13
Aug
2017
0

NC500 Part 2: Inverness to Lybster

Alright lovelies, are you ready for some more road tripping? This one is a little longer, but read on for NC500 Part 2: the road from Inverness to Lybster. This leg involved some fancy whisky, ridiculously beautiful coastline, and some precarious hiking to reach this ruined castle…

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After a great night’s sleep in Inverness, we hopped in the car to drive the second leg of our NC500 trip. We followed the trusty A9 northwards towards Tain and were treated to some lovely views of the landscape surrounding Cromarty Firth as we passed over Cromarty Bridge. The sky was blue and the gods were smiling down on us… the Whisky Gods, who lead us serendipitously to the door of the Glenmorangie Distillery five minutes before the tour began.

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 See? I wasn’t kidding about those blue skies.

The Glenmorangie Distillery has been quietly crafting whisky on the banks of the Dornoch Firth for over a hundred and fifty years. We were met by Anna, our guide, who showed us through the different rooms in the distillery and explained the whisky making process. I loved being in the mash room, which smelled sweeeeeet! Literally. She also shared with us the history of the men who work there. Despite having a huge production output, the distillery has been traditionally run by a very small staff who always come from Tain, the local village. As they make a point of employing local men, the staff were given the monicker “The Men of Tain” and it was really lovely to hear about how a local company was still carrying on traditions to support the community, despite being outrageously successful.

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 We walked through the factory to see where the whisky sleeps before being bottled. The cask room was cool and dark and filled with wooden barrels that housed the different types of delicious whisky. The barrels were made of different types of wood which gave each style of whisky its distinctive taste. We also learnt about the different ways the distillery is trying to rejuvenate the natural wildlife. They have been putting money into reforming the natural oyster beds that used to line the river, and their pledge to keep the water clean and free of byproducts. That part was pretty impressive!

After our whisky tasting, we crossed the beautiful Dornoch Firth and continued along the coast to our home for the evening in Lybster. This was the first time that we realised that we were really getting into the high country as the villages got further and further apart, spread along the rugged coastline. the weather for our NC500 trip continued to be ridiculously beautiful with glorious sunshine and little more than a light breeze coming in from the sea. We are spoilt for beaches in Australia but I have to say that I would swap those golden sands for these wild pebble beaches any day. Our experience at Lybster definitely had me falling in love even further with this landscape.

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When we reached our airbnb, our lovely hosts told us about a place they called ‘Ropey Cove’ which was a path down to the pebble beach at the end of the lane that our cabin was on. We thought that it was just a quaint name, I mean, how cute does Ropey Cove sound? It was a super steep slope with no track down to the beach other than to abseil yourself down on a thick rope that was hammered into the ground in a way that did not inspire confidence. Still, I laugh in the face of danger so I wen’t down first.

IMG_8123Thought I was kidding about the steepness and the rope? This is a picture I took when I was halfway down. Because I am ALL danger.

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Now do you see why I was so keen to get down there?

I’m in love with Scotland. Really. The ancient rock thrusting itself up through the ocean, the  smell of that salt water, and the hush of the sea as the tide came in, are all things I would happily live with every day of my life. We were the only two people exploring that day and it was so damn peaceful. While you will definitely find your own secret places to explore when you travel the NC500, I think experiences like this epitomise why this road trip is so incredible. This is definitely not something you will be sharing with a thousand of your closest friends, like you would be in Venice, or Dubrovnik. Scotland still has that untamed wildness that makes you remember why this world is still such an incredible place. It also reminds you why it’s so important to keep it that way.

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Once we climbed back up the rope, we made like mountain goats over to this little ruin perched on the top of a fairly steep little hill. Can you see a path there? No? That’s right, because there wasn’t any. We hopped through some marshy patches and some thick, thick grass (thanking god it wasn’t midge season yet!) and many times I thought I was going to slip right back down to the bottom. But we didn’t, and were rewarded with these spectacular views as the sun decided it would think about setting. Just kidding – it wasn’t going to set for another hour or two!

