A Travellerspoint blog

England

Wimbledon

When I first started planning this trip, I really wanted to go to Wimbledon. I mentioned it to Mary and Lisa (who I first met playing tennis), and they wanted to go too. And we couldn't very well go to England and not visit Lisa's family in Scotland, and that's how this whole portion of the trip evolved. So after Scotland we headed to London -- with big plans to spend some time at the All England Lawn and Tennis Club! After dropping our bags at the hotel, we headed straight there. After queueing for less than an hour, we had grounds passes to the club.

The ticket process is really interesting. Wimbledon is one of the only places where you can buy same day tickets to a professional sporting event. They reserve 6,000 tickets -- 500 for each of the show courts (center, no. 1 and no. 2) and the rest for grounds passes for same day ticket holders. The whole process is called queueing, because people line up for hours (and sometimes overnight) in a long queue to get tickets. The queue is an experience in and of itself.DSC_0021_02.jpg DSC_0023_02.jpgIt is very well organized and very civilized. People are polite and friendly. Lots of people bring picnics and entertainment. Even though you could be standing around for hours, it really doesn't feel like it.

In the afternoons and evenings, they let people from the queue in as others leave the grounds. So the first night we got in relatively quickly. The club itself is amazing and TV doesn't do it justice. It is a beautiful setting. Other than the 3 show courts, all of the other courts are open to anyone who wants to watch. I couldn't believe how close you can get to the courts -- it really feels like you are right there on court with the players!DSC_0003_02.jpg After watching so many professional tennis players for so many years, it was really fun to be seeing them all in person. We watched several matches that night -- including Kuznetsova, Safin, and Tursunov. We also sat on Henman Hill and watched part of the Andy Murray match. It was an incredible atmosphere to be a part of!DSC_0010_02.jpg

The next day we got up really early so we could hit the queue as soon as possible. We caught the first tube (underground) to Wimbledon and were in line by 6:15 a.m. We finally got entry into the grounds around 10 a.m. The time really passed quickly, and we were well prepared with snacks from Marks & Spencer! We had the most incredible day -- I really don't think it could have gone any better. After getting in the grounds, we grabbed terrific seats on court 3. DSC_0033_02.jpgWe watched the Hantuchova - Zheng match, and then a portion of the Fernando Verdasco match. We also watched the Bryan brothers, and Kuznetsova and Mauresmo play doubles.DSC_0042_02.jpgDSC_0029_02.jpg We sat on Henman Hill for part of the Federer match, and enjoyed several glasses of Pimms!DSC_0026_02.jpg

By far the best part of the day was sitting on center court. Another great thing that Wimbledon does is resell tickets to the show courts if people leave early. As people leave, they can choose to turn their ticket in, and the club resells the tickets for £5, with all the proceeds going to charity. There is a box office where you can buy resale tickets. When we first went to get tickets, the queue was really long so we skipped it in order to watch more live tennis. We went back after the first set of the Querrey-Cilic match on center court, and got tickets right away.DSC_0054_02.jpg We were blown away by how good the tickets were! We were sitting three rows from center court, right at the level of the players. It was so close to the action that we could hear the players talking to themselves!DSC_0058_02.jpg It was absolutely amazing. Center court is an incredible tennis court. One of the most amazing things was how quiet everyone would get when play would start. It is hard to imagine so many people being quiet enough to hear a pin drop, but that's exactly how it was. And the Querrey-Cilic match was terrific. It went to 5 sets and was easily the best match of the day!

Wimbledon was absolutely fabulous -- and exceeded all of my expectations! We had a truly incredible experience. It has made me want to go to all of the other grand slams now as well!DSC_0050_02.jpg

Posted by jenniesue 11:26 Comments (0)

Scotland

The Whiskey Trail, Glasgow, the Highland Games, and back to Inverurie

On Friday we visited a couple of whisky distilleries around the Aberdeen area. We started at the Glenfiddich Distillery, which was absolutely beautiful.DSC_0842_01.jpg We had a great tour of the area and learned just exactly how they make Scottish whisky. We even got to try a dram at the end!DSC_0849_01.jpgDSC_0851_01.jpg DSC_0853_01.jpgWe also visisted the MacAllan Distillery.DSC_0854_01.jpg For me, the highlight of that distillery were the Highland Cows (or Heilan Coos if you are Scottish). Such beautiful creatures!DSC_0866.jpg

