Wednesday, March 29, 2017

March 10th: Rainy Lighthouses and Whisky by the Fire

We got up the next morning, had breakfast in the hotel, then decided to explore Dornoch a little bit before getting back in the car for some more driving.

The outside of the hotel. It's not often you get to spend the night in an old castle.  :)

The Dornoch Cathedral is right across the street from the hotel. We walked around town a bit more, then eventually went back to the hotel, hopped in the car, and drove to our first stop.

Luckily, we didn't have far to go! The Glenmorangie distillery was only about 20 minutes away. We did a distillery tour here, which was really cool. They don't let you take pictures, though, so I'll just let you imagine how pretty and delicious-smelling it was here.

They do let you taste pretty much whatever you want after the tour, though, so we took full advantage of that. Mark tried little sips since he was driving. I took a bit more advantage of the tasty glasses in front of me.  :)   I wound up buying a bottle that's a bit tricky to find in the US, then we hopped back in the car and started driving north.

We made a short stop at Dunrobin Castle along the way. They offer tours here but we decided to just wander around the grounds a little bit instead to save some time.

I certainly wouldn't mind a castle with a fancy garden overlooking the Dornoch Firth! We spent a few minutes wandering around, then hopped back in the car and kept going.

We wound up stopping again a little while later. We kept getting glimpses of some pretty dramatic scenery along the water, and Mark wanted to try to see some of it up close. We wound up pulling off the main road at Latheronwheel, drove down to a little harbor area, and stopped to wander around for a little while. We wandered around down by the water...

...then followed a path over a small bridge and up a little hill.

There was a pretty neat view of the coast from the top.

This was the little gate you had to pass through to get through the top of the hill. I thought it was neat that Scotland was a bit like Norway: there are lots of random hikes throughout the countryside, and you're free to hike through private fields and a lot of private property.

We spent a few minutes checking out the old abandoned house down by the water before we left. I wouldn't mind a view like this from my house!

We drove for a while longer...

...then eventually got to our next stop: John 'o Groats. It's way in the northeast corner of Scotland. We stopped for lunch and coffee in a small cafe, then drove a few minutes to check out the Duncansby Head Lighthouse.

There were some pretty neat views from the parking area. It was starting to get cold and rainy, but we weren't going to let that stop us.

The Duncansby Head Lightouse. This is the most northeasterly part of mainland Scotland.

It was getting a bit muddy, but we followed a path up over a small rise and were rewarded with a pretty sweet view of the Duncansby Stacks.

I would have loved to follow the path all the way out to see them up close, but the weather was getting pretty miserable, even for me. I settled for grabbing a few shots with my zoom lens, then sloshed my way back to the car.

We had some company on the road back out of the parking area.

Our next stop wasn't very far away; we went to the Dunnet Head Lighthouse, which is the most northern point of mainland Scotland. The weather seemed to have followed us, but we figured we'd at least spend a few minutes looking around.

There were pretty nice views of the coast here, too.

We followed a path around to the top of a hill and got a neat view of the surrounding area. There were a few old buildings along the path, leftover from a radar station and bunker used between World War II and the Cold War, but it was getting cold and rainy again so we power walked back to the car and started to drive south toward the hotel.

It took a while to get back to Dornoch, so we broke up the trip with a short stop in Golspie to wander along the beach.

The weather was much nicer down here! We walked along the beach for a little while, made our way back to the hotel, found some dry socks and shoes, and hung out in the lounge for a little while with a drink before dinner.

I decided to try the fish and chips, and it was absolutely fantastic.

Since it was our last night in the hotel, and Mark's last chance to try some crazy rare whiskies, he kind of went for broke. The bartender lined up everything he tried along the bar; this picture was toward the end of the night. There were some really tasty things in there, and I think Mark even got the last dram from one of the bottles.

You know they're serious when they're pulling chairs up to the shelves of super fancy stuff.  :)

Mark eventually decided he'd tried enough samples, then we went upstairs, drank our room sherry by the fire in the upstairs lounge, and went to bed. 

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Picture of the Day: March 20th to March 26th

March 20th: I had another day shift this Monday, but at least it didn't leave me wanting to strangle everybody by the time I got home. Maybe the double drinks, junk food, and TV in the evening helped a bit.

