A Travellerspoint blog

May 2019

Southern Scotland

Route: London – Edinburgh – Aberfoyle – London

sunny 20 °C

MAY 2019

After an overnight at Gatwick Airport, our journey from Austria continued on to Scotland. We arrived at Edinburgh Airport on a cold but bright afternoon and transferred to our apartment in the centre of town. By early evening we were settled in and feed, so headed out to see the old town, only 15 minutes away by foot. We were so glad we did, as there was a clear blue sky now, making the old town look its best. Having past the Palace of Holyrood, we walked up the Royal Mile past many of Edinburgh’s iconic sites, until we reached the castle where we had great views all around. The Royal Mile must be one of the most beautiful streets in any town in the world, let alone a capital city.

Palace of Holyroodhouse

Palace of Holyroodhouse

Edinburgh Buildings

Edinburgh Buildings

Looking down Royal Mile from the Castle Esplanade

Looking down Royal Mile from the Castle Esplanade

View from the Castle Esplanade over Edinburgh

View from the Castle Esplanade over Edinburgh

Royal Mile section of the High Street in Edinburgh

Royal Mile section of the High Street in Edinburgh

The Scottish Parliament

The Scottish Parliament

We were so pleased that we took the time to visit the old town on our day of arrival, because the weather then took a turn for the worse, restricting activities. So it wasn’t until our last day in Edinburgh that the rain stopped and we were able to explore some more. We took a couple of bus rides, which allowed us to see the area of the city just outside of its centre. We then explored the area around Princes Street, including the gardens, and did a bit of shopping whilst there. The view from Princes Street gave us another prospective of the castle, this time from below, and allowed us to see much more clearly the extinct volcano the castle is perched upon.

Edinburg Castle from Prince's Street Garden

Edinburg Castle from Prince's Street Garden

Street sculpture

Street sculpture

Our next location was on the other side of the country, so we left the east coast and went west. With time on our hands we made a small detour to visit the Forth Bridge (see below), this provided with a great view of the Forth River and the three bridges that cross it.

Forth Bridge over the Firth of the Forth

Forth Bridge over the Firth of the Forth

Our base in the west was the attractive village of Aberfoyle, sitting just inside the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park and surrounded by beautiful countryside. Our good friend Rob joined us for the first three days here and with the weather now much nicer, we were able to explore to the full.
Our first day took us into the Queen Elizabeth Forest Park, where we were able to drive through the forest and stop off for a number of short hikes on route. Great weather, beautiful scenery and watching Saracens win the Rugby Union European Champions Cup on TV, made it a very enjoyable day.

Forest Drive in the Queen Elizabeth Forest Park

Forest Drive in the Queen Elizabeth Forest Park

Still snow on the highest Bens (peaks) in this part of Scotland

Still snow on the highest Bens (peaks) in this part of Scotland

One of the views on our Forest Drive

One of the views on our Forest Drive

The weather on the following day was even better so we decided to get out on the water. To do this we headed to Loch Katrine where the Sir Walter Scott steamboat runs scenic trips around the loch. The Sir Walter Scott is the oldest operating passenger steamboat in the world, and still uses its original engine, now 120 years old. A beautiful hour was then spent cruising around the loch, made even better knowing that you were aboard a piece of history. To top it all we even saw an Osprey. The loch also has a famous building on its banks, the Royal Cottage, (See Interesting Facts below).

The Walter Scott Steam Boat 120 years old (the boat not Walter Scott)

The Walter Scott Steam Boat 120 years old (the boat not Walter Scott)

Cruise on Walter Scott Steam Boat around Loch Katerine

Cruise on Walter Scott Steam Boat around Loch Katerine

Home on Loch Katerine

Home on Loch Katerine

The rest of the day was a road trip to explore more of the national park. So after a pleasant lunch in a local inn we drove north, through the mountains, then west to Loch Lomond. Loch Lomond is the largest lake in Great Britain, 36km long and up to 8km wide, and we drove its length from north to south. But it wasn’t all driving; we called in at a viewpoint in the north of the loch and followed that with a visit to the pretty village of Luss, two thirds of the way down. And that completed a very full day.

