Weekly Photo Challenge: Grand Victory

Grand Canyon, Arizona

Victory with a view 🙂

It took 83 years, but last weekend my Gran finally got to see the Grand Canyon. It was only her second time on an airplane and the first trip since my grandpa passed away in January. She handled it like a champ. (smile) I felt so lucky to be able to help her check this one off her bucket list – I can only hope I have half her spirit at that age! So this “victory” goes out to Gran – may you have many more! (big smile)

This week’s photo challenge is “victory.”

Happy weekend everyone!!

Up In The Air

Remember that Alvin & the Chipmunks movie where the boys and girls went around the world in a hot air balloon? I adored that movie and have dreamed about going up in a hot air balloon ever since I was a little girl. I even used to joke with my friends that a balloon ride was the only cliché method of proposing that I might actually accept. (smile) Alas, I didn’t get a marriage proposal last week, but I did finally get to go up in a hot air balloon!

There are several local companies that fly mostly up in north Phoenix. I’ve had my eye out for a good Groupon for awhile now and diligence finally paid off last month! Sunrise hot air balloon ride with champagne breakfast for two – it made a good girls’ trip. (smile) Of course five seconds after I hit “purchase” the small part of me that doesn’t like heights panicked. But what’s a little anxiety compared to fulfilling a childhood dream?! Booking the actual date was completed online through the company’s website, and I had no issues completing the process even with the Groupon (major win there).

Arizona sunrise

We met up with the guides in Cave Creek (in northeast Phoenix) at 4:45am. Since the Groupon indicated “for two” I was surprised to see such a large group of people milling about. Turns out the balloon we were going up in held twenty (yes, 20) people!! It’s apparently the largest in the U.S., but none of this helped quell my nerves.

Once everyone was there, we all piled into two vans and went to chase the wind. The team eventually found a launch site they were happy with and the inflation process began. It was really, really cool to watch them unpack this gigantic balloon from its trailer. It was even more amazing to watch it come to life right in front of us!

hot air balloon deflated with basket, Carefree, Arizonahot air balloon inflating, Carefree, Arizonahot air balloon inflated, Carefree, Arizona

After the balloon was up and ready, we were all distributed into our basket pockets. I bent to get something out of my bag and when I stood back up, we were off the ground – I hadn’t felt a thing! The company’s website indicates that balloon rides aren’t so bad for people with a fear of heights due to a lack of perspective (i.e., a tall building, etc. for comparison).  I thought this was total baloney, but I have no problems admitting that they were right. Once we were up in the air, I knew we were going up but the height never really bothered me.

hot air balloon inflated, Carefree, Arizona

We went up and down quite a bit trying to find a good wind, but never had much luck. In a little over an hour we traveled only 3.5 miles (I understand their average is generally much further). So needless to say we didn’t really get to see as much as we might have expected. A lot of the other passengers were a bit put off by this, but I was just happy to have the experience. (smile)

Our guide was a witty gentleman who definitely knew his stuff. He didn’t get to talk too much as he was trying to find our “sweet spot,” but he was very personable and somehow made us feel safe 1000 feet about the ground with nothing but a giant balloon holding us up.

Landing wasn’t bad at all either. There was a couple of bumps, the balloon was secured, and we were done. Unfortunately, because of the area we were in, we landed on private property and the landowner was most displeased. He actually called the sheriff before we’d even landed – just in case! Thanks crabby man. Interesting fact for you though – hot air balloon landings are considered emergency landings (as there’s little control of where they happen), so the balloonists have greater capability to justify landing wherever they can.

Anyway, we left the team to pack up the balloon and headed back over to the launch site for our balloonist ceremony and breakfast. I don’t want to give away the secret ceremony, but suffice it to say it involves champagne –nothing bad about that! After breakfast we headed back to our cars, each with our own Certificate d’Ascension en Machine Aereostatique.

Suffice it to say that I am now completely enamored with hot air balloons! As if I weren’t already looking for a way to get to New Mexico for the annual hot air balloon festival, I most certainly am now. I can’t wait to go up again – maybe try a smaller basket and see what I think. Either way, if you’ve been thinking about going up in the air, I can’t recommend it enough! (smile)

* We went up with Arizona Balloon Safaris and I would absolutely recommend them to anyone in the Phoenix area. They didn’t even know I had a blog, so this is definitely not a sponsored post, just a happy recommendation. They have a great FAQ page if you’re looking to learn more technical info on the experience.

