A short visit to Fort William and Glasgow before leaving Scotland

I was in Edinburgh when I decided to leave Scotland to head South to England. I knew I would have to go see some of my friends before leaving. So I went back to Perth, my first home in Scotland, and Dundee.

A few days later, while sitting on the Megabus from Dundee to Glasgow, it felt like I was closing a loop. Unknowingly, I had picked the longer bus run, the one that stops in Perth and in Stirling on its way. Seeing Perth and Stirling castle with blooming flowers made me think maybe it was time for a new beginning. Although I was excited to discover new areas before heading South, I was a bit sad to be closing this chapter of my life.

Highland cows with mountains lost in clouds of rain
It doesn’t really get any more Scottish than this

Glasgow

My first night in Glasgow I met up with a friend I had worked with in Calais while volunteering for Help Refugees. We had planned a quiet night, meeting for a drink after she was done working, but, of course, it didn’t go as planned! We ended up touring a few vegan places in Glasgow, including the Flying Duck and Stereo. I had a great time and it felt so good to be able to talk to someone about what we had experienced in Calais and how it had changed us. Something we both felt most people in our lives could not quite grasp.

View of the city
Glasgow from The Necropolis

Fort William

The next morning, slightly hungover, I took the train to Fort William. I had trouble staying awake so I alternated between sleeping and waking up to great scenery.

I arrived at the hostel late in the afternoon. While waiting for the receptionist to do the check-in, I met Farah and Benny, a Canadian-German couple. We got along so well, everybody else thought we had been travelling together for a while. They had a rough idea of what they wanted to do for their Scottish holiday but were flexible. We ended up spending four days together day and night, hiking and sharing the same dorm.

Snow covered rolling hills surrounding a plain
Gorgeous view from the train

Being back in a backpackers was quite funny. It did feel like I was back in Pitlochry (the hostel is part of the same group) and when I woke up the next morning, I was very confused for a few minutes as I had that weird feeling of deja-vu.

The Fort William Backpackers is bright and colourful, with lovely staff, just like all of the backpackers run by the same owner. The best part of the Fort William hostel is its common room. With a fireplace and great views of the mountains, it’s the obvious place for travellers to gather and chat. When I travel, I always pick smaller hostel as I find they tend to still have that ”hostel” vibe I like so much whereas, in larger  cities, I find it to be more impersonal.

DSC04989
Highland cows on well-named Cow Hill

Cow Hill

On my first day in Fort William, the weather was typically Scottish. The clouds and the light drizzle made me look for a shorter walk. Following the recommendations from the hostel’s staff, we decided to have a look at Cow Hill. Farah, Benny and I enjoyed lovely chats about a great range of subjects, distracting us from the rain. When we arrived at the top of the hill, we met a group of highland cows. It’s always a bit unsettling when they look straight at you with their big horns, so I admit I went off the path to give them a bit more room and to feel more comfortable. Just in case they decided I was not friendly enough.

Highland cow staring back
Not quite sure yet what to think of me

The weather wasn’t that great but nobody cared anymore. Another thing I really appreciated in hiking with that couple was that we were all in the same mood, going off the path when we wanted to see more of something and taking our time to admire the nature. After our walk, we had dinner, and later on, everybody from the hostel decided to go to the Maryburgh Inn. It is a very small pub with a well inside. There is a plexiglass cover on top of it with a small slot and a thin beam crossing the well. The goal is for people to drop coins in the slit and have them land on the beam. If someone manages to do it, they get a free beer. It was hilarious to watch people convinced they could do it. They ended up spending a lot more money that they would have if they would have gone to the bar and buy a pint on their own, but it was a lot more entertaining this way.

Benny crossing a small river on rocks and fallen trees
Benny using one of the ”shortcuts”

More walking in Fort William

The next day we went for another short walk. We went up the beginning of the trail to Ben Nevis and then down in the valley and along the river. The scenery was gorgeous and as it had been raining for a few days, it was quite wet. We met numbers of highland cows and just enjoyed our day in the wilderness before heading back to the hostel for some reading and relaxing in the warm and cozy common room. It was a lovely day with great conversations, superb scenery, and nice people.

path with mountain views
Path to Ben Nevis

Ben Nevis

On my third day in Fort William, Farah, Benny and I decided to go up Ben Nevis. The weather was nicer so we started going up. We used yet another ”shortcut” which turned out to be longer and more challenging, making sure we were keeping in touch with our recent traditions. Every day, we would find shortcuts, only to realize they were not shortcuts at all! We had been told the day before that people going up Ben Nevis still needed crampons and because we didn’t have any we decided we would still go, make it as far as we could safely and go from there.

