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Exhilarating and Exhausting are the words that seem to best describe our trip to Czechia from August 27 to September 17. We arrived in Prague tired and worn out and in need of rest and relaxation. When you own your own business (me) and are the only pastor on staff at a church (my husband, Mark), there are always a million things to do in advance before you leave on a trip.

Czechia - church roadside

This year was no exception, in fact, it seems like every year, there are more things on our To-Do list than ever before.

Czechia - Prague street

We enjoyed our first two days in Prague and had some wonderful experiences, but we also missed out on seeing several things that we should have due to our frazzled condition. The best thing we did was to schedule a spur-of-the-moment Airbnb Experience:  Ten Course Dinner in a Chef’s Home.

Czechia - Ladislov plate

Ladislav, our chef, was an amazing host, and we enjoyed excellent food and conversation around a table for 8 adjacent to the kitchen in his apartment.

Czechia - Ladislov

The other guests at our table were from Canada and Australia, so we all spoke English, in different accents. It was the highlight of our time in Prague. The B&B we stayed in was wonderfully historic and our host very gracious. We were able to walk a quarter of a mile to get on a bus which linked to trams and metros throughout Prague. The transport system was quite daunting for me, and even with it, we walked 7 miles up and down steep inclines, on cobblestones each day. We had our first taste of Czech garlic soup and cinnamon pastry trdelnik filled with ice cream and fruit in Prague. After an extensive search (we got lost), we found the Alfons Mucha museum and saw his portrayals of Slavic maidens. Sadly, the Slav Epic Exhibition I so wanted to see was no longer open.

Czechia - Prague houses

We saw the outside of Prague Castle from an outdoor cafe with a wonderful view of the castle and city below. We enjoyed a delicious Czech dinner where we had our first dumplings (both bread and potato).

Czechia - Dumplings

But the castle was closed by the time we were done, and our attempts to get there had been so traumatic (long story – think three or four story high escalators, an extremely steep hill, overweight and out of shape people who are terrified of escalators (me), hot, humid weather in the high 90s and no air conditioning anywhere, and one crazed taxi driver who tried to charge us $50 for a 3 block ride to a restaurant he never found) that you may understand why we never went back to see the cathedral, basilica, tower, palace, the hall that hosted knightly jousting tournaments, or the royal garden. We also missed the famous Astronomical Clock Tower in the main  square in Old Town, but we did walk across Charles Bridge twice and climbed millions of stairs to see the view of Prague from the top of the Klementinum Astronomical Tower and Old Library.

Czechia - Prague

What can I say? We were half-asleep and in a daze. These things happen when you’re in your sixties and you’ve just missed out on two nights of sleep.  I appreciated the lovely architecture and colorful facades throughout the city. I could see why people love Prague. But a big city person, I am not.

Czechia - church

Unfortunately, our next stop was Brno, another big city 2 hours to the south. We were supposed to stay in a renovated suite in an old 1820 spa house, but there was a water emergency and we were relegated to a city center apartment (which I avoid like the plague when searching for accommodations) which turned out to be filthy dirty. You don’t even want to know about the 3-4″ ginormous spider that came running out at me just before bedtime. Although my brave husband killed it, I still didn’t sleep that night.

Czechia - Brno dancers

The one good thing about our city center apartment was that it was near a tram stop that took us to the International Folklore Festival (one of our main reasons for visiting Czechia), where we had a wonderful time enjoying regional music, vintage bicycles, traditional dancing and more good food.

Czechia - Brno bicycles

We had quark dessert dumplings filled with strawberries and a sour cream sauce that were so wonderful I will dream of them until I die – and fried cheese, and more garlic soup. We climbed to the top of the city (twice) to see the Cathedral of St. Peter and Paul, a striking 11th-century Romanesque chapel, rebuilt in the Baroque and Gothic styles.

Czechia - Brno

Another highlight was the traditional dance review with costumed dancers from many countries.   

Czechia - Folklore Festival

When planning our trip, we figured we’d need a little peace and quiet after the hustle bustle of a festival in a big city, and boy, were we right! Our time in the tiny country village of Rojetin was our salvation.

Czechia - traditional cottage bed

The stars were brilliant, the countryside was gorgeous, and the quiet was just what we needed.

Czechia - garden door

While there, we were able to see three UNESCO Heritage Sites – a lovely church in Třebíč, a star shaped pilgrimage church in Zdar, and our favorite, the old town center of Telč with its Alpine style Italian Renaissance architecture.

Czechia - Telc cafe

Czechia - Telc

We also discovered a quaint town, Velkabites, where we watched them putting up an extremely high pole with a tree on top for an upcoming festival.

Czechia - Telc statue

It was the season of festivals. We dipped down to stay in Niederösterreich, Austria for the next two days because all the rooms in nearby Mikulov were booked for their annual Pálava Wine Harvest Festival.

Czechia - Wine cellar

We loved the storybook villages and wine cellars of the area, and the wonderful music, medieval processions, dance and fencing performances, historic market, and tasty homemade crepes, sausages and cheeses at the festival.

Czechia - Grape Arbor

But our best memory is of Austria, and a wonderful chef at a delightful restaurant just a few kilometers from our B&B. By the time we left, we were full of creatively prepared food, and we felt like we’d made a friend.

Czechia - Znojmo view

The next morning, we headed to Znojmo, where we stayed in an amazing B&B in an old bakery, and discovered a beautiful church with an amazing view over the heart of Bohemia.

Czechia - Znojmo church

The next few days were a confusing jumble. First, the person who planned this trip one snowy day in April while short on sleep (me), got mixed up and thought the towns of Cesky Krumlov and Karlovy Vary were one in the same.

Czechia - CK Window

Bzzt, wrong. Second, while I was sleeping in the passenger seat, our GPS directed Mark to go east, back to Prague, crisscrossing the country instead of driving a short ways north, from one town to the other. Third, we missed seeing a beautiful castle along the route we were supposed to have been going.

Czechia - Chesky Krumlov shop

In our defense, I will say that we were completely wiped out from walking miles and miles a day up and down hugely steep hills on cobblestones and rough rock surfaces. In the rain. 🙂 Or did I already mention that?

Czechia - Cesky Krumlov

Despite some rain while we were there, we loved Cesky Krumlov. I’m so glad we thought it was Karlovy Vary or we might have missed it. We actually liked it much better than Karlovy Vary.

Czechia - Cesky Krumlov river

It was quaint and beautiful, with a magnificent medieval castle and beautiful gardens, picturesque river walks, good restaurants, and (be still my heart) several hat shops.

Czechia - Cesky Krumlov view

Due to my confusion, we didn’t ever stay in Karlovy Vary. That was fine with me, because the nearby town of Loket, where we did stay, was smaller, more manageable and twice as delightful.

Czechia - Loket

I liked it so much that I’ve decided it’s going to be the settling of my next book, Plum Tart Iris, a Wildflowers of Czechia novel. We saw a spectacular sunset while eating outside at a great cafe wrapped in furry blankets to combat the chill from the mountain air.

Czechia - Loket sunset

The medieval castle was amazing, as was the river that curves around town on three sides, and a pottery shop and a creative tea house that I fell in love with.  I interviewed a few locals, and discovered some interesting historical facts that will define the plot of my new book.

Czechia - Karlovy Vary colunnades

But back to Karlovy Vary. I’d already committed to writing a murder mystery set there, so we had to research it. Since 1358, Karlovy Vary has for centuries been a popular destination for Europe’s elite, from royalty like Peter the Great to famous composers and writers including Beethoven, Chopin, and Goethe.

