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scotland highlands

    Where to go in Scotland – the best road trip ever

    If you are undecided about road tripping through the Scottish Highlands, just go. Simply get in a car, add a bottle or two of wine for an evening, a couple of snacks, good company and a GPS. 

    Where to go in Scotland - Skye Road Trip

    That’s all you need for an amazing journey of awe-inspiring landscapes, curious beauty and quirky discoveries.

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    Glenskirlie House and Castle Hotel – Snoozing in a Scottish Castle

    Weddings are magical – and even more so when they are held in a castle that’s nestled in the peaceful Scottish countryside. Glenskirlie House and Castle was the venue for a good friend’s wedding recently – and we celebrated the joining of their two families in an age-old handfasting that went on into the wee hours.

    Scottish Hotel near Glasgow Glenskirlie House and Castle Adventures of a London Kiwi

    (In total honesty I didn’t last all the way into the wee hours when the shots were broken out, an early hour flight from Heathrow, our ridiculously comfortable bed and the dangerous ‘I’m just going to rest my eyes’ after the fulsome wedding dinner put paid to that!)

    Jumping into a cab from Glasgow airport (it’s about a 35-minute drive from both Glasgow airport or Edinburgh airport), the 4-star Glenskirlie House and Castle would make for a perfect stop off when road tripping into the stunning scenery of the highlands – or perhaps the last night of a weekend break in either city, especially if you were driving.

    Scottish Hotel near Glasgow Glenskirlie House and Castle Adventures of a London Kiwi

    Glenskirlie House was established in 1982 as a small, family-run restaurant with an emphasis on quality food and first-class service. In 2007, Scotland’s first newly built castle of the 21st century opened, extending the facilities and offering plush hotel accommodation.

    Scottish Hotel near Glasgow Glenskirlie House and Castle Adventures of a London Kiwi

    Scottish Hotel near Glasgow Glenskirlie House and Castle Adventures of a London Kiwi

    Borrowed from the hotel website – when we had colonised the castle, it was filled with laughter and people.

    We were graciously allowed to check-in early before the wedding ceremony started, giving us enough time to shake off the flight and polish our faces.

    Scottish Hotel near Glasgow Glenskirlie House and Castle Adventures of a London Kiwi

    Each of the rooms – sweetly named after rose varieties – are individually designed with their own unique charm. Stylish, luxurious and elegant, the rooms combine traditional charm with modern design and contemporary comforts, including flat-screen TVs and DVD players.

    Scottish Hotel near Glasgow Glenskirlie House and Castle Adventures of a London Kiwi

    The bathroom was comfortably appointed, including a rain shower that was very much appreciated and Molton Brown goodies.

    Scottish Hotel near Glasgow Glenskirlie House and Castle Adventures of a London Kiwi

    Scottish Hotel near Glasgow Glenskirlie House and Castle Adventures of a London Kiwi

    Having gone for a wander before the ceremony, I was pounced on in the corridors and invited up to the honeymoon suite for a cheeky glass of pre-game champagne with the bride and her entourage – we giggled our way through the process, scooting out before we got too much in the way of the flower girl excitedly opening her pressies.

    Scottish Hotel near Glasgow Glenskirlie House and Castle Adventures of a London Kiwi

    Scottish Hotel near Glasgow Glenskirlie House and Castle Adventures of a London Kiwi

    It was utterly delightful. Fun, relaxed and full of mischief – perfectly attuned to the bride and groom.

    Scottish Hotel near Glasgow Glenskirlie House and Castle Adventures of a London Kiwi

    The views over the local valley aren’t too shabby either…

    Scottish Hotel near Glasgow Glenskirlie House and Castle Adventures of a London Kiwi

    Between posing as the lady of the manor, there’s loads to do in nearby Glasgow. Afternoon tea in the art nouveau Willow tea rooms, parading through time at the Glasgow Transport Museum (highly recommended), visiting the Kelpie Heads and Falkirk Wheel or simply enjoying the epic brunch offerings in this compact city.

    Scottish Hotel near Glasgow Glenskirlie House and Castle Adventures of a London Kiwi

    Or, you could explore Edinburgh which is a half an hour drive away.

    And then there is the beautiful west coast to explore: in this realm of faerie-stories, kilted clansmen and bagpipes, we knew that visiting the Scottish highlands we were going to see beautiful scenery, but we weren’t quite prepared for the variety of stunning vistas that seemed to appear every time we turned a corner. It’s still one of our best road trips ever

    What is your favourite thing about Scotland?