Mountain view
Lovely view

When we reached the snow, we kept going for a while, but eventually, the thick melting snow was getting too slippery and challenging to walk on. And with a large cliff on one side, we didn’t feel like taking chances. We took a short break to enjoy the views and started our descent. A few minutes after we started descending, the clouds came in. They came in right behind us, and I was quite happy we had decided to turn around when we did as we could no longer see the path. As always, the weather was very unpredictable in the mountains.

Path covered in snow with two people ahead
When it started to be covered in snow

At night, we decided to return to the pub. It was Karaoke night, which I am definitely not a big fan of. But with lovely people, it was still a great evening overall.

I’ve met really cool people in my short stay and I really enjoy the kind of people that end up in Fort William. It is called the outdoor capital of Scotland with good reasons. There’s so much to do and people that come here are very fit, active and handsome…

bridge leading to the Necropolis
Bridge to the Necropolis, Glasgow

Returning to the city

People sometimes ask me how I meet so many cool people. And I always answer that it’s easy… I go talk to them! A good example of this is when I was on the train back from Fort William. Someone was sitting in my seat and because the train was far from full, I chose to sit at one of the seats with a table. I could have easily decided to sit on my own but I wanted to use the table so I sat with a seemingly nice guy. Sure enough, he was actually quite lovely. He was from Hungary and had just walked the West Highland Way from Milngavie to Fort William. We chatted for part of the way and it was nice.

Now this happened because I decided to sit where there was already someone. Should I have decided to act more like ”normal” people, I would probably have picked another seat. And the reason why we chatted is because I struck up a conversation. It’s not always easy. It actually takes some effort to go and talk to someone, yet it’s always worth it. By that, I’m not saying that I always become good friends with people I meet or that I even want to get past the first few exchanges. Half the time I’m okay with small talk or short conversations. It does however always make me feel better to interact with people, and sometimes you end up making great new friends.

Organist performing
Organ recital in Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum

In Glasgow, after many of my friends had recommended it, I decided to spend part of the day at the Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum. It was very interesting to see all the different exhibitions. I was getting ready to leave when I noticed that an organ recital was starting 15 minutes later. It’s an interesting sound and quite the technique to use hands and feet. I was glad I didn’t rush through the museum and I got to see the recital.

Afterwards, I was hungry and undecided on what I should do next. The 78, another vegetarian/vegan restaurant in Glasgow is located just a few minutes walk from the museum, so it made my choice very easy! This was one of my favourite things about Glasgow, there are so many options to eat either very crappy food or very healthy. A good balance, and something for everyone! I spent the remaining of my day in Glasgow wandering about in the city, people watching and generally just having a good time.

Artwork on a building. A man with a small bird perched on his finger
Great artwork, Glasgow

It was a great conclusion to my Scottish adventures. I didn’t know then that my English adventures would come to an end much quicker than anticipated, and that it would force me to change my plans once again and hop on a plane to Moldova and have a really cool cycling trip.

While I was happy to move on to somewhere new, Scotland was still one of the places I liked the most during my travels. It’s small enough to be able to easily get around, yet the scenery is very varied, with everything from mountains to beaches. And with lovely outdoor activities, lovely people, and great whiskies, it’s a good place to call home. I will go back eventually, but until then, new adventures await me!

selfie in front of the Glasgow Cathedral
Glasgow Cathedral

Moving to the UK- A how-to guide

Are you sick of being in Canada? Looking to improve your English? Sample great whiskies on a weekly basis? Or maybe meet a lovely Englishman or Scotswoman? If you are between the ages of 18 to 30, this is for you!

Photo of a Canadian passport

Visa Application 

Canadians are usually granted 6 months visa-free in the UK on arrival, but as this is a tourist visa, you are not allowed to work. If you want to stay longer and work, it’s worth looking into the different options. If you are between 18 and 30 and would like to work and live there for up to 2 years, this is how to do it. (If you are over 30 but not quite 35, there’s still some places you can move to under a working holiday visa so don’t rule it out!)

First you need to check if you need to apply for a Tier-5 visa (working holiday visa) on https://www.gov.uk/check-uk-visa (Keep in mind that these can change without any notice, so always check with the competent authority). Being from Canada, the procedure was very straight forward. There is a lengthy online form to fill; you can save your progress as you go, which means you can do this in multiple sittings. And if you are anything like me, you will need to go chase down your old passport to remember when you entered the country previously. You will also need your past addresses and a lot of information you might not remember right away, hence the convenience of being able to save your application and return to it!)

After the form is all filled in, you pay the visa fee and book an appointment to have your identity verified and biometrics taken. This, unfortunately, is available only in major cities, so make sure to budget in the money and time to either get to Toronto, Ottawa, Vancouver, Edmonton, Halifax or St.John’s. One more thing to know is that the visa fee is non-refundable whether you get it or not, so make sure to have all your paperwork in order before submitting!

