FIFTY SHADES OF ICELAND – PART II

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder or so they say.  That may be one of the few things I agree with “they” about.  However, what if you could look at things with God’s eyes?  I think that’s what it’s like when you are in Iceland.  The beauty is so astounding and so diverse you can’t help wonder if it is the Land of the Gods.  In fact, the History Channel must have thought similarly as they send Floki via one of his handbuilt sailboats in their Vikings series to what they refer to as the “Land of the Gods” i.e. Iceland.  In this post, perhaps you can gather some modicum of what I mean about the beauty of Iceland by looking through my eyes or, rather, my Olympus camera’s viewfinder in the Fifty Shades of Iceland – Part II. If you want to see Fifty Shades of Iceland – Part I of the series click here.

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NORTHERN ICELAND

Like a royal necklace, one bedazzling jewel after another stuns your eyes as you turn another corner, climb another mountain, skirt the sea on a gravel road or bathe in the milky turquoise waters of a volcanic crater.

This is the north of Iceland where the country hugs the arctic circle, waterfalls playfully tumble down mountain gorges and rainbows leap up to meet you not to mention terrain that is referred to as Mars on Earth. I was bewitched or was that be-trolled? You never know where the little devils might find you.

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WEST FJORDS OF ICELAND

Live a little, get off the Ring Road and go visit the West Fjords!

The adventure through the West Fjords is a jaw dropping and ear popping driving experience in the northwestern part of the country (in red on map above – courtesy of Wikipedia). Facing Greenland, the peninsula is connected to the rest of Iceland by a 7-km-wide isthmus to the mainland.

Because the roads are narrow, winding and often snow and ice packed, travel by land is often difficult. Not unlike Alaska, travel by boat or plane is often not only the preferred method of transportation but the only feasible way to get around in the winter months.

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FIFTY SHADES OF ICELAND – PART 1

Jagged mountains plunging to the sea, crystal clear water reflecting the sky, geothermal pools dotting the landscape and narrow roads leading to one breathtaking scene after another as yet another waterfall springs to life. So what paintbrush do I use to capture God’s grandeur a/k/a the Fifty Shades of Iceland – PHOTOGRAPHY. And now I am certain that the phrase “A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words” must have come from Iceland.  See if you agree between Fifty Shades of Iceland – Part I and Part II which will post later -this week.

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ISLES OF SCOTLAND

Isle of Mull, Iona and Staffa

 

Care to see dolphins, puffins and other sea life? Care to explore beautiful islands one of which is uninhabited and boasts a hidden cave? Care to learn about an abbey from 600 AD which is apparently where Christianity originated for the Scots and ironically the first monastery in the U.K. to be pillaged by the Norsemen as shown in the TV series Vikings? Well get up very early (4:00 a.m. for us) and head to Oban for a 7:15 a.m. Caledonian ship to tour the Isles of Mull, Iona and Staffa. As it’s difficult to find parking and to find the terminal building in Oban, give yourself some extra time as this trip you are NOT going to want to miss.

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CASTLES OF SCOTLAND

There are an abundance of castles in Scotland – some restored some not – all with history emanating from the walls along with some ghost stories and legends that no one should miss when traveling here.  Here are a few we saw:

  1. Castle Cawdor

Okay Shakespeare fans, remember the “Thane of Cawdor” from Macbeth? This castle was fictionalized by the old bard in his play. In reality, this castle was built more than 400 years after Macbeth was trodding about. Today, it is well preserved and has beautiful gardens.  The dowager countess of this particular establishment is a very attractive woman to whom the years have been kind. Many of the male tourists definitely took note. But, I just couldn’t get “Out damn spot, out” – well – out of my mind. Ah, Lady Macbeth, thou doth haunt me. A special treat while leisurely strolling the garden ground was a roving piper that added a special flare to the ambience.

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HAUNTING GLENCOE

  1.  Ballachulish

You know it’s gonna be a good day when Papa puts on his sunglasses and we take off all our sweaters. 64 degrees on the  drive to Glencoe.  Home base for the week was in the charming town of Ballachulish (bal-ah-cool-ish) – once the slate manufacturing capital of Scotland.  We checked into the cutest cottage tucked in the Glencoe mountains. The cottage was surrounded by trees and at the top of a steep drive and it certainly put you in the “highlands” mood immediately. On our way to Ballachulish, we stopped in Fort William for groceries and at the train station for train tickets for the Jacobite Steam Train used for filming Harry Potter. But know this, as we learned the hard way, you can’t buy them there. You have to purchase them online or via telephone in advance and waaaay in advance I would recommend as we weren’t able to get 3 seats on the same train despite a ton of begging.

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THE C’S OF SCOTLAND: CAIRNGORMS, CULLODEN, CARRBRIDGE, CLAVA AND MORE

The Cairngorms must be Scottish for Beautiful Mountains. For my second week in Scotland, we traveled from our coastal cottage near the Isle of Skye to the breathtaking Cairngorms. The scenery changes dramatically as one enters Scotland’s mecca for hiking, skiing, kayaking, biking and eyeing. Yep, a big part of the treat here is to fill your eyes with magnificent vistas, charming villages and ancient castles, including Macbeths’ very own castle – Castle Cawdor. (We will talk more about the Castles in a post on Scottish Castles coming soon.)