We passed a happy night in Lybster before moving on to the third leg of our NC500 tour through the highlands. Just a quick warning though, as the landscape gets wilder, the villages are further apart which means that you want to be watching your fuel gauge and planning ahead where you want to get your groceries. Some towns you stay in won’t have a restaurant other than a fish and chip shop so make sure that you have an idea what you will be doing for breakfast and dinner each day. This leg was the first one that we used to stock up on groceries such as milk, cereal and bread. Don’t say I didn’t warn you!

8
Aug
2017
0

NC500 Part 1: Edinburgh to Inverness

Ok are you ready for some road trip fun? Im super excited to share with you the first leg of our NC500 trip where we drove from Edinburgh to Inverness. If you haven’t heard about the NC500, flip back to my last post where i’ve given you a helpful overview. Then buckle up and get ready for sheep, spectacular scenery, and the open, open road!

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Leaving Edinburgh, we took the A9 towards Inverness. No, the shot above isn’t of that road, that road isn’t super interesting so we are going to fast forward there. We stopped along the way at a little town called Pitlochry, which is pretty as can be and has quite a few places that you can stop at for lunch.

 

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Or perhaps a huge donut milkshake – i’m not judging

We also poked our heads into the numerous charity shops and scored a couple of paperbacks to read along the way. The countryside was green and beautiful, and we went through dark and deep forests – at time’s mildly concerned about Birnam Wood…

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English students/teachers should be aware of the significance of that one for a certain King Macbeth. Luckily, these woods weren’t moving.

We followed the A9 pretty much all the way to Inverness and our accommodation. We stayed in an airbnb here and were so sad that it was for only one night! Let me know if you want a recommendation though, it was an incredible old house with a very friendly host.

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When we neared Inverness, the road opened and the landscape grew more wild and rugged and… inhabited by majestic sheep.

Inverness itself is a big town with lots to do both there and in the immediate surroundings. As I said, we were only staying overnight so, as the daylight hours were ridiculously long (sunset around 9.30 anyone?), we decided to take a drive to Loch Ness. Only roughly an hour away, the road is narrow but beautiful, particularly in the golden and sunset hours. There seemed to be only one road in to Fort Augustus from our side of the loch so we weren’t too worried about getting lost – although we did somehow manage to return on a different road to the one we came in on. As long as you follow the road signs to Inverness or Fort Augustus, you should be fine.

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Loch Ness is beautiful and peaceful at dusk. The tour buses have gone and it seems as though it’s just you and Nessie – wherever she may be. The water is dark, almost black, and very still, save for the light ruffling of breezes. We stretched our legs by walking a little way around the shore of the loch and tried to do a bit of monster spotting, before stopping for dinner.

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Maybe I saw something… maybe I didn’t…

There are only a few options for dinner, so don’t expect oodles of choice. If you have special dietary requirements, you should probably bring your own food. After dinner the sun was really starting to set so we walked up the series of locks that control the flow of water down into the big loch. Confusing I know, but it will make sense when you see it.

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Or just look at the pretty sunset

The drive back was a little nerve wracking as it was dark and of course there are no street lights out on the back roads. There are also a number of stretches that are single lane roads, but you will see the headlights of any oncoming traffic long before you need to pull into a passing place. The drive back to Inverness was where we saw some of the most stunning sunsets across smaller lochs. It really gave us a taste for what the rest of Scotland would be like and we were very excited for the next leg of our journey. So are you planning on doing the NC500? Or just reminiscing? If you’re planning, let me know if there are any other details I can help you with by leaving a comment below!

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Here’s one last sunset shot to see you out.

And a little taste of what’s to come: NC500 Leg 2 was the day we drank fancy whisky, ate dirty sandwiches, and got more of an adventure than we bargained for…

31
Jul
2017
0

What Katie did in Scotland: NC500

Been watching Outlander? Fan of Braveheart? Want to see the iconic bridge that the Hogwarts Express crosses? If so, I think you’re going to love this series of posts! Since visiting briefly ten years ago, Scotland has had a special place in my heart and i’ve been wheeling and dealing to get myself back there. There’s something about the frosty climate that breeds a stoic and welcoming people who have a rich and varied cultural history. There’s a bit more than bagpipes and blood sausage to this country. In this next series of posts, i’m going to share the details of the holiday I just spent in Scotland, specifically something called the NC500 and I hope you enjoy it!

