Stirling, Scotland

Stirling Castle

Day trip from Edinburgh or an Overnight Stay

A first visit to Edinburgh is not complete without joining many other tourists on a walk up the Royal Mile, popping into St Giles Cathedral (free but they ask for a 2 £ donation), Mary Kings Close (ticket required), and Deacon Brodies for a beverage while you look for kilt-wearing musicians playing their bagpipes for tips. Your goal is Edinburgh Castle (ticket required).

On Edinburgh’s Royal Mile on an afternoon in early June.

Tip: The Royal Mile is most quiet after sundown.

The Royal Mile as the sun is setting. To the right is St Giles catherderal.

There is more to Edinburgh, of course, including the Carlton Hill and the Walter Scott Memorial but they are usually not as congested as the Royal Mile.

If you have more than one night in Edinburgh, consider a day trip or an overnight stay in Stirling. In fact, if you must make time for the side trip to Stirling, consider skipping Edinburgh Castle for a visit to Stirling Castle.

Stirling Castle has a long and fascinating history that the Historical Society takes great effort to teach. In addition to guides stationed at key locations, there are costumed interpreters in the royal apartments, a full size display of kitchen activities, and a section designed for children and young adults where they can see period musical instruments and clothes.

The unicorn tapestries in the Royal Apartments are authentic reproductions. A team of weavers worked 13 years to recreate them. You can see an exhibit about the making of the reproductions at the castle.

One of the reproduction tapestries.

There is also food available at a reasonable price. The Unicorn Cafe provides lunch and snacks. On my last visit, I enjoyed a shortbread bar topped with carmel and chocolate and a cappuccino.

The Castle Wynd is the narrow street that leads to Stirling Castle. A few of the Historic buildings lining it are the Old Town Jail, Holy Rude church (still in use) and Cowane’s Hospital. I’ve already written about the Castle Wynd in this post: Stirling and historic Stirlingshire Scotland.

It’s About the Journey

We are taking many day trips from home this summer. Home is in Colorado, USA.

The theme of the day might have been “It’s the journey that matters, not the destination.”

It was our second attempt to hike from Mitchell Lake to Blue Lake. On our first attempt, we arrived at what we thought was the trailhead parking lot. It was late morning.  The clouds were already gathering for the afternoon rain. To add insult to injury, the park toilet facilities were closed. The closest public toilet was a half hour ride back to Nederland. GOOD TO KNOW.

Yesterday we left home at 8 am. With a rest stop in Nederland, and an agreement to drive straight through, we figured we would be at the trailhead by 10 or 10:30 am at the latest. IT’S GOOD TO PLAN.

Somewhere on the way to Nederland, two moose startled us by crossing the road in front of the car. We pulled over, grabbed our cameras, and went looking for the moose. We were hoping to capture a few photos from a safe distance. We didn’t need to worry about a moose-related injury because we never got close enough to capture any images. IT’S GOOD TO BE SAFE.

We arrived in Nederland a half hour behind schedule. After purchasing a brownie and blueberry muffin, we paused and discovered a musician was about to perform. I did not get the gentleman’s name but his rendition of the national anthem on a harmonica gave me chills. Everyone on the deck listened in respectful silence. With all the challenges we face as a country, still IT’S GOOD TO BE AN AMERICAN.

We listened to a couple songs, and then spent a few minutes photographing the café exterior. The cafe structure is two antique circus railroad cars. KINDA COOL.

By the time we approached the parking area, there were 25 +/- cars ahead of us. Guess we didn’t notice that this is a timed entry area. My travel companion was able to learn that the next entry time was in 20 minutes. We may or may not get in, depending on how many parking spaces were available. So, we waited, and YAY! We got in. IT’S GOOD TO BE PATIENT.

Finally, as the clouds were gathering, we had a parking spot! But wait! We were at Lake Brainard. Where is the trailhead for the Mitchell Lake to Blue Lake trail? We made the best of the situation, walking around Lake Brainard dodging raindrops, and admiring the mountain views. We think we found the trail to the Lake Mitchell trailhead. Guess we’ll have to try again. IT’S GOOD TO BE FLEXIBLE.

Originally published as a Facebook post on August 2, 2020

Picking a Good Travel Companion

What is your travel personality?

Suppose you are looking for a travel companion and a friend or acquaintance expresses an interest in taking a trip with you. Do you set a travel date and start packing your bags? Not if you value your sanity and your friendship.

