A weekend away to Ardbrecknish House: Dalmally Scotland

As I sit typing, snow whirls around the street outside and bangs at the window like an intruder trying to invade every crack of the city. It is the first time in 5 years that I have seen snow like this in Edinburgh. It makes the city seem like a completely different place. The dense ice crystals cloak the landscape from view, walling its citizens in. It feels as if it was to list and the sky was to clear it would reveal a new vastness with no end.

Perfect excuse to sit in and write about my weekend away to Argyll. My friend Ben is flying off to fulfill his dream of joining a J-pop group. Nah I’m kind, he is moving over for a year and as a farewell, he organised a trip away with a few friends before he leaves.

The drive is supposed to take 2 hours and 40 minutes but It took me and my road trip companions about 4. This was mainly because we stopped for coffee and chippy in Inverarary.  And I can report the local chippy provided a sizable tray of chips.

 

Ardbrecknish House

Although the Ardbrecknish is described as 17th-century tower house, there are maps and a map dating back as far as 1590. According to architectural historians, the saddleback tower and wall thickness suggest medieval origins. To me, it looked as though it was from two different times.  One side medieval and the other Georgian. Ardbrecknish remained as one unit until the house was converted into a hotel in 1930.

Like most houses that have stood for more than one century, it has its stories and its ghosts. One tale is of an elderly lady who is said to rise late at night to check that the laundry stored in the east wing is all prepared for the morning. In more recent times a team of craftsmen were working inside the house on a structural project. They heard a call summoning them for tea. When they made their way to the kitchen no-one was there. Whilst the team waited for the kettle to boil and contemplated who may have called them, the internal wall on which they had been working, collapsed without warning. Creepy but also I prefer these kinds of helpful ghosts that the kind in the movie Insidious. The house is not easy to get too and you will most definitely need to drive unless you want to trek from the nearest town which is Inveraray.

*Quick note, Inveraray is the nearest town with a supermarket, restaurants and an ATM.

 

The interior of the house was old-fashioned and basic. The rooms were clean with thick covers which kept me nice and warm on the cold nights.  The section of the house we stayed in had many adjoining corridors connecting the rooms to the kitchen area and living room. The bathroom like the rest of the wing was clean. They do not provide towel so that is something you will need to add to your packing list. This was a bit annoying as its something you expect most places to supply. The view from our wing was striking. You could see the mountains and lakes from the main room with a large window for viewing. I was up before anyone else. I find it hard to sleep in, in a new place so I usually am the first to rise. It was really nice getting up and sitting with a cup of tea just enjoying the scenery.

The house has a bar attached which you can get rach through the maze of corridors in the house. The bartender was also the owner of Aedbrecknish. She was a lovely woman who told us that she had been there for 19 years. It was great having the bar as it had a pool table, darts, and booze, all the makings of a good night. Usually, there is a restaurant but as it was off season it was closed. The rooms are dog-friendly and cheaper offseason. It cost us 315 for two nights with an extra 25 for our doggo. companion.

If you want to see more photos of the house click on the link.

Loch Awe

Loch Awe is the third largest freshwater loch in Scotland and is famed for its trout fishing. Salmon pass through the loch, coming past the barrage in the River Awe and continuing into the River Orchy. At the northern end, it has one of the most photographed castles in Scotland, Kilchurn Castle which I saw on our journey back but wasn’t able to pull over to have a proper look. I really want to visit the area again and see that Castle close up.

We decide to rent a boat and explore the lake. During the summer season the lake is full of fisherman and other tourists but as this was off season we had the pick of the boat fleet. There were a few options from motorboats with or without tops and rowboats. We chose a boat with a top as from afar you could see dark clouds sweeping over the mountains towards the lake. The boat allowed a maximum of 5 people and cost 25 to rent and an extra 5 pound for every additional hour. Make sure you bring cash as they don’t take card payments.

If you want to learn more about boat hire for the lock follow the link: Boat hire.

Inishail is distinguished by its distinctive grassy surface, which is probably why it was giving the nickname “Green Isle”. There are fragments of the walls of a small building, enclosing a space choked up with stones. A larger space is protected by an iron fence. Which I have no idea why its there. Maybe the used to have animals on the island?

The island is full of colour, green moss, reds, yellows animate the terrain with lichen springing from the branches reaching out into the fresh country air. It felt alive and safe on this tiny little island.