Czechia - Karlovy Vary spa

The town has 13 large springs and Neoclassical and Art Nouveau colonnades with drinking and bathing fountains.

Czechia - Karlovy Vary mineral water

We walked miles to experience as much of it as we could, but were glad to retreat to little Loket at the end of the day.  Have I mentioned that we were quite tired and very sore but this point?

Czechia - Cesky Krumlov table

Mark spent a lot of his time sitting on a bench while I explored the town. I may have been in as much pain as he was, but I am more stubborn. Or maybe not. He was hurting pretty badly.

Czechia - Pernstejn Castle near Zdar

Our next stop was a small castle in Jilove that was built by a famous doctor in the early 1900s, then taken over by the Nazis in World War II (Hitler even stayed there) and then, by the Communists after the war, who used it for visiting dignitaries, and then, turned it into a factory. It still needs a lot of work, but the new owner is working hard to get it renovated and we enjoyed being a small part of its history.

Czechia - woods

Our objective for this stop was to see the Bohemian Alps. Bohemian Switzerland is an especially picturesque region in the northwestern part of the country.

Czechia - sunset

After a run in with a lot of road construction and some unsavory Vietnamese entrepreneurs who were gatekeepers to the parks, we decided to forego the promised paradise of rock castles, ravines, scenic overlooks, mountains, and arches. However, while in the area, we drove through a bit of Germany, where I enjoyed a mug of hot Gluhwein and a German dinner and Mark had fun driving 100 miles an hour on the autobahn in our Mercedes rental car.

 

Czechia - crystal

Other highlights – when our plans to see more of the National parks soured, Mark researched and found a factory seconds outlet store at a glass bead factory where I bought millions of unique Czech beads for my art projects. It was heavenly! We also found a Bohemian crystal factory outlet store and came home with two treasures from their shelves.

Czechia - glass beads

Our last four days in country were spent in the small town of Lesany, just south of Prague, at an honest to goodness castle, where we hoped to get rested up before our trip home, since we always have to hit the ground running when we get back from a trip.

Czechia - Lesany

We could have gone back to explore more of Prague, but we opted to see some castles in the nearby countryside instead.

The medieval castle and surrounding village, Hrad Karlstejn, was incredible, and after climbing everywhere, we decided to splurge on a horse drawn wagon ride which took us part way to the top.

Czechia - Karlstejn Castle tower

We walked all the way down to take in the shops and eating spots along the cobblestone streets.

Czechia - Karlstejn Castle

In České Budějovice, the huge white Neo-Gothic Tudor Hluboká Castle, which is said to be the most beautiful of the Czech Republic’s many castles, was also stunning. We were able to find an English speaking guide who gave us a private tour of the huge chef’s kitchen in the castle.

Czechia - Hluboká Castle

Our final excursion and another favorite was Průhonice Park, which is home to Průhonice Castle, another UNESCO World Heritage Site, was delightful. The formal gardens, wooded areas, streams, and ponds involved a lot of walking, but we persisted and got some beautiful photos.

Czechia - Roses

I had been longing for gardens and flowers and water, as we’re so accustomed to seeing them when we travel to Great Britain, and I was not disappointed.

Czechia - Průhonice Castle

I can’t begin to touch on the dozens of other quaint villages, delicious meals and delightful experiences we had or we would be here all day.

Czechia - after dinner

Suffice it to say, I’m so glad we went, and I so enjoyed walking where my Bohemian ancestors walked.

Czechia - country sunset

In other news, Seaside Daisy, a Wildflowers of Ireland Mystery, is now available in both paperback and Kindle versions.

Seaside Daisy Front Cover 10-17

Please grab a copy soon and let me know what you think! Reviews warm my heart!

Czechia - Plum Tart Iris

I plan on starting Plum Tart Daisy during NaNoWriMo this November while the trip to Czechia is still fresh in my mind. My goal is 50,000 words by November 30. Thanks for listening!

Czechia - Rose Garden

Some of you know that I lived in Germany for three years when I was younger. I traveled throughout Europe when I was there and soaked up as much of the local culture as I could. I loved living in Europe so much that part of me didn’t want to come home. Those years helped shape the person I am today in many ways, both good and bad, and provided the inspiration for several of my books.

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I’ve always believed that I inherited a good dose of wanderlust from my Danish ancestors. When we went on family vacations, my Dad loved to drive down random roads just to see what he would find. I’m a little more structured about what places I go and what I hope to see when I’m there, but just like my Dad, I love stumbling upon quaint places and unique sights.

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My husband also shares my love of traveling and exploring. That’s why we try to get away on a long vacation every year. This year, we’re headed to Czechia. Some of our friends go to the same cabin on the same lake or the same cabin in the same mountain valley every weekend, summer, or year. We like seeing new things each time we go. We’ve also been told by numerous friends to travel while we can, that the window of opportunity when folks have the good health, time and money to travel is narrow and short-lived.

Blog - Imix water

Maybe you’re at a time in your life when you can’t see the world due to whatever restraints keep you tied to one spot. If so, I’d like to invite you to take a vacation in your imagination. Open a bevy of books and you can read your way around the world. 

Quilt - bear

Start by reading NIGHT & DAY or DAYBREAK (by Sherrie Hansen, of course) and experience Copenhagen, Northern Minnesota, Prince Edward Island, the Mississippi River Valley, and The Faroe Islands.

Scotland - St. Conan's

Next, why not try Scotland? You can visit Loch Awe, Glasgow, and Tobermory, Scotland in THISTLE DOWN (a prequel novella,) and WILD ROSE, the first of my Wildflowers of Scotland novels.

Scotland - Celtic CrossScotland - Tobermory 5

The lovely Isle of Mull, home of the colorful Tobermory harbor and Duart and Glengorm Castles, Alsace Lorraine, and the French Riviera are featured in BLUE BELLE.

Wildflowers - Stripes

If the highlands call out to you, you can see the Isle of Skye and Eilean Donan Castle in SHY VIOLET  and SWEET WILLIAM.

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Picturesque Loch Carron, Scotland is the setting of GOLDEN ROD. I love it there so much!

Ely - trees.jpg

Maybe you just want a short vacation to someplace cool with lakes and forests galore like the Northwoods of Minnesota. Duluth, Ely, and Embarrass, Minnesota  are featured in LOVE NOTES along with Harmony, California on the Central Coast.

Scot - Stornoway castle ceiling

Are you getting the feel for how far you can go just by cracking open a book? Depending on how fast you read, and how many books you devour in a few days time, you can see the world for less than $20 a week.

Ireland - beach.jpg

My next book, SEASIDE DAISY, is set in Ireland on the Dingle Peninsula. Ever since I visited Dingle and Killarney three years ago, I’ve been trying to recreate the feel of the place with my words so you can see it through your eyes.  This week, I attended a Songwriting Workshop and wrote a song called Seaside Daisy’s Shanty. I hope it puts you in the mood to visit Ireland when SEASIDE DAISY comes out this fall.

Seaside Daisy’s Shanty by Sherrie Hansen

In the meantime, I’m dreaming about a new book called PLUM TART IRIS set in Czechia, and one after that I think I’ll call COMMON PRIMROSE, set somewhere in Europe. None of us knows exactly what the future holds or where our journey will take us next, but I hope you’ll continue to follow my travels via my blog and Facebook, and accept my invitation to read my books.

The world is waiting!

