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08(01), 07(03), 06(03), 05(02), 04(02), 03(02)
12(02), 11(01), 10(08), 09(03), 07(17), 06(01), 05(04), 04(03), 03(02), 02(02), 01(06)
12(05), 11(02), 10(01), 09(01), 08(02), 07(04), 06(01), 05(02), 04(03), 03(02), 02(02), 01(01)
12(01), 11(02), 09(09), 08(16), 07(02), 06(03), 05(04), 04(03), 02(03), 01(02)
12(03), 11(01), 10(02), 09(01), 08(23), 07(03), 06(02), 05(01), 04(02), 03(02)
12(03), 11(02), 10(01), 09(01), 08(23), 05(02)
09(04), 08(01), 06(01), 05(02), 04(02), 03(01), 02(01)
11(01), 10(02), 09(15), 08(01), 07(02), 06(04), 04(12), 01(06)
12(05), 11(01), 10(06), 09(12), 08(02), 07(02), 06(01), 05(01), 04(10), 02(01), 01(05)
12(02), 08(01), 07(15), 06(02), 05(03), 02(02), 01(03)
12(05), 11(01), 07(24), 06(06), 05(03), 04(02), 01(01)
12(01), 11(01), 10(07), 09(01), 08(04), 07(05), 06(04), 05(06), 04(01), 03(04), 02(06), 01(04)
12(04), 11(02), 10(03), 09(04), 08(03), 07(04), 04(01)
07(01), 05(01)
08(01)
10(01)

Thu, 31 Dec 2015
day 05 in braveheart land (0 comments)
it was a cloudy morning, when today we checked out from the hotel. but before we had used the wifi to search for an accommodation that firstly is roughly in our direction we want to go, secondly is open, and thirdly still has vacancies. turns out this seems to be quite a problem on the last day of the year. as a last resort we found a rather expensive three star hotel in ullapool. but now it was time for sights, like loch ness[01-04,82,85-86] for example. by far the most famous loch in scotland, and also a pretty long one.
we started at the north end[02-04], took the road that leads around the lake on the south side. for the first few kilometres we drove along the shoreline, then the road got farther and farther away from the lake. soon, it was not to be seen anymore.
approximately half way down to the south end of loch ness we took a turn to get to the falls of foyer[08-23], which included a short walk through the woods to get there. a few other tourists also made it to the falls, but all in all there were not many people.
then we drove on southwards, took some stops at random places we liked, like the one along river foyers[24-49], or one along the "general wade's military road". yep, that really is the name of the road.
next stop was at the suidhe viewpoint[55-81]. a little hike across country. because of the lack of trees it was very very stormy there. amazing how the plants can adjust to this harsh climate and conditions.
here we were totally alone, no one else was hiking here. also there were no animals to spot or hear. while walking was okay, nina got very cold when we reached a little hill. so after taking a few photos and getting very cold fingers, we decided to go back to the car.
then there was more driving to the south end of loch ness, where the street got close to the lake again. after a little pro forma scouting for the cryptid loch ness monster "nessie", which unfortunately and surprisingly did not surface, we drove on again.
we took a little break to grab a bite and have a coffee in fort augustus[87-94]. after that we continued our journey on the west shore of loch ness.
three quarters of the way up to the north end of the lake is the urquhart castle[95-96]. we just arrived when the last visitors left, and the castle entrance was already about being closed. oh no, too bad. we could have used our explorer's pass for that. there is a big fence with high trees and bushes that makes it pretty impossible to get a clear look on the castle from the parking lot. thanks to nina's tripod we were able to get a good angle and a clear view to the lit castle. with loch ness in the background, this really must have been an impressive subject for some photographs.
