My 10 Favorite Castles in Scotland (of the ones I’ve seen so far!)

Visiting castles are always at the top of my list of places to visit. I can’t seem to get enough of them. They come in a variety of shapes and sizes and each are unique in their own right. Some are only ruinous remains; while others still have inhabitants living in private quarters within their walls. I’ve visited over 30 in various locations and have yet to find one I don’t like.

Creating this list of my 10 favorite was more difficult than I first imagined. Just narrowing it down to 10 was almost a lesson in futility; they are all so unique and each has something special to offer. I have not listed them or ranked them in any particular order of preference. I just offer them for your pleasure. You can decide the order they should be in.

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Craigievar Castle near the town of Alford

(National Trust for Scotland)

What do I like about this castle?

For starters it has such a ‘fairy tale’ look about it. Heck, it even has a pinkish-colored harl coating on the outside! (It is reputed to be the inspiration for Walt Disney’s castle motif.)

It’s toted by the guidebooks as “one of the most elegant examples of tower-house architecture from the 17th century. Inside, the collections reflect the taste and patronage of its inhabitants, ranging from medieval armory to portraits by Raeburn.” It certainly lived up to its reputation!

I especially enjoyed the guided tour they offer. Each tour guide escorts only about 5-6 people at a time. The tour lasts about 45 minutes to an hour and takes you all through the extensively decorated, ornate and authentically renovated interiors.

The cost of the tour is well worth it. It is quite fascinating, informative and it is easy to ask questions because of such a small group.

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The grounds also have nice woodland pathways to follow, cows in the pastures and wonderful vistas abound in the surrounding landscape.

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The castle originally included a walled courtyard with four round towers; only one of the round towers remains today.craigievar castle14

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Dunnottar Castle near the town of Stonehaven

(Scottish Tourist Board)

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Dunnottar is a dramatic ruined cliff-top fortress perched at the water’s edge in a very magnificent & scenic setting complete with a piper!

That’s the part that drew me to it in the first place (the scenery not the man in a kilt! But I must admit it was a really nice touch!)

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As I wandered around the many buildings here I discovered how important Dunnottar was in its day. This place was an impregnable fortress. It is full of history and even though I didn’t get a guided tour, it was very well marked and easy to follow. No rush – no crowds, plenty of time for contemplation and exploration.

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I learned that its past is chuck full of historical figures including William Wallace & Mary Queen of Scots.

I also particularly liked it because at least 3 generations of great grand parents of my own Keith family ancestors lived here and carried the distinguished titles of the Earls Marischal – one of the most powerful families of the time. How cool is that?

 

Crathes Castle near the town of Banchory

(National Trust for Scotland)

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It’s easy to spend an entire day at this enchanting 16th-century tower house Castle; so much to see and enjoy!

It has it all – a stunningly decorated interior jammed packed with treasures within its walls, exquisite world-renowned gardens – it even has a tree top adventure, ‘Go Ape,’ in the surrounding woodlands for the kid in all of us!

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Although I visited in early spring, and therefore before the plethora of flowers were blooming magnificently, the garden did not disappoint. Every inch of every pathway offered a vista of garden fantasy and delight.

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I especially enjoyed the ancient sculpted Yew trees and hedges.

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Also available are wildlife ‘Ranger Walks’ in the nearby woodlands featuring talks on flora and fauna, ‘Arting Around’ craft workshops for children and they host numerous special events throughout the year. If you plan a visit, be sure to check their website for an interesting choice of upcoming events. After touring the extensive Castle and its gardens, you can relax and refresh at the on-site café and/or stroll through their gift shop.

 

Dunrobin Castle near the town of Golspie

(Clan Sutherland)

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Dunrobin is the first Castle I ever visited and will long remain among my favorites. As I approached the stately home following its beautifully tree-lined front carriage drive I was captivated at once.

It is located in the Highlands of Scotland in a beautiful setting overlooking the Dornoch Firth and is the seat of the Earl of Sutherland and Clan Sutherland.

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The interior holds tons of exquisite furnishings and treasures and the self-guided tour winds through the various rooms and levels of the Castle with surprises around every corner.

 

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It has its origins in medieval times and has been added to over the ages much like many Castles have evolved over the centuries. Through this charming round window you can see the evidence of the older part being integrated into the new.

I also am particularly fond of its French Formal gardens which were fashioned after the gardens at Versailles.  Beauty Galore!

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One of my favorite aspects of Dunrobin is its Falconry demonstrations conducted by the Castle’s own Resident Falconer in the gardens.

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The Falconer provides a very informative, interesting, entertaining talk and live demonstration about the various birds of prey he cares for and trains upon the premises. A definite ‘must see!’

 

Cawdor Castle in the village of Cawdor

(Campbell)

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I love Cawdor. It has so many splendid features.

