bobby couldn’t not be buried inside the cemetery with his master John Gray, he is buried just inside the gates of Greyfriars Kirk. A very inspirational inscription – “Let his loyalty and devotion be a lesson to us all” is engraved onto the gravestone in memory of Greyfriars Bobby.

We were told that people sometimes leave sticks and toys for Greyfriars Bobby to play with!

Greg gave us a brief tour of the cemetery and we heard some stories about the individuals who rest here.

After walking through Greyfriars Kirk, we headed towards the National Museum of Scotland, where our tour ended and we unfortunately had to say goodbye to Greg. We really enjoyed getting to know Edinburgh with Greg. He was very animated, entertaining, knowledgeable and definitely passionate about Scotland! And it just got us more excited about exploring Edinburgh and Scotland in the upcoming days!

After the walking tour, we actually backtracked to Greyfriars… Because there was one thing that we didn’t see up close when we were at the cemetery earlier.

We are Harry Potter fans and we know that J.K. Rowling was inspired by Edinburgh while writing some of the books there – the George Heriot’s school being the inspiration for Hogwarts, for example. It seems that some of the characters’ names also have an Edinburgh connection – Tom Riddell and Professor McGonagall in particular. Here is the grave of a Thomas Riddell, who is said to have inspired the name for Tom Riddell. And nearby is the grave of a William McGonagall, whose name is said to be the inspiration for Professor Minerva McGonagall.

After that Harry Potter connection, came another! We came upon the Elephant House. This is the cafe where J.K. Rowling wrote the early books in the series. Flocks of Potterheads flood this cafe daily to say that they’ve been to the coffee shop where J.K. Rowling created the magical world of Harry Potter. (Potterheads have apparently been writing so many messages in the loo that toilet seats have been broken from people standing on them to write on the walls/windows and the staff have given up trying to paint over the graffiti!) We didn’t go in – it was super packed and busy inside, we just didn’t feel like jostling with the crowd!

The Elephant House – where J.K. Rowling spent time writing her Harry Potter series!

The advertising outside the cafe…

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Our first day in Edinburgh wasn’t over just yet! Our next stop: The Real Mary King’s Close!

A “close” as we learned, is an alleyway that leads off the Royal Mile. Mary King’s Close, situated underground beneath the Royal Exchange/City Chambers, is particularly shrouded in myths and legends – stories of ghosts, spirits, murderers and plague victims who were locked away to die. Ioana wanted to check this out. I was a little hesitant and wary – being a HUGE scaredy cat with a wild imagination and definitely NOT a fan of horror films! But I figured if this tour is suitable¬†for children as young as 5 years old, I could handle this!

We bought our tickets online and arrived at the Real Mary King’s Close at our scheduled time. We were taken on a tour of Mary King’s Close by a costumed character guide. Our guide was Mary King’s daughter – Jonet Nimmo, who led us around the area that she grew up in. We won’t spoil the tour for you but we enjoyed learning about the history of this close and a bit of Edinburgh history. We also got the chance to see how people lived back in the days – complete with laundry hanging out the windows of tall, “underground” buildings. There were a couple of scary stories, but it was bearable and I didn’t have any nightmares afterwards!

After the tour, we walked through the on-site restaurant – The Royal Exchange Coffee House. Unfortunately they were closed by that time but the menu of local and fresh food was so tempting that we decided to come back another time to try it out!

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We packed a lot into one day of sightseeing – with Edinburgh Castle in the morning, a walking tour in the afternoon and the Real Mary King’s Close in the early evening. We were pretty exhausted after all of this – plus we had only gotten a couple hours of interrupted sleep at Dublin Airport the night before! So we grabbed a quick dinner at a pub and headed back to our hostel to catch up on sleep!

Day 2 is up next with more adventures and exploring in Edinburgh – stay tuned!

From Vancouver with Love,

Ioana and Natalie

LettersofWanderlust3


© Letters of Wanderlust, 2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of any written material and/or photographs without express and written permission from this site’s authors is strictly prohibited. Please get in touch if you would like to republish any of our materials or if you would like to work on a project together!

Exploring Edinburgh Castle

Having taken an early morning flight from Dublin, we arrived into Edinburgh tired but excited! After dropping our bags off at Castle Rock Hostel, where we would be staying for the next 2 nights, we grabbed a map from Reception and headed off to explore the great city of Edinburgh.

Our first stop? Edinburgh Castle!

We could see this historic fortress and world famous attraction from our hostel and it was only a short walk (plus some stairs, of course!) to get up there!