Take some time to determine your travel personality. Travel personality refers to personal habits and preferred travel activities. For example, you could be a(n):

  • Early riser or night owl
  • Talkative or quiet
  • Big spender or budget conscious
  • Fast food devotee or local restaurant explorer
  • Independent or  interdependent
  • Driver or passenger
  • Social drinker who enjoys a glass of wine with dinner or a person who never drinks alcoholic beverages

Knowing your travel personality gives you a good start in getting to know   how you and the potential travel companion get along.  Start the conversation over a beverage or a meal. If the first conversation goes well, take a low risk  overnight or day trip together to sample how your might interact while traveling. Do a debrief after the trial trip – what went well, what did not go well.

One final bit of advice is to trust your instincts. If you get a sense that traveling with this person might reduce or eliminate your enjoyment of the trip, say no.

(Originally published in 2008)

7 Hints for Overcoming ‘No Do Overs’ Traveler’s Angst

Set priorities, plan, and relax

For most people, the opportunities for travel do overs are rare. How many trips of a lifetime can the average person take? A bad experience (or no experience) at that one important sight or activity could ruin an entire trip, if you let it.

Happily, there are ways to overcome this:

1. Set priorities. What are the most important places? What are the one or two things to see/do that will make your trip? Identify those things and place them prominently in your itinerary. Instead of visiting all of the ancient architectural/historical sites, for example, pick the one or two that interest you the most.

2. Allow extra time for unforeseen situations, like inclement weather, missed connections, and traffic jams. The corollary is to plan light, non-critical activities on the first and last day of the trip. If your flight is cancelled on Monday and your bucket list item is scheduled for Tuesday, you will miss it.

3. Accept the fact that unfortunate delays and miscommunications do occur. It is your attitude that influences how you handle them. The story of how you handled a delay or miscommunication might seem funny when you retell it at home. For example, misreading a road sign in Ireland and driving on a hiking path to the Cliffs of Mohr might cause anxious moments when it happens but it does make a funny story.

4. Have a Plan B. What would be a good substitute for your top place/activity if you miss it? Sometimes Plan B turns out to be better than Plan A.

5. Try to spend 2 nights in each town or city unless the area is small or does not have much that is important to you. Alternately, pick one strategically located town or city as your home base and take day trips from there.  For example, from Padova, Italy, you can easily reach Vicenza, Milano, and Verona by train.

6. Relax. Enjoy the travel experience as it unfolds. Sometimes the best memories are a result of unexpected changes.

7. Allow for the possibility of returning  at a later date.  For most people, thinking that they might return relieves some the stress of ‘seeing it all’.  This works especially well if the places you defer to a later time are lower priorities.

(Originally posted in 2011)

Memorable Moments in Rome

Finding quiet in the Eternal City

Sometimes it’s difficult to image what Rome was like in ancient times or even what it might be like today if all of the tourists suddenly were to disappear. But there are moments and images that, if you are in right frame of mind, might take you back . . . or at least create a special memory that is uniquely yours.

For example, you may find yourself on a sidewalk in Trastevere, and realize you understood a conversation in Italian that you overheard.

A Trastevere street
A Trastevere street

Or when you catch a glimpse of peace through a window while moving with the crowd through the Vatican Museum on the way to the Sistine Chapel.

Glimpse out the window
Glimpse out the window

Or when you stumble onto a ‘magical doorway’ known as the Porta Alchemica in a public park (Piazza Vittorio) not normally explored by tourists on their way to Santa Maria Maggiore.

Porta Alchemica
Porta Alchemica

Maybe it is when you notice the gate through which the East Roman troops entered the city in 536, reclaiming it for the Byzantine Empire. The Porta Asinaria is close to San Giovanni in Laterano.

Porta Asinaria
Porta Asinaria

My best advice is to be open to the moment without expectations of when or where it will occur.

Movie recommendation

Borrow or rent the movie Pranzo di ferragosto (Mid-August Lunch) to see footage of modern Rome relatively tourist-free. Filmed in Trastevere, it is a light comedy about a middle-aged man, his elderly mother, and what they do to avoid eviction from their apartment.

(Originally posted in 2011)

Stirling and historic Stirlingshire Scotland

Tangible remnants of the past

The town of Stirling was the first capital of Scotland and the main town of historic Stirlingshire (Stirling county).  Stirling received its first charter as a royal burgh (see in the 12th century.

For the modern visitor, a stroll through the streets of Stirling Old Town and the Castle Wynd gives a feeling for how the town looked centuries ago.

Holy Rude is a historic church where James VI (son of Mary, Queen of Scots) was crowned in 1567. Behind the church is a series of graveyards overlooked by Stirling Castle.

Keeping Holy Rude to your left, if you were to turn around and face the other direction, on your left is Cowane Hospital. Quite convenient, having the hospital near the church and graveyard, don’t you think?