Scot - Eilean Donan

Twenty-eight years ago, Sherrie Hansen rescued a dilapidated Victorian house in northern Iowa from the bulldozer’s grips and turned it into a bed and breakfast and tea house, the Blue Belle Inn. Sherrie grew up on a farm in southern Minnesota and has lived in Bar Harbor, Maine, Colorado Springs, CO, and Augsburg, Germany. She attended Wheaton College, Wheaton, IL. After 12 years of writing romance novels late at night when she couldn’t sleep, she met and married her real-life hero, Mark Decker, a pastor. Sherrie lives in 2 different houses, 85 miles apart, and writes on the run whenever she has a spare minute. With her Wildflowers of Scotland novels, “Wild Rose”, “Blue Belle”, “Shy Violet”, “Sweet William” and “Golden Rod”, and her new release, DAYBREAK, the sequel to NIGHT & DAY, she has eleven books in print, most featuring a “second-chance-at-love” story. Sherrie enjoys painting, playing the piano with the worship team at church, photography, decorating historic homes, and traveling. You can learn more about her books by visiting  http://amazon.com/author/sherriehansen

CZECHIA – even the name sounds exotic – and somewhat intimidating. When we made reservations for our first two nights in Prague and the address included the words Na Hřebenkách, Hlavní město Praha, Czech Republic, I started to wonder what we were getting ourselves into.

Czech - prague

We’re almost always in Europe the last week of May and the first two weeks of June. Last year, we spent Memorial Day weekend in Scotland enjoying holiday festivities at Kelly Castle, near St. Andrews and making our second visit to the Highland Games at Blair Atholl Castle near Aberfeldy and Pitlochry. I would happily have gone back to see the soldiers and pipers marching in their kilts to the beat of Celtic drums yet again, but a new adventure beckoned.

Scot - kilts

My husband spent a week and a half in the Holy Lands in April, and in May, we made an unexpected trip to California to bury his mother. Rather than leave on another vacation right away, we decided to wait until the last week of August and the first half of September. Since we were already jarred out of our familiar pattern, we decided to go in a different direction and explore another facet of my family history – Prague and the Czech Republic.

Grandmas

I have no idea what my Bohemian Grandma (Lorna, 1900-2000, in the center) would think of me traipsing halfway around the world to see where our ancestors lived before they settled in northern Iowa, but I’m excited to explore a new part of the globe. And nervous…

Romania - Castle

Mark and I have traveled to a few other non-English speaking parts of the world, but we’ve usually had a tour guide who was fluent in the native tongue – our friend Gabriella in Germany, our daughter-in-law, Cristiana in Romania, and our cousin Helle in Denmark. I could tell you some interesting stories about our adventures in Italy, Switzerland and France, where we were clueless when it came to communicating, but I’ll save that for another day. Suffice it to say, I have good reason to be worried about the language barrier in Czechia. Mark already has a Czech phrase book and audio tape and I hear him practicing every so often… we’ll see how that goes!

Blizzard photo 2

During one of our late spring blizzards when I was holed up in one of our houses, I started perusing the map of Czech Republic for places that we might like to visit. I’m feeling a little more confident now that I can picture our route in my head and have a general idea of what we’ll get to see.

Czech - Mucha

August 28, 29 – We’ll be spending our first two days in Prague in Sector 5 exploring the paintings of Alfons Mucha, who is known for his portrayals of Slavic maidens and a series of twenty monumental canvases known as The Slav Epic. We’ll also visit Prague Castle (Pražský hrad) where we’ll see St. Vitus Cathedral, St. George’s Basilica, the Powder Tower, and the Old Royal Palace and Vladislav Hall, so big it was used to host knightly jousting tournaments. And of course, the 16th-century Royal Garden and Charles Bridge (Karlův Most).

 

August 30, 31, and Sept 1 – Brno, about 2 hours south of Prague, is our next destination.  We’ll be staying in a renovated suite in an old 1820 spa house with an outside seating restaurant adjacent to a park. We’ll be there during the International Folklore Festival, where we hope to enjoy regional music, dancing and foods. We’ll see the Cathedral of St. Peter and Paul, which has remnants of an 11th-century Romanesque chapel, rebuilt in the Baroque and Gothic styles, and the the 13th-century Špilberk Castle and Tugendhat Villa. We’re told the area is known for its wild “bear” garlic Czech soup. Sounds right up my alley.

Czech - Brno Old

I’m still trying to decide if I want to see the remains of some 70,000 people slain in war or killed by diseases such as the plague in medieval times between the 14th and 16th centuries at the nearby “Bone Church,” the Gothic All Saints Chapel.

 

Sept 2, 3, and 4 – We figured we’d need a little peace and quiet after the hustle bustle of a festival in the big city, so we decided to spend the next few days in the country village of Rojetin. The guesthouse where we’ll be staying is near three UNESCO Heritage Sites – the the historic and tragic Jewish Quarter in Třebíč, the star shaped pilgrimage church in Zdar, and the old town center of Telč with its Alpine style Italian Renaissance architecture. 

Czech - Austria

Sept 5 and 6 – We’ll be dipping down to stay in Niederösterreich, Austria for the next two days because all the rooms in nearby Mikulov were already booked for the annual Pálava Wine Harvest Festival. We’re looking forward to thermal spas, the idyllic wine villages of the area, music, medieval processions, dance and fencing performances, a historic market, and tasty homemade sausages and cheese.

Czech - Znojmo

All this time, we’ll still be within 2 1/2 hours of Prague. But on Sept 7, we’ll venture west to Znojmo and on to the heart of Bohemia. Our next destination, for Sept 8 and 9, is Cesky Krumlov. 

Czech - Chesky Krumlov

This town is often referred to by its old German name of Karlsbad, or Karlovy Vary . Established in 1358, Karlovy Vary has for centuries been a popular destination for Europe’s elite, from royalty like Peter the Great to famous composers and writers including Beethoven, Chopin, and Goethe. The town has 13 large springs and Neoclassical and Art Nouveau colonnades with drinking and bathing fountains. It’s also a prominent glassmaking center, and I’m already dreaming of finding a factory seconds outlet store where I can buy millions of unique Czech beads for my art projects.

Czech - Loket

The tiny medieval town of Loket, with its impressive castle and beautiful mountain views, only a half hour west, will be our home on Sept 10 and 11. 

Czech -little castle

Then, on Sept 12, we’re off to the Bohemian Alps and Jilove to spend one night in a little castle. Bohemian Switzerland is an especially picturesque region in the northwestern part of the country.

Czech - mountains

There are two national parks, Saxon Switzerland Park, which is in Germany, and its Czech sister, Ceske svycarsko National Park, on the Czech Republic’s side of the Elbe Sandstone Mountains, which straddle the Elbe River. We’ll see rock castles, ravines, scenic overlooks, mountains, and arches in Bohemian Paradise (Český ráj). The region also has many old castles.

 

Sept 13, 14, 15, and 16 we’ll be in Lesany, just south of Prague, at an honest to goodness castle, where we’ll be able to get rested up before our trip home. We’ll see another famous castle, Karlstejn, and in České Budějovice, the huge white Neo-Gothic Tudor Hluboká Castle, which is said to be the most beautiful of the Czech Republic’s many castles.

Czech - Lesany Courtyard

We’ll also be near Průhonice Park, which is home to Průhonice Castle, another UNESCO World Heritage Site. The park includes formal gardens, wooded areas, streams, ponds, and 25 kilometers of walking paths where we can go for walks IF we can still walk by then…

Come August, I hope you’ll follow along on our adventure via the photos I post on Facebook and Instagram. (Hopefully it’s obvious, but none of the photos of Czechia were taken by me since I haven’t been there yet. ) If any of you have been to Czechia, please feel free to give advice, suggestions or helpful tips!