March 21st: I finally got back in the air! Good new is my oil leak is fixed, bad news is one of my nav lights is burned out. Buuuut, it turns out that's one of the repairs that owners are allowed to do, so I won't have to pay the shop to replace a light bulb for me. The bulb is on its way, so I should be back in the air again soon (and at $3.35 for the bulb, for much cheaper than if I'd had the shop fix it!).   :)

March 22nd: We tried another new recipe today; Mark made risotto from scratch. It turned out really good! There was parmesan and mascarpone in the risotto itself, and we topped it with some prosciutto that we baked in the over for a few minutes. *drool*

March 23rd: I've been learning a bit more about shooting pictures in a different file format, so I practiced a bit on some of the stuff around my office. It might be a busy day in Lego City, but Successful Lego Business Lady doesn't mind.   :)

March 24th: I thought it looked a little gloomy outside when I woke up, and no wonder! We live right where that little blue dot is in front of the weather.

March 25th: I worked a 10 hour day to build up a little credit time to use later, but I definitely made good use of my time after work. Drove home with the convertible top down, ate dinner and drank whiskey on the front porch, and played with the doggies in the backyard. The weather was gorgeous!

March 26th: Mark said we needed to stop at Harris Teeter on the way home from work to pick up lettuce and gum. I don't know about him, but I have absolutely no willpower when I'm this tired. By the time we left we had spent over $100 and I had stuffed my belly with free samples. Oops.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

March 9th: Some Driving, Some Hiking, and Some Whisky

We didn't sleep too late the next day; we had places to go!

We had breakfast in our hotel before leaving Edinburgh. I had a vegetarian version of a Scottish breakfast, complete with vegetarian haggis (which was really good). This was the view from our table...not bad.   :)

We checked out, packed up the car, and hit the road. Time to drive north!

We stopped at the Blair Athol distillery along the way. We didn't do a distillery tour here, but we did browse a bit in their shop before heading out.

We had to do a bit of driving to get to our final stop for the day, but at least the scenery along the way was really interesting...

...especially as we got further north. I took this while we were stopped for a minute for some roadwork.

We wanted to break up the drive a bit, so we made a detour to Kincraig. I had read about a riverside walk along the River Spey, so we took a little while to check it out. It took a few minutes to figure out that we had to pass through a random gate to start the walk, but we eventually got there.  :)

The path wanders through a random field and branches off at a few different spots, so you can make up your own hike.

There were some pretty sweet views along the way. The only other person we saw the entire time was a guy inspecting a set of powerlines that ran through the field.

After a little while we came across a bench looking out on the river, so we stopped for a few minutes for a snack.

There were snowy hills here, too.  :)

We ate our granola bars, enjoyed the views for a few more minutes...

...then started making our way back toward the car. We had a bit more driving left before we'd be done for the day.

I took this somewhere along the way as we drove north. The scenery just kept getting prettier the further north we went.

A little while later, we got to our hotel for the next two nights. Mark was really excited about this one; we were staying at the Dornoch Castle Hotel, which, aside from being in a cool old castle, has an incredible whisky bar.

Instead of leaving mints on your pillows, they leave you chocolate and a small decanter of sherry. I liked this place already.   :)    We got settled into the room, then went back downstairs to check out their whisky selection.

To say it's impressive is an understatement. Some of these bottles are incredibly old and possibly the only ones in existence. And, the best part: they charge incredibly reasonable prices. You'd never find a place like this in the US!

It was a little tricky to know where to start with such a good selection, but Mark picked out a couple things. Their bartender is fantastic and made a couple suggestions, too.

Mark made sure to take notes on his samples. After a little while we were getting a pretty good collection of empties, but whatever...it's not like we had to be anywhere! (I tried a gin and tonic made with their own gin; it was really good. I don't know why I've never thought to put blackberries in my gin and tonics at home!)

After a few samples we went back up to the room to hang out until it was time for our dinner reservation. We made some tea, ate some cookies, and watched some more silly game shows before eventually heading back downstairs. Dinner was really tasty...

...then it was back to the lounge for a couple more samples before we went back upstairs and went to bed. It was a good thing we were spending two nights here; there were so many more whiskies to try!

Thursday, March 23, 2017

March 8th: Are You Suggesting That Coconuts Migrate?

Some sleep definitely helped! We felt a bit more functional the next day, so it was time for some exploring.

The cafe we found for lunch the day before was so good that we went back for breakfast. They had all sorts of neat Italian pastries, so I tried a couple. The one that looks like a seashell was my favorite; the crust was a long, thin, crunchy spiral wrapped around on itself, and the whole thing was filled with an orangey ricotta. Mmm, coffee and pastries...   :)

We went for a short walk after breakfast and managed to find an overlook we'd seen the day before. It had a neat view of the skyline. We spent a few more minutes wandering around before picking up the car, checking out of the hotel, and saying goodbye to Glasgow.

We had about an hour drive to our first stop, and along the way we saw this rainbow. Normally you never really see the end of these, but this time it was right in front of us! It was pretty neat. We drove a bit more, then arrived at our first stop...