since it was already dark again, we kept on driving to get to ullapool, a town on the west coast. after a little more than two hours drive we arrived in a small, sleepy fisher village. we really were wondering what new year's eve here will look like, and mentally compared it to the massive crowds that might already have gathered all over edinburgh. but there was still time until hogmanay, so at first we tried to get dinner in ullapool. turns out there are not many places to choose from, so we took the pub along the shoreline. we entered the pub at 20:45, kitchen closes at 21:00 o'clock, so we quickly ordered fish and chips. hopefully the cook wasn't too pissed because of us. the staff at the bar was super relaxed and friendly, i think they all were already in party mood. we learned that all the locals go to "the arch inn", and that's also about the only pub that will be opened tonight. since there was still time, we went back to our hotel, and joined other guests at the bar. there we met a mixture of really nice people, from retiree, to a lorry driver, and a whisky connoisseur, namely the bar tender. so nina and i used the chance to get professional advice and consultation, as we really did not like whisky up to now. turned out once you get the right whisky, it actually is something we both could enjoy. neil, the bartender, seemed to be in his element and happy all over to help us out of our ignorance of good whisky labels. and so, with all the whisky talk and drinking, we almost missed new year's eve. we had to hurry to "the arch inn", because they would "bring the bell in". and while they don't have fireworks or sparkling wine or lucky charm thingies going on in ullapool, they have a bar owner who plays the bag pipes for his guests. now that was awesome - happy new year. the inn was well crowded, and all people we met and talked to - among them the staff from the pub we have been to before - were very friendly. there was some alcohol involved too. then... memory gets a bit hazy, any sense of time becomes a blur, but at some time or other the inn closed. so we finished our beer outside, where we met another very friendly guy, who seemed to take interest in us two tourists. turns out he was a sound technician who regularly goes on tour with all kind of bands. interesting guy we had a lot of fun with. nina even got a bottle of whisky from him, because he said he has plenty of booze in his car. soon after the inn owner asked all remaining guests to leave the premises so he could close the gates. so we returned to our accommodation, the "royal hotel ullapool" to find the same gang still hanging out in the bar, just as we left them. well, we joined them again for another few lovingly selected whiskys and early early in the morning we finally made it to our beds. puh, i wonder in what condition i will find myself tomorrow in the morning. happy hogmanay. track for day 05.

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Wed, 30 Dec 2015
day 04 in braveheart land (0 comments)
the storm from last night continued today in the morning. it was rainy and stormy, but rather warm. well, first day with a hint of bad weather - we are in scotland after all. we had another scottish breakfast for nina, and porridge, toast, marmalade and cereals for me. surprisingly the porridge was very good; i did not expect that. if available, i will have that from now on. our first stop after a short drive was in stonehaven to visit dunnottar castle[04-37]. to get there one has to walk a bit from the parking lot. on the parking lot we were the only ones, and it was still raining. but there was already a sign saying the castle is closed due to bad weather conditions. too bad. also i didn't think this was "bad weather conditions". still we tried to get as close to the castle, so we walked on. the closer we got to the castle and the sea, the stronger the wind gusts became. there was a gravel path down to the sea and to the only entrance to the castle. so at least we could get close to the sea[23-27].
when we climbed up the hill again to get back to our car, there were some people, some of them tourists, some of them locals walking their dogs. soaking wet we returned to the car, and drove on to crathes castle[38-47]. but, guess what, this one was also "closed due to bad weather conditions". we did not think scots were that weather-sensitive. but, again, one could have a look at the castle from the outside. crathes castle strongly reminded me of a love hotel i once saw in tokyo. its look is rather disney like, but what we saw in our guide-book quite a lot of things are named "castle" here in scotland. maybe i am influenced by "game of thrones" too much when it comes to expectations of castles.
again, soaking wet, we got into our car and wanted to drive on to inverness through the cairngorms national park. but while driving a lot of cars flashed their lights at us. nope, i was definitely driving on the right side, still they kept on flashing at us. so we stopped, because i began to wonder if there might be something wrong with the car. at the parking lot another guy parked there, and while we were inspecting our car, he told us, that the road ahead was flooded. aaah, so, that's why - okay. although we were told the street was flooded and there would be no use in going on in this direction, we wanted to see that ourselves. and there really was heavy flooding[48-51]. two jeeps made it to the other side[49-50], but our car would definitely not make it. too bad.
so we turned around, flashed at oncoming traffic (just for fun) and took the "normal" road to inverness. too sad, we will not see ballater, cock bridge, bridge of brown, speybridge or the highlands in cairngorms national park. just to make there is no other way to get to inverness, we stopped at the next police station, hoping that officers could give us a better overview of all the flooding and affected roads. but it seems all personnel was busy with the flood already, so the police station was closed. next we tried a local "tourist information center", which turned out to be a collection of leaflets and brochures in the local library. two elder ladies there tried to help us but it seemed there really is no other way through the highlands without time consuming detours. well, by now it was already getting dark again anyway, so we decided to take the ordinary route, because by now it does not matter anyway. ah, did i already mention there are lots of roundabouts? yes i did? oh, okay. well, loads of roundabouts and approximately six hours of driving later, we finally arrived in inverness. our hotel was right beside the river ness. the river's water-level seemed okay, so this should be a safe night - hopefully. after checking in, and leaving our luggage in the room, we took a stroll to inverness castle[52-53,57,59], that was only a few minutes walk away.
on the castle hill we spotted loads of little cute fluffy rabbits, but unfortunately it was way too dark to take a picture of them. oh, and we were wondering ourselves, why they put up a ionizing radiation hazard symbol[59] with two reindeer at the backside of the castle.
we walked around the castle hill in a circle and stopped at a local chinese take-away, as it seemed everything else was already closed, and we did not want to search for hours for a good pub or restaurant. so we took it with us to the "glen mhor" hotel, ate it, watched tv for a while, and then fell asleep. track for day 04.

