Our Scotland Adventure – Day 2 Continued

The second half of Day 2 continued our tour of historic sites.  Our first stop after leaving Edinburgh was Preston Mill.  I’d stumbled upon information about the mill during my online searching for things to see in Scotland and immediately fell in love with it’s unique look.  When I showed it to the Hubs he was intrigued as well and agreed to add it to the list.  It was the end of the tourist season in Scotland and it was literally the last day before the mill closed for the winter, so we were very glad that we had decided to come when we did.

Luckily because it was the last day, the ice cream they sell in the small gift shop was on sale, so we got a couple to enjoy as we browsed the various displays about life at the mill and how grain was processed in the mill until 1959.  This sign gave an overview of the multiple steps the material went through in this particular setup.  Note the little mouse at the bottom of the sign, who told guests to be on the lookout for him around the mill.

There were also displays about how the mill had been transformed into the backdrop for several scenes of my favorite show, Outlander!  I hadn’t realized it when we added it to the list, but as we toured the property I could remember the scenes and recognize which areas they had used in the show.

There was maintenance being done on the grounds in preparation for the winter, and the heavy equipment in use to dredge the pond prevented us from touring the whole area, but this spot behind the mill was the first I recognized from the show.  In the scene Jamie hides in the water so the British dragoons won’t find him, while Claire and Jenny sit on the edge of the grass above the water, hiding his clothes with their skirts.  Obviously the area is a bit changed since filming, but it really felt like being IN the scene with the characters.  The gentleman giving us a tour of the mill had been present during the filming and noted that the creek had been dammed to create a large pool in this spot to fit the scene described in the book.

The guide also showed us how the wooden water gates were used used to power the water wheel, which turned the mechanics of the mill stones inside.  There was a wooden gate  just below the walkway which controlled the flow of water from the pond and the board you see at an angle would divert the water away from the wheel when it needed repairs.  If they wanted the wheel to go at full power they would open both gates and let the water flow toward the wheel.

The proximity to the river means the mill is always at risk of flooding, which has happened on a large scale many times in it’s history.  Our guide pointed out the high water marks that had been carved on the larger stones on the side of the mill.

Now it was time to head inside the mill and learn what the wheel powered.  The oddly shaped kiln section of the mill looked even more whimsical from this view point.  We asked the guide why it had been built with such an asymmetrical shape.  He explained that the Miller sent his son to the Netherlands to learn new methods to incorporate at the mill.

Apparently he came back from his journey with an idea to build this cylindrical style kiln and, much to his father’s surprise, a new Dutch wife!  The odd shape likely came to be because the kiln was built without a formal blueprint, based on the son’s memory of the Dutch kilns.  So in other words it was a DIY special which involved using locally available materials and tweaking the plan as it came together.  But it’s still standing today so that is a great testament to their ingenuity.

We started the interior tour upstairs where there were an assortment of tools and random parts typical for a working agricultural site – along with a few relatives of Mr. Mouse who we had seen on the sign in the other building.  The guide showed us the massive stones that would spin and grind the grain from the power of the water wheel outside. The large metal claws above them were used when they had to move or replace stones.

Then we got to go up the ramp to the kiln.  This ramp was likely added later when improvements were made to the mill.  Before then the Miller would have carried the bags of grain up the stone steps in the front.

There was an area to build a fire in the base of the kiln which would bake the grains that were spread across this metal floor so they were fully dry before being ground.  The Miller would have to come into the smoky kiln to turn the grain on a regular schedule several times a day.  The smoke would vent through the openings in the roof.  This was very hazardous work, as it was usually pitch black and filled with sooty smoke.  In fact it was common for Millers to develop lung problems due to this part of the process and it became known as “Millers’ Lung”.  Of course this meant that most Millers didn’t live long lives, but they and their families were indispensable to the region and therefore made a good living and always had a good variety in their diet.

The baked grain would be swept into a shaft that led back into the mill where it was bagged.  This was obviously a two person job and so often the Miller’s adult children would help manage the bag on this end.

It was interesting to learn that the farmers who brought in their grain would provide their own bags so that when the milled grain went to market customers could identify the various varieties from the different producers.  Early advertising and branding!

From there the grain was fed through a series of sifters and blowers to be ground finer and finer.  I won’t try to explain the whole process because I’m sure to get parts wrong, but it was labor intensive and yet quite efficient compared to how it would have been done by hand before the invention of a mill.  This video of a similar mill will give you an idea of the process.

We spotted a few more of Mr. Mouse’s relatives among the machinery, including this brave one who was riding the conveyor belt scoops!

Having seen all we could at the mill we thanked our guides and made note of their suggestions for nearby spots for dinner before heading to our next stop, the ruins of Tantallon Castle just a short drive away.

This great stone castle was the headquarters for the notorius ‘Red Douglas‘ family.  The castle itself covered a vast area at the top of the hill overlooking the water and the surrounding areas were arranged to provide and protect the stronghold.  Even in it’s current state of ruin it was impressive.

We walked the path up to the castle feeling dwarfed by it’s vast size and position.  There was a wooden bridge across a main ditch which served as a defense of the castle wall.

The small doorway was easy to protect and manage, but at one time had been quite ornate based on the carvings still visible.

We found stairs inside and made our way up to the top of the stone walls, which made the structure seem even more impressive.

The view from the ramparts was phenomenal.  You could see all the way across the water toward Edinburgh and all of the surrounding countryside.

The view toward the front of the castle showed the remains of an outer defensive wall that we had passed through to get to the castle.

The view toward the rear of the castle was of the main courtyard.  This would have been a busy area of the castle during it’s heyday, but today it’s a lush vantage point for the stunning scenery.

Across the water you could see Bass Rock which was formed by an extinct volcano.  This island has served many purposes including a lighthouse, religious retreat, and prison but today it is home to the largest northern gannet colony in the world.  We could see the masses of birds flapping their wings and could hear their vocals faintly.