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    Scottish Hotel near Glasgow Glenskirlie House and Castle Adventures of a London Kiwi

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    Glasgow, the Art Nouveau Movement and Cake

    Over the years that we’ve travelled up to Scotland, every time we’d planned to pop over to Glasgow, something got in the way. Christmas snowstorms, temptation by way of Peebles Fish and chips, lazy weekend afternoons, a rampant fire through Glasgow School of Arts and sheer unbridled disorganization.

    Willow Tea Rooms Art Deco Glasgow Mackintosh

    But, we finally made it to Glasgow. We intentionally planned a couple of days there to relax after an intensive road trip into the breathtaking landscapes of the Scottish Highlands. It was somewhere that I’d always wanted to visit – mostly spurned by my love of architectural details and a burgeoning fascination for Art Deco and Art Nouveau (you know who you are).

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    The 10 best castles in the world (IMHO)

    My inner princess never thought this was possible. My own country has a history of around 150 settled human years, so the magic of walking through thousands of years of Euopean history never quite loses the unique frisson of delight. This selection is my top 10 of the best castles in the world (well, in my honest opinion anyway!)

    Suits of armour that tell tales of bravery and hardship, kitchen hearths that fed hundreds of (in)famous dignitaries and hard-working servants, windows that saw enemy arches living up their longbows and sighing maidens dreaming of their loves, moats that were filled with all sorts of exotic contents and drafty castles walls that witnessed history that changed the lives of nations.

    The 10 best castles in the world Adventures of a London Kiwi

    Yeah, I’ve got the castle wandering bug bad. If there is a castle or palace near where we are (and by near I mean within 2 hours train ride) you can guarantee that I’ll be making my way there, scheming how to get closer or researching ways to sleep there (Prince Harry, watch out).

    Buckingham Palace, London, England
    Known by locals as ‘Buck House’ the home of our Commonwealth Queen was everything thing I thought it would be – ostentatious, sumptuous and amazing. Just what a Palace should be. As important to the British psyche as Tea, wellies and apologising for other people bumping into you, the Royal family is an institution. Britain (/England/the United Kingdom/whatever) simply wouldn’t be the same without the bastion of the eccentric royal family: the Queen’s imperious waves, Prince Philips gaffes, Charles & Camilla’s love affair and Kate and Williams rock-star icon just adds such a soupcon to the mystique of Britain.

    The 10 best castles in the world Adventures of a London Kiwi

    Pena Palace, Sintra Portugal
    Quirkily gorgeous, the Palacio Nacional da Pena is one of the finest tourist attractions of Portugal and exemplifies the 19th century Romanticism style of architecture with a twist of sheer imagination. The curiously crenellated collection of beautiful rooms crest a collection of beautiful palaces in the town of Sintra.

    The 10 best castles in the world Adventures of a London Kiwi

    Neuschwanstein Castle, Bavaria, Germany.
    On our visit, leaving behind the crowds in the busy parking lot (there are a couple of family castles that can also be visited) we walked up the hill towards Neuschwanstein. Leaving Mr Kiwi to enjoy the fresh mountain air, I took in the guided tour through the unique rooms created solely for Ludwig’s use – even the servants had separate hallways running alongside. From an ornately carved bedroom to a man-made cave and private theatre room, the castle that inspire Walt Disney’s cartoon glory was curious to say the least…

    The 10 best castles in the world Adventures of a London Kiwi

    Highclere Castle (aka Downton Abbey), Highclere, England
    They say never meet your heroes as you’ll only be disappointed when their humanity is revealed, but I say ignore that entirely. Sometimes you have to. Sometimes you have to get on that train, walk through those gates and simply revel in the crazy amazingness that is England. Case in point – Downton Abbey. Wait, I mean Highclere Castle…

    The 10 best castles in the world Adventures of a London Kiwi

    Winchester Castle, Winchester, England
    Housing the Arthurian Round Table of myth and legend (though sadly actually slightly more modern in construction – only commissioned by King Henry in the 13th Century, rather than 6th as they originally thought) Winchester Cathedral is well worth a wander – especially in winter…

    The 10 best castles in the world Adventures of a London Kiwi

    Strawberry Hill House, Richmond, London
    Hidden in the opulent suburb of Twickenham, (aka Surrey) a gothic castle of dreamy spires quietly rests. Each new room seemed like walking into a fairytale princess’ room – in fact my friend struggled the whole way round to choose just the one she would have as her bedroom…

    Eilean Donan, Highlands, Scotland
    You can name almost any of the residences of royal kilt wearers (a personal favourite is Holyrood Palace in Edinburgh), but the most famous in the Highlands is the beautiful and mysterious Eilean Donan, which means ‘Island of Donnan’. Found on a a small tidal island located in the western Highlands of Scotland, the castle was first founded in the 13th century and after extensive 20th Century work now features in a litany of movies and TV shows (including a Monty Python cameo).

