The Outlander Effect on Historic Sites: Careful How You Tread

skye3Last travel season I hit up tours in Scotland and traveled the Bonnie Prince Charlie trail as much as I humanly could on a three week trip. Let’s face it, as filming continues on the fourth season of Outlander, the hit book and television series from Diana Gabaldon’s famous book series, there are many film locations across Scotland, Prague, and South Africa. Enthusiastic fans of both the books and the television series have traveled in epic numbers to reach Scotland, Prague in the Czech Republic, and may be doing so in South Africa. So, what does huge traffic and a huge amount of filming locations to track down mean for travelers, and the environment they trample on? It means Scotland needs to figure out how it will continue to handle the increased human traffic in its borders. Each historic site has seen large increases over the last three years due to the popularity of the series and films.

Outlander Filming Locations and Travel Table

Respect
When people travel, they have certain expectations of where they are going. We want accessibility and that the location looks like it does in brochures and travel books. It will never look quite like it did in the film, series, or travel book you bought. When filming takes place, areas are blocked off, and dressed for scenes. It can also be exhilarating and frustrating to fans who traveled to hunt down their favorite series, to get a glimpse of behind the scenes or be close to a star, but escorted off the property. Film crews are trying to work and bring you your favorite show. The instant gratification of selfies and pictures while filming have made some fans go to extremes to get pictures. Everyone becomes a Paparazzi. Producers and studios want to keep the element of surprise for the audience, keep that storytelling secret for the reveal. This can lead to some conflicts. Hopefully as a traveller, you can help promote responsible observance and help keep the area picked up.

To add to it, the popularity of film and TV series like Outlander have lead to fans picnicking and causing erosion at historic sites such as Culloden Moor. At the Fraser stone alone, damage has been done due to trampling and it will now have to go through restoration of the surrounding soil to restore the erosion caused by multitudes of fans coupled with extreme weather. Let us not forget, this site has historic mass graves. Those that have fallen are due respect. Leaving tokens causes more work for the grounds staff.

Embrace Balance
When you are a guest in another country, or any historic site, you should always think about leaving it the way it was when you found it. As a society, we like to collect and grab things for remembrance. People also bring in things as tribute, and the curators then have to dispose of hundreds of items. Just think about how you might feel if something was defaced or trampled on and you could not enjoy it when you arrived.

Clan Fraser grave at Culloden damaged amid ‘Outlander effect’

NTS Applies to Extend Culloden Centre Hours

You should always check with a historic site if something is going on that day, or at the very least check out the local papers. Most historic sites have a web page with current conditions and closures listed. However, these may not get updated frequently. Face it, Scotland is now an ever increasing hotspot for film and television. There are websites for local papers and they love to cover filming and will tell you if filming is in the city, such as Glasgow, and what streets are blocked off. Also, go in mind that no matter how much perfect vacation planning you do, something is going to be blocked or not working at one of the places you really wanted to see. Adapt.

Channel 4 Bid for Glasgow

Budget and Transport
How can you get to cram in as many sites for filming a series as possible in a two week span and not blow what little budget you have? Could you do less damage and annoyance to the environment or any landowners if you took buses or bikes to a local site, and not hired a car? Face it, Outlander is an example of massive amounts of filming locations, spread all over Scotland, and some of them only accessible by car. Or are they? On my trips I was only able to make it to a fraction of the sites I could hunt down. I made it to several S1 and S2 sites, and then continued on the Bonnie Prince Charlie. How can you cram it all in? Some Outlander and Game of Throne tours will get you to many of the locations, but are expensive tours and booked very solid, months in advance. Make a list of the sites and find out how to get there on your own.

Roaming Rights in Scotland
Scotland has roaming rights. What that means in a nutshell, is that the public has the right to go to public historic sites without access being denied. Unless a historic site has hired itself out to be filmed in and is shut to the public. There are many historically significant buildings and sites that are on private land, or you may have to cross private land to get to it. Enter these at your own risk, property that has agriculture going on, many of these are adjacent to working farms. Private residences are not right to roam, even though a deer path may go through it. If filming is going on, and you are blocked, or you want to see the filming and think you can get around another way, watch it. Guards are posted and can make you leave.

Too Many Filming Locations
The best way to get to most of the filming locations is by car and hiking in. Problem is rental cars in the UK and Ireland are very cost prohibitive unless you are traveling with a group. Group tours can be expensive as well. Many of these sites are not happy with the excessive car parking, people damage, and noise occurring. So, is it possible to see these filming sites via train, bus and walking a bit? Yes and no.

On my last two trips, I divided up what I could according to the larger cities I visited, Glasgow and Edinburgh. I went two summers and still came back and had only seen a fraction of what there is being filmed in. To get in more sites and manage the traveling better, I started compiling a locations and places table in a Google Doc, with public transit accessible sites. I will be making this accessible to you, my fellow traveler. It’s a work in progress, so if you have had some good or bad experiences with public transit and Outlander sites, send me a line so I can add your info to the table.