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Tue, 29 Dec 2015
day 03 in braveheart land (0 comments)
today we fetched our rental car. the pick-up station was only 15 minutes by foot from our guest house. i had to start driving, as usual, as nina does not like to drive on the left side. well, neither do i, but we have to get moving. so, trying to always have a car in front of me, we made our way out of edinburgh. here is a tip to rent your car cheap and reliably available exactly when and where you need it: use adac/oeamtc. you do not even need to be a member, and it is still way cheaper than booking the car elsewhere. if you have a membership, it gets even cheaper. we were positively surprised by the price and availability. total recommendation. and for booking flights and stuff, we recommend sta-travel. no matter when/where we went on a trip abroad, they always found cheaper and more convenient flights than any online check site. and a total no-go is opodo. do not ever use their services. any. ever. no. don't. scots love roundabouts it seems. even on their highways they have roundabouts from time to time. weird concept, but it seems to work, once you get the hang of it (which took me a while). and in and around edinburgh there were loads of them to practice. after about one hour of slow and cautious driving we arrived in falkirk, at the "helix park". there they have "the kelpis"[001-031], two huge equine head sculptures. they are a reminder of all the work horses that had to pull boats along the forth and clyde canal, that ends in the hub, where the kelpies are now.
really huge, really impressive, really amazing. their height is about 30 metres and each one weighs around 300 tonnes. in sunlight their are really awesome (we were once more lucky with the weather). if i should ever become an artist i might try that with feline head sculptures - i think i would like that. fun fact: at the time of writing this bLog entry, google maps still shows a green field where all this is standing today. the sculptures were finished in october 2013.
after another hour of driving we arrived in stirling[032-128], parked our car, paid the parking fee, and headed towards the castle. to get there, we took the route through the cemetery at the church of the rude[034-055], a really beautiful grave yard.
entrance fee to stirling castle[056-128] is also included in the explorer's pass. it also allows you to use a fast lane at the entry. although there weren't that many people. firstly because it was off season, and secondly because it was already 15:00 o'clock again, so the sun began to set again. days are really really short here. sun rise is around 08:30 o'clock, and seven hours later it sets again. that's something we did not consider when choosing scotland as our destination. but the good thing is, we take way fewer pictures than on other previous trips.
fortunately sterling castle also got lit beautifully once the sun went down. so again it was beautiful to see the outside, and also the inside of the castle.
there weren't many people, and also due to the size of the castle, people are spread all over the area, so there is quite a good distribution of the visitors.
while wandering the halls with all their amazing interior furnishing, carpets, fire places, cupboards, beds, etc. a warden in the museum started to explain a lot of stuff and answered all our questions. he patiently followed us from room to room, and it took us a while until we noticed that he turned off the lights once we left a room. so we were the last visitors again, again escorted by the staff. but this warden, an older bearded man really was nice and did not urge us to hurry or leave immediately; maybe because we were so interested in his explanations, and asked so many questions. so we thanked him a lot for all the valuable information and insights and he left us at the castle gates. two hours of driving later we arrived in stonehaven, checked in at the "shorehead guest house", a house right at the sea front. in stonehaven it was pretty stormy. when i had traditional fish and chips and nina had a variation of fish at the harbour restaurant next to our guest house, the windows were heavily shaken by the strong gusts of wind. after the delicious dinner we went to bed, hoping the wind would not be any harm to our accommodation or our car. track for day 03.

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Mon, 28 Dec 2015
day 02 in braveheart land (0 comments)
nina started this day with a scottish breakfast, consisting of beans, bacon, scrambled eggs, black pudding, sausages, and all the stuff that comes with an english breakfast. not the stuff for me to start the day with, i went for the continental style and had corn flakes, muesli, yoghurt and fruits, toast slices and marmalade. everyone was happy, everyone was pretty filled. time to explore edinburgh. we took the same route we had yesterday evening via waverley station, and headed to the calton hill[011-044]. there are some sights, like the national monument of scotland[018-019,023,027,029], the nelson monument[012-014,022,027,034], or the dugald stewart monument[036,039,043-044], or some ancient canons[020-021], or a view on the impressive holyrood park[024]. all over edinburgh, including the parks and sights on calton hill were fencings. we figured this will be for hogmanay celebrations, the scottish version of new year's eve. judging from the amount of fencing and other signs of preparations, this must be a really huge thing in edinburgh. although this might be nice to see, i am rather glad to be not in edinburgh at this time. this seems like a place with too many people for my taste.