    The 10 best castles in the world Adventures of a London Kiwi

    Kidwelly Castle/Castell Cydwell, Carmanthenshire, Wales
    Known best for featuring in the establishing shot of Monty Python’s Search For The Holy Grail (aka one of the best comic films ever) this castle is a treasure of the Welsh countryside.

    Eltham Palace, Eltham, England
    First mentioned in the Doomsday book, Eltham Estate was presented to King Edward II in 1305 and developed into one of the most favoured royal palaces with 1,000 acres of deer park on its doorstep. #swoon

    The 10 best castles in the world Adventures of a London Kiwi

    Blarney Castle, Blarney, Ireland
    Quite simply, that’s how Mr Kiwi and I came to find ourselves being pushed (by some bloke) over a parapet, backwards, whilst holding on to a couple of sturdy steel supports. Kissing the Blarney Stone was one of those ‘pinch me’ moments that blew my tiny little mind, and it was well worth the journey. (Will I ever become vaguely eloquent? Probably not, and I’m ok with that.)

    The 10 best castles in the world Adventures of a London Kiwi

    What would make your top 10 castles in the world list? (Real or fiction…) 

     (PS. pin me!)

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    20 amazing experiences in my 20’s

    Sometimes I feel like I’ve already lived several lifetimes.
    One in the perceived idylls of suburban New Zealand, one as a student carefree
    and dancing with firepoi, another as an expat in an unfamiliar country and lately understanding that I’ll never quite understand but with a smile on my face I’ll make good of it (and explain that despite the English accent I’m not of this country…)

    20 amazing experiences in my 20's Adventures of a London Kiwi

    One of the best decisions I ever made was the terrifying choice to fly to the other side of the world on my own and see where my feet led me. At the time naively it didn’t seem so scary – I had a return ticket for one year’s time, accommodation arranged for 2 weeks, £20 in cash and a Lonely Travel book. Totes simple right?

    It was before the days of everything being accessed immediately in the internet and luckily it worked out pretty well. A decade later here I am, ensconced, happy and a little wiser than I ever dreamed possible. I’ve also learned that I’ll always be different, I’m more accepting of who I am, less caring of what other people think and been lucky enough to discover some wonderful people whose opinions I do value. Most of the time.

    20 amazing experiences in my 20's Adventures of a London Kiwi

    I don’t have many regrets, and if I can manage another decade like that I think I’ll be doing ok. Fingers crossed. When Sarah @ Big World Small Me wrote her 20 amazing experiences in her 20’s I knew I had to get on that blogging bandwagon.

    It’s been a pretty good decade.

    20 amazing experiences in my 20's Adventures of a London Kiwi

    In no particular order;

    1. Holding my nephew in my arms for the first time
    Not to mention the heart eyes when my brother held his son’s tiny hand in his (and the consternation when my brother realised I draw the line at Aunty duties when it comes to nappy changing…)

    2. Herding Sheep across London Bridge
    Our day dawned bright and sunny (in direct contrast to the vast rain
    clouds the afternoon before) and I flourished our official letter
    outside the entrance of the Worshipful Company of Woolmen’s hall, to be
    allowed into the pens and runs lining London Bridge. 

    3. Afternoon Tea at the Queen’s Garden Party
    Our day dawned clear and bright, the sun high and the clouds cotton
    soft. We arrived at the main gates nice and early, tourists peering at
    us as we excitedly queued, adjusting hats and taking the odd (“holy heck
    we’re going to hang with the Queen”) selfie.

    4. Japanese sunset over Mount Fuji
    In front of us cloaked in Winter splendour, Mount Fuji. Her peak mostly
    bare of clouds we took several long moments to simply breathe in the
    auspicious and rare sight.

    5. Travelling to the Arctic and seeing the Northern Lights

    We only had to stare into the clear pinpricks of the Milky Way, spread
    across the night sky in a haze of primordial luminescence, whilst our
    tour mates clanked about with torches and cameras attempting to capture
    the faint Aurora Borealis in rolling hazy streams over our heads. You
    know, those moments.

    20 amazing experiences in my 20's Adventures of a London Kiwi

    6. Afternoon tea at Claridges
    “Set in the splendour of Thierry Despont’s magnificent Foyer, inspired
    by the 1930s’ heyday of art deco” the surrounds are beautiful, and
    nothing quite beats the soft tinkle of tea cups, soft jazz and tea
    chatter of an afternoon.

