Tuesday, January 24, 2017

6 Great Robert Burns Attractions in Dumfries and Galloway

I was lucky enough to work in Dumfries and Galloway during my time with VisitScotland and many of the attractions that I graded in the area were related to the life and work of Scottish poet, Robert Burns. The Scots are very proud of their Bard, much in the same way that the English are with Shakespeare and the Irish are of James Joyce.

We’ve carefully conserved his various residences, books, belongings and moved his body from the pretty poor grave he originally had, to a far more appropriate, and might I say, pretty grand, resting place he now lies.      

Burns Sandstone, Dumfries
Dumfries is full of tributes to their most famous resident. 
As far as Dumfries goes, it is synonymous with Burns’ life and work, in the same way that Ayrshire is.  Burns lived in the town centre, as well as owning a cottage in the countryside, and his remains lie in the local graveyard.  Even the pubs he frequented wisely choose to remember him.     His long suffering wife has also managed to find herself the subject of a beautiful statue in the town which, after putting up with his inability to be faithful, in my opinion, she thoroughly deserves.    

Burns worked as a modern day equivalent of our deeply beloved HMRC’s tax/VAT inspector and he would ride around on his trusty steed, making sure the locals were paying the correct amount of tax.  He must’ve been wildly popular during business hours.   

In anticipation of Burns Day 2016 (which falls on 25th January), these are the fabulous Burns attractions you can visit in the D&G Region:

Burns Garden, Dumfries
Burns House, Dumfries:
Conveniently located on Burns St (because obviously), in the middle of the town, this is the 18th Century building where the Scottish national poet spent the last years of his life.     

The chair Burns used to write in, plus the famous Kilmarnock edition of his work, is prominently displayed in the building.   One of the best features of the small house is Burns’ carving of his name in the upstairs window.  

If you venture just outside the house, there’s also a beautiful garden area, full of flowers and stone carved excerpts from his most famous works.   Burns House has no admission charges.   

Burns Mausoleum, Dumfries
Rabbie's grave 
Burns Grave, Dumfries:
After his death in July of 1796, Robert Burns was laid to rest in St Michael’s Churchyard in Dumfries.   His original grave was unimpressive, so his body was moved to a more appropriate area of the yard 20 years after his passing.  

Burns and his family now have a beautiful Mausoleum in the corner of graveyard, which is much more fitting for a person of his talent and fame.    

You can visit the outside of the grave on your own, but you can also link up with a staff member from Burns House, who conduct free tours of the Mausoleum and hold the key to allow you inside.   

Burns Mausoleum, Dumfries
The interior of Burns' mausoleum
Burns Cottage at Ellisland Farm:
Ellisland Farm is situated around 7 miles North of Dumfries and is in a beautiful setting on the banks of the River Nith.  The peaceful surroundings give you a sense of what it might have been like to find inspiration in the whitewashed cottage and well-tended grounds.   
Many of Burns’ possessions remain in the cottage and there are several walks and trails along the riverbank.    

Burns moved to Ellisland with his family when he was 29 years old and the cottage was where he wrote ‘Red, Red Rose’ and ‘Auld Lang Syne’.

The Globe Inn, Dumfries:
Standing proudly on the High Street since 1610, The Globe was the preferred watering hole of the famous Bard during his time living at Ellisland and, latterly, in the town centre, from where it must have been much easier for him to stagger home.  

The Globe has kept Burns’ favourite drinking seat (all Scots have one of these) and you can have a wee dram from the comfort of it.   I’m actually not sure if it that comfortable as it’s really, really old.   However, once you’ve had a few whiskies, your read end will be numb so, who cares? 

The Globe also has a small museum and gift shop on site, to fulfill all your Burns related needs.   

Statue of Jean Armour, Dumfries
Bonnie Jean.
Statue of Jean Armour, Dumfries:
Jean Armour was the long-suffering wife of Robert Burns and, if there were living in this day and age, she’d probably have divorced him a long time ago.   However, despite her husband’s continual indiscretions, his love for Armour was clearly strong and the couple remained together.   Armour bore nine children with Burns and that, as far as I’m concerned, is deserving of a statue in itself.  