Loch Lomond

Loch Lomond

Our next day was just as bright and sunny as the first two, so we decided to do something different, a bit of mountaineering. Bearing in mind the definition of a mountain is a piece of land that summits at 1000ft (305 meters) or over, this wasn’t as dramatic as it might sound. Our goal was the summit of Ben A’an (461 meters). Our route was through a pine forest and up several steep rocky paths, tough on the legs but the reward at the top was worth it. From the summit we could see for miles, with Loch Katrine immediately below us other lochs and mountains in the distance.

Walking up to Ben Aa'n

Walking up to Ben Aa'n

Scotish Terrier Hamish kindly posed on top of Ben Aa'n

Scotish Terrier Hamish kindly posed on top of Ben Aa'n

View from summit of Ben Aa'n

View from summit of Ben Aa'n

Loch Katerine from top of Ben Aa'n

Loch Katerine from top of Ben Aa'n

The mountaineering was followed by a well-deserved lunch and drink in a small town nearby. Fully refreshed we were ready for the second activity of the day, a visit to Inchmahome Abbey. To get to the Abbey a boat is required, as it sits on an island in Lake Menteith. Fortunately the water transport is included in the entrance fee, so we were collected from the shoreline and whisked across the lake. The Abbey, built in 1238, is now a ruin but very well preserved considering its age. Some notable guests have also visited it, Mary queen of Scots and Robbie the Bruce to name but two. The island itself was very tranquil, maybe because we were at the end of the day and we had it to ourselves, bar three American ladies. We looked around the Abbey, walked a circuit of the island through its ancient woodland and Bluebells, and then caught the boat back. It was a very relaxing way to finish the day.

Abbey on Lake Meredith

Abbey on Lake Meredith

Transport to the island on Lake Meredith where the Abbey stood

Transport to the island on Lake Meredith where the Abbey stood

Blue bells forest on island of Lake Meredith (90% o bluebells flowers in the world are found in the UK)

Blue bells forest on island of Lake Meredith (90% of bluebells flowers in the world are found in the UK)

We couldn’t believe it when the next day dawned as nice as those that had gone before, so more exploration was the order of the day, even though our legs were now complaining about the previous day’s mountaineering. We selected a hike up a gorge, passing two waterfalls and emerging into an upland meadow. Mountains enclosed the meadow and it was very peaceful, with the absence of tourists all you could hears was rushing water and bird song. From the meadow we returned to the car park along the opposite side of the gorge and headed back to the apartment for a late lunch.

Barcklinn Falls, Callander Gorge

Barcklinn Falls, Callander Gorge

View during gorge walk

View during gorge walk

With so much still to explore, it was hard to decide what to do for our last day. But because we had seen the mouth of the River Forth (from the Forth Bridge), as it emptied into the North Sea, we thought it would be nice to see its source. So we selected a hike that started at the source, namely Loch Ard (see River Forth below). The hike took us from Loch Ard, up into the Loch Ard Forest, eventually arriving at another body of water, Lochan Spling. Once again we had the trail almost to ourselves, which always increases the enjoyment.

Sculpture in a loch in Loch Ard forest

Sculpture in a loch in Loch Ard forest

Loch Ard, source of the River Forth

Loch Ard, source of the River Forth

And that brought an end our short visit to Southern Scotland, except for a quick call in at “The Kelpies” on our way back to Edinburgh Airport. The Kelpies are two amazing 60-meter high Horse Head sculptures in the Helix Park near Falkirk. Kelpies are mythological water horses with the strength and endurance of 10 horses, placed here to celebrate the contribution heavy horses made to the Scottish economy.

Kelpies

Kelpies

Kelpie

Kelpie

Kelpie

Kelpie

The Kelpies sculpture

The Kelpies sculpture

Flying back from Scotland to London on a sunny day gave us an good aerial view of the country

Flying back from Scotland to London on a sunny day gave us an good aerial view of the country

Windsor Castle

Windsor Castle

Personal Observations & Interesting Facts

Scotland
Scotland, the U.K.’s northernmost country, is a land of mountain wildernesses such as the Cairngorms and Northwest Highlands, interspersed with glacial glens (valleys) and lochs (lakes). It also has 790 islands scattered long its coastline.
Its major cities are Edinburgh, the capital, with its iconic hilltop castle, and Glasgow, famed for its vibrant cultural scene. It has a population of around 5.5 million, of which most reside in the areas around Edinburgh and Glasgow. Scotland is also famous for golf, the game first played at the Old Course at St Andrews in the 1400s, and whisky which dates back much further. It is also surprising how far north its furthest points are, the Shetland Isles are further north than Oslo in Norway.
Scotland has its own bank notes but uses Pound Sterling as in the rest of UK