S - Shy Violet

Several people have asked me if I intend to write a Wildflowers of Czechia novel when I return. The answer is, probably – there are already images of a poor but fiesty gypsy girl and a wealthy Italian diplomat’s son floating around in my mind. Some of those images date back to a wedding reception I went to in 1980 when I was in Budapest, Hungary – but that’s another story…

Ireland - daisy sea

In the meantime, I’m still hard at work on Seaside Daisy, my upcoming Wildflowers of Ireland mystery. Thanks for listening!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Spring has finally started to poke its head out of the long-frozen ground. Maybe that’s why I’m in the mood to tie up winter’s loose ends and move on to new adventures. By this time most years, we’re deep into planning our summer vacation, with reservations made and dreamy visions of B&Bs and castles and seaside villages floating through our minds as we await May, when we usually depart for our destination.

Scot - Crinan Bay

We’ve always found February snowstorms to be a good time to plan our travels, but this year’s schedule is a bit off because my husband just returned from a tour of the Holy Land.  We both went to Arizona for a conference in January, and now that Mark has had a second “working vacation” already this year (Mark is a pastor, so Israel was a great way to continue learning more about the Scriptures and walk in Jesus’ steps), we decided to wait to take our next outing until late August and early September.  And because his trip to Israel earned him enough frequent flier miles for a free ticket to Europe, we delayed buying our tickets until he returned.

Scot - Kilmartin sheep

So here I am, starting to think about Prague and the Czech Republic, the Bohemian Paradise, Alfons Mucha’s paintings of Slavic maidens, spa resorts and quaint countryside villages, and folklore and grape harvest festivals,  and I just realized I never did a final post about last year’s trip to Scotland.

Scot - kilmartin glen

The bit I left out was Kilmartin, on the far west side of Scotland, and it’s simply too significant a place to ignore. Of all the places we visited, it was the most restful and remote, far off the typical tourist trail. Our B&B was private and plush, a very respite for our travel weary souls, and walkabout backs, hips and feet…

After nearly three weeks on the road, and the trauma of our car hire incident, we truly felt pampered in Kilmartin Glen.

Scot - KM Appetizer

Crinan Bay was just a few miles away from where we stayed, and we delighted in watching the sunset over the sea.

Scot - Crinan boats

It will be different visiting a landlocked country on the mainland of Europe this year. I truly love Scotland’s little harbor towns.

Scot - KM boat

The ancient history and evidence of civilizations past surrounding Kilmartin Glen was fascinating.

Standing stones and burial chambers and Celtic graves and prehistoric rocks carved with Pictish runes… the glen was full of preserved sites to explore.

Footprints of ancient kings and beautiful views of hills and valleys all made for amazing explorations.

But the thing I liked most was the peaceful aura surrounding the glen.

We were sad to leave, yet eager to get home.

Scot - Bothie

A few quick stops at a new-to-us historical village, a beloved garden we discovered two years earlier, and one of our favorite castles, and we were once again following the shores of Loch Lomond back to Glasgow, ready to go home.

To Bonnie Scotland! To tying up loose ends! To new beginnings! So, until next time, you know where to find me, and where my heart remains.

Scot - KM sheep

Twenty-eight years ago, Sherrie Hansen rescued a dilapidated Victorian house in northern Iowa from the bulldozer’s grips and turned it into a bed and breakfast and tea house, the Blue Belle Inn. Sherrie grew up on a farm in southern Minnesota and has lived in Bar Harbor, Maine, Colorado Springs, CO, and Augsburg, Germany. She attended Wheaton College, Wheaton, IL. After 12 years of writing romance novels late at night when she couldn’t sleep, she met and married her real-life hero, Mark Decker, a pastor. Sherrie lives in 2 different houses, 85 miles apart, and writes on the run whenever she has a spare minute. With her Wildflowers of Scotland novels, “Wild Rose”, “Blue Belle”, “Shy Violet”, “Sweet William” and “Golden Rod”, and her new release, DAYBREAK, the sequel to NIGHT & DAY, she has eleven books in print, most featuring a “second-chance-at-love” story. Sherrie enjoys painting, playing the piano with the worship team at church, photography, decorating historic homes, and traveling. You can learn more about her books by visiting  http://amazon.com/author/sherriehansen

Scot - kilmartin bay

 

 

The next leg of our Scottish journey felt like coming home. We make it a point to see new places and things each time we come to Scotland, but we also plan return visits to places we didn’t get enough of the first time around.  Scot - Skye sunset

Coming back to the Isle of Skye on the ferry from Harris felt like meeting up with an old, familiar friend for a quick catch up. We saw a phenomenal sunset while we headed back to our B&B, a newly built addition with a comfortable bed, an amazing, spa-like bathroom and a beautiful view of Loch Dunvegan. Only two things marred our visit – more midges and a sad state of affairs at a much-renowned Stein pub where we’d had wonderful meals twice before. We were truly shocked when our waitress ignored us for over an hour before taking our order, not even bringing us water or a menu, while the Scots at the table next to ours ordered, ate, paid and went their merry ways. I won’t go into the details, but it was the first time we’d been treated rudely, probably because we were Americans, on any of our journeys. When our dinners finally arrived, my meat was tough and undercooked. I would have left without paying, but my nice husband took care of the bill and we departed completely mystified at the treatment we’d received.

Scot - Skye sunset 2

 

The rest of our time on Skye was delightful. We enjoyed our room, and the nice breakfast treats left in the refrigerator, and went to sleep dreaming of the opportunity to see some of our favorite spots from two years ago. After taking in the scenery on the loop from Dunvegan to Sligachan Valley, we followed the highway toward Armadale Castle and Gardens, on the east side of Skye, which we had not seen our first trip.

Scot - castle ruins

The gardens were lovely and the ruins of the castle were serene and full of interesting historical images. Our hike through the forest was as brief as we could manage as the dreaded midges were once again out in full force. Thankfully, after we left the castle, we found a locally manufactured concoction made with natural ingredients and essential oils that did seem to deter them, as well as soothing the bites I already had.

Scot - Dornie

 

We stopped at Dorney and Eilean Donan Castle on our way to Loch Carron. Eilean Donan, the only place besides the Glasgow airport that we’ve seen on all three visits to Scotland, is the setting of Shy Violet, and plays a role in Sweet William. I truly do feel a connection to this castle. I took a copy of Sweet William along to give to one of the servers at the Castle café just like I did Shy Violet two years ago, and to my delight, they remembered me! The woman we gifted the book to even had a connection to the house on the front cover. Like so many aspects of our trip, the whole thing felt meant to be.

Scot - Eilean Donan

I had the same pleasant sense of déjà vu in Loch Carron. The idea for Golden Rod was born while I was there two years ago, and it was great fun to leave copies with the owner of the B&B where we stayed and the owner of the Waterside Café, which is mentioned in the book.  We revisited Lochcarron Weavers (and left with more wool remnants), stopped at my favorite craft shop (which had almost burned down in a forest fire the week before).

Scot - Fairy

I bought a wee Scottish fairy, and saw the incredibly scenic overlooks we discovered last time. But from there on, everything we saw and did was entirely new. We had two incredible meals, one at Lochcarron Bistro that included some of the best food I’ve ever eaten.

