Category Archives: Castles

Scotland: In the Footsteps of Royalty – Stirling Castle

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While on a trip to Scotland, my husband Lyn and I visited Edinburgh, Scotland. We had hoped to spend more time, but our itinerary included Stirling Castle, Edinburgh the “jewel of Scotland” and the Scottish Highlands in one day!

We awoke early to make the trip to Stirling Castle. We arrived even before stores were open in town. We found a restaurant featuring “American breakfast”. Given that it was rainy, we lingered as long as we could. The roads leading up to the castle were narrow and one way (previously for horse-drawn carriages). Stirling Castles was built on a high point allowing it to command lands all around it. Stirling was the center of art, culture and celebrity in the 1600s.

Stirling Castle brings history to life. While there, you become acquainted with the people who lived and were imprisoned there. Guides share about the plots, passion, intrigue and high fashion of the inhabitants. Historical reenactors brought people and history to life.

After parking, we came towards the Forework gate. Once inside, a large cobblestone courtyard unfolded with gardens on the left and another gate higher up the hill. The entire castle was built on a hill – it seemed we were going up hill the entire time. The great hall featured soaring ceilings. It was the largest banquest hall in Scotland. The palace unfolded with receiving rooms, bedrooms and private areas for royalty. Mary Queen of Scots lived at Stirling for much of her life.

When we came inside the Chapel Royale, we were treated to a beautiful children’s chorus:


After the Chapel Royale, we visited the Scottish Clan museum. It was so intersting to see the tartans, the beautiful dining rooms for celebrations and the history of those who protected the royalty. We found the tartans and history for the “Baxters”, “Aiken” and others we recognized. I didn’t find “Ballantine”, my ancestors, but I was given a poem about the tartan of the Ballantine’s:

The Grey Hill Plaid
by James Ballantine
ballantine plaid
Tho’ cauld and drear our muirland hame
Amang the wreaths o’ snaw,
Yet love here lowes wi’ purer flame
Than lights the lordly ha’;
For ilka shepherd’s chequer’d plaid
Has room enough for twa,
And coshly shields his mountain maid
Frae a’ the blasts that blaw.
Then hey the plaid! the grey hill plaid,
That haps the heart sae true;
Dear, dear to every mountain maid,
Are plaid an’ bonnet blue.

What tho’ we’re few upon the muir,
We lo’e each other mair,
And to the weary wanderin’ puir
We’ve comfort aye to spare.

The heart that feels for ither’s woes
Can ne’er keep love awa’;
And twa young hearts, when beating close,
Can never lang be twa.
Then hey the plaid! the grey hill plaid,
That haps the heart sae true;
Dear, dear to every mountain maid,
Are plaid an’ bonnet blue.

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Arriving at Trump Turnberry – Turnberry, Scotland

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After a nightmare travel experience with our bags still missing, we had been awake for two full days. From Glasgow airport, we drove to a “TKMaxx” (that’s not a typo, in the U.S. we say “T.J. Maxx”) to find a few emergency clothes and toiletries (little did we know we didn’t need them after all given the sweet staff at Turnberry). The hotel’s directions begin to hint at the enchantment and adventure to come:

80km/50 miles
Driving time: approximately 1 hour

Take the M77/A77 southbound from Glasgow signposted to Kilmarnock
Continue on the A77 southbound through the outskirts of Ayr
Follow the A77 southbound through Minishant, Maybole and Kirkoswald
2 miles after Kirkoswald, take the right-hand turn signposted to Turnberry
After half a mile, take a right-hand turn into the hotel driveway

As we drove through the roundabouts in each town, the towns grew more quaint and the meadows extended. We arrived in the late afternoon with the sun setting which turned the fields golden and shimmering. While eager to get to the resort (and exhausted!) we made one stop at an anciet abbey, Crossraguel. Crossraguel Abbey is one of the best preserved, most varied and most interesting of the many abbey ruins that are dotted across Scotland. It is just to the south of the A77, about two miles south west of Maybole. As we drove away from Maybole, we saw Baltersan Castle on our left.