    7. Driving through a mini-monsoon to visit NASA (Cape Kennedy/Canaveral) and Disney
    We happened to be there for the first Tropical Storm of their rainy
    season (which gave birth to 8 mini-tornadoes), and driving back from
    NASA (Cape Kennedy/Canaveral) we were caught in the most insane rain
    storm. It was so intense I could only see the road markings because my
    lights were reflecting off them.

    8. Attended the ballet & opera
    With rich costuming, subtle but
    evocative sets and the incredible grace of ballerinas moving through the
    round stage with ease, aside from a few cheeky comments about the
    beauty of muscled men in leotards, we sat in stunned silence whilst Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake score wove a spell around us.

    By the end of the dramatic love and loss story-lines, sweeping vocal
    aerobatics and the beautiful counterpoint of a live orchestra at Puccini’s La Boheme, I knew we
    had made the right choice. As a teenage orchestra geek (I played the
    Double Bass but lacked any kind of rhythm, and sung in choirs but
    suffered from acute stage-fright) I’ve always been aware of the power of
    music, but hadn’t any idea how much the orchestral scoring and haunting
    duets playing out before us could really touch your soul. Once we were
    settled into the style, we simply lost ourselves in the magic of live
    theatre.

    9. Hearing the Santa Monica Boulevard song and being able to yell “I’ve been there!!”
    Without a single cloud in the sky, a soft breeze and perfect temperatures of 25°C
    we meandered through the town to the beachfront pier. Shoes full of
    sand, we walked the length of Santa Monica pier from one live band
    tucked in a nook, to the next, listening to them jam. We heard covers of
    The Beatles, acoustic versions of Led Zeppelin anthems and love songs. 

    10. Road tripping through the Scottish Highlands
    We discovered azure skies bathing in still lochs, fairy cairns balancing on
    cliffsides, mist draped mountain shoulders, and more castles than imaginable (which is the best problem in the world).

    20 amazing experiences in my 20's Adventures of a London Kiwi

    11. Ridden a Camel & watched the sun rise over sanddunes
    Our hosts for the night quietly left the bedouin camp, one or two
    slipping into in a nearby tent for company, leaving us to the silence of
    the desert. The quiet deepened* as our camp mates drifted off to sleep
    and the stars began to shimmer.

    12. Heard the haunting call to prayer in a mosque
    As we turned the last motorway corner, I almost lifted out
    of my seat. Against the cloudless blue sky, curving white domes rose to meet
    us, towers stretched along the pavement, and gilded columns lined reflective
    pools.

    13. Slipped to New Zealand 3x in a single year and photographed a family wedding
    Can’t really get much more insane than that. Can it?

    14. Popped over to Paris for lunch
    One cool November Wednesday, at 7.30am instead of being smooshed on a
    commuter train and undecided as to what to have for breakfast at my
    desk, I met my fellow conspirators and decided what coffee and
    croissants to breakfast upon whilst travelling at great speed towards
    France. A much better dilemma.

    15. Almost swimming with wild dolphins in New Zealand
    Honestly, I could almost just write this post as ‘wild baby dolphins’ ad
    finitum. Wild baby dolphins, wild baby dolphins, wild baby dolphins,
    wild baby dolphins, wild baby dolphins, wild baby dolphins, wild baby
    dolphins, wild baby dolphins, wild baby dolphins, wild baby dolphins,
    wild baby dolphins. There, got it out of my system. Wild baby dolphins.
    Ok, now I have.

    20 amazing experiences in my 20's Adventures of a London Kiwi

    16. Kissed the Blarney Stone
    Dangling over a castle parapet isn’t usually my idea of a good time, but
    sometimes I’ve learned that you have to push the boundaries of normal
    life in order to experience the world properly…

    17. Slept in a French Chateau
    We wove our way through the streets of Bordeaux,
    beginning in the Medieval Quarter all carved in butter stone, glimpsed
    occasional hard modern buildings which turned to suburban homes before
    giving way to rolling fields of blooming crops. As we turned the corner
    onto our destination, I excitedly clutched the boy as fields of
    vineyards heavy with grapes came into view, cart horses grazed
    contentedly and the crenelated Chateau Pape Clement appeared – our home
    for the night.

    18. Been invited to review restaurants in the iconic Harrods
    Three times now I’ve made my way through the beautifully luxurious rooms of the infamous department
    store, camera ready to enjoy the cuisine. Three times!?

    19. Hugged my teenage idol

    20 amazing experiences in my 20's Adventures of a London Kiwi

    20. Been able to experience so much, and meet so many wonderful people that I couldn’t even have imagined including my partner-in-crime.

    I have been so lucky. Cheers to the next chapter.

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