Once your appointment is booked, you need to make sure you bring in all the relevant documents (including the appointment confirmation). You will be sending your passport to New York, so be aware that you will not be able to travel out of the country until you get it back. Sad, right? As part of the documents, you may need to provide a proof of sufficient funds (bring a copy of your bank statement, or have your bank write a letter confirming you do indeed have the required funds). The passport picture needs to be UK size, which is not the same as the regular passport pictures you can get anywhere in Canada. If you bring the wrong picture size, you will have to book another appointment and go back. So plan ahead! In Ottawa, there is a very handy little shop in the Westgate Shopping Centre not too far from the Visa Application Center that can take passport pictures in the required format. I would recommend getting the picture beforehand, as they might not be as nice to you as they were to me in allowing me to come back later.

When you arrive at your appointment (make sure to be there 10-15 minutes before), you will have some more paperwork to fill, so bring a pen with you. You should just bring your paperwork and said pen with you as you have to go through a security check. Not bringing a bag simply makes the process quicker. You will have to leave all your electronics at the reception. An agent will bring you the papers to fill in, and when there are ready for you, someone will come and escort you to a small office, where they will double check all in the information, take another picture of you as well as your fingerprints, before putting all your application paperwork in an envelope and courier it to New York.

If there are any issues they may call you. Otherwise, if all the papers are accurate and included, it is very straight forward. Usually, a decision is made within 10 days. There might be delays obviously depending on the amount of people that apply at the same time as you. Once it is either accepted or rejected, you will receive an email. If accepted, it’s time to get excited and start packing!

Airport chairs in a waiting room

Booking your flight

If you haven’t booked your flight yet, now would be the time to look into it! There are many companies that fly between Canada and the UK so it’s good to shop around. When looking for flights, always keep in mind that in Europe, all the cities are much closer than Canada. For example; if you are looking to go to Scotland, compare the prices to fly into Glasgow, Edinburgh, London or any of the many international airports. You can easily find cheap buses and trains (if you book them ahead of time). Sometimes the price difference is worth it. Researching for flights can sound like a boring part, but if you choose right, when you get there it’s going to be easier. If you are flexible with your departure date, tick the “+/- 3 days” or “flexible date” box. While I do suggest booking a place to sleep for your first night, keep in mind that flexibility when travelling is key to finding great deals, meeting interesting people and having amazing experiences you would not have had if everything was planned to the dot.

Most Europeans airport have buses that go from the airport to the city centre, so it’s worth checking it out. It may take slightly longer than a taxi, but you will more likely save a lot as well. (This doesn’t always apply if you travel with a few friends, so do your homework!)

I rarely have currency before I arrive in a new city because truth be told, ATMs are everywhere. Make sure to tell your bank before you go so your card doesn’t get declined! Most ATMs are part of either PLUS, NYCE, Cirrus or Maestro network, but always check before using the machine that the logo on the back of your bank card is posted somewhere on the ATM. If you can’t see the logo, you will probably be able to get money out but you’ll just get another fee added to your bank’s transaction fees.

Travel insurance

Travel insurance is a must. This also needs some shopping around to find the right insurance provider and the right coverage for you. Make sure to include emergency medical. You may be ok with not taking insurance on your luggage, and just buying everything should your suitcase not make it with you. But do not take any chances with emergency medical as fees vary greatly from country to country, and should you need to have emergency surgery or any other treatment, it will make a huge dent in your travel budget! Depending on the province or territory you are from, you may be eligible to keep your provincial health insurance. In that instance, you just need to buy additional medical insurance. Once again, this requires research and reading the fine print. A lot of the insurance policies will not cover extreme sports, or what they consider to be extreme so make sure to ask about the exclusions.

Backpack on, ready to enter the departure area at the airport

Packing your bags

The only piece of advice worth mentioning is Pack Light!!! You are very likely to be carrying your stuff on your back, so packing light will make everything easier. From getting in a crowded underground, walking a few kilometers to the hostel, or even just fitting the bags next to your bed will be a lot easier with a smaller bag.

Most first time travellers and even some seasoned travellers (Guilty!) pack a lot of just-in-case stuff. Remember, you will be travelling to cities, where people live, work, wash their clothes and buy stuff. While it may not be the same brand you are used to, shampoo, toothpaste, over the counter medications will be widely available. Don’t bring two years worth of supplies!

One other thing to keep in mind: you will very likely be walking in shops at some point and want to buy the latest fashion or some item of clothing you will fall in love with. Keep some room in your luggage for these; they make the best of souvenirs, because every time you wear them, it’s going to remind you of the city, place, of even friends you were with when you bought it.

It’s funny how you might think that you carry so little compared to some other travellers with huge backpacks and then you meet someone carrying only a day pack. All is a question of perspective, but you can usually tell if this is the first time abroad or if they have been on the roads for years just looking at the luggage size.

