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. ⇊⇊⇊⇊⇊

Hiking and exploring Fuschl: Austria

Put on the costume and the character is created.

An illusion of strength buttoned up in a uniform of black.

Watch as the scripted lie burns away the ink,

and sincerity sings for an audience who cannot hear its intention.

The performer is a master of their craft but the scene will unravel the thread until all that is left its honesty.

The truth speaks and we have ears to listen.

Are the flowers worth the struggle?

I think so.

In 2016 I moved to Austria to start working for Red Bull Media house. I didn’t know much about the country other than The Sound Of Music was filmed there and that they spoke German.  But I quickly fell in love with its landscape and luckily after the original plan was to only stay for 6 months, I was offered another contract and stayed for an additional year. I had an unforgettable time working with the craziest most amazing people and enjoying summer days by the lakes and winter days sledding down mountains.

To show some appreciation of Austria I am going to take you on a tour of the places I visited during my time there. I am going to start with one of the first places I visited outside of Salzburg: Fuschl am See.

How did I get here?

It easy enough to travel around Austria if you have a car but there are public transport options too if you don’t drive. If you are feeling a little more adventurous you can bike there but be aware that it isn’t a flat route. I traveled from Salzburg on the 150 bus (because I would die if I biked) from Salzburg HBF (main station) to the small town beside Fuschl Lake. The trip takes about 35- 45 minutes depending on traffic. If you suffer from a stomach that likes to regurgitate your lunch if you so much consider traveling in a moving vehicle (like I do) the journey is a bit winding but not too uncomfortable. But if your stomach is your friend (not like mine) you can enjoy the countryside views on your way to Fuschl am See. The first time I saw this small Austrian town I felt as though I was looking through an Instagram filter. You know that feeling that it can’t possibly be naturally that picturesque. Such deep blues and greens just waiting to be admired up close. The bus turns down a hill towards the town and stops beside many Austrian restaurants and even a pizza place which is pretty good by the way. You can rent e-boats (which goes well with pizza and radlar), canoes and stand up paddle boards from the hotels in the area. There is even a golf course if none of the above is for you.

In case we have any Red Bull Fans reading this, below is a picture of Red Bull’s headquarters. A lot of people mistake it for a spa which is not surprising. Just look at it!

The lake itself is not that big but it can take about two and a half hours to walk the whole way around.  It is defiantly worth it. Top tip: If you do decide to walk around the lake, make sure you wear good walking shoes. The path isn’t paved and can get muddy if it has been raining. There may also be snow still on the ground if you visit during the end of winter or beginning of spring so it’s a good idea to wear waterproof shoes or shoes with good grip or you may fall on your backside and end up with a wet arse. Nobody wants that! The dock below is on the far side of the lake. It’s a great place to take a break on your walk and have a picnic.

Just watch out for the swans!

Bring it on Schober

(1,328 m) Elevation: 1,328 m

Happily, Austria marks all their hiking routes well. They are yellow signs usually at key junctions that show you different routes and sometimes restaurants that are on the way. The Austrian flag is marked sporadically on trees along the way to keep you on the right path which is good because If they weren’t there I would probably have gotten lost. Years later I would become one of those headlines “Wild girls found in Austrian mountains just off the main path”. and instead of surviving as part of a wolf pack, I would be with deer and mountain goats. There are usually one or two easier hiking paths for you to choose from for those who want something a little less elevated. I opted for the harder route which resulted in me feeling the burn and suffering out loud. The hike usually takes about two hours but it can take longer if you stop and take photos of every leaf, tree or different view angle. Definitely not me she says as she snaps a selfie while the light perfectly hits her face at just the right angle. For anyone who has a fear of heights, it does steepen and become narrower at the top. The first time I climbed it I was clawing my way up and trying to keep my cool. ‘My cool’ is me giving myself and audible pep talk. “You can do this, it’s not that high. Oh god, it’s so f**king high!. No, no its grand, just keep going. Pretend you’re not 1,000 meters high and practically touching the clouds”. Eventually, you make it to the top and the struggle and fear become totally worth it. Not only do you feel like you have accomplished something but you also get the most amazing view. I have been lucky enough to set eyes on that view multiple times now and I tell you it is just as beautiful as the first time I stood gazed

 

What is really nice about this hike is that a lot of it is through a wooded area. Cars cannot go up this mountain so there are no road trails and there isn’t a cable car, so you have to work for your panoramic view.

