Speyside Whiskey Festival

Attending the Spirit of Speyside Whisky Festival Ah, Speyside. Cue the misty eyed, dreamy state that’s taken ahold of many a traveller, drinks connoisuer and social butterfly to have ever visited. Home to around half of Scotland’s world-renowned whisky distilleries, it is our Golden Triangle of 50+ whisky houses, with brands from the legendary to…

via Attending the Spirit of Speyside Whisky Festival — Travels with a Kilt

Review on London Ghost Tours

This is a comparison post of the best London ghost tours, dark side of history tours, haunted bus tours, and Jack the Ripper tours. With so many companies leading different haunted tours through London it can be difficult to know which one is best for you. See prices, schedules and a description of what you can expect from…

via Review of London Ghost Tours — Free Tours by Foot

Galway Spring Sunday Musings

Charlie Byrne's Bookshop

The magic of a day in a place like Galway can keep your spirits up even in the most dreich of spring days. I’m stuck in PDX waiting to get back to a magic city like Galway, I need to get back out of the American flatness that seems to be happening this spring and I am being called to the verdant lands in the west of Ireland.

So what’s on in Galway this week? There is rain in the forecast for the week with Saturday being filed with Thunder and Lightening. Love a great thundershower? Some do. Not a great way to get the spring going, but you can always walk in the rain. People ask me why I go to places like Ireland with all the rain, shouldn’t you seek hot climes. I tell them I am used to it. I live in the Pacific Northwest and we live in a parallel world to Ireland and the UK weather wise. But when we get heat waves, we get them. Traveling to a place like Ireland and experiencing it’s people and places in all weather is still exciting to me. And in this case it is definitely the grass is greener.

So walking the parks with a brelly or hood up will mean a magical walk in the rain. Start your day with coffee or breakfast at some of the great eateries. Coffee or tea is first on the walk. Fun, eclectic Coffeewerk + Press in Quay Street has a soft, cozy muzzy morning feel to it. However, since much of the seating is outside and it’s raining you may want to get mobile with the brew, or go to a large shop with space to duck out of the rain. Try Urban Grind in William street. Serves up a brew that is changing as new beans varieties become available, pricing ranges in 2.70 to 3.00 ranges. For more of a sit down meal check out Ard Bia, it’s a brunch to dinner cafe in the Spanish Arches area. They serve pancakes, French toast and a host of other yummy foods in a great atmosphere. They also have traditional Irish fare and international dishes. There are some great murals in the neighborhood. So you can start an art walk after you get out.

Since it will be raining so much, checking out indoor activities is the key for ducking out in between the rains. Bookstores are always a fabulous rainy day adventure, because you need a book for reading later with your tea. Check out Charlie Byrnes Bookshop, a massive rambling place with new, bargain, used and anything in between books. Can’t find your book for the stack by your bed there, take a peruse in Kenny’s Books. Always on the hunt for used books in Galway or Ireland,

It’s afternoon and may rain still. Keep walking the streets and grab some lunch. Get your organic on at Kai Cafe and  Restaurant with great textured stone walls and warmth. Dry out a bit and check out the local exhibits or cinemas you could go to, just try not to fall asleep. There is the IMC Cinema Galway and the EYE Cinema for major releases, but for independent film fun, check out the Galway Film Centre and see what independent makers are doing.

Weather really got you down or just need to laugh about it? Go to a comedy show. On May 16 you can catch The Róisín Dubh Comedy Showcase every tuesday at Róisín Dubh.

But really if you can, keep walking and talking in this lovely town. Artwalks and neighborhood exploration in the thing to get you out and enjoying the spring. It may rain but the foliage is busting out and well work the dampening.

For more ideas about this week or the next, visit:
http://www.dochara.com/event-county/galway/
http://thisisgalway.ie/event/comedy-showcase/

Articles
https://theculturetrip.com/europe/ireland/articles/the-10-best-breakfast-and-brunch-spots-in-galway-ireland/

https://www.theguardian.com/travel/2014/feb/03/a-day-in-galway-ireland-city-guide

http://www.galwaywalks.com

Photo Tom Macbeth

Stirling Highland Hotel Review

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Stirling is a magical location in Scotland. It is wide and sweeping in the interior, a great strategic location for this medieval town. The castle is well suited and has great staff and exhibits. It’s wynds are a bit tough on you. The view is fantastic.