The view from our Hostel’s front door!

Once we climbed up the stairs, we came upon the Esplanade – the sprawling parade ground that hosts a variety of concerts and events. The most prominent being the world famous Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo, which just started a couple of days ago on August 5! (Anyone going to the Tattoo this year?? It’s on our bucket list for our next visit! If you have any tips for taking in the Tattoo, drop us a comment below!)

The Esplanade and Edinburgh Castle

Before getting to the Castle, you have to pass through the Gatehouse. Standing guard at the Gatehouse are statues of 2 famous Scottish men РRobert the Bruce and William Wallace. Both had immeasurable effects on Scotland, its history and its course.

Once you pass the Gatehouse, on your right is the ticket office. Here, if you haven’t already, you can purchase your entry ticket, as well as audio guides.

Tips for Your Visit: We purchased our tickets ahead of time. This way, we wouldn’t have to wait in a queue and, instead, could go straight through to the Portcullis Gate. Tickets can be purchased online here and for no extra cost or processing fee – which is really nice! One adult ticket costs¬†¬£16.50 and when purchased online includes fast track entry, which can be helpful during peak season – like now in August, with Edinburgh’s many festivals and special events drawing large crowds of visitors. One drawback to purchasing your ticket online is that you must select a date when purchasing your ticket. So if you’re not sure when you want to visit Edinburgh Castle, you might have to purchase your ticket on the day of your visit.

Edinburgh Castle also hosts¬†special events throughout the year, such as¬†interactive and fun activities for the whole family! These are often included in the price of admission. For more details, check out “What’s On”¬†and plan your trip accordingly!

With our printed tickets in hand, we sailed right through to the Portcullis Gate where our tickets were scanned and we strolled into the castle!

Just inside the Portcullis Gate… Can you spot the Portcullis?!

We had planned on taking a guided tour of the castle to get our bearings. But, when we got in, we had just missed the start of one. So we decided to wander around a bit on our own, check out the views of Edinburgh from way up here and return for the next tour.

The view from Argyle Battery

Heading up to the Upper Ward of the castle…

The view from the Upper Ward…

It is pretty cool that Edinburgh castle is built literally on top of a “Great Rock”! And you still can see parts of the rock in various places around the castle grounds.

Heading back down for the guided tour!

We had a lovely guide for our brief tour of the castle and its buildings. He told us many interesting stories about Scottish history, the Castle’s history and its buildings. We won’t repeat the tales he told us – it’s better when you are standing there and facing this fortress in awe. It’s also 100x better when told with a Scottish accent ūüėČ But in all seriousness, taking the guided tour definitely helped us to understand what we would be seeing later on, as we explored the castle and its buildings on our own.

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Our tour ended in Crown Square. Since we were already there, we decided to check out the Crown Jewels of Scotland¬†–¬†also known as the Honours of Scotland. These are housed in the Royal Palace.

The Royal Palace

There was a very interesting exhibition on the Honours of Scotland and at the end, you come face to face with the Crown Jewels themselves – including the crown, sceptre and the sword. These are considered the oldest Royal Regalia in the UK! Since you are not allowed to take photographs inside, you’ll just have to believe us when we say – there was a lot of gold, silver, pearls, diamonds, amethysts, other precious stones and velvet! The Stone of Destiny, also known as the Stone of Scone, has had quite an eventful past and it is also on display here.

No photographs allowed inside, so all you get is this sign!

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Besides the Crown Jewels, we also visited the Royal Apartments to learn all about the building’s history, the kings and queens who have lived here and some of their stories.

Inside the Royal Apartments…

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Next, we visited the Scottish National War Memorial. It allowed for some quiet reflection, contemplation and some time to pay my respects to those who made the ultimate sacrifice for peace.

The Scottish National War Memorial

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Heading out of Crown Square, we came upon the Half Moon Battery and the Forewall Battery.

Peeking out from here gives you a really unique and cool view of the city! This is one of my favourite photographs from today!

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While we were exploring the Battery, we heard some shouting and went to see what was going on!

A very animated actor, dressed in period costume, was teaching visitors how to use pikes and demonstrating war cries! We think this must have been a Special Event hosted by the Castle – perhaps the Renaissance¬†Schiltron? We learned some interesting information from the actor’s instructions on this fighting technique.

First, you had to learn¬†how to hold the pike…

Then you had to make a scary war face and yell a war cry to accompany it.

Then on top of all that, there was an attacking formation to remember… while holding your pike properly, making your war face and yelling your war cry!

