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The Wandering Widow

Observations, Tips and Reckless Truth Telling on the Road Through Grief

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Outlander

Adventure Part 2: Stirling, Scotland

A Wandering Widow Post

Is it possible to fall in love with a place a little more each day? At the rate I’m going, I’ll never be able to leave Scotland. After Edinburgh, I arrived in Stirling, a sleepy university town, and felt every cell in my body give up a big happy sigh. With a whole week to explore, I had the opportunity to slow things down and enjoy every minute of this town. How often do you go on holiday and get to spend a rainy day in a coffee shop or pub people watching for hours without feeling like you’re wasting time?

Just like everywhere else I’ve visited in Scotland, the people are friendly and welcoming. Out of everything Scotland has to offer, the people are what I love best. I’ve said more than once that with its rugged beauty and relaxed lifestyle Scotland reminds me of Idaho before the hipsters moved in, only with more rain.

September is a perfect time to visit. You can feel a hint of the crisp fall air in the mornings, and the leaves on the trees are just starting to turn even though summer flowers are still in bloom. A poet friend recently told me that all poets love the autumn. And while I’m no poet, the overwhelming desire to capture the beauty of this season is contagious.

My heart is well on its way to mending, but there is something about the fall that is cozy and snuggly and warm and nurturing. As my son-in-law likes to say, it’s sweater weather. I can’t think of a better place to enjoy it than Stirling.  It became so comfortable, so quickly,  I really didn’t want to leave.

XOXO,
The Wandering Widow

 

 

The details:

Stirling is so much more than a home base for other sites in the area, especially if you like the outdoors. I spent a week here and could have stayed longer.

If you’re not driving, Stirling is super easy to access by train and is only an hour from Edinburgh or Glasgow. Navigating Scotland’s buses and trains are easy, even for someone like me who has “getting lost” as my super power. The town is also easy to navigate, although I confess to getting lost once when relying too heavily on my GPS instead of my eyeballs.

There are a few local historical sites to see, but if you run around screaming “Freedom” at the top of your lungs, you’ll be asked to leave. Kidding. But seriously, please don’t do that.

The Sites:

Wallace Monument:
If you can only pick one thing to see in Stirling, this is it. It’s worth the 246 step climb up a narrow spiral staircase to the top for the breathtaking views. And if your only knowledge of William Wallace was Braveheart, be prepared to have your world rocked with the actual history of the man.

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Wallace Monument is hard to miss, standing sentry above the town.
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The walk up the hill was worth it.

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The open air top of the monument is beautiful, like the icing on a giant cupcake.
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From the top of the monument you can see Stirling Castle.
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View of the River Forth from the top.

 

You can access the monument easily by bus from Stirling (about a twenty-minute ride) if you don’t want to drive. If you’re feeling extra Genki, you can also walk from town, but don’t forget you then need to walk (or shuttle) up a hill to get to the base of the monument.

Stirling Castle:
Not my favorite castle in the world, but I’m easily bored with castles, so take my opinion with a grain of salt. My favorite parts were the gardens and the view. Shocker, I know. But it was interesting to learn about the famous unicorn tapestry. In case you didn’t already know, the unicorn is Scotland’s national animal, earning the country serious cool points.

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Queen Anne’s Garden

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Doune Castle:
In my humble-non-castle-stalking opinion, this one was a lot more fun than Stirling. Well known for its use as an on-location film site for Monty Python and the Holy Grail, Game of Thrones and Outlander, out of all the castle tours I’ve done, this has my favorite audio tour. Monty Python’s Terry Jones narrates and after each of the historical bits, are optional Monty Python details. There is something special about standing in a ruined castle hearing a Frenchman scream out that your mother was a hamster and your father smells of elder berries. Don’t take my word for it though, check it out yourself.

For you Outlander fans, the audio tour also provides filming updates from that Jamie guy.

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Doune Castle

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Your mother is a hamster and your father smells of elderberries.

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The Dupplin Cross:
Venture out to Dunning and St. Serf’s church, and you can see the Dupplin Cross. It’s a Pictish stone carved in the shape of an Irish cross and is over a thousand years old. It’s free to visit, and the lovely docents will give you the history and point out important features, so don’t forget to donate before you leave.


The Food:
The Bluebell Tearoom serves breakfast all day and has a gluten free menu, for those of you who care about that sort of thing. I loved that the hostess had been through Idaho, and we were able to chat about my home state.

The Friar’s Wynd is clean and bright, has great service, excellent food and is a great choice for a nice dinner.

The Smithy was a surprise. I wasn’t sure about trying it since my local friend hadn’t heard of it, but it got glowing recommendations for the “best food in Stirling” from another member of the Scottish travel group I joined on Facebook. I’m glad I tried it! It’s not far from Stirling Castle and is a light, bright cafe/tea house. The food was, in fact, the best I’ve had in Stirling and a great alternative to pub food. Everything was fresh and light (soups, salads, sandwiches, etc.) and delish.

In Dunning, have lunch or dinner at The Kirkstyle Inn. I had a superb dish of sea scallops, green apples, and black pudding. I can’t explain why that combo worked, but it was so delicious I might have licked the plate had I been by myself.