We also made a quick stop at Dean's Shortbread factory. Lisa introduced me to the deliciousness of caramel shortbread -- a piece of shortbread with gooey caramel toffee and chocolate on top. Lisa and I made a point of sampling caramel shortbread from each different place we found it -- at least once a day! Yummy! We have had such a great culinary tour of Scotland tasting all sorts of Scottish cuisine. From haggis, cullen skink, minced and mash, a proper english breakfast, buttries, sausages, sticky toffee pudding, bannofee pie, steak pie, fish and chips, curry, crisps of all various assorted flavors (including prawn cocktail -- Mary's favorite) -- it has all been delicious!

On Saturday we caught the train down to Glasgow. Lisa had gone to university at the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama in Glasgow and her friends were having a mini-reunion because she was back in the country. We spent the morning exploring Glasgow. It is a really interesting town but has a totally different vibe than Edinburgh. Edinburgh seems more distinguished, elegant and cultured. Glasgow is vibrant, full of life and funky. It definitely feels like a city centered on art and music -- and a little bit on the edge.

We took a bus tour around the city and admired the architecture. DSC_0892_01.jpgThere are some amazing buildings here, and not all of them are old. Glasgow leads the way in pushing the architectural envelope. The university buildings and Kelvin Grove were amazing. I also really liked the Armadillo and the "Squinty Bridge" -- new additions to the cityscape. DSC_0885_01.jpgDSC_0889_01.jpgDSC_0897_01.jpg

We stayed with Lisa's friend Katherine in Glasgow. Claire and Mark were also there, so it felt like we were meeting up with old friends.DSC_0902_01.jpg The reunion was a lot of fun, even though Mary and I didn't know most of the people there. They were a fun bunch of people, and I enjoyed talking to them. I was the only non-music person amongst the group, but I didn't feel out of place at all. I had a great time playing photographer. I really enjoyed watching Lisa re-connect with old friends and it made me look forward to my upcoming college reunion even more. We did a mini pub crawl and ended the night with a delicious curry.

On Sunday we caught the train back to Aberdeen and met Lisa's parents at the train station. From there we headed to the Aberdeen Highland Games.DSC_0968_01.jpg It just happened that the Highland Games fell on a weekend while we were in Scotland. They were so much fun! There was just so much to look at and see, plus a real community spirit at the games. Of course the aspect of the games we as Americans are most familiar with are the heavy events. It was fun watching the big, burly guys attempt the hammer throw, the caber toss, and the weight over the bar.DSC_0964_01.jpgDSC_0969_01.jpg But there was a lot of other things going on too, including tug-o-war, drum and pipe band competitions, and a variety of Scottish dancing.DSC_0953_01.jpg It really was a great time, and just another highlight of a terrific trip to Scotland!

We spent our last day at the Wettins and in the Inverurie area. We drove up to a stone circle (think Stonehenge but much smaller) just outside of Inverurie. It was a beautiful setting, with forest and pasture surrounding this ancient circle. Apparently these types of things are scattered all throughout Scotland and England -- and you would never know they were there if you weren't looking for them.

After an amazing visit to Scotland, we were all sad to say goodbye to the Nicol family and the Wettins. We had such a great time -- it is a beautiful country with equally beautiful people. I can only hope to go back soon and often!

Posted by jenniesue 11:25 Comments (0)

Scotland

Edinburgh and the Highlands

After resting a little at the Wettins (the name of the Nicol's house -- isn't it great that they name their houses?!), we headed out for the whirlwind tour of Scotland. Thanks to Lisa and her family we were all set up with a car and places to stay everywhere we visited. First stop: Edinburgh.