It is possible to see many of these sites, if you plan around the larger cities and take trips in sections. Hiring a specialised tour will help, but you can get to many of these sites with planning and not be on a tour timetable.

Outlander Filming Locations

Outlander Travel Itinerary

Bonnie Prince Charlie Trail

Season Five Revealed for Outlander

http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-scotland-highlands-islands-44059430

Outlander Effect on Blocking Development at Culloden Site

 

Glasgow Botanics: Spring Blues Cure All

IMG_0877

A Celtic Muse

It’s slowly crawling towards spring, but you know that last stretch seems to be a huge hill to climb. Especially with this past winter, Scotland has had record snows and storms.It’s a great time if it’s safe to do so, to seek out a place where you can get a tropic feel without having to fly. Whether you are visiting Glasgow or a seasoned resident, having a bit of green during the dreary grey and white filled months, that seem to include Spring, will help those with the doldrums spring. If you find your Seasonal Affective Disorder won’t let go, Glasgow has answers.

IMG_0880

Two of the best indoor flora venues are in this town, The Glasgow Botanics Gardens Kibble Palace and the smaller Winter Gardens, and the People’s Palace at the Glasgow Green. Both feature classic Victorian Green Houses and are free to the public, but if you have a fiver, please donate at these free venues and any other museum in the city. It all helps to give you a cheer when you have the grey throughout.

IMG_0879

Glasgow Botanic Gardens

730, Great Western Road Glasgow G12 OUE Tel:0141 276 1614 Open from 7am until Dusk Every Day, Glass Houses Until 6pm, 4:15 in Winter.

Easily accessible by public transportation, near the Hillhead Underground stop, and off the Great Western Road with plenty of bus access. It’s close to the West End and Glasgow University grounds and has great access to fabulous food and other activities in the area. The Heritage walk encompases the exterior gardens off the Kelvin River and links up with the Kelvin walkways. A great way to add to a day of walking the parks in this very walkable town.

IMG_0878

The Kibble Palace is a Victorian Glass House Arboretum that was founded in 1817 by Thomas Hopkirk, and was part of the university in its early days. The gardens began in another location closer to campus, offering support and the teaching of botanics to students. The current site has been in use since 1839, and has a grouping of large glass structures that house several collections of specimens from around the world. The palace houses the main collections, with several other glass structures surrounding it. Glass houses mean protection from the elements for the many plants that are tropic, and this means a great out of the elements exploration for you.

Each greenhouse features different world plant zones, from the tropics to the deserts of the world. There are plants from all of the continents. My favorite is the collection of Carnivorous plants, and any fun Orchid that is dangling. Every inch imaginable is packed with plants. There is even a seed exchange or purchase, but you’ll have to go soon, they are only available until about mid April.

Kelvin Walkway

Maps Courtesy Walk Highlands

The Kelvin Walkway extends the West Highland Way walking trails into the city proper, going through Minlgavie. This a nice river walk/hike that goes through the city and lets you pop up in several neighborhoods. The full pathways route is a good 17 Km. Keep an eye out for blocked access as some of the stairs are under repair and it may be a few streets before you can exit. You can walk portions of the river walkways and come up to view attractions or neighborhoods, there are great eats in the West End. You can start the full walk from the Riverside Museum and do the Botanics and other attractions along the way. Mind the midges.

The Gregory: Belfast Accommodations

IMG_0705The Gregory Bed and Breakfast, Belfast Northern Ireland

30 Eglantine Avenue, Belfast, BT9 6DX, United Kingdom ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ £ £ £ Moderate

One of the best, most comfortable accommodations I had on this last trip was The Gregory in Belfast. I had a quick 48 hour stay and needed a safe place to stay and be able to walk or bus from where I was. I found a place in a great neighborhood by the university, and plenty of local entertainment, including The Cuckoo club around the corner, owned by a GOT alum (Nairn). IMG_0706

I was going on a great tour for one of my days on the trip, a Game of Thrones Tour that would encompass one whole day. I needed a safe, quiet space to rest from travel and get plenty of sleep the night before. This was just the place. Large, spacious room, good flooring and carpet. The decor was not too loud, fairly neutral. The bathroom was very good, plenty of room to turn around in. The heaters were great, yeah summer in Northern Ireland. The bed was very comfortable, one of the few I didn’t have to use the duvet as padding for. The meals in the restaurant were okay for breakfast, accommodating for early departures if you order the breakfast.

IMG_0707.jpgThe shower was well kept and the at the source heater worked well with a good flow. My room faced the back, with a side window that looked on a nice red brick next to the hotel with a good garden space. The restaurant was very accommodating in the am for early departure on tour.