Enough with the rambling; here are my essentials for travels in ever changing climates. Feel free to bring less and make it your own of course!

Clothing

3-4 t-shirts

1 nicer shirt (for possible job interviews)

1 pair of jeans

1 nicer black pants (useful for job interviews or to go out)

1 pair of shorts or a skirt

1-2 cute bra, 1 sports bra

5-7 panties

3-4 pairs of socks including 1 warmer set

1 warm sweater

1 raincoat (You may want to consider rain pants if you are going to be hiking in the wilderness of Scotland)

1 cap (to protect from the sun)

1 beanie

1 pair of day walking shoes (easily can be replaced with hiking shoes if that’s what you plan to do)

1 pair of flip-flop (great for walking around hostels, or for the odd warm enough day!)

1 pair of ballerina shoes or something small you can wear when you don’t feel like wearing hiking shoes

Electronics

camera, spare battery, charger

computer and/or phone with charger(s)

travel adapter

Pharmacy

pain medicine like ibuprofen and anything else you use regularly (Anything else you can buy once you are there if needed)

tiny first aid kit including some dressings (band-aid or plaster depending on where you are from), cleansing wipes. You don’t need to carry out a huge first aid kit, as they are widely available should you need something more. And again, there are pharmacies where you can buy anything needed when actually needed!)

condoms, always useful to avoid unplanned surprises!

shampoo, conditioner, soap (bring small size containers as you will be able to buy more as you go. Lush solid shampoos are great as they don’t leak in your bags and they smell so great!)

sunblock

tooth brush, tooth paste, floss

feminine hygiene products (I love my DivaCup and don’t think I will go back to anything else)

make-up, bring the basics only: mascara, eyeliner, lip gloss (or whatever you need to feel comfortable)

jewellery- just 2 sets of earrings are enough. If you are anything like me again, you will want to buy some as you go as souvenirs.

Other stuff

pack towel or pareo

1 washcloth

sunglasses

glasses, contacts (if you wear them of course!) and the liquid that goes with them

small flashlight (great when you need some light to see where you are going in a dorm without waking everybody up)

reusable water bottle, I like the platypus kind or one you can clip on your bag

a small notebook to write down bus schedule, or any relevant information as you go plus a pen

a diary to keep track of what you do, what you feel and who you meet

sleeping bag liner (I like the silk looking ones as they don’t take much room, and can make you feel more comfortable, in less than average hostels)

travel spork (all-in-one travel spoon fork knife) and foldable bowl (perfect for lunch on the go or to keep leftovers when cooking)

Deciding on where to go and what to see

This is the fun part, even though it can quickly become overwhelming. My advice is this: make a list of all your must-see, ideally in your small notebook. Then pick one place to start with and forget the rest!

After a while on the road, it’s very funny to see how your travel taste change, and how some of your must-sees now became, nice-to-go-if-I-get-around-to-it.

Don’t put too much pressure on yourself trying to find all the information beforehand. One thing worth checking out is if there are any holidays or special events happening when you will be arriving in a city, because sometimes everything will be booked months prior, and you’ll end up stressing out, or forced to change your plans. Once again, being flexible is the way to go in order to appreciate your travels. Delays, overbooking, tiredness are all part of the experience, and learning how to be flexible and adapt quickly is the best gift you can give yourself in order to appreciate your upcoming challenges.

As you travel, you will meet fellow travellers and they will tell you about secret gems in the country you are in. In my experience, those are the best places and experiences. Of course, if you find amazing things to do and places to go, share your insights!

The world is a very big place, and you can’t see everything. And that’s ok! Try not to rush to see all the must-see, a walk around a neighborhood you feel comfortable in can make your day a lot better. It may allow you to meet locals, and have great conversation. Or maybe you’ll discover this little gem of a coffee shop or pub. Allowing the unknown in your life, this is what travelling is about. Learning to live with constant change, exchanging with people from different backgrounds and discovering all the things you have in common, to me, that’s the best part.

Opening a UK bank account

One would think that opening a bank account would be fairly easy, I mean I want to give a bank my money. But because of all the money-laundering, it’s getting more difficult nowadays to open a simple bank account. First of all, you need to book an appointment. Then, you need IDs and proof of address. Quite simple really.

If you’ve lived somewhere for a while, you obviously have bills, a place you call home and can easily prove your address. But when you just moved somewhere and are renting a room, all the utility bills will most likely be under someone else’s name. So how can you prove you live where you say you do without bills? That’s the question I was facing when trying to open a bank account. There used to be some banks that were more opened to providing bank accounts to foreigners, but in the city I moved to, they don’t have a branch.