Inside the various towers of the castle there were areas that had been walled off to better protect the castle from invaders, so some areas weren’t accessible.  One of the towers was where the soldiers would have kept watch.  This sign described their daily routines and showcased artifacts left behind from these residents.

There was also a servants area where a display detailed their typical routines and duties.  Pieces of pottery found on the site give clues of the tools the servants here used.

There were several stairways that connected the various sections of the castle.  Retrofitted with modern lighting and daylight from open sections of the castle walls, they appear much brighter than they would have back in their heyday.  This stairway led to the great hall where guests would have dined and been entertained.

Today the upper floor and back wall of this section of the castle are long gone, but you still get a sense of how grand the space would have been.  There was a massive fireplace to the left and a private stairway that led to the laird’s private chambers above.

The upper floors where the laird and his family would have had their apartments is gone, but this spiral section is where the stairs to their private areas were.

We wandered the back courtyard where the well was located, so they could draw water from under the clifs below.  This would have been a popular gathering place for many of the castle’s inhabitants.

Looking back at the castle from the corner of the courtyard certainly made you feel small and insignificant.  I can imagine those who were brought here through various circumstances envisioned it as very imposing.

Beyond the courtyard were cliffs that above a small rocky harbor.  This was a critical asset to the castle grounds because it allowed small boats to bring in visitors, traders and supplies, including food and weapons.  When the castle was under siege this area was heavily protected because it provided castle residents a means of escape or a method to bring in reinforcements even if the supply lines on land had been cut.

Lastly we investigated the doocot, where pigeons were kept to serve as messengers and a food source of both eggs and meat throughout the winter, especially at Christmas feasts.

The castle was closing for the day so we headed out along the coast line in search of the recommendations the guides at the mill had given us.  We ended up in North Berwick and stumbled upon the only eatery that was apparently still open this late in the season.

The Rocketeer is a small establishment on the spit along the coast with an open air dining space. It sits in front of the site of an old kirk where the Scottish Seabird Center now stands.

While we waited for our order to arrive I took in the nearby view.  Having grown up on the eastern seaboard of the US I’m used to coastal communities along beaches like this but seeing these historic stone structures right next to sand was quite different.  It was like an odd couple marriage of quaint seaside town and historic brownstone.

Soon my attention turned back to my belly, with the arrival of a simply presented but oh-so delicious clam chowder.  We were quite hungry after being active all day and only having small snacks along the journey so in addition to the chowder we both also ordered the fresh lobster and chips dinner.

It was also presented in a simple way, but it was even more tasty than the chowder!  The Hubs face says it all…

We savored our dinner and the view along with the nice weather as we shared our favorite parts of the sights we’d seen that day.  Dinner itself was a highlight for both of us because it’s hard to beat lobster at sunset along the Scottish countryside as you look out at the sea!  After dinner, the Hubs stayed at the restaurant to settle our bill and rest his knee after all the exploring we’d done throughout the day, while I wandered the spit behind the building.

It was a lovely spot to take in the sunset which is what several couples and families were doing as I made my way along the walkways.  I discovered there was also a lobster hatchery next to the seabird center.  I didn’t have the heart to tell the hatchery’s ambassador, Larry the lobster that his kin had made a tasty meal just moments before.

There was a small marina filled mainly with sailboats which I assumed belonged to the locals who would enjoy them in them on weekends and holidays.

I came back toward the road where we had parked to stroll along another large sandy beach with small pools created by an old foundation of some sort. The Hubs joined me there as he made his way to the car from the restaurant.

We headed back to the main highway as the last rays of light faded and made our way back to Edinburgh where we would spend the night before heading to the highlands the next day.  It had been a day of true holiday – leisurely enjoying a new environment and savoring a wonderful meal.  We knew the other adventures we had planned would also be pleasant, but the feeling from this day would be tough to beat.

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Our Scotland Adventure – Day 2

Our second day in Scotland was one of my favorite days of the entire trip, but it was a long one so I’m going to divide it over two posts.  We started the day at Edinburgh castle.  Driving in downtown Edinburgh is crazy and parking is downright insane.  After several loops around the castle on congested one-way roads we found a spot below the castle.  We paid at the parking kiosk and made our way up a large staircase to the Royal Mile a few blocks in front of the castle.

We were surprised to spot these iconic phone booths along the walk to the castle.  I’m not sure if they keep them just for the tourist attraction or if the locals still use them but they made me smile either way.

The crowds grew as we approached the main entrance to the castle.  This wide area is called the esplanade and was often used for large public gatherings and displays.  We made our way past the tour groups and headed inside.  As we waited in line to pay for our entrance tickets I took in the various textures of the inner wall, which showed the craftsmanship of those who had created it and the changes in material available as it had been built.

Once inside we stepped up along the walls to take in the view of the royal gardens below and the Firth of Forth beyond.  It was certainly impressive and a great vantage point to see the entire area.

The view toward the inside of the wall was pretty amazing too.  Because the castle had been built, rebuilt and added to over the centuries it’s now a combination of structures, each with their own purpose and look.

I’m a sucker for old world architecture and there was no shortage of that here.  The stone turrets on the corners of the walls were lovely and I marveled at the design skill it took to create them without modern day tools.

There was a row of small buildings that had been houses at some point, which were now a small cafe and gift shop.  There was so much texture and character every way I looked, especially in the smaller areas where the crowds weren’t filling the scene.  I felt like I’d landed in the pages of a story book and imagined the various scenes that likely played out in these very places.

Several of the buildings are still in use for official purposes, including military head quarters and private residences for castle officials.

In one of the alleyways tucked behind these buildings I spotted this cool vintage work truck and wondered what they use it for now.

We toured the military displays which included medals from various campaigns, artifacts from the daily lives of the soldiers and their leaders in the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards regimental museum.  I also enjoyed the view of the historic homes below the castle from the windows in this area.

Next we toured the underground dungeon where prisoners were held during the various wars.  The extra lighting for tourists and my editing skills don’t paint the full picture of how depressing and dark this space must have been.  It certainly wasn’t the worst conditions but it wasn’t the most comfortable either.