Local food was very good, being by Queen’s University there were plenty of restaurants to choose from and since school was out for the summer, seating was quick. Remember student restaurants equals great foodie fun and portions. Not all are equal so check the local apps and Yelp.com for reviews. I ate at Molly’s Yard with a huge curry chips I could never finish.IMG_0708

Great price for the comfort, private and crashable after a day long tour. Would definitely stay again.

If you have more time, take the Art Walk Tours of the political murals and community murals in Belfast. Great insight to the wonderful city and it’s history.

Links

https://irishtourtickets.com/game-of-thrones-tour-from-belfast/

Belfast Blast: 48 Hours in Belfast, Northern Ireland

IMG_0707.jpg

The Best Laid Schemes: Money Matters While Traveling

_68928386_461janeaustenconceptimage

Update March 10, 2018

It is with chagrin that I write this. It has been a few months since my Ireland and Scotland trip. And what I came back to certainly wasn’t fun. Last year I wrote about being careful while traveling, especially where money and safety is concerned. I had two incidents happen to me while traveling, even though I was vigilant and had planned well in advance, was always on guard. One of the big drawbacks of traveling alone, you don’t have a mate to watch your back. You spend a great deal of time watching every corner, when really you want to be watching the sights. How do you tour and enjoy sights while not being targeted is the big question. And even when you plan, you can still get swiped.

In my last article I wrote about how to carry your money, do money belts really work, how hard was it to travel with cash or money. This most recent trip I had gathered up and taken some cash from the UK and Ireland, Pounds and Euros. I kept a certain amount for both on or locked in safes in places I stayed. I only carried small amounts of cash and guarded my concealed chip card fiercely. I still had incidents. I didn’t want to have to access ATMS or anything that would be compromised unless I needed to. Best laid schemes and all.

Cash

Cash is always good to have, especially when you have a desire to not collect chip card fees. It is also a bit of a burden while traveling. You can keep large amounts of cash, but it’s not usually a good idea. Even with a lockable case, or if you are lucky, a hotel room with a safe, you shouldn’t have large amounts on your person as you are making yourself a target. So, I had to decide what the cash budget for a day would be, try to keep that very low, conceal it, stuff a fiver or a tenner in the key pocket of the Levis for cash items, the rest was prepaid travel card. I didn’t want to have to access foreign exchanges too often, there were always fees involved. Card use depended on using for food at restaurants mainly, and I tried to keep that down because fees may be charged again. They may seem minimal, but usage fees can total over £ 50.00 by the end of your trip, and if you are limited to currency because your card company won’t do two or more currencies to your card, you will get exchange fees. So budget £ 5-8.00 for a day if using one for the extra fees.

For the most part, money belts do work, especially if you get a low profile one that you can sling low and hide in jeans it’s not quite as obvious. Cloth money belt may be more desirable due to heat and moisture, but one with internal pockets.

I carried my cash from town to town and through airports using a money belt. Problem was they made me take it off and put in the bins during boarding. This was extremely nerve wracking as it was out of sight and I had to keep chasing down the bin and keep track of everything else as well. The money belt worked otherwise for the most part, I found it was better while traveling on trains. So, even though the belt was made to not trigger alarms at the airport, they still found it. Concealed card holders usually make it through if there is not a metal snap. Better to wait and get the cash there after you arrive.

Backpacks

Most of the cities you will tour are filled with students, and backpacks are the norm. You also want to be able to meet and greet locals and get a feel for a place. You should be able to just talk to anyone, right? But you always have to think the most affable could be sizing you up. Pickpockets have been in the trade for over a thousand years. And they have gotten more sophisticated than you think, think super spy.

If you are touring and doing serious backpacking with a kit and this is your mode for travel as well, you will probably want to take a smaller low profile version along for town day excursions. Back packs are magnets for a lift or slash. If you are touring and need to do several hours away from hotel or other lodging, purses and such are not a good thing. Too easy to slash and grab. You can buy modified purse/backpacks with reinforced straps, but the best thing to do is buy very small back packs with low profile or lockable zippers. While some thieves will still slash a bag, many are subtle and will unzip while standing next to you and you are distracted by the sights or your companions. Be wary of who is next to or near you.

I purchased a very low profile, small backpack that really sat against my body. It had hidden, recessed zippers and a compartment for my iPad. However, with careful planning I still was almost a victim. While in Dublin in large crowds, apparently someone went for my iPad. The recessed zippers hadn’t mattered. I had barely noticed the jostle and almost forgot it all together until two young girls came up and said that my pack was open and looked like a grab had happened. I checked everything and luckily the would be thief had not made off with the iPad, or any other valuable item like the passport. The girls said it happened a lot in the area. So, whenever possible, practice looking tragically hip while guarding your backpack, especially in the Temple Bar area.

