HAGGiS Adventures Compass Buster Tour: Day 2 – Callanish Standing Stones

And we’ve finally reached my favourite part of Day 2 of our Compass Buster Tour: The Callanish Standing Stones <3.

After finishing with Dun Carloway Broch, Greg told us we’d finally be making our way to the standing stones! If you’ve been keeping up with the blog, you’ll know that we did come across some standing stones at Blarney Castle in Ireland. Since then, I had been more than a little excited to get to Scotland and see these standing stones up close!

Again, as you may know, we have been searching for Jamie Fraser…yes, yes we tried again here. Obviously and sadly, it didn’t work but it was a lot of fun!

From the moment we stepped out of the bus, I knew this place would be magical! Just look at that view as we approached the site:

It’s not often you get to see a procession of standing stones so greatly preserved!

“The Callanish Stones (“Callanish I”) are an arrangement of standing stones placed in a cruciform pattern with a central stone circle. They were erected in the late Neolithic era.”

They are near the village of Callanish on the west coast of Lewis in the Outer Hebrides of Scotland.

It was a great feat for the people who lived near the site to be able to build it over 4,000 years ago. The stones were supposedly moved with rollers, wooden frames and brute strength. This cost them a lot of time and effort, to be sure!

It is still a mystery as to why these stones were built. This is obviously not the first and only site to have standing stones. During the Neolithic period, many communities across north-west Europe constructed these monuments!

It is most likely they were built for worship or religious reasons. Another common finding is that they may have been built according to astronomical events such as the midwinter sunrise and sunset.

It’s so exciting to still be able to see these standing stones and to speculate as to what the site was constructed for and what the stones mean!

As noted above, this particular site is built in a cruciform pattern. Inside the circle is a stone burial cairn. Supposedly, the cremated bodies were despoiled with pots and beakers which dates to between 2000 to 1700 BC.

“The Callanish Stones consist of a stone circle of thirteen stones with a monolith near the middle. Five rows of standing stones connect to this circle. Two long rows of stones running almost parallel to each other from the stone circle to the north-northeast form a kind of avenue. In addition, there are shorter rows of stones to the west-southwest, south and east-northeast. The stones are all of the same rock type, namely the local Lewisian gneiss. Within the stone circle is a chambered tomb to the east of the central stone.”

Perhaps, the site being used for ritualistic purposes is the most realistic explanation for the stones after all.

Of course between the two of us, our imaginations got away with us again and took us on a hopeful journey towards finding Jamie Fraser. We tried several stones which we thought might work to transport us back in time, but alas, it didn’t exactly work.

Searching for Jamie was getting tiring! We tried several stones that called to us but no Jamie resulted :(.

That being said, it was amazing to be able to touch these stones, which had been erected by people thousands of years ago and it was even more incredible to be able to stand on the same land they had stood on, but for obviously very different reasons!

It was such a pleasant day out and our Irish Rainbow luck still hadn’t evaporated! We took the opportunity to fool around a bit and take some epic photos for our collection :).

Today, the stones, as with Dun Carloway Broch, are managed by Historic Scotland.

Perhaps the Historic Scotland website has the best way to explain the stones:

“This is a story with no ending. Against the backdrop of their 5000 years, the stones have witnessed countless changes in the people and the landscape around them. The story tells about developing landscape, the evolving environment, a land of circles, stones, archaeology and conservation along with many other topics.”

The site was so peaceful, with so very few tourists buzzing about, I am very grateful Greg let us stay and absorb the power of the stones for so long! He basically told us to ponder our lives within these surroundings :P.

And ponder we did. I literally sat there in the quiet landscape listening to the wind and looking at the stones and the sky and the surrounding lochs, not wanting to leave!!!

It’s true when they say Scotland is magical. It’s just a feeling you get when you are out and about viewing the natural and ancient landscape!

We unfortunately had to leave our lovely Callanish I stones and move on to the Callanish II and III, which were not quite as extensive as Callanish I, but made supposedly with the same purpose in mind.

Callanish II and III are located not too far away from the main stones site and comprise of similar stone rings. Callanish II, which was dug out of the peat in 1858, is in the shape of an eclipse, while Callanish III consisted of two concentric eclipses.

It was rather difficult to get to the Callanish III site as it was extremely muddy and not as touristy as the main Callanish site. Nevertheless, we were in Scotland! Which meant we must adventure and explore as much as we could! It was still worth it to get pictures like the ones below!

All in all, this was a definite experience. I don’t want to say once in a lifetime, because I know I will go back again! If you travel to the Outer Hebrides and to the Isle of Lewis, you MUST visit the Callanish Stones. Information on visiting this amazing site can be found here.

This is not a site to be excluded from your Scotland trip! And don’t just spend 5 minutes, take a photograph and leave! Make sure to allot enough time for you to take in the standing stones, explore the area and take some time to reflect and think – as was recommended to us! We think it would be an amazing place to experience a sunrise or a sunset – the rays of light dancing between the stones. Or even to spot the Northern Lights here, with the Callanish stones as a backdrop? Amazing! We’ll definitely have to come back for another visit!