Scot - Lochcarron bench The next day, we set off for Applecross, a charming seaside village at the end of one of the steepest, scariest mountain roads I’ve ever been on. Mark navigated the narrow, winding road quite well, and our little Honda put forth a valiant effort while I tried to snap photos whenever I could. One didn’t dare stop to shoot a photo midway up the incline for fear you’d never get going again. It was that steep.

Scot - Applecross

Once we rounded a series of extremely sharp hairpin curves, we walked around the summit and stretched our tense legs. From there, it was downhill to Applecross, a very secluded town on the water, where we discovered a delightful garden that was being restored to its former glory.

Scot - garden

It was totally unanticipated, and one of my favorite stops of the entire trip.

Scot - Mark in boat

Coming down the mountain via the coastal road was a different kind of adventure, with wandering, remote single track roads lined with wildflowers, boothies, sheep and hairy coo, punctuated by the occasional fishing village. The one thing we never saw was a gas station, and we breathed a sigh of relief when we glided into Lochcarron on petrol fumes and miraculously found a gas station that was still open.    

Scot - Hairy Coo

The weather that day was warm and sunny, and perfect for exploring. We stopped frequently and stumbled upon a few gems on that trip over the mountain. I even discovered the work of a potter whose main shop was back in Strathcarron. I left with several little dishes and hearts made by Vicky Stonebridge at Balnacra Arts & Pottery, all in her signature pastel colors and whimsical designs. If ever I live in Lochcarron, I will visit her studio often.

Scot - pottery

The next morning, after another wonderful Scottish breakfast, we said goodbye and left for Fort William, a stopover on our way to Kilmartin Glen, our last major destination.

 Scot - SW House

On the way, we finally found the spot where I took the photo that is on the front cover of Sweet William. I say finally because we’d looked and looked and never found it two years ago. The trick was, you had to get out of the car and hike past an old church ruin to get to the spot where you could look down into the valley to see what I fondly call Rabbit Hill Lodge (in my imagination and the world of Lyndsie and Violet in Sweet William.)

Scot - Fort William

From there, it was more mountains and a drive through the Spey River valley to Speybridge. We heard a bagpiper playing at the summit and watched a storm approaching from the west. The storm followed us all the way to Fort William and while it doused our sightseeing efforts, it didn’t deter us from poking around downtown and finding a restaurant that had room for two. I had haggis with neeps (mashed turnips) and tatties (mashed potatoes), served with a whiskey peppercorn gravy.

Scot - Haggis

By this stage of the trip, we felt very aware of the fact that our vacation days were drawing to a close. I remember wondering if this would be the last time I got to enjoy haggis. I think it was – and a good note to end on, it was.

Scot - FW church

Sunday morning, we decided to try a Scottish church once more, and found a lively congregation much like what we’re used to at Zion, in Hudson, Iowa, where my husband is the pastor. They had guitars and sang songs we knew, and the pastor was quite relaxed and even witty at times. While the people were very friendly and welcoming at both churches we visited, this one was more relaxed and joyous and felt like home.

Scot - skye - rhodo close

It was hard to imagine that we would see anything in our last few days in country that would rival the sights we’d already enjoyed, but Kilmartin Glen did just that. It’s called saving the best for last.

Until next time…

Scot - Skye 

(Sherrie is the owner of the Blue Belle Inn B&B and Tea House in St. Ansgar, Iowa. She is a Wheaton College alumni, and attended University of Maryland, European Division, while living in Augsburg, Germany. Her husband is the pastor of Zion Lutheran Church, an LCMC Congregation in rural Hudson, Iowa. In Sherrie’s spare time (?) she likes to dabble in the creative arts, play piano, paint, decorate vintage homes, and travel.)

You might be wondering how we ended up driving a loaded Jaguar e-Pace SUV around Scotland in the first place, given as we are folks of average means and thrifty habits. The short answer is that we were given a free upgrade – in part because we’d been waiting for the smaller car we’d ordered for three hours. We hadn’t slept or showered for more than 24 hours. We’d also been forced to buy an expensive insurance policy that cost almost as much as the car rental itself, even though our USAA Credit Card covers accident insurance on our rental cars no matter where in the world we happen to be. Long story short, I think the car hire associate felt sorry for us and decided to throw us a bone.

Scot - Jag

I have to admit that we got a bit spoiled in the Jaguar. The seats were plush and comfortable, the ride was smooth. It had a back-up mirror that responded to the cars movements to direct you with curved lines. The GPS was very helpful in finding our way around. It was an amazing car.

Scot - Rocky Road

When we hit a sharp rock along the side of the road on our second day on the Isle of Lewis and ended up with a seriously flat tire in the middle of nowhere, we assumed we could get the tire changed and be on our way. But the impact of hitting the rock, which more or less bounced us against a ridge of razor sharp rocks and back again, was a hugs gash in the rear passenger side tire and a cracked wheel rim on the front passenger side tire.

We were pretty shook up, and not knowing exactly what had happened, prayed our way to the nearest sign of civilization, about three miles down the road. The tire held out until we  turned into the driveway and drove across the cattle guard, when it went completely flat. The place we found ourselves at looked to be a Scottish version of Outward Bound. We were immediately greeted and offered help in changing the tire. Only one problem – there was no spare and the patch kit the car hire company had provided was woefully inadequate. (An associate later told us they remove the spare tires on their luxury cars because they are afraid someone might steal them.)

Scot - Scaladale

From there began a long, frustrating day of repeatedly calling the car hire company’s help line, waiting, and when no help came and no one called back, calling them again. Repeat. And repeat. With no means of transportation, we had to cancel our lunch reservations at North Harbour Bistro. Thank goodness for the kind and very helpful staff at Scaladale Youth Center – Mark and I obviously aren’t in danger of starving to death, but I can’t imagine what would have become of us if we’d had to wait for more than 7 hours along the side of the road with no water, shade, or bathroom facilities.

Scot - Harris viewIn the end, our car hire company told us we would have to find our own way back to Glasgow (over 200 miles and a three hour ferry ride away), where we MIGHT be given a replacement car. So much for the fancy-schmancy insurance policy with promises of roadside assistance and replacement vehicles they’d forced us to buy. This was not a good time. We were hungry, frustrated and completely lacking in any kind of faith in the car company. 

Scot - Harris mountains

But possessing a good dose of Midwest ingenuity, we started calling around to local garages and car hire companies and found ourselves a little Peugeot in Stornoway that we could have for 24 hours while we sorted things out. We hitched a ride into town with a staff member at the end of his work day. He regaled us with stories of life on a remote island while we drove hurriedly home so he could change and go out into the peat bogs and cut peat – free fuel for all willing to go to the work of cutting, hauling and stacking the bricks. He was doing this for his mother, who needed enough to make it through two winters, as he and his fiancé were going to be married and take a year long honeymoon. We were so impressed by this man!

The car hire office was already closed by the time we arrived to pick up our “new” car (they’d left the keys under the seat and parked it on the street). The effects of our delicious breakfast had long since faded, so we had some dinner and headed back to our B&B, which was an hour away, in Uig. On our way back toward the place where we got stranded, we saw a tow truck with “our” Jaguar on his bed – almost 10 hours after our incident with the rock.

Scot - Uig B

We’d lost a whole day of our much anticipated time on Lewis and Harris. The next morning was also spent trying to find a rental car that we could use for the remainder of our trip. There were no car hires on the Isle of Skye where we were scheduled to get off the ferry on the next leg of our trip, and our ferry left from Tarbert, on the Isle of Harris, on the opposite end of the island from Stornoway. The biggest obstacle was that the car hire companies on the Isles of Lewis and Harris only rent cars for use on the island.