Cash Card

I went with a cash card again on this trip. However, I did bring my ATM card as a backup if it got stolen. Big mistake. I had been really vigilant about getting cash. I was trying not to use the chip travel card to get cash, wasn’t sure how safe it would be. If I needed cash I went directly to accredited money exchangers after checking Yelp for reviews, and in some UK Post Offices you can use their exchange. I figured if you got a receipt and if they are a chain, you have some recompense if there is a problem. However, depending on remote locations, sometimes the card wouldn’t work for buying meals and such, being WiFi processing dependent. I was doing really well with managing the money, and really thought I had done okay until I got back to the US and found my checking account had been cleared out. The bank got me the records and after contacting Scotland Police by email, I began looking at a trail of how my account was cleared out. It appears the one time I got desperate for cash on a tour, I used a small stand alone ATM at a petrol station. Bad idea. A card skimmer had been attached and as I looked at records, I followed a parallel track to my travels, going through the Highlands and into Edinburgh, the same days I was there for Fringe Festival. Lesson learned, don’t bring anything attached to your bank account and use it to access funds.

Credit Cards

When traveling we often use our credit cards, they usually can be replaced when lost or stolen while traveling if your card is supported internationally. Just be prepared for the the foreign transaction fees. Check with your bank about their rates of exchange before you go. Always plan in your budget for the fees that will hit you when you return. Depending on your countries of travel, you may want to have a card that is with one of the major card companies, Visa or Master Card. Virgin Money is still only available in UK, Europe and Australia.However, the interest rates are terrible. Use credit card sparingly and use the prepaid card for food and expenses.

Large card companies will have the best infrastructure to wire money or replace card overnight in some countries. Travel cards that you preload can be advantageous, but will also accrue per use fees, and if you return and still have money on them, you may get charged monthly fees as well. Close out your cards when you return unless you plan to travel within a year. Contact your card holder for details. I went with Travelex again and for the most part they worked, but the cards were not the latest processing cards and some of the newer chip readers had trouble with them. If you bring your card, make sure you know about any emergency limits. If you have a medical issue in another country, your personal insurance will not cover most expenses. You should buy travel insurance for your trip, make sure that there are allowances for transport fees (ambulance) included. Your credit card will help get you in the door of a medical facility, and you will have to work with the travel insurance later. Pay as you go cards may not be accepted at Casualty rooms.

Travel Cards

I had a Travelex card which is a UK card. Coming from the US, I was told I could only purchase one currency. While in the UK and EU countries, there are cards that allow you multiple currencies on the card. Research this before you go as new card services are popping up, exchange rates will always accrue.

American Express is not accepted by most merchants, if any in the UK and Ireland.

Piece of Mind

There are no guarantees in travel. For the most part, if you have companions you can look out for one another. If you are the single traveler, you have to be even more prepared to be a target. Think about what you really need to do, and do you really need more money in cash. I didn’t want all my eggs in one basket. Even though the travel card was supposed to be the best option, I was concerned about if it got stolen, and considerations about tracking and stopping the old card going to get me refunded funds or were they truly lost. The company claimed it would refund me, but I had my doubts. So, when shopping for your travel cards, research well in advance and talk to them about all their policies. Look at their online interface and see if you think you will be able to access while abroad, or if they have an app for your smart phone. Research through articles and see which cards are performing the best, and in which countries. I found the online web interface really difficult to get to with Travelex. Their app was easy for daily monitoring and topping up.

Travel Insurance

This is a mixed bag, but  one you really should consider. While you travel within your state of residence, if you are an American, and don’t have single payer insurance like other countries (Canada, UK, EU Countries) just going out of state can be bad, you could possibly face huge expenses if while on that great trip to the Grand Canyon, you fall an break your arm, or worse, get in a car accident in the rental. Just image the expense overseas. While you can pick up insurance renting a car, it very rarely will cover whatever you manage to damage the car with, or yourself. If you are traveling abroad, when you leave domestic air or cross the border into Canada or Mexico, your insurance will not cover you. So, how do you find medical insurance that really travels with you? You will need to look at travel insurance before you go, and sometimes that is really not going to cover what you think it will cover. And read the fine print.

On this last trip I booked through JustFly.com and added on their comprehensive insurance. My main concerns were: Ambulance and Air Ambulance fees coverage, as flights like this start at $5k to get you to hospital and any other fees they will tack on. I was going through the highlands on tours and well, didn’t want to end up being pulled out of a ditch with no way to pay for it. What considerations must you make? How much to buy this type of insurance? My suggestion is, buy 2 insurance packages. Why? Well, just like your regular health insurance coverage, there are deductibles and such for your domestic regular coverage. You need to make sure that you are covered for something catastrophic. Most serious hospital stays and operations can add up to the price of a house, say up to $300k for hospital and and surgeries. Add on the fees for ambulance and any other transport or transfers fees, and you could become bankrupt.