on our stroll to high street[045-082] we came along the railway station[045-050] again, walked on the north bridge[047-055], and found st. giles' cathedral[068,070,071,076-082,083-133,134]. there they tore down a huge scaffold[071] which might have been used for christmas decorations (we think). next we went inside st. giles' cathedral[083-133], and bought a photo permit at the souvenir shop located inside the church. two old ladies happily handed me the stickers. nina had her tripod with her, i had to position my camera on all kind of stuff to get a focused shot.
the cathedral was built during the 14th and 15th century and is pretty impressive. there even should be a bagpipe playing angel somewhere, but we did not find this one unfortunately.
we stopped for a little break in a cafe[136-137], where we were seated outside, since inside there was no free table. fortunately it was not that cold, so sitting outside with hot coffee was bearable. our next sight was edinburgh castle[140-204]. the entrance to the castle is pretty expensive, and it seems this is common amongst the castles, so we decided to buy the "explorer pass". its price is double the entrance fee of edinburgh castle, but once we visit other sights, that pass should pay off. we arrived at the castle at 15:00 o'clock, so it was getting dark again. but then the twilight added much to the gothic and dark atmosphere of the castle walls. bad for pictures, good for ambience.
we walked around the castle and took many pictures, but soon the castle was closed, and we were the last ones to leave, escorted by stuff that was happy to go home. yet they were very friendly and gave us some extra minutes to take some more pictures.
back in town we went to the edinburgh's christmas market[207-213] in the princes street gardens, where the big wheel and such is. we had a chocolate-coated marshmallow treat[210] since they looked so delicious, and had over 20 flavours to choose from.
on our way back to the "eyre guest house" we stopped at the "jekyll & hyde" again to have a steak and ale pie. nomnom, that was really delicious. track for day 02.

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Sun, 27 Dec 2015
day 01 in braveheart land (0 comments)
so this year we decided to spend new year's eve abroad, and we chose to go to scotland. the weather and climate should be mild at this time of the year, the amount of rain should be modest, and temperatures should be between 0 and 5 degrees celsius. or so the internet says. let's find out... to get there, we went via frankfurt to edinburgh, and arrived in the early afternoon on day 01. there's a tram from the airport straight to the centre of scotland's capital city. since we will stay here for (at least) two days, we bought a two day ticket at the conductor - our first encounter with the lovely scottish accent. took us a while to figure out all the words he said, but since it was a rather simple task to buy two tickets, we managed that easily. we got off the tram but did not know exactly in what direction we should be heading. with all the luggage we wanted to take the shortest path, so we asked two ladies at a bus stop how to get to our accommodation. with a wonderful scottish accent they pointed us in the right direction. luckily it was just a 10 minutes walk to our guest house. so far the weather was fine, we had no troubles talking to the locals, everything seemed to go as planned. but... when we arrived at our hotel, we met a sturdy, grumpy looking guy at the hotel, who couldn't find our reservation. he said a lot of stuff but most of it we didn't understand. we figured he is in charge of three guest houses as there's currently no staff due to christmas holidays. a phrase we did understand though when he came back after leaving us for a few minutes was "found ya", with a big grin on his face, and seeming to be relieved and less grumpy. turns out booking.com put nina's name first on the reservation, but i gave the guy my name, so of course he couldn't find us at first. also, nina's name was spelled badly wrong, handwritten by the guy on a piece of paper. but who cares, we got our room - yippieh. there we left our luggage, and decided to explore the vicinity. turns out edinburgh is not as big as it looked on the map. only a few minutes walk took us right to the heart of the city. a problem though is the early sunset, which is already around 15:00 o'clock. one hour later it's already dark, and that is not good for taking pictures. we started our tour on princes street[01-07] with the adjacent princes street gardens, in which the christmas fair was still opened. they also had an amusement part with a big wheel[01,14-15,36-37] and carousels, big ones[04-05,07,14-15,] and the smaller ones[06] for the kids.
the edinburgh waverley railway station[08-17] is entirely under a big glass roof. at first we thought it was a glass house, but then we saw all the trains and platforms when we entered; really impressive. we left the station and strolled along cockburn street[18-24], where there are loads of shops with all kind of fancy stuff, like the unicorn-bride and horseman-groom wedding-cake topper[23]. then we took high street[25-30] to get to the top of the hill to edinburgh castle[31-37], which was nicely lit, but unfortunately already closed.
so we headed back to our guest house, but first had a delicious hearty burger at the "jekyll & hyde" street. the interior was awesome, they had different sections, from steampunk decorations to mummies in sarcophaguses. when we arrived at the "eyre guest house" we watched a little television and then went to bed, getting some rest. so far, scotland is pretty nice - hopefully it will stay this way. track for day 01.

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