If you go looking for the other ruins down from the cemetery be aware and then prepare for a lot of fun surfing the marsh. We went searching for more ruins and got our wellies stuck in the waterlogged earth. When we moved our feet while submerged it created a mossy wave. Make sure you wear wellies or expect your shoes to soaked through.

Possibly a Knights tombstone? I can’t be sure but my imagination runs wild all the same.

On the way back to Edinburgh we decided collectively to stop off in a few places on the way. We all made our way to Inveraray first. Inverary is a town in Argyll. It is on the western shore of Loch Fyne and it is also the retirement home for the Vital Spark. The Vital Spark is a fictional Clyde puffer. I had to google what that is and apparently, it a steamboat that is run by a coal fire and only has one mast. This particular boat came to fame on a BBC TV show written by Scottish writer Neil Munro. The Argyll brewer Fyne Ales, situated close to Inveraray produces a beer called Vital Spark in tribute to the series.

Some of my group went to the Inverary jail while two of us decided we would rather not pay the £11.50 entrance fee and instead visited the castle. The Inveraray castle took 40 years to construct and the work was designed by Willaim Adams and Roger Morris. The building gives me Wizard of Oz vibes. An emerald Castle that hides a powerful wizard inside. Who dare walk the red brick road?

After Inveraray, our group parted and went their separate ways. My party of three plus a little pooch made our way to view Loch Tay from the hills. There are impressive newly built houses situated along the hills of the lake and in the summer season, many people use the lake for fishing, swimming, kayaking and stand up paddleboarding. But as it is winter the lake was quietly resting to reenergize before the warmer seasons.

We went to Kenmore,  a small village in Perthshire located where Loch Tay drains into the River Tay. If you go bring duck feed witness an army of webbed-feet, waggles along the lake’s edge. The ducks swarm visitors looking for a tasty snack and will happily get in your personal space to get one.

Next, We stopped off at Killin, a village which lies at the western head of Loch Tay in Stirling. The moment you step out of your car you are welcomed by thunderous roars of the rushing water. This ferocious river drew a lot of curious travellers.

I would absolutely recommend visiting Loch Awe. There is so much landscape to explore in the area and just a drive away that is if you can drive, if not make friends with people who do. 😂

Want to see more? Press play below and follow me to Loch Awe. ⇊⇊⇊⇊⇊

Chapter 1 – You come from the mountains I come from the sea, Iceland I fly to thee

If you look up in the sky at any given time thousands of planes fly above you in every direction. One of these many aircraft’s flies north across the lower stratosphere travelling passed Europe’s borders. The hum of its engines vibrates through the cabin. Passengers sleep in their identical chairs while a flight attendant walks idly along the aisle. The entire plane is lulled, a giant hammock swaying 1000’s of feet in the air. All except one. A young girl sits with her nose touching the frosty window by her seat. She exhales releasing warm air that causes the window to steam up. Her face pushes harder against the window in an effort to improve her view. The night sky is pitch black except for the starlight that has been travelling for thousands of years just to greet us.  The land under her feet is constantly changing bringing new features for her to gaze upon. Greenland moved closer under the belly of the plane. A white landscape as far as her eyes could see and she thought what a complete contradiction its title was in this moment. As she Continues to gaze out over Greenland it dawns on her that soon she would step onto new soil. A place where earthquakes shake the ground and reform the landscape. So many stories have been told about this magical place and now she finally gets to tell her own.

Iceland I fly to thee…

We landed at Keflavik International Airport at 1:00 am. I discovered that unlike most international airports you can’t just walk out the door of this airport and catch a bus or a taxi that brings you straight to your desired destinations.  Shuttle buses are pretty much your only option unless you rent a car. The shuttle bus service will drop you off at your hotel or hostel as long as you remember to book ahead. The service we took was run by Flybus. Flybus also doubles as a tour company offering a range of bus tours around Iceland.  A lot of the bus company’s run both shuttles services and tours or at least that was my experience. We didn’t stay in a hotel but rented an Airbnb for our stay in Iceland so we got dropped off at the nearest hotel to our accommodation and mapped our way from there.

We stayed in a converted garage in an Icelandic suburb.  The owner was a young university student who rented out the flat during the summer period. It was artistically decorated and even had a funky free standing duck light in the bathroom (My favourite item in the flat). It was perfect ! and a mere 40 minute walk into town. All the more reason to explore.

