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.

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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.

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.

Wednesday Wonders: Humayun’s Tomb, Delhi

Humayun’s Tomb is the perfect antidote to escape from the cacophony of Delhi’s car horns and tuk tuk drivers. 

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Within the immaculately kept grounds, the sound of birdsong punctuates the air and the surrounding gardens are the perfect place to relax and unwind in.  I spent a couple of hours just wandering around.

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Despite its World Heritage status, it is surprisingly quiet – hardly any other tourists were there at the same time as me.  Perhaps this is due to its location away from Delhi’s major tourist attractions such as the Red Fort.  Humayun’s Tomb is close to Purana Qila and the Delhi Zoo.