Near the top is a small wooden hut. If you stay on the mountain it’s a good place to keep warm. It is also a nice place to stop and take a break, that is if some else hasn’t got there first! I once did a sunrise hike and we decided to go into the hut to warm up and eat something before climbing back down. We got a bit of a surprise when we opened the door and found a bear hibernating for winter… Jokes ! it wasn’t a bear. It was just a couple of hikers wrapped up snug as a bug in their sleeping bags. They welcomed us into the hut a lot more politely then I think a bear would have.

A cross stands a the very top. A feature you will find on most mountains. When you see the cross you know you have made it.

I took my friend Michelle and Lucy up Schober with me when they visited. I don’t think they expected it to be quiet so difficult but they did it and I am so proud of them.

 

I put a short video together of my visits to Fuschl am See. So, if you want to see more of the lake area, check it out!

Jess x

 

 

The Golden Passage of San Francisco

         A rumble.

     A beat.

       A thrust.

 A lift.

        Freedom.

A Girl lays one side of her head on an open window ledge. The wind sweeps salty air lightly through her hair. The sun travels alone overhead with not a single cloud nearby for company. The sun warms her face and reddens her cheeks. With her right ear, she listens to the waves that break along the seashore.  A city draws closer from the right. Buildings in neat rows pass her by. She follows them with her eyes until the effort strains her neck.  Ahead of more buildings appear. They grow and grow reaching towards the sky. A glinting golden Gate waiting to be explored.

San Francisco is the final stop on my 3 months traveling adventure.  I chose to finish it here and spend some time with a friend who had moved there with her partner. Together all 3 of us would experience the city. Them as new residents and me a visitor.

As I have so much to show you of the city, I have separated it into multiple posts. My first post is dedicated to the modern wonder that is The Golden Gate Bridge.

If you type in ‘San Francisco’ into google one of the first images you see is this beautiful red bridge connecting San Francisco Bay and the Pacific Ocean. The name mirrors the strait in which it is built over. As far as I have discovered it was named by an explorer in 1846. John C. Frémont named the strait between the bay and the ocean “Chrysopylae”, or “Golden Gate” for the same reasons that the harbor of Byzantium was called Chrysoceras, or Golden Horn.  According to the legend, the Byzantines threw so many valuables into it during the Ottoman Conquest that the waters glistened with gold.  The other story around the campfire was that the name was given because of the golden light at sunset. I think I prefer the aforementioned. I like the idea that fish have golden houses to live in. The bridge took almost four years to construct and opened its roadway in 1937.

The Golden Gate bridge is super famous. It has been in so many great films over the years and will probably be seen in many more to come. But the award goes to its stand out performance in Star Trek: The Voyage Home where is stood in the background of a scene with Captain James T Kirk and Spock. It also gave a strong performance in the scene where the crew almost crashed a Klingon space ship into it. It also guest starred in both the Star Trek TV series spin off’s and other films that were part of the franchise. If isn’t obvious yet, I would just like to say I am a huge Star Trek fan!!!!! I grew up watching The Next Generation with my da and was hooked. To get the chance to stand somewhere the characters had stood made me very happy. eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeek!

Below is a squinty-eyed photo of a very happy human.

On the left side of the bridge, you can see a red brick building. This was the Fort point, a masonry seacoast fortification. It was built by The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in 1853 to protect San Francisco which was seen as Americas most important Pacific port at the time. Now it is a National Historic site.

We decided to walk the trails beside the bridge. The below photo was taken at the Golden Gate Overlook. I like this view because it gives a different angle of the bridge and it is a lot less crowded than at the welcome centre.

