Bumblebee’s love affair with Scotland

I am in love! It has taken me a while to fall completely in love with this beautiful country. The scenery got at my heartstrings straight away. I remember the moment this occurred. I was walking across Rannoch Moor, a desolate, unpopulated area northwest of the Bridge of Orchy. The beautiful colours as I passed through the boggy heathland just took my breath away.

I’ve been based in Stirling for three months now. I am currently working two jobs. I fell into one of them simply through word of mouth. I find the work involved in the two jobs is relatively easy, but I feel constricted by the city’s grasp on my work days. I yearn to be out in the hills exploring. I look wistfully over at the Ochils as I walk to my job. The thing is…I don’t really need to work two jobs. BUT…it makes my days off that much extra special.

Last Sunday, I had a fantastic adventure. I caught the train to Dunblane, then walked upriver along the Allan Water to Ashfield, a 19th century printing mill village. I then returned to Dunblane for a coffee at the cute little Beech Tree Cafe before setting off for the Sherriffmuir Inn. This required slipping and sliding along a muddy path for several kilometres before reaching the Clan MacRae monument, dedicated to those fallen in the Battle of Sherriffmuir in 1715. The Inn stood alone, with a backdrop of the Ochils falling behind it. Even though it was raining, it was fantastic to get out and see this part of Stirlingshire.

Today I am to visit Doune, home of the 14th century castle used in Monty Python and the Holy Grail and Game of Thrones. I am also looking forward to visiting more of one of my favourite county’s in Scotland – Clackmannanshire.

Wednesday Wonders of the World – Inchmahome Priory, Lake of Menteith, Scotland

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Inchmahome Priory is a gorgeous hidden gem smack-bang in the middle of Scotland. It is an easy day trip from Edinburgh, Glasgow or Stirling. Just get to Stirling then catch the Aberfoyle bus, and request the Port of Menteith stop.

I believe Inchmahome Priory is not open during the winter (I was lucky enough to get there in the week before it closed), as is the case for many historic sites around Scotland – however, while you still may be able to physically go to many of the closed castles and walk around them and take photographs, Inchmahome Priory is set in the middle of a lake (the only “lake” in Scotland, all other inland bodies of water are referred to as “lochs”) and only accessible by boat.

I was lucky enough to visit Inchmahome Priory with only four others on the island. Only four! It was fantastic to be sharing this historic place with them as if it were a big secret from the masses of tourists who queue up to visit the more well-known sites such as Edinburgh Castle. The island also had a great sense of peace and tranquility.

Inchmahome Priory is steeped in history, with the current remains dating from the 1200’s and used as an Augustinian monastery. Over the centuries, the Priory was used as a hideaway for the child Mary, Queen of Scots. The most commonly taken photograph of Inchmahome Priory is the “five window” shot, taken through the door of the church to the opposing wall near the altar with the open five windows and an absent roof. You can just imagine the beauty of what stained glass windows would of been in place in the five windows. The door is said to very much resemble the door of Dunblane Cathedral. For the purposes of comparison, here is a shot of the door of the Dunblane Cathedral that I took the week after visiting Inchmahome Priory.

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Whilst I thoroughly enjoyed my visit to Inchmahome Priory as a solo traveller, I kept thinking it would be a great summertime daytrip complete with picnic for a young family – plenty of hideyholes for the kids to play. They would even be following in the footsteps of Mary, Queen of Scots.

Once I returned to shore, I decided to grab a hot coffee from the hotel at the Port of Menteith while waiting for my bus home. The hotel looks to serve up a nice meal as well. There is also a lovely church and graveyard at the Port of Menteith that are well worth a look.

Tolerance

According to Benjamin Disraeli, “Travel Teaches Tolerance”.

This is so true. There are 6 billion people on this planet. It is unlikely that you will get on with all of them. But, as I have gone about my wanderings, I have figured something out about the people who I find annoying. I’ve realised that whatever trait or quirk I find annoying about them, I possess that trait myself.

My biggest frustration with others tends to come with indecision. I am an incredibly indecisive person. I like to blame the fact that my starsign is Libra, and I weigh up each decision into a list of pros and cons. Indeed, I could of gone on this trip years, maybe even a decade ago, but I just wasn’t sure where exactly I wanted to go, hence, I put it off until now.

I try and tolerate people. I think my tolerance level has increased since before I started this trip. I can put up with snorers quite easily now. I can tolerate drunk people who return to my dorm room at 4 in the morning and behave obnoxiously. It is the indecisive people who really grate on my nerves. One time, whilst walking on the Camino de Santiago on a rainy day, I was walking behind a German lady who had come to a fork in the path. The Camino is incredibly well way-marked by a scallop shell insignia and yellow arrows. Despite a yellow arrow pointing her in the right direction, she stopped, stood there and waited for me to reach her. I pointed her in the right direction begrudgingly. She subsequently overtook me, only for the same thing to happen 5 minutes later. And then, a third time. By this point I was really cranky. How thick could this woman possibly be?