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If you’re from Australia, you will know that the road trip is at the very least, a rite of passage and at the most, a national sport. With the vast distances and incredible landscape between cities, hopping in the car and getting on the road is one of the best ways to see the country. So when we were looking into exploring the Scottish Highlands, we immediately began looking into driving routes.

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The most publicised driving route around the highlands is called the North Coast 500 (NC500) which most people follow in a clockwise direction, beginning in Inverness. We decided to go anti-clockwise because we’re such rebels *cough*not*cough*. No, we actually wanted to end up on the Isle of Arran so it made more sense for us to go this way. For those of you playing along at home, you can see an interactive map here which will help you visualise this whole thing.

Here are the things you need to know before setting off:

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1. The quality of the roads on the NC500 is excellent, but the further north you get, the more single lane roads you will be on. Don’t worry though, the locals know what they’re doing and there are many, many passing places that you can pull into so that oncoming traffic (or those behind you) can pass. You can get away with renting a medium sized car. We got a Ford Kuga which was perfect and had no trouble with some of the steeper roads.


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2. You should see some highland coos, one of the greatest creatures ever created.

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3. You will see lots of sheep, sometimes on the road, sometimes not, sometimes staring off into the distance like a heroic explorer. I’m not sure if this is your thing, but this was one of my favourite things about driving through Scotland!

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4. Unless you’re going to pitch a tent or you’re driving a caravan (and sometimes even then) book your accommodation before you go, otherwise you might end up having to stay in a bothy like the one above! We mostly stayed in airbnbs which were a lot of fun. There are also some excellent hotels that you can stay at if your budget is a bit more generous.

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5. Take your time and keep your camera ready – can you spot the photographer here? It is possible to do the route in a week or so, but why rush it? I could have spent at least an extra day in every place we stayed. Also, you will need time for all the photos you will need to take. I say ‘need’ because the landscape is so unbelievably beautiful you will want to catch every second of it so that you can relive it when you’re stuck at work and everything sucks. P.s. super thanks to my husband who took a lot of the photos i’m going to share with you in this series.

Now that i’ve whetted you’re appetite, are you reading to come along on the NC500? What iconic road trips have you taken or are you planning on taking? Let me know in the comments!

25
Jul
2017
0

What Katie Did in Japan – Lolita Costume

WARNING! This post contains much more kawaii photos than these cute bunny shoes that I bought on Takeshita St in Harajuku before I went for my Lolita experience. If you can’t handle this, stop reading now.

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The last time I went to Japan was way back in 2007 – not long after Gwen Stefani’s ‘Rich Girl’ came out and Harajuku Girls became a HUGE thing. Did anyone else have one of the Harajuku Lovers perfumes? Go around singing “if I was a rich girl – na na na na na na na na na na na na na na naaaaa” (if you are in your late twenties/early thirties and didn’t just sing that in your head I know you’re lying). If you need a little refreshing of your memory, you can listen to the song again over here. The point is, the whole crazy costuming that was popular with young Japanese people had just broken onto the world stage in a huge way. I remember going to the bridge in front of the Meiji Shrine in Harajuku where they were all supposed to hang out for photos and being so disappointed that there were only a hand full of people there. Boo.

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18
Jul
2017
0

What Katie Ate in Japan – An Ode to Japanese Convenience Stores

Let me start this post by saying that I’ve always been a huge fan of Japanese food. One of the most exciting aspects of planning this leg of our trip has been the anticipation of juicy gyoza, fresh sashimi and diabetes-inducing crepes. As money was tight, we tended to eat one meal out each day then forage for other sustenance from the incredibly well stocked convenience stores. This is one wonderful difference between Japan and Australia. In Australia, if you’re going to rely on convenience stores, be prepared to navigate the super unhealthy shelves of donuts, microwave meals, chips and slurpies. Not so in Tokyo! I know how this makes me sound, but I had so much fun looking at the huge array of ready or almost ready made meals that decked the shelves of stores such as Lawsons and Family Mart.