Other areas of the prison had displays about how those held here would forge bank notes to pay off guards or for use if they escaped.   There were also several doors on display with carvings prisoners had created during their countless hours of time to kill to tell their stories.  It was the early version of graffiti.  Many prisoners also used their time creating hand-crafted artisan boxes and trinkets that they would sell to the guards and locals who came to the castle and when they were in the outdoor yards.

Back outside we wandered past several more buildings which included a war memorial and a small workshop that is now a retail space for the castle’s own brand of whiskey.

Then we headed into the main courtyard of the castle, which was flanked by the great hall, the Royal Palace which contains the royal apartments and the vault for the crown jewels and the stone of destiny which is used in coronation ceremonies for the monarchs of England.  The long line you see coming out of the tower with the clock was to see the jewels.  We did partake of that, but there are no photos allowed in that area for security reasons.

The arched doorway you see on the right of the clock tower led to Mary Queen of Scots royal apartments where her son, James VI was born. It was amazing to tour the spaces where so much history had occurred, especially a story line that has captivated generations and been retold in various ways.  Having watched several of the shows that depict Mary and her family’s role in Scottish history it was even more interesting to see where it had all really happened.  We saw the symbols of the lion and unicorn throughout the castle, which represent the United Kingdom.  The lion stands for England and the unicorn is for Scotland.

The great hall was an impressive structure indeed.  Built to showcase Scottish power and style it was used to impress visiting dignitaries and nobles.  The ceiling of the hall was built like the hull of a ship with massive beams that create an unique design.  The walls were decorated with various weaponry and armor and several of the windows had elaborate stained glass panels.  There was also a secret spy hole called the Laird’s lug where the King could see what was happening in the hall from above.  You can just make it out behind the light in the second picture.

Nearby is the very small St Margaret’s Chapel, the oldest surviving building in Edinburgh.  It would only hold about 29-30 people at a time, so visitors took turns viewing the interior of the chapel where there was a small alter at the front and a few benches to line either wall.  Stained glass windows were installed when the chapel was restored in the 1920’s and depict four saints including Margaret herself (the closeup below) and the national hero, William Wallace.

I was pleased to spot this dog cemetery along the edge of the castle wall.  The sign identifying it as such said that it had been in use since Queen Victoria’s reign as a burial place for regimental mascots and officer’s dogs.

We also got to watch the firing of the One O’Clock Gun. This is a long standing tradition which dates back to the days before accurate timepieces were available and the signal allowed sailing ships in the Firth of Forth to check and reset their chronometers.  I’ll try to share a video of the event on Facebook in the next few days.

Having seen all the major attractions at the castle we decided to head out to other sights we had on our list.  The view of the castle from where we parked was a great last look at the history this location has witnessed.

That excitement was tampered when we got back to the car and discovered that we had a parking ticket even though we had paid at the nearby kiosk.  We we decided to research our options and address the ticket another day once we were able to print out proof we had paid for a permit.  So we made our way out of the bustle of the city to see some more history in the nearby countryside.  I’ll share that next, so stop back by soon to continue the adventure. 🙂

Our Scotland Adventure – Day 1

Now that I’ve finished sharing our Iceland adventures it’s time to catch you up on the fun we had in Scotland.  We had an early morning flight from Iceland into Edinburgh, but by the time we got our luggage, rental car and made our way to the hotel it was time for a late lunch.  After lunch we made our way to the Royal Botanical Gardens near downtown.  It took a bit longer than we had planned to figure out the directions to the garden and the parking app since we didn’t have any coins to pay the physical meters.  And once we had paid for parking we realized we were a 2 block walk from the only open entrance to the gardens.  But it was all part of the adventure and it was perfect fall weather for a stroll through the gardens with crunchy leaves underfoot on the sidewalk along the way.

We wandered the various gardens only occasionally looking at the map we had picked up in the visitor center.  This area was one of the first we explored.  It had several different zones to showcase the various climates around Scotland and nearby areas of Europe.

I spotted this driftwood arrangement in one of the display beds and had to point it out to the Hubs as proof that his wife and his mother aren’t the only ones who decorate the garden with “sticks”.  See even the pros do it!

As we wandered to another area there was a unique looking tree.  From a distance I first thought it was a pine tree but upon closer inspection we realized it was quite different.  It’s called a Monkey Puzzle and was brought over from the mountains of Chile.

Just beyond the Monkey Puzzle tree was this MASSIVE green house.  I could see trees growing inside and was excited to investigate, but it was closed for maintenance work.

So I browsed the flower beds around the green house, where I found these amazing Arabian Nights Dahlias.  I’m going to see if I can find some to plant in the Gifted Garden this summer.  There were also some flowers that looked like ones I’ve seen on cactus in the dessert.  I haven’t researched them yet, but they were pretty cool looking.  I’m sure they wouldn’t do well here in Alaska though.  They were surrounded by moonfire dahlias so I’m assuming they would have similar growing needs.

Along the walkway was this sign notifying guests that there were robotic lawnmowers at work in the gardens.  We didn’t see any but I thought the idea was quite smart given the expansive areas they have to maintain.

We spotted this unique gate nearby.  It took me a few minutes to distinguish the design but once I did I though it was very whimsical and perfect for an English style garden.

Around the corner was this beautiful green house, which was also sadly closed to visitors.  But the giant log out front was a petrified tree that had been discovered in a nearby region.  I’d seen such pieces in the US at national parks, so I didn’t spend much time on that when there was so much else to see.

The next area was this beautiful green house and cold frame setup.  I about swooned when I saw them.  These ones were set up to display a variety of alpine plants, which  I thought was interesting given we have so many of those varieties just above our home on the mountain and they are a specialty garden item in the local nurseries for those who have the set up or right micro climate for them.