When searching for lodging here, I came across the Stirling Highland Hotel on my booking site and read up on it. I fell in love with the fact it was a former school, had very old buildings, a spa I really couldn’t afford, and what turned out to be a well equipped small gym. The rooms had been converted from classrooms and other school function rooms.

I arrived off the train from Inverness and checked in.

Stirling Highland Hotel $$$$$ ♥♥♥
Spittal Road, Stirling Scotland, UK

The amenities of this hotel are pretty lengthy and it was a bit of a splurge for me. I did manage to get a good price off Booking.com, but still it is a bit high. However, it does boast a spa, pool, good small, clean gym that local people use as well as guests, free parking, and walking distance to most attractions in the area. The castle and graveyard, goal being about 10 to 15 minutes walk. Most of Stirling can be walked as it is not that big of a town. This is a hotel popular with weddings, so plan to possibly be crowded a bit if you are on one of those weekends. The restaurant serves full Scottish breakfast, as many inns do.

Plus: The rooms were clean, the heating when needed worked. Bed was moderate for the many hotel/motels and Inns I had stayed in. It was a converted room and the windows were period. Mine looked out on another building. Hot pot, tea service and the ever present shortbread biscuits. Staff was very helpful. Gym clean and equipment in good shape. Location on hill great, close to many restaurants and attractions. Very safe area.

Minus: Bed was moderate, but for a hotel like this should have been better. Scottish breakfast was bland. Granted, it usually is, but some hotels and inns have more seasoning. The rooms were converted, mostly clean, but the windows a bit sticky. The decor was bland. Flatscreen was so so. I had gotten a moderate deal on room price, but the rooms in general are high priced for what they are. Granted I had a full room, not one of the king or suites.

Scotrail Disruptions, Again and Buying Train Tickets Well in Advance for Best rates

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Just my luck. Looks like my main hub travel plans out of Glasgow will be impeded yet again this summer. Not a rail strike, but line improvements. I just have all the luck. So the 6 hour trip turns into 7 hours. At least it’s through the Highlands and can make up for delays once I get going. Unless clouds of midges take over the tracks.

To economize on travel, I was buying my train tickets for my journeys as some of the dates had finally opened up at Scotrail booking and I could purchase two months out. I learned long ago that sometimes the rail cards just don’t help if you are coming from another country, you pay a lot of money for something that is supposed to save you fare money and during festival season, it’s hard to just walk on and get a seat. Everyone else pre-books, so do as the natives do. Set up a free account on rail lines ahead online and you can manage your journeys.

Warning, when reserving online, not all rail stations have a machine where you can retrieve your pre-bought tickets. Check the messages you get while purchasing and make note if you will need to pick up ticket at a larger station like Queen Street or Central on your way out for other trips you are taking.

Why the concern? Rail journeys are not as economical as they used to be. In some cases it is cheaper to drive by car for most residents of the UK. But if you don’t have the luxury, and that is what it is in the UK and Ireland, of having a motorcar at your disposal, you are dependent on public transit.

However, for the most part, public transit is in far superior shape in the UK and Ireland than in many parts of the US. You may not know the routes but you can figure them out with many city routes apps that are available. Printed time tables can be difficult to read coming from the US as the format is a bit different than we are used to, so grabbing a free transit App map is convenient.

The cost of train rides can get high. I did some research on buying tickets 2 weeks out on Scotrail going from Queen Street Glasgow to Inverness/Kyle of Lochhalsh, £73.00. Yikes. Adding in the trip back out to Edinburgh at around £43.00, it was getting expensive. I remembered some train chats I had last year with some frequent travelers in Scotland. They said book online 1 to 2 months out if you have set travel days, and you could get a deal. So after waiting for the schedules to get a few months out, I finally did my round of bookings and saved heaps. What was getting close to £115.00 is now about half that. I also was able to splurge on a first class in the Virgin East Coast line for less than Edinburgh usually runs on that line. Wow, I get to see what their tea trolly looks like, or do they have a bar? Hmmm, mimosas?

Delays Expected on These Trains in Glasgow Through 2017

Bad news, there will be delays. At least the Clockwork Orange subway will be running this year I hope. Last year it was under improvements. Yeah, I geek on the weirdest things. I like subways sometimes. The Clockwork Orange is one of the oldest subway systems in the world. It runs a circle under Glasgow, making it very convenient for a hop on and off to neighborhoods. There is also a student pub crawl that uses the system for a ripping night out. Bring plenty of coin, bills don’t do so well with the public transit systems in Scotland. They have an app, so download it at Google Play or iTunes. Nice thing about a loop is you can always get  back if you miss the station. Try to get a day pass if you can.