Cowane Hospital
Cowane Hospital

Actually Cowane Hospital was a mid-17th century almshouse for poor members of the merchant guide.  A merchant and member of the Scots Parliament, John Cowane, donated most of the money to fund it.

A sign on the wall  eloquently states:

“This hospitall was erected and largely provyded by John Cowane for the entertainment of decayed gild brethren.”

Decayed? “Hmm”, I thought. “Interesting word usage.”

Cowane Hospital inscription
“Decayed gild brethren”?

According to, the obsolete meaning of decay is “to cause to decay”, as in “infirmity that decays the wise” (William Shakespeare).  I don’t think any 21st century person over the age of 30 would appreciate being described as “decayed”.

Other notable sites on the Castle Wynd and the Old Town include the Unicorn Mercat Cross, Argyll’s Lodging and the Old Town Jail.

Argyrll's Lodging
Someone named Argyrll lived here

The Castle Wynd terminates at Stirling Castle. I found Stirling Castle to be more engaging than Edinburgh Castle.

Stirling Castle from Bannockburn
Stirling Castle from Battle of Bannockburn site

At Stirling Castle, you can try on medieval costumes and play period musical instruments.  You can also see the King’s and Queen’s rooms as they might have appeared in the mid-16th century.

The queen's audience room
The queen’s audience room

A servant of the queen
A servant at the queen’s desk

The castle kitchen is complete with mannequins dressed as kitchen staff.  Speaking of kitchens, the cafe is worth the stop for a sweet treat or filling lunch.

Bread bakers in the kitchen of Stirling Castle
Bread bakers in the kitchen of Stirling Castle

Meat and vegetable preparation in the kitchen of Stirling Castle
Meat and vegetable preparation in the kitchen of Stirling Castle

Two historic battles in the fight for Scottish independence were fought in Stirlingshire. You can visit Stirling Bridge on foot and imagine The Battle of Stirling Bridge (1297).

The battle of Bannockburn (1314) visitor center provides a quite a bit more to help you imagine the fight.

Sunrise at Bannockburn Memorial
Winter Sunrise at Bannockburn Memorial

At the Battle of Bannockburn Visitor Center, you can transform into a knight by slipping on chain mail, a helmet, and grasping a replica sword in one hand and a shield in another.

Trying period weapons and costumes
Trying period weapons and costumes

You can also transform to an archer if chain mail seems a bit heavy.

Period costume for crossbow foot soldier
Got my crossbow!

One of the highlights of your visit will be participating in a simulation based on the battle. I’m told the Scots always win. They certainly whipped the English during my visit.

Stirling churches and historical records

The history of churches in Scotland from the 16th to 18th centuries is tumultuous.

This article provides a narrative

Locating the actual congregation an ancestor belonged, was married, or were buried can be difficult. For example, one of my 7th great-grandfathers lived, married and died in St Ninians, Stirlingshire.  James Wands died in 1760. Burial records place him on the “back of ?ngle Hugh Campbell stone closing a double grave”. The burial list for the  St Ninians graveyard that I could find does not include any Wands or Campbells.

You can browse the database at Scotland Peoples and pay a small fee to download records of birth, baptisms, marriages, and deaths at

Getting to Stirling

Stirling is a 57-minute train ride from Edinburgh Wavery Station. Buses run from the train station to Old Town, Stirling Castle, the Battle of Bannockburn Visitor Center and the Wallace Memorial. You can also choose to walk 15 minutes from the train station to Old Town or engage a taxi at the taxi stand outside the station.

Visiting London at Christmas

Christmas in London, New Year’s in Edinburgh — sounds romantic, doesn’t it?

My travel partner and I celebrated Christmas and New Year 2018 in the UK. Our visit was pleasant because we understood and accepted certain caveats.

It’s cold outside. Temperatures never got above 45° Fahrenheit. It is a damp cold, being at sea level and close to the water. The morning of our day trip to Stonehenge, the temperature gauge on the bus showed 2° Celsius (35.6° Fahrenheit).

One of the best times to avoid crowds at Stonehenge is early on a cold winter morning when frost is heavy on the grass.

Frosty morning at Stonehenge
Frosty morning at Stonehenge

Find your own ride! Public transportation in London and most of England shuts down on Christmas Day. Don’t count on the Heathrow Express to get you into London if you arrive on Christmas Day. Forget the tube. It’s closed as well. Your best choice is a hotel shuttle or a taxi. We pre-booked a taxi to take us from Heathrow to Westminster. Our cost was 68 pounds. Transport is limited to a lesser extent on Dec 26 (Boxing Day) and Jan. 1.