The “Commander” even had a drum, to accompany the charge!

This would definitely be a fearsome sight to behold! It looked like a really fun and interactive activity and history lesson, with people of all ages participating – jabbing their pikes, scrunching up their faces, sticking out their tongues and yelling at the top of their lungs!

And no, we didn’t participate this time… Maybe next time! ūüėČ

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After that entertaining display, we headed towards St. Margaret’s Chapel.

St. Margaret’s Chapel is the oldest surviving building of Edinburgh Castle. It is actually said to be the oldest building in all of Edinburgh, built in 1130 by King David I to honour of his mother – Queen Margaret, and later known as Saint Margaret.

This chapel is still in use today for baptisms and weddings.

Stained glass of Queen Margaret and later St. Margaret.

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We planned our Edinburgh Castle visit so that we would still be at the Castle for 1pm.

Why? So we could watch the firing of the One O’Clock Gun. This tradition goes way back to 1861, when the One O’Clock Gun would be fired (at 13:00 or 1pm) to allow ships to set and synchronize the maritime clocks on board.

The One O’Clock Gun is located on the Mills Mount Battery. It was quiet and uncrowded earlier in the morning…

But by 1pm, a sizable crowd had gathered to watch the spectacle!

Getting the gun ready…

Checking the time…

Gotta make sure it’s right on the dot!

And BOOM! Even though I was expecting the gun to go off, it still made me jump – hence the blurry photograph! This was a cool piece of tradition and history and we were glad to have experienced it. If you’re at Edinburgh Castle around 12:55pm, head to the Mills Mount Battery to watch this spectacle!

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Tips for Your Visit:¬†Besides checking out the many exhibitions and attractions at Edinburgh Castle, don’t forget to look out from the castle at the views of Edinburgh from way up here! Since the castle stands on top of Castle Rock, there are sweeping views of the city from here – like this panorama looking North towards Princes Street and out at the Firth of Forth.

What can you spot in this next photograph? The Scott Monument, Princes Street Gardens, The Scottish National Gallery…

And this one? I can spot… The Balmoral, Calton Hill, Waverley Station, The Dugald Stewart Monument, The National Monument of Scotland, The Nelson Monument…

If you look out from the South¬†side of the castle, a different view awaits you! We even spotted our hostel from here, with Arthur’s Seat in the background.

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Tips for Your Visit: We spent a couple hours here and we still hadn’t explored all of the castle and its grounds. So if you have a couple of must-see’s for Edinburgh Castle, mark them down, along with their locations.¬†This way you can plan your visit route and make sure to see all of these, before spending some time leisurely wandering and exploring the castle grounds. The¬†Castle’s website also has some itineraries that you can follow, depending on how long you have for your visit and your interests. Hopefully the tips and suggestions on the website, along with our adventures exploring Edinburgh Castle, will help you out when planning a trip to this iconic fortress!

Review: We enjoyed our visit to Edinburgh Castle, learning a lot about Scottish history, Scottish kings and queens, its strife and conflicts but also its amazing culture and glories. The Castle is an amazing fortress and its architecture is exquisite Рwhether you are viewing it from the inside or admiring it from outside its walls. A really nice bonus? The breathtaking views of Edinburgh from the castle! We are definitely planning to come back to enjoy the Military Tattoo and all of its grandeur out on the Esplanade!

After grabbing a couple of souvenirs from the gift shop, we headed out of the castle and walked down the busy Royal Mile.

Now, it was onto our next adventure – a (Free!) walking tour of Edinburgh to get our bearings in this city! Stay tuned for more!

From Vancouver with Love,

Ioana and Natalie

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© Letters of Wanderlust, 2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of any written material and/or photographs without express and written permission from this site’s authors is strictly prohibited. Please get in touch if you would like to republish any of our materials or if you would like to work on a project together!

Goodbye Dublin, Hello Edinburgh!

After an amazing time exploring Ireland on our All Ireland Rocker tour, we arrived back into Dublin in the late afternoon and said goodbye to our guide Gillian and our group mates.

Our next destination was Edinburgh. But we didn’t head for Edinburgh right away. We were advised not to book a connection out of Dublin too close to our estimated arrival time – just in case there were delays in getting back to Dublin. So we booked our flights through to Edinburgh for early the next morning at 6am.

Now we had a decision to make… book a hostel, sleep a couple of hours, wake everyone else in the room up at 4am and take the earliest bus to the airport to make our flight. Or… our other option was to hang around in Dublin that night, catch the last bus to the airport and stay the night at the airport. In the end, we decided to (save a couple bucks on accommodations and) spend the night at the airport.