Jean’s influence on Burns’ writing over the years was great, and he wrote many love poems about her, one of which is ‘O Were I On Parnassus Hill’, which was penned on the farm at Ellisland. Burns also wrote many poems for his other women, but he always returned to Armour’s side.

Jean outlived her husband long enough to see his work gain global fame.  She ws buried in the specially commissioned Mausoleum at St Michael’s after her death in 1834.   

The River Nith flowing through Dumfries
The River Nith, Dumfries 
Robert Burns Centre, Dumfries:
Set next to the old bridge on the banks of the River Nith at Mill Street, RBC takes you through the 8 or so years that the poet spent living in the town. As with many of the other attractions, this small museum is run by team of dedicated volunteers who have a genuine love for the life and work of the Bard.

This gorgeous old water mill features an audio guide, as well as original papers and manuscripts belonging to the famous poet.  The building also houses a gift shop and cafĂ© and has no admission charge.  

Suzanne x 

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Top 4 Haggis Spotting Locations in Scotland

We've all heard of haggis and some of us have even eaten it, but very few have actually spotted one IRL.  We generally only see them once they're slaughtered, skinned and unceremoniously stuffed into a sheep's intestine.  Apologies if you're eating.

Haggis, from the Gaelic, 'awkward wee beastie', are notoriously shy creatures who tend to sleep all day and only venture out into the glens under cover of darkness.  Or, when they've run out of Irn Bru.  This is the main reason people take bottles of Scotland's national drink out on their organised Haggis Hunting Tours.

The mere sniff of the Amber liquid can be picked up from 3 miles away by fully grown males and they can turn nasty if you don't offer them some.  If you're out of Bru, whisky is an acceptable substitute.  Buckfast is not.   I wouldn't feed that to my neighbours cat, never mind a Haggis. I quite like having all my fingers in place, thanks very much.

These are four of the best known haunts of Haggis Clans across Scotland:

Loch Lomond, Scotland
the bonnie, bonnie banks of Loch Lomond have long been a haggis clan hideout.

No 52 Wee Auchentoshan Brae, Dumbarton:
Legend has it that in the early 20th Century, a local man by the name of Shuggie (Scottish slang for Hugh) saved the life of a young haggis, who had wandered away from his Mammy on the banks of Loch Lomond and followed the smell of whisky down past the famous Auchentoshan Distillery.  

Shug found the youngster while making his way back from his local hostelry and managed to persuade the wee mite to come to his house and warm up by his three bar fire.  Afterwards, he drove the haggis back to the foot of the Loch (once he'd sobered up obviously, so, like, two days later).  

The haggis told his clan about Shug's kindness and ever since then you can often spot the little beasties around Dumbarton late at night.   

Portree Harbour, Portree, Isle of Skye
Speed bonnie boat, like a bird on a wing... 

Portree, Isle of Skye:
For years, haggis were a bit more difficult to spot on Skye due to the fact that you had to get on a ferry just to have a look.   These days, hunting the critters is made a bit easier by the glorious Skye bridge, which sits across Loch Alsh and connects the Island to the mainland.   

Clans of haggis have been roaming Skye's Cuillin Mountain range for hundreds of years and have gradually moved up to the main town of Portree.  Given their tendency to be shy and secretive, no one knows quite why the haggis have ventured towards the harbour area, but many believe the sheer numbers of climbers on the mountains have forced the haggis further North.  

An alternative theory is that haggis love the smell of shortbread from the Isle of Skye Bakery, which is situated in the town.  

Urquhart Castle, Loch Ness
Can you see Nessie in the background??

Urquhart Castle, Loch Ness:
Spotting a wild haggis on the shores of Loch Ness is slightly easier than catching sight  of Nessie, and it's widely accepted that the clans are largely left alone on the banks of the Loch as people are more interested in the monster.

This allows them to enjoy the spectacular views and setting of Urquhart Castle, while flying under the radar, so to speak.   Haggis have no wings and, despite their diminutive size, they are extremely fast on their little haggis legs, which is why they can be difficult to pursue on foot.  

A few years ago, tunnels were found around the grounds of Urquhart and it was suggested that haggis were burrowing beneath the Castle in order to establish a safe haven from which to breed and protect their young.    

Samye Ling Monastery, Eskdalemuir
Samye Ling Temple.