Scotland has its own bank notes but uses Pound Sterling as in the rest of UK

Forth Bridge
The Forth Bridge is a cantilever railway bridge across the Firth of Forth in the east of Scotland, 9 miles west of Edinburgh City Centre. It is considered as a symbol of Scotland, and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It was designed by the English engineers Sir John Fowler and Sir Benjamin Baker and is sometimes referred to as the Forth Rail Bridge (to distinguish it from the adjacent Forth Road Bridge) although this has never been its official name.
Construction of the bridge began in 1882 and it was opened on 4 March. The bridge spans the River Forth between the villages of South Queensferry and North Queensferry and has a total length of 8,094 feet (2,467 m). When it opened it had the longest single cantilever bridge span in the world, until 1919 when the Quebec Bridge in Canada was completed. It continues to be the world's second-longest single cantilever span, with a span of 1,709 feet (521 m).
Forth Bridge

Forth Bridge

River Forth
The River Forth is one of Scotland’s most famous rivers. It flows for 47 km, west to east, and almost cuts the country in two. Its source is on the slops of Ben Lomond and initially empties into Loch Ard. It then flows east through Aberfoyle, and across the country, eventually emptying out into the North Sea at the Firth of Forth.
Aerial View of the Forth River and its bridges over it as we left Edinburgh

Aerial View of the Forth River and its bridges over it as we left Edinburgh

Different bridges for different mode of transport going across the Forth River

Different bridges for different mode of transport going across the Forth River

Bridges across the Forth River

Bridges across the Forth River

Royal Cottage
Queen Victoria found the area around Loch Katrine so beautiful she expressed a desire to have a cottage built on its banks. Her request was fulfilled and the Royal Cottage was built at the western end of the loch. However, not all went well on her inaugural visit, for the 21-gun salute was so powerful it shattered most of the windows. This meant she had to stay at a local hotel in Callander instead. As you can imagine she wasn’t best pleased, especially when she presented with bill for her hotel stay, and never returned to Loch Katrine again.

Posted by MAd4travel 05:58 Archived in Scotland Comments (1)

Slovakia Part 2

Route: Stary Smokovec - Kosice - Banska Bystrica – Nitra – Bratislava – Vienna - London

semi-overcast 18 °C

APRIL/MAY 2019

We left the mountains as we had found them, with the sun reflecting off a diminishing snow cover, and headed southeast for our first of two stops, on route to our next destination of Kosice.
That first stop was the town of Levoca and its historical centre. Here 60 historic houses surround a striking main square containing a church and the 16th century Town Hall. Each house has it’s own unique character; as does the Town Hall, add to this the “Cage of Disgrace” (see “Interesting Facts” below for details) and you have an intriguing place to visit.

Levoča

Levoča

Town Hall in Levoča

Town Hall in Levoča

Historic house in Levoča

Historic house in Levoča

Historic house in Levoča

Historic house in Levoča

Next stop was one of Slovakia’s iconic sights, Spis Castle. Sitting high up on a rock outcrop, as they all seem to, this is one of Slovakia’s largest castle complexes. The oldest parts of the castle dates back to the 11th century but was enlarged to it current size in the 15th, although archaeological finds suggest the location was in use as far back as the 4th century BCE. A steep walk up from the car park got us to the main gate, then following the payment of a reasonable entrance fee (Malc is considered a senior in Slovakia, which helps keep the cost down), we were able to explore the whole site. We climbed the tower for the view, wandered around the ruins and looked in on the various reconstructions (15th Century, Bedroom, Kitchen, Bathroom, Armoury and Torture Chamber).

Spis Castle

Spis Castle

View from Spis Castle

View from Spis Castle

Torture chamber of Spis Castle

Torture chamber of Spis Castle

Approach to Spis Castle

Approach to Spis Castle

It was then on to our base for the next four nights, an apartment in the centre of Kosice, Slovakia’s second largest city (about the size of Brighton, England).