Arizona sunrise, Balloonist's Prayer

Travel Tuesday: My Arizona “Must See” List

Yay for [Travel] Tuesday!! I’m going to admit that generally the most exciting part about my Tuesdays is preparing these posts and reading others – otherwise Tuesday is to me what Monday is to most. I’m not quite sure why it works out that way, but there ya go!

I love Arizona and have made a point to see as much of it as possible these last several years. That said, there are still a few major places on my “must-see” list including…

Petrified Forest National ParkPetrified Forest National Park

Shamefully, as many National Parks as I’ve traveled to, I’ve yet to make it through this one. Located in the northeast-ish corner of Arizona, Petrified Forest National Park is home to over 10,000 years of human history and a portion of Route 66! It’s also said that anyone who removes a piece of the wood from the park will be cursed until the wood is returned. However, you can buy a piece at the gift shop guilt free (smile). I’m told it’s a beautiful drive and close enough to the Painted Desert to tack that on as well. Double win!

Grand Falls (aka Chocolate Falls)

These falls are located just northeast of Flagstaff, Arizona along the Little Colorado River. At 185 feet tall, the falls are actually taller than Niagara Falls! They’ve been dubbed “chocolate falls” as the water content is infamously muddy, making the water look like flowing chocolate. You have to pay attention to the timing on this one – for maximum viewing a visit after rainfall or in the spring is best. But that also means that safety is of the utmost importance getting to and from!

Havasupai Falls

Also referred to as Havasu Falls, this lovely oasis is located just west of the official Grand Canyon National Park entrance on the Havasupai Indian Reservation. The mineral content of the water is constantly changing and, along with it, also the color. The falls drop down into a series of pools that are a popular swimming spot for tired/hot hikers. As the falls are well known – and thus quite popular – I hear the optimum visiting time is somewhere mid-week or in the off season (preferably before the snow).

Antelope CanyonAntelope Canyon

The famous canyons – the photographers’ dream. Antelope Canyon is a slot canyon located just southeast of Page, Arizona on the Navajo Nation. Like many of these attractions I’ve listed, timing is key on this one. Those same gorgeous photos that inspired me in the first place have also inspired many others – and quite a few “photography tours.” I’ve heard tales of being crammed in very small spaces with many cameras – not a recipe for a happy camper! I’m definitely trying for an off season weekday!

Yuma & the Territorial Prison State Historic Park

The last bit of territory left for me to discover in southern Arizona. Yuma is the third largest city in Arizona (counting Phoenix as the greater metro area) and located in the southwest corner near both the California and Mexico borders. Due to its location, Yuma has a long and storied history. The Yuma Territorial Prison State Historic Park is mostly famous for being featured western movies, but also has an entertaining, non-fiction history full of wild west inmates (smile).

So what’s holding me back you ask? Well, timing mostly. These elusive spots are either located some distance from Phoenix and/or require a certain season or time of the week to be considered “enjoyable.” At least those have been my excuses to date. But I think it’s past time for me to saddle up and make some memories (smile)!


Come join Bonnie for more fun adventures and meet the new co-hosts!!

Travel Tuesday

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Travel Tuesday: World Heritage Site Bucket List

Happy Travel Tuesday everyone! This week the lovely link-up sponsors have come up with an awesome theme – share your travel bucket list! I can pretty much sum up that list in one word – “anywhere” – but that wouldn’t be much of a post (smile). I consolidated my Travel Bucket List when I started this blog as a way to prioritize my travel planning. However, I’ve recently gotten on board with tracking visits to UNESCO World Heritage Sites (thanks to Stacey over at One Trip at a Time for the inspiration!). So I thought for today, I’d list my World Heritage Site-specific bucket list!

There are currently 1,007 properties listed on the UNESCO World Heritage Site list. New sites are proposed every year and undergo a thorough review process before being added to the list. To be included on the World Heritage List, sites must be of outstanding universal value and meet at least one out of ten selection criteria.

