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Unlucky by the Lochs

Lochaber, Cairngorms & Inverness - Highlands

semi-overcast 16 °C
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As we continued towards Fort William, our next base, we kept a keen eye on the developing crack. After stopping just outside Spean Bridge we realised the crack was worsening, and with another 3 days and 200 miles still to drive, this problem needed fixing. But with no Internet we had little choice but to continue on our 3 hour journey to Fort William.

Once we arrived we discussed our options, and realised our only option was to swap the car, but with no Avis base in Fort William, all we could do was drive back to Inverness Airport which was 2 hours away. En route we tried to call them to check this was possible, but being on hold with a dodgy signal meant this was not very successful.

Eventually, at around 4pm we arrived back at the airport, where we would be in just a few days time. Thankfully we were able to swap the car but it was now another two hours back to Fort William. Trying to create some sort of silver lining we decided that we would shuffle around our schedule and today would be the Loch Ness day.

Loch Ness

Loch Ness

We stopped en route a few times for views of Loch Ness, as well as grabbing some souvenirs. Loch Ness really is huge, and most of the detour to Inverness had meant driving along side it. So much so, that by the end we weren't even interested in it anymore!

As it was a very long day, after eventually getting some dinner we decided tomorrow needed to be much more restful, and so we scrapped our planned visit to Tobermory.

No longer needing to make a ferry, we had a lay in and leisurely made our way over to the Glenfinnan Viaduct. This viaduct was made famous in the Harry Potter films and has great vantage points from the nearby hills.

Glenfinnan Viaduct

Glenfinnan Viaduct

As we were walking towards the viaduct itself, we were treated to the sight of a local train crossing it. Although sadly we were a few minutes too late to see it from the better vantage point.

Walking underneath, and then climbing up the hill beside the viaduct, we got a beautiful vantage point of the embankment and the adjacent valley whilst getting attacked by midges. I walked a little bit further along for a view of the nearby loch, before we turned back and walked down to the loch itself.

Loch Shiel

Loch Shiel

Beside Loch Shiel is a monument commemorating the location of the beginning of the Jacobite rising, from where Bonnie Prince Charlie attempted to regain the British crown.

We then popped into the giftshop to get a few souvenirs when we heard a sound... I ran outside and saw a steam rain making its way around the hill side. Sadly we had missed seeing it in all it's glory crossing the viaduct, but at least we had seen this.

A few minutes up the road from here was the station itself, where there is a small museum detailing the extension of the railway line to the coast. We took a look inside before continuing further west to Loch Eilt, which is the setting for the island of Dumbledore's Grave in the Harry Potter Films.

Loch Eilt

Loch Eilt

From here, we would have continued on a long winding road down to Kilochan Port, but after yesterday's drama this was the furthest we were now going. So instead, we turned back and headed to the Neptune's Staircase, made up of eight adjacent lochs - the longest staircase loch in Britain.

Neptune's Staircase

Neptune's Staircase

From here it was only a 5 minute drive to the hotel and being almost check in time we decided to head straight there. This was the nicest room we had had so far, and we had a view overlooking The Parade - a lovely garden in the centre of town.

As it was still only mid afternoon, we then headed out towards Glen Coe, where we had initially planned to visit the previous afternoon. Although we had seen hundreds of valleys by now, this did live up the hype and was certainly one of the most beautiful. Even despite the miserable weather.

Glen Coe

Glen Coe

It had been a long day by now and so we wouldn't venture too far for the rest of today. We went back to the hotel, dropped our stuff and then went for a quick wander around the town.

There wasn't much to see, but we did stop at the site of old Fort that gave the town it's name, which sits imposingly beside Loch Linnhe.

Fort William Old Fort

Fort William Old Fort

After grabbing dinner at McDonalds, where I went full Scot by ordering an Irn Bru, we settled in for the night. The following morning we had a Full Scottish breakfast (the same thing, just with Haggis and a tattie scone) before checking out and visiting the final sight in this area - Ben Nevis.

