On the hunt for the best castles in Aberdeenshire — Travels with a Kilt

My Jacobite Castle Trail in Aberdeenshire If there’s one chunk of Scottish history that gets folk going, it’s likely to involve the Jacobites. Covering a bloody and tumultuous period in the 17th and 18th Centuries, these were chapters that show Scotland at its most divided. For my latest Scotlanders campaign, we’re teaming up again with…

via On the hunt for the best castles in Aberdeenshire — Travels with a Kilt

Tour Packages: Are They Worth The Costs?

glasgow-cathedral-and-infirmaryIt’s a month out from your trip and you are contemplating your very tight budget. Some of the considerations are that you really want to see a bunch of castles near where you are staying, but can’t do a hire car because of the cost. That will leave you with a tour option. However there are so many tours, how can you find one that fits your needs and well, isn’t too touristy?

Hint: For larger cities like London, you will always find a tour. But really good ones can fill up in advance. If a tour has really good ratings, also check for complaints against in a search. You may want to book a few weeks out, especially in high summer, August.

I don’t know about you, but I really am not a fan of traditional tours. Tourists can be so distracting and well, in some cases, behave poorly when on a trip. When I am traveling, I usually avoid the traditional tourist traps if I can, or try to see them at off times, and visit spaces like someone who may live there might. However, if you really want to see a land feature or castle and it’s out of city limits, you may have to resort to a tour.

Commercial Tours €£€£

If you really have limited time and want to pack in as much as you can, the commercial tour companies that depart from most city squares are your bet. You will pay between £30-50 for these tours on brightly colored buses from most metropolitan squares. Then you have to deal with densely packed buses. You can get to a great many sites in one day. I find if I do use these services, I will plan one day to be used up, and of course get back into town and head for a neighborhood I like, just to get some sense of people and community. They are noisy, smelly affairs.

Avoiding Commercial Tours: Compromise €£€£€

There are smaller, more intimate tours for the areas you may be visiting. These are usually smaller vans and smaller bus affairs. They will, however, cost more than the massive tour bus companies. You are paying for a smaller comfort and more intimate and personal tour. Sometimes these are run by smaller family businesses, groups of friends. You can even get specific tours that may follow a theme. Keep in mind that these can cost over €75-200 per person, but may be over several days. Also, check Twitter. Some smaller companies have accounts and you can check out their feed and see what tours are going on and what people are saying.

Walking Tours €0-10

Finding walking tours in cites whether guided or self guided means doing some research. If you check out a tour guide like Trip Advisor, you can get a good selection of these tours along with paying tours listed. There are tours operated by independents that may involve a small group that hires themselves out. These can be really entertaining as many of the guides are locals and you can contribute what you like and tip them. You may find that it is easier to meet groups of other travelers and then have a meal afterwards. Check for local online and hard copy community newspapers and magazines. They will have a good listing of these tours. Also, research alternative tours of the area.

Public Transport Tours – Self Guided £5-10

If you have a few days in an area, using public transit and getting around on your own tour can be done. Most local cities and towns even have maps and bus route information on their city websites with tourists in mind. There are also many touring apps that have city walking tours and tours that venture out. Now, these are free for the most part, and may not be up to date. There may also be roadworks and improvements going on that may delay you, you will need to check local information. I did quite a bit around Inverness last year via this route. You do not get as much packed in as an organized commercial tour, but it can be much easier on the budget.

There are many guided tours apps created by enterprising individuals or tourist boards. If you visit the App Store, you can find many of these. Also check online for local What’s On publications for the city. There may be an app they have created. And don’t forget local book stores. They carry these things called maps that fold out.

