Stefano and I spent a bit more than three weeks in Scotland in August, one of our longest holidays ever. What a fabulous trip…

We landed in Edinburgh on August 4th, the day The Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo started. It was spectacular. My photo (left) doesn’t do it justice. Even though I’d watched a few videos of the Tattoo on YouTube before leaving for Scotland, I had no idea it would be so engaging…so exciting, even. We thoroughly enjoyed it, as clearly did the other spectators. Definitely one of the best times of my life!

Ring of Brodgar, a huge ceremonial site dating to the 3rd millennium BC

After that first weekend spent in Edinburgh, a city we both adore, we began our road trip. We drove up to Scrabster, located on the northern coast of Scotland, where, the following morning, we caught the ferry to Orkney.

Orkney…what can I say about Orkney? Its group of Neolithic monuments, which was proclaimed World Heritage Site in 1999 by the Unesco, with the name “Heart of Neolithic Orkney,” were absolutely fascinating: the Standing Stones of Stenness (which my automatic spell checker keeps changing to “Sterness” Stones… 😆 ), the Ring of Brodgar, and Skara Brae (Skara “Bread”??? Hahahaha, must admit that my spell checker does have a  sense of humor).

Skara Brae, the best preserved prehistoric village in Western Europe…older than the pyramids, even…! Check out the stone dresser and beds…quite amazing, eh? 5000 years old!

These three, plus the Maeshowe Chambered Cairn (which we didn’t manage to get tickets for), are among the most important Neolithic sites in Western Europe. How about that?

Another incredibly interesting site, where you can actually see archaeologists at work, is the Ness of Brodgar, a huge complex built 5000 years ago. When I was younger (40 or so years ago!), I wanted to become an archeologist, and I studied archeology (and anthropology) as an undergraduate, so the Ness of Brodgar dig was dear to my heart…

Marwick Head RSPB nature reserve

The day we arrived, the first thing we did was hike up to Marwick Head where, sigh, we didn’t see any puffins (too late in the season), but where we did manage to see young gannets testing their wings. They would fly out from their nests on the cliffs below us, turn around in a semicircle, and head back to the nest. Over and over again. Oh, and the fulmars, too. So much fun to watch. Too bad my photos didn’t turn out…

Yesnaby Castle sea stack, Orkney’s second most spectacular sea stack after the Old Man of Hoy…and what a lovely scenic coastal walk to get there, too.

Oh, and the views of the North Sea. From up there, we could see all the way to the Old Man of Hoy, the tallest sea stack in the UK (note: you get much much much closer views of this sea stack on the ferry from Scrabster to Stromness, but on a clear day you can see a tiny thingy in the distance from Marwick Head, too). Anyway, I could have sat on the Marwick cliffs for days…In fact, I would still love to be there. 😉 So relaxing.

So, yes, Orkney was wonderful, magical, but we did have to leave. After five days of exploring the island, we returned to the mainland and began our very slow descent towards Edinburgh.

As I always do when we are about to go on a trip, I had made a list of things not to be missed–castles, mainly. We prefer ruins, generally speaking, but we did see well-kept castles such as the Castle of Mey (the Castle of “Men,” says my spell checker…hahahaha!), where we got some amusing royal gossip from one of the friendly guides.

Nope, sorry, my lips are sealed. 😉

As interesting as the tour was, my favorite castle on this trip was not Mey. It’s hard to choose one in particular, but I have two very special mentions.

My first mention definitely goes to Castle Sinclair Girnigoe, see photo on right, which actually consists of the ruins of two castles, one from the 15th century, the other from the 17th. It’s located on a rocky promontory and has small sea stacks all around it, as you can see (the ruins are in the back of the photo). Spectacular.

Tolquhon Castle

My second mention has to go to Tolquhon Castle whose tower dates to the 1400s. It is also said to be haunted, like many of the castles we visited, although we didn’t see any ghosts (now, wouldn’t THAT have been fun?). One of the photos I took (these are all from my cellphone, btw) does look like the face of a creature from another world, doesn’t it? Whoooooo! Lots of house martins flying around in the courtyard and rooms…Lovely little birds…

Okay, if you ask me about my favorite castle garden, well, that’s much much easier: the walled garden of 16th century Crathes Castle, no question. Lovely flowers and plants.