Luckily for us, a couple of our group mates and new friends were staying in Dublin for a couple more days, so we decided to have one last dinner and night out in Dublin together!

While waiting for our friends to check into their hostels, Ioana and I wandered around Dublin for a little while, taking in the sights one last time before we left. It was also an opportunity to grab some last-minute souvenirs!

We all met up and headed to O’Neill’s Pub and Kitchen for dinner – a HUGE dinner, might I add!

Hard to see but O’Neill’s is the red building in the middle there! Right behind what I think is a construction zone sign… (which to me looks more like a hockey player, so the sign must mean “Hockey Game that way” =P)

We tried to have dinner here before we left for our Shamrocker tour, but it was totally packed that night and we couldn’t find a table. So we were glad we got to try O’Neill’s before we left Dublin. It was a little bit confusing figuring out how things worked at this pub, but in the end, we figured it out.

This pub is almost like a ‘cafeteria’ – you queue up, order your main and then your chosen sides are scooped onto your plate.  Some mains, such as carvery items, are already prepared and waiting for you under the hot lamps, while others items, like the Fish and Chips or sandwiches, are made to order. You grab your tray and pay for your food. Prices here are very reasonable, especially considering the portions you get! Definitely a good choice, if you are hungry after a day of walking and sightseeing!

Then came the task of finding a table, while balancing your heavy tray of food and your pint of Guinness, if you made a pit stop at the bar! We were lucky and scored a table on the second level by the bar. After a quick ‘Slainte’, we dug into our plates of food. I had the fish special that night, but my favourite thing on the plate had to be the sweet potato side dish! Ioana had something from the carvery – which might have been either the ham or the Irish Collar of Bacon. As hard as we tried, I don’t think any of us finished the entire meal that night!

After a filling dinner, we chatted and relived our tour and adventures over a couple of pints and enjoyed some Irish music and an Irish dancing performance! We even attempted to create the Claddagh ring design, which once we sobered up, we realized we had copied the design wrong! But all in all, we had a great time and it was an awesome last night in Dublin!

We tried!

After a round of goodbyes (and a see-you-soon to one of our friends who would be joining us on our Haggis Adventures tour!), Ioana and I wandered back to Temple Bar, enjoying the joviality one more time. We took the last bus out of Dublin and headed for the airport.

In hindsight, we probably should have gotten to the airport earlier. By the time we got there after midnight, much of the prime sleeping real estate (benches or couches) was already taken. We managed to snag two comfy armchairs but there really was nowhere to stretch out comfortably and – nowhere to charge our dying phones. (So far, my favourite airport for staying the night is still Stockholm’s Arlanda Airport – lots of seating, lots of comfy couches and electrical outlets!) We got a couple hours of (interrupted) sleep and then it was time to gather our things, check in and go through security.

We had what we assumed to be an uneventful flight to Edinburgh. We say this because neither of us remember any part of the flight since we fell asleep immediately after buckling our seatbelts!

After landing and picking up our luggage, we got our tickets for the Airlink service (airport to city centre express buses) and were on our way to Edinburgh’s city centre! We got off at Waverley Station and hiked our way up a WEE bit of a hill/mound to our hostel. Since we were there VERY early in the morning, our rooms weren’t ready yet. So we stowed our luggage in their luggage room and headed out to explore.

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We stayed at Castle Rock Hostel in Edinburgh, although it would be broken down into 3 separate stays! It had a great location – just below Edinburgh Castle, just off the Royal Mile and just above Grassmarket! Close enough to everything, yet not teeming with people.

This was the view just outside the front door of the hostel – can’t beat that!!!

And here’s a view of Castle Rock Hostel from Edinburgh Castle. You can even catch a glimpse of Arthur’s Seat in the background!

The hostel had a mix of some really cool and interesting decor – from grand windows and curtains, richly decorated furniture to comfy couches, funky paintings, armour pieces… The hostel had a large self-catering kitchen, a couple of common rooms and even a “Groove Lounge” for guests to play music and jam together!

The rooms that we stayed in were clean and roomy, with plenty of space to store our backpack and luggage. The plus? Each bed had its own reading light and 2 outlets for charging our electronics =P! After this trip, we have found this to be pretty essential in any hostel room – so you don’t get 6 people all trying to charge their electronics out of 2 outlets!

Another bonus? One of the rooms we stayed in even had a view of the Edinburgh Castle! I sat up on my top bunk in the morning and this was what I saw out the window! Pretty awesome view to wake up to, if you ask me!