Edinburgh is a beautiful city dominated by Edinburgh Castle on the hillside. Lisa's brother Mark and his wife Kelly live in Edinburgh and they were kind enough to let us stay at their fabulous flat! I absolutely loved their flat -- so cute and in a perfect location. We walked around Edinburgh and toured the castle.DSC_0609_01.jpg DSC_0611_01.jpgThe castle is really interesting. It was somewhat similar to the Salzburg Fortress that I visited in Austria. It is not just a palace, but a defensive castle that encloses an entire town. It is currently the home of the Scottish crown jewels and the Stone of Scone -- the stone used for the coronation of the Scottish monarchy. Interestingly, the Stone used to be in England, but was restored to Scotland only a few years ago. Everywhere we went in Scotland there is a sense of being separate, and yet a part of, Great Britain. Most people were very happy to share their feelings on the English (usually not so positive), and yet a poll that was taken while I was in the UK showed that only 38% of Scots wanted independence. It is a very interesting dynamic.
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We strolled along the Royal Mile and stopped for lunch at Deacon Brodie's tavern. Deacon Brodie was the inspiration for Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and is a notorious Edinburgh figure. After a great lunch of traditional Scottish cuisine we wandered along a little farther, but only for a short time because we were soon caught in a torrential downpour. We popped into the coffee shop where J. K. Rowling wrote the Harry Potter stories and had a cup of coffee. After the rain subsided (a little bit, anyways) we strolled into St. Giles Cathedral, a beautiful cathedral.DSC_0596_01.jpg We also stopped to admire the striking and very controversial Parliament building. I thought it was an interesting architectural building and blended well with the hillside behind, but apparently many Scots do not like the modern building taking a place of prominence on the historic Royal Mile. After getting caught in the rain (again), we headed back to Mark and Kelly's for a great curry dinner.

The next day we headed out towards the Highlands. We stopped off in Stirling to tour the Stirling Castle, the former home of Mary Queen of Scots.DSC_0660_01.jpg DSC_0672_01.jpgI really liked the tapestries at the castle. They have a tapestry center that is dedicated to reproducing the Unicorn Tapestries, a series of seven large tapestries from the 15th century.DSC_0668_01.jpg The original tapestries are in New York, at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. We listened to a talk from one of the weavers working on the project. They work is incredibly slow and all done by hand and with the most historic accuracy possible. The entire project will take over 11 years -- incredible.

In Stirling, we also admired the Wallace Monument, a tall memorial to William Wallace, made famous to us Americans in Braveheart. According to our Scottish friends, the film was pretty much fictional without a lot of historical accuracy. But it did have the effect of increasing interest in Scotland around the world. DSC_0678_01.jpgWe drove up to the Highlands, where much of the filming for Braveheart was done. It was a beautiful day and the scenery was amazing. We drove through the Glencoe area -- a stunning mountainous area with deep green valleys and bright blue lakes.DSC_0685_01.jpg We also drove by Ben Nevis, the tallest mountain in the British Isles and Glen Nevis, the valley underneath the mountain. DSC_0693_01.jpgReally, really beautiful. This is the area that was used in filming many different films -- Braveheart, Rob Roy, and several of the Harry Potter films. It also inspired the landscape for J.R.R. Tolkein's Ring Trilogy. And it is easy to see why. Our destination was just outside of Fort William where we would be staying with Claire and Mark, friends of Lisa's from university.
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We had a great time staying with Claire and Mark. Everywhere we have visited we have been overcome with Scottish hospitality. People who have never met us before have taken us in and treated us like long lost friends. We had such a good time visiting with Claire and Mark and their daughter Chloe. We spent both nights staying up way too late drinking beer and discussing history, politics, music, etc. We drove up to Mallaig, a pretty coastal town that is one of the jumping off points for the Isle of Skye. Along the way we stopped to watch the Jacobite steam train (also known as the Harry Potter train) go over the famous Glenfinnan viaduct.DSC_0711_01.jpg DSC_0719_01.jpgThis is a famous site to anyone who is familiar with the Harry Potter movies -- and as Mary is a fanatic, it was a must. We also had a great time climbing up the Bonny Prince Charlie monument at Glenfinnan -- even though we almost got stuck in the tiny hatch door and it was pouring down rain!DSC_0725_01.jpg