By my count, I’ve been fortunate enough to see 25 of these amazing sites (admittedly, most by happy accident). Recently, however, I’ve decided to take a more active interest in the list and the sites that are included and/or nominated. Quite a few of these sites aren’t necessarily found on the tourist maps (some are), so it’s good to be aware in case I’m close enough for a side trip (smile). Here are my top 5 dream sites from the World Heritage List:

1. Rock-Hewn Churches, Lalibela, Ethiopia

St-George-Church-Lalibela

2. Primeval Beech Forests of the Carpathians and the Ancient Beech Forests of Germany, Germany, Slovakia, Ukraine

3. Bru na Boinne (Newgrange), Ireland

4. Namib Sand Sea, Namibia

5. Hill Forts of Rajasthan, India

 Have you visited a World Heritage Site? Which one(s)??


Come join the fun with BonnieKaeleneSammy, and Van!!

Travel Tuesday

They like me! They really like me!

It’s award all around and I owe special thanks to the lovely Miriam who shares her adventures and lovely animals over at Farm Girl. Since I’ve made the classic rookie mistake of not having a proper speech prepared, I’ll just skip to the fun part (smile).

Liebster award (1)

“Liebster” is German and means sweetest or beloved.

There are a few rules associated with the honours, so I’ll get those out of the way first:

1. Tell 11 things about yourself.

2. Answer the questions the nominator has created for you. 

3. Tag 11 people with under 200 followers. I may be a bit of a rebel on this one, but only because I believe in quality more than numbers (and I don’t want to look those up for everyone either). Rebel I am! Sorry I am not! (Smile)

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About Me

1. I love animals. If I had a huge area of land and the budget, I would love to open up an all-animals-welcome preserve.

2. One of my dreams is to visit all 7 continents (4 down, 3 to go!).

3. I’m a huge Beetles fan and my bedroom may somewhat resemble a shrine of sorts.

4. My Plan B in life is to be a one-stop wedding shop – I’m an attorney, an ordained minister, and amateur photographer (think pre-nup, wedding, and maybe even a few photos).

5. I have my dad’s feet – right down to the same webbed toes!

6. All of my immediate family (on all sides) lives within 6 hours of one another except for my brother and myself. Rebels, see?

7. I grew up on a farm and know from experience that pretty much everything washes off.

8. Bugs don’t bite me (except ants). Proof that I’m not as sweet as I look? (smile)

9. I love to go fishing, but I don’t really like to eat fish (so I generally put the poor creatures back).

10. When I lived in Miami one of my favorite weird eats was gator bites. Yum!

11. I hate talking on the phone and avoid it at all costs. I was so happy when texting/emailing became a big thing!

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Miriam’s Questions for the Nominees:

1. Name one reason you started blogging?

I started blogging for the community. I initially read travel and expat blogs to get ideas on where to go and some tips/tricks for moving abroad. Then I realized what a wonderful community those bloggers create and wanted to join the fun!

2. Beach or Mountains?

If you insist I choose – beach. My real preference is both!

South Beach, Florida

South Beach, FL

3. What is your Myers Briggs?

INTJ. This post tells you all about it! That makes me a Draco Malfoy according to the Harry Potter version. Mixed feelings there guys, mixed feelings…

4. Name the bravest thing you have ever done.

I broke up with my fiance 2 months before I moved to Arizona where I knew absolutely no one. I had no guaranteed job or source of income and I couldn’t work much while I studied for the bar. It was a crazy time, but the best move I could’ve made at the time.

5. What did you have for dinner last night?

I had a black bean burger and homemade sweet potato fries. Double yum!

6. What’s your go to swear word?

Like Miriam, my go to swear word is the f-bomb. I use it a lot. I never realize just how much until I’m around my family (even “freaking” gets me a “pretty girls do not have ugly mouths” from grandma) or when I’m writing something I’m particularly passionate about on this blog. There’s a time and a place in writing for language, but there’s no reason to publish casual usage just for the hell of it. Ha.

7. If you could take a trip tomorrow and money was no object, where would you go?

Africa. I’d start at one end and travel to the other (smile).