I had asked my employers to provide me with a letter confirming I would be working there, but because at the time I did not have an address yet, they did not include it on the letter. When I went to the bank with my contract and the letter, I was told both my current address and previous Canadian address needed to be on the letter. So basically, the letter needs to be on letterhead, include the contact numbers, being signed by my employer, include my full name, and complete addresses and the date of my employment. It also needs to be dated less than 3 months old.

Once I got the letter and went back to the bank, it was simple to open the account. If you are like me, though, you might face another challenge. When you open your bank account they send you your bank card and your PIN in two different envelopes. Somehow, my PIN was sent in Scotland and my actual bank card at my dad’s place in Canada. I had to go back into the bank and ask them to resend the card. Overall it was quite a lengthy process and I was very happy once I received my bank card and could finally have access to local currency!

Subscribing to National Insurance Number

It’s called National Insurance Number, but it actually is your personal number used to collect taxes, and eventually to allow you into the Health Care System.

On their website, it says that you need to phone, and they will send you the documents to fill out and return to them. Make sure to double check the spelling on your paperwork once you receive it as my name had changed quite a bit. Once you fill the paper, you mail it back and wait to hear back. It usually takes about 8 weeks, so there is no need to phone them before that. Your employer might be impatiently waiting for your National Insurance Number by then, so as soon as you have it make sure to provide it to them!

Finding a place to live

This could be the hardest thing to do, and it should come fairly quickly after deciding where you want to work. If you are like me, though, you might be very lucky and the guy who hosted you on Couchsurfing might have an extra room available in the flat, next door to your work. If you don’t have such luck, make sure to browse the local classifieds both online and in the paper. Also telling everybody you meet that you are looking for a room or an apartment will also increase your chances of finding something as a lot of the flats or rooms are not advertised.

Finding a job

There are many ways to do this. I was quite lucky with my first job assignment, as I sent my resume before moving to the UK, and was called in for an interview, which led to me being offered the job. I was looking for temporary work and this was what was on the offer. It was mostly a question of skills and timing.

The best way to find a job is probably to talk to people, use the jobs centers and job boards. The process is the same as in Canada. You send your resume, get called in for an interview, wow them with your skills and personality, and get the job. Or not.

Meeting new friends

Go out! Don’t stay indoor in your apartment because your future friends won’t be able to find you! There might be CouchSurfing groups, meetups, etc. Look into that. Talk to your colleagues. If they invite you out, go! Now is not the time to be shy, or picky!

Keep an open mind, take a deep breath when things are not going the way you want them to and be flexible! Enjoy every minute of your experience, both the good and the difficult as you will remember your experience of living abroad for the rest of your life.

Are you ready to take the next step in your life?

Perth, former capital of Scotland, and my new home for a while

As scary as it sounds for me, I can say that I settled for a while. After my job interview, I went travelling in Northern Scotland for about a month, before coming back to Perth to start working at VisitScotland as a Seasonal Visitor Services Advisor. I moved in with my nice Polish flatmate.

There’s obviously a few things to visit around Perth, and working at the Information Centre, it was my duty to discover them all (unfortunate I know!) One of my first days out was to Scone Palace.

Scone Palace and the couple who gave me a ride
Scone Palace and the couple who gave me a ride

Scone Palace

Scone Palace, pronounced Scoone, was the crowning place of the Scottish Kings. We decided to walk to Scone Palace as it’s only two miles from the centre and it was a nice day.

We took different ways to come in, I used the VisitScotland pass and he went through the gardens while I visited the Palace. On my way to the gate, an elderly couple was driving past and offered me a lift to the gate. I visited the palace, learning about the history of the illegitimate Belle. It sounds like something of a Disney or Pixar movie really. After learning about the place, I joined my flatmate outside of the palace. We could hear peacocks in the trees so we spent a little bit of time watching them moving from one branch to the other. They are massive and yet they somehow manage to stay up in the trees. Impressive.

DSC02761
Peacock at Scone Palace

We had a look at the chapel and, of course, at the replica of the stone of Destiny, on which the kings were crowned. The original stone is now in Edinburgh Castle, after having been moved around a lot over time.

The park is quite extensive and we spent the afternoon walking around, meeting a white peacock and some horses. When we passed the kid’s playground and I saw the small zip line, I couldn’t resist and got on it. Let’s just say I’m not child size anymore and I think I went a bit faster than one is supposed to go!

Entrance to the maze
Entrance to the maze

Later on, we walked past the old cemetery and entered the Murray Star Maze. We might have cheated slightly to get out as we noticed a small shortcut leading to the stairs and the platform. Once on the platform, it’s a lot easier to find your way out! On our way back to the city, someone offered us a ride back, which was very nice.

Perth Museum and Ferguson Gallery

A few days later I decided to have a look at the Ferguson Gallery and the Perth Museum. They are both free entry so it’s worth having a look, especially on a rainy day! The Ferguson Gallery is located in the old water tower, next to South Inch park. The museum shows the work of John Duncan Ferguson and his wife on the first level and on the second level, there is some artwork from local artists. It was interesting to see, but I’m not really the gallery type so it was a quick visit.