In hindsight, I felt really bad for getting cranky at her. I had to stop myself and think that perhaps this was her first time in a different country and here she was walking through it by herself. Whilst she was middle aged, it would have taken guts for her to make the decision to do this. In a sense, I saw a reflection of myself at that age in her. I felt really bad. Thankfully, a few days later I was staying in the same albergue as her, and we got talking. She had forgotten my crankiness (or perhaps, it had seemed to me that I was really snappy with her, when, in fact, it felt worse in my head than in reality). I was glad I had managed to catch up with her, and repaid her by watching her bottle of red wine for her in the kitchen and save it from a group of American college students who were eyeing it off.

Another group of people who I have to tolerate are those who expect to be entertained. They sit in the hostel, and eye you off as you enter. I can hear the question they ask themselves, “Oh, she looks like she knows what she is doing, I hope we can have a conversation?” It’s tiresome yet fascinating.

At the moment, where I am working, there is a man called Andrew who expects to be entertained. He fuels himself with alcohol every single night to pass away the monotony and boredom of his life. The only thing that seems to excite him is conversation revolving around alcohol consumption – who was drinking it, how much of it they consumed last night, the affects of it the following morning on the people who were drinking it, and so the cycle continues. Every. Single. Day. It has actually turned me off drinking. I am quite partial to a glass of wine every now and again. But having him watch me drink it is incredibly disconcerting. One night, he leered at me with a bottle of whisky, offering me some. I declined, somehwhat embarrassed as he disrupted the conversation I was having within a circle of friends. “But it’s single malt whisky”, as if the notion of its purity would make me change my mind. Nonetheless, I tolerate Andrew. I grind my teeth, avert eye contact and make only civil conversation with him. The bare minimum of tolerance. But tolerance all the same.

Wednesday Wonders: The Magic Fountain, Barcelona, Spain

There are few things that leave me mesmerised. I am often impressed by majestic, grandiose and acient monuments and buildings, don’t get me wrong. But there are few things that transcend into an emotive response from me. And, much to my surprise, the Magic Fountain of Montjuic did it for me. I was nearly in tears as I watched it. I think the reason behind such a strong emotional response was that I have been missing music in my travels. I don’t have an IPOD. I don’t know the latest radio hits. The only music I listen to is the stuff playing at the hostels I stay at (which can be questionable, at best) or elevator music in shopping centres or airports.

My pictures won’t do it justice. I can’t convey the beauty of the movement of the water, the lighting and the music through a photograph – so I am choosing not to post any. 

I felt nothing but pure awe as I walked from Placa Espana up the Avenida de la Reina to the Magic Fountain, with the background of the palatial splendour that is National Museum of Catalunyan Art. I can remember making comparisons to my feelings of visiting Disneyland as a child.

The beauty of the crowd surrounding the Magic Fountain was that it was full of joy. Children squealing as the wind picked up and sprayed the water from the fountains jets over them. Swimming fans who had descended from the World Swimming Championships being held atop Montjuic – adorning flags as capes, wearing garish tshirts in the colours of their nation. Elderly people sitting on the park benches. Young lovers holding hands. Groups of teenagers having a picnic on the grass. There was no jostling to get a good vantage point – everywhere you stood you could see the magic fountain.  There were no bad tempers despite the heat of the day in the peak of Summer simmering away into the night. 

I remember standing quite near to the fountain, and as the various shapes of the water and lighting changed to the music of Celine Dion’s Titanic-tear jerking tune to “My Heart Will Go On”, a man selling roses offered me one. The irony that I was here by myself, a solitary figure amongst the crowd was not lost on me, and I had to fight hard to contain my laughter whilst shaking my head to decline the rose vendor’s sale.

If you are in Barcelona, please go to the Magic Fountain. It is free. The show plays at dusk, but only on certain days. I recommend getting to Placa Espana, and then walking up to Montjuic from there.

Traveloversary

On November 2, I will be celebrating my traveloversary! To mark this tremendous occasion – I decided to write a post with 10 random facts about my adventure:

1. I have only gotten sick (to the point of having to seek medical treatment) once. It was from a bout of Delhi Belly I suffered after my last night in Delhi, and following a tumultuous few days of explosive diarrhoea in London, I visited the St Mary’s Hospital in London and was treated by a quirky, bespactacled doctor who was thrilled to be treating somebody who didn’t have a broken limb but rather a topical illness. Somewhat tongue in cheek, after reaching a diagnosis, he instructed me to “run” to the hospital pharmacy to get my antibiotics before it closed.

2. On the subject of bodily functions, one of the few initial things remaining from what I packed from home is an unopened bottle of constipation tablets.

3. After getting a cold/sore throat/cough in Burgos, Spain, I did buy some over-the-counter cough mixture from a pharmacy. A trap for young players – the over-the-counter medication in Spain is a hell of a lot stronger than it is in Australia. I accidentally gave myself an “Australian” dose – 3 times stronger than the recommended Spanish dose, and passed out. Mind you, it was an awesome night’s sleep in an albergue dormitory with 40 beds, several of which would have been occupied with snorers.