Booking

Trip Advisor/Viator are the same company, just different formats. One is the classic Trip Advisor green and the other is a bit more supped up and takes more bookings.

https://www.viator.com

Tour Radar

http://www.tourradar.com/d/europe

City Specific

London

Manchester

Cardiff Wales

Glasgow Tours

Edinburgh Tours

Dublin Tours

Belfast Tours

London Pass

Articles and Resources

https://www.nomadicmatt.com/travel-tips/choosing-the-right-tour-company/

http://www.scotlandmadeeasy.co.uk/

http://www.irelandmadeeasy.eu/

https://www.vacationsbyrail.com/

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/travel/destinations/europe/united-kingdom/scotland/articles/12-of-the-best-self-guided-tours-of-scotland/

https://www.myirelandtour.com/travelguide/solo-travel.php

http://www.independent.co.uk/travel/news-and-advice/the-50-best-travel-websites-8646338.html

 

 

The New UK 5 Pound Note and Out With The Old

Got any £5.00 notes from your last journey to the UK? Worthless now. May 5 was the deadline to turn in the old bank notes. Not so good for those of us trying to change money in US and other countries. If you are ordering cash for your trip, play it safe and get denominations £20.00 and £50.00 if you must have the cash. The new note £10.00,  is due in a few months. You may be able to specify through your bank to get the new “plastic” notes, but just play it safe. Of course, you can just use your travel card, but it is good to have some cash on you for airport and taxi use. You don’t have fees with that unless you exchange it. Check that you receive change in the new polymer style notes if you are traveling over the next few months if it’s fiver in the UK, Scotland and N. Ireland. They have a plastic feel, very like the Canadian Dollars and look like:

And for you Jane fans, the new tenner will look like this:

The date for the Jane will coincide with her birthday, July 18th 200 birthday.

Scotland’s new polymers were issued last fall, but UNLIKE their British counterparts, they are pulled as they come in from circulation and replaced with the new notes. A much more sensible solution.

See the Scottish policies here

http://www.scotbanks.org.uk/banknotes.html

Articles and Resources

How to Spend or Exchange £5.00 Now They Are Not Legal Tender

https://www.thesun.co.uk/money/3409365/old-5-pound-notes-legal-tender/

 

http://www.mirror.co.uk/money/valuable-5-pound-notes-numbers-8903425?service=responsive

 

Official B of E Statements

http://www.bankofengland.co.uk/banknotes/polymer/Pages/default.aspx

 

Current Banknotes News

http://www.acbi.org.uk/rbs.php

 

What’s On Glasgow’s Hubs and Clubs

16058040295_e1d1ba6050_o

Glasgow rocks, and it’s apparent. Countless bands have their start here from eighties rockers Simple Minds and Jesus and Mary Chain, to Supernaturals, Texas, Belle & Sebastian and Frightened Rabbit. The music venues of fame include King Tut’s Wah Wah Hut and The Barrowland Ballroom are familiar to all. But what about all the other venues and what’s on this spring of note? What do you do if you are a traveler and haven’t a clue where to go. Well, you are in for a rest regardless, there is so much musical going on here.

Like any city you may visit, look at the local clubs and independent papers for where you are traveling to. You may want to do this several months before you arrive as some of the more popular bands may sell out quite early. If you are lucky and have friends and family in the place you plan to visit, you can have them get live tickets for you, but many places use services like eventbrite.com and other online ticket sellers and you can store on your phone. You may not be able to purchase unless you are in the UK as some apps and ticket selling sites are set up for UK addresses only at checkout, even if it’s an online ticket.

Local Papers and Music Resources

I always find and love to look through the local indie rags for any city like Glasgow. All port towns have a great independent news and cultural paper or two, usually online but occasionally you can still pick up a hard copy which is great as you can get that old textile feel for the paper. Music and theatre are a steady, vibrant beat in this town. Another great way to find out who is playing is of course to pick up flyers and promo cards from independent music stores. Some of the local stores are Record Fayre and Rubadub. Check the registers and windows for bank promos, and don’t forget your local cafe and coffee houses. Don’t forget to listen to the Buskers in Buchanan or other mall streets, many of them have CDs or will also tell you about the local music scene and who’s playing.

Some of the music venues are:
Òran Mór
Bar Bloc
O2 ABC
Old Fruitmarket

Like big music events? Spring marks the beginning of the festival season, so along with small music venues, you will find weekend festival events filling the air with sound. Check and see if there is one during your stay. These venues are filled with bands all day and into the night. Festivals coming up in Glasgow are the new May West Festival May 27, 28 TRNSMT 2017 Festival July 7 through 9 and they are hosting the BBC6 Festival this year.

Is This Music ? is a great, Northern UK publication online with music reviews and listings for where bands are playing. Glasgow Music has reviews and information specific to the city and outlying area. Reviews and venue information. And best of all, never forget that the universities in most cities have a student run radio station. The University of Glasgow’s student run station is Subcity Radio. Check out their reviews and music offerings.