Pre-book your Christmas lunch. Most restaurants in London close on Christmas and Boxing day (December 26). The restaurants that are open have limited hours or only take reservations for a set menu.

Bring your patience.  If you land at London Heathrow airport on Christmas morning, the line at passport control will be slow. We counted two officers working passport control on Christmas morning. We waited 2 hours to get our passports stamped. The wait would have been longer but around 11:00 am, more staff arrived to check passports.

A lot of other people visit during Christmas week. Expect crowds at all the major tourist attractions. Be prepared for crushing crowds if you venture to Edinburgh for Hogmanay, the city’s 4-day New Year celebration. The air smelled of candle wax as we gently pushed our way through the throng of bystanders watching the Torchlight Procession. Our goal was an Italian restaurant (Bella Italia at Northbridge Rd and the Royal Mile). We were seated right away. The meal, and the view of the people were excellent once we got there.

Torchlight Procession
Watching the Torchlight Procession from inside the restaurant

Your London rewards for accepting the caveats with grace and good humor are plentiful! You can see holiday street and store front decorations and enjoy traditional holiday fare. Two hop-on hop-off bus companies run on Christmas Day. Anyone is welcome to attend the Christmas evensong service at Westminster Abby or St Paul’s Cathedral. Maybe the best London  reward is the relative quiet of a city that stops on Christmas day so residents can celebrate the holiday.

Mayfair decorations
London’s Mayfair neighborhood decorated for Christmas

Lights near Picadilly circus
Street decorations near London’s Piccadilly circus

Northbank lights
London holiday Northbank decorations

Trafalgar Square
Trafalgar Square

Your Edinburgh reward is celebrating the new year with thousands of other revelers. If you choose to take part in any Hogmanay activities ( ), plan in advance. I’ll cover driving into Edinburgh in another post, but my final caveat is DON’T EVEN THINK about driving into Edinburgh during Hogmanay. Edinburgh Waverley station ( is a ten minute walk down the hill from the Royal Mile and accessible to the new town.

Barcelona, Spain – Strolling La Rambla and La Boqueria

Schedule some time to stroll La Rambla on your next trip to Barcelona. Be sure to stop at the Mercat de Sant Josep de la Boqueria (la Boqueria) market.

la Boqueria

If you visit la Boqueria at mid-morning, you will see an abundance of fresh seafood. If you visit hungry, take advantage of the ready-to-eat food available. Carry your snack to the paved area behind the market and grab a cement seat. You can nosh and people watch here, especially in the evenings.

Dates and chocolate
Dates and chocolate

I kept returning to La Boqueria  for a snack or a quick dinner. Should I have a freshly made sweet crepe, a savory crepe, or a piece of chocolate? Wandering through the market, I found myself thinking about how I will prepare that fish fillet over there, or which spices to use when I roast the piece of meat in the next aisle, or nibbling on that hunk of cheese…

Jarmon (ham)
Jarmon (ham)

I made a vow to come back to Barcelona with a friend(s), rent an apartment, shop the market, and cook what I’ve pruchased every day. My small meals will have to suffice until then. 
 In addition to fresh produce, mushrooms, and meats and fishes, vendors sell many varieties of candy, desserts, breads, crepes made while you wait, empanadas, and wines.

 Pollo (chicken)
Pollo (chicken)


La Rambla
Running from the  Plaça de Catalunya to the Christopher Columbus statue,  La Rambla is an ancient street with outdoor stands and cafes to accommodate the tourist crowd. But if you look around you, you will see intriguing architecture and signage. Be aware that pickpockets work La Rambla and keep your belongings close to you.

La Rambla dragon
La Rambla dragon

La Rambla store front
La Rambla store front

To get to La Rambla on the metro, take Line L3 to Placa de Catalunya station. People watch at Placa de Catalunya and then make your way to La Rambla.

Black Sales
I arrived in Barcelona on Thanksgiving day 2015. Coming out of the metro at Placa de Catalunya, the first thing that caught my eye was the sign for the “Black Day” sale. They were having Black Friday sales in Spain! I later learned this trend began a few years earlier. I wish I had gotten a photo of one of the signs but I didn’t think about it at the time.

Placa de Catalunya
Placa de Catalunya

Tangine in Tangier

I spent most of my time in Morocco at Tangier.  My hotel was in the kashbah, the fortified upper part of the old city overlooking the port. For first rate service, and a plentiful breakfast on a rooftop terrace, stay at La Maison Blanche. (

My top-floor room had a window overlooking other rooftops. What struck me most while looking at the other rooftops was the contrasts. Some roofs are quite inviting while others have practical purposes – hanging clothes and storage.