The trail we took was the ‘Battery to Bluffs Trail’ It takes you around the bridge and along the coastline towards bakers beach. It gives you wonderful views of the ocean and the surrounding area.

I discovered when strolling along Bakers beach that it is a nudist beach. Not exactly the type of environment that is welcoming to tourists with cameras so below is the path to nude beach and ladies and gentleman this is where it ends. Let’s leave the locals to be free to strip off without silly tourist whipping out their cameras to take pictures of their bare arses.

The trails are a wonderful way to enjoy the sun and see the landscape in the area. Go for a walk and check out the trails. And if you feel a little brave, throw away your clothes and your inhibitions and take a dip in the sea. 😉

Jess x

A date with New York City

Watch as sleepy eyes flutter between dreams and reality.  

Watch as harsh melodies full of sticky intent tangles themselves on delight. 

Watch as worlds struggle to escape gravities pull towards a collision they cannot prevent. 

Watch as pain lines the skin clinging to bone. 

Watch as the fantasy grows dark and life takes hold. 

Now watch as the real adventure begins.

 

A rush of people walk up, down left and right and across each other’s path. None of their eyes make connect with another’s but they seem not to care if their bodies do. The only thing to stop them in their tracks is the opportunity to quickly glance at the bright screens dangling from the ceiling. The screens are full of lists of places, times, cancellations, delays, and gate numbers that change with the rhythm of the crowd’s footsteps. A girl carrying a large red backpack sluggishly pauses in the middle of the traffic of people. Her eyes find a sign that reads “Ground Transportation” and her body follows the direction of its arrow. Minutes late she is standing in front of a ticket machine. The screen shows many different ticket options. She chooses one that to her, might be the right option. Following the normal procedure, she pushes her card into the slot marked “insert here” and waits. A large error message appears across the screen. The girl stares at the 5 letters for a second. As the next step is usually to try again she inserts the card again with a little more feeling. “Error”! She is overtired and running on empty but is not quite ready for defeat. She begins to look over the ticket information again. She knows that she must have missed something. Just a few metres away a man is standing chatting to another man. Both men are wearing matching white shirts and navy trousers. He notices the girl standing in front of the ticket machine whose face is scrunched up making her look like a confused pug. Definitely, has no idea how to use the machines he thought.  He approaches her with a bright smile and asks if he could help. She turns to face him and replies: “Has the look of pure confusion given me away”? He laughed and replies: ” a little bit”.  It only took him a minute to explain how the tickets system works and proceeds to help with her first purchase. He then kindly walks her to the right bus stop. She waves goodbye to him as he returns inside the airport. As he leaves, he thinks to himself, yep that girl is going to get lost. The girl stands beside the other people who are waiting for the same bus. While she waits many things run through her head. Her travels so far and the places still to come. So far it has been an incredible trip and this next city has a lot to live up to. Do you hear that New York!

Yes, my next stop was the big city that never sleeps where a friend who was living there was kind enough to put me up for a few nights. Thanks, Rebecca! This wasn’t my first time to meet New York but it was the first time we were unchaperoned. All we had was two days together so I decided to let New York guide my feet.

My second time there and I was still struck by how daunting the concrete towers were. They seemed to bend inwards to block out most of the sky and if I stood gazing for too long they seemed to move towards me. On my previous, of the city, I didn’t have the chance to see everything I wanted to. This time I had a few stops on my list I was determined to see and which required me to use the subway. That might not sound like a big deal but for someone who comes from an island where buses are the usual transport option and not an underground train, it makes the experience a little bit more exciting for me than maybe for you. Did I also mention confusing too? The reason for this was that the destination above the platform doesn’t list each stop. The signs only have the direction it is going and not each stage so if you’re not super familiar with the grid system it takes a minute to get your bearings.  First, I took a shot at trying to figure out the subway system myself but that just led me to walk on and off of the same train several times before making a decision. Happily, when I wasn’t 100% sure which train to get on there were plenty of people around to ask. I have never had a fear of talking to strangers and there happens to be a lot of them in New York so you will never have a problem getting a little help. Being alone forces you to talk to people you wouldn’t normally and I feel like this is definitely a plus for traveling alone and also a good way to kick yourself out of your comfort zone.