We weren't climbing it, but we did get a decent viewpoint at it's base in Glen Nevis, where we managed to upset the local sheep who quickly scarpered as soon as we got out the car.

Ben Nevis

Ben Nevis

Having already seen Loch Ness on our unintended diversion back via Inverness, a few days ago we decided to head north on a different route, cutting across the country and stopping in the Cairngorms.

The Cairngorms weren't vastly different from the Highlands, just perhaps with more trees. We drove to Aviemore, and had a wander around the woods outside the town, before driving through it. It really felt like nowhere else in the UK - the town is haven for Winter sports, and felt an alpine village in that aspect, despite being in northern Scotland.

Snow in June

Snow in June

From here it wasn't far to Inverness, where we checked into our final hotel of the trip before driving into the city centre for a quick look around.
After missing the entrance to the car park the first time, we eventually parked and ended up in the middle of the shopping centre.

Inverness wasn't particularly big, and after we walked down the high street for five minutes we arrived at the castle, where there were impressive views from the hill over the river.

Inverness Castle

Inverness Castle

After seeing what the town had to offer, we headed for dinner before chilling for the rest of the evening.

The following morning we checked out of the hotel and headed back to Inverness Airport. Parking up after driving exactly 1000 miles, we saw that our previous hire car hadn't moved from where we'd left it, but the crack had grown even further - a good job we had dropped it back off when we did!

The Crack!

The Crack!

As there was a BA flight back to London around half an hour before ours, the tiny airport was overwhelmed and it took ages to get through security. But there was no real rush, there was little to do in the departure lounge and we had plenty of time.

The flight back home was less comfortable than our outgoing flight, as there were a lot more people on it. We were surrounded by others, and despite wearing face masks we didn't feel overly safe knowing that no one here needed to take any kind of tests to spend over an hour non-socially distanced.

When we landed back in Luton it was like arriving in the Med in summer. Although it hadn't been cold in Inverness, it was around 8C warmer down south and came as a shock to the system after a week in Scotland!

Despite the car drama and the less-than-great weather, it had been a enjoyable trip. Not only as an excuse to get out the house after 15 months of Covid, but also as the scenery was incredible. A hire car is definitely the way to go on a Highland trip!

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Posted by kmmk17 14:12 Archived in United Kingdom Tagged lakes snow fort airport island valley castle Comments (0)

"Cows have owners and go home when they're hungry"

The Indian Experience - Agra

overcast 10 °C
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One of my main inspirations to go to India altogether was to visit the Taj Mahal. And having been my dream for a whole seven months, today was the day I would finally make it to one of the world's most famous sights.

Although arranging the trip myself or booking a tour when I had arrived in India would probably have been much cheaper, with everything else going on I felt much more at ease to spend a bit of extra money booking an all inclusive excursion in advance, meaning there was no extra stress for the trip. Every little helps!

Although I was picked up at my hotel quite early, I jumped straight into the car for the three hour drive from Delhi down to Agra allowing me to still rest in the morning, which after yesterday's long walk made it quite relaxing.

Getting to Agra, I was met by my tour guide Hilal - a very funny and knowledgeable man who also had a passion for amateur photography - a perfect opportunity for me travelling alone to still end up with some great photos!

Great Gate

Great Gate

After arriving at the entrance to the Taj complex we took a cycle-rickshaw down to the ticket office and after going through security we entered by the Great Gate before entering to witness the world famous view of the Taj itself.

The Taj Mahal

The Taj Mahal

From previous experience, I have quite often found that famous attractions like the Taj Mahal end up being slightly underwhelming because expectations are usually very high. And as I had expected a lot I would probably leave feeling somewhat disappointed. However this was not the case at all. The whole complex was stunningly beautiful! So well kept, and amazingly accurate symmetry throughout. A breathtaking experience.