The Whisky:

The Curly Coo is a must visit for whiskey drinkers, for the 130 single malt whiskey options as well as meeting Miss Mandy, the sassy pants proprietor. She recommended Deanston (among others) since it’s local. (I tried to get to Deanston Distillery later in the week for their whiskey and chocolate tour but the day I attempted to go the roads closed to buses, and my ankle wouldn’t agree to the 8-mile walk).

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I love Mandy’s sense of humor. But seriously, be prepared to shell out some cash on these rare whiskies.


The Hiking:

I’ve been chomping at the bit to get hiking since my last visit in April and was fortunate to have a friend here take me out exploring. We managed to get in a hike to Loss Hill before an old ankle injury kicked in and removed hiking (and dancing) off the list for a few weeks, but it was worth it.

Loss Hill was beautiful, and the irony of the name wasn’t lost on me.  It’s just behind Dumyat Hill (where Wallace Monument is) if you’re looking at it from town. The beauty of hiking in Scotland is that you just decide which direction you want to go and start walking. In the states, property laws are pretty strict, and as I’d rather not get shot, I’ve never trespassed over fences before. It’s an entirely different scenario in Scotland, and I climbed over a bunch of fences (including barbed wire) on this hike. I also got to hike in the peat bog, which was new and different (and coincidentally the part my ankle didn’t like). In the two and half hours we were out, we saw sheep, deer and the weather change repeatedly from blue skies to storm clouds and back again. Classic Scotland! The only thing that could have made it better would have been some heilan coos, but I have lots of time left to see those cute furry cows.

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They say if you don’t like the weather, give it a few minutes and it will change again.

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The Lodging:
Shona’s flat was my first Air B&B in Scotland, and ideally located in the middle of town (a five-minute walk from the train and bus station, and a ten-minute walk to Stirling Castle). While I didn’t need a three bedroom flat all to myself, it was nice to have all the comforts of home, including laundry and wifi. She was a gracious hostess, and I would stay here again.

 

✔️ San Diego Comic-Con

A Wandering Widow Post

It’s funny how you can live somewhere and never do the things other people travel there for. I lived in San Diego for years, but never went to Comic-Con. A few years ago, during an especially funny episode of The Big Bang Theory, Dan and I decided that going to SDCC should be on our bucket list. Since we’re both kinda geeky, it sounded fun. Plus, how can you go wrong in San Diego? So my friend, an SDCC veteran, helped me get badges to the biggest geek party in town.

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You can never go wrong in San Diego.

And it was a party. It’s a good thing I’m retiring in a few days because I’ll need a week or two of naps to recover.

XOXO,

The Wandering Widow

P.S. In case you’re thinking I’m a huge jerk for taking a vacation right before I retire, this bucket list trip was on the books before I made that life altering decision. Live Now.

Here are my Top 5 Comic-con Takeaways:

1. You can definitely do it as an SDCC virgin, but having someone help you learn the ropes is easier. Fortunately, there are a lot of SDCC blogs that can guide you along. Read them. Learn from them. When you are advised to bring a refillable water bottle, snacks, sunscreen, and backup batteries for your phone, do it. And be prepared to walk a lot! We averaged around 20,000 steps a day, and that was with a LOT of breaks at San Diego’s finest eateries and drinkeries. (Breakfast on the patio at Mary Jane’s gives you a lot of people watching and celeb spotting opportunities. And Whiskey Girl has my stamp of approval for any time of the day).

I’d add a small umbrella (for shade) to the list for those long outdoor lines. It was unusually humid and I didn’t reapply sunscreen frequently enough, so brought home a lovely stripey sunburn.  I can’t imagine how hot it was for those in full costume and makeup. I bow down to their dedication and commitment to their characters. And the cosplay didn’t disappoint. 

2. Don’t wait until AFTER you have your badges to book your hotel. Rookie mistake! We ended up paying a premium for a divey motel. I was told that most San Diego businesses close to the convention center make over 30% of their annual revenue during Comic Con. I don’t doubt it. Price gouging is the name of the game. It was still worth it, just be prepared and budget accordingly.

The entire Gas Lamp District gets into the Con spirit.

3. Don’t stress if you don’t get badges for every day. Enough events are happening around the convention center that you will have plenty to do. I found that some of my favorites were offsite and didn’t require badges at all.  Bladerunner 2049 was my favorite, and not just because of the Johnnie Walker whiskey bar at the end.

 One of the things I loved best was that the whole town gets involved, taking it from mere convention to super festival.  Hotels, trains, and trams were all wrapped and decorated appropriately.  And there were lots of themed marches and displays supporting shows or movies.  We participated in Nerdist’s Wonder Woman March but also got to enjoy History Channel’s Viking funeral march and Outlander’s exciting outdoor entertainment.

4. Keep your patience and a sense of humor. Everyone else is just as excited to be there as you are, lines are inevitable. Make new friends. And don’t be put off by the 2-3 hour waits…the lines move faster than whatever the end-of-the-line-keeper tells you.

If it’s your first time, be prepared for sensory overload. It was worse than Vegas for me, and I couldn’t figure out what to look at with all that color, lights and noise everywhere.

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5. Enjoy yourself. SDCC was amazing, but the best part was being able to spend time with friends.

I loved that everyone connected with the Con was respectful and still able to have a good time. I lost track of how many languages I heard spoken–this is truly an international event. It is also family friendly, and it warmed my heart to see so many parents bringing their kids. But folks, please leave your dogs at home as this is an anxiety ridden event for Fido. 

I can’t wait for next year!

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