Perth Museum and Gallery
Perth Museum and Gallery

Afterwards, I went to the Perth Museum and Gallery. The museum has different exhibitions on display and when I visited they had an interesting exhibit about the history of the city. I learned a few things, but as I wasn’t really in the mood to read much that day., I moved on to the other rooms. They have a pretty big collection of taxidermied animals on display which I wasn’t very comfortable around. They creep me out. So I decided I had had enough museums for one day and went for a stroll in the park instead.

Black Watch Castle and Museum

On my next day off, I managed to build enough motivation to go visit the Black Watch Castle and Museum. It is a museum dedicated to the Black Watch Regiment. It covers the history from 1725 to pretty much now. I really don’t understand the appeal of war. The domination of other humans to claim territories… Fighting with people simply to convince them your way of life is the only valid one, instead of joining each other in peace and seeing the culture differences as a plus. I don’t know that I’ll ever understand the propaganda, but regardless it was interesting to read about the history of the regiment and see the many items on display.

The river Tay becomes a playground in the summer
The river Tay becomes a playground in the summer

Highland Games

One thing not to be missed by anybody coming to Scotland between May and mid-September is the Highland Games. The games are held in various places throughout the summer and in Perth, it was on August 9th. The Highland Games were pretty fun to watch. There was a competition of pipe bands, dancers, individual pipers, bicycle race, running, tug of war, and my favourite: the heavy weight!

Perth Highland Games, man in kilt throwing something heavy
Perth Highland Games

They sure like to throw stuff around! They started with the 16 and 22 lb shot putt followed by the 28lb for distance. Throwing two different hammers as far as possible, throwing a 56lb kettle bell for height and my ultimate favourite, tossing the caber! Caber tossing is basically picking up a tree trunk. Running with it to create momentum, stopping quickly and throwing it in front of you. The caber needs to flip and land on the bigger end before falling to the ground as close as possible to the twelve o’clock position. The caber is about 18ft long and weighs about 150lbs. All of that wearing a kilt, of course! So entertaining!

Scotsman ready to toss the caber
Caber tossing, Perth Highland Games

The day of the games, I was joined with an international girls team. My two couchsurfers, Ziska and Anne from Germany, Aurélie, my French friend and Sara, my new Polish friend. We had a great time walking around from one event to the other. The weather was also great, not very warm but sunny for part of the day. Enough to come back with a red face. It’s so easy to forget to put sunscreen on in Scotland. The sun (when present) is often hiding behind clouds and it’s never really warm enough to feel like summer, so it’s quite easy to get a sunburn in Scotland. Not what one would expect giving that the local tan shade is mostly paper white. But it does allow me to blend right in!

Highland Games bands
Perth Highland Games

Kinnoull Hill

I went to Kinnoull Hill a few times during my stay in Perth. Kinnoull Hill is a Woodland Park located just a few minutes walk or drive from the center and it boasts great views especially next to the tower. On one of those few glorious summer day where it was even warm, I went up Kinnoull Hill after work. On my way up there I somehow got lost, well not lost but I didn’t take the road I had meant to take. But I did find raspberries on my way up so it made up for the wrong path. The views from the viewpoint and the tower are truly gorgeous. It so relaxing to get up there and just sit still for a while. There are many paths one can choose and even some wooden sculptures scattered along the paths. Apparently there are 10 different sculptures, but I have yet to find them all.

View of the tower overlooking the river
Kinnoull Hill

On that gorgeous summer day, when I was ready to come back down to the city, I followed a different path, going through a very dark forest, a perfect setting for a horror movie! It was still very sunny out, but that forest was so dense it was almost pitch black. I was glad to be there during day time and I tried to focus on something else than the Blair Witch Project and other movies of the kind until I got back on the streets.

Perth Sculpture Trail

One of my favourite walks to do in the city was to go across the river on the railway bridge and come back through the park. There’s a lot of sculptures and gardens and it is a lovely walk. I did bring all my couchsurfing guests and friends on that walk. The views of the city make up for a great picture opportunity, and you get to feel like you are in nature. At least, away from the cars. Until you come back over the bridge that is!

Railway bridge and river Tay
Railway bridge and river Tay

Perth has a lot to offer and it was a good place to be for a few months, especially with a great flatmate and nice coworkers. I had settled back down into a routine, which I oddly found nice for a short while. At the end of my contract, as I had obviously done a decent job, I was offered an extension in Pitlochry. I took the job and decided to move a few miles North for another couple of months.