Kagyu Samye Ling Monastery, Dumfries & Galloway: 
Samye Ling, near the remote village of Eskdalemuir, was established in 1967 and was the first Tibetan Centre to be built in the Western world.

The beautiful open countryside surrounding the centre and the calmness and tranquility that emanates from the Temple is believed to have been the draw for haggis as they understand that their way of life will never be under threat here.   

That, and the fact that the Buddhist Monks at Sayme Ling are vegetarian, make this part of South West Scotland perfect for a thriving haggis clan.   

Have you spotted any wild haggis on your travels through Scotland??  

Suzanne x 

Thursday, January 12, 2017

The Great USA Road Trip Moratorium of 2017

I'm a massive fan of road tripping across the U.S.   To date, I've driven across, through, explored, ate and slept in 43 states. And they've all been fantastically individual whilst solidly being part of their United nation.   It has always been my ambition to cover every state and I'm very close to realising that dream.  However, since Election Day back in November 2016, for the very first time, I'm genuinely no longer sure whether I really want to spend my hard earned money on visiting the remaining targets. 

OK, so this isn't one of my targets because I've already been, but who wouldn't want to see this again?

I know that Donald Trump got fewer votes than Clinton (which is another thing, America: WTF??), but I also know he got a great deal of support and, with his attitude towards women, gay rights, same sex marriage, Trans bathroom laws, Black Lives Matter and, well basically everything that's not run by white people, I have to admit to being really disheartened by the results.   I'm not even American, so I can't begin to imagine how those guys are feeling.   Not the Trump supporters, obviously; I'm sure they're thrilled.   Anyway, I already thought America WAS great, but I don't have to live there, so I maybe don't get to have much of an opinion on that one.  Unfortunately, I have one, anyway.

My whole love for the US came from travelling there.  From north to Deep south  east to west coast, through massive sprawling cities to endless deserts; I love it all.   But, the thing I've always loved most was the people.   I've spent years defending Americans to British people who think they've all got guns and believe in creationism.  They don't (some do, but I've been lucky enough not to meet them).  The Americans I've met have been a huge mixture of city slickers, country dwellers, rich, poor, black, white, Latino, gay, straight, Jewish, Christian, educated, uneducated; the list is endless, but they all had one thing in common: their kindness.  Seriously; they're the friendliest people I've ever met.  

If is isn't one of the most stunning sights in the world, I don't know what is.
However, after years spent defending them, I'm officially giving up.  I can't defend the election results; they really make me sad.   One of the things I love about roadtriping in America is the diversity.   I adored speaking Spanish to locals in Santa Fe, joining in Scottish and Irish traditions in NYC for St Pat's, exploring the Rockies with outdoorsy Colorado natives and going shopping for amazing Wisconsin cheddar with friends from Woodville.   It's the differences between them all that makes it such a wonderful country.   It was built on immigration and its populated by fabulous people, cultures and traditions.  I also staunchly beloved in freedom of speech.  

My final 7 states were all red on Wednesday morning.   I've visited the blue ones already.  I got married in New Mexico 3 months ago and was incredibly relieved to see it staying blue.   It's not that I support Clinton, because I don't, it's just that I believe in equality for everyone, regardless of their beliefs, colour or, well...anything, really.   Who am I to judge racism experienced by POC every day? I can't; I'm not them.  I don't understand and I never will.   But just because I don't understand it doesn't mean I don't try.  And it certainly doesn't mean I stand for discrimination of any type.  And that's why I'm so sad.

So, there will be no more State bagging for the foreseeable future from me.   Not unless the new guy can show me he's really not a racist, bigoted, sexist, foul mouthed horror.   And, as he's already more than confirmed that's EXACTLY what he is, I wouldn't believe him anyway.   

Who knows, though; maybe I'll be totally wrong.   I hope so.

Suzanne x

Saturday, January 07, 2017

Hot Eastern European Travel Destinations for 2017

I love the start of another year for no other reason that it gives me an excuse (like I need one) to make a list of all the places I want to visit and work out some sort of schedule for getting there.   These are the top 5 hot Eastern European travel targets in my sights for 2017:

Zadar, Croatia:
top european travel targets for 2017; riga latvia; radar croatia; easter european travel destination 2017
St Donatus' Church

OK, so this was originally planned for 2016 but, unfortunately, I wasn't able to make it there and Florence got in the way (damn you, Italy, and your gorgeous country).   