Once we turned onto the hotel driveway, the beautifully-manicured lawns hinted that the resort wasn’t far. The golf courses of Scotland are rolling and look like elegant lawns as seen from afar. Just beyond the beautiful grass the Irish Sea waves crashed on the rocky shore. To the right, Trump Turnberry came into view. Sitting atop a high hill, the resort looks like a sweeping country home. The driveway brings you across the resort climbing the hill providing sweeping views of the golf course and the ocean. The hotel entrance is nestled in the center of the property surrounded by two wings of the hotel. A circular driveway surrounds a fountain. Two doormen in full Scottish regalia greeted us with a cheery brogue and personally escorted us inside directly to our room. We didn’t linger long as we were famished and we knew if we even sat down – we wouldn’t get back up again. We walked to the main dining room and enjoyed a glass of wine, the sunset and a classic Scottish meal: Fish and chips with “mushy peas”. Delicious!

After dinner, we wearily collapsed into bed at Trump Turnberry. Our room was true to the resort’s aristocratic roots from the turn of the 20th century. Trump Turnberry’s guest room description is worth sharing,

“Inspired by traditional stately homes, each room features an indigenous selection of tweeds and tartan. Scottish curtains are complemented by cashmere throws made in Ayr, just a few miles from Turnberry. Surrounding the room’s centrepiece—a sparkling Austrian chandelier—are rich mahogany furnishings with exquisite gold-leaf accents, as well as a 65-inch flat screen TV. Hand-carved walnut-burl mahogany beds are accompanied by handcrafted bedside tables. Choose from a king-size, one queen, or two twin beds—some with beautiful canopies inspired by Turnberry’s indigenous tartan. The marble bathroom boasts a spacious walk-in shower adorned with Italian marble and solid brass fittings. Most of these rooms also include an indulgent freestanding tub. Morning rituals are enhanced by premium Arran Aromatics bath amenities.”

We awoke the next morning just after 10am. I took my second bath in the “indulgent freestanding tub”! Lyn ordered room service of “Scottish Breakfast”. Everything came on an elegant trolley with a linen tablecloth, china, sparkling glasses and silver coffee service (so grateful we get all meals at 50% through Starwood!) . Scottish breakfast consisted of small homemade English muffins (more like a thick crepe about the size of a small jar lid than our wonder-bread-like big circles), a fluffy sausage (I know that sounds strange, but the sausage was light and airy) topped with a beautiful egg (the yolk was the color of an apricot!). The hearty toast was arranged in a silver caddy that resembled a CD holder, only just for toast! We savored our breakfast in our bright and sunny bedroom planning our day. Since golf was not in the cards (clubs and bags still missing), we opted for sight seeing.

After breakfast, we drove to Culzean (pronounced “cull+aine”) Castle. Culzean Castle sits on the top of steep cliffs overlooking the Firth (Bay) of Clyde. The firth of Clyde runs between Arran Island and the mainland of Scotland. We turned off the A719, a beautiful country road passing fields of gently-blowing wheat, sheep and cows and charming homes. A tree-lined long driveway leads past fields, a deer meadow, walled garden and then to a compact parking area. As we arrived, families were already setting up picnics all around. One thing I was struck by and I found touching were the multiple generations of families traveling together. Most famililes had three generations and some four! Grandchildren (many Scottish redheads) patiently held onto their grandparent’s canes; grandparents pushed their grandchildren’s “push chairs” (their word for strollers). Through the very formal castle, a small lego man was hidden in each room of the castle to keep children entertained. No wonder the Europeans appreciate their history!

The 17th Century castles starts with an extraordinary armory room with swords, guns and military items artfully arranged on the walls. We then walked through a beautiful library. The Scots choose to build low bookcases in several rooms so that the walls can be used for art. Fresh flowers from the gardens filled each room. We witnessed some of the “flower ladies” carefully watering an arrangement. Throughout the library and all rooms were reminders that a family lived in the castle, family photos of children, couples and families at all ages and time periods were placed throughout. The dining room featured portraits of all of the Marquesses of Culzean which led to early decedents of the Kennedy family. One thing I was struck by was a small glass bowl with lips on either side at the head of each dish. Evidently, glass was very expensive at the time. Glasses were rinsed in these special dishes whenever wine was changed.