Scot - Harris house

It seemed like an impossible situation until a young man whose sister lived in Glasgow said that we could take their company’s car off the island and get it to his sister at the end of our trip so she would get it back to them. We had to pay an extra fee, but it was worth every penny not to have to cancel our reservations or become foot passengers hobbling along with our luggage, trying to find a bus or train that led to Glasgow. Best of all, our faith in people was restored and then some as we dealt with the kind locals from Lewis and Harris. These folks really went out of their way to help us!

Scot - Scalpay food

The day started getting better almost immediately. We made it to the wonderful restaurant on Scalpay for lunch and I had the chance to visit the official Harris Tweed outlet store to buy fabric as planned.

Scot - Harris Tweed

Mark scored an empty blue gin bottle from the Isle of Harris Distillery to use as a water bottle at home, just like they had at North Harbour Bistro. Afterwards, we walked off a little of our delectable lunch at Luskentyre Beach.

Scot - L Beach

The white sands and tropical-looking blue waters were amazing, while the Belted Galway cows grazing along the shores kept things quintessentially Scotland. 

Scot - cow

After another trip back to Stornoway to switch out our little Peugeot for the even littler Honda Jazz we would use to make our way back to Glasgow, we were off to see the Standing Stones by sunset one last time, and enjoy our comfortable B&B before catching the ferry in the morning.    

Scot - Honda

And you know what? Our little Honda did just fine! It was definitely not luxurious like the Jaguar, but it was great for navigating the narrow roads to the beach. It sat comfortably, and all of our luggage fit, between the boot and the backseat!

Scot - narrow roadsAll’s well that ends well? We’re still fighting with the original car rental company over what we should and should not be required to pay for the short-lived pleasure of driving their Jaguar, but we saw everything we really wanted to on Lewis and Harris, and, we ended up on the right ferry (reservations required) at the right time to the right place. We loved the Isles of Lewis and Harris – the people, first, the Callanish stones second, and my fabric treasures third. And let us not forget Mark’s empty gin bottle – a found treasure that we love, mostly because we got it for free.

Scot - Gin bottle

Because luxuries like Jaguars are nice, but life’s simple pleasures are the best.

Scot - Kilmartin sheep 

Stay tuned for more adventure on the Isle of Skye, and in Loch Carron, setting of Golden Rod, the mountains and gardens of Applecross, Fort William, and the ancient sites of Kilmartin Glen.

We planned to stay on the Isles of Lewis and Harris for 4 nights because it coincided with the relaxing mid-point of our recent trip to Scotland. My husband says once I get away from home and business, it takes me a week to relax, and that a week before we head home, I start to get tense again, thinking about what’s waiting for me. When we go on a three week vacation, it’s the middle week that’s golden.

Scot- Keeper's House

 

My midgie-bite covered body was looking forward to rest and relaxation on Lewis and Harris. The islands are only 14 miles wide and 100 miles long, so we felt sure four days would not only give us time to see all the sites but to spend some time chilling on Uig Beach, near the Keepers House where we were staying. I couldn’t wait to see the mysterious, now famous Callanish Standing Stones seen in Outlander.

Scot - Callendish stones

The seas were calm on our three hour ferry ride from Ullapool to Stornoway and our expectations were high.

Scot - Ferry

We drove our rental car off the ferry to find a sweet downtown area surrounded by a wandering park topped with a beautiful castle. We settled into a little restaurant with a creative menu (I had chips – big English-style French fries – topped with gourmet mac and cheese topped with the most wonderful, melt-in-your-mouth roast beef ever. Yum!)  A few doors down, we found a shop filled with thousand of yards of wool Harris tweed remnants at reasonable prices. I left with a lovely assortment.

Scot - Stornoway food

We set off for the castle at the top of the hill, surrounded by lovely old trees, with a great view of the sailboats lining the harbor. The story, or so we were told, is that a man bought the Isles of Lewis and Harris with ill-gained proceeds from smuggling drugs, only to have his wife refuse to move to the Islands because there were no trees.

Scot - Stornoway Castle

She reconsidered only after he planted a small forest and built her a castle. And a beautiful castle it was!

Scot - Stornoway castle ceiling

We left Stornoway to meander toward out B&B on the other side of the island, thinking, “How long could it take to drive 25 miles?” More than an hour of narrow, windy, twisting, single track roads later, we arrived to a warm welcome from a cute pair of lambs, checked into our spacious room with a view, and set off to explore Uig beach.

Scot - Uig sheep

The fog was already setting in – or had it ever lifted? – giving the treeless peat fields, hills and dales an atmospheric glow as the sun crested and slowly sank toward the west.

Scot - Uig fog

The next morning, after a delicious, made-to-order breakfast at Uig Sands Hotel, we drove north along the Western shore to Callanish Stones, which turned out to be laid out in the shape of a cross.

Scot - Uig stones

I took a lot of photos even though the skies were foggy and grey, and later, more photos with a blue, sunny sky, and later still, with the sun setting behind the stones.

Scot - Uig sunset stones

We were back in the Jaguar, driving toward the Gearrannan Blackhouse Village, an open-air museum with restored blackhouses – long stone cottages with thatched roofs, and Dun Carloway, the remnant of a stone broch (small tower) that’s roughly 2000 years old, when we saw a church with a parking lot full of cars. According to the sign, the service had just started, so we decided to go on in and found ourselves in the midst of a very unique worship service.

Scot - Uig blackhouses

Unbeknownst to us, the Free Church of Scotland has no adornments, and no musical instruments. The songs are chanted psalms and the women wear hats. I fit right in, and the people were very welcoming, but I missed the lively music of our church services.

Scot - Lewis fence

That afternoon, after more than a good bit of hiking up to the tower house (and back down again) and down to the sea behind the blackhouse village (and back up again), we arrived at the very northern tip of the island, or the Butt of Lewis, where we found a beautiful lighthouse and cliffs covered with hundreds of pink flowers and thousands of sea birds.

Scot - Lewis flowers

We finished off the day with a delicious meal at Uig Sands Hotel, where the chef treated us to house-smoked salmon delicacies and more. We chatted with guests from England, Germany and the Netherlands over dinner. It was all very relaxing and enjoyable. I’m glad I didn’t know what awaited us the next day!

Scot - Uig sands

Our plan was to drive over the bridge from Harris to explore the small island of Scalpay and its red and white striped Eilean Glas lighthouse on the island’s eastern cliffs. We had made reservations months earlier for Scalpay’s famous North Harbour Bistro, which we were told was THE place for a tasty and memorable meal, followed by a visit to award-winning Luskentyre Beach with its white sands and blue waters.

Scot - Harris beach

But as fate would have it, our plans were meant to be broken – as were our poor rental car’s tires and wheel rims. I’ll post the next installment – The Jaguar of Our Dreams and the Car Hire Company from Our Worst Nightmare – in a few days.

Thanks for coming along on the next jaunt of our journey.

Scot - Uig sheep single

It was like 2007 all over again. Not wanting to deal with “big city” traffic, congestion and parking hassles, we drove through Inverness as quickly as possible and retreated to the Scottish countryside, this time, on a farm high in the hills overlooking the Moray Firth. After learning how much there is to see and do in any given area on our previous trips, we tried our best to stay at least two nights in the same place. It’s far more relaxing not to have to pack up and move every single day.

