Islands and Highlands

We are planning to spend about 4 weeks in Scotland and hope to spend a significant portion of our time in the western half of the country.  The islands are of particular interest and I have earmarked Lewis and Harris, Skye, Mull, Iona and Islay to visit.  We will have a car so easily able to get around.  Additionally, we are considering a day tour from John O’Groats to Orkney.

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With over 700 offshore islands Scotland has plenty to choose from.  So what made me choose these particular ones?

Lewis and Harris is the northernmost of the Outer Hebrides and the remoteness appeals. I am thinking of spending 2 nights here after catching the ferry from Ullapool to Stornaway and departing from Tarbert to Uig on the Isle of Skye.  I have tentatively pencilled in 4 nights on Skye before heading back to the mainland.

From Oban it is a short hop to Mull and thence onward to Iona.  I envisage a total of 3 nights – possibly 2 on Mull and 1 on Iona.

The most southerly island we plan to visit is Islay, specifically for the whisky istilleries near Port Ellen.  This will probably require a 2 night stay.

I am currently reading the Lonely Planet Guide to the Islands and Highlands which makes them all sound wonderful, but as always, there is limited time.  If you have any particular experiences to share, I would love to hear from you.

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Too Soon?

We plan to head to Europe in the second half of 2019 – probably August and September.  Our tentative thoughts are to spend 4 weeks in Scotland followed by 4 weeks in Spain and possibly a few days in south Wales in between.

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It is a little under 11 months until our likely departure date so I have begun researching airfares which has been a bit of a challenge since we want to arrive in Edinburgh and depart from Barcelona.  I have found that we can do this with Emirates with departure and arrival times that suit us as well as it being a single stopover (in Dubai) in both directions.  Now it is just a matter of waiting for a few more months for the prices (hopefully) come down for the dates we are looking to travel.

In the meantime, I have started looking into the land component of the trip.  There are all sorts of little things that you can research beforehand to make sure that the trip flows as smoothly as possible.

For instance,I have found that there is an Airlink shuttle bus between Edinburgh Airport and Waverley Bridge (city centre adjacent to the main railway station).  It runs every 10 minutes during the day.  Tickets are £4.50 for a single trip and can be bought in a variety of ways, including from the driver as you board.  Online is an option but only for return tickets.  I first thought that this would not be any use as we will be flying home from Barcelona but on reflection it may be feasible as we will be renting a car when we leave Edinburgh to head north and there are car rental locations at the airport and it is in the direction we will be heading.  Food for thought…………..

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There are so many things to consider that I think it is worthwhile to do a little bit of research on a regular ongoing basis to ensure that you are not stressed when the departure date looms closer.

I am not suggesting that you plan precisely what you are going to do and when but if you have a good understanding about the activities and locations that interest you, then you will be in the best position to make decisions that will maximise your opportunities and enjoyment.

We are interested in attending a performance of the Edinburgh Military Tattoo and by looking at the website I now know the dates and times of the shows as well as the fact that the tickets for the 2019 season will be released for online sales at 10am (GMT) on 3rd December 2018.

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Watch this space……………….

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More on Mauritius

It is now 3 months since my last post when I said we were about to book our airfares to Mauritius for 2019.  Well we did that and then moved on to the next stage of the planning.

Although the island is relatively small, there are several distinct sections, both in terms of climate and also the things to see and do.  I read the Lonely Planet guide a couple of times and began to develop a feel for the things we wanted to do and places we were interested in seeing.

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We decided to begin our adventure in the south-east for the simple reason this is where the airport is located and our flight arrives at 6.45pm so we did not want to be setting out driving too far on unfamiliar roads.  Our accommodation is about 6km from the terminal or 2km from the end of the runway according to the map.  The best part is that it is only 90m from the beach.  This will be our home for the first 4 nights of the trip.  As well as the ever-present beaches there are markets and museums and we hope to include a trip to the tiny offshore island of Ile Aux Aigrettes.  The entire island is a Nature Reserve and is maintained with flora and birdlife which have now vanished from Mauritius.