The view you never normally see

The view you never normally see

Luckily the fog that had swept over the whole region was not too dense, and so the Taj was visible in all its glory. Having taken various viewpoints from afar, and using the water to reflect the building for some lovely photos, we eventually made our way into the mausoleum itself, again with fascinatingly accurate symmetry, and highly creative artwork. Although having been distracted by monkeys we initially forgot to put our shoe covers on and had begun walking around like true rebels dirtying the plinth!

On the plinth

On the plinth


"Like A Model"

"Like A Model"

After spending lots of time at the Taj, including being asked by locals to have photos with them; and taking plenty of photos for myself around the complex (at one stage being so photogenic Hilal commented that I could be a model! - hmmm...not sure on that one!) we made our way to the other attraction in Agra - the Red Fort. The fort was huge, and was the home to the local kings being lavishly decorated in traditional Mughal style of northern India.

Agra Fort

Agra Fort

After a busy morning of sites, I was then taken to a local restaurant for some lunch, which although tasty, was a little bit spicy for my British tongue, and may have contributed towards some later problems. After paying for the rest of the tour, and stopping at a local shop to see how the stones were carved at the Taj, I was driven through Agra on my way back to Delhi, when Hilal told me that in India, as cows are so sacred, they are loved and thus all have owners. In the day they wander the streets, but when they get hungry they go back home to be fed. I guess this is the Indian version of the western domestic cat....

Just a cow strolling across the road...

Just a cow strolling across the road...

Arriving back in Delhi by 6pm, I then had a nice relaxing evening to look back over the day, and get my bits together for tomorrow's early train to Amritsar, and my final city on the trip.

The Taj Mahal is an absolutely stunning attraction that makes the whole trip worth it. It's just a shame that in order to see it, you have to go through the rest of India to get there....

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Posted by kmmk17 17:00 Archived in India Tagged temple fort shrine indianexperience Comments (0)

A casual 15 mile walk...

The Indian Experience - Delhi

overcast 12 °C
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In the run up to my Indian holiday I had discovered that contrary to my knowledge, Beijing was not the most polluted city in the world - it was in fact Delhi. Great! However, after two freezing cold nights I was still looking forward to getting out of Nepal and in to Delhi where at least there would be power!

Waking up in Kathmandu and making it to the airport, unfortunately the smog in both capitals meant that my plane was delayed by several hours, and after security checks at every stage, I eventually made it on to the plane headed for India. Avoiding the under-cooked meat on the plane, I soon arrived in Delhi and was picked up to take me to the hotel.

A western toilet!

A western toilet!

When travelling I usually don't go for a particularly luxurious hotel, however as Indian prices were not the most expensive, as well as preparing myself for a bad case of diarrhoea, and thus wanting a western styled toilet, as well as a safe refuge from the dirty outside world I chose a rather nice hotel a few minutes walk from the central station, where I would need to leave early from on Friday. What I found quite early on is that nice hotels have their own door staff sitting there all day in the winter cold (again, India much like Nepal never got very warm the entire time I was there) just opening the doors for guests!

After checking in, and having already missed four hours of my planned day of sightseeing I cracked on quickly deciding to visit Old Delhi, leaving the rest of the city for the following day. Making my way across to the metro station I was instantly hit by the full force of Indian grime. Not only did I have to avoid the tuktuk drivers' insistence that they take me wherever I needed to go, but also having to avoid the constant spitting that every Indian seems compelled to do. Mix that together with the dirt, beggars and constant smell of urine and excrement you can imagine the pleasure of a gentle stroll around the Indian capital.

Red Fort

Red Fort

Eventually finding the entrance to the metro, I made my way to Chandri Chowk, and the Red Fort. However not wanting to look even more like a tourist than I did already, I first ended up going the wrong way, and thus had to end up walking back on myself in a race against time to reach the Red Fort before nightfall.

Eventually arriving, the full scale of the smoggy haze affecting the city was soon clear, as the fort could barely be seen just 100 metres away. Deciding not to explore further, as I would visit the very similarly designed fort in Agra in just two days time, I continued down the road towards the Jama Masjid, finding that the easiest and fastest way to walk is actually on the road, behind the tuktuks.