It’s really frustrating to have to think of terrible things happening on vacation, but they do all of the time. It’s better to have the piece of mind. But what can you afford? The basic travel and flight insurance I got, covered flight cancellations, luggage loss, medical coverage, transport coverage. The cost was $60.00 for three weeks coverage. The amounts covered seemed to cover what fees might be for the services, and yes I had looked up random information on average out of pocket expenses in Europe for hospitals. In the EU there is some coverage for this, but their are always situations where if you are coming from Ireland and traveling to France, their are agreements for insurance coverage. And still there will be things not covered. But if you are not from the EU, it will all be out of pocket. Research what policies you should have to cover you if you are traveling to Australia, for example. I now believe I should have had two policies. I should have bought another policy as a back up for what was not covered in the one I got. Insurance companies will always try to not pay out on what it looks like they are covering, it’s part of the industry. Your situation is possibly going to be one they deny coverage on. So, having another plan from another carrier, and one that covers   accidental death is a must. You may have a life insurance policy, but that can even have snags that your loved ones don’t want to come up against. Bringing back a body from overseas is very expensive and customs makes it very difficult. You don’t need the huge fees on top of an already distressing situation for your family. Buying an additional policy may be another $60.00. It’s an expense that you will have to write off.

For more research and making this very important decision, check this review site out:

Travel https://www.reviews.com/travel-insurance/

Medical https://www.reviews.com/travel-insurance/medical/

Hotel Safes

You can shop for accommodations that have a room safe. While you are looking for accommodations on a travel website, contact the accommodation and see if they have room safes. These usually rely on a code that you set yourself, however there are a few locking types which means you have another key to keep track of. In days of old when you traveled, you could rely on a main hotel safe for passports, etc. Try to avoid them. You have no guarantee that the employees won’t skim your funds or access your passport.

UK and EU Travel Cards Information and Articles

https://www.moneysavingexpert.com/credit-cards/travel-credit-cards

https://www.moneyadviceservice.org.uk/en/articles/travel-money-options-cash-cards-and-travellers-cheques#using-pre-paid-cards-abroad

http://www.wisebread.com/travel-and-money-using-prepaid-travel-cards

UK Residents http://www.holidayextras.co.uk/travel-money-card.html

https://www.what-prepaid-card.co.uk

Cards

Travelex

Check if you can have multiple currencies https://www.travelex.com/travel-money-card

Visa Prepaids from Visa Partners https://usa.visa.com/pay-with-visa/cards/card-finder/prepaid-finder-page.html

Virgin https://uk.virginmoney.com/virgin/travel-prepaid-card/index.jsp

 

Travel by Train, It Makes Sense

virginWhen traveling in another country, you may not have the luxury of taking a car and just going. Cars can be rented, but can be more costly in the UK and Europe to rent and run. Of course you can have fun driving on the left side of the road, or maybe find a place in Germany that rents American Muscle Cars and drive the Autobahn (always a bucket list item). Trouble is that renting a motorcar in the UK or Europe is very expensive and you may return from your trip with additional costs for a slight car ding ranging in the £€ 1,000.00 2,000.00 range. Yes, even if you buy insurance, there will be some additional costs, and petrol is very high in Europe. So often a train ride is a better option. And trains can be fun, especially if you can get on a historic one. Many of the train options are for diesel or electric and some are well cared for, and some are not. But you need to get where you are going, and travel bus is not for everyone.

Scotland

Hogwarts Express – Scotland The Jacobite Express First Class £ 59.00 £ 35.00 standard return.

http://www.westcoastrailways.co.uk/

This iconic train is booked well in advance as you can imagine. I couldn’t get it for my dates. If you are a train lover, start planning your vacation around the trains and trips months in advance. This train encompasses the Glenfinnan viaduct, Arisaig, Mallaig, Fort William areas and is a great trip across the Highlands and on a clear day you can see many of the islands from the shores. Their’s full tea service as well, and you know how fun it is to take tea on a classic train.

If you want to see Hogwart’s locations, head to University of Glasgow, and Edinburgh’s streets.

The Flying Scotsman

http://www.flyingscotsman.org.uk/ Site is very image intensive

To book, go to this site http://www.railwaytouring.net/

This train recently started touring again and has been quite a hit. However there was a performance safety issue this last season and you need to check if it is running again on the http://www.railwaytouring.net/ site. It’s a classic good run on a restored train, so keep an  eye out while you make your tour plans this season to see if you can catch a ride.

Scotrail

Luckily, Scotrail was not on strike action this season, like it had been the summer before. The trains had showed it and I had been rerouted by bus at least once on that trip. This trip, 2017, was smooth sailing, except when I was stranded in Kyle of Lochalsh due to rocks falling on the tracks for 2 hours with a cancelled train. The rest of the trip, the trains ran on time for the most part and were cleaner than the previous year. Of course going through the Highlands is always breathtaking so it was worth the trip. Great conversations with fellow travelers.