The north-west is generally regarded as the most tourist-orientated with lots of resort complexes and plenty of night-life.  This is not necessarily our prime reason for visiting Mauritius, however, we are indulging ourselves with 3 nights in this luxurious accommodation.  From here, we will be able to visit the renowned Botanical Gardens and some colonial homesteads in the Central Highlands.

Our final destination is the quaintly named ‘Rusty Pelican‘ at La Gaulette on the south-west coast.  We have 7 nights here which will allow us to explore the natural beauty of this part of the island.  Everything I have read indicates that it is less developed than the northern areas.

All of the accommodations that I have chosen are listed on Air BnB, although the ‘Rusty Pelican’ is also recommended in the Lonely Planet guide which is a huge recommendation when you consider the number of options that are available.

With our flights and accommodation booked, there is really nothing else left to do apart from waiting for 2019 to roll around and throw our beach gear in our bags.

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Mauritius – Making Plans

We plan to visit Mauritius next year and have spent quite a bit of time researching the options of how to get there.  There are direct flights from Perth but we have decided to go via Singapore with an overnight stopover each way.

This is where it is.  Mauritius lies to the east of Africa in the Indian Ocean and is a similar latitude to Broome.

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Although it is just under 11 months until our travel dates we will be booking our flights this week as we have found flights with Singapore Airlines/Air Mauritius for acceptable prices on our preferred dates at reasonable times.

Since the route is not high demand or particularly competitive there is very little likelihood of getting cheaper prices so we have decided that it is best to get them while we can.

 

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Tassie Trip

As I mentioned in my last post, we headed off to Tasmania for 6 nights as part of my 60th birthday celebrations.  The holiday has been all I could have hoped for and more.  Although this is my fifth trip to the island state this has been a sheer delight.

We restricted ourselves to a relatively small area and did not rush around madly sightseeing.  I thoroughly enjoyed seeing the areas we did visit.

Here are some photos and I would highly recommend Tasmania as a place to visit if you have not yet been here.  But don’t be fooled by its relatively compact size.  There is such a lot to see and you will not enjoy racing around and trying to see everything in a week.

The lighthouse at Low Head.

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Mt Roland

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View from our accommodation above Lilydale

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Lilydale Falls

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Historic building in Evandale

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Bridge at Campbell Town

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Autumn foliage at Richmond

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There really is something for everyone.

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Closer to Home

For the first time in 5 years we do not have an overseas trip planned for 2018.  This was a conscious decision but does not mean that we will not be holidaying.

We began early in the year with a long weekend getaway with friends in February.  We went to Ballandean near Stanthorpe and enjoyed a quiet and relaxing country weekend which included swimming in the river, a bushwalk and dining on local produce.

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The next of our short trips within Australia will be to Tasmania and is coming up soon.  This 6 day trip is my part of my ‘milestone’ birthday celebrations.  We will be spending 5 nights at a luxury Air BnB in the north-east of the island before heading south to spend a night in historic Richmond before flying out of Hobart.  We do not have any specific plans apart from having made a booking for dinner at a restaurant in Launceston on the night of my birthday.

Other plans include a week in Melbourne in August (visiting our daughter and an opportunity to see our football team playing) and a week at Mudjimba Beach for the Christmas/New Year break.

All of these domestic trips require very little planning but have plenty to plan for next year.  In April 2019 we are heading to Mauritius and I am currently researching travel options from Brisbane to Mauritius.  Our 2 choices seem to be via Perth or Singapore so we are thinking that we will probably go to Perth on the way there and home via Singapore with a couple of nights stopover in each direction.  The next question is how long to spend in Mauritius?  I am thinking about 10-12 days will be enough.

The trip to Mauritius will be a significant milestone as it will be the last holiday that we plan with consideration given to work commitments and annual leave as we both plan to retire from full-time work in July 2019.  This will leave us with an unlimited window for future travel.  Even though it is 15 months away, we are considering the possibilities of an extended trip to the UK and Europe in the second half of 2019.  As I know from planning our previous 6 week trips, you really need at least 12 months to research and plan a major trip.  So, I have begun reading and learning about some of the places we dream of visiting. The rough itinerary looks something like this – Scotland, England, Wales, Netherlands, Belgium, France, Spain and Italy in about 4 months.