4. “The third month of travelling long term is always the hardest”. This was very sage advice from my friend, Anne. And it was a true. I spent my third month predominantly in Ireland and it was tough. I spent most of the month staying in dorms by myself in hostels throughout Ireland. Oh, except for the one night in Doolin where my fellow dorm-mate pissed on my pack in the middle of the night.

5. Expectations may not always meet reality. Portugal was on my “must-do” list. I had high hopes for my visit to Portugal. I had heard nothing but good things about it from fellow travellers, and following a visit to Macau in 2009 (a former Portuguese settlement) I eagerly looked forward to Portugal. BUT – after an empowering 6 weeks of trekking the Camino De Santiago through northern Spain, Portugal was a bit of a personal letdown. I stayed in awesome hostels and made some wonderful friends. But, it just felt like I was missing something.

6. The world is a small place. I have met fellow travelers in India and Europe with whom I live in the same area in Melbourne.

7. Lugging a Lonely Planet guide around with you is silly. I was actually in a bookstore yesterday, and, as always seems to be the case, found myself in the travel section. I found myself looking at all the different Lonely Planet titles and realised I had visited a fair few of the countries. I can’t imagine lugging all that weight around anymore. For the first few days of the Camino, I did actually lug the Europe Lonely Planet book on my back, over the Pyrenees and into Spain. I can’t believe I did that. What the hell was I thinking?

8. I avoid, at all costs, yobbos and dinbats from Australia. At all costs! I remember in Lisbon an Aussie guy, proclaiming (to anybody who would listen); “Deep down, I just want to be an American frat boy.” Another drunken Aussie guy at my hostel in Stirling repetitively declaring; “Skippy doesn’t jump around my backyard.” Cue my eyes rolling into the back of my head.

9. I detest people who use plastic bags. Particularly those who insist on rattling and scrunching them whilst packing their bags early in the morning whilst in dormitory accommodation.

10. The majority of people in our world are good-natured and friendly. I started off this journey being very wary of people offering to help me, thinking it must be some sort of scam. For example, in Delhi, I was wanting to post a parcel with a menagerie of birthday and Christmas presents for my family. I wandered around Paharganj trying to find a post-agent who would offer me a reasonable price. I came across Mohit Kumar, a nice man with a broad smile perhaps 200 metres from my hotel. To this day, Mohit will occasionally email and say hello and ask when I am coming back to India. Similarly, after that guy pissed on my pack in Ireland, the owner of the hostel subsequently made him pay for my stay before kicking him out, and offered me free breakfast, laundry and hugs.

On that note, I hope the next year of adventure will be full of hugs and laughter, and beautiful encounters with random people in breathtaking places.

Wednesday Wonders: Red Fort, Agra, India

Agra is well-reknowned for being the home of the Taj Mahal. However, it is also home to another wonder of the world that is well worth a visit. I had the pleasure of visiting the Red Fort in Agra before the Taj Mahal, and I highly recommend to others that they do the same. The reason – the first glimpse of the Taj Mahal you will see will be from the Red Fort – it will put into context the sheer scale and majesty of the Taj Mahal.

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On the day i visited the Agra Fort, a smoggy haze prevented a clear view of the Taj Mahal,  but this somewhat added to the mystique and heightened my anticipation of my visit to the Taj later on. Anyhoo, I digress, and will talk more about the Taj Mahal in a forthcoming post.

The Red Fort of Agra is not to be confused with the Red Fort of Delhi. The Agra Fort has been around since 1080 AD, whereas the Red Fort of Delhi has been around since 1638, however both are quite similar in terms of architecture and appearance, having predominantly been based on the Mughal Empire period of the 17th century. The main entrance visitors enter is through the majestic Delhi Gate, pictured below.

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The sheer scale of the Agra Fort, coupled with the intricate detail of every window, every pillar and every cornice was astonishing.

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As I would come to realise with most of the historic sites in Rajasthan I would come to visit, the Agra Fort also contained some beautiful gardens and green spaces.

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Also, a lot of the historic sites merge intricate patterns that encompass symbolic representations of several religions into the decoration. The picture below displays several such symbolic representations – including (in no particular order) the Star of David (representing Judaism), a green hexagon (six-sided shape, representing Islam), and a swastika (I am unsure whether it is representative of Christianity or Hinduism).

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The Agra Fort is definitely well worth a visit, and I highly recommend getting shown around by one of the official guides (identifiable by wearing a name badge), who can properly explain the history and significance of each of the areas contained within the complex.

Travel Tidbits #1

This poem was on the wall of the dining area of the Kinlay House Hostel in Galway.

This is your life. Do what you love, and do it often.

If you don’t like something, change it.

If you don’t like your job, quit.

If you don’t have enough time, stop watching TV.

If you are looking for the love of your life, stop;

they will be waiting for you when you start doing things you love

Stop over analysing, life is simple.

All emotions are beautiful.

When you eat, appreciate every last bite.

Open your mind, arms and heart to new things and people,

we are united in our differences.

Ask the next person you see what their passion is, and share your inspiring dream with them.

Travel often, getting lost will help you find yourself.

Some opportunities only come once, seize them.

Life is about the people you meet, and the things you create with them so go out and start creating.

Live your dreams and wear your passion.

Life is short.

(Author unknown)