You can now buy tickets with a phone app, pilot program.

Now if Iarnród Éireann would open up their bookings a for July, I could get set.

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Photo ©2011 by Greg Neate

 

Avoiding Accomodation Disasters: Finding Online Travel Reviews That Count

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So many factors weigh in when you are planning a trip. After you have acquired your plane or train travel plans, you have to chose where to stay, unless you are visiting relations. And maybe because you are visiting relations. There are so many online booking platforms for reservations, and granted there are massive amounts of hotels to choose from it’s very overwhelming. But how do you get the best bargain since most of us are not jet setter millionaires? How can you find accommodations that really meet your needs?

First you really need to know what is really important to you in your stay. Clean and safe are my priorities, especially since I end up traveling alone most of the time. Most hotel booking sites have reviews of their offerings for you to peruse. These are often skewed to the benefit of the establishment. And if you have not been to a location before, you will not know what the place is really like and if you really want to stay there. So how can you be better informed to make the decision that you hope won’t ruin your vacation, the place you set your head down for the night needs to not be a disaster. In other articles, I have written about checking out neighborhoods around where you stay, and this is always a good thing to do. But about the establishments themselves, it gets really complicated.

Really read some of the reviews for a hotel or service apartment service. The reviews on the booking platforms will be more favorable to the hotels and there is no guarantee that they have not picked which reviews to show you. So, if you are looking at a particular place to stay, open another browser window and search on reviews for the establishment. To me it’s the bed and the bath that have to be right.

What to look for in the sea of information that may or may not appear? Look for travel blogs like this one. Many bloggers review in depth a place they stay at. Check out Yelp for the city that you are going to. Search for a directory of reviews for Bed and Breakfast or vacation sublets.

Safety is a big feature for me. You want to save money but that can mean staying in dicey areas. If you are not used to a city, you know there will always be crime areas. Usually you think you can spot what a bad area is, but not always. Research articles before you travel for the cities you plan to visit, safest neighborhoods to live in. Then use the maps features to see what accommodations may be there. Of course if you know you are going to a region that is very rustic, you will have to get what accommodations you can or rent camper vans and camp. That can be it’s own set of issues.

Know what you want or really need in the place you want to stay. If you are there for more than two days, you may want to go the service apartment route. This allows you to actually live in the place and some even come with laundry facilities. Everyone hates to lose time on the vacay with menial tasks like laundry, but it has to be done. If you don’t have laundry facilities, you will have to hunt them down.

While larger booking sites will seem in favor of the hotels, some booking sites do seem to give real reviews, if you can get the feature to work. The system for reviewing is one where hotels solicit a review from guests after their stay, and should be verified that the guest actually stayed there. Some of these can be done in a bribing fashion, promised discounts and such. Smaller booking sites may have more real reviews. And if they all look alike, it’s because they are all working off of the same database for the properties. And then there is Yelp or other review apps for cities.

HotelGuides.Com
This site claims to take a different approach for you the consumer. They only take the most recent reviews and from people who have been verified as staying in the hotel/accommodation. They also group reviews for an area so you can check a part of a city for several reviews at one time. The top recent reviews are displayed. I checked one of the places I am staying in Glasgow, and most of it is very favorable. Full real report from me later.
http://hotelguides.com/hotel-reviews.html

Oyster.Com
Purports to be the be all at ferreting out the truth of hotel accommodations. Real people actually go in and inspect hotels is what they say. Give them a read, see if it seems legit to you. Plus: Really breaks down each hotel room and get better pictures and descriptions of the accommodation than in most other sites. Detailed photos of the rooms. Tried it on one of the hotels I will be in 3 times on trip and fairly good reviews.
https://www.oyster.com

So, overall I expect my stay on the Isle of Skye to not be as good as I had hoped. I had booked months back, but in finding that the reviews are not so good for the guest house I will be at tried for other booking. Sadly it is all taken up so I will have to eat it on this overpriced booking. So look forward to that review when I get there. Sigh.

More Review Sites
http://www.bookdirectrooms.com

Articles

http://www.nerdwallet.com/blog/travel/2012/options-time-hotel-review-websites/
http://www.nomadicmatt.com/travel-blogs/find-cheap-hotel-room/
http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-3647262/Commuters-avoid-crime-hotspots-Waze-app-route-drivers-high-risk-areas.html