Links
Top Music Venues Glasgow
https://theculturetrip.com/europe/united-kingdom/scotland/articles/the-10-best-music-venues-in-glasgow/

Is This Music?
http://www.isthismusic.com

Glasgow Music
http://www.glasgowmusic.co.uk/GMHome

Local Independent Music Stores
http://www.scotlandnow.dailyrecord.co.uk/lifestyle/record-store-day-2016-glasgows-7755773

Independent Culture
http://www.theskinny.co.uk

Subcity Radio Glasgow University
https://www.subcity.org

May West Festival 2017
http://www.may-west.com

TRNSMT Festival 2017
http://trnsmtfest.com


Photo by Craig Monaghan

Binge on the Fringe: Edinburgh Fringe Festival Survival

14114893239_863c505ee8_o

On the last tour in Scotland I couldn’t get anywhere near Fringe Festival, the month long Arts fest that has been going strong for 70 years. All accommodations were booked up that I could afford. My trip to Edinburgh ended up being the week before and after talking to a few residents, realized I would need to book about an year in advance for best lodgings. This is of course if you want to deal with a large European city that has its population swell about three-fold in four weeks. Had to think about that. I lived in San Francisco where this came close to happening every summer. When you live in a large tourist destination, it’s your least favorite time of year. Some stay, some go on their own vacations.

It’s the 70th year, so the festival is gearing up even bigger. This festival is insane. I picked up the program last year and spent an hour or two combing all the acts and theatre performances. It’s packed and overwhelming with something for everyone. I decided I would have to try to make it this year. Now, how do you navigate one of the largest festivals in Europe for your first time and if you only have three days to spare? Research, of course.

Step 1 Book Accommodations Way Ahead
As I said before, last year I just couldn’t get reasonable rooms. Everyone I talked to said book early. Edinburgh is the most expensive of the cities in Scotland I found to spend time in as far as accommodations go. So shopping early is a great choice. You can always adjust later. Other festivals in the UK also require early bookings, and don’t count on camping accommodations as those will have been snagged up, unless you have some traveling companions in the know. You can however book in adjacent towns and ride in on the train, which runs extra trains during August.

Step 2 Enroll on Fringe Website
Most festivals have a website and you should join early. You will get updates to performances as new lineups happen. I am checking in as I heard many popular shows sell out quick. I am not be familiar with many of the performers, but I am only in the city for three days and have to cram. And some US performers do make it to the marathon. I see there is a Fringe society planning group for your visit. Ooo, I have pals.

Looks like I may have to book my train run early ish as well. ScotRail has festival trains for the month, but they may be a bit packed, so better book the to the festival run at least a month out. What a contrast is will be from the tranquility of Skye where I will be coming from.

Did I say marathon? Yes, for the performers and the patrons. Many a US comic has lamented that they survived the Fringe Fest. It’s a month of shows and you may have 2-3 a day to do, and your venues can be spread out. Search for some comedy on Netflicks with Fringe Fest in the title and see what I mean. Get a perspective from a comic, and of course YouTube.

Step 3 Research, Who to See, or How to See Them
Okay, so here is the thing. There are thousands of shows and performers. Many of them trying to make it, new to it, feeling it out. It’s a festival, that means experimentation. You may find some names you are familiar with, but it’s not going to be a headliner affair like you may be used to in your home town. So, how to pick things to go to and not strike out. Go with an open mind. I know I like impromptu theatre. So, I can probably be highly amused regardless. How to do this on a limited budget? Look for free and discount shows. Go during the day. Wait for reviews. Get the App for the Fringe. Sounds like a lot of ways to get overloaded. Most of what I have read has said to wait to find deals when you get there. Keep an eye out for the daily reviews of shows. Talk to a more experienced attendee near you. I plan on interviewing people while there to get their take on the festival.

Step 4 Make Sure Your Accommodation is Really Booked.
Your accommodation should always be booked well ahead in any place you stay, but I have had weird things crop up while traveling overseas and had rooms get overbooked, and computer glitches happen. Confirm you have a booking. If you would like to go but all things are booked up, you can find accommodations in bordering towns and take the train in. Extra transit is provided during this month.