...Doune Castle! This is the castle they used in Monty Python and the Holy Grail, and when we found out we'd be so close, we knew we had to go.   :)

It turns out they had a really cool self-guided audio tour, so we grabbed our headsets and went inside. (Bonus: the audio tour was narrated by Terry Jones.)

This was the fanciest room in the castle (and by fancy, I mean most modern). With just a couple exceptions you get total free run of the entire castle. We went up those steep spiraling steps on the left and wound up in a winding maze of sleeping chambers and latrines and such. It was cold and drafty and dark and awesome.

Looking out onto the courtyard from one of the rooms.

This was one of the bigger rooms, and I believe it was where the lady of the house mostly hung out. I think it used to be two stories; you could see where there were spots for beams to be put into the walls that could have created a floor. If I remember correctly, the window that the guy in the blue jacket is looking out of is the same one where they shot the scene in Holy Grail with the son who doesn't want the kingdom, but just wants to...sing!

This room is where they would have big feasts. That basket-looking thing in the middle used to contain a big fire that would warm and light the room, and the VIPs would sit up on the platform where the fancy bench is.

This was the kitchen, complete with windows where the servers could pick up the food. The slashes on the wall are how the cooks would sharpen their knives. There was also a huuuuge fireplace on the other side of the kitchen where they could roast whole animals on spits. They shot a few scenes of Holy Grail in here, too.

We eventually finished wandering around inside, turned in our headsets, and walked around a bit outside. It was pretty muddy so we didn't go very far, but it was still really cool to see the castle up close after seeing it in Holy Grail. This was definitely worth the side trip - having an awesome audio tour and getting to wander around a castle for as long as you'd like isn't something you get to do every day!

We left the castle just as a bunch of other people showed up (perfect timing!), and drove into town. We found lunch at a small cafe, shared a sandwich in the car, then hit the road again for a short drive to our next stop...

...Deanston Distillery. Time for a distillery tour!

This wound up being a really cool tour. It's a smaller distillery, so it was very low key and we could take pictures almost anywhere we wanted.

We got to see some pretty cool parts of the process, too. This mash tun was open and we could see the hot water slowly draining out. The hot water is eventually turned into whisky, and the grain left behind is turned into cattle food.

We also got to see some of the fermentation process. This room was full of giant tanks and smelled the way our house smells when we make wine and it's undergoing primary fermentation: warm and yeasty. We got to see their stills, too, but you're not allowed to take pictures in there because of possible alcohol vapors in the air.

This is their warehouse. The building used to be a cotton mill, and I think the guide said that this is the room where they'd turn the cotton into fabric on giant looms. Now it's full of whisky barrels.  :)  Overall, the tour was really neat and our guide was great. I wound up buying Mark his bottle of birthday whisky here; Deanston sells a lot of their whisky to be used in blended whiskies, so it's not often you can find a bottle of their single malt, especially in the US.

We eventually finished up at the distillery, then got back on the road. Time for our last stop of the day!

Hello, Edinburgh!

We found our hotel just fine, checked in, hung out for a little while enjoying our fancy room, then decided to wander around a bit. The above picture is the Edinburgh Castle; it sits up on a hill right in the middle of everything and there's a really cool park/garden area below it.

We passed the Scott Monument as we wandered around. It's a monument to Sir Walter Scott, and it's the largest monument to a writer in the world. I think you can go into it, but we just enjoyed the view from the outside and kept going.

This was a random intersection we passed along the way. I loved all the old stone buildings.   :)

We wandered a bit through the old town area, went into a giant whisky store with the most impressive collection of mini bottles I've ever seen, then wandered a bit further...

...up to the Edinburgh Castle. There was a pretty nice view from the top of the hill!

The entrance to the castle. It was too late in the day for any of the tours, but it was still neat from the outside. We wandered around for a little while, then went back down the hill and walked around the castle on the other side. By then we were getting pretty hungry...

...so it was time for some dinner. We wound up at a random Indian restaurant we passed. We were a little worried because we were the only people in there, but the food was delicious! The owners and the chef were great, and I'm really glad we wound up there. I was stuffed by the time we left.

We started to wander back toward the hotel. The castle was lit up for the evening, which looked awesome.

We stopped in the Mathers Bar on the way back to the hotel for some whisky. Mark tried a few different things (and I sipped at them, too), then we went back to the hotel. We grabbed one last drink at the hotel bar, then went up to our room and watched some weird British game shows (one of my favorite things about traveling in the UK) until we fell asleep. It had been a fun day, and we had more fun things planned for the next day!