A close second for me was Castle Fraser where I was “attacked” by red admiral and peacock butterflies…Obviously, I’m kidding…it was truly a magical experience.

Red Admiral, Castle Fraser
Peacock butterfly, Crathes Castle

I’ve never seen so many butterflies, flying all around and above me, which reminded me a bit of the Hitchcock movie “The Birds,” but in a pleasant, peaceful way. Magic. If I begin posting photos of flowers and butterflies (took a million photos of both!), I’ll never get done… 😉

We also visited several stone circles, both on Orkney and on the mainland: Orkney’s Ring of Brodgar and the Standing Stones of Stenness, of course, but, back on the mainland, also Loanhead, East Aquhorties, and a few others. I find stone circles fascinating in general but I have to admit, my all-time favorite (well, of the ones we’ve seen thus far, and we’ve visited maaaaany) is Avebury in southwest England. Orkney’s Stenness Stones are much much older than Avebury, but they didn’t have the same, almost magical and relaxing effect on me. No idea why that is, but there you go.

Pennan, with its beach of perfectly, or almost, round pebbles…

And then…oh I can’t even remember or begin to list how many lovely coastal towns we visited, with stunning views over the North Sea…Pennan, Cullen, Portsoy, Gardenstown and so many more.

Best name for a castle? Hehe, definitely  Findlater Castle, near Cullen. FindLater…Gotta love it!!! 😎

And the beaches on the North Sea…wow, what can I say? Oh dear, I have to stop reminiscing now. Time for dinner.

I hope everyone is doing well! Take care! See you soon! Ciao!

A Fairy Pools anecdote

The Fairy Pools are a series of waterfalls and crystal-clear green/blue pools located on the Isle of Skye, Scotland. it’s an absolutely beautiful spot…highly recommended…My photos don’t do it justice, but you can check online for MUCH better ones.

We spent an entire morning there, walking slowly up the hill, taking in the views, stopping to admire the waterfalls and pools, aaaah and the colors!…and taking lots of photos, of course!

It usually takes about 45 minutes (each way) to complete the uphill walk without stopping, but how can you NOT stop? It’s simply stunning everywhere you look. The walk is deemed “Medium” for difficulty and includes a few river crossings over stepping stones, one of which would be quite slippery in wet weather…so please be careful!

One of the main things that slowed us down were the other visitors. The Fairy Pools were absolutely packed. Since it was an open area, though, that didn’t pose a problem, not a physical one, I mean. HOWEVER, since we didn’t want crowds of people to end up in all our photos (and the same, I’m sure, was true for them!), we had to wait for people to move out of the way, to let us by in some of the steeper areas, and so on.

It took a bit of time and a lot of patience. I don’t want to sound whiny: it was actually a perfect people-watching occasion…and at one point we even came upon a photographer who was wearing a kilt. Always fun, that!

The best moment, though, was when I looked down into one of the pools, almost directly below my feet, and watched in wonder as a sopping wet young man (a Scotsman), wearing nothing but bathing trunks and sneakers (compare that to Stefano who was wearing four layers of clothing, including a Gore Tex jacket!), climbed up the steep ravine. After reaching the top, he walked right past me and, to my complete surprise, JUMPED, as you can see in the ONLY blurry photo (above) that I managed to take with my cellphone. What a scary (exciting, too, I admit) moment! Jumping off those steep rocks to land with a splash into one of the Fairy Pools isn’t something that I would recommend, for sure…unless you know what you’re doing. This guy did, of course. But…brrrrrrrrrrrrrr, just the memory makes me shiver…

Before I forget (!), though, today’s anecdote has to do with our arrival. As we pulled into the Fairy Pools car park, which was almost full at the time (we got the last spot, right at the top), we noticed a sign telling us we had to pay to park…

While Stefano parked, therefore, I went off looking for an attendant or for a pay-and-display machine. I looked and looked, up and down the car park, but found…nothing except cars full of tourists looking for a spot…

Then I saw a Scottish guide standing by his van, waiting for his group of tourists to return from the pools. I figured he’d know what to do, so I went up to him and asked if he could tell me how/where to pay for our parking spot. He answered that the car park was free since it was a Sunday. 


I thanked him and prepared to go back up to the car to tell Stefano.