Virgin Trains The Highland Chieftain

On my final rail around the Highlands for the 2017 tour, I got a real sweet deal on Virgin Trains for a first class in the quiet car at just a few pounds more than 2nd class. A bump of £ 4.00 per seat got me on a single side seat facing the Eastern Coast of Scotland down to Edinburgh. Very smooth ride and great scenery of Stirling and all places in between. It was a bittersweet farewell to the Highlands, but a really fabulous experience. If you time your ticket right, in the middle of the week and mid to late morning, the price is fair. The only problem was one car had no WiFi working or any of the charging ports for phones and people kept coming into our car. It wasn’t really a problem as it was half full and you get to meet more people that way. Wait, it was supposed to be a quiet car, right? But most were pretty good about it. A very good trip all round on that one.

Ireland € 16.00 -30.00

Irish Rail http://www.irishrail.ie/

Traveling in Ireland this summer I spent time on some very clean trains that kept good time. I was lucky on the two trips I had to make, plenty of room and easy storage for my cases, cars were clean and comfortable. I had booked a month in advance and got very good pricing. It was under € 20.00 to get to Galway and the return trip on to Belfast was under € 30.00. Considering the high cost of being in Dublin for 4 days, it was helpful on the budget to get the tickets in advance and pick up at the kiosks. Smooth rides on both trips.

The trip to Galway was filled with amazing green fields, passing through Athlone, the true countryside of Ireland. And there is a reason it’s called the Emerald Isle, it’s amazingly green even in the high summer. It was a record high temperature week when I was there, but the trains were comfortable and clean. Conversation was good, and trains always provide an opportunity to talk with local people about where they live and what is going on in their lives. And the Irish love to talk about their lives and where they live, and great deal about politics

But Can the Train Get Me to Where I Want to Go?

In some cases, you can take trains to some of the national parks in countries, or take a link ride with a bus. Sadly this will cut into some of your travel time and limit some places you can get to. If you have a car you can tour the Highlands for better access, get closer to a Munro for that great climb. However cars make you take on big responsibilities in other countries. Please take the time to familiarize yourself with the country’s driving laws and customs for driving country roads. Many tourists do not get the right of way on one lanes in Scotland and the rest of the UK much to the chagrin of locals. When in doubt, always err on the side of letting others pass. Then there are the smaller roads like coffin roads on some of the isles. You can get really lost on an island. In many cases, such as Isle of Skye, too many tourists are renting cars and not parking with care. Skye is boggy and loamy right off the road and if you get in the mire, the car will sink. Getting it pulled is very costly.

Walking and Hiking Tours

Really want to tour the countries and get to know them? Then walking tours and climbing in parks may be your best bet. Many of these can be accessed by public transport and many back packers go this route. It can take a bit longer to get somewhere, but is well worth it. Try joining some of the hiking and walking boards for the country you are visiting. You can check on the best climbs for a novice or find out about roadworks and diversions for trails. Most large cities like Dublin and Glasgow have rail to bus link services, it will take more time but it can be done.

https://www.walkhighlands.co.uk/

http://www.theirelandwalkingguide.com/

http://www.walkingbritain.co.uk/

Train Touring Companies

http://www.railwaytouring.net/

https://www.vacationsbyrail.com/europe/ireland

https://www.steamtrainsireland.com/whats-on

Irish Rail Strikes

http://www.irishmirror.ie/news/irish-news/every-public-transport-disruption-you-11419344

 

Belfast Blast: 48 Hours in Belfast, Northern Ireland

titanic

Belfast is a historically diverse and eclectic city. It’s historically one of the biggest shipbuilding behemoths of Europe, home of the shipyards that built the Titanic, the most tragic and beautifully engineered ships of a bygone era. Belfast has had it’s political upheavals, but now is a blossoming, burgeoning city with a huge tourist industry. And food and entertainment to match. It’s hard to choose a place to eat or drink, there are so many choices.

My decision to visit this amazing gem on the north of the island of Ireland was influenced by history and great beauty, and a fangirl urge. I wanted to see where the Titanic was built and experience some of the natural wonders of Northern Ireland I had seen in books and in one of my favorite television productions, Game of Thrones®. So after my tempestuous visit to Galway, I headed to the northern country for a 48 hour period of history and a locations tour of the countryside where filming took place. What an adventure.