Next to the alpine displays was the Queen Mother’s Memorial Garden.  It is a typical English style in honor of it’s name-sake, but the most stunning part of the garden was this small building in the back which was covered with a pattern of symbolic shells on all of the interior walls.   I can only imagine the man hours that went into creating this design and in maintaining it.

Nearby was my favorite area of the gardens by far.  This area was wild and free form with flowers and edibles mixed together.  There were trellises and archways made of bamboo and willow drawing you in to the various areas.  To one side was a knot garden, so-called because of the knot pattern the plants created.

The entire area was bordered by this massive hedge, which had openings cut into it to return to the other areas of the garden.  There had been some sort of event there in the days prior and a little flag banner was left up across the arch way.  It was just the right amount of decoration for the space.  You can tell the Hubs was super excited about my need to run back and get a shot of the whole scene.  Good thing he loves me and knows I can’t resist documenting pretty garden ideas.  😉

We stopped in the gift shop on the way out and I fell in love with several items they had in the outdoor area.  This bird feeder with a slate roof and stained wood definitely called my name, but the price tag and weight it would add to my suit case sure didn’t.  So I took a picture instead hoping I can find something similar when we visit my mother-in-law in Washington later this year.

I also considered this bug house for our garden, but it too had a hefty price tag and I’ve seen similar designs online so I passed.  I did find a smaller version that had a better price tag, so I bought that and will be adding it to the garden this summer.

I was surprised to find these hedgehog houses in the shop.  Apparently hedgehogs are great bug eaters and are often kept in gardens to help reduce pests.  I’m going to research if they would be able to survive in Alaska indoors during the winters and if so I might just try to talk the Hubs into getting one when we have our barn built in a few years, and then he can build said hedgehog a cutie garden house for a summer home!

There were also an assortment of bulbs that I really wanted to buy, but after checking online we were fairly certain they wouldn’t be allowed into the US due to agriculture laws.  The gardens were closing so we purchased some yummy treats and made the walk back to the car.  We enjoyed the old world style of the homes along the way noting how the gardens were part of the houses and helped provide privacy from the street.

We had planned to visit the Edinburgh castle that day as well, but I had spent too much time in the gardens we were tired from our flight and wandering the gardens so we opted to save the castle for the morning.  We headed back to the hotel and had dinner in the restaurant there before calling it a night to rest up for a full lineup of sights the next day.

 

Our Iceland Adventure – Day 4

The time has come to share our last day in Iceland.  We took it easy with some sightseeing to try to make our relaxing vibe from the Blue Lagoon the day prior last a little longer.  I’m a fan of lighthouses and with miles of rocky coasts Iceland has many.  Garður light house isn’t the most impressive but it looked interesting in the pictures I’d seen online and it was a short drive from where were were staying near the Blue Lagoon so we decided to check it out.

It sits out on a long jetty with it’s bright colors in contrast to it’s surroundings. We learned that it was once considered the best lighthouse in the country because of it’s low statue so mist wasn’t a problem.  But it was often damaged by the surf in this location so they later built a second taller lighthouse a bit further in from the point.  The bottom room of the  old lighthouse has since been converted into a small pub, but it’s only open in the evenings and we weren’t staying that long.

The newer light house looked like it had been transplanted from New England and reminded me of the many lighthouses along the eastern seaboard of the US.  As we were investigating the base of the light house we noticed some signs in the small entry way.  The signs were thanks from the US Coast Guard for three local fishing vessels who helped rescue the crew of the USCGC Alexander Hamilton when it was torpedoed and sunk while assisting the disabled Navy supply ship, the USS Yukon south of Iceland in 1942.  It was amazing to travel half way around the world and discover a USCG connection after the Hubs had retired from the Coast Guard just a few years earlier.

We wandered the shoreline taking in the old light house from a distance as a storm brewed off the coast.  And almost as if to signal that there are still guards on watch, an Icelandic Coast Guard helicopter flew over head.

As we left the point, we spotted this cute little farm, with simple architecture and an amazing view of the ocean.  There’s not many places where you can live on a farm with wide open spaces and still be next to the sea like this.

A bit further we spotted a church and pulled in to check it out.  There was this building in front of the church which was being remodeled inside.  The trim work on the outside of the building was quite ornate and it’s proximity to the church made us wonder what the building had been used for.  We soon found a sign that explained it had been the residence for the church leader, and was used for special functions.

Beyond the church we spotted a trail leading by a field of horses and decided to investigate.  The horses weren’t much interested in us since we didn’t have any treats for them, but they were still willing to pose for some lovely portraits.

The walkway out near the coast was well manicured and had obviously been designed to encourage enjoying the view along the coast line.  I walked back toward the light houses for a bit, but we were getting hungry so we decided to head back to the car and head out.

As we were leaving town we spotted this strange rock garden, which had several uniquely carved and decorated rocks.  We didn’t find any signs to describe what the place was used for but there were several electrical stations so we assumed that it was a spot for outdoor concerts and performances.

We made the short drive back to Keflavik where we would spend the night and fly out early the next morning.  We both got a kick out of the construction trucks that were driving in this area and how different they are from the bulky American rigs we’re used to.

We paused at the pull-off near the airport to get a shot of the rainbow structure.  It’s amazing at night when it’s all lit up.  I didn’t get a chance to get that shot due to weather but it was still interesting to see up close.

We ended up in the heart of Keflavik along the coast and found a nice Thai restaurant for lunch.  After lunch we looked around a bit and found these large ogre statues guarding the shoreline.  The Icelandic people are fairly superstitious and have several of these figures throughout the country.  There was a sign about the history of these figures and how a local kindergarten class had pushed to build an area where visitors could come up and see the ogres up close as well as see the view they were guarding.

Down the shoreline I spotted this interesting looking structure and decided to wander down to see what it was.  I was imagining all sorts of options as I rounded a small marina to get to the building.

Then I saw these giant foot prints on the walkway leading there and was even more intrigued.

As I got closer I realized just how big the structure was and noticed a sign next to the door indicating this was Giganta’s home.