Kashbah rooftop
Kashbah rooftop

Another kashbah rooftop view
Another kashbah rooftop view

Cat on the kashbah
Cat on the kashbah

Two ferry companies service the Tarifa, Spain – Tangier route. The 40-minute crossing was smooth and uneventful. An officer stamps passports during the trip. All I needed to do when I landed in Tangier was have my luggage scanned.

In many ways, staying in the Tangier kashbah is like a stay in a European town. Instead of church bells in the morning, the call to prayer echoes through the air several times a day. Instead of a vegetable vendor calling “Frutta fresca” and “Vendura fresche”, a fish merchant pushes a cart laden with fish every morning. His call is the Arabic equivalent of “fresh fish,  get your fresh fish here”.

Two of the three nights I ate dinner in the  kasbah. The first night, I dined on food from the El Morocco Club. The club was packed so a server delivered dinner to my hotel. I enjoyed every bite of my meal. El Morocco serves French Moroccan cuisine and liquor.

The second night, I ate in a small restaurant which appeared to be the first floor of someone’s home.  The chef/owner arrived in Tangier years ago. Her chicken tangine is wonderful and includes vegetables I have never seen before.

On my last full day in Tangier, my guide took me to Assilah. We drove along the coast.  The beaches on the route are deserted with some  pockets of development.  My guide explained that Morocco doesn’t have a beach culture. Many owners of beach estates are from other countries. Stops along the way included Cape Spartel lighthouse and the  Cave of Hercules. Unfortunately, my camera card went bad during the ride to Assilah and I do not have any photos from the ride.

Detail of the roof of an entryway for a private estate
Detail of the roof of an entryway for a private estate

My guide found a camera shop outside the walled town. They were able to transfer the images from the defective card to a new card.  Onto the walled town!

Map of walled town
Map of walled town

Low tide
Low tide

The streets of the Assilah were almost empty that December Saturday.

Every year, Assilah hosts an international mural competition.  The murals remain until the next competition.  Many of the murals are  colorful.

Mural outside a school
Mural outside a school

I found the Mujaheddin Graveyard very interesting. Instead of gravestones, each grave is covered with tiles. Each family has a particular tile pattern.

Mujaheddin Graveyard with tiled grave markers
Mujaheddin Graveyard with tiled grave markers

Looking back on this trip, there were times when my lack of local language skills made me uneasy. When I got over my discomfort and relaxed a bit, I enjoyed the trip. In reality, my greatest discomfort occurred on my return to Europe. Security was very tight due to a recent incident. The ferry passengers stood single file waiting to see passport control.  Armed guards scrutinized the people in line. Sadly, security is necessary precaution.

I would like to visit Morocco again…ride a camel  into the desert and sleep in a Berber tent…see Marrakesh, Casa Blanca and Chefchaouen.

Ireland by Car

A road trip is the best way to visit the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland.  Unlike many European countries, trains are scarce in rural areas. From the USA, you can fly into Shannon (County Clare) in the west or Dublin airport in the east.

At first, the thought of driving on the right side of the road was intimating until a taxi driver in Dublin advised, “Follow the guy in front of you. Make wide left turns and close right turns.”

Busy roundabouts were other stressors.  Learn the roundabout rules – cars in the roundabout have the right of way and move to the inner lanes if you are exiting at the 3rd or 4th turn.

The best piece of advice I can give you about renting a car in Ireland is buy full insurance coverage on the rental car. Spend the money on vehicle replacement cost insurance. We observed rental agency associates examining every inch of every returned vehicle. A few scratches from a roadside bush, or a mirror shattered hitting a fence post to avoid a tour bus on a narrow road could cost you more than the insurance.


Slea Head Drive is a scenic circular coastal drive that begins and ends in Dingle. The road is narrow and most of the sites (famine era cottage, stone huts, and feeding the animals) are a steep uphill walk.

Slea Head Drive
Slea Head Drive

Famine era cottage
Famine era cottage

Another famine era cottage
Another famine era cottage

Inch Strand Beach
Inch Strand Beach

Animal lovers of all ages will enjoy the opportunity to feed the sheep, goats, horses, and donkey at the Fairy Fort on Slea Head Drive. For a nominal fee (3 euros at the time of this writing) you can explore the fairy fort and feed the animals. This is one attraction that does not require a steep climb to visit. In case you are wondering, fairy forts are what the Irish call the remains of earthen circular dwellings  created during the late Iron Age  through the first centuries of the Christian era.

Feeding the animals
Feeding the animals

Beehive huts
Beehive huts

Slea Head Drive is less well known than the Ring of Kerry Drive which reduces the amount of traffic you will encounter.