8. What’s your favourite cocktail?

Rum & anything. I actually like a good dark rum all on its own. But my everyday go-to is usually red wine.

captain-morgan_custom

9. What is the best book you have read in the past year?

The Historian. It’s a slightly different take on the Dracula story. It’s very historical and while it is fiction, it is no Twilight. While not outright scary, it did make me want to keep a few extra lights on while reading which I see as a sign of a well-written story.

10. Heels or flats? Shorts or skirt?

Flats & skirt.

11. What does your name mean in the urban dictionary?

Women named Meredith are enigmatic. They are extremely intelligent but have a tendency to act amazingly stupid. They have loads of factual knowledge but little knowledge of the “ways of the world.” There two varieties of Merediths. One variety encompasses the Merediths who use their intelligence to act pure and innocent but soon the truth of their scandalous side comes out. The other variety of Merediths are truly innocent. Decipher which type is which at your own peril.

Ha. I’m not sure I agree with all of this, but if it holds truth, I’m probably in the first group (angelic smile).

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My nominees:

wildwomenwear

colderweather

newkidontheloch

peakperspective

mylifeinscotland

girlmeetsglobe

thelifestyleproject

freefunorinteresting

woollymuses

over40andamumtoone

Anyone else who is looking for a great About Me post and wants to pay it forward! (smile)

My questions:

1. Where is your dream vacation destination?

2. What is your favorite post on your blog and why?

3. What’s your go-to drink after a long day or at the bar?

4. What is something you enjoyed in childhood and would like to do as an adult?

5. Do you prefer movies or books?

6. What is one challenge you’ve set for yourself this year?

7. What’s the strangest food you’ve ever eaten?

8. What is your favorite quote?

9. What’s your favorite holiday?

10. When is your favorite time of day?

11. What’s your go to swear word?

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Tag You’re It! Have fun everyone!!

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Anywhere But Here

Have you ever had that nagging feeling that you want/need/must go somewhere/anywhere and that if you don’t you just might have one of these moments:


I call it the “anywhere-but-here” syndrome. And I, ladies and gentlemen, have it bad. I always have. I can say that there have been brief periods of remission, but then just as I get somewhat content in where I am, it flares up again and I feel like my wanderlust is ruling my life. Even as a child I had a wandering heart; I dreamed of the day I would be able to be wherever I wanted whenever I wanted. Oh the joys and naiveté of youth…

Huntington Beach, California, Sunset, Ocean

Usually I can keep it at bay through small changes – a new apartment, a weekend trip, a bigger trip. I completed all of the above last year and barely made it through the year. This anywhere-but-here flare has hit with a vengeance.

I have been based in Phoenix, Arizona for 5 ½ years now – longer than I have stayed in any one place since I left my dad’s house. I really loved it when I first got here, and it’s not that I don’t love this city now. But like any relationship, sometimes love runs its course and although I love Phoenix, I’m not in love with Phoenix anymore. The anywhere-but-here has crept back into my thoughts as it usually does – gradually then suddenly.

Grand Canyon, Arizona, Sunset

The problem? Life is so much harder to uproot these days – I have a lease, a job, friends, and a few people I seriously consider family.  I have loans that must be paid and responsibilities that must be handled. The thing about anywhere-but-here is that after a while I don’t care about any of these things. All things can be shifted around to accommodate change. I don’t know if that’s a good lesson to have learned, at least not in relation to this particular issue.

The tempering factor this time around revolves mostly around fear. Fear of the consequences (which I have learned all too well during previous moves) and fear that if I can’t make something this stable work, I’ll never find peace no matter where I go. If I move now, it will be one of the most difficult breaks I’ve ever had to deal with – but I’m beginning to care less and less. Change is coming, for better or for worse, and I grow increasingly excited about the possibilities (smile).

Scotland, Sunset, Tree

Beyond the east the sunrise; Beyond the west the sea
And East and West the Wander-Thirst that will not let me be;
It works in me like madness to bid me say goodbye,
For the seas call, and the stars call, and oh! The call of the sky!

I know not where the white road runs, nor what the blue hills are,
But a man can have the sun for friend, and for his guide, a star;
And there’s no end to voyaging when once the voice is heard,
For the rivers call, and the road calls, and oh! The call of a bird!

Yonder the long horizon lies, and there by night and day
The old ships draw to home again, the young ships sail away
And come I may, but go I must, and if men ask you why,
You may put the blame on the stars and the sun,
And the white road and the sky.