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What Did it Cost?

As with each of our previous trips, the final job is to tally up the cost.  This time I kept a running total but this did not necessarily influence our spending.

The grand total for 28 days and nights was $13,613.54 which was proportionally slightly more expensive than our previous trip UK trip 3 years ago.  However, I am still very happy with the outcome as the airfares were  a greater percentage of the total since the trip was for 4 weeks rather than 6 weeks and I am sure that prices have increased in the intervening time.

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This is how it was broken up.

Airfares $     3,655.32
Accommodation $     5,307.80
Insurance $         226.97
Transport $     1,099.37
Food/Drink $     1,451.42
Sightseeing/Tours/Events $     1,461.13
Souvenirs/Gifts $         60.87
Other spending $         350.66

It is interesting to see where the money went.  Once again, accommodation was the biggest single cost.

Transport was trains to Wales, Paris, Brighton and Cambridge as well as our Oyster card credit in London.  This category was proportionally much less than or previous UK trip as there were no hire car costs.

Food and drinks included everything that we ate or drank from restaurant meals, drinks at the pub, groceries to an occasional ice-cream or cup of coffee.

Sightseeing etc was made up of admission costs as well as various movies and shows.

We do not need souvenirs to remind us of our trip so this category was very modest.  I bought a jigsaw puzzle which I will enjoy sharing with other family members, a CD from a concert we attended and small gifts for our granddaughters.

The final category of ‘Other’ was a birthday gift as well as a couple of scarves for myself and a new lens for my camera.

The trip was several months in the planning and we had pre-paid a total of $10,130.74 (about 75% of the total) before we set out.

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Cambridge – Colleges and Cold

The last two nights of our trip were spent in Cambridge.  We had visited Cambridge during our last trip in the northern summer of 2014 and took a punt tour on the River Cam on a glorious sunny day (you can see the photos here) so the focus was slightly different this time.

It was about an hour and a half trip  from London on the train.  We arrived on Tuesday afternoon and had time to arrive at our accommodation, change and freshen up before setting out again.

Our destination was King’s College Chapel as we wanted to attend Choral Evensong.  The service was scheduled to begin at 5.30pm, by which time it is dark at the end of November.  We had a brief wait in  short queue in the quadrangle before we were ushered into the chapel.  This was most welcome as the weather was cold and drizzling with rain as well as being dark.

King’s College Chapel is the venue for the annual BBC program “A Festival of  Nine Lessons and Carols from King’s College” which is also broadcast in Australia so I was familiar with the view and layout of the interior of the chapel, however, nothing prepares you for the reality of actually being there.  Naturally, there are no photos permitted, however, here are a few that I took of the exterior during daylight hours.

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We also managed to squeeze in a couple of meals at beautiful historic pubs.  Unfortunately, I don’t have any photos.  The first one was The Free Press which is tucked away in a quieter corner of Cambridge.  It was the perfect spot for dinner after Evensong at the chapel.  Since it was well after dark I could not take a photo of the exterior of this historic pub so here is one with compliments of the internet.

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Grantchester is a tiny village outside Cambridge which we visited the next day.  We caught a bus to the urban fringe of Cambridge and then walked a couple of kilometres to Grantchester where we had a late lunch at the Red Lion.  Once again, I had to resort to the internet for an image as I had chosen to take a break from photos.  The thatched roof was of particular interest.

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On our final day we had a real taste of winter as the temperature struggled to 3C.  We rugged up and took a stroll around a few streets in the heart of Cambridge.

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There was even an historic windmill in the backyard adjacent to the rear of the property where we were staying.  Apparently it is over 300 years old and had fallen into disrepair but is being restored by the current owners.

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It is also worth noting that the temperatures dropped significantly during our 4 week trip with the second half of the month barely reaching double digits and the last few days were particularly cold.  It was time to go home!  In fact there were very light snowfalls in London within 12 hours of our departure.