Still not sure what to expect I stepped inside and found out Giganta is a large ogre who apparently loves children.  Many of the signs in the house were in Icelandic so I couldn’t fully understand all the details of her being here but I did gather that a local author had written several stories about Giganta and her friend who convinced her to move from the mountains to Keflavik.  Giganta apparently loves children, and not because of how they taste.

Giganta sat sleeping in a large rocking chair behind a wall.  She snored and tooted a bit but didn’t seem to stir at all as I took in her home.

There was a small tree nearby that had been decorated with pacifiers for some unknown reason but they were certainly a pop of color against the dark stone walls of the cave.

I bid farewell to Giganta and headed back toward the ogre statues where I’d left the Hubs with the vehicle.  Along the way I spotted this whale fin bone and anchor.  I’d seen whale vertabrae in gardens before but never the fin used this way.

We decided to find another nearby light house, which required investigating some industrial areas along the coast, but we finally found our way to it.  It wasn’t as impressive as the Garður light houses and there wasn’t anything else to see here so we decided to head to our last stop – the Viking World museum.

Along the way I made the Hubs pull over so I could get a shot of the Icelandic version of Walmart, called Bonus.  We saw this funny inebriated pig’s face everywhere during our stay and chucked every time.

In the same parking lot were these fun light figure poles.  It took me a second to spot them but once I did I had to smile.

Along the way to the museum we spotted another group of ogres watching over the city.  We couldn’t find a way to get closer to these ones so I settled for a shot from below their hill.

As a fan of the show Vikings I knew I wanted to make a stop at Viking World.  The main attraction is a full size viking ship that was recreated and sailed on a voyage to celebrate the millennial celebration of Leifur Eiríksson’s journey to the New World.

The ship is raised above the main area of the museum, so you can see it from all angles and you can even go aboard by walkind down a ramp from the second floor.  Having worked on ships the Hubs was quite impressed with the design and craftsmanship.  I was in love with the look of the textures in all the little areas.

My favorite feature was the carved dragon head at the front of the boat.  It reminded me that we were heading to Scotland the next day and had Loch Ness on the scheduled. 🙂

I’m a fan of Greek and Norse mythology so I also enjoyed the exhibition about the Norse Gods that depicted the major story lines of the characters and how the Vikings worshiped them.

There were several other exhibits about Viking life and travels.  The custom to bury their dead by boat pyre has always intrigued me because it seems so romantic and symbolic.  Getting to see a display of such a scene was pretty cool.  Honestly if that was an option today I think that’s what I’d choose for myself.

It was also interesting to learn about how the Vikings had interacted with the Inuit people during their travels.  I never really thought about those two groups meeting because I always think of Inuit in terms of Alaska and forget that they spanned the arctic circle, including the north eastern coast of North America.

There were carvings on display from the various Inuit tribes that were very similar to the ones we see from the tribes in Alaska.

As we left the museum, we spotted  another ogre statue across the harbor.  It seemed fitting here guarding the entrance to the area near the museum and the Viking vessel.  Mixing the old traditions and beliefs with the new and modern is something  Iceland seems to do quite well.

The last must see item was the Viking sword statue.  I wasn’t sure exactly where it was but knew it was near the museum, so we drove around a bit and finally spotted it in the middle of a roundabout!  I had the Hubs pull into a neighborhood so I could hop out and get a shot of it.

We found dinner in town and then headed back to the guesthouse hotel near the airport to rest for our early morning flight to Scotland.  It had been a wonderful few days of unique sights and exploring Viking country, but we were certainly ready for castles and highland life I love from Outlander.  I’ll be sharing those adventures soon so check back next week to hear about them!

Introducing Stella

Over the weekend our little family grew by four paws and a set of whiskers!  The Hubs and I had been talking about getting a kitten for a while and had looked at several online but nothing had lined up just right.  Then he spotted an ad online for someone rehoming kittens from an “opps” litter and one was an adorable grey tiger female.

We called and confirmed she was still available and made arrangements to see her later that day.  She purred while I held her, cuddled, was talkative and seemed interested in both me and the Hubs.  Just like our other fur babies it just felt right and she came home with us that evening.

Her previous home had several large dogs and other cats so we figured she would adapt well to our pack quickly.  For the dogs it was love at first sight.  Tequila follows her around just hoping she will play with her.  Brinley enjoys her sprints up and down the hallway and even a playful swat on the nose when she gets too close. Stoli has been a bit more reserved usual, letting Stella come to him as she pleases.  She’s got them all wrapped around her little paw.  In fact, she can walk right up to any of them and rub her face against them anytime she likes.

Luna on the other hand is not impressed with her new sibling, voicing her thoughts with several hisses and grows.   Stella has respected the message by keeping her distance.  She’s got plenty of interaction with the dogs and a whole new house of things to investigate instead, while Mom follows her around with a camera.  Luckily she quickly got used to that too.

Her previous home called her “Miss Thing” just as a way to distinguish her from her almost identical brother but we decided to rename her Stella.  It’s the perfect bridge between our alcoholic doggie names and the Latin roots of Luna’s name which means Moon.  Stella is Latin for Star, so the cats have celestial names, but it also can be short for the Belgin beer, Stella Artois which continues our alcohol theme on that side.

Since she’s arrived it’s been cuteness overload.  From the perfect kitty pose & stare to that adorable little tongue.

All that play and investigating makes for a tired kitty.  So little cat naps are frequent and just as adorable.

She likes to cuddle and has snuggled with both of us quite a bit, purring all the while.  While the Hubs was watching the Olypmics, she discovered the corner of the couch is the perfect spot size for her to curl up and still be close to Daddy while also providing a great view of the tv.

That is until she falls asleep. 🙂  I’m sure you’ll be seeing lots more of her in the coming weeks as she continues to establish her place in the pack.  We plan to keep her inside for a while and will introduce her to the yard when she’s a bit bigger and spring begins to arrive.  Then she’ll have a whole new territory to investigate – including meeting the chickens and learning to mouse so she can earn her keep with more than sweet snuggles and purrs.