The next morning we were completely shattered from the previous travel packed day, so we decided to sleep in a little. It might read like a waste of precious hours but we would have never been able to appreciate those hours walking about with how exhausted we were.  When we were fully rested and ready to explore we mapped out our route and off we went. 40 minutes later after seeing nothing, we arrived in the town where the average suburbs faded away and a beautiful seafront town opened up in front of us. The land was only separated from the coastline by a rocky border. Mountains lay still cross the water and birds rested upon the shore before continuing there journey to warmer climates. We strolled for hours along the coastline trying to take it all in.

Every great country has famous landmarks that tell a story of its native history.  The Sun Voyager is a sculpture by Jón Gunnar Árnason.  When I first saw this stainless steel structure it reminded me of the sinking Viking Ship Sculpture in Dublin city (created by Betty Newman). That sculpture was a little less grand and a lot more sunken but they both reminded me of a time long passed. It also struck me as being very similar to the boat that took the Elves and Frodo out to sea, towards the unknown (but that might just be the geek in me coming out). What does it represent to you?

The Sun Voyager wasn’t the only creative structure we stumbled upon along the sea’s edge. We also found a quirky house that looked as though someone had put it together with rusty objects they found in a scrap pile. But on closer inspection, it looked as though every piece was placed in that specific spot for a reason. I later discovered that the house had a name. It was called ‘The Raven House’ and was once the home of Bjork. Now, however, it belongs to the film director Hrafn Gunnlaugsson.  To me, this house is a physical representation of an artists mind, so full of ideas that they couldn’t possibly keep them all inside. Instead, they carved them into the world.

I wonder what the interior is like?

Up a slope, you will find Hallgrímskirkja, a Lutheran church. This church has a very distinctive architectural design which I think you can guess from the second picture below. Inside the church, a choirs song echoes high into the air and is trapped by the ceiling above. We stood and listened before continuing stroll.

The Horror Of SD Corruption

I am sure can all understand when I say technology can be unreliable or even turn against you. Well, sadly it happened to me at the worst time possible. I lost all the photos  I stored on an SD card. NOOOOO!!!! An Absolute betrayal! Damn unreliable artificial piece of metal and plastic. I know it sounds as though I took it very hard but I did actually get over the loss quickly. I came to the realisation that photos are great for showing people where you have been and to mount them like a small accomplishment. But its the experience and the memories that really matter. Until we invent a memories video recorder my friend  Michelle kindly allowed me to use some of her photographs to fill in the gaps within this visual story.

Thanks, Michelle !

 

Across from the church, we found an open garden with statues placed all over. Each statue evoked a strong emotion. But some were a little stranger and as I stood looking at these particular ones I thought some explanation was needed. The museum is called The-Einar-Jónsson-Museum. For more information on the Icelandic sculptor, check out their website: The Einar Jónsson Museum

 

 

The rest of the town looked like a trendy place full of young people. On the outside, they had a vintage vibe like the city itself but also had a touch of modernisation painted across the surface.

 

Iceland You Ain’t No Cheap Date

I mean exactly how the title reads. Iceland is not a cheap getaway. The transport, restaurants and tours all cost quite a lot of króna.  But like anywhere if you are on a budget there are always alternatives to spending big in restaurants and that will still fill your belly (eg noodle station = big portions & affordable) but unless you drive and rent a car there is no avoiding paying big on transport. The shuttles services and tours packages are the only way to see everything Iceland has to offer. So my recommendation is to plan your trip well or you may have to miss out on some amazing sights the Island has to offer.

But staying positive! If you do have the cash there are plenty of places to eat amazing Icelandic fish.

Something To Consider Before Dinner 

Being a bit of a whale fan and someone who believes in the protection of endangered species it would be wrong if I didn’t mention that only 3% of Iceland’s population eat whale or shark and they only hunt them because tourists are willing to pay for it.  So if you are up for preventing more whales and sharks from being killed needlessly then look out for whale friendly restaurants!