Zadar is located on the Dalmation Coast and is the oldest continually inhabited city in Croatia.  This walled city is known for its Roman and Venetian influences and is a small peninsula on the Adriatic Sea.  

Aside from the historical aspects of the city, I'm also drawn by the more modern artistic installations that the city boasts; namely The Sea Organ and Greeting to the Sun.  The Sea Organ sits on the coast and is made of 35 polyethylene pipes, spanning 70 metres along the sea front.  The pipes have whistles within them that react and produce musical notes to the rhythm of the sea.  What, I ask, could be more perfect that this?  Directly adjacent to the organ is Greeting to the Sun, which was built in 2006 and comprises 300 photo sensitive glass plates that soak up the rays of the sun all day before transforming the energy into a magical light show when darkness falls.   

Zadar has a population of a little more than 170,000 and accounts for just 4% of the total for Croatia. 

Riga, Latvia:
top european travel targets for 2017; riga latvia; radar croatia; easter european travel destination 2017
Bridge over the River Daugava

The beautiful Latvian capital has changed hands so many times in its history that it captures architecture and cultures from its own nation, as well Sweden, Russia and Ancient Rome.  Riga was also controlled by Nazi Germany between 1941-1944, so it's a city with a lot of stories to tell.   

These days, Latvia is known for having the largest collection of Art Nouveau building on the planet and it's incredible Medieval Old Town is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  Riga is a haven for culture vultures, with a plethora of theatres and museums lining its streets.  Riga is also home to a number of universities, including the Stockholm Institute of Economics and the Graduate School of Law.  

Riga has almost 700,00 residents and is home to one-third of the population.  

Kaunas, Lithuania:
Garrison Church, Kaunas Lithuania
Garrison Church, Kaunas

Kaunas is the second largest city in Lithuania and is widely known as a city of museums due to the sheer number of them hidden away within the city limits. 

There are two main avenues in the city (Laisves and Vilnius), both leading to the Town Square Hall.  Vilnius is the oldest street in the city and both avenues have much to offer at all hours of the day and night.   

The Town Hall itself is a glorious building and due to its slim and elegant white design, is often known as The White Swan.  The former capital city also has a fine collection of wooden architecture and has two funicular as well as two separate funicular railways that act as both public transport and attractions in their own right. Kaunas is the only city in Lithuania to boast such a transportation system.  

Kaunas has a population of around 300,000 people.

Nesebar, Bulgaria:
One of Nesebar's many beautiful churches

Located on the Black Sea, Nesebar is one of Bulgaria's top seaside resorts on the Bulgarian Coast.  Although being a hotspot for tourists, Nesebar has so much more to offer visitors than just a place to chill out on the beach.  

The old town has been a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1983 and has a rich and varied history; having once been a key stronghold of the Byzantine Empire. Nesebar has also survived under Roman and Greek rule.  

Nesebar is a town filled with churches and has the most per capita of any site in Bulgaria.  It's also one of the most ancient towns in the Europe.  

Nesebar has a resident population of around 12,000 people.

Karlovy Vary, Czech Republic:
Spa heaven in the Czech countryside

Situated in the west of the Republic, KV (also known as Karlsbad) is a spa town in the historic region of Boheme.  It's located around 81 miles west of the capital city of Prague and is famous for fabulously colourful buildings, as well as hot springs and warm water River.   Princess Michael of Kent, Member of the British Royal Family, was born in the town in 1945.  

Given the spectacular scenery and plethora of colours and winding streets, it's no surprise that KV has been used as a filming location.  It was most notably featured in Last Holiday and Casino Royale; both of which were filmed at the incredible Grandhotel Pupp.

As well as being the most visited spa town in the Czech Republic, Karlovy Vary is also popular for its manufacturing of Moser Glass and the famous gingery Czech bitters, Becherovka, and even has a museum dedicated to the drink.  *adds to list* 

Karvloy Vary has a population of around 50,000 people.  

What Eastern European destinations are on your list of 2017?

Suzanne x