It is set amid gardens and woodland scenery with a river running through. There’s something ‘cozy’ about this place that attracts me time and time again.

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It belongs to the Campbell family, in fact, the Dowager Countess Cawdor, stepmother of Colin Campbell, 7th Earl Cawdor, still lives there if I’m not mistaken.

How can you not love it, starting with the drawbridge?

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Take the self-guided tour inside, enjoying its finery. There’s even a dungeon!

“One curious feature of the castle is that it was built around a small, living holly tree. Tradition states that a donkey, laden with gold, lay down to rest under this tree, which was then selected as the site of the castle,” according to the self-guided tour literature. The remains of the tree may can be seen in the lowest level of the tower.

And then there are its numerous gardens…

The Walled Garden (originally planted in the 17th Century), the Flower Garden (18th century) and the Wild Garden (added in the 1960s).

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There are hidden fountains in secret corners, a hedge maze and arbors to stroll under.

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The property includes beautiful woodlands featuring numerous species of trees and lots of wonderful paths to follow crossing over and following the river.

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There’s even a golf course!

 

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When you’re done touring the Castle and its beautiful adjoining property wander down to the nearby village, catch a game of Lawn Bowling…

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…visit the old church and wander among its delightful assortment of headstones…

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… or whet your whistle at the local pub!

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Eilean Donan Castle near the town of Dornie

(Conchra Charitable Trust)

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This is one of the most iconic Castles and probably the most photographed!

Can’t imagine why!

This ancient island stronghold of the Clan MacKenzie and their allies, Clan Macrae, has possible roots dating clear back to the 6th or 7th century by an early Christian monastic cell.

Eilean Donan has made several appearances in films including being featured prominently in Highlander (1986).

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The self-guided tour winds through each of the various buildings, inside and out.

One of the most outstanding features I enjoyed were the realistic and detailed models of people dressed in period clothing depicting life as it used to be.

In the kitchen for instance, it was all set up with cooks, scullery maids, food-laden trays and various elements of a royal feast being prepared. It is so well done, I felt like I was walking into a frozen time warp. There was even a cat chasing a mouse! It was extremely artistic and detailed; certainly the best of its type I’ve ever seen.Eilean Donnen22

Back across the bridge on the way to the car park is a Visitor Center with a café where you can refresh and sit enjoying the magnificent view. The adjoining gift shop is also a shopper’s delight.

 

Stirling Castle in the town of Stirling

(Historic Scotland)

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Stirling is another dramatic, iconic and Royal Family Castle example sitting atop an crag with steep cliffs on three sides. IMG_0342

 

It is extremely important historically as well as architecturally and offers everything a visitor could expect.

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Beautiful kingly palaces and Great Halls, Chapels, ramparts with canons, guides dressed in period clothing …

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…beautiful furnishings fit for a King and his Queen…

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…and simply exquisite, ornate, hand-woven ancient tapestries to enjoy.

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On another crag nearby stands the Wallace Monument commemorating Sir William Wallace, the famous 13th-century Scottish hero.

I also especially enjoyed exploring the numerous graveyards near the castle, particularly the ones adjacent to the King’s Knot garden below the castle.

 

Edinburgh Castle in Edinburgh

(Historic Scotland)

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According to the Historic Scotland website, ‘Edinburgh Castle has been at the heart of Scotland’s life for well over 1,000 years. Well defended on its tall volcanic crag, it has been occupied since prehistoric times. By the medieval era it was an important royal residence, and the city growing up around it became the nation’s capital.’

It is a beautiful castle with much to see; plan on being there for a while when you visit.  Located at the top of the Royal Mile extending from Holyrood Palace at the lower end all the way to the Castle, it is truly magnificent.

Beautiful displays, entertaining introductory guided tours, and stunning displays of royal accoutrements will delight you at every turn. The “Honours of Scotland” (once saved at Dunnottar) are now safely housed here.

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It has many buildings housing war memorials, precious jewels, hidden nooks and interesting stairs and walkways leading to new discoveries each way you turn.

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One of the biggest canons I’ve ever laid my eyes on is here and the ramparts the canons are perched upon offer fantastic panoramic views of the surrounding city.

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Historical figures and events are beautifully represented throughout.

Expect crowds, even in the off season, it’s not only one of my favorites, but the rest of humanity as well!

dundonald castle3Dundonald Castle in the village of Dundonald

(Historic Scotland)

This castle was built by Robert II to mark his succession to the throne of Scotland. Some of its prominent inhabitants are in my Stewart ancestral lines, therefore it meant a great deal to me to wander through and connect with the place they lived in and fought for.

dundonald castle9dundonald castleIt now is in ruins and yet can easily transport me back in time.  It doesn’t appear to be a castle that is visited much and so I enjoyed the quiet solitude and having the place to myself.  (Maybe it was just a quiet day…)dundonald castle11dundonald castle2dundonald castle12dundonald castle13dundonald castle15dundonald castle20dundonald castle10It has a small building at the base of the hill serving as the Visitor Center complete with a small café and gift shop. It also has a nice selection of models on display in its interpretive center depicting how the castle would have appeared at various stages of its development throughout the ages.dundonald castle6dundonald castle7dundonald castle5 It appeared to me that this castle is often overlooked, but to me, it is a true gem of a find!