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Both Ioana and I had such high expectations for Edinburgh (and Scotland for that matter!) and we were scared of setting ourselves up for disappointment. But this city definitely did not disappoint! We loved the architecture, the buildings, the history, the stories, the views – we could go on and on!

Our first stop was Edinburgh Castle – stay tuned to our next post for more on our visit to this historic castle!

From Vancouver with Love,

Ioana and Natalie

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© Letters of Wanderlust, 2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of any written material and/or photographs without express and written permission from this site’s authors is strictly prohibited. Please get in touch if you would like to republish any of our materials or if you would like to work on a project together!

Shamrocker Adventures – 7 Days All Ireland Rocker

Our latest blog post was a review of the 7 days we spent wandering and exploring the beautiful country of Ireland with Shamrocker Adventures and some of our thoughts on the trip.

We also wanted to share some of our favourite moments and highlights from our All Ireland Rocker 7 days tour. We hope you enjoy our photographs and highlights. And perhaps this will help you when deciding the locations that you want to visit and the experiences you want to have whilst in Ireland.

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Day 1: Dublin → Belfast → The Dark Hedges → Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge → Ballintoy

Highlight of the Day: One of the most memorable part of the day was the Belfast Black Cab Tour. Since we had a large group, we shared 3 cabs and got to hear from 3 different driver guides. We had driver guides from the Unionist and Nationalist sides and thus they were able to share with us the history and 2 different perspectives of the Conflicts. Although they may have different views, all three driver guides shared the same feeling and message of hope.

Overnight in¬†Ballintoy:¬†One of our favourite places – quaint town, beautiful scenery, lovely walks and friendly locals. We also thought it was a great start to the tour since being in a small town really gave us the chance to get to know our group mates. There are 2 pubs in town, a handful of restaurants and a hostel –¬†Sheep Island View Hostel, which we stayed at. We¬†slept in large hostel rooms with many roomies – so it was a good opportunity to bond and make new friends and future travel buddies! You couldn’t NOT meet new friends!

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Day 2: Ballintoy ‚Üí Giant’s Causeway ‚Üí¬†Derry

Highlight of the Day: The highlight of Day 2 was¬†Giant’s Causeway – without a doubt! Admission was already included in the price of our 7 day tour, so we didn’t have to worry about getting tickets or waiting in line. An audio-guide was also included and provided a good background on this UNESCO World Heritage Site and the myths and legends surrounding it. We loved exploring the area and the clifftop walk we went on gave us sweeping views of the Antrim coast and the fascinating basalt columns. A definite must-see in Northern Ireland!

Overnight in Derry: It was nice to stay in a Travelodge hotel room for a change Рa bit of a luxury after living the hostel life for the past couple of days! Especially having a comfy hotel bed each and a bathroom all to ourselves Рmade for a very nice sleep and stay here!

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Day 3: Derry → Westport → Croagh Patrick → Galway!

Highlight of the Day: We took in quite a few sights as we made our way from Derry in Northern Ireland to Galway in the Republic of Ireland. I think the highlight of the day was learning more about Irish history, culture and literature. I think I’m a bit of a geek this way – instead of just seeing something and snapping a photograph, I like to learn the history, the what’s, the how’s and the what happened’s. We saw Ben Bulben, which was a great source of inspiration for W.B. Yeats. After spending some time in Yeats Country, it was easy to see why he loved this area. We also heard many Irish stories, myths and legends – from faeries to the¬†Pirate Queen of Clew Bay. We learned about the role of religion in Ireland and St. Patrick. We also learned about the Great Famine, how it changed the course of history and spent some time reflecting at the National Famine Memorial.

Overnight in Galway: See next day!

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Day 4: Galway → Inis Mór → Dun Aonghasa → Galway!!

Highlight of the Day:

Natalie: We had such an amazing time visiting¬†Inis M√≥r. We lucked out with a beautiful day – blue skies and all! My highlight was biking around the island with our group. Our guide even took us to the world famous “Worm Hole” – which has hosted the Red Bull Cliff Diving World Series twice! This little spot is not very well marked from the main road and I know I wouldn’t be able to find it on my own. There was a bit of scrambling and climbing over rocks to get there but… Wow, was it ever worth it! The views from there were stunning – crashing waves, sheer cliffs and the ocean stretching out into the horizon. I almost think this experience was better than the Cliffs of Moher… It was certainly less crowded and allowed for some time to just sit and stare off into the ocean.