Jama Masjid

Jama Masjid

By this stage, it had already got dark that my western face was now no longer so evident, and I found to my surprise I was no longer hassled as I looked no different to a local! I then walked back through Old Delhi towards the McDonalds just up from my hotel and after a casual 5 mile walk I was done for the day. Time to get some sleep for a long busy day exploring the rest of the city tomorrow.

Connaught Place

Connaught Place

After taking breakfast in the hotel in the following morning, I then made my way out towards Connaught Place, the heart of New Delhi. Walking past the colonial buildings and a "Burger Singh", I saw the huge Indian Flag in the middle of the square, before making my way to the first attraction, the Jantar Mantar - an eighteenth century observatory.

Jantar Mantar

Jantar Mantar

Like most attractions in India (and Nepal), locals are charged a pittance (₹5, £0.05) compared to foreign tourists (₹100, £1). Although as this was still cheap compared to rates in Europe it was nothing to complain about. Especially as it became a haven from the rush and hassle of the city. After taking a detour via one of the government owned fixed-price shops to buy a Ganesh souvenir, I headed down to the Safdarjung Tomb - a Mughal tomb that being much less frequently visited, was a real respite from the city and allowed me to explore the architecture thoroughly.

Safdarjung's Tomb

Safdarjung's Tomb


Gandhi Smriti

Gandhi Smriti

Heading north through the suburbs of New Delhi, I arrived at the Gandhi Smriti, where Gandhi himself spent the last few days of his life before being assassinated in the garden. The house includes many artefacts from his life, including his famous glasses, and it was a really peaceful experience.

Gandhi's Glasses

Gandhi's Glasses


High Pressure Pipeline

High Pressure Pipeline

Continuing towards Rajpath, and the governmental buildings, it struck me just how nice these parts were. Luxurious houses (with their permanent security presence), and wide, plant filled pavements. Although the constant signs of "High Pressure Gas Pipelines" next to dodgy excavations did make me a little uneasy given the nature of my job back at home! Arriving at Rajpath I took a little walk around the government buildings before attempting to view the India Gate, which with the smog meant it was completely unseen.

Smog covering Rajpath

Smog covering Rajpath

With the India Day celebrations taking place in around a week's time, setting up the seating areas was already in full swing, and thus Rajpath itself was close, so a small diversion was made to actually get to the India Gate.

India Gate

India Gate


Humayun's Tomb

Humayun's Tomb

After arriving at another closed site, I decided to take the metro a little bit of the way to the next site - the Humayun Tomb. However getting to where the Metro was supposed to be, I was unable to find it, and so instead ended up walking the whole way.

Architecture inside the tombs

Architecture inside the tombs

Getting to the tomb, I found this was much more popular than the Safdarjung one earlier in the day, although it was still a nice place to explore. I then made my way south towards the Lotus Temple. This temple is shaped like a lotus, and after removing your shoes you are allowed in to make a prayer or just sit in silent thought.

Lotus Temple

Lotus Temple


Akshardham

Akshardham

My final destination for the day was to view the Akshardham tomb, although as actually visiting involved a lot of rigmarole regarding allowed items I figured I would just view it from the nearby metro station. Again this involved a race against time to view it before sunset, which was successful, just about through the thick smog. And I then made my way back towards McDonalds for tonight's dinner - not wanting to risk getting ill on local stuff, and having my handwash in tow.

Beautiful India

Beautiful India

Knowing there was one in Connaught Place, but being unable to find it, I ended up walking back from the central square via the station, going the completely wrong way! After eating and coming back to my hotel my legs were truly aching by now. I felt as though it must have been about a 10km walk today. I later found to my horror it was nearer 24 (15 miles!)

At least tomorrow's visit to the Taj Mahal was guided and would involve a lot less walking!