~Gerald Gould

Scuba Diving Success

One of the coolest things I accomplished last year was getting my scuba certification. When you consider that one of my biggest fears – other than spiders – is water, it’s nothing short of miraculous that I not only got my cert, but I’ve used it!!

I can’t really explain the rationale behind my fear of water because frankly there is nothing rational about it. As long as I can remember I’ve suffered from this fear. I could literally scare myself out of a bubble bath if I allowed myself to think about it too much, nevermind larger bodies of water (including swimming pools). The true irony is that until I moved to Arizona, I always lived in relatively close proximity to an ocean, gulf, or major lake but never fully took advantage of any of them. It took moving to the desert (and extreme heat I might add) for me to begin to appreciate how much fun the water can actually be!

It’s not that I can’t swim – after 10+ years of swim class I can pretty much do it all; and I float like a champ! I just couldn’t stay out of my own head long enough to enjoy water activities. This has annoyed me for years, and given all the water-based activities here in Phoenix (yeah, I know that sounds wrong somehow), I knew I had to find a way to overcome this fear.

When an opportunity came up late last summer to get my scuba certification, I took every ounce of caution, flung it out the window, and signed up. I don’t know that I would necessarily recommend my dive master for a beginner…he had a certain lack of patience which I found somewhat unhelpful. That said, he seemed to like me and did his best to push me to find new limits. I suppose in the end, it worked! I’ve been diving a handful of times since I got my official certification, although only in fresh water (aka lakes). One of my goals for 2014 is to venture out into salt water, so we’ve been discussing various options (it’s also a great excuse for a vacation – double win!). For someone who refuses to get in the ocean past mid-thigh, I’m oddly excited about the opportunity to be 60 feet under…

While I am a long way from having an underwater comfort zone, I have found that being in the water and being able to see what’s around me is infinitely less scary than being up top and vulnerable. I find that, like so many scary situations in life, removing the unknown helps in removing the fear. Perhaps that “unknown” has been my problem all along? The true test will come this summer (smile)!

scuba, dive, flag, emblem

If you’re interested in getting scuba certified, I strongly recommend you find an in-person class. There are online versions available for the first portion, but having someone in front of you to explain things is truly invaluable. Chances are there’s a dive shop in your area, no matter where you live (there’s a huge dive community here in Arizona of all places!). If not, a lot of resorts in tropical locations do offer scuba certification, but be forewarned that it’s a multi-day process. There’s a book to read, a calculator to learn, and a serious test – and that’s before you even get in the water! You do have to be able to swim a certain distance and tread water/float for a certain amount of time but neither requirement is too taxing.

The next step is your practical experience – a hand’s on learning of all the gadgets and gear that you’ve been reading about forever, which is generally done in a swimming pool for safety reasons. Your dive instructor will go over a series of basic skills you’ll need, and then you demonstrate your new skills until you have them down. Some instructors will do the pool-side skills in one day, some in multiple days.


After you’re comfortable in the pool, you must do an open-water dive – either in freshwater or saltwater, depending on your location. You’ll do a series of dives to demonstrate all of your fancy new skills, and if your instructor feels you have it down, you fill out all of the paperwork and you get a nice little “scuba certified” card in the mail a few weeks later. You’ll need this card to rent any scuba gear and sometimes to even buy certain gear. It’s a lifetime certification, but refresher courses are recommended if you have a prolonged period of time between dives. It’s also recognized internationally.

scuba, diving, diver, certification, open water

Proud Open Water Diver (maybe more later)

Once you’ve gotten your basic open water scuba certification, the sky’s the limit on additional certification courses – emergency response, photography, deep water, cavern, etc. Some of these, such as cavern diving certification, are required before venturing into any area where the water is not “open” around you. Considering all of the horror stories out there about inexperienced divers not coming back from a cave dive (like this one that just happened over Christmas), the extra time it takes to get this certification is well worth it.

There are also several internationally recognized groups for diving certifications. I went with the Professional Association of Diving Instructors (PADI) course, which seems to be one of the more popular options. Wikipedia has a more comprehensive list of diver certification organizations from around the world here.

