scotland 2015 part iv | mull

This the fourth post in a series about my recent trip to Scotland. You can also read my previous posts: 
Part I: Edinburgh  //  Part II: Glasgow  //  Part III: Oban

While planning our trip to Scotland, I knew I wanted to visit at least one island. Since there are well over 100 islands in the Hebrides (the archipelago off the west coast of mainland Scotland) I wasn't at all sure where to begin. Serendipitously, I came across this cute quiz on Visit Scotland's facebook page, Which Scottish Island Are You? and was informed that I was the Isle of Mull, the second largest island in the inner Hebrides. After doing some quick research, I realized it was one of the more easily accessible islands, and known for its beautiful beaches and bays. I had originally hoped we could do some island-hopping (I had my heart set on Islay, Jura and Colonsay) but once I learned how expensive it is to travel by ferry with a rental car in tow, our budget would only allow for one adventure by boat. By choosing to visit Mull, we could travel there directly from Oban in a short 45-minute sailing, spend the afternoon exploring the island, and spend the night in its tiny but charming main town, Tobermory.

So we hopped on the ferry and began our little journey to Mull. 

After driving around a little bit, we arrived in Tobermory and booked a tour of the whisky distillery of the same name. This tour was much smaller and more intimate than the one at Oban, and I just loved it. They were also very generous with their pours from both the Tobermory 10 and Ledaig bottles. 

We decided it would be fun to drive around the full island. It took a few hours, with a few stops along the way, and it was glorious. It was our first experience driving on single-track roads, but we passed so few cars on the route, that it felt like we had many parts of the island to ourselves.

That night, we had dinner at Cafe Fish —a fish pie— which was insanely delicious. Our time on Mull was brief but so very memorable. The next morning, we would be off to Ballachulish and Glencoe, which will comprise my next post!

scotland 2015 part iii | oban

This the third post in a series about my recent trip to Scotland. You can also read my previous posts: Part I: Edinburgh  //  Part II: Glasgow.

The last time we visited Scotland, we had planned to make it to Oban but due to some transportation woes, got stranded in a much less exciting town and missed this destination. We were so excited about finally having a do-over and visiting this Scottish holiday hotspot. The main things that drew us to Oban were the Oban Distillery, the fact that the town is known as the seafood capital of Scotland, and that—with its busy ferry terminal—it is the perfect jumping-off spot for many destinations in the Hebridean Islands.

We drove to Oban from Glasgow, stopping along the way at Doune Castle. We drove the western shore of Loch Lomond, which I had always wanted to see after singing the eponymous song ad nauseum at vocal recitals as a child and teen. It was an easy and gorgeous drive, though the shockingly narrow "highway" roads and sharp turns caused me more than a little anxiety, even as a passenger!

The first thing we did after checking into our B&B was book a tour of the distillery, then headed to the ferry terminal seafood shack for some fresh oysters. I could have eaten 100, they were so perfect. The Oban distillery tour was a great introduction to whisky making. We loved learning about the process, and sampling a dram (accompanied by some crystallized ginger) at the end was the definite highlight.

On the morning of our second day in Oban, we woke up early to drive to Fort William's train station to catch the Jacobite Steam Train. This excursion was my most eagerly anticipated moment of the trip, as the Jabobite and its route on the historic West Highland railway are both featured in the Harry Potter films as the Hogwarts Express. My inner child/geek was overjoyed, and Brian patiently accompanied me through it all.

Sitting on the train, sipping a hot cup of tea and looking out at the breathtaking views was just heavenly. I wish this was my daily commute.

The train stops twice along the route. Once in Glenfinnan, and again in Mallaig for a lunch break, a tiny town in northwestern Scotland with not too much on the go, but it was pretty nonetheless. We got takeaway fish and chips which we ate sitting crosslegged on the ground because the entire town ran out of seating for all the number of passengers on the train. That's how twee it is!

Back to Oban, we explored the town, had more oysters and a beautiful seafood dinner at Cuan Mor, then Brian humoured me and came to watch Magic Mike XXL in the town's wee theatre with only one other audience member. Awkward and eerily silent in the theatre, yes, but a thoroughly campy and enjoyable movie-going experience. Going to the movies on vacation is one of our favourite things to do, especially on a cold and rainy night, so it was great.

The next morning, we'd be catching the ferry for our first island adventure to the Isle of Mull. More on that in my next post.

scotland 2015 part ii | glasgow

This the second post in a series about my recent trip to Scotland. You can also read my previous post: Part I: Edinburgh.

Though Glasgow certainly didn't come recommended by many people who've spent time in Scotland, I couldn't help but be curious about the city. I'm always attracted to places that don't draw as much interest. When I was planning out the whole trip, my eye kept being caught by snippets about the city. Talk of its museums and galleries, top-notch shopping, impressive architectural range, and rising culinary scene (including some of the country's best Indian food) led me to insist Glasgow have a place in our itinerary. Yes, the city has historically had a tough reputation, but Glaswegians are also known to be some of Britain's friendliest people. Though it can be tough (even for fellow Scots) to decipher the Glaswegian accent, if you're up for the challenge you are promised great conversation. I am so glad we went! It was one of the neatest places I've been and I would highly recommend visiting.