The three explorers walk down an empty street. No one seems to be around. All of them have open jackets and were not wearing their usual hat, scarf and glove combo.  It was one of the warmest days they had experienced since arriving on the Island.  The sun can be seen etching its way down towards the horizon to give way to the night sky. Until now their path was silent. But slowly, distant indistinguishable tones can be heard from the town ahead. Closer they go and louder Reykjavik becomes. They see a blurry mass moving along the town streets. One of the girls squints to try and figure out what it could be. As they move closer her question is answered. The blurry mass separates into thousands of bodies flowing among each other like a leisurely river that sweeps up a reluctant bystander.  The streets themselves have become one giant outdoor marketplace. The smell of different food sizzling on grills cling to the surrounding current.  Icelandic music surfs the waves and collides with the chatter that moves among the stalls lining the pavement. Crafts swing from every newly erected display, calling to the shoppers who happily answer. The three girls stand stunned at the scene in front of them. They all thought the same thing, that this is definitely a sight to see.

That was August 18th, the anniversary of Reykjavik City. And what is an anniversary without one hell of a celebration! This is Iceland’s, Culture Night (Menningarnótt). The Culture Night welcomes 100,000 guests who flock from all around the country and beyond to enjoy the marvellous festivities. A delicious menu of art, theatre events, rock bands and graffiti artists served on a city-sized plate with an explosion of colourful fireworks for dessert. And if you don’t want to miss out on the appetizer,  a wonderful selection of museums that are open between 5 pm – 10 pm to keep you busy before the main event (free of charge). Full yet?

The whale museum at the whale sightseeing tour boat. 

The night is organized by the events team at Visit Reykjavik in collaboration with other city departments, organisations, artists, societies and countless others. It is an absolutely spectacular event that you should call on at least once in your life. DO IT!!

Iceland was an amazing experience that I couldn’t possibly cram into one post. If you want to learn more about Iceland keep posted!  I will be writing more about the tours I took, the spectacular natural landscape and the wonderful wildlife that I was lucky to see, very soon.

Have you been to Iceland? What was your favourite moment?

 

 

Jess x

The Bronze Poets of Zagreb

Cloaked in skin, struggling to escape the decay crawling towards hopes remains.

Light its only salvation, One touch,

or forever forgotten inside a glass of lost passages.

The sun travels slowly over our heads, a spinning ball, on a colossal journey. Three woman walk hunchbacked dragged down by weight of their burdens. In the distance, a sign reads Hostel 54. More than Six hours previously spent aboard a train. A hot box reaching 40 degrees occupied by bodies drenched in sweat and in dire need of sustenance. Sadly as they stood in front of a young woman wearing a masked smile they realised that they were standing in front of an obstacle blocking their release.

 

Welcome to the beginning of my first bad review.

On arrival at our Hostel, we were greeted by a smiling receptionist. Hidden behind her smiling mask and politeness was bad news. She informed us that our room was being equipped with air con and would not be ready for another hour. We were obviously not over the moon about this but thought, OK, we can last another hour. We hiked the many levels to deposit our bags inside our rooms.

This everyone is where the plot thickened. Inside our room was two builders bent over a building site with tools and equipment littering the floor. All three of us looked at each other and walked straight back to reception. It turned out when the receptionist said an hour what she actually meant was 3 – 4 hours. How I ask, can an establishment think that it is OK  to charge guests for a room when they cannot even use said room. I can tell you now, that with a lack of sleep and hungry bellies we did not take this news well. All three of us voiced our anger at the completely unacceptable situation. Eventually, we were able to enter our rooms to sleep after much discussion with the management. Unfortunately, this situation didn’t stop with us. Other guests had been put in the same situation and like us their rooms were disappointing.

I would recommend this Hostel as a last resort only.

 

Cathedral of Zagreb is a Gothic revival style church and is also the tallest building in Croatia. Beside the Church are the remains of tower spikes that have been defeated by erosion. It was really interesting to get close and see the lines and holes designed for times breath. One is the older sibling to the other, a glimpse of their combined life cycle. It really shows you the power nature has overall structures whether they belong to her, or us.

The Church of St. Mark is a beautiful church planted on the upper level of Zagreb.  On its roof are tiles that are laid out to represent the coat of arms of Zagreb and Triune Kingdom of Croatia, Slavonia, and Dalmatia. It is from the late Gothic period and has some Romanesque features. It’s also a hot spot for selfies so get your selfie sticks ready for a battle of the poses.