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Posted by kmmk17 17:00 Archived in India Tagged temple fort tomb capital parliament shrine gate pollution indianexperience Comments (0)

Tourism Cyprus

Cyprus - Larnaca

sunny 23 °C
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After two busy days in Cyprus, my final full day was my chance to rest and relax - but did I do so? Well, not really...a lie in was about as far as it went!

9am

9am


Larnaca

Larnaca

Getting up in time to grab breakfast, enjoying the beautiful sea view over Larnaca Bay, I eventually made my way down the promenade, past the Christmas decorations, despite it being in the 20s, arriving at Larnaca Fort.

Promenade

Promenade

The fort was built in the 14th century, and is now a museum, with history of the architecture of the island, as well as military installations in Larnaca. There are also good views of the coastline of the town, as well as the minaret of the mosque next door.

Larnaca Castle

Larnaca Castle

After taking a look in the shops and buying a few souvenirs, I then headed through the town towards the Salt Lake, located between Larnaca and the airport. Whilst the front of the town is well kept, the back streets appear much more like one expects of Mediterranean towns.

Salt Lake

Salt Lake

Arriving at the lake, after beating off what seemed like every fly on the island, I walked as far as I could get before my feet sunk too far into the saturated ground, with views of pure white ground stretching for miles ahead.

Arriving back in the town, I took a look around the Marina before heading back to the hotel for some dinner. Once it had got dark I then headed back out to re-explore the town with my camera again in tow, to take some night pictures of the lit up buildings.

Fort by night

Fort by night

Having another relaxing nights sleep, and a final leisurely morning in the town, I eventually made my way over to the modern Larnaca airport for my flight home.

Christmas at the airport

Christmas at the airport

Arriving well in advance of my flight, after getting a few essentials in the shops for the way I home I sat down before being approached by a lady who wanted to "ask a few questions". The lady worked for the Statistical Agency of Cyprus, and was asking tourists questions about their time on the island. Starting with basic questions "how long have you been in Cyprus", "where did you stay?", she eventually moved on the the question "Did you spend any money on clothes or shoes?" - taking a look at my muddy clothes from yesterday's walk to the salt lake, before I had even answered she had already ticked the "No" box! A bit rude, but quite hilarious at the time - I did stink a bit!

After speaking to that woman

After speaking to that woman

The final part of the holiday was the 5 hour flight back on Monarch, which after the inbound flight I had already figured this would be far from pleasurable. Whilst the seats were certainly much more spacious, Monarch had decided that as the plane wasn't going to be used again that evening after landing at Luton, they would instead park up at the hangar, and proceed to only open the front door - meaning people like me who were not paying an extra £30 and stuck at the back had to wait absolutely ages to get off, and on to a bus. Eventually arriving at immigration, which was only half open despite the plethora of staff sitting about, it proceeded to take 45 minutes to clear the airport - without needing to collect a bag - a new record!

Flights excluded, the holiday was certainly one of my favourites. Cyprus is a lovely island with good weather, a lot of history and things to see, as well as a very organised nature and friendly people. The best resort in the Mediterranean, and one I would definitely recommend.

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Posted by kmmk17 17:00 Archived in Cyprus Tagged sea beach history fort airport christmas tourism Comments (0)

"Forget Skopje 2014, it's all about Skopje 2015"

#BalkanBants - Skopje

sunny 39 °C
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After some busy days hopping through Greater Albania, Johan and I had arrived for a bit more of a relaxed time in Skopje. Although not being a particularly big city, we gave ourselves two nights here so that we could catch up on some rest before the conclusion of the trip.

Arriving in Skopje and getting to our apartment was a bit of a nightmare due to the lack of communication with our host - although costing just £32 for two nights for a two room apartment we shouldn't complain too much. After getting settled in a slightly different, and larger apartment due to the original requested one having problems with the aircon in the 40C heat, we made our way into the city centre and the first experiences of the Skopje 2014 project became clear.