The next day we left Fort William and headed up towards Inverness, driving a good distance along Loch Lochy and Loch Ness.DSC_0772_01.jpg We searched long and hard for the Loch Ness Monster, especially after hearing Claire's parents version of their actual sighting (totally normal, well adjusted people who are absolutely convinced of what they saw), but alas we saw nothing unusual. We did make a soggy stop in Fort Augustus to admire a flotilla of boats making their way through the Caledonian canals. This year is the Homecoming Scotland celebration -- a yearlong event to encourage people with Scottish heritage throughout the world to revisit their roots in Scotland. The boat parade through the canals and locks was part of the Homecoming celebration. It was interesting to see the series of locks needed to guide boats through the various lakes and canals. We also got to see a swing bridge in action -- rather than drawbridges, the bridges swing sideways out of the way to allow boats to pass.
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The weather cleared and the sunshine came out with perfect timing -- a tour of Urquhart Castle. The ruins of this castle sit hauntingly on the side of Loch Ness. It was fun to explore the castle remains, and the views were gorgeous with blue sky, blue lake, green hills and grey stone.

Posted by jenniesue 11:25 Comments (0)

Scotland

Inverurie and the Wettins!

After an 8 hour ferry ride from Santorini to Athens, two flights and several metro rides, I arrived in Aberdeen, Scotland. When I first started planning my trip, I wanted to visit Scotland while my friend Lisa was here visiting her family. Lisa is one of my closest friends from Corpus Christi and grew up outside of Aberdeen. Mary, another close friend decided she wanted to come too. We have been planning this part of the trip since February -- when I officially decided to go traveling. This is one of the segments of my trip that I have most been looking forward too. Partly because I have always wanted to visit Scotland and England, but mainly because I will get to spend time with great friends that I have really missed since being away.
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We kicked off the Scotland portion of the trip in the proper way -- in a pub! We all flew into Aberdeen within a couple of hours of each other, so we just planned to meet up at the airport pub before we met Lisa's family. Nothing like drinking a pint at 11 a.m. in a full pub -- welcome to Scotland! Lisa's family was absolutely wonderful. They were so good to us and spoiled us rotten. They were constantly feeding us or handing us another drink. It felt almost exactly like being at home! After travelling for almost 3 months and staying in hostels and hotels, it was really nice to feel like I was with family. The Nicol's (Keith and Diana) were wonderful hosts -- so good that Mary and I threatened to move in permanently!

Lisa's hometown of Inverurie is absolutely beautiful. Exactly how I would have pictured a Scottish village before I came here. All of the houses are made out of stone and granite, and the entire town takes just a few minutes to walk around. Plus everyone knows everyone else! Everywhere we went Lisa ran into old friends and classmates. Our first night in Inverurie we were introduced to Jocks -- Keith's local pub. By the end of our week in Inverurie, we had ran into several people we met in the pub at least 2 or 3 times. It was great fun and we were definitely the entertainment!

Scotland is amazingly beautiful. Rolling green hills dotted with stones houses and stone fences, cows and sheep grazing -- totally idyllic. Our first full day in Scotland we drove up to Balmoral, the Queen's official residence in Scotland. DSC_0507_01.jpgDSC_0519_01.jpgSince she wasn't in, we were able to take a tour. It is a beautiful castle in a beautiful setting. The highlight was a cricket game going on at the castle's cricket pitch. We watched to try and figure out what was going on, but all I could decipher was that it must not be that challenging because half of the players (and officials) were drinking heavily while playing. We also stopped off in Ballater, a very quaint village near Balmoral, for high tea. It seems that we spent most of our time in Scotland either drinking tea or a pint! (And going to the bathroom every 10 minutes....)DSC_0530_01.jpg
I enjoyed the drive admiring the scenery as much as I enjoyed touring the castle. Just absolutely beautiful! I think of all the places I have visited on this trip, Scotland and Switzerland have the most amazing landscapes.

We spent the next day in the countryside around Inverurie. We hiked up Bennachie, the tallest mountain (hill?) around. It was a great day for a hike and the scenery was stunning.DSC_0552_01.jpg DSC_0571_01.jpgThat night we enjoyed dinner with the entire Nicol gang -- Keith and Diana, Lisa's brother Mark and his wife Kelly, and Lisa's brother Darren. It was so fun to meet them all and get to know them. Plus of course we can't forget Buzz!DSC_0979_01.jpg We also really enjoyed meeting Lisa's Nana and Granda, and her Uncle, Aunt and cousins.DSC_0985_01.jpg They all made us feel so welcomed!