Step 5 Enjoy
With all the craziness of any festival like this, sometimes you need to pull out and decompress. Edinburgh has so many great little spots, courtyards, district areas that you can take a few streets to the left or right and find a smaller space to eat some great Pop-Up restaurant food and just let go for a bit. Making a decision on whether to cram every minute with theatre, dance, music, and all other arts can be and exhausting stimulus. That fear that you may have to choose between 3 things is a bit much for us. Remember, spontaneity can be living in the moment and just breathing.

Prepare for weather. My summer experiences in Edinburgh were that they were very close to San Francisco/Portland weather. Changeable within a day, check your weather app. Bring light rain gear, also suncream and your brelly. Hopefully the performance you are seeing is in shelter.

DOWNLOAD THE APP. As we get closer to August, the festival puts out an App that is very useful for booking and getting up to the minute information. You also have a feature where you can check shows via your location to see what is about to start near your location. You can also purchase tickets via the app. Keep an eye out for this App appearing in July in the Android and Apple Apps stores.

Reading
http://thatbackpacker.com/2016/08/22/a-first-timers-guide-to-the-edinburgh-fringe-festival/
https://www.edfringe.com
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/theatre/what-to-see/edinburgh-fringe-2016-10-top-tips-for-survival/

Video
https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=OgNf8Pt5tOw

Art Walks: Amazing Spring Entertainment and Culture in the Isles

FullSizeRender

Mural on the Clutha Pub, Bridgegate Street, Glasgow Scotland Summer 2016 J. Canning

I have always enjoyed a good street art walk. Murals and sidewalk art have become extensive, massive canvases to showcase local artists and get up close and personal with art. This summer I will be hitting more mural walks. I was reading one of the people I follow on Twitter, Travels With a Kilt Blog, and a recent article caught my eye. It’s a great art walk in Glasgow and I will be following it this summer and adding some of my own discoveries.

Got one of those super saver early flight arrivals like I always get? It’s one of the best things to do when you just get to a city, especially if you are walking off the jet lag. Get a taste for the city you are exploring, grab coffee or tea on the way, walk a few hours, then have a meal. Great way to meet people.

Since I won’t be going until summer this year, I thought I would link you up with this article so if you happen to be going to Glasgow this spring, you should read this:

Glasgow’s Street Art Article

Planning on going to a city or two this spring summer that may have street art? Seek it out and take your own shots of this amazing public art form. Share them on Instagram or try a street art app that you can share with the world.

Just a tip: You will find many official street art tours. They cost money. You can find maps for free online and also some walking tours with local historians, a bit less money. If you have a budget, small tours with locals can be a blast as you can meet with others traveling and have great convo. But sometimes creating your own tour is great on the budget, look for Street Art Tour Maps online. There are apps online and phone apps for tours as well. Remember this will eat up your power and many places are charging money now in cafes to recharge your phone.

Links

Apps for Street Art Worldwide Directory http://geostreetart.com/

For great walks and place in Scotland to take your snaps, check out http://www.photowalkscotland.com/

More at these cities:

Edinburgh 

http://www.walkingheads.net/pride-of-place-street-art-in-leith/

Glasgow 

https://peoplemakeglasgow.com/things-to-do/visitor-itineraries/city-centre-mural-trail

http://www.travelandleisure.com/attractions/glasgow-mural-trail

Ireland

Belfast 

http://free-belfast-tours.com/tours/the-free-original-belfast-alternative-tour/

http://www.seedheadarts.com/street-art-walking-tour/

http://www.belfastartmap.com/places/belfast/public-art/street-art-north-street/

Dublin 

https://www.joe.ie/life-style/spend-a-day-taking-in-some-brilliant-dublin-street-art-377646

http://www.dailyedge.ie/best-irish-street-art-1627974-Aug2014/

Galway

https://www.facebook.com/galwaystreetart/

https://oddballtours.com/tours/

UK

http://www.freetoursbyfoot.com/london-tours/walking-tours/london-graffiti-and-street-art-tour/

https://www.timeout.com/london/things-to-do/the-street-art-walk

Coming to the PNW, Portland PDX?

http://www.pdxstreetart.org/