Perth Bridge at dusk
Perth Bridge

Inverness and Aviemore

Time to leave Aberdeen. This morning I walked to the train station and as it sometimes happens, I had trouble figuring out which platform to wait for the bus. I must not have been quite awake yet, but being used to travel now, it didn’t bother me too much and did not stress me at all. I just had a look around and finally figured out where to go.

The bus from Aberdeen to Inverness, was uneventful like they should be. The scenery consisted of a lot of trees, which was very different than the scenery I admired for the last couple of weeks. I was expecting to see the sea, but unfortunately, the bus took the inside road.

River Ness and walking path next to it
Ness River, Inverness

When I arrived in Inverness, it was overwhelming. The city didn’t look that big, but after the quietness of the northern islands, everything, and everyone was in the way, moving fast, being loud etc. And because I was tired, it made everything worst. I asked the bus station attendant to learn where I could find a left luggage area and was told it was £4 per bag, which I thought was too much. I decided to try my luck next door, at the train station to see if they had lockers. The small lockers there were £3 and the large ones £5 for 24 hours. It was a much better deal than the bus station, plus it needed the paper with the code to actually open the locker instead of just leaving bags unattended in the bus station office.

Inside the Cathedral
Inverness Cathedral

I wasn’t feeling too great, but decided to find the visitor information center and see if I could get advice on what I could do for a couple of hours. I must have looked like someone who would not be interested in shopping, history or anything including noise and people because the girl from the information desk suggested I went for a walk along the Ness river, crossing over the Ness Islands and walking in front of the Cathedral. It was the perfect option for my mood. Seb called while I was walking and we talked for a while. I got very emotional, and expressed feelings I hadn’t truly realized yet; I am worried about not having enough cash to survive knowing that it will be really tight until I get my first paycheck… and probably after as well…

Great view of the city and the river from Inverness Castle
Great view from Inverness Castle

The walk got me thinking and stressing out even more. When I walked by the Cathedral, I wasn’t feeling like visiting, but decided to go in anyway. It was a wise decision, because Iit made me feel instantly better. It forced me to think about something else, and when I walked out, I felt a lot calmer, in control and more positive. I kept walking and decided to have a look at the view from the Castle. It was great and as soon as the wind truly picked up, I felt like I could breathe again. In the last two days in Aberdeen, I had been missing the nature and the wind. The islands seemed to have changed something in me. I’m curious to see where it will bring me.

Inverness Castle
Inverness Castle

I went back to the bus station to buy my ticket to Aviemore, back to the train station to pick up my stuff and waited for 5:30 to arrive to get on the bus. The bus was great, very clean, and I was very surprised to learn it was a bus with service to Glasgow, stopping in Aviemore. There was a bus attendant handing out muffins and drinks. I now understood what the difference was between the different bus types!

When I arrived in Aviemore I had to wait for Zoe, my Couchsurfing host to be done work. I followed her suggestion and waited for her at the Old Bridge pub. It’s always interesting to hear barking when entering a pub or entering a pub, choosing a table, and almost stepping into a bowl of water… I liked the idea and I think it should be like this everywhere. But it is definitely not something you come across often (or at all) in Canada.

Zoe and I spent a nice evening, chatting and trading travel stories. It’s was a great couchsurfing experience.

Ruins of the Loch an Eilein Castle
Loch an Eilein Castle

The next morning, when Zoe was ready to leave for work, she dropped me off at the beginning of the trail to Loch an Eilein. The first part of the trail was in a forest that looked very much like Canada. A small part was on the road, and after a short while, I arrived at the loch. A lot of people were in the parking lot, but lucky enough, because there is a trail all around the loch, it was not too crowded. I started walking along the lake, passing in front of the remains of a castle on an island in the middle of the loch. The castle ruins are now home to many birds and ospreys.

walking path and mountain in the background

I kept walking and I eventually arrived at a crossing point. There was a sign pointing to Gleann Einich. And further down, Loch Einich. I had a great time following the jeep track, going through some lush forest before the scenery changed drastically and it looked more like Orkney. I was following the trail on my phone’s GPS and the loch didn’t seem too far so I kept going. As there was also a smaller loch on the map, I thought that worst case scenario, I would only see that one. I had to cross the river a couple time, much easier to do in a jeep, but I still managed to stay dry! (yeah me!) After a while, though, I didn’t seem to get any closer to the larger Loch, and I realized that the smaller loch was in fact on the other side of a hill, so I wouldn’t be able to see it.

One of the many river crossings
One of the many river crossings

I stopped to eat a snack and have another look at the map on my phone. As I was definitely not getting any closer to the loch, I decided to turned around. On my way in, I had seen what looked like a very skinny cow far away, but this time, it was much closer and I could see it was not a cow but a very adorable skinny reindeer. I stopped walking and looked at him. It didn’t seem too scared of me to start with, but was still moving away slowly as I was trying to get closer. After doing a short reindeer photoshoot, I headed back to the Loch an Eilein.