As I turned away, something on the ground caught my eye. A coin. A British pound. I pointed it out to the guide and said, “you’ve dropped a coin.” Before I could bend down to retrieve it for him, he said, “No, that coin isn’t mine. It’s yours!” I retorted, “no, it’s not. It must be yours.”

He grinned and, bending over to pick up the coin, said:

“If you find a coin, you’ll be lucky for an entire day. But if you find a coin and give it to a friend, you’ll be lucky for the rest of your life…”

He handed me the coin…

Memories of Scotland

Instead of going on and on about each place we visited in Scotland, I’ve decided to put together a series of anecdotes, cute or funny things that happened during our stay there.

First, though, here is a descriptive list of most of the places we visited, starting from Glasgow and ending in Edinburgh:

  • We spent a day and a half in Glasgow. To be honest, and I hope I don’t offend those who live there, as far as I could tell, there isn’t much to see, from a tourist’s point of view, except for the cathedral, but it’s very good for shopping, and it’s a very lively city. We also photographed a couple of excellent murals (photos 1 and 2). And we were lucky enough to happen upon a band practicing traditional Scottish music in a park for some upcoming event…marching up and down, twirling mallets, and that was lovely. I have a couple of videos of that encounter. Lots of fun. Oh, and I shouldn’t forget to repeat (see my September 4th post) that we had tea in our first ever cat café in Glasgow, the Purple Cat Café. I noticed it as we were driving around trying to reach our hotel. The navigator gave us the wrong directions, so we ended up driving around in circles a couple of times. And at one point during these “circles,” I happened to notice the sign, “Purple Cat Café.” If it hadn’t been for that batty navigator, we would have missed the café. Sometimes things just…happen! For a good reason, I mean! 🙂 
  • The Isle of Islay, which, in addition to some of the most important whisky distilleries in the UK, also has some very pretty villages and scenery (although nothing as dramatic as Skye). We spent three days there. It was here that I got quite high after a tour of one of the distilleries, and Stefano tried to make friends with what he thought was a hen but instead was a rather upset rooster. And we were also able to go have a look at the Kidalton Cross, see photo below, on the right, one of the finest and best preserved early Christian crosses, carved probably in the second half of the 8th century AD. 
  • One of my favorite photos is the above one (on the left) of a phone booth that was in the middle of “nowhere” on the Isle of Islay, but standing tall and proud, a testimony to the fact that these booths were absolutely essential BEFORE the invention of cellphones.
  • As we were walking down a path toward the 12th century, ruined Castle Sween (the day we left Islay…a stop we made on our way to the town of Oban), all of a sudden a doe jumped right in front of us (see September 4th post). We immediately froze, of course, so as not to scare her. We didn’t notice her two fawns until she’d disappeared into the vegetation to the right of us. We recovered enough to get some photos (in my case, blurry photos…I was too excited!) of the fawns, but I wish I’d been faster…
  • We stayed a couple of days in Oban, mainly so we could go on a all-day boat and bus tour of Mull, Staffa and Iona, three small islands with different types of appeal. We also visited a nearby fantastic ruined 15th century castle, Kilchurn Castle  (see photo on left), as well as a few other ruined castles (Dunollie, Dunstaffnage, and Stalker) in the area.
