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

Fringe Festival at 70: Bigger, Better and Defiant

3894492440_9e61f57334_oBut will that change? Filled with politics this year, you bet.  In reading an article this morning on an interview with a founder of the Assembly Rooms Venue the Fringe festival in Edinburgh, there are fears that subsequent years will lose out in the international flare. Brexit fears and restrictions on visas will make the venue less attractive to performers from EU countries. Hard to think that something we all take for granted, such as a festival, could be so impacted by restrictions at borders. It certainly can.

The Fringe programs just got published. Last years fest was a massive beast with listings of nearly all performances. I lugged mine around with me all over Scotland. With the big 70th celebration this year, it promises to be an even bigger extravaganza. However, this can all change in the next 2 years if Brexit continues. Just think, Edinburgh expands it’s population every August to nearly 3 times it’s usual population. This includes people just touring the city and those specifically traveling to Fringe fest. In 2016, over 2 million tickets were sold in the month. So, if I massive influx this is happening, people are booking hotel rooms and spending a great deal on food, the local economy has a month of serious boom. This month is the month you have to book rooms months in advance as I discovered last year. The food offerings are enormous, and a lot of money is being made. What will happen if less acts can come to perform, if the festival loses it’s edge a bit due to restrictions on visas and performers rethinking that it may be easier to attend/perform in a festival in one of the EU countries? Will it mostly be a Scots only venue? Will the culture be less international? These are some of the questions coming up as all festival organizers in the UK brace for change. It’s not just the Fringe, but all festivals in the UK that have international performers may be affected.

The politics of the Fringe make it a great place to show union and solidarity. The festival is taking a without borders stance, celebrating the diversity of it’s performers and attendees. With current events in the world bringing a distasteful isolationism tone that is clearly against what arts festivals portray and celebrate, will the Fringe lose it’s edge? Not if organizers and performers have their say.

Secure armed police are now being seen in many public events all through the UK. There will be protests possibly and artistic political commentary throughout the fest.  This will not deter the performers and promoters. Themes promise to cover our current world state of affairs on refugees and political statements. Artists will express and share their views on the state of world affairs.

I am going with the thought in mind that this Festival is the perfect vehicle to portray all of life. I believe many of us attending will feel that this is the perfect time for this Festival to celebrate it’s 70th year, that it is a perfect symbol of cooperation and arts. You can see a microcosm of the world in a massive snow globe in a stage filled with many stages. I plan to pack in as much as I can in three days, what will you be planning for your days at the Fringe?

https://www.theguardian.com/stage/theatreblog/2017/jun/07/edinburgh-festival-2017-what-to-see-and-where-to-go

http://www.beyondthejoke.co.uk/content/3082/news-edinburgh-fringe-2016-sales-figures-released

http://www.scotsman.com/regions/edinburgh-fife-lothians/brexit-fears-for-fringe-ahead-of-70th-anniversary-1-4468002

Scotrail Disruptions, Again and Buying Train Tickets Well in Advance for Best rates

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Just my luck. Looks like my main hub travel plans out of Glasgow will be impeded yet again this summer. Not a rail strike, but line improvements. I just have all the luck. So the 6 hour trip turns into 7 hours. At least it’s through the Highlands and can make up for delays once I get going. Unless clouds of midges take over the tracks.

To economize on travel, I was buying my train tickets for my journeys as some of the dates had finally opened up at Scotrail booking and I could purchase two months out. I learned long ago that sometimes the rail cards just don’t help if you are coming from another country, you pay a lot of money for something that is supposed to save you fare money and during festival season, it’s hard to just walk on and get a seat. Everyone else pre-books, so do as the natives do. Set up a free account on rail lines ahead online and you can manage your journeys.

Warning, when reserving online, not all rail stations have a machine where you can retrieve your pre-bought tickets. Check the messages you get while purchasing and make note if you will need to pick up ticket at a larger station like Queen Street or Central on your way out for other trips you are taking.

Why the concern? Rail journeys are not as economical as they used to be. In some cases it is cheaper to drive bay car for most residents of the UK. But if you don’t have the luxury, and that is what it is in the UK and Ireland, of having a motorcar at your disposal, you are dependent on public transit.

However, for the most part, public transit is in far superior shape in the UK and Ireland than in many parts of the US. You may not know the routes but you can figure them out with many city routes apps that are available. Printed time tables can be difficult to read coming from the US as the format is a bit different than we are used to, so grabbing a free transit map is great.