Adorable reindeer
Adorable reindeer

I finished the tour of the lake and was hoping to find people to give me a ride back to Aviemore, but unfortunately, the parking lot was pretty much empty at the time so I had to walk all the way back to Zoe’s flat in Aviemore.

Meall a' Bruhachaille path
Meall a’ Bruhachaille path

I spent a few days in the Aviemore area. Zoe and I shared some great moments, involving lots of laughter, a great walk in the Glenmore Forest Park and up Meall a’ Bruhachaille , a few bottles of wine and some very interesting conversation.

Zoe and I sitting at the top of the mountain
Zoe and I

I like what I have seen of Aviemore so far, and it makes me think it would probably be a great place to settle for a little while, as there are plenty of places to walk around and explore. People are also quite nice; it reminded me a lot of Meribel in France, a mountain village targeting active visitors where I went to work for a summer season during my student years.

Meall a' Bruhachaille path
Meall a’ Bruhachaille path

Aberdeen and Stonehaven

Dunnottar Castle
Dunnottar Castle

Arriving in Aberdeen on the overnight ferry from the Shetland Islands, I was very early showing up at my childhood friend’s place. During the short walk to Vero’s place, I made a new drunk friend on the sidewalk. He absolutely wanted to show me pictures he took on the top of the building next door… Véro opened the door a few minutes later and after saying my goodbyes to my new ”friend” she let me in. It was so nice to see each other once again after so many years apart. Knowing that Véro had lots to do with her wedding planning as well as organizing the Alaska dig (she’s an archaeologist), I had made plans with Lilian, my new French friend, to meet up later. We had planned to spend the day in Aberdeen, exploring the city, but Véro told me about a nearby castle so we changed our day plan over coffee.

Green hills and cliffs
Nice walk to get to the castle

After our breakfasts, we headed to the station to catch the bus. While in line to buy our bus tickets, there was an older couple asking the cashier how to get to Dunnottar Castle and then they ran off towards the platforms. The bus being scheduled to leave at 10:20 and seeing it was already past that, we assumed we would have to take the next one, so we walked slowly towards the right gate. As we were approaching we could see people still getting in, so we joined the queue, and were the last ones to get on the bus before it left.

Ruins overlooking water
Dunnottar Castle

It took about 30 minutes to get to Stonehaven, the village located next to the castle. The bus almost emptied in the village so we decide to follow them being, once again, quite lucky into finding the coastal path right away. The walk to the castle was stunning, and with the beautiful sunny weather, we enjoyed every minute of it.

Family dressed in kilt posing for a wedding photographer
Spying on a wedding celebration

We arrived at the castle, paid our £6 entry fee, and started wandering around the castle ruins, looking through all the windows and fireplaces. We took the views in, and once we arrived in a different area of the castle, we stumbled on a wedding celebration including lots of nice dresses and kilts.

toes with a beach and cliffs in the background
Beach break!

After exploring the castle ruins, we walked down to a pebble beach we had seen from the top and decided to have lunch there, sharing all the food we had brought with us. We even put our feet in the cold water for a few minutes. It was all very relaxing and a much better way to spend the day than walking around in Aberdeen. The transition between peaceful Unst, relatively busy Lerwick and Saturday morning Aberdeen, was good even though it made me realize I don’t really care for cities anymore, and I would rather be lost in the wilderness, surrounded with amazing views, wildlife and nature then concrete, traffic, and people.

Stonehaven marina
Stonehaven

Once we were done eating, we walked back to Stonehaven, discovering a very adorable town, with a port looking a lot like Croatia. We kept seeing locals and tourists alike eating ice cream cones, so Lilian decided to treat himself with one of the biggest cones I’ve ever seen, but definitely the most beautifully presented, with candies, chocolates, cookies and marshmallows decorating the cone.

Marina of Stonehaven
Sunny Stonehaven

We took the bus back to Aberdeen and went our separate ways; Lilian trying to find another book to read during his night bus to London and me walking up to Vero’s place to met with her and Paul for a few drinks in her favourite pub. After the pub, we went back to her place and had dinner. We ended up talking all night, catching up on the last 10 years of our lives.

Polaroid of my friend and I
Catching up with an old friend

The next day we went dress shopping. I hadn’t been in a shopping mall in a very long time and somehow did not miss the  feeling of looking inadequate that usually creeps on when I see people who obviously follow fashion trends.

That part of living in the city always gets to me, even though most of the time I am ok not wearing the latest fashion. Sometimes, though, I do feel like everybody is judging me, when they are most probably not even seeing me, and most definitely not caring about me and what I look like. I keep telling myself that I don’t have to care about that, but it’s much easier said than done.

beach with Stonehaven castle in the background
Great view for a lunch break