  • Inverlochy/Fort William. We spent a few days here mainly to check out some of the Harry Potter movie locations, such as the famous Glenfinnan Viaduct. I have a Viaduct anecdote that I will tell you in another post. So, no photos till then.
  • Eilean Donan Castle, see photo on left, one of the most famous and photographed castles in the UK. We stopped here on our way to Skye. Too many tourists…but still, it was worth the stop, for sure!
  • We spent five days on the the Isle of Skye. Best part of our tour, IMO. Here we hunted, and FOUND!!!, dinosaur footprints on two separate beaches. So much fun. In the photo on the right, I used my foot to show how big the prints are. This was left probably by a meat-eating theropod 170 million years ago more or less. You can find this footprint, marked by small stones by some kind-hearted person, at the An Corran beach at Staffin. The best time to view dinosaur prints, by the way, is in the winter, when they aren’t covered by algae. Since it wasn’t winter (although it was cold enough, at times!), we didn’t find that many…
  • We did find quite a number of prints belonging to plant-eating, long-necked, small-headed sauropods on another beach, the one located near another ruined castle (Duntulm Castle), see photo on left. The exciting part is that, following the prints, you can actually imagine these enormous creatures walking across the beach millions of years ago. Not easy to get down there (and then back up to the road, too), incidentally. Both the descent and the ascent are quite steep, I mean. I almost gave up, in fact…but I’m happy that I managed to climb down…
  • The best part of Skye, in my opinion, is its breathtaking and ever-changing scenery. So many photo ops! And, even though it wasn’t on my bucket list, I got to feed a Highland cow under the supervision of its owner…more on that in my upcoming “anecdote” post. 
  • Plockton, see panoramic photo on the right (taken with my cellphone), a very pretty little coastal village, up the coast from the Skye Bridge.
  • Drumnadrochit (Loch Ness). To be honest, we could have skipped this area, even though we stayed in the loveliest Airbnb of our entire trip. Anyway, now we can say, “been there, done that,” plus we got to spend an entire day at a Highland Game in Drumnadrochit, which was heaps of fun, sort of like being at a HUGE family reunion (the Scots are so friendly!), with adorable young girls doing traditional dances in kilts (see photo), big strong guys in kilts throwing extremely heavy items up in the air, bagpipe marches and competitions (see photo), and a final kilt race (I tried to get Stefano to participate, but he refused, I wonder why…….)…Yes, lots of fun. Highland Games, highly recommended!
  • Beauly Priory, a 13th century, roofless church.
  • Another 13th century ruin, but a much MUCH bigger and spectacular one: Elgin Cathedral. What can I say? Stefano and I prefer ruins to perfect (but at times a bit fake) restorations.
  • Dunnottar Castle. Again, yes, a ruin…on the northeast coast of Scotland, with ghosts, apparently, although we didn’t see or feel any…and yes, I do sound disappointed. 😉
  • Dundee, where we photographed the Desperate Dan (cartoon) statue, photo on the left.
  • St. Andrews Castle and Cathedral. Ruins, you guessed it! 13th and 12th centuries, respectively.
  • The village of Culross, of the (TV series) “Outlander” fame, also recommended by Rick Steves.
  • Stirling Castle, which we both found very disappointing…The best part were its lovely gardens…definitely could have skipped! The crowds didn’t help at all…
  • Edinburgh, for the final day and a half before returning to Florence…