Our Iceland Adventure – Day 3

Day 3 was all about the Blue Lagoon, which is a must experience for anyone traveling to Iceland.  The lagoon is filled with geothermal water that gets it’s blue color from the silica and other minerals on it’s way to the surface.  Having read reviews that the pools get more crowded as the day goes on we decided to make our reservation for when they first opened and not knowing exactly where to go we arrived a bit earlier.  That turned out to be a good thing in a couple of ways.  The first was that we weren’t stressed before our big spa day and the second was that we misread the signs and ended up at the Blue Lagoon hotel rather than the lagoon itself.  The hotel is surrounded by this unique landscape of lava rock and moss.  Since we had a little extra time I explored the trail near the hotel briefly taking it in.

There were several signs directing guests to stay on the trail as the moss is very fragile and that no smoking was allowed because the moss is also very flammable.  I’m not sure what that is exactly, but I’m guessing it has to do with the sulfur in the area.  There was a distinct smell of sulfur in the air through out the valley where the lagoon is located, reminding you of the natural geological processes at work.

The hotel had a modern design that contrasted the uneven texture of the landscape.  It’s what I envisioned a colony on the moon looking like – if the moon had vegetation that is.

Across from the hotel is an area that is being developed to expand the lagoon and create private areas for hotel guests to enjoy.  The construction on this area will continue through 2018.

We got directions from the hotel staff and made our way down the road a bit further to the actual lagoon entrance.  This large sign off the parking lot marked the pathway to the lagoon so we knew we were in the right spot now.

At the end of a short trail through a canyon of lava rock was the spa.  While also modern in design it seemed to fit right into the landscape with complimentary colors and textures.

Inside we found the correct line for our reservation and had a little time to take in the facility.  Beyond the check in counters was a cafe and to the side of the registration area was a gift shop packed with all sorts of creams and masques.

Through the large windows behind the registration desk you could see the lagoon.  The sun was still rising over the nearby mountains and the steam floated over the water, giving it a magical feeling.

Since we were visiting in the fall the outside temps were quite chilly.  We arrived in coats and boots, but pared down to swimsuits to get in the lagoon.  The short distance from the locker rooms to the water was quite cold, but once you’re in the water you don’t even notice the outside temperature.  Most of the lagoon is about waist deep so we wandered about keeping our knees bent so we stayed under water from our shoulders down.  There are also several areas with built in benches which were a great spot to sit and relax as you soak in the experience.

Because the water is filled with silica and minerals the staff advise you to take breaks from the water and stay well hydrated.  After an hour or so we took a break in the guest lounge where we had a bird’s eye view of the lagoon and the expansion area beyond.  We had a light meal and relaxed a bit.

The break from the water gave me an opportunity to get a few more photos since we had both decided to leave our phones in our lockers and enjoy the experience as it happened rather than try the dry bags we saw many people using.  Everything for your reservation is loaded to a wrist band that you wear the whole day.  You just hold it up and the staff scan it to validate your selection.  It’s also connected to your credit card so you can pay for additional items without having to leave the water or carry payment.

There was this cool grotto created out of the natural lava rock to the side of the main deck.  It was a good spot to get out of the wind and was nearby the silica bar where guests can enjoy facial masques, which is the white stuff you see on several faces in these pictures.

To give you an idea of what the outside temps really were I had to get a shot of the lifeguards.  It was pretty funny to see them insulated from head to toe in winter attire while the rest of us bobbed in the water in swimsuits.  Beyond him you’ll notice the power plant that helps generate the geothermal water for the lagoon from underground.

The Hubs and I did explore the whole area of the lagoon, but found we liked this corner near the bar the best.  There were benches along the boardwalk around the rock formation where the life guards patrolled and the rock acted as a natural windbreak, keeping this area a bit warmer.  There were also spots to stretch out and lay back on the sloped entrance to the pool along the handrail you see to the right with a great view of the surrounding hills.

Our reservation included a drink of our choosing at the bar.  Since we’re not big alcohol drinkers and we didn’t want to add to the dehydrating qualities of the lagoon we both opted for the Skyr smoothies, which were so delicious I had several.  Later in the day the Hubs decided to try their version of a slushie which is called Krap.  We got a good giggle out of that!  I forgot to get a photo of the cups when I was out of the water but I did see them advertised with an added i at the gas station that evening when we left the lagoon.

I opted to book the additional facial masques at the silica bar and an in-water massage.   I wasn’t sure exactly how getting a massage in the water was going to work, so I peeked over the rock wall to the massage area when we were exploring and saw earlier appointments floating on foam mats just under the water.

When I arrived for my appointment I was introduced to my masseur, Alexi who was most certainly descendant from the Vikings who first inhabited Iceland based on his broad and solid build.  He had me lay on one of the floating mats and covered me with a towel to keep me warm while above the water.  Throughout the massage he also would occasionally dunk me under the water from the neck down to ward off the cold from the wind.  The only thing I didn’t care for during the experience was that while floating on the massage mat the water surface is right at your ear level so there is the sensation and sound of water lapping against your ear.  It was a bit distracting and made it hard to hear Alexi when he was describing the next portion of the massage with his accent, but it was unavoidable and not something that would keep me from doing it again.

We had also made a dinner reservation at the spa’s restaurant, Lava.    We got cleaned up in the locker rooms and headed to the restaurant which get it’s name from the large lava wall that runs along the back of the dining room.  Our reservation included a complimentary glass of their specialty wine.  Since the Hubs was driving, I got to enjoy both his and mine! 🙂

It was still fairly early so there were only a few other guests in the restaurant, which overlooks the lagoon.  I snapped a picture of the whole space when I went to the balacony to go to the restroom.

We both ordered the grilled beef tenderloin, which was topped with wild mushrooms, crispy potatoes, onion jam and dijon mustard.  We both declared that it was delicious.

And after dinner we shared creme brulee, with the cutest lemon shaped scoop of lemon ice cream!