Posted by jenniesue 01:59 Comments (0)

Greece

Naxos and Santorini

Ahhhhhh, the Greek Isles! Need I say more?
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When I first started planning my trip, I knew that I wanted to go to Greece, mainly to see Athens and all the historical sights. I also knew that travelling for 4 months was not going to be easy, and that I would need to schedule some down time into my trip. So I decided a week in the Greek Isles was a great way to relax!

From Athens I caught the ferry to Naxos. At first I wasn't sure which islands I was going to go to. I knew I wanted to go to Santorini, but I wanted to see another island or two also. Managing ferry schedules and hotels is actually pretty difficult on your own (ferries change weekly, sometimes daily), so there are a lot of travel agencies to help you figure it out. The travel agent I went to suggested going to Naxos, an island close to Santorini (both are part of the Cyclades island group) but completely different than Santorini. DSC_0342_2.jpgDSC_0331_2.jpgIs was a beautiful island, and really quite big. It would take a long time to explore the whole island. Most of the inland area is not inhabited -- either dry brush or farmland. I didn't rent a car, but I did take the bus around the west coast of the island. The beaches in Naxos were great -- considered some of the best in the Cyclades. And there really weren't that many people out on the beaches. Naxos is not nearly as popular with tourists as Santorini and Mykonos. I spent a great day laying on the beach, swimming in the turquoise waters of the aegean and soaking up the sun. The girls from LA that I met in Athens recommended a restaurant overlooking one of the beaches and I had a wonderful dinner there. Sitting overlooking the sea and the beach, eating shrimp and olives and sipping ouzo -- this is the life!DSC_0337_2.jpg

I spent part of my time exploring Naxos town, the main town on the island. It is situated around a harbor and winds its way up the hillside. The buildings here are just so beautiful -- whitewashed, blue domed, cubist -- exactly what I was imaging when I pictured Greece. Lots of beautiful old pedestrian streets forming a maze through the old town. I really enjoyed just walking around the town. I had heard that tourism in Greece is way down this year due to the financial crisis and less people traveling. Unfortunately for Greece, tourism is their main industry. I did notice plenty of shops and restaurants that looked like they recently went out of business. I couldn't help but wonder if this is a normal process in a tourist driven economy, or if it was worse because of the global financial conditions. I met a couple of female high school students who were studying for their exams. It was fun talking to them and I learned a lot about the island. They are hoping to become engineers and move to Athens. They both said that life on Naxos is driven by tourism, and that line of work is too uncertain for them. They said that most people have to earn their entire living in 3 months, and if for some reason it doesn't happen, you really don't have much to fall back on. I was glad I spent a couple of days in Naxos because it gave me a much different perspective than Santorini.DSC_0466_2.jpgDSC_0421_2.jpg

Santorini was absolutely beautiful! This is the island everyone thinks of when they think of the Greek Isles -- stunning cliffs with buildings built into the hillside, towns dotting the top of the caldera rim, donkeys carrying people up the long staircases. It really was incredible. DSC_0414_2.jpgI spent 5 days in Santorini and it was so nice to just be in one place and relax for a little while. It was really quite hot already and I can only imagine how hot it would be in August! I spent most of every day lying by the pool reading a book, then walked around some of the towns each night.
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Santorini is incredible because most of the island is situated on the rim of a volcano caldera. DSC_0392_2.jpgThe volcano exploded thousands of years ago and water rushed into the caldera creating the dramatic landscape. Some historians believe that Santorini was the mythical Atlantis before the volcano exploded. Fira is the main town and is basically just a tourist destination now. Multiple cruise ships stop in the port every day and the streets are filled with people wanting to spend their money. I stayed in the town of Imerovigli, a short 20 minute hike along the caldera rim from Fira.DSC_0468_2.jpg The town I stayed in was mainly residential and only had a couple of restaurants and shops. It was perfect -- quiet but still close to everything. I spent a day exploring the island and visited Oia and Kamari. But of all the towns, Imerovigli was by far my favorite. I had a wonderfully peaceful, relaxing week!DSC_0427_2.jpg

Posted by jenniesue 03:54 Comments (0)

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