This was one of our favourite sites and is likely to be one of yours as well!!!

We end day 2 with a little evening stroll around Stornoway!

Stay tuned for more on that coming soon!

From Vancouver with Love,

Ioana and Natalie

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Reykjavik Walking Tour with CityWalk

After an early check in at our hotel – Icelandair Reykjavik Natura at around 9am, we were just too exhausted from our day of travel that we needed a wee nap. Especially since we had a walking tour of Reykjavik coming up later on at 2:30pm.

After a bit of rest, we were ready to get to know Reykjavik! We always like doing a walking tour when we get into a new city. It helps us get our bearings, find out what we want to see and also to get to know the city from a local guide.

Since our hotel was about a 30 minute walk from the city centre and since we were still a bit weary, we took the city bus in. Once we arrived at Hlemmur Square, we saw that we were still a bit early, so we wandered down by the waterfront before making our way to the walking tour meeting spot.

Reykjavik showed off for us this afternoon, in glorious but cold sunshine!

On our ramble, we spotted a well-known piece of artwork. This is the Sun Voyager, or Sólfar. It is reported to be “a dreamboat, an ode to the Sun and dream of hope, progress and freedom.” It is a very striking sculpture. I found it very stirring – one because we are travelling right now and two because of all the changes that are happening in the world.

Continuing on along Sæbraut, we came upon another Reykjavik landmark – Harpa Concert Hall and Conference Centre.

What a building!

We loved this building, with the many glass panels of its facade. On this particular day, the glass panels reflected the beautiful sun and clouds in the sky. One of our guides later told us that sometimes they turn the glass panels into a display of the Northern Lights!

It was also a chilly day, so we sought shelter inside to warm up before continuing on and heading to the tour’s meeting spot.

We signed up for the ‘free’ classic walking tour with CityWalk. This is a similar concept to the SANDEMANs New Europe Tours that we have done previously in Dublin and Edinburgh. The tour through CityWalk is free and at the end of the tour, you pay what you feel is fitting for the tour. Reservations are required and all of the information can be found on their website, along with the other tours that they operate.

We arrived at the House of Parliament and met up with our guide for the afternoon – Marteinn. The group had about 20 people or so and once we were all accounted for, we started learning about Iceland and Reykjavik. We got the “winter” version of the tour because of the cold weather, skipping a couple of stops and having a few stops indoors to warm up!

We won’t say too much about each location or the history because it really is much better to experience it yourself than getting it from us! 😋

But we will share some photographs and our thoughts on the tour!

I really enjoyed learning about the history and culture of Iceland and its capital Reykjavik. CityWalk states that their walks are led by a local and history graduate. And that was evident in the information and interest shown by Marteinn. We touched on the history of Iceland, the Vikings, Iceland’s independence, the varied landscapes of this country and… the fact that Iceland is the most peaceful country in the world – having no army, navy or air force. You can walk right up to the Parliament house – there are no armed soldiers guarding it. And in this day and age, that really is something to be proud of! Besides just a history lesson, Marteinn also touched on some more current and possibly controversial topics – Iceland’s stance on women’s rights and gender equality, the homogenous nature of the Icelandic population (even now in 2017) and… the most common website viewed on Sunday mornings to make sure the object of affection you met that Saturday night isn’t related to you! And since we were tourists in Iceland, we also discussed the newly booming tourism industry and how tourism is changing the face and feel of the city and country.

Overall, it was a good introduction to both Reykjavik and Iceland. We got to ses and know some city landmarks and that would later help us to navigate around this city! We would definitely recommend this tour for any first time visitors to Reykjavik ☺️.

After the walking tour, we headed back to our hotel for an early night.

Stay tuned for our next post – our first adventure outside of Reykjavik!

From Vancouver with Love,

Ioana and Natalie

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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 😏

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 😏

From Vancouver with Love,

Ioana and Natalie

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Iceland 2017!

Happy New Year everyone!

We are starting off 2017 with a trip! We are MORE than ready for some exploring and adventures, since it has been a while since our most recent overseas trip to Italy – last year… 2016… (I’m still scribbling out 2016’s or trying to artfully transform the 6 into a 7 😋) And we’ve been diligently saving money and vacation days for this exact purpose!

Our destination for this first trip of 2017?

Iceland!

It does seem like everyone around the world is jumping on the Visit-Iceland-Bandwagon. Even my parents have a trip to Iceland planned for later this year! So we are excited to see for ourselves the wonders of this epic country. We can’t ever resist waterfalls, mountains and gorgeous landscapes!

We got an offer from Icelandair – that includes flights from Seattle into Reykjavik, accommodations and two sightseeing tours. We have also signed up for a couple of other sightseeing tours – to make the most of our time in Iceland and to take in the incredible nature and landscape. I’m also eager to learn more about this country, its history, traditions and customs, its food and how they’ve got this using-renewable-resources bit all sorted out!