It was a perfect relaxing day after our adventures the day prior.  We opted to stay at a hotel in the town about 10 minutes away rather than the lagoon’s hotel which was much pricier and is often full.  It was no surprise that we both crashed and slept soundly soon after checking in.  I’ve got one more day of Icelandic adventures to share and then it will be on to our Scotland experiences, so stay tuned!

Our Iceland Adventure – Day 2

Day 2 of our Icelandic adventure was all about waterfalls, black sand beaches and beautiful countryside.  Get comfy because this post is going to have A LOT of pictures!  We enjoyed breakfast at the hotel, where I discovered I really love Skyr – Iceland’s version of yogurt before hitting the “ring road” further out into the country side.

The sun peeked through the drizzly rain every so often, creating a lovely golden effect on the expansive fields along either side of the highway.  We spotted our first stop, Seljalandsfoss from the highway and had to stop to get a shot of it from this vantage point.  While Iceland boasts numerous waterfalls, this one is special because you can walk behind it.

When we arrived the clouds had begun to let loose a misty rain that soaked everything including us and the other tourists.  Having lived in Kodiak we were used to adventures in the rain so we made our way up the trail toward the ledge behind the waterfall pausing every so often to watch the water pour over the cliff into the pool below.

The view was like something from a movie, which is exactly why so many epic films and shows have filmed in Iceland, including Game of Thrones and Tomb Raider.

It was a truly unique experience to stand behind a waterfall and listen to it’s roar.  The trail behind the falls was fairly narrow and undefined so it was a bit precarious, especially when everything is wet and slippery but it was well worth it.

While the view looking out was amazing, I also appreciated the view up, where you can see the edge of the cliff as the water came over.

And when I say we were soaked I mean it.  There was even water in my boots at this point because my pants were so wet they had started soaking down toward my socks!

As you exit the side of the falls, there’s a rocky ledge that has become a trail of sorts to a higher vantage point on a small rise next to the falls.  You can see people behind the falls, where I had just been for the photos above to give you a scale on the size of the falls.

We spotted some people atop the cliff next to the falls.  We weren’t sure how they got up there but were certain it involved some intensive mountain goat style hiking – something we didn’t plan to do.

Coming back down from the rise next to the falls, you can really see the pool it spills into and the river it creates.  The trail you see to the right is the one we took to get behind the falls.

After we had seen every view along the trail we headed back to the car to warm up and  drove down the road a bit to see the two neighboring waterfalls.  This one was partially hidden by the rock formation in front of it and is appropriately called Gljúfrabúiis, which translates to “Dweller in the Gorge” – an appropriate name for it’s position.

Next we headed further down the ring road to Skógafoss, which is a massive waterfall.  I was excited to see it in a recent episode of Vikings and think that I had been there!  Like the other attractions along the ring road, there were large numbers of tourists here too.

I made my way down along the river and got to stand next to the pool for several minutes just taking it in.

Above the falls is a viewing platform which is accessed by a very long set of stairs.  Since we had limited time to see everything on our list for the day we didn’t go up but hear there is a troll along that path who enjoys visitors.  Learn more on this blog which provides a bit more local info about the three falls we visited.

There were farms on either side of the falls and sheep dotted the hillsides as they peacefully grazed.

There was also a large herd in the field next to the falls who seemed completely oblivious to the masses of tourists passing their pasture to see this magnificent natural wonder.

We were about to head out to go see the oldest turf house which is nearby when we spotted a museum behind the farms with these lovely turf houses behind a stone wall and decided to investigate.

We paid a small admission fee and were able to tour the turf houses and other historic buildings in the open air portion of the museum.  The insides of the turf houses were simple and functional, with space for storage of farm equipment and stalls for livestock.

I’m not sure if these stalls were intended for horses or sheep, but since the Icelandic breeds of both are more compact I could see both fitting.  One of the structures looked like a hobbit house, with just a curved entry supported by stone on either side and the entire thing covered in turf.

Inside you could see the structure a bit more.  The timber rafters were layered with stone which had then been topped with the sod that made up the outer layer of the building.

Many of the other buildings had stone walls and low pitched roofs as well.  Some were quite rustic and were staged as a working pantry space, storage and livestock shelter.

I was particularly intrigued by these wooden pegs we spotted in one of the storage areas and wondered what they could be.  We later discovered that they were property markers for items that couldn’t be branded but that might leave the farm.  Each had particular carvings on it to indicate the owner of the property, similar to a brand.

Some of the structures were finished to look like other frame buildings.  This was obviously a home, with a dining room, bedroom and kitchen area.  I wasn’t sure if the other buildings were supposed to be like outbuildings to this but assumed that at some point it was just the outbuildings and then as progress and profit came the nicer section would have been added.

Some of the structures were large enough to have an upstairs, where the beds were typically located, all together.  So much for privacy, but it probably helped conserve heat with everyone in the same area. I loved the overlap of the roofing structure, although I noted it didn’t provide for insulation beyond the sod on the outside of the structure.

There were some old items staged on the desk under the window and I loved the look that someone long ago had received a letter and left it to head outside and tend to the animals.

There was a small side room in one of the structures which seemed to be a more private bedroom.  There was a separate desk in this space and a small crib for a child.

A little further from the main building were more historic buildings.  These had been a farm house and outbuilding on a nearby farm that were moved here for preservation.  The black building was a livestock barn and was connected by a small stairway to the house, which had several rooms, including a shared upstairs bedroom space.

Nearby was a historic church that had also been moved here from another location.  There were several stories about the history of the church, which I can’t remember as I write this post.  I was expecting the inside to be a simple as the exterior but was quite shocked to  find quite ornate scroll work and design in what had been a country church.

Toward the back of the open area was this building, which had been another homestead nearby.  It was obviously more modern than the previous structures, having been build out of mainly timber framing.

Upstairs there was another shared bedroom space, with the same overlapping roof structure we’d seen in previous structures.  While cramped for today’s standards it was quite cozy and I could imagine families gathering together to talk about the day in the evenings in a space like this.