For anyone concerned about buying a ton of equipment for something you may never do again, there’s this amazing thing called equipment rental (smile). For the most part, it’s recommended that you do buy a mask, snorkel, and fins (all of which are pretty customized to you), but it’s not necessary. If you do buy these items, you’ll be set to snorkel, even if you don’t dive. The rest of the equipment can be collected (and customized/color-coordinated) as you go.

Diving at depths does put your body under a lot of pressure, something  you have to take special care with and play by the rules. But I’ve found that it’s not really claustrophobic underwater. On the contrary, scuba diving opens up whole new worlds! As long as you have a good dive buddy and a solid amount of common sense, the bottom’s the limit (smile)!

Do you dive or snorkel? Have you ever purposefully done something out of your comfort zone to conquer a fear??

Travel Tuesday | My Spot

Happy Tuesday everyone! Linking up with A Compass Rose for this week’s Travel Tuesday (making it the best kind of Tuesday). I’m going to stop saying Tuesday…now.

Some of you who have been by my lil ol’ blog before may have the sense that I like Scotland. Okay, maybe more that I’m borderline obsessed (only not in a creepy decorate my place in plaid and paint my face blue sort of way) with Scotland. My goal for sometime now has actually been to move there. I have been actively investigating various methods of making this happen and I think I’m making some progress finally. But more on that later.

Today I want to take you to “my spot” (as said in the voice of Dr. Sheldon Cooper a la Big Bang Theory). In an ode to my favorite travel buddy a few weeks ago, I mentioned that I am the very proud owner of a little souvenir plot of land in the Glencoe area of Scotland. On this latest trip my brother and I were able to visit the Glencoe Wood – Highland Titles Nature Reserve and, through the kindness of a park steward, find my actual spot.

First, let me just say that this place is magical! They are in the beginning stages of developing the area for easier access and I have no doubt one day it will look great. But I’m really glad that I got to visit before it became too accessible, you know? Once we finally found the turn in, we pulled out the trusty American GPS (which was a total fail btw) and attempted to find the coordinates for the plot. Just as we were about to give it up, a very nice guy and his wife happened upon us in the middle of nowhere. Turns out he’s a steward with the Nature Reserve and they happened to be out filling some of the bird feeders for the wildlife cams around the Reserve. He very kindly took us to my exact spot (far from where we thought it was) and took a few pictures for us. I can’t thank him enough for his kindness (big smile).

Glencoe Wood, Scotland

Lady Meredith & Brother

Unfortunately, one of my “weaknesses” in photography is taking people pictures. I love talking to the locals and learning about the area, but I’m shy about asking to take pictures. It’s not my strongest photography point and I also have a tendency to get sidetracked and forget. So, sadly, I do not have a picture of James to show you. But if you go there, something tells me he’ll find you (smile).

Glencoe Wood, Scotland

My Spot

I have to say that I’m very pleased with my spot. It’s among the old forest and has a stream babbling away just down the bank. It would actually be the perfect spot to camp, and I hope I get to do that some day soon. Actually seeing this piece of property, that I technically own (I get that there are limits), in the country I love so much, was incredibly moving. I’m not exactly where I thought I would be in my life by 30. The only things of substance that belong to me free and clear are my car and this small piece of property. But that’s something, a start at least. And this property will stay with me until it passes to my heirs, which is a pretty amazing thought.

Seeing this small area and placing my small brick really brought home to me what I want in life. I feel more motivated and inspired to get moving, which is something I had lost. The experience was a little overwhelming (in a good way) and surprising (also in a good way). I’m just so happy that I was able to visit with my brother, who made this all possible. We aren’t “discuss your emotions” siblings, but I hope I managed to convey how much I love him and just how grateful I am for this gift he’s given me. I think it far exceeded both of our initial expectations (smile).

If you would like to find out more about this conservation effort, the website is here. I welcome new neighbors (smile)!

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Travel Tuesday: Scotland | Loch Ness

Hi guys and gals! Or I suppose I should say lassies and laddies, as we’re going to Scotland for today’s Travel Tuesday linkup with the Bonnie Rose! I’m thinking that pretty much anyone that’s been by this blog lately now has an idea of how I feel about Scotland (as in it is my place in the world – if only I could get there full time!). This time next week I’ll actually be roaming the streets of Edinburgh and a very happy girl!! For this upcoming trip we’ll be exploring the mid/central part of the country, which is a totally new area for me. My past excursions in the country have all been in the Highlands, so I thought that’s where we’d go today!