The following day dawned with a beautiful blue sky and sunshine, so it seemed like a good time to go for a hike. We had previously identified a hike in the Slovensky Kras National Park, so that’s where we went. The hike first followed a stream up through the Zadielska gorge, before turning steeply up into a forest that lead to the top of the gorge rock face. We now had a great view of the gorge beneath us together with surrounding countryside beyond (we could see into Hungary, which was only a few kilometres to the south). We were now on a plateau of woodland and alpine meadows, which we traversed before steeply descending back to our starting point. Now tired and with aching bodies we both agreed that was a very nice walk. It wasn’t just the amazing scenery that made it so good, it was the fact that for the majority of the time we had the trail to ourselves and the only sounds we could hear were the birds and the gushing stream that ran beside us.

In the Zádielska gorge

In the Zádielska gorge

Zádielska gorge

Zádielska gorge

Zádielska gorge

Zádielska gorge

View from the top of Zádielska gorge

View from the top of Zádielska gorge

Looking down into Zádielska gorge

Looking down into Zádielska gorge

From such a beautiful day the weather took a turn for the worse. The approach to the next two days was travel admin in the apartment whilst it rained and the exploration of Kosice during the dry spells. Fortunately we were only a stones throw from historic town centre, which made it easy to visit when it wasn’t raining. Kosice’s historic centre has its oldest buildings in the middle where the two main streets cross, and has some interesting structures to investigate, such as a singing fountain, a 7 ton bell that’s too heavy for the bell tower and a gothic cathedral with the narrowest stairs you could imagine leading up to a viewing platform. Enough to keep us amused when it was dry.

Plague memorial in Košice

Plague memorial in Košice

The Bell Tower in Košice

The Bell Tower in Košice

Singing fountain in Košice

Singing fountain in Košice

St Elizabeth Gothic Cathedral in Košice

St Elizabeth Gothic Cathedral in Košice

Roof of the St Elizabeth Cathedral in Košice

Roof of the St Elizabeth Cathedral in Košice

Aerial view of Košice

Aerial view of Košice

From Kosice our journey took us west, along the border with Hungary before turning north into the Lower Tatras Mountains and the town of Banska Bystrica. Banska Bystrica sits in the Hron River valley and is encircled by the mountains, providing a nice view from our apartment balcony.

View from our balcony in Banská Bystrica

View from our balcony in Banská Bystrica

We had two full days in Banska Bystrica, one to explore the town and the other the surrounding mountains. With the first day being overcast the exploration of the old town seemed the right choose. A compact and attractive centre, just ten minutes from our apartment, filled the morning. Then retreating back to the apartment as rain arrived in the afternoon.

Town Centre of Banská Bystrica

Town Centre of Banská Bystrica

Banská Bystrica old town

Banská Bystrica old town

Tanks captured from German forces during WW2 in Banská Bystrica

Tanks captured from German forces during WW2 in Banská Bystrica

Museum of the Slovak Uprising in Banská Bystrica

Museum of the Slovak Uprising in Banská Bystrica

The weather on day two was much nicer so we headed up into the mountains. Just out of town the road started to climb up through a thick forest, until we emerged into the delightful little village of Spania Dolina. Spania Dolina in the start for several different hikes and cycle routes in the area, that and because today was a public holiday, the village was busy. Our plan was to explore the forest directly above the village, so it was uphill straight from the start, past the wooden roofed 13th century church and into thick tree cover.

Špania Dolina 13th Century Church accessed by covered stairway

Špania Dolina 13th Century Church accessed by covered stairway

13th Century church in Špania Dolina

13th Century church in Špania Dolina

As this was prime habitat for the Eurasian Brown Bear we noticed a number of cyclist had bear bells on their bikes, so as to avoid any unwanted encounters. Our route took us up to 920m through an enchanting forest, before we turned and descending back to the village.

Špania Dolina village

Špania Dolina village

Before finishing our day’s activities we decided to drive up to the highest village in the area, Donovaly. In the winter Donovaly would be buzzing with skiing activities, but today it was pretty quite. Most of the snow had melted and the summer hiking season was not yet into full flow.

Donovlay ski village

Donovlay ski village

It was now time to move on again, but Banska Bystrica has so much to offer us, we agreed it would be nice to return some day. For the next few days we were constantly on the move, one night stops in hotels but still enjoying the journey.

First of those stops was the town of Nitra, but not before we had called in at Bojnice Castle on route. Although dating back to the 12th century, the castle has been added to, altered and updated over the years, a now looks like a mix of castle and palace. To visit the inside of the castle, you need to join an organised tour, but unfortunately there were no English tour available on that day. So we joined the next available Slovak tour, armed with a booklet in English. This meant that although we couldn’t understand what was being said, except when Anne got told off in English for progressing too fast, we did get to see the castle innards and did have our booklet for a bit of guidance.