I had read about the Skopje 2014 project many years previously, and I had found it so fascinating that I had even included it in my exams at University. For those of you who don't know - it's a project by the government of Macedonia to build new Neo-Classical buildings and statues in the city centre dedicated to the history of the Kingdom of Macedonia, with the justification that after the earthquake in 1963 and the Communist rule of the country for decades, Skopje is lacking its historical architecture that other countries hold.

However it is not just the huge cost in a relatively poor and underdeveloped country that has divided opinion, but because the city itself is on the very edges of the Macedonian region (and therefore not really in the heart of the ancient Macedonian Empire of Alexander the Great, as the project would have you believe), much of what is being built never even existed in the city to start with! Well, you can't beat a good bit of simulacra on a Tuesday!

It's very difficult to explain how this all comes across. I guess the closest thing it's similar to is a theme park. However as this is a city with real life continuing around it all feels very odd and out of place.

Fallen Heroes of Macedonia

Fallen Heroes of Macedonia

The first place we reached was the park opposite the parliament building, which was absolutely littered with statues related to the "Defenders of Macedonia" and the "Fallen Heroes of Macedonia" amongst others, literally metres from each other.

Porta Macedonia

Porta Macedonia

Just a short walk away is the huge Porta Macedonia, a big Arc de Triomphe type gate that cost €4.4m to build and commemorates the struggle for Macedonian independence. This opens up the the pedestrianised central area with the huge "Warrior on a Horse" (and quite obviously Alexander the Great) statue that symbolises the project.

Warrior On A Horse

Warrior On A Horse

As with Albania and Kosovo, dedications to Mother Teresa are everywhere. Despite being an ethnic Albanian of Kosovan origin, she was actually born in Skopje, and therefore there is a memorial house to her located on the site of the church in which she was baptised, containing memorabilia and items from her private collection.

Mother Teresa House

Mother Teresa House

Heading back towards Macedonia Square, we crossed over the Vardar River and took a quick look inside the Museum of Archaeology, which had clearly been placed in front of the existing riverside building making it look very imposing over the city.

Macedonia Square

Macedonia Square

One of the bridges over the Vardar

One of the bridges over the Vardar

We then crossed over some of the newer bridges, each of which very grand looking with lights and statues covering the sides, before taking a quick look in the old Ottoman Bazaar area. On the walk back we again passed the river, and noticed some of the metal framed ships being built on the river to be opened as cafés and restaurants. Another perfect example of just how fake this whole project was.

Old Bazaar

Old Bazaar

Going back to the apartment to eat we relaxed as well as cooled down from the high temperatures of the city. However being many days into the trip we had acclimatised quite well - so much so that with the air con being set to 25C, I started getting cold and ended up turning it off and putting a jacket on!

As sunset approached we headed back into the city centre to view it illuminated, again proving us with impressive views, and ended up sitting in a bar on the riverside, opposite the impressive illuminated new buildings, having a few drinks.

Museum of Archaeology by night

Museum of Archaeology by night


View from Mt. Vodno

View from Mt. Vodno

The next morning, after failing to sort out our apartment moving we headed for the cable car to take us to the top of Mount Vodno for views over the city and surrounding area. Heading back down we stopped off at the Museum of Skopje which had some excellent exhibits on the 1963 earthquake, before crossing the river and heading into the bazaar area. After stopping for a bite to eat we headed up to the Kale Fortress for views over the city, where the heat and dryness had killed all the grass, before heading back down and to our apartment for our last night in the apartment and the former Yugoslavia.

Kale Fortress

Kale Fortress

Skopje was a very interesting place to visit as the Skopje 2014 project has completely changed the city with its renovation, even if it is completely out of place and fake. With the project not yet completed, and many plans still to be realised it may be a really interesting place to visit in a few years time. There are also some beautiful scenic places like the Matka Canyon that we didn't visit due to the heat, so this is one city that I'm not yet done with!

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Posted by kmmk17 17:00 Archived in Macedonia Tagged statues hills history fort yugoslavia themepark fake simulacra balkanbants Comments (0)

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