There’s lots to see and do, so let’s get started…

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The Isle of Skye

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Romstyrious. Aye Laddies and Lassies,  “tis romstyrious, that island of Skye”. Its the place where the romantic melds into the mysterious, where fairies play tricks and legends touch the heart and fire the imagination. Plunging waterfalls, storybook rainbows, rugged coastlines and placid pastures envelop your senses around every corner. And it’s all best had by braving the “wrong” side of the road and traveling intrepidly in your car for hire. Better yet, take the time to walk, to climb a bit of a “munro” and turn towards a sweeping vista of the Atlantic. Skye has so much to offer. If you can, plan a week there or at least several days.

  1.  ISLE OF SKYE CASTLES

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Not only are Scottish castles full of charm and mystery but they’re often a great way to easily digest a slice of history. The most photographed castle in Scotland is said to be Eilean Donan, meaning the Island of Donan, named for an early Irish missionary sent to Christianize the Scots. The castle itself is partially restored with wonderful docents primed to tell you stories of yore – like where the phrase “the walls have ears” originated. You reach the castle via a picturesque bridge and you’ll soon see why it’s so photographed. Technically, this castle isn’t on the Isle of Skye but in the Kyle of Lochalsh but very close near the charming little burg of Dornie, which was home base for this trip.

Armadale Castle

Definitely on the isle of Skye, Castle Armadale are castle ruins and are host to some of the most marvelous gardens and a museum that does justice to the history of the local area. From the ruins, there is a gorgeous view of the coastline and the on-site restaurant has some delectable local fare. Expect showers and come equipped.

Dunvegan Castle

Dunvegan Gardens

Dunvegan Trees

Dunvegan Castle is jam packed with artifacts, stories and legends. For example, at Dunvegan we learned about the fairy flag. Legend has it that the fairy flag’s magic can only be used 3 times. We know of two times it was allegedly used by the clan – once it was raised to win a battle amongst the clans and once it was used to swaddle a baby – an heir – to keep it safe. Guess they better use their last wish from their “Jeanie in a bottle” wisely.

And how about truly taking one for the team? A dispute over ownership of the now UNESCO World Heritage site of St. Kilda between the MacDonald and MacCleod clans festered. In order to settle the dispute, the clans chose a boat race from the mainland and whichever clan placed a hand on St. Kilda first would be the undisputed owner of St. Kilda. The MacDonald clan was decidedly ahead in the race. As such, a MacCleod clansman allegedly cut off his hand and threw it from the boat onto St. Kilda and that’s how the MacCleod clan came into possession of the island. Now I got to “hand” it to the MacCleods, what a “handy” way to win a race. I know…ugh.

     2.   ISLE OF SKYE COUNTRYSIDE

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Heather in the Isle of Skye

Skye Coastline 1Sound of Rassay

This is what Skye is all about – the breathtaking scenery that abounds at every turn. Just as examples, take a drive through the Black Cuillens  where hikers and climbers train for summiting Mt. Everest; drive near the Sound of Raasay and see Kilt Rock and Lealt Falls. You could literally stand in one place all day and the scenery would change around you as light comes and then shadows grow. I also learned that no matter what road you take here in the Highlands, you won’t be disappointed and you won’t see the same terrain in more than one place. It’s as if every 5 minutes you are in a new country….even a new world – talk about diversity of landscape as evidenced in the photographs herein.

3.  OLD MAN OF STORR

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Visit the spire of granite known as the Old Man of Storr. There’s ample parking roadside and this is one that you have to get out of the car to really enjoy. It can be a slightly demanding hike all the way up but well worth the view – one that only eagles get to see. Even if you can’t make it all the way to the top, you’ll not be disappointed by whatever hike is doable for you. 

4.  FAIRY GLENS

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The Faerie Glens are worth the risk of being teased by the fairies and would be a real miss for you all visiting the Isle of Skye if you didn’t make it there. You’ll find this delightful little glen covered with miniature grassy cone-shaped hills, miniature trees and miniature lakes and you will be almost certain it’s home for the otherworldly (i.e. our little fairies). You may even hear the crystal clear blue Faerie Pools taunting you into a swim in their icy cold water. If you’re going to fall for that siren, may I recommend waterproof pants and jacket for the dip rather than merely your bikini or swim trunks.

So you don’t believe in fairies? Check this out. As I said above, we thought these little magical (and, come to find out not so enchanting,) creatures may have jumped into our KIA and headed back to our Island Bay Cottage in Dornie. For instance, my Papa, with whom I was traveling (along with my Mom – the woman I blame for my wanderlust) – is maniacal about putting his keys in the same place every time and knows exactly who he gave them to last IF he’s even willing to part with them and has been this way his whole life. He suddenly lost the keys. This, in and of itself, doesn’t scream “magical fairies hid our keys” but finding them not just on the bed or under the comforter but INSIDE the sewn shell of the comforter at least whispers “magical fairies friggin’ hid our keys”. It’s our side of the story and we’re stickin’ with it.

5.  WHERE EAGLES SOAR – THE WATERNISH PENINSULA

Sea Eagle of Trumpan

The sun shines on the vast expansive terrain sometimes in Scotland and it certainly did on my travels to the Waternish Peninsula and Trumpan.  This is where, if you are lucky, you can photograph sea eagles which are very rare especially three together which we saw today so we learned from an ornithologist that was out there.

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Here at Trumpan you will also see the ruins of an old church.  This is not just any old church but what used to be the equivalent of today’s courthouse.  See, here, there is a boulder with a hole in it where the Scottish would hold what we might refer to as a trial i.e. if an accused could manage to put his finger in the hole in the boulder he was found innocent. The catch, however, is he must do this blindfolded like someone playing pin the tail on the donkey. If he can’t find the hole on his one try while blindfolded, the accused was executed. Talk about judge, jury, and executioner! Aren’t you glad we didn’t live in these times?

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