Lotrščak Tower which dates back to the 13th century was built to guard the southern gate of the Gradec town wall. Now it is used to provide a beautiful view for whoever is willing to battle against the dragon that circles its peak, or you can just pay the small fee.

Behind the tower is a picturesque walkway where you can sit and allow yourself to be lost in thought. I take pleasure in finding that one spot where you can breathe in an enjoy where you are in the moment.

I saw the past in front of me. A dip inside the pages of a Sherlock Holmes Novel. I watched as a man riding a motorbike lit lanterns with a lance.

I closed my eyes and saw that same man on horseback, lighting each lantern through the fog. Each one became a blaze reveling the path ahead. ‘But as minds do wonder’ I left Mr. Holmes behind and delved deeper in time, the Man and his horse alongside me. A man sits on horseback waiting in the distance. He wore armor over his entire body and carried a lance aimed at his opponent, ready for the game to begin.

The Consolation of Your Hair

I gazed at you last night. You dreamt. With sadness. Dead.
In the fatal hall, in the idyll of flowers.
On the high catafalque, in the agony of candles.
Ready to surrender my life as a sacrifice.
I didn’t cry. I didn’t. Dazzled I stood there
In the fatal hall, full of magnificent death.
Wondering if the dark eyes were clear
From whom a better life for me once shined.

 Everything, really everything is dead. Eyes, breath, and hands.
Everything I wanted to animate with despair
In my blind dread and in passion of suffering,

In the fatal hall, with gray remembrance.
Only your hair was still alive,
And it said: Stay still! For dreaming, death is.

A poem by Antun Gustav Matos who’s Sculpture turns nobody away from the empty seat beside him. The city of Zagreb is full of Sculptures celebrating the lives of writers and poets from Croatia. I never knew that it was full of so many creative people.

Another such person is Marija Juric Zagorka, Croatia’s first female journalist and one of its most widely read authors. Marja was born in the village of Negovec.  She married young to a much older man. But after some years she fled from her husband and escaped to Zagreb. There she had the freedom to blossom, writing nineteen novels in her time there. she also founded Women’s Papers, the first magazine in the Austro-Hungarian Empire to focus on women’s issues.

 

I noticed from wandering around the streets of Zagreb that there was a lot of interesting Graffiti.

I have always felt drawn to colours and even though not all Graffiti can be seen as artistic I feel it is an expression in itself and the colours reflect the emotion released onto its concrete canvas.

Like most of inland Europe the buildings are all so different, so contrasting from one another, yet they fit in together (the typical diverse family) making up a beautiful coloured city.

I have visited Zagreb twice now and though my first trip to its city was ‘rough’ on returning  I experienced a fresher feeling for its narrow streets and came out the other side with a more pleasant memory to share. I guess given a second chance,  it can surprise you.

What Lies behind every locked door is truth, But though certainty is seen as valuable,

opening a door is not always wise,

Human is to blunder. 

 

Jess. x

 

Bathing in Budapest

Light reaches a dark boundary,

never passing into its gelidity.

Just beyond lurks a soul trapped inside its fleshy prison,

Never to escape until its captor steps into release. 

149.6 million km’s above our heads orbits a plasma ball that beats down light upon the earth. The heat lingers like a mirage hovering over car bonnets and road surfaces. Small wispy clouds float by giving no release from the blaze that reddens our faces. We are exposed with nowhere to hide but under the branches of a nearby tree that does not deny our please for liberation.
This makes it’s sound like Budapest was a horrid place when in fact it was one of my favourite cities. The city is stunning and like Prague, it has two sides, old and new. By now we were becoming more travel savvy. We booked our walking tour for our first day there to get an idea of our surroundings to make walking around ourselves a little easier. We met at the fountain in the centre, waiting with the hordes of people who also awaited our guide to everything that Budapest has to offer. There were so many bodies that we had to be split into three separate groups. I can only assume the reason it was so overloaded was that we happened to be here right in the middle of the famous Sziget festival but I will speak more about that a little down the line.
Our tour guide recited many entertaining historical facts about Budapest including how the water of Budapest has magically made a whale and cow pregnant. I’m not sure if I believe this myth but it was an amusing story to listen to while sitting in the grass, hiding in the shade.

Buda- pest, old and new is separated by the Danube, a memorializing river that pulls you to its edge daring you to enter its spirit only to be swept away and lost.