So, the cost of train rides can get high. I did some research on buying tickets 2 weeks out on Scotrail going from Queen Street Glasgow to Inverness/Kyle of Lochhalsh, £73.00. Yikes. Adding in the trip back out to Edinburgh at around £43.00, it was getting expensive. I remembered some train chats I had last year with some frequent travelers in Scotland. They said book online 1 to 2 months out if you have set travel days, and you could get a deal. So after waiting for the schedules to get a few months out, I finally did my round of bookings and saved heaps. What was getting close to £115.00 is now about half that. I also was able to splurge on a first class in the Virgin East Coast line for less than Edinburgh usually runs on that line. Wow, I get to see what their tea trolly looks like, or do they have a bar? Hmmm, mimosas?

Delays Expected on These Trains in Glasgow Through 2017

Glasgow Sub Crawl

Bad news, there will be delays. At least the Clockwork Orange subway will be running this year I hope. Last year it was under improvements. Yeah, I geek on the weirdest things. I like subways sometimes. The Clockwork Orange is one of the oldest subway systems in the world. It runs a circle under Glasgow, making it very convenient for a hop on and off to neighborhoods. There is also a student pub crawl that uses the system for a ripping night out. Bring plenty of coin, bills don’t do so well with the public transit systems in Scotland. They have an app, so download it at Google Play or iTunes. Nice thing about a loop is you can always get  back if you miss the station. Try to get a day pass if you can.

You can now buy tickets with a phone app, pilot program.

Now if Iarnród Éireann would open up their bookings a for July, I could get set.

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Photo ©2011 by Greg Neate

Laptop Travel Ban Expansion Imminent

Talks are underway with the US Government and airlines to extend the ban on carry on laptop ban to include flights to and from the UK and Europe. Not just coming in, but outbound flights. The goal being that nothing larger than a cell phone will be allowed in the cabin. Goodbye iPads and readers. You will have to pack them in the luggage and hope they don’t get damaged or stolen.

I just looked at my flight insurance coverage for the trip. $750.00 barely covers an iPad. It will never cover the loss of a good laptop. Not to mention the extra half to an hour it will take dealing with people who didn’t put their electronics in the check in baggage at the airport. Not to mention the concerns over large amounts of lithium batteries all in one cargo area, and potential danger therein.

Yeah, just in time for heavy travel season.

Here’s the latest on the talks, with no firm dates yet.

Ban on Flights from UK Airports

https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2017/apr/25/us-considers-banning-laptops-on-flights-from-uk-airports

Ban For All Flights to and From Europe

http://www.travelandleisure.com/airlines-airports/electronics-ban-europe

Curse of the Curly Haired Traveler

Many women I have met have remarked how lucky I am to have such curly hair. I have often found it so odd that many women really get into the straight, sleek look to fight their curls, the maintenance on this alone is a forturtune. And how do you keep it up during travel? Spend hours on flat ironing many of us curly girls do, but the equipment needed and using power conversion, what a headache. No one is ever satisfied. But traveling with curls, especially out of the country, can be quite a bother.

Travel hint: bring a sock defuser for drier, or use your sock.

Curls are special, and they need to be treated as the wild, live things they are. You straight hair ones can just comb and be done, us curlies gotta keep it under control. So hard to do when traveling as you have to have an arsenal of product to control it. You could just braid it, as one person said to me. Problem is curly hair really shouldn’t be braided. It snaps and breaks or starts creating Rasta braids immediately. So, finding products that work without blowing your whole travel budget is a must.

Then come the fun part. Finding hair care products that will work. Ask any curly, they are not all the same and once you find a routine that tames, having to use other products can really get your dander up. Now, try shopping in another country where you may find some of the personal care products you are familiar with, but they don’t work with curly hair. Some of the companies and conglomerates that own supermarket brands are international or even owned by British companies. Problem is that most of us curlies can’t use these products, they just don’t work. We have sponge hair, the product can just sit there. They are for the normals, the straight haired no fuss people. It’s tragic being different.

You can only travel with very limited supplies of any liquid due to airlines regulations. Traveling with tiny containers is a true pain, and when you have long curly hair that one container is just one use. So, hot off the plane in Glasgow I started my mission. Find shampoo or at the very least hair conditioner and controlant of gel to combat the soft water. That’s right, the bane of curly hair, soft water. Every town in Scotland had their soft water, because you have to remember that the water is not going to be like where you live, water is unique to its filtration and percolation path. So minerals and such can just add to the frizz. Why the fuss? My hair is big, and fitting in an elevator or other close confines is very important. Never mind making sure others can fit in with you.

Oh, and many US products like DevaCurl are not imported, they use an ingredient that may not be approved by UK standards for import. I found this out about halfway through my trip. They also don’t have Ulta there, yet. So you need to hunt a bit in the shopping malls. Or research ahead of time using a product search in the UK and Ireland. Here’s some of what I found on my last trip.