Culzean Castle near the town of Maybole

(Historic Scotland)

culzean castleLast, but by no means least, I offer you a glimpse of yet another fine castle in Ayrshire, Culzean, sitting majestically at the water’s edge and surrounded by woodlands and unbelievable gardens.

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Where do I start with over-the-top?  Okay, how about when you first enter the front door?

Immediately upon entering, I felt as though it was required to relinquish my weapons so they could be incorporated into a display! Wowsers!

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culzean castle84Exploring this amazing house was so much fun! Every room felt as though its inhabitants were ‘out for the day’ and that they would return at any moment. Extremely authentic and incredibly detailed!

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culzean castle107Beautiful paintings and portraits throughout…

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Fully stocked servants quarters; a fully stocked kitchen!  (Geez how many copper pans does one need?)  The hearth even contained a favorite Scottish quote of mine, “Waste Not Want Not.” It is carved into a tile and mounted for all to see and heed. culzean castle123

Then there are the incredibly gracious and varied gardens; I’ll let them speak for themselves.
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They even have their own private herd of deer and a very large lake with a cute little cafe to get something to eat while you enjoy the view.

The estate is quite expansive. I spent the good part of a day exploring and didn’t begin to discover so many of its ‘hidden charms!’  Just driving along the wooded drive from the highway, passing the gatehouse and approaching the Castle was an adventure providing exciting anticipation.

I would have loved to follow the path around the lake but my feet refused and couldn’t be persuaded. (Okay, okay! Here – twist my arm – guess I’ll have to go back one day and continue my adventure!)

Which Castle is your favorite?  Is it possible to even have a favorite? Just like the people who built and inhabited them, each Castle is as unique as their stewards’ fingerprints. The land they occupy is diverse and the garden delights they present to us is a never-ending splendour to the senses.

Planning a trip to Scotland? (If not, maybe this has stirred up some interest and desire.) Want to visit and explore some Castles of your own? Check out a couple of websites. I highly recommend the National Trust for ScotlandHistoric Scotland and Scottish Tourist Board for starters. The first two manage a huge inventory of properties; the third has a lot of information about visiting the beautiful country. Many castles are still privately owned, however, and therefore are not among their listings. These privately-owned properties usually have their own website that you can search for on Google.

When I travel to Scotland and plan to visit numerous castles, I like to buy a membership for both of the organizations before I leave. By the time I visit at least 2 or 3 properties, the membership has paid for itself. As a member, not only do I gain free admission to any of their properties by presenting my membership card at the door, but I also get free parking and sometimes other discounts in the gift shops and cafes. Check it out.

Until the next time….

 

 

 

 

 

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Take a Virtual Walk … wherever!

Ever since I added a fresh new look to my blog and improved its appearance a couple of days ago, a plethora of new topic ideas have emerged. They come bubbling up to the surface of my imagination one after another vying for my attention.

(Thank you for all the wonderful, supportive and encouraging feedback by the way!  It is very much appreciated!)

One idea that popped up was ‘how to take a walk in the virtual world of computers.’

It seems like each day there is something new to discover, an amazing technological tool I can utilize and have available at my fingertips. I’d like to share with you one such discovery.

If you’ve read very many of my blog entries you know I love making Google maps for my trips. Last year after planning my itinerary for a trip to Scotland, England and Ireland for 3 months, I stumbled across something I hadn’t noticed before in Google Maps – “Street-view.”

I knew it existed; I had seen streetview images appear when I googled a business for example, and my search would pull up a streetview of it; but I hadn’t ‘played around’ with it, nor realized I could!

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It was just a few days before I was scheduled to leave for my trip last spring to Scotland, England and Ireland. Since I would be in an airplane overnight and probably be suffering from a bit of jet lag once I arrived in London, I decided it might be prove helpful to study the road map and review the route I planned to take with the rental car to my first stop, Cambridge. I also wanted to become a bit more familiar with the layout of the town itself as well. I had booked one night’s lodging at the Cambridge Youth Hostel.
After I studied the map thoroughly and took some notes for later reference, I zoomed in on my google map to see a close up view of the area immediately surrounding the hostel. I thought it might be helpful to locate the nearest parking garage available in case the hostel didn’t offer on-site parking. As I zoomed in to get a closer look, much to my surprise a little yellow “person shaped” icon appeared on the side of the screen!  “Hmm, I wonder what that is!” I mused, and proceeded to click on it.
I discovered I could pick the little person up by clicking and holding it with my cursor and then proceed to place it anywhere on the map where blue lines appeared, indicating where Google has recorded the view.
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So I placed him at the hostel. Again, much to my surprise, the road map transformed from a road map to a satellite image before my eyes and automatically went into ‘streetview’ format at ground level. All of the sudden I found myself looking at the hostel as if I were standing right in front of it on the sidewalk outside!