My interest in this country was first peaked when I came across the Outlander series by Diana Gabaldon. Yes, these are fictional books. However, Gabaldon is a scientist by training and does her research incredibly well, so a lot of the information depicted in the books is pretty darn accurate. And what better way to learn a little history than couched in a fabulous story?? The British Isles are steeped in story-telling traditions, so in my mind learning through historical fiction is justified. But I digress… So I read the books and fell in love with the idea of Scotland – especially as I have a bit of Scottish in my roots. When I studied abroad in college, a long weekend in Edinburgh was on the agenda and I knew it was my opportunity. While most of my classmates spent their days in the pubs or wandering up and down the royal mile (which I also did briefly), I convinced a couple of the other girls to take a train up to Inverness. We hired a wonderful taxi driver for the day and made our way to Loch Ness (their condition for coming along) before heading over to Culloden field (my primary purpose in going north). Thanks to our super helpful and informative taxi driver, we got to see our two primary spots and several that we didn’t even know existed! It was, to me, the beginning of a great love affair.

I’ve returned to the Highlands again twice since that initial trip and I fall more in love each time. This next trip will be my first time back in over 5 years. In a way it feels like returning home after a long absence, and I’m a bit nervous that I’ll find my feelings changed somehow. Only time will tell.

Today, however, I want to focus on the Highlands, particularly I think we’ll go with Loch Ness for this post. I want to take my proper time with this country, and not rush the beauty.

Loch Ness
Loch Ness is probably most famous for Nessie, its resident “monster.” The Loch Ness monster is supposedly a large, unknown animal that inhabits the loch and pops up to intrigue tourists from time to time. The first spotting to make international headlines was in 1933. Since then there has been no shortage of grainy photos and debatable camera footage claiming to depict the creature. It makes for a great story and it’s fun to imagine spotting the creature while enjoying the loch.

Loch Ness itself runs southwest from Inverness for approximately 23 miles. It is the second largest loch in Scotland by surface area (second to Loch Lomond), but the largest by volume due to its depth. Loch Ness contains more freshwater than all of the lakes in England and Wales combined!

Along the banks of Loch Ness you will find Urquhart Castle. The current castle ruins date back from the 13th to 16th century and have a storied history. The Castle is one of the largest and most visited in Scotland. It played a key part in the Scottish struggle for independence going back and forth between local clans and the Crown before being largely destroyed in the late 1600s to prevent its use by Jacobite rebels. There are also quite a few romantic stories associated with the castle. If you’re out for a visit to Loch Ness, the views from the castle ruins alone make it worth a stop. The history of the castle makes it worth taking your time.

Have you been to Loch Ness? Did you see the monster?!
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Travel Tuesday: Wales

Linking up with A Compass Rose for Travel Tuesday! Tuesdays are quickly becoming one of my favorite blogging days! I get to share my adventures and read about cool places all over the world. My travel bucket list has certainly expanded since I’ve been reading along with everyone (smile)!

I’ve been doing a personal tour of the UK leading up to the big birthday adventure to Scotland. This week it’s time to go to Wales! Random fact about me – my heritage is 80%+ Welsh. Both my maternal and paternal sides trace a fair number of their ancestors back to the great green country. I myself have had the opportunity to travel around Wales a couple of times now and it certainly is stunning!

The majority of the road signs, shop signs, and other public displays of the written word include the welsh version somewhere nearby. I have to admit it’s a bit disconcerting at first, if you aren’t expecting to see and hear the Welsh language all around. I think it’s a beautiful preservation of heritage, and I’ve thought about taking a class myself (there’s actually a Welsh class offered here in Phoenix – random fact #2).

Most of my travels to date have explored the southern portion of the country along the coast. I would love to see the northern portions of the country some day, as that is where my ancestors are primarily from. It’s on the never-ending list of places to see (smile). Below are a few of my favorite places that I’ve visited to date:

Tintern Abbey

Caerphilly Castle

Cardiff

Brecon Beacons National Park

Llywelyn the Great

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