Scot - sunset 2

Our countryside view was amazing. The next day, we headed away from Inverness toward the small town of Beauly. There were several wonderful shops in Beauly, a bank where we were able to exchange more dollars for pounds, a nice restaurant where we enjoyed a high tea, and a great fish and chips place.

Scot - Chanonry Point

From Beauly, we went on two nice drives – the first took us to the narrow end of the Moray First, across a bridge and up the other side. We had a lovely hike along the coast at Chanonry Point, where we missed seeing seals but found a lighthouse and wild roses and Queen Anne’s lace blooming along the rocky beaches.

Scot - lighthouse

A few miles further down the road, we found a small National Trust property that had a delightful garden and a thatched roof house that was the home of Scottish local hero, Hugh Miller.

Scot - hugh's house

His story was fascinating and we related to it on several levels. He believed in Creation and had an extensive collection of fossils.

Scot - Hugh

From there, we headed south through a shady mountain pass to Loch Ness. Once again, Urquhart Castle was closed by the time we got there, so we took a few photos from a distance, watched for signs of Nessie rippling in the blue waters and drove home along the shore.

Scot - Loch Ness

Our B&B for those two nights just west of Inverness was on the first floor of a new house, with a private entry and a very comfortable bed. The sunsets both nights were beautiful, but the midges were starting to bite and came out at sunset. I did a dance as I walked through the grass, snapping and moving and snapping and moving, hopefully fast enough to avoid having a midge land on me.

Scot - Beualy B&B

The next day, we set out to see my Scottish friend, Ang, in Balintore, a seaside village north of Inverness. The fog seems to settle in each night, and it hadn’t yet lifted as we walked along the shoreline, talking. Two years ago, Ang used the word “atmospheric” to describe the misty air hugging the sea, and I will forever think of the word when I encounter foggy landscapes. We exchanged treasures and good conversation – a definite highlight of the trip!

Scot - Ang beach

After lunch, we left the east coast of Scotland and were off  to Ullapool, on the west, when we decided to detour down to another Historic Trust property. As Trust members, we love seeing these properties “for free”.

Scot - inver rhodies

I’ve heard from many people that they’re always amazed at how much we managed to see in one short day. What they may not realize is that everything is so close – the most we drove in a day was 100 miles. It’s also daylight from 4:30 a.m. to 10:30 p.m, so if you get up at a decent hour, you can do a lot before dark.

Scot - Invereray

This is one of those days that we stretched things a little too far. Everything would have been fine except that we reached Inverewe Garden about 5:30 p.m. Last entrance was 6 p.m., but the gates to the garden were open until 8 p.m., so we had plenty of time to explore. The sky was blue, but there wasn’t a breeze to be found, and the midges surrounded me in swarms.

Scot - Inver wisteria

Dense forests were crisscrossed with mazes of paths and steps that wound through rhododendrons, bamboo and perennial gardens and eventually, out to the sea. Before long, I was swatting and itching and breaking out in blistering welts. But it was so beautiful, and we got in for free, and…

Scot - inver flowers

The only solution was to walk faster and faster. If I was capable of running up and down rickety, stone stairways that didn’t have handrails, I would have. What can I say? I’m glad we saw the gardens – they were lovely, but I’m not sure the itching and oozing I went through for the next week was worth it.

 

Scot - Ullapool

The sun started to set on our way to Ullapool, and we arrived just in time to see sunbeams shining over the harbor. We found our room at the top of an extremely steep hill overlooking Morefield Brae.  What a beautiful setting! But alas, as we climbed out of the car, our host warned up to enter quickly and close the doors behind us because the midges were really biting.

Scot - Ullapool B&B

Great. While we settled in, our hosts at the Fair Morn B&B found a restaurant with openings for 8:45 p.m. We were seated in a conservatory facing out to the garden and left to choose from a wonderful menu. All was well until we started to notice we were itching even more than we had been earlier. Then we noticed a small window open at the top of the wall. Suddenly, we were caught in a swarm of midges. But the time we caught the eye of our waiter and asked to be reseated in another room, the damage was done.

Scot - skye castle

In the morning, we headed north along the brae and into the mountains where we were treated to castle ruins, sheep grazing, red deer running along the hilltops, and altogether amazing scenery.

Scot - Lochinver house

We stumbled on a craft fair and a pie place at Lochinver and then took a narrow winding road to Achmelvich Beach with its white sands and aquamarine waters. When I heard about the beaches in Scotland, I assumed it would be like California in January, with crisp temperatures and cold winds even though it would have the appearance of being summery. But the day was perfect for beach-going, in the mid 80s, and we had a picnic with the meat and fruit pies we’d nabbed at the pie place in Lochinver.

Scot - Uig beach

By that time, however, I felt like I had a beacon on my back that said “Bug Bait.” There were bugs in the sand, and bugs in the rocks – but unlike midges, these were big, and could be seen, and felt, and they seemed to be going for my eyes, and anywhere my midge bites were oozing and itching. Yikes! I don’t mean to sound negative, but it was not exactly a relaxing day at the beach.

Scot -ullapool house

We ended the day back in Ullapool, where we ate at an upscale fresh seafood shack and found a handmade woolen treasure at a local craft shop. I walked as fast as I could everywhere we went to fend off the midges who were waiting to land. They seemed to get sneakier as time went by, burrowing under my clothes and biting my back and thighs, under my hair and hat. Nothing dissuaded them.

Scot - Ullapool harbor 

I had a hard time sleeping that night because I was so hot and itchy, but there’s always a bright side… We had a delicious Scottish breakfast to look forward to and a forecast of calm seas for our three hour ferry ride to the Isle of Lewis and Harris. And someone told me that there were no midges on Lewis or Harris because there was always a good breeze blowing. Music to my ears…

We headed to the Highlands on the next jaunt of our Scottish journey. In some ways, driving into the Highlands reminds me of when I lived in Colorado Springs and occasionally ventured up to Breckenridge or Estes Park. The higher the altitude, the more pine trees and mountain peaks, the more athletic pursuits and other activities geared toward tourists, and the more cute mountain resort towns with large hotels. But as usual, we skipped all that and sought out a quiet, countryside location away from the crowds.

Scot - Aberfeldy cottage

We spent three nights in a cottage near Aberfeldy, Perthshire – one of our favorite places on earth. We could see J.K. Rowling’s summer house across the glen from where we were staying, which tells you there is something magical about the spot. The views were incredible, and we loved watching the sunset while walking down the lane with the owner’s English cocker spaniels in tow. There were plenty of flowers to smell and benches to sit on while scratching the dogs’ ears and rubbing their tummies. I felt right at home and loved hearing sheep baaing and a rushing stream while we laid in bed each night.

Scot - Aberfeldy sunset

Our cottage had its own little kitchen, and most of the eating establishments we had hoped to visit were closed for the holiday weekend, so we visited the grocery and stocked up on some goodies for breakfasts and picnic suppers. Mark makes great omelets which were wonderful with rashers and bangers (bacon and sausages).

Scot - bluebells

I was delighted to find the woods around Strathtay still abloom with bluebells.  Mark played a couple of holes of golf while I walked in the bluebell wood. Then, our excitement turned to disappointment when we wandered into town and found that the art gallery on the main square where I bought a painting of Menzies Castle by Artist Audrey Slowrance was now a real estate office.

Scot - Audrey Slorance

After looking wistfully at the listings and feeling more than a little tempted to invest in a piece of Scotland, we finally tracked Audrey down in her new studio in a garage and bought a couple of her lovely prints. It made my day to get to talk to her about painting and what inspires her. How I wished I’d had my paints and a couple of canvases tucked in my suitcase!