I think it’ll be interesting to visit in January and see majestic Iceland in the winter. We are hoping to be able to catch the Aurora Borealis but knowing that it is an unpredictable natural phenomenon and that weather conditions need to be favourable, we are not holding our breath! (We ARE crossing our fingers and hoping for luck to be on our side!)

Seeing Iceland in January will certainly be different compared to a visit in the spring or summer. We would love to return at a different time of the year and take a road trip around Iceland on the Ring Road. It would give us an opportunity to explore other parts of the country on our own time and perhaps take a path less traveled!

Another thing on my bucket list for a return visit? Snorkeling and seeing the Sifra fissure – where the Eurasian and North American tectonic plates are drifting apart slowly every single year. It would be amazing to see this incredible underwater world and to learn more about this geological process! Besides, how else can I say I’ve swam between 2 continents?

Sidenote: Who else does this? Planning a return trip when you haven’t even gone on your first visit yet? 

Well, we will be off to Seattle bright and early tomorrow to catch our Icelandair flight to Keflavik Airport. Follow along on our adventures on Instagram! If you have any recommendations of places to see and restaurants or cafes to eat at in Reykjavik, drop us a line!

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’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!

2016 Best’s! 

2016 seems to have been a tough year for the both of us, a lot of people we know and the world in general 😓 But regardless, we ARE grateful for the experience, all the learnings it brought… and we did have some pretty amazing moments!

So as 2016 comes to an end, here’s a look back at our favourite moments this year!

Over this past year, we’ve gotten a bit addicted to Instagram… ok, maybe a lot! It’s a great place for travel inspirations, photography inspirations, uncanny quotes, silly sayings and memes… 😅

Having said that, here’s our “2016 Best Nine” on Instagram! (Although there are some photographs from 2015!)

The biggest highlight of this year had to be our amazing trip to Italy! We had both been to Italy before but this time, we got the chance to really explore and see it in a different light.

Quite literally!

This photograph was taken the evening we arrived into Pisa from Dublin. It was already past 10pm when we arrived, but we decided to check out the Leaning Tower anyways. And wow! Were we glad we went for this walk!

The illuminated Torre di Pisa teetering against a backdrop of pitch black sky and a glowing moon gave us goosebumps. The plus of visiting Piazza dei Miracoli at night? It was much quieter and less crowded, which made for a better experience.

In the daylight, there was a different atmosphere in the Piazza – visitors as far as we could see. But we did manage to get some fun shots – like this one! We like how we also captured a group of visitors in our photograph with just one gazing photograph!

Our signature gazing photograph 😉

Although Pisa, Florence and Rome were beautiful, our favourite had to be the blissful few days we spent exploring the Cinque Terre National Park.

We loved the apartment we got in Vernazza and that was a great home base as we explored the “Five Lands.” We had an amazing time hiking, wandering the narrow lanes, admiring the views and looking for the most special photographs.

We loved relaxing by the harbour with a bottle of wine. We also loved chasing the sunset from Riomaggiore to Manarola! We just had to catch that iconic shot of Manarola – the one that’s in all the guidebooks!

After an amazing few days, it was time to say goodbye to Vernazza – but we’ll be back there for sure!

Next, we were off to Venice. I hadn’t been to Venice before and I was afraid that it wouldn’t live up to the hype. But it was just as beautiful in person as it was in all those travel brochures, the tourism websites and all the pictures on Instagram!

Although it was scorching hot and packed with visitors, there was just a charm to Venice that I couldn’t deny.

And a trip to Italy isn’t complete without talking about Rome! One of the highlights was actually the apartment that we stayed in.

It was right by the Colosseum and made for an amazing view right outside our window, both in the daylight and at night.

It was hard adjusting back to ‘normal life’ after exploring Italy. But good thing we had a beautiful Vancouver summer to enjoy!

After chasing yet another sunset, we settled in (on a crowded beach) for a night of fireworks that lit up the skies around English Bay in Vancouver. The Celebration of Light is always a Vancouver summer highlight!

Then in August, we had a lovely visit in Seattle with our good friend – M. We spent the weekend reminiscing about our Ireland trip and exploring Seattle.

And more recently, a rare-for-Vancouver winter wonderland had us dreaming of snowflakes and snowdays!

We are excited for what 2017 has in store for us! We can’t wait for our trip to Iceland – the countdown begins! 11 days to go! And it seems like every week we are contemplating a trip somewhere… Romania, Greece, Italy, London, Portugal, Spain, Disney World, Harry Potter World… We could go on and on!

So here’s to another year of adventures!

Happy New Year everyone! Wishing you all a very healthy and happy 2017. Go explore (new places or your own hometown), dare to dream (and dream big!), do something different (step out of your comfort zone) or try a new hobby (ours is calligraphy!) I hope 2017 is everything you imagine it to be and more 😊

Ioana will be taking us back to our Scotland adventures in the new year, but for now – we hope you have a safe and fun New Year’s Eve!

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!

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! 🙄) 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! 💙 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! 😊

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 – such 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 → Duncansby Head → John O’Groats → Tomb of the Eagles → Italian Chapel → 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!

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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