I couldn’t help ending this long series of photos with one of a “Skye” goat that had just moved off the road so we could pass. He doesn’t look too pleased about it, does he?

That’s it for today! It has taken me a very long time to go through all my photos and get around to pulling together this first post…but I’ve had to deal with Peekaboo’s problems, too, in addition to other stuff, so that’s my “excuse.” Incidentally, Peekaboo is doing very well on cortisone. She’s walking almost normally now…I mean, she isn’t walking in pain (or in “prevention of pain”), that is, in slow motion, with her back end almost to the ground. No, she is walking slowly but surely now. She even jumped onto Stefano’s desk a few days ago!!!

I’m giving her cortisone AND curcumin. In the beginning, I was giving her just the cortisone, afraid that the curcumin might have a negative impact (you never know when you mix two things together…), but I found the opposite to be true. When I give her both (not at the same time, of course!), she walks much better and is clearly in no pain. I’ll be discussing this with the vet later on today…

Back from Scotland

We’re baaaack! Back in Florence with our kitties, that is. Actually, we’ve been home since last Wednesday, but I’ve had lots of things to do, PLUS my computer wasn’t working properly, so Stefano spent the entire weekend fixing it, checking it out, updating programs, and so on. I’m so lucky to have him (in so many ways!)!

About our fabulous holiday in Scotland…so hard to decide where to begin…And so I’ve made a partial list of some of my fondest memories, as follows:

  • One of the funniest things: animals of all sorts (goats, sheep, chickens, cows…) in the middle of the road, chewing grass, completely oblivious to cars and other dangers. I have about 250 blurry photos taken of these encounters. 🙂
  • Speaking of encounters: one morning, while walking through a wood on our way to visit a ruined castle, we came across a doe and her two fawns. They popped out of the trees right in front of us. We froze, they froze, then the mother jumped across the path and disappeared into the trees. The rather fearful fawns just stood there looking at us (especially the one that isn’t in this photo). My biggest regret is that I was so startled that I didn’t start taking photos until the fawns began following their mother…Plus, it was a bit dark down there, so, yes, all my photos turned out fuzzy, as you can see. No matter…Fuzzy or not, these photos will remind me of that magical moment…
  • Sunshine, then rain, then clouds, then sunshine, then…well, you get the idea…crazy, fast-changing weather. But, as quite a few Scots told us on different occasions: “There is no such thing as bad weather in Scotland. There is only bad…clothes!” So true. And Stefano and I came well prepared in that sense…Gore Tex from head to toe…dressing in layers…so we had no problems at all. And we were so HAPPY to have escaped the horrendous heat back in Florence!
  • Speaking of the weather, we ended up being super lucky: it usually rained only at night or while we were driving from one place to another. For example, the morning we drove to Dunnottar Castle (a ruined castle on the north-east coast of Scotland) was horrible–rainy, and very cool and windy. But when we got to the castle, the rain stopped and didn’t resume until after we’d been to the castle and taken our photos.
  • The Scots. We met some lovely people, really really really lovely.
  • The Purple Cat Café in Glasgow (see photo of one of the 26 rescue kitties that live there). Trust me to come upon a cat café (our very first cat café, too) entirely by chance!
  • Driving on the other side of the road. Oh yes, I did! And, believe it or not, for the first time EVER. During all our previous trips to the UK, Stefano had done all the driving. I was too afraid of making a terrible mistake, wrong turn, etc., and getting us into trouble. This time, though, we had a bit of an emergency (more about this in an upcoming post), so I was forced to drive. Oddly enough, I wasn’t nervous about it and didn’t make any mistakes…not even on single track roads! Hah!
  • Harry Potter movie locations, especially the Glenfinnan Viaduct (we had an adventure there…again, see my upcoming post, which, er, I haven’t written yet!).
  • The views, some of which were absolutely breathtaking. Best views: on Skye. Oh I’d go back there in a heartbeat!
  • The colors…with the clouds racing across the sky almost all the time, especially on the islands, the colors of the landscape were never the same. So for instance you’d take a landscape photo, then the same photo in the exact same place just a few hours later, but the result would be completely different. I’d never get bored if I lived on Skye…And then, of course, I mustn’t forget to mention the colors of the Scottish gardens and flowers. Mmmmh…pure beauty.
  • Hunting for (AND FINDING!!!) dinosaur prints…on Skye…where else? 😉
  • Feeding a Highland cow…again, on Skye (yes, Skye Skye Skye…but those of you who have been there will certainly understand…). Feeding a cow wasn’t exactly on my bucket list, but this actually turned out to be one of the most amazing things I’ve ever experienced. Again, more about this in an upcoming post.
  • Going on a tour of a whisky distillery. Note: I don’t drink alcohol, generally speaking, although I don’t mind an occasional sip of a good Brunello di Montalcino. Stefano, however, is a whisky connoisseur, and so we spent three full days on the isle of Islay, the southernmost island of the Inner Hebrides, which is well known for its distilleries–Laphroaig, Lagavulin, Ardbeg, and a bunch of others. I finally gave in and accompanied Stefano on a TWO-hour (!) tour of Ardbeg, at the end of which some very amusing things happened. Upcoming post, upcoming post… 😉

I’m slowly going through my 2240 photos (Stefano took more than that: 3400 photos!) and will get around to posting a few of them…as soon as I have a bit of free time. Not this morning, though. This morning I’m meeting with the vet surgeon to talk about Peekaboo. When we got home from Scotland, as the cat sitter had warned us, Peekaboo wasn’t walking very well and spent most of the time in her comfy cat bed. On Friday I called the vet to see if I could increase the dose of the anti-inflammatory/pain drug, but he said no and also told me that we can’t keep giving her this stuff forever…He said we should meet to discuss the situation. Hence this morning’s meeting…

The day after we got home from Scotland, I began mixing some curcumin with her wet food. After just a few days, she began going downstairs and is now also walking a bit better…

This may be the solution…Another topic I’m going to address with the vet. I doubt he’ll be impressed, but you never know…

Anyway, lots to do and think about…And so many photos to go through! 😉