Warning, Flashing lights, and billboards!

I feel like there isn’t a time of day that Time Square is empty of people or as quiet as a whisper. It is the best place to see a multitude of different cultures packed into one area and it’s a great spot for people watching. So many different types of people, tourist & locals who all have different styles, mannerisms, and languages. But if that’s not your cup of tea (cue to stop typing and sip my tea) it’s also a great place to shop, eat and buy tickets to Broadway shows. Yes, Broadway! Music, plays, comedy & dance. On my previous visit, I bought tickets to see Avenue Q. There were other shows and plays showing that day like “Equus” starring Daniel Radcliffe but I chose foul-mouthed puppets over Mr. Potter as I didn’t actually know much about the play. The masterful puppet show was a hilarious take on coming of age in modern society. I think it is still running on Broadway so if you’re into puppets who sing about internet porn and not wearing underwear then you should check it out!

You might recognise the below building in movies like Home Alone 2, Arthur and in Crocodile Dundee when he meets a bidet for the first time (he was all of us). The Plaza Hotel really is a landmark in its own right.

Across from The Plaza is one of the entrances to Central Park where you will find people relaxing in the sun, listening to buskers and taking selfies (yes I was one of the selfie-takers). What you will also find is a lonely Big Bird and rodents having a great time swimming in its ponds. OK so that doesn’t sound so picturesque but if you can look past the rats (because it’s a city and they are everywhere) it is actually a really nice park to walk around in.

Do you agree this is the saddest Big Bird you have ever seen? I just wanted to give him a hug but thought it was probably a bad idea to go up and hug a stranger. Even if that stranger is Big Bird.

A few years ago I had my possessions (including large caricature portrait) scanned through an x-ray machine, then I  travelled up 102 floors to the top of the Empire State Building and gazed over the view in front of me. This time I opted for a different view. I chose to walk along one of the oldest bridges in New York ‘The Brooklyn Bridge’. I really like bridge architecture and this one was a beauty. Not only is it a wonderful bridge to stroll across but you also get a great view of different sections of the city.

 Bonjour Lady Liberty.

It’s not a trip to NY if you don’t visit its leading lady and I did just that. I stepped aboard a ferry that takes you over to say hello to the Statue of Liberty. The first thing to know is that there are different ticket options you can buy. You can purchase a ticket to visit the island where the Statue of Liberty is mounted and Ellis Island or you can get a ticket that also includes entrance inside The Statue of Liberty. But that does not include access to the top of the statue. You need to book that privilege way in advance (as I was told by the ticket inspector guarding the entrance to the top of ladies head). Inside the base of the statue is a museum detailing the history of the statue. I didn’t really know anything about the statue beforehand so the museum was a great way to learn a little of her history before climbing the 354 steps towards the top.

A bonus of visiting the island is this great view of the city. Look how amazing it looks in the sun! From the island, it looks as though the city is floating over the sea and could drift away at any moment.

The face below shows the original colour of the statue. The bronze turns green from constantly being battered by the elements. Her eyes are intense don’t you think?

And here is the spiral stairs I never got to walk up…

The Island Border

If you decide to visit both Islands I suggest you visit Ellis Island first. Why? Because the information and history behind the island are grim and actually quite sad. So going from beautiful views to gloomy examination rooms inside Ellis Islands walls is a bit of a downer.

If you know anything about the history of this island, (or if you don’t) this is where people from all over the world came first to start their new life in America. After spending weeks on crowded boats they then waited to be inspected on those same boats and hoped that they would be allowed to enter. For some who were deemed not healthy enough or who didn’t have the money to pay the entrance fee, the view from the island was all they saw of New York City.

My two days in New York City came and went so fast. I would really like to spend more time there one day or even live there to really get a feel for the city. But until then I will remember my time there fondly.

 

Have you been to New York?

What was your favourite thing you remember about the city?

Let me know your thoughts or if you have any recommendations for my next visit.

 

Jess x