Other highlights of Culzean were the bells placed in each room to summon the servants downstairs. Beautiful handles next to beds and dining tables were as beautiful as the chandeliers or silver. There was a child’s bed made to look like a small boat. Even the bathtubs were lovely.

The gardens of Culzean unfolded behind walled gardens, the lower terraces of the castle and throughout the property. Gardens are maintained by the National Trust for Scotland Garden Trust. Trust properties represent almost every style of Scottish garden history – ranging from the late medieval herbal, kitchen garden to be found at Culross Palace, the extravagant Georgian expanses of Culzean and Victorian formalities at Haddo and the House of Dun to the new ideas and varieties coming forth in the early 20th century at places like the ‘Secret Garden’ at Arduaine and Priorwood in the Scottish Borders (all places to put on our “garden bucket list”!)

After the castle, we drove to Balmoral Mill in Galston. The Mill has sustained the town since the 1700s. They made carpets, plaid, lace, stockings, damask and other fabrics of all kinds. Now, they make knit fabrics. We visited the coffee shop afterwards which looked more like a tea room. Though we arrived a half hour before closing, the lady running the place was clearly not ready for new visitors. She apologized later for “throwing the coffee at us”. This was our only bad case of inhospitableness since our arrival. On the whole, the Scottish are a very friendly people.

Coming home, we drove to Troon and then along the ocean. We drove past Royal Troon golf course (actually, there is a golf course here about every three miles, some just have beautiful clubs with them). Even on the side of the road you see people carrying golf clubs. On the golf courses, people push trolleys. There are no carts.

We took the coastal road from Troon towards Ayr. The towns are very orderly and charming. They look a bit like a cross between Georgetown and Philadelphia.

One of the interesting things we came across by accident was a “Holiday Park”. These dot the landscape just outside of most major cities. In desperate search of a potty break, we came across mecca for families. If I ever travel here with our kids, I would seriously consider this. The parks are essentially orderly streets surrounding a central entertainment area. The lots have what we would call trailers, but they are far more charming than that. Each has nice architectural details, porches, window boxes and other cute items. We stopped in one of the central areas and walked into an open area with indoor badmitten, trampolines, playground, art area and families of all ages. Like the most amazing campground you’ve ever seen only everywhere.

Traveling back towards Turnberry, we passed many beautiful meadows. At sunset, the sun strikes the wheat in such a way as to make it seem that it glows. You can see the pattern of the wind swaying and swirling the grains almost like an invisible hand is gently caressing the field. We stopped many times to photograph sheep, cows and picturesque vistas of the Firth of Clyde. Along the way we drove through the “Electric Brae”, a section of the road where your car can appear to roll uphill if in neutral (we didn’t try it!).

Before coming home, we drove past Turnberry towards Girvan. We arrived just as the fisherman had come in for the day. Seagulls were swirling and darting in hopes of catching scraps the fisherman tossed into the water. The boats were beautifully colored and artfully named. A man walking his dog offered us the passcode to the pier so that we could clamor up and watch everything from a great vantage point.

One thing about the Scottish accent, I can HARDLY understand them. From my first encounter at the Hertz counter, I find myself staring at the person to make out a few words. While it is English, it is SO accented and so varying in tone, I can’t make out much of it except for “Okay” which they pronounce like “Uh – KAY!” The rental car still terrifies me with Lyn driving on the right and me sitting on the left. Every time we made a turn my heart leaps thinking we are driving into oncoming traffic 🙂

After our magical day, we dined in the beautiful Turnberry dining room. To start, Lyn ordered smoked salmon. It was sliced thin and placed on a white plate. To the side were thin slices of brown bread, sour cream, diced onion and capers. For dinner, Lyn had a filet and I lamb (I know, a bit strange after having photographed cows and sheep all day). Again, we were grateful for the “starhot” discount.