Bojnice Castle

Bojnice Castle

Gilded ceiling in Bojnice Castle

Gilded ceiling in Bojnice Castle

One of the many rooms in Bojnice Castle

One of the many rooms in Bojnice Castle

Bojnice Castle

Bojnice Castle

View from window in Bojnice Castle

View from window in Bojnice Castle

Stain glass window in Bojnice Castle

Stain glass window in Bojnice Castle

After our overnight stop in Nitra we continue north west back to Bratislava airport to drop off the car and then onwards into the city. We arrived mid-afternoon and boarded our accommodation. Boarded, I hear you say; yes we were staying overnight in a Botel. A Botel is a converted riverboat, now serving as a floating hotel moored in Bratislava on the Danube River. Our room was surprisingly spacious and comfortable; shame the view was the riverbank and no open water though.

View from our Botel in Bratislava

View from our Botel in Bratislava

Our Botel

Our Botel

That evening we did our usual and went for a traditional meal in a traditional restaurant. This time it was a small place built into the rock face just below the castle. The food was great, duck for me and rabbit for Anne, washed down with a very nice Slovakian Red and all consumed in a pleasant environment.

Last night meal in traditional Slovak Restaurant Bratislava

Last night meal in traditional Slovak Restaurant Bratislava

On the move again, the next destination was Vienna, Austria. We arrived from Vienna into Bratislava by train, so we thought we would have a change and return by boat. So we booked a seat on the Twin City Liner, a catamaran that travels along the Danube between the two capital cities. This gave us a chance to see the Danube River, together with the life on and around it. The weather wasn’t very good, cloudy with light rain, but the view through the big windows allowed us to see all that passed by.

Bratislava Castle from the Danube River

Bratislava Castle from the Danube River

Devin Castle, boundary between Slovakia and Austria

Devin Castle, boundary between Slovakia and Austria

Passing between Slovakia and Austria on the Danube river

Passing between Slovakia and Austria on the Danube river

Fishing cabin on the river Danube

Fishing cabin on the river Danube

Shipping barge

Shipping barge

Arriving in Vienna by boat from Bratislava

Arriving in Vienna by boat from Bratislava

An hour and a half after leaving Bratislava we were in Vienna and only a short walk to our hotel in the heart of the old town. From an enjoyable boat trip, the day got even better as our hotel upgraded us from a standard room to a suite. And that wasn’t the end of it, on our short city tour in the afternoon we discovered “Merkur”. “Merkur” is an upmarket food store, somewhere between M&S and Harrods, and had some fantastic food on offer. So instead of the planned meal out, we bought meats, cheeses, bread, desserts and chocolate, and dined in our suite instead (which had cutlery and crockery in the room).

Anker Clock in Vienna

Anker Clock in Vienna

Vienna

Vienna

Horse & Carriage waiting at St Stephens Cathedral in Vienna

Horse & Carriage waiting at St Stephens Cathedral in Vienna

Then finally, the following day, in the teeming rain, we made our way to Vienna airport for our return flight to the UK and the start of another adventure.

Personal Observations & Interesting Facts

“Cage of Disgrace”
In Levoca’s historic main square there is a 16th century wrought iron contraptions known as the “Cage of Disgrace”. During that time, women who had committed a minor crime were locked in it and put on public display. Anne went in it for a photograph and was fortunate to be allowed out again.

Cage of Disgrace in Levoča

Cage of Disgrace in Levoča

Danube River
Because the importance of the Danube River to this trip, both capitals visited (Vienna & Bratislava) are on it, we spent a night in a floating hotel on it and our transport between capitals has been on it, we thought a few facts would be useful.
The Danube is Europe’s second longest river (Worlds 30th) after the Volga. Its source is in the German Black Forest town of Donaueschingen. It then travels 2,415km through 10 European countries (Germany, Austria, Slovakia, Hungary, Croatia, Serbia, Romania, Bulgaria, Moldova and Ukraine) before emptying into the Black Sea. It was also once a long-standing frontier of the Roman Empire.

On the Danube river

On the Danube river

Shipping on the Danube

Shipping on the Danube

Posted by MAd4travel 03:21 Archived in Slovakia Comments (0)

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