In Budapest, the tallest buildings are the Governments and the Church’s. Two powerful symbols dominating the architecture that surrounds its domain.

Planted atop a modest hill called Budapest Castle Hill Funicular is the President’s residence. We were lucky enough to see the change in guard, which was a brief but entertainingly rhythmic sight. Along the perimeter, you will receive a beautiful view of Budapest’s city but that is not all the lies along the surface of this turtles back.

If you continue on you will see a beautiful church just past a street of traditional cafes and restaurants. Matthias Church is a 14th-century church named for King Matthias, who married there. The roof of the church is absolutely beautifully coloured. The ceramic tiles reflected the light beaming from the sky upon us all.

Once upon a time water covered the hill and weaved its way through its unyielding rock. Slowly over an age, the rock succumbed to the might of the water. The Water pushed the rock apart carving caverns out of its cage. A man came, turned the caverns into caves which became the prison to a dark and mysterious force whose name would bring fear to all who know it.

Apparently, as the wall tells us inside these caves Vlad the Impaler was imprisoned for trying to run off with a kings daughter. For his treachery, the king sentenced him to these caves for 20 years. If the story didn’t hook you your interest then what also lies in the bowels of the caves are scenes of eerie mannequins staged in events from long past. I warn you they are far creepier then the faceless mannequins we are forced to look at every day when we enter clothing stores. It felt as though they were watching you, waiting for you to turn your back, giving them time to pounce.

My beating heart pumped in its boned asylum covered in shadows with the only light emanated from a small gas lantern that swung in my grasp. It felt like we were being stalked by the hunter that had been trapped in these caves for so many years hungry for the veins hidden under our skin. I absolutely loved it! It was such an unexpectedly Gothic adventure that I never knew I needed to have in Budapest.

Széchenyi Thermal Bath is an outdoor giant communal bath. It is somewhere I recommend you visit. Inside there is a salt bath that is supposed to heal and also help with fertility. If like me you have no interest in the second it is a really relaxing environment, worth trying.

On the grounds of Városliget city park sits the Vajdahunyad Castle. It was built in 1896 as part of the Millennial Exhibition which celebrated the 1,000 years of Hungary since the Hungarian Conquest of the Carpathian Basin in 895. There are restaurants just across from the castle which has comfy pillows for you to relax and unwind on while you take in the view.

Budapest is famous for its ‘Ruin Bars’ or ‘Rom kocsma’ which translates to the pub in ruin. After the war, there were many ruined buildings that’s space was not being utilized. Instead of creating another Irish bar to go along with the numerable others, they used the existing interior to produce a kooky ambience. Old Dentist buildings were the tools and decor made the hair on my arms stand to attention. The echo of drills hitting its enamel target and a body awaiting the needle that approached its cavity. It was as if we walked absentmindedly onto a film set where you were handed a drink instead of a script. Some moulded themselves around natures arms, leaving us open to the elements that beckoned. It’s remaining hold on society, a metal roof full of old-fashioned toys dancing along its trusses. All its Sisters cover the city Like X’s on a treasure map. The air outside was warm on your skin and the drink in your hand was everything you could ever need at that moment. The Bars and such interesting pieces of Budapest that I think everyone should see for themselves.

Sziget festival is a music festival that takes place on Budapest’s Island Obudai – Sziget. If you are in or around Budapest during the festival and are not at the festival you are definitely missing out. The atmosphere of this festival is electric. A beautiful mix of chilled and energy. The musical performances are by amazing Artist from all over the world and Hungary itself. The festival is completely capable of battling against the heat too. A water tank patrols the arenas to give ease to the baking bodies flailing around the Island while the stages are equipped with sprinklers to cool you off as you dance into the night.

We happened to find ourselves in a taxi whose driver had gone to Sziget the previous night and was full of chat about the festival especially Robbie Williams who performed on stage the night before and who supposedly bleached his hair blonde for the occasion. The conversation transitioned from festival chit-chat to a taxi tour of Budapest’s highlights. I will remember that taxi driver fondly and comically as our last view of him was driving into the distance blaring music with his trunk wide open. I guess what you can take from this is that the people of Budapest are an interesting and friendly bunch. A lyrical end to a wonderful trip to Budapest city. I will see you again very soon.

Hope you enjoyed the read and come back for more.

Jess x