For just a few pounds, we hopped on a bus from Edinburgh and arrived in the city in about an hour. After walking from the bus station through the city, we arrived at our guesthouse in Glasgow's west end, very close to the University of Glasgow, the Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum and countless restaurants and pubs. We had a simple lunch at Mother India, which will live on in my mind as one of the best meals of the trip.

After exploring the Kelvingrove, we traversed our neighbourhood and stopped in at The Steamie for coffee and tea. We had seafood at Crabshakk for dinner and then walked through the University and nearby nightlife hotspots Ashton Lane and Dyer's Road. We took a bit of a whisky crawl and sampled drams at The Left Bank,  Duke's Bar and Big Slope.

The next day, we ventured down an alley off Argyle Street to have lunch at The Hidden Lane Tearoom, which was the most adorable spot.

Afterwards, we walked all the way over to the city's east end park, Glasgow Green. We visited the People's Palace Museum and Winter Garden, then headed back through the architecturally stunning Merchant City quarter to see the Glasgow Gallery of Modern Art.

On the way back to our neighbourhood, we did some shopping with the crowds along Buchanan Street and stopped in for an afternoon charcuterie at the Wilson Street Pantry. For our final meal in the city, we chose Ox & Finch, which obliterated any stereotypes about the lack of fresh, healthy, and innovative cuisine in Scotland. If there's one thing we noticed on this trip, it was how much the country's dining scene has changed in the last decade.

The next morning, we picked up our rental car (sadly not the mint green dream pictured above) and hit the road. On our way out of Glasgow, we stopped at Doune Castle, which is less than an hour's drive to the north. It was a beautiful spot, and especially cool to see as it was the set of scenes from Monty Python, Outlander and the Game of Thrones pilot.

After that, we were on the road to Oban, where I will pick up the story in my next post!

scotland 2015 part i | edinburgh

We went to Scotland this summer to celebrate Brian getting his dream job. A trip nine years in the making, it was everything I could have hoped for and so much more. We first visited this magical country during our backpacking trip through the UK and Europe in 2006, and always promised ourselves we would return to Scotland and spend more time there when we had a chance. Once we decided the moment had arrived, we booked a return flight to Edinburgh (on points!) and began planning from there. We had two whole weeks to explore, and making the itinerary was a pure joy. We called the trip our "Tea & Whisky Tour," since we planned to spend as much time as possible lounging in tea rooms and visiting whisky distilleries.

Brian and I have never been on a tropical vacation together because A) I burn almost instantly, B) We both prefer temperate locales and C) We gravitate towards city getaways or at least trips that are heavy on walking and exploring. I last about 15 minutes on a beach before I want to avoid the sun and get extremely restless sitting still. For us, an ideal vacation is eating and drinking our way through interesting cities and towns, and stopping to take photos along the way. Scotland couldn't have been a more perfect destination in this regard.

I'd like to tell you about our trip, so I thought we might as well start at the beginning, in Edinburgh.

After a red eye flight, the first thing I felt like was a caffeine re-up, so we visited Lovecrumbs Cake Shop and Cafe. I had violet tea and lavender gooseberry cake and both were glorious.

We wandered through the city, through Princes Street Gardens and up Calton Hill.

We stopped in at Pilgrim, a bar constructed of 98% reclaimed and salvaged materials, for a beer. We finished the evening with a late dinner at Blonde, a restaurant near our AirBnB serving new Scottish cuisine.

The next morning, we rose early and decided to hike Arthur's seat, an extinct volcano that towers over the city. Since it too was only a few steps from our AirBnB in Newington, it was a perfect way to begin the day.

After our hike, we walked to New Town, and wandered around the streets admiring the Georgian architecture.

We stopped in Stockbridge for afternoon tea at PekoeTea.

Then visited Joseph Pearce's, a cozy spot serving Scandinavian snacks. I wanted to steal all their fringed lampshades.

We took the Leith Walk down to The Lioness of Leith for a fantastic meal, then popped into Woodland Creatures.

We had our nightcap and first proper whisky at The Queen's Arms, a pub I wish I could hang out at every weekend.

On our third day, we walked to the Botanical Gardens with coffee and tea in hand.

After lunch at Peter's Yard (another Scandinavian-Scottish spot serving Swedish treats) an afternoon tea at Eteaket, we headed to the Scotch Malt Whisky Society, a private club that our host and recommended. We were able to visit as guests and I'm so glad we went because it was a really neat experience sampling mystery whiskies and guessing at their origins.

For the rest of our third day, we walked until my feet went numb and then continued to hobble around until well after dark.

We finished our day with dinner at The Southern, and then packed our bags to head to Glasgow, a city we'd not visited before and were about to find very charming.