Titanic Museum and SS Nomadic

I got of the train and settled in quick. It was a clear, puffy clouded day with long daylight hours of summer. I had only 48 hours in this town and had to get in as much legwork and sites as I possibly could. I hopped a taxi to the Titanic Museum on the shipyard docks to check out this architectural wonder and museum exhibit center. The building alone is worth a tour and crowns the historical docs that have built many a sea faring vessel. Going through the exhibit halls in and interactive affair and when you get to the bottom level, you have a great treat with an exhibit that mimics the seafloor and you, standing on it. There are exhibits of rooms on the Titanic and narratives of passengers and people who worked on the monstrous ship that should never have  sunk. The engineering of the vessel was the most forward of it’s day, but it was not match for the iceberg it met. It’s a great museum for all ages and don’t forget to visit the SS Nomadic which is part of the tour. It’s a bit of a hike to the shipyards part of the exhibit, but worth it to see the drydocking works, the sheer size of the dock Titanic was housed in while building will amaze you and give you a sense of the size of the massive ship. Added bonus, you walk past the Titanic Studios where Game of Thrones is produced and filmed. If you are traveling this Fall, you may get lucky and see actors going in and out for final season.

highstreetThe Neighborhoods

All cities have neighborhoods, some great places and some not so good. Throw in some politics a traveler may not be aware of and you can get in some trouble. Belfast has come a ways from the Troubles, but remnants are still there. If you are touring around the city walking or in a cab, you will note neighborhoods and areas with flags of identity, with areas where religion and politics go hand in hand. You should always do some research about where you go, and not just the older history, for history is being made every day.

I had a great conversation with a Scotsman on the way back to Glasgow on the plane. He had just marched in one of the Summer Marches with this extended family and friends. Most of the convo was about spending time with family and friends and participating. Nothing to do with the politics. Belfast has changed  a lot in the last 30 years and will continue to do so. It’s filled with warm people and smiles, pride of place, and cultural growth. A place well worth visiting.

Everyone I met and everywhere I went I was met with kindness. But I didn’t ask questions and always waited for someone to bring up anything. However, since I am a big street art fan, and one of the things I was most keen on this tour was mural walks. I started on one in the city, then found I had better think about that a bit, as the murals are very extensive, politics and religion laden in this city. But what street art isn’t a commentary on the times? There are a huge amount of murals. There are political and community ones. If you plan on doing the while walk, plan for several hours. The neighborhoods where people are still very aligned with religion, staying with the UK, becoming independent, or unifying with Ireland are there. I toured the areas I could manage to get to in the short time I had and met with, briefly, a fiercely proud people going about their day or evening activities.

What I have to say is that I saw a lovely city with people living and thriving just like any other, and while the past will not be forgotten, I felt that people were truly just living in this great city. I would say that you just have to be mindful as in any city, that you are not living there, you are a visitor. Just love thy neighbor, even if they are yours for five minutes. The city has much beauty about it. I stayed near the Queen’s University, a great foodie area with a few guesthouses with easy access to transportation. A great walking area and that I did.

arya

Game of Thrones® Tour

I have to admit that this particular tour was the one big blast that I absolutely had to have for my time in Ireland. Having been a fan of the series since day one, when I found out tours to various sites used in filming were being included in a tour, I had to book.

Using Viator.com, I booked with the Irish Tour Tickets company for their Game of Thrones Tour with a guide, Adrian, who has been an extra on the series and knows in depth trivia and information about sites used. We went to several locations including Giant’s Causeway and Carrick-a-Rede bridge, two places I have wanted to see for many years. The tour was packed with fun, behind the scenes information and a great understanding of what it takes to get some of these sites ready for filming. Oh, and you better bone up on your GOT facts, because Adrian has a mean bus quiz for points on the last leg of the trip, with prizes. If you are an enthusiast and fan of the series, don’t miss this fun tour. Adrian has a lot of fun tidbits from BTS and will give you insight on what it is like to be an extra on such a big show.

shadowassasin

Birthplace of a Shadow Assassin

Warning: as with all tours, you should dress for travel, but especially on this tour. Wear trainers or hiking boots, no dress shoes or sandals. This is a very physical, climbing around, adults only tour.

As part of this tour you will see the Dark Hedges, a long, spooky line of trees between fields. People have been coming to see the feature for years now, and the trees are sadly at the end of their life. Two trees came down in a storm recently and the wood was used to create a series of doors dedicated to the Game of Thrones series Westeros locations. You can download the maps to tour for Game of Thrones Doors and seek them out while you tour the north of Ireland.

hedges

The Dark Hedges

Reality check: Yes, many of the Northern Ireland Game of Thrones® locations, with a few exceptions, are really car parking areas during summer months. Tourism is so invasive that they are having to build and reconsider tourist attraction areas in the north. The spaces are built up for the shoot then cleaned up. Exception, there is one secret place we went by where there are guards that deny access year round. Winterfell perhaps?

Bring cash for other tours. Each tour usually has an additional attraction that is part of their route, and you will need to pay other fees.