Ioana: Also, remember if you don’t bike, you can take a more intimate tour of part of the island on horseback! This was my favourite part of the day and it let me experience¬†Inis M√≥r¬†in a different way! I made a couple new animal friends and learned a new skill all in one day!

Overnight in Galway: Galway is a great location to set up your basecamp for exploring the Western part of Ireland and for¬†taking in the dramatic scenery here. From Galway, you can easily get to the Cliffs of Moher, the Aran Islands and Connemara, just to name a few famous attractions on the west coast. Besides adventures in the great outdoors, Galway is also a fun city to explore – with shops, claddagh ring and jewellery shops, restaurants, dancing, music and pubs. We were told it is a fun city because it is a “student town.” But I think that’s only part of it – Galway is just a really friendly, lively and vibrant city, with a mix of locals, tourists and students all enjoying it!

We stayed in Galway for 2 nights at the Kinlay Hostel Galway. It was a large hostel, clean and had good facilities – such as the common rooms and spiffy Apple iMacs. It was also very close to Shop Street and all the pubs – which made it easy to get home after having a grand night ūüėČ

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Day 5: Galway → Cliffs of Moher → Ennis

Highlight of the Day:

Ioana: The Cliffs of Moher¬†was what I had been waiting for all along!¬†Arriving at our destination we, again, didn’t have to pay for our entrance as it was included in our tour. This made it very easy for us to get in and start exploring. Needless to say, it was amazing! The grandeur and beauty of the views we saw was too marvelous to explain in words! It didn’t matter which any angle you looked at the Cliffs from, you always got a picture worthy shot. For me, this was probably my favourite part of the entire trip and although this was a very touristy destination, the sheer magnitude of these cliffs made me want to return again! This is a definite “must-visit” site on your tour of Ireland.

Overnight in Ennis: We stayed at the Rowan Tree Hostel in Ennis – we got a lovely large room and lots of space to move around in. After a nice group dinner at the Rowan Tree Cafe Bar, we¬†headed over to the¬†Knox Pub for some traditional Irish music! County Clare is known for its abundance of traditional Irish music spots, and the Knox Pub was it that night! Another definite “go-to” spot when visiting Ennis. After a couple pints, we even learned a bit of Irish dancing – which may or may not have been a success, but was definitely worth a few good laughs and good memories!

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Day 6: Ennis →  the town of Dingle → Dingle Peninsula and the Slea Head Drive → Killarney

Highlight of the Day:

I’ll just let this video show you the highlight of our day!

Overnight in Killarney: In Killarney, we stayed at the Neptune’s Killarney Hostel. It was a nice place to catch a couple hours of sleep after one last grand night out at the Grand! ( <– Just realized what I did there unintentionally and I’m going to leave it that way now!)

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Day 7: Killarney → Blarney Castle → Rock of Cashel → Dublin

Highlight of the Day:¬†On the last day of our tour, we topped it off with a visit to Blarney Castle¬†and an attempt at receiving the Gift of the Gab by kissing the Blarney Stone! Blarney Castle was an “Optional Extra” that we paid for ahead of time, when we booked our trip. Blarney Castle is much more than just the stone, however! Kissing the Blarney stone, hanging upside down from a tower might I add, was definitely the highlight of that day but there are many other sights to see! Give yourself plenty of time to explore Blarney Castle and its beautiful grounds, gardens and waterfalls!

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The last day of our All Ireland Rocker 7 Days Tour flew by as we made our way back to Dublin and said goodbye to our new friends! ūüė¶

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We truly had a great time on this tour and this experience was priceless. We met a really fun group of people on this tour and made some new friends that we still keep in touch with! It is really true that the people you travel with can make or break your trip Рespecially on a group tour like this where you are together pretty much 24/7.

This tour gave us a glimpse of the beautiful Emerald Isle and gave us some ideas for what to see and which places to add to our must-see list for our next trip to Ireland! Do you have anything that we need to add to our Ireland bucket list? Let us know below!

Hopefully our posts and reviews on our All Ireland Rocker 7 days tour have been helpful for you in deciding where in Ireland to visit, what sights to see and whether taking a guided tour of Ireland Рsuch as the Shamrocker Adventures trip that we went on, might work for you.

Next up: Edinburgh! Stay tuned!

From Vancouver with Love,

Ioana and Natalie

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© Letters of Wanderlust, 2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of any written material and/or photographs without express and written permission from this site’s authors is strictly prohibited. Please get in touch if you would like to republish any of our materials or if you would like to work on a project together!