The kitchen in this structure was also more modern than the turf homes and showcased a variety of unique tools from the time period.

On the hillside above the modern house I spotted these little fairy houses.  Icelandic people are very superstitious and build these small structures for the “fairies” to live in.

There was also an old school house on the property.  I can just imagine little bottoms on those hard wooden benches learning topics like history, math and music.

The entry way to the school house was lovely with the leather satchels hung above the piano.  It looked like it could have been styled for a farmhouse decor magazine!

There was also a large metal building with a book store, restrooms and a cafe.  We wandered the displays soaking up Icelandic history.  I took photos of many of the exhibits, but here are just a few of my favorites.

A variety of buckles, bits and spurs were in a case across from a display of saddles, including several ‘luxury’ side saddles.  Further down were handmade horse-drawn sleds that had been used to gather ice and displays of the iconic Icelandic horses being used to transport crops and supplies.

There was also an exhibit about the Icelandic Coast Guard, which we found particularly interesting given the Hub’s service in the US Coast Guard.  Due to the rugged and remote environment of much of the country this service is much needed just as it is in Alaska.  They also have a high demand for emergency rescue in remote locations due to the glaciers, volcanoes and storms, so there are technical programs that train youth these skills.

Given his heavy equipment knowledge, the Hubs was intrigued by this antique grader, which had an open floor and required the operator to stand on a platform just above the blade to operate it.  The signage indicated that this was one of the first graders available in the country and was a huge step forward in technology.

There were also several vehicles on display that had track systems or skis, or both.  I liked this early Ford SUV model that was equipped to transport passengers in the snow.  The other track vehicles were similar to modern snow cats, but obviously were antique versions.

Back in the first building of the museum we followed a tour group to learn a bit about the costumes that were on display.  This was a wedding outfit from the early days of the country – I can’t remember the exact time period.  The elaborate embroidery and the length of the belt was a sign of her wealth as ornate metal work was expensive to produce.

The other outfits on display show the progression of fashion in the country and the various influences of visitors and politics.

Toward the back of this building was a huge display of antique farm equipment that both the Hubs and I enjoyed looking through given our experience with livestock and ranches.

When I spotted these vintage grain sacks I wanted to find more to take home for projects!  I loved the simple patterns and texture of the fabrics. Then I spotted amazing horse hair braided ropes behind them and fell in love all over.  They would have looked great in our farmhouse style decor!

We decided to skip the cafe at the museum and head out to our next destination – the black sand beaches of Vik.  We were getting pretty hungry after all of our exploring during the morning and stopped at a small cafe on the hill overlooking Vik.  It had a perfect blend of modern and rustic style.  We opted to get a light meal so the Hubs ordered chowder and I got mozzarella sticks.  Both were fresh and delicious.  I did find it interesting that they served the mozzarella sticks with salsa rather than marinara sauce!

After lunch we headed over to check out the church that overlooked the town.  I got to peek inside as well thanks to some staff being on-site.

The view from the church was very reminiscent of some we’d had in Kodiak.  Jagged cliffs, green hills, black sand beaches and rivers rolling out to the sea.

There were several cool rock formations just off the coast.  I’m sure they’ve evolved over the centuries as the waves have shaped them with unending pressure.

We headed down the hill to make our way out to the beach where the waves crashed down the long dark shoreline.

As I headed out toward the area where there were large rock formations in the water, the skies opened up and began to pour.  The sun shining through the rain was absolutely stunning.

And as I looked back at the town I spotted this rainbow just over the church where we had just been!  It actually extended all the way down the coast toward the other end of the beach.

I knew there were basalt formations somewhere nearby, so we check our maps and headed back the way we came to find a turn off for that area.  The sun had come back out and made the pillar formations seem like giant guards along the shore.  They also vaguely reminded me of Quebert, that old Atari game with the fuzzy little creature who hopped from one cube to the next.

There were several groups of tourists exploring the formations and posing for photos at the various levels.  You could see the same rock formations we’d seen in Vik from this spot, just from the other side of the cliff.

I asked the Hubs to get a shot of me sitting on one of the lower levels with the ocean in the background.  He did a pretty good job. 🙂

That was apparently his practice round because then he offered to take a photo for this energetic group of travelers!

Across the bay from the basalt forms was a sea arch, similar to one we’d seen in Hawaii.  No doubt it was formed by the force of the pounding waves these coasts see.

As we drove back toward the ring road, we spotted this rogue sheep who had escaped the fencing and was grazing right along the side of the road.  We stopped so I could get a shot of him from the other side of the ditch that ran along the road.

And as I headed back to the car I spotted this amazing golden landscape.

The drive back to our hotel took us through rural farm lands that were dotted with old stone structures similar to the ones we’d explored that morning.

This farm was a bit more artistic than the others, having carved a star on their hillside out of the grass.

We also spotted several glaciers from the road, making us feel just like we were back in Alaska.

We had spotted this cliff house on the way out but there were several tour buses stopped so we decided to wait and investigate it on the way back.  This one was on a personal farm, which welcomed visitors to stop and see the structures in exchange for a donation to a preservation fund.

It was  cool to see how the buildings had been built into the rocky face of the stone formation.  Being a portrait photographer I was totally wishing I had a beautiful model to accent the scene!

There were several buildings as you made your way around the large stone formation.  Some looked more modern than others and I’m sure were additions as the farm grew and needs changed.

It was an amazing day of sights and new experiences and we were exhausted.  We made it back to our hotel just after darkness fell and enjoyed dinner in the little cafe.  While we were eating another guest at the hotel who could have been the Viking King Ragnar Lothbrock’s twin sat down a few tables away!  Right down to the braided mohawk hair cut!  I didn’t have the nerve to ask him for a photo because I’m sure he’d think we were crazy tourists so I don’t have any proof but I’ll stick to my story that I ate just feet away from Ragnar. It was an epic ending to a fantastic day!