The bare minimum is get a deep conditioner, leave in curl creek, and gel. This should help combat most of the soft water frizzy frustration. Be prepared for sticker shock on products.

Added problem for me, very scent sensitive. Let’s just not go there.
Sally Express, Sally Beauty UK
http://www.sallyexpress.com/

We have this chain in the US, so seeing a familiar name was a relief. But they don’t carry all the products we have in the US and Canada. The still sell some of the professional Clairol and L’Oreal products we are familiar with, but the other brands are UK. Which can be a good thing since the UK has better ingredients governance and regulations than the US does. If you look online, you will not recognize the brands unless you have been in the UK. Did find a deep conditioner here that helped make it through most of the trip.

Boots UK Chemists
http://www.boots.com/toiletries/hair
Boots does have a high end section in their hair care department. There is a wall of products, many of them sold in the US that you will recognize. One of these is Bumble and Bumble, which does have some curly hair options and lines, but I have bumbled with these and found that they tend to be goopy. I was able to use the curl defining creme to help get by. They also carry Mixed Chicks line which works for some curlies.

Unite Hair
http://www.unitehair.co.uk/
Some of the products from this line work well for my curls, the 7 Seconds product is great. You may need permission to get into the site as it’s UK based and accessing from US can be spotty.

British Curlies
http://www.britishcurlies.co.uk/
Or contact the experts. Filled with other curly haired people looking for products. Check out the forums, I am. Find out best places to stock up at the beginning of your trip. They will also know your water type concerns if you ar in certain areas.

Articles

Turn Your Frizz into Curls
While you may not want to get a cut from a salon you don’t know, and of course it takes a while to find and trust a hairdresser, look for a salon that specializes in curly cuts, and if you walk in and someone on staff has curly hair, you will have an ally. We all hate having to be the whiner at the counter, but if you find a curly haired soul sista or brotha dresser you can look into their eyes and say, “ So with the water here and the fact I need to buy product, any advice ?” I walk in and just hold my hair up and go, “Well, about this”. Also, you don’t need to get a cut if not comfortable, just maybe a treatment since your hair may be in a daze from travel and water adjustments, not to mention airlines seats giving you a Rasta treatment, :-).

Also, sticker shock will happen. VAT tax and hair care products pricing can add up. Though some product lines in the US are quite spendy, with most averaging $25.00 a bottle on the high end products.

Glasgow
Belle And Blackley
Alan Edwards (Hey the dressers got curly hair, go to the City Centre salon)

Edinburgh
Medusa (need I say more)
http://www.medusahair.co.uk/

London
3thirty Hair
http://www.3thirty.co.uk/

Dublin
The Curly Look (by Appointment, contact them first)
http://www.thecurlylook.com/

The Natural Cut
http://www.thenaturalcut.ie/

STOBART/AER LINGUS Review

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Stobart/Aer Lingus

Stobart Air started out as Aer Arann, that was my flight. Ireland’s national airlines is Aer Lingus. When traveling on a super saver airline ticket, the main airline may be listed, but in truth you are traveling via another airline they partner with, thus my budget flight sold through Stobart became Aer Lingus. So, always read the small print from your itinerary as you may stand in line at the wrong check in for an hour. This was my introduction to Aer Lingus. This is the main airline that is associated with Ireland travel, and even though I was for Scotland, my stop hop was in Dublin, where I boarded one of their little match stick planes for the last hop.

The flight over the Atlantic was actually pretty good. The staff was “very welcome”, and surprisingly there was actual leg space in economy. Then there was the Irish telly programs on the in flight choices and I watched quite a bit of Irish drama. The food was fairly good light fare, and well, traveling at night and seeing a constant sun at the North Pole was something amazing. Sad thing was, I was visiting Scotland, so when I landed as entry, I barely stepped foot on the green isle.

Baggage and transfer went fairly smooth considering. Reminder US travelers, get smaller bags. Overhead baggage is getting very confined, restricted and they will snag your bag and put it in the hold. You may get that extra baggage fee in that case. I have to say the only problem I have encountered with Aer Lingus is the advertised costs of flying. If you are booking directly with them, the pricing is a bit high. If you end up on them from another partner airlines, it’s usually more reasonable. When I flew from Dublin to Glasgow on the commuter plane, I talked with a native Dub for a while and she introduced me to to better flying schemes for this next visit, how to use the smaller airlines to advantage for between the islands and to the continent. But for the larger flight across the Atlantic, Aer Lingus was a good choice, even if it was sub contracted.

Free or Close To it Activities in Ireland and the UK

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Yeah, traveling is very expensive. Get to the fair city of your choice and the € £ amounts just go up. So how do you budget to get the most out of your budget? Food is always going to get you if you do the restaurant thing, and well that’s why foodies travel, and high priced tours for cities and surrounding areas might get you empty pockets quick using all your daily spending cash in 2 hours. Not so good. So food and entertainment for next to nothing, that’s the ticket.