Tomorrow we drive to the highlands. We leave at 4am. I am totally off on my time. Lyn is hoping to get back and play some golf tomorrow. His clubs still haven’t arrived :(. At least our suitcases are here.

One good thing about missing bags is that you realize how little you actually need….

Scotland is a romantic, calming and magical place. The air is cool. Even when it rains it feels gauzy and gentle, not hard droplets. We are both relaxed.

I’d better turn in. I’ll write about our first day at some point. It was a hellish nightmare which I hardly remember due to not having much sleep, multiple missed flights and no bags. Perhaps I’ll never write about it?

Still on our Honeymoon Everyday!

Links:

Trump Turnberry
Crossraguel Abbey
Culzean Castle and Country Gardens

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Rheine, Laurely, Frankfurt, Germany

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I tried to plot us a route to drive along the Rhine, but that wound us up in an industrial city. While not what we were expecting, it was interesting to see how different a shipping port looks on a river vs. a big bay and on barges in lieu of ships.

We corrected our course and headed to Mainz and then a town on the north-side of the Rheine. The Rheine was such a treat, particularly given the rare sunny day we had! Our road took us just along the river. We saw huge barges and cute paddle boats. It was amazing to see the effort that it took for barges to go up-river. The current was incredibly strong. Buoys were slanted 45 degrees instead of standing up straight. Whole trees floated by in seconds. Every few miles there was another castle high up on the hill. One castle was even built in the middle of the river. The purpose of the castles was to collect tolls — each tiny area would collect tolls before Germany was unified. Some would even life chains in the river to prevent boats from passing before paying. Lyn said the number of ferries had increased – we saw about 6. We would pass through quaint towns along the way. A train whizzed by occasionally just above. Vineyards lined the hills. The steep banks reminded me of the wild part of the Hudson River.

We stopped at the Rose Cafe in Laurely, the famous bend in the river where many boats would wreck. We enjoyed a “toast” and some tomato soup. We watched cars board the ferry boat and were amazed when an extremely long log truck came and boarded for the other side.

Leaving Laurely, our route took us up and over the mountains which wound up being an incredibly rural and picturesque drive. We seemed to drive along mountain-high meadows for many miles. As far as we could see there was corn, wheat, rye. This made for a checkerboard effect as each crop was laid out on the hillside. Interspersed were fields of livestock including cows, goats and sheep. There were no lines on the roads which was a little unnerving; however, we hardly saw any cars, mostly bikers, motorcycles and the occasional luxury sports car.

Germans love their roads and they seem to build them everywhere. Evidence of their carving into mountains for the raw materials is everywhere – including an entire piece of the mountain carved along the Rheine. I am not sure what they do after stripping the mountain, but it made for a stark landscape where this was done. I decided, after a while, that this must be how they keep a great percentage of the population employed — roadmaking. That, and breaking down every conceivable transaction into multiple parts (more on that later).

We came down from the beautiful mountain roads along through the Reisling Road and came back to the interstate only 20 miles from Frankfurt. Thus, we had traveled over 50 miles through farmland between the Rheine and this larger city.

Frankfurt is very modem with skyscrapers and sculptures and parks between the roads. We found our hotel (with some difficulty), Le Meridian Frankfurt. Getting inside was quite a feat since I had my new bag – leaving me with three – and there were only narrow stairs. This resulted in our grumbling a bit and arriving quite fatigued, but that passed as we entered the elegant lobby with jazzy music piped in. As we entered, the “Skyfall” Bond theme was playing which seemed appropriate for the adventure we were having.

We checked in and were assigned to Room 760 on the Starwood Guest Floor. It had wide double doors for entry which hinted at a large interior. It did not disappoint. Our room had two different bathrooms and opened to the bedroom area to the right and a living area to the left with generous living room furniture between. Our view included an old historic building and skyscrapers in the distance. Out the window (which opened fully – everywhere in Europe which was surprising), we could look down on green rooftops – one even had a metal sheep “grazing”….