Scot - kilts

We also attended the Highland Games and Fair at Blair Atholl Castle, where once again, we had the thrill of seeing the Atholl Highlanders march to the tune of bagpipes and drums. Be still my heart! A walk through Diana’s Forest, which has some of the tallest trees in Great Britain, was restful and quiet after the boisterous sounds of the crowds cheering on the brawny competitors, graceful Highland dancers and talented bagpipers at the Highland Games.

Scot - Phone booth

Our last day in the Aberfeldy area, we followed a narrow, winding, mountainside road to Glenlyon, where there’s a tiny post office in the middle of nowhere that’s famous for its desserts. The waitress’ young daughter, who invited us to sit with her, entertained us while we had a bowl of leek and potato soup, crusty, homemade bread with butter, and pudding… well worth the slightly hair-raising drive along a single track road with too few passing places.

Scot - Kenmore Church

On the way home, we took a new road to Kenmore, a village along Loch Tay that we’d seen featured in several of Audrey’s paintings, and happened upon a delightful spot. We were looking for a loo when we overheard a desk clerk at the local hotel mentioning that Rick Steves’ tour bus would be arriving any minute. Being fans of his TV show, we waited around for a glimpse, took a photo, and gloated because we have such a keen knack for sniffing out desirable locations.

Scot - kenmore

The next day, it was time to head north to our next destination, Ben View House at Lentran Farm, in the countryside near Inverness, where we had two nights booked. On the way, we had two significant experiences. The living Highland Folk Museum had miles of wonderful examples of how the Highlanders lived and built their homes. We learned that several scenes from Outlander had been filmed in the blackhouse village, and I have to admit it was a thrill to walk where Jamie, Claire and Dugall had. The smell of a peat fire wafting in the air, hand woven linens and many authentic touches made history come to life.

Scot - highland folk village

After another bit of driving, we had a bit of trouble locating the Kilted Fudge Company in Aviemore, but our minor detours were rewarded with an enthusiastic greeting and our own personal tasting of over a dozen of their creamy, buttery fudge flavors. After stocking up on oodles of my favorite (Clootie Dumpling fudge, which is not too sweet, and packed with gingerbread spices and raisins), and a few new varieties like Rhubarb Cream, Salted Caramel and Millionaire’s Shortbread, we headed on through the mountains.

Scot - sunset

As we were coming into Aviemore, I spotted a sign that pointed to a Mountain Railway, which of course, made me think of my dad, whose favorite song was Life is Like a Mountain Railway. But then, these days, everything makes me think of him. Last year, when we left for Ireland and Wales, he was in the hospital with pneumonia, and we weren’t sure what would happen while we were gone, so we called him every night about midnight to tell him about our day. This year, over and over again, I found myself thinking, Dad would love this. I’ll have to tell him about it when we call him tonight. How I wish I could, but for that, I’d need a Railway to Heaven.

Scot - Daffodil

I’ll end on that note. Vacations are a wonderful way to relax and forget your troubles, but being free from a hectic routine also gives you more time to remember… and think…

Stay tuned for our trek northward and westward, ho…

Someone once told me that one great way to restart your brain is to take a shower. I’ve had it happen more than once. I’m working at the computer with whatever I’m working on open on the screen and I can’t think of a thing to write. No matter how hard I try, nothing comes. Then, I get in the shower, with no way to write anything down, and no sooner does the water start to rain down on me than the voices of my characters start to jabber inside my head and new plotlines magically form.

Wildflowers of Scotland Novels by Sherrie Hansen (2)

Over the years, I’ve learned that a vacation – especially one to a far off destination – can have the same effect, only in a much more profound way. Here’s what seems to happen when I take a trip, and how to enjoy a traveling adventure that refreshes both brain and body.

 

1. Let go of expectations. Anything can happen on a vacation. I like to plan our trips and enjoy researching places to eat and stay, as well as things to see and do, but I’ve also learned that it’s fairly impossible to predict what will happen on any given day, how long it will take to get from Point A to Point B, and what things we might encounter along the way. Once I let go of my stubborn insistence that things have to be a certain way, it’s amazing what can happen!

Pictures from phone 9Sept2015 115

  1. Forget about staying focused and enjoy the distractions. You may not be able to tell it from looking at my house (creative minds are rarely tidy as the old saying goes), but I’m a highly organized person, at least when it comes to my professional life. I make lists and cross things off when they’re done. I thrive under deadlines. I plan events with an intricate timeline based on what things I can do ahead down to the tasks that have to be done at the last minute. When I go on a trip, it’s a challenge and a pleasure to be able to relax and realize that nothing matters but having fun.

  1. Open your mind to new ideas, possibilities. It’s kind of sad, the way I go to the same restaurants and order the same exact foods and wear the same few shirts and skirts until they’re worn out from washing. I like being in my comfort zone, but when I’m forced out of my established ruts and have to try new things, I experience a wondrous feeling of freedom and discovery!

  1. Bloom and grow. I try NOT to grow any wider when I’m on vacation – it’s difficult when every corner grocery has caramel shortbread (Millionaire Bars), Battenberg Cakes, Meat and Fisherman’s Pies, pâté, amazing cheeses, and oddles of creamy Cadbury milk chocolate delights. But I love widening my perspectives, learning new things and stretching myself. It’s so easy to become stagnant. Letting a Chinook wind blow in and infiltrate my mind is like spring coming to the soul after a long hard winter.

  1. Meet new people. Stir the pot. I think the older we get, the harder it is to meet new people and make new friends. Most of us have lived in the same place for quite some time, and the people already have their established circles. Adult children and grandkids occupy people’s time after a certain age, and the sad truth is, I’m often so worn out after I do what I have to that I’m too tired to want to get out and socialize. When I do go out, I have to think long and hard about what we have to talk about because we’ve already spoken about everything under the sun at least a million times. But when I’m on vacation, every day is an opportunity to participate in new conversations about different topics, to hear what different people from other countries think and feel about things. It’s a great way to not only liven things up, but to gain a new perspective. I love listening and learning from the “chance” people I meet when we’re traveling.

  1. Strip away the mundane and set your sights on the extraordinary. Letting go of old things is almost a requirement for being able to embrace new things. If you’re clutching at what you have, you can’t open your hands and accept something new. If you’re always looking down, you’ll never catch sight of a rainbow. If you don’t walk away from your work or your possessions, your family, or whatever it is that tethers you to the ground, you will likely never fly, accomplish your dreams, or sail off to uncharted waters.

  1. Let your senses be reawakened. Open your eyes. I’ve written several articles urging people to look for the beauty in their own backyard. It’s a wonderful thing to do. But the fact is, after looking at the same garden or flowering tree or porch swing every day for a quarter of a century, it’s easy to get desensitized to even the most lovely scene. Traveling, seeing different sights and fresh images, and taking the time to walk about and relish the beauty in unfamiliar locations not only jumpstarts my creativity, it makes me notice things through fresh eyes.

If you haven’t taken a good long vacation lately, I highly recommend that you find a way to get away. For me, escaping the familiar and journeying to unknown realms is the best way to rejuvenate.

(As you read this, Sherrie and her husband, Mark, are on their way back to Scotland to enjoy a much-anticipated vacation. Watch for Sherrie’s next book, DAYBREAK, a sequel to NIGHT & DAY, coming from Indigo Sea Press in July. All photos are from our home and previous vacations to Scotland, Romania, Kentucky, and England.)

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