Shopping for Nirvana in Scotland

Quick Trip to the Scottish Highlands 2019

In many ways my bucket list birthday trip to Ireland and Scotland was all about experiencing the Scottish Highlands.

Our tour guide, David, had an itinerary and I had no clue what we were going to see or what to expect short of a list of castle hot spots. The minute he met me and my 16 year old nephew Will, David tossed out the plan and improvised. Everything unfolded beautifully. Best guide ever!

Once we left Edinburgh, we immediately hit up our first castle.

LINLITHGOW PALACE is where they shot Wentworth Prison in my favorite show “Outlander.” How did David even know I was an “Outlander” fan? Most of the other castles and palaces we visited were also locations for the TV show so of course I was in heaven (check out my other blog on Outlander locations.) Still in tact was the fountain built by James V in 1538. Fed by an underground water supply, water once fell from the crown. When Bonnie Prince Charlie visited in 1745 the fountain was made to flow with wine. Restored in 2007 to its former glory of fanciful bas-relief statues of mythical beasts and human heads.

Scottish castle details

Scottish castles and palaces were not the luxury dwellings I had thought or imagined from visiting France, England or even India. These were stone fortresses meant to keep invaders out and provided very little space or comfort for royal families inside.

Storming Doune Castle, I immediately recognized the grounds where they staged Castle Leoch in “Outlander.” In ruins, there wasn’t much to see inside. The exterior courtyard is where all the energy remains. As an intuitive I felt the castle was happy to have “Outlander” film there. The castle was able to revive the spirit of its inhabitants through the action of actors in period costumes camped out for months recreating the world that once was.

Posing at castles with Will

Lunch at the Potted Shed Cafe Bistro on the grounds of the Roman Camp Hotel in Callander was one of our favorites. Built in 1625 the Roman Camp was the hotel for the Dukes of Perth. It has 3 ghosts. The cute pink hotel was very classy and everything I dreamed a quaint Scottish Manor House would be. Even the slightly creepy front desk manager who told me he “liked my vibe.” Maybe it was my blue hair!

Scottish Speak:
Dreich is Scottish for rainy weather
Drookit is the word for being soaking wet
Crabbit is ‘bad mood’ and our guide David told us no one is allowed to be Crabbit on this trip! Of course, we never were.

Stopping for the classic photo of breath-taking famous 3 Sisters Mountain range in Glen Coe, it was the same view as the opening credits from “Outlander.” The valley was once used by Clan MacDonald to hide their livestock from raiders during the Jacobite uprising.

We also saw the Harry Potter train passing over the Glenfinnan Viaduct. This train runs an 84 mile round trip that passes Ben Nevis, Scotland’s highest mountain. The Jacobite Steam Train was featured as the fictional Hogwarts Express in the Harry Potter films.

Chef at Victorian Hunting Lodge

When my trusted travel agent booked us at a creepy Victorian hunting lodge on Lochy Loch, I was shocked at first. Then after a few days the place grew on me and in fact Will and I left with a few tall tales of our own about the place and lots to giggle about. It was our favorite strange experience. Nightly over dinner as we looked out at the dramatic scenery and 10pm sunset the theme from “Outlander” played over the speakers. The famous Scottish folk tune called “Skye Boat Song” transported me to the romance of hunky Jamie Fraser and his true love Claire. The song looped every 30 minutes.

Eilean Donan Castle is quite spectacular. Located on a a small tidal, which is land where 3 sea lochs meet: Loch Duich, Loch Long and Loch Alshin in the Western Highlands. The picturesque castle dominates the island. Founded in the 13th c – a stronghold of Clan Mackenzie and allies Clan MacRae. Partially destroyed during the Jacobite uprising in 1719, a footbridge was added in the early 20th c.

Dourne Castle

I wanted a fairy experience so we crossed the bridge to have lunch on Isle of Skye located in the Atlantic Ocean. We hadn’t planned on any special isle of Skye outings and now I realize that was a mistake. Next trip I want to hike the Isle of Skye and visit the fairy lake, the fairy waterfalls, fairy everything! The fairy world on Isle of Skye is a magical experience and thankfully we got to dip our toe in the fairy pool.

As we were crossing the the bridge to the isle, my phone alerted me to a MAGIC HOUR. Now this is something I have on my phone in my special calendar but I have never had a phone alert. I believe the fairy energy was alerting me to place my back to the hourly direction and send out my prayers. So, in the parking lot of the Red Skye School House, our driver David and my nephew Will and myself stood with our backs to the Magic Hour direction and tapped into the magic of Isle of Skye. It was truly a spiritual experience. David and Will thought I was slightly nuts. I want to go back!

Of course, no trip to the Scottish Highlands is complete without a visit to the Colloden Battle Field. They have an amazing visitor’s center worth a few hours of attention. Then there’s the quaint town of Pitlochry where it must have been senior hour. As we arrived 2 buses filled with senior citizens mostly in motorized wheel chairs on oxygen tanks roamed the souvenir stores. Urauhart Castle was destroyed but he ruins and movie about its history playing in the gift shop was super interesting. Rainy and misty drive around Loch Ness we could not see the famous sea monster, but Will bought a Nessy stuffed doll for his little cousin (another nephew.) Finally wrapped up the 5 day tour at Scone Palace. The grounds are spectacular and worthy of a few hours dodging peacocks.