We went down for dinner and also with the goal of solving the “umbrella challenge”. People must have thought it odd my walking about with an umbrella on such a sunny day. The French concierge seemed not interested in our plight, but an eager Bellman came to the rescue. He mentioned that he often receives packages for people and he thought he could make a box for the umbrella. We left it in his hands and went to dinner. Later, during dinner, he came by with a tightly-wrapped box. We wrote down his name to make sure we sent his General Manager a note of thanks. Our “umbrella challenges”, we learned, we not yet over….

Dinner was good – and strange. We enjoyed a Reisling wine with a very lovely bottle (which I kept). It had a glass cork and seemed perfect for water or a tiki torch. Lyn enjoyed a ribeye steak and I ordered a veal “saltambucca” which was described as being with cranberries and rissotto. It was very strange. It arrived wrapped in ham, grey as overdone could be, and no cranberries in sight. The rissotto was excellent. We had ordered salads first which were very generous, so that was lucky.

Back up in our room we packed, but not very well we learned later. My new bag worked well and we had called up a scale to make sure we were not over the weight allotment.

We were awoken sometime in the early hours by a “plopping” sound. I investigated and saw that the air conditioner was dripping onto the carpet. I found a towel (to absorb the sound) and that bought perhaps another 30 minutes, but, once soaked, it also made the plopping sound. When I got up, we had multiple leaks….

We wound up getting up and heading towards the airport. This proved to be a wise idea as we had NO idea how long it would take us. We had some trouble finding the rental car return, but we did. And we heaved a sigh of relief – as we discovered a few days into our trip that we were not covered by our insurance and the American Express portion of the trip wasn’t certain. We had to go to the rental counter to get our refund for the GPS.

In order to check bags, we were directed past over 400 Lufthansa counters, each for different purposes – family boarding, group boarding, boarding passes (but only for passes, another line for your bag). Because we had the umbrella we had to go to yet another entire section for counters for “oversized bags” and pets. We had to have the package weighed and then we had to go to a DIFFERENT counter, in a completely different area, to pay the FEE for the package. THEN we had to get our boarding passes. By the time we got them, we felt we had survived quite an ordeal. But the “fun” was only beginning.

Security was hard to follow and we wound up having all of our bags diverted. Unlike the U.S., they want passengers to put each individual item in trays – making a long “train” of trays for every person. If you bag doesn’t pass, it is automatically diverted to a different lane. Lyn’s bag was diverted first. His cherished spun honey – “NACHT”. Then, my bag. Much to my complete dismay, I had overlooked my new multi-channel scissors found at the Beaune market. I was SO upset. Then, every item of my bag had to be reloaded onto trays and passed through again. Once we lft there, we were REALLY fatigued, frustrated and I was in tears…. I told Lyn he would be my only souvenier 🙂

We enjoyed a nice panini and coffee at a beautiful little airport cafe (nothing like we have at home, more like the most elegant deli in New York). We passed the time waiting for our Munich flight by my writing this journal.

Now, onto Munich. Then, home. I just checked my work email and am reminded why the United Nations Rights include “Right to a vacation – with pay – for an extended period….”

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Schwangau, Germany (Neuschwanstein Castle)

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Neuschwanstein Castle

No trip to Europe would be complete without a visit to Neuchwanstein castle, the one that was the inspiration for Disney World. It was a rainy day which made the castle seem to float in the clouds.

The drive there was amazing! As we got closer to the Alps, the countryside looked like golf courses connected with symmetrical fields. I suppose it is because the balance of rain seems to be perfect for a vibrant green. It may also because we saw several farm vehicles sprinkling what must be sewage :)….and the SMELL (thank goodness for air conditioning).

Neuschwanstein 2

We drove through charming town after charming town as we got closer to the Alps. We could see the castle from five miles away.