On this tour you will see where scenes were filmed and two additional sites:

Causeway3

Giants Causeway

After the 10 hour tour, I was fatigued and dead hungry. I wandered downtown Belfast a bit and was concerned about getting to a kitchen that was still open, on Sundays sidewalks still roll up on the island, and pub and other kitchens will only be open so late. I found a great Japanese fusion restaurant called Zen, a huge cavernous place with great food. Filled up so much it was a hard walk back to the B&B.

The Game of Thrones® Doors story and self guided tour

http://www.ireland.com/en-us/what-is-available/ireland-on-screen/game-of-thrones/destinations/northern-ireland/county-antrim/articles/doors/

http://visitbelfast.com/things-to-do/theme/game-of-thrones

A Peaceful Walk in Belfast — Leya

causeway2

causeway1

Dublin Heat

quaysIt was sweltering in Dublin in July. I hadn’t planned for that. Global climate change was touching Ireland, and lucky me, I walked right into it. Ireland has the reputation for changeable weather in summer, mostly rain to clear. I’d planned for mostly that, but not the intense heat I encountered. Never thought I’d get sunburn in Dublin.

 

wilde

Oscar Wilde

Dublin is one of the most complex and busy cities you will visit in Europe. It is also one of the most expensive to live in, eat in and tour. Unless you stick to a strictly free as much as possible day. The people of Dublin are cosmopolitan and eclectic in their tastes, and the food is fusion and experimental. The architecture is grand, with Regency Era buildings and a hodge podge of old and new. I have been in large cities, large tourist towns like San Francisco where I lived for many years, and London which is a huge tourist metropolis. I have not see anything quite like what I experienced in Dublin this July. The streets were teeming with people, you couldn’t walk down sidewalks, people poured into the streets, blocking everything. Massive groups of Italian students with their bright coordinating backpacks in swarmed like bees, turning much of Temple Bar into a piazza.

Bog Men to Vikings

Dublin is a great city for museums and each national museum is by subject. The museums can take up a day or two of your visit as the exhibits are very in depth and well curated.  There are the large extensive museums and many smaller museums focusing on specific people such as my favorite, Oscar Wilde. The majority of museums are south of Temple Bar around the Trinity College area, a place filled with great buildings and architecture, buskers, and shops. This summer there was an exhibit on Vermeer paintings. All the other museums, Archeology, Decorative Arts and History, Country Life, and Natural History are free to the public.

What to do when there are so many museums and only a few days? I usually tour museums when the weather is inclement and save the rest of the days in a city for exploring. With the heat, they became a great refuges to escape the sunburn I was acquiring.antiquities

Archaeology Museum, Kildare Street

One of my main drives to get to the museums is the rich human history Dublin has. This museum had great exhibits on Viking and Mediaeval artifacts that showed the vast wealth of history Dublin had in shaping Ireland. I had not had a chance to see actual Viking objects before, so it was a great treat to see models, weapons, jewelry, and pieces of everyday life objects the Vikings would have used. The medieval history objects and stories of local chieftains and their battles over who would lead and rule Dublin are not to be missed. Then. There are the great Celtic objects on the main floor, filled with Torcs and other jewelry displayed. Truly some of the decorative pins in size and magnitude defy logic.

Molly

Molly Malone

However the best part was the one I had been trying to get to Dublin for many years for. The bizarre Bog Men exhibit. I must admit that since I was very young and took my first Archeology classes, I had been intrigued by the story of the men and women ritually killed and left in bogs, with bodies being discovered and put on display. It was really a thrill to see the examples in this museum. I was excited to get to a city with Viking history again. When you live in the US, history starts at 1600 with the later colonizations. While Vikings may have landed in Canada and attempted settlements, we don’t get a lot of exposure on these ancient cultures in the US.

phoenix park

Natural History, or the Smelly Dead Zoo

National Museum of Natural History. Another fascination from childhood was with taxidermic animals. I have been to many exhibits of these over the years, and the one in Dublin is a find collection of animals collected mostly in the Victorian era. Sadly this means the specimens are very worn and tired. Now, there are some really amazing examples of extinct creatures that you should see, my favorite being the giant Irish deer from prehistoric times. The rack of antlers on these are the largest in the world.

Food and Drink, Temple Bar

This is one of the most heavily populated tourist areas in Dublin. The entertainment area is packed with restaurants and other venues. It is elbow to elbow crowding usually at night, but that week it was from late morning into the evenings. I often found that I had to circumnavigate the area and give it a wide birth, or sneak up an alleyway street.  I tried to avoid this area, I knew it would be a serious tourist trap on this side of the Liffey river. The winding shop streets in the Grafton area seem to keep leading back to it and there is no escape, especially when tourist runs kept dragging you along. I steered clear of the American filled pubs and bars, packed past capacity. My one respite on day was to have sushi and sake at Banyi Japanese dining. Great restaurant with great food.

templebar

Temple Bar

shane

Shane

Icon Factory Dublin Interview With Aga Szot