A real treat and super special was an overnight stay at the poshy posh Fife Arms in Braemar. Until Swiss art dealers Iwan and Manuela Wirth took it over and made it their love project displaying over 14,000 works of art, the Fife Arms was apparently a dump. Owned by the Duke of Fife (1889-1912), the Inn is now an art masterpiece and everything you imagine a Scottish Highlands experience to be – it is.

One of my favorite shopping for nirvana purchases was the Duke of Fife tartan scarf. Re-created from his original tartan design, a tartan is a woolen cloth woven in plaid associated with a Scottish clan.

The Scottish Highlands is superstition mixed with daily life.

Shopping for Nirvana in Ireland

Quick Trip to Dublin 2019

Ireland and Scotland were on my bucket list for years. In my mind, these were mysterious European places I had no clue about. Not exotic enough to move them to the top of my list. Foreign enough that I was curious. Probably the main reason for putting them off was my fear of encountering fairies and spirits in castles and legends of things that can’t be explained. I do enough of this in my every day life and work! I didn’t need paranormal encounters while on vaca.

Over the years I’ve gotten better at protecting myself. Armed with my ‘ghost oils’ I took the plunge only to learn I was fine and should have explored more of these magical realms. This is my trip…

After 10 hours and 9 time zones, my 16 year old nephew, Will, and I arrive. Will surprised me by agreeing to join “Aunt Anita on her 62nd birthday extravaganza adventure!”

Our first night, we strolled down the popular Baggot St to Matt the Thresher for seafood which started Will’s daily ritual of eating fish and chips. By the end of the trip I thought he might swim away! He couldn’t stop talking about Guinness so I bought him a beer (drinking age is 18.) Two sips and he was over it. Decided he is not a beer guy!

The pub is a place of Irish cultural exchange.

We went to listen to authentic Irish pub music at O’Donoghue’s. I was told there may be a long line to get in and the pub may not even let him in. I put on my leather jacket to look hip and told Will to put on his black jeans so he could look a little older. I was determined to get in.

On the long walk over I told Will that I really wanted to experience Irish music and if they wouldn’t let him in he could walk back to the hotel by himself because I was going to stay! As it turned out – no line and they even asked him what he wanted to drink. We stood in front at the bar by the band and learned they were local guys with day jobs at the gas station, etc, and played here at night. A 22-year-old from Minnesota shared her Jameson whisky with Will, which I probably should have discouraged because drinking from a stranger’s glass in a bar is not something I should be teaching him. But she was cute (she took this photo of us) and it did loosen him up! Fun was had by all….

Georgian Architecture

A building boom between 1714 and 1830 built a ton of Georgian buildings. named for the British monarchs of the House of Hanover – George 1, George 11, George 111 and George 1V. Symmetrical proportions – block-like. Not very ornate on the outside but the interiors had high ceilings and ornate trim. Balance and simple mathematical ratios. Irish cities would have knocked them down and rebuilt – but money was always an issue so now they remain as historical gems.

From Joyce to Yeats – Dublin is a city of literature

Some of the famous Dublin writers include:

Syge who wrote “Playboy of the Western World.”
RB Sheridan aka Sean O’Casey writer of “Shadow of a Gunman”‘ that Alfred Hitchcock turned into plays and films
Jonathan Swift wrote “Gulliver’s Travels”
Richardson wrote 1st person narratives “Pamela and Clarissa”
George Bernard Shaw won and Oscar and a Nobel
Samuel Beckett wrote “Waiting for Gadot”
WB Yeats was more spiritual
Thomas Moore was a balladeer
Oscar Wilde had extraordinary parents who held salons that included the intelligentsia of the day

“Be yourself – everyone else is taken.” – Oscar Wilde

Sweny Chemist Shop is where Leopold Bloom buys his lemon soap in the epic “Ulysses.” Sweny remains pretty much in tact from when Dublin’s famous writer James Joyce set a scene from his book here. “Ulysses” is about a day in the life of Leopold Bloom as he wanders about Dublin on June 16, 1904. It’s a puzzle and enigma and difficult to truly understand. We gathered with a group of South American students learning English and went around the room reading passages from the novel. I was surprised to hear that Will actually enjoyed that experience!

What I learned are that Irish people are hardworking. They love their music, their literature and their pubs. Next trip I would like to venture outside the city to the countryside to truly experience Ireland in all its majesty.

Sacred Stuff

me with monk in Cambodia

Golden Ganesh and the Monk of Ta Prohm

My Ganesh dharma began in Cambodia.

It was at the mysterious overgrown temple of Ta Prohm where I received my first Ganesh statue. I met the wizend monk who sweeps the steps to ensure the gods will have safe passage up the steep and narrow stairways. I bought a bamboo cowbell from him and he posed for a photo.

“He protects travelers and will help you find your way,” he told me as my guide translated. A sort of golden light washed over me in that moment,and then the monk was gone and I began to wonder…

why did he think I was lost?”