Nearly everyone who goes to Neuschwanstein is enchanted, yet leaves a wee bit disappointed. If you come in prepared, I think you will love it. I’ve heard various reasons why. For some, it is coming inside a castle that is so fairylike on the outside, but more simple on the inside (it was actually never finished). For others, it is imagining the interiors, yet realizing that the tour is limited in what you see. For me, I was still enchanted. Having seen some of Europe’s most amazing castles and churches, I was less impressed at the painted mosaic (having seen real) other decorative treatments, but still the whole story of the “Mad King” and his vision for building the castle was captivating.

The views of the lake and the town as seen through swirling clouds and a misty rain added to the mystery. The museum in the main town is well worth a visit because most of the incredible silver and porcelain may be seen there. One also must adjust to touring with a large group. Thousands of tourists stop to see this amazing landmark. Unlike many places you will visit where you are touring by yourself, these tours are rigidly in a group and on schedule. No photographs are permitted (though I snuck in a few). We enjoyed a lovely snack in the cafe and enjoyed the long views.

The following are images gathered from the web:

View of the castle (Photo:  blog.booktopia.com)
View of the castle (Photo: blog.booktopia.com)

After leaving the castle, we drove through the cute town of Schwangau and drove along the turquoise-colored lake. Following the Romantic Road, we drove through cute town after cute village.

Recommended links:
Aerial 360 view of the castle.
Official Website
Schwangau Tourism Information (it’s not all about the castle)

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Wurzburg, Germany

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View from Schlos Marienburg across Wurzburg.
View from Schloos Marienburg across Wurzburg.

We traveled to Wurzburg from the Frankfurt airport. Our trip there was an adventure being on the autobahn for the first time. Schloss Marienburg overlooks Wurzburg from a tall embankment. We started our journey parking in town and walked to the Alte Mainbrucke (Old Main Bridge), an 11th century bridge replacing an original Roman bridge. This was a wonderful way to enter Europe.

Bridges in Europe a social experience with space to sit, street performers to set up and often the bridges are pedestrian only.

At this point, we had been up for more than 24 hours and we were also famished. We found a lovely restaurant at the edge of the river overlooking the Old Main Bridge, Alte Mainmuhle. It was open for breakfast. We chose one of the outdoor tables and settled in. Lyn ordered a traditional German omlette (which has ham mixed in with egg and cheese) which was served with a dense brown bread. I chose an egg with some simple bacon. The coffee was fantastic – as is all coffee in Germany. The table next to us ordered a veal sausage broth which they raved about served with – of course – a pretzel.

Alte Mainmuhle

After a nourishing breakfast, we walked through the quaint town of Wurzburg. Wurzburg is a lived-in town. People were shopping along the main street. We came to a whimsical fountain on a square with a bier garden.

The market square was an absolute treat in Wurzburg, it was among the most beautiful markets we saw while in Germany for the surrounding architecture, pealing church bells and beautiful fresh flowers and produce (be sure to take your camera – I’ve made note cards from some of the beautiful flower pictures I took that day).

We took the time leaving the city to walk across from the town. The barges slide down the river and it is interesting to watch them navigate the locks. The homes lining the river were very quaint and colorful.

No visit to Wurzburg would be complete without a visit to the Fortress Marienburg, gracing the highest hill overlooking the city. We drove (it was a little hard to find as our GPS didn’t direct us clearly). Tour busses were offered, but we appreciated parking and walking ourselves. We later learned that parking was available closer to the castle (we parked in the first lot available). The walk up to the castle was interesting as it gave a sense of the scale and why it is called a FORTRESS!

Once inside, the castle was sparse in furnishings, but packed with interesting history. The most interesting room showcased liturgical vestments and medeival armour. We also found interesting the museum which had models of the town showing it before and after WWII. A highlight was seeing the circular staircase and the views of the city. The views down to the city were spectacular. After the castle, we stopped at the bier garden for some refreshment. It was cool under the shade trees.

Wurzburg is a wonderful German city.

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