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Also, I feel the need to confess that we basically lived on peach iced tea. These one litre cartons from Lipton were everywhere and came in smaller sizes too. They were so nice because they didn’t seem to have that weird taste that the Australian ones get from replacing sugar with stevia. I’m still not on board the ‘cut all sugar out of your diet because it is the latest way we want to look healthy’ train. We downed cartons of this stuff like it was water. Which might have contributed to the fact that i’m writing this post in my pyjamas because they are the only comfortable stretchy items in my suitcase and everything else is too tight. Hmm.

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16
Jul
2017
0

What Katie Did in Japan – Yokohama Cup Noodles Museum

If you’re itching to get out of Tokyo central and want something fun and quirky to do, you could always take a day trip out to Yokohama and visit the Cup Noodles Museum! Costing only 500 yen for entry, it definitely won’t break the budget, even if you splurge an extra 300 yen for a custom cup noodle experience!

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I think someone was watching a little too much Wizard of Oz when they thought up this statue of Mr Momofuku.
Scratch that. How can you watch TOO MUCH Wizard of Oz?

We passed through Yokohama on the way back from Kamakura and it was a pretty quick and fuss-free trip. The exit from Yokohama station was a bit confusing but we pieced together some maps and found our way out to the street where we could see signs pointing the way to the cup noodle museum. It’s really only a 5-10 minute walk from the station but you might get distracted by the amusement park that is situated halfway between the station and the museum. Go with the flow!

The museum building is an interesting one. Inside the foyer, it feels almost as if you are inside a giant white plastic noodle cup. We came at the end of the day and it was empty with no lines to wait on. We bought our ticket and arranged the time for our custom noodle making. You can wander through the museum until the appointed time or pick an earlier time and do the museum later.

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Yes, hubs rolled his eyes when I asked him to take this photo.

I didn’t know much about the cup noodle phenomenon, having been brought up on fantastic noodles and the ubiquitous maggi noodles, but it’s a pretty big concern over in Japan. There were huge displays explaining how Mr Momofuku had pioneered particular ways of packaging the noodles and reconstituting weird ingredients. There was even a tribute to the first packets brought up into space! The displays are part art/part normal museum and it was fun to wander through, but I wouldn’t spend hours and hours there.

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When it came time to make our noodles, we went up to the special noodle making floor where we washed our hands (very important) and selected our cups. The staff showed us to a little circular desk with a pot of coloured pens in it and left us to decorate our cups.

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I went for a ‘Japanese meme’ theme in the style of doge.

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Once we were done, we were ushered over to the ingredients bar where we could choose three ingredients to go into our noodles, as well as a specific flavour. This was a bit bamboozling but I went for dehydrated shrimp, green beans and corn. Why not?

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The cups were then sealed and passed through a weird conveyer belt then given to us to place in a plastic bag that we pumped with air to cushion the cup. The only thing to remember if you’re not eating them right away is that noodles can be flown internationally but you need to take them out of the air cushioned bag as the changes in air pressure on the plane can crush your cup!

We packed our cup noodles into our suitcases without the extra packaging and they survived a long haul flight. When we ate them a week or so later, they looked like this:

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They tasted pretty much the same as normal cup noodles but it was a lot of fun for not a lot of cashola and I would actually do this again! Did you eat cup noodles as a kid? As a poor uni student? As a still-poor adult who has blown all their cash on smashed avo?

 

Cup Noodles Museum

Opening Hours: 10am-6pm with last admission at 5pm – Closed on Tuesdays
Address: 2-3-4 Shinko, Naka-ku, Yokohama 231-0001 Japan
Map and further directions: http://www.cupnoodles-museum.jp/english/map/index.html

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