The short days and cool weather were part of the reason that we chose November to visit London.  It was a completely new experience for us as each of our previous trips to the northern hemisphere have been during the summer.  As with everything, research and planning are the keys to success.  We were not bothered by the shorter days because most of our plans for for indoor activities such as galleries, museums and shows. The few outdoor activities were easily accommodated in daylight hours on a number of bright, sunny days with which we were blessed.

This is the penultimate blog entry for the trip with a final one tomorrow with the all important financial wrap-up.

Thanks for coming along for the ride and I hope you have enjoyed reading about our experiences.

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Meet the Mews

Since we were going to be staying in London for 3 weeks we gave considerable thought to our choice of accommodation.

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After plenty of research we decided on this Air BnB located in a mews between Paddington and Hyde Park.  The central location has been very convenient for our various adventures which have mostly been in and around central London.

The definition of a mews house as described in Wikipedia:

Mews is a primarily British term formerly describing a row of stables, usually with carriage houses below and living quarters above, built around a paved yard or court, or along a street, behind large city houses, such as those of London, during the 17th and 18th centuries. The word may also refer to the lane, alley or back street onto which such stables open. It is sometimes applied to rows or groups of garages or, more broadly, to a narrow passage or a confined place. Today most mews stables have been converted into dwellings.”

At the end of the mews where we are staying is the only remaining working stables in central London.

The view from outside our front door.

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A close-up of one of the neighbours.

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Looking up the mews in the opposite direction.  There are many and varied plantings but virtually every property has a large potted olive tree which provides a unifying theme.  Judging from size of the trunks, some of these trees are quite old.  Many of them had good crops of olives on them.

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The autumn foliage adds a pretty contrast.

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We noticed this reminder of ‘home’ in a protected spot at the top of the mews.

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The presence of the olives and callistemon thriving in and inner London mews was certainly a view that we did not expect to see when we came here.

We are off to Cambridge today so more about that tomorrow.

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Cruise to Camden

 

As the end of our London visit approached we reviewed our ‘to do’ list.  It was a diverse collection of shows, museums and other experiences which we had discovered through a variety of sources.  One thing which we were yet to do was a trip on the narrowboat from Little Venice near Paddington Station to Camden via the Regent’s Canal.

We had intended to do the trip on our last visit but after catching the train to Camden and seeing the market we could not locate the departure point for the narrowboat so ended up making our return journey on the train.  I wrote about it in this post from 2014.

In order to avoid the problem of locating the departure point at Camden we decided to take the boat from Paddington and do a return trip as we were not particularly interested in spending time at Camden.

We walked alongside the canal from Paddington Station.

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Until we reached Browning’s Pool which is so named for the poet, Robert Browning who lived in the area.

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It was a clear, sunny day but quite cold.

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We had some free time until the next departure so we walked along the towpath and saw the many vessels moored along both sides of the canal.

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Gliding along the serene waters of Regent’s Canal en route to Camden.

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Arriving at Camden.

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Our plan to simply do a return trip was thwarted somewhat as we were advised that there would be a stopover of about 35 minutes.  By this time it was bitterly cold and all I wanted was to be warm.  As with our previous visit to Camden, it seemed to be a seething mass of people shuffling around dozens of food stalls which fill the area immediately surrounding the mooring.  A little further afield, the markets were equally as crowded with people and stall selling things that were of no real interest.

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The return trip completed our cruise to Camden which was picturesque despite the cold.

It was now after 3pm but we still had one more activity for the day.  Thankfully, it was indoors.  We made our way to Craven Street near Trafalgar Square.  36 Craven Street, known as ‘Benjamin Franklin House’ is the address of the only surviving residence of Benjamin Franklin.  We had booked to see the Historical Experience which is presented using a combination of costumed actors and video in various rooms of the house.  This focuses on the period of 16 years which Benjamin Franklin spent in London and was most interesting.

This brought our London sightseeing pretty much to an end apart from a return visit to the Imperial War Museum where we saw all of the exhibits relating to the Great War (1914 – 1918).

 

 

 

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