Walking and Transit

Walking every city you go to and/or using public transit will help keep the budget down. Visit travel websites and check out any free tours listed there, then maybe the ratings check out is good. Not everyone has your tastes. I try to find articles by locals who actually go on the tour, to get their feedback. I also find the hotel map approach works well. Take that free map and fold it in quarters. Find out what is free to do in each city and area and make a list. If there is an attraction that will suck up some money, pick one per day and the rest must be free. This way you don’t feel like you have paid huge sums for plan flight but can’t afford to do anything. Check for the local “mommie” lists online, the free things to take kids to. Some of these are just as fun for adults, we are all ages 10 to 13 really.

Tours, to Tour or Not to Tour

Some cities you tour may have people who give tours on a pay-what-you-like basis. This is usually someone who is local and may even donate some proceeds to charity. This also means it’s not a grand tour bus, public transit. But wouldn’t it be great to see how people there really enjoy their city? It may be a no frills tour, but think about how much you may really see. If you would like to travel outside of the city and can’t afford the high car rentals, a tour to castles and historical sites may be the best bargain, but again look for reviews. Remember, if you can find a smaller more personal tour situation, it may be worth the extra £ 20.00 as the larger tour companies are over crowded and well, there are a lot of people.

Now, I tend to be lone wolf on my travels. I really don’t like being glommed on as a tourist with it being quite obvious that I am one. Try as you might, locals will spot you for miles. I find locals won’t bother with you if you scream of tourist. But small, local tours are not huge, with like 50 people in tow where people can see you coming for a mile, and really you are out with people just hanging out. Also, if you like keeping up with being fit, try a bike tour.

Children in Tow, Make them Lead the Way

Got kids traveling with you? Teach them how to budget, put them in charge of researching all the free things they can do in the city you are visiting. Kids will fidget  and complain or just plain sulk if they don’t have things to get them busy. Put them in charge. Of course this means monitoring and having final say, but challenging them to find out how much they can see in an area and things that would actually interest them can be a great activity and how cheap it is is a great life lesson. ,Are there any kid led tours? Hey, that’s better than a lemonade stand for fundraising.

Foodies

Food will be everywhere. But how do you find something to make you happy. Check out the local vendors via Yelp or online foodie articles. But still, what may make someone else salivate may bore your taste buds. Street food is usually the best for variety, but not all travelers can stomach deep fried haggis. We may want to eat it but the body says “no”. So, what do you do? Some places you may stay, if you plan for a few days, may have kitchenette or at least a hot pot and microwave. You can fake a fridge with ice if you have to. The B&Bs however want you to eat with them, so if you have the huge full breakfast in the am, you can nosh the rest as street food. Ratings online are fairly good, some people give you real commentary that is more helpful than food critic columns. It’s spring, so check for food festivals as well.

Food tours will help you find good real food the locals eat, not the touristy pubs or traps. There are hidden gems and food cart setups in most well traveled cities, you just need to know where to look. You can also ask about other local things to do that won’t be on a brochure.

Meet UP

Yeah, you know the Meet Up app where you can find locals doing things that you may like to do? People all over the world join up. If you like table top gaming and want to meet locals in a fun and safe setting, and maybe experience the local cuisine at the same time, it may be a great treat for you.

Comic Cons

Like  being a con-ee? Like comics? There are comic conventions around the globe, there was one in Dubai this last week. Check out the county you plan to visit and see if they have a comic convention coming up and maybe book part of you stay around one. I did last year, went to Glasgow Comic Con and had a fabulous time, met the people behind the Scottish Saltire Comics, and many other great indie comic people. Great tips on local places to eat and see came from here. Also traveled back with a great many comics I lugged all over the place 😉

Here’s a list to start, these sites are about free or budget tours:

www.freetour.com

Belfast

http://tasteandtour.co.uk/our-tours

http://www.belfastcitybiketours.com/

http://visitbelfast.com/home/search-keywords/Self-guided%20tours/151

Dublin

https://deliciousdublintours.com/

http://www.dublinfreewalkingtour.ie/

http://www.dublincitybiketours.com/

Edinburgh ( I went on the Ghost Tour, fun)

http://edinburghfreetour.com/

http://freeghosttour.com/

http://www.edinburghbiketours.co.uk/

Glasgow ( I have been to these, worth the walk)

http://www.glasgownecropolis.org/tours-events/

http://www.thegovanstones.org.uk/index.html

http://glasgowbiketours.co.uk/

Galway

http://www.galwaytours.ie/en/galway-city-free-walking-tours.html