 

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As I ‘stood’ there in amazement, I also noticed that if I clicked and held the screen and moved the cursor in either direction; turning my head as it were to look up the street and then down in the opposite direction. Pretty cool!

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Then, I noticed directional arrows appearing on the screen pointing down the street. I tried clicking on those as well. Immediately, the map view moved to the next location and another and before I knew it I was at the end of the street deciding which way to turn.
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“Well, now, isn’t that interesting!” I mused, it appears I can explore the neighborhood.
That’s when another idea bubbled up.
“It appears I can walk around town! I can go for a ‘virtual’ walk and familiarize myself with the locale before I ever actually set foot in the place!”
I had only booked one night at the hostel. I figured I’d be arriving mid to late afternoon.   I wouldn’t have much time for exploring before it got dark. The following morning I planned on getting an early start for the next leg of my journey. I particularly wanted to at least see King’s College while I was in Cambridge if nothing else.
“Perhaps I could find a nice walking route to follow by trying it out here first.”
I spent the next 2 or 3 hours exploring; walking around the town ‘virtually.’ I became so familiar with Cambridge’s street layout, the landmarks and the location of all of the sites I wanted to visit. I tried a variety of possible routes; I opted for the most scenic.
When I was in Cambridge I was so glad I had stumbled across ‘Streetview.’ I felt as if I had been there before. I was totally familiar with it. I knew where I was going, what to expect, which way to turn and easily reached my desired destination, all the while enjoying the scenery!
After having so much fun virtually walking all over Cambridge, I ended repeating the same process for the next two scheduled stops on my way north. Again, places I had never been to before: York, and my first stop in Scotland – Stirling.
The main attraction I wanted to see in Stirling was its Castle, especially because I had ancestors associated with it – none other than an ancient King Stewart who built it!
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Like Cambridge, I was only staying for one night and would arrive mid afternoon once again. I wondered how far the castle was from the youth hostel. Would I need to drive to it or would it be within walking distance?  I zoomed in and dropped the little yellow man into the hostel and discovered the castle was just a couple of doors uphill from where I was staying!  Sweet!
While I was virtually walking around the castle grounds, I noticed an alternative route I could take on my return trip back to the hostel. ‘Back Walk’ footpath ran through a wooded, park like area instead of following the street. It began up on the hill at the castle and dropped down into and wound through the grave yard below.  Be still my heart!  Yet another opportunity to explore ancient and interesting headstones of ancestors! Brilliant!
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After I visited Stirling Castle, I had such a great time following and strolling along ‘Back Walk’. I worked my way down the path and through the gardens.  Little did I know but a surprise was literally just around the corner.
As I entered the lower level of the graveyard and reached the intersection of the main drive running through its center, who should I spy driving down the lane toward me?  None other than The Google car equipped with its 360 degree camera atop!  I was stunned.
I couldn’t resist.  After he turned around at the dead end near where I was standing, I coaxed him to stop.
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“Can I help you with something?” he asked.
“Thank you for stopping,” I began, “I just wanted to personally say thank you for what you do; express my gratitude for taking pictures as you drive along enjoying the scenery. I want your job!”
I went on to explain to him how I had recently discovered streetview and how much fun I had virtually walking around the places I would soon visit. I also explained to him that this location in particular had provided quite a gem of a walk I could take to and from the castle.  He got a big kick out of my story and told me about his job, the territory he was currently driving around in Scotland and how much he enjoys doing it. He did not, however, supply any details about job opportunities!
Was running into the Google Car while I was taking a walk discovered through Streetview a coincidence?  I think not.
As I write this post, a thought occurred to me.  “I wonder…. its been almost a year since I met up with the Google Car in Stirling …. have they uploaded the new data collected that day?”  So I went into Streetview, dropped the little yellow guy in the location I ‘coincidentally’ met up with the Google Car…
Oh my gosh! I think that’s me walking down the center of the drive way ahead!
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Let’s zoom in and have a closer look.
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I’m pretty sure it is!
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Yep, pretty darn sure….
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Most definitely!  Caught in the act of enjoying the walk I discovered on Streetview! Priceless!
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What town and neighborhood would YOU like take a walk in today?  Give it a try!

Click on the link below.  (If it doesn’t open a new tab and take you to Streetview, copy & paste into your address bar.)  It should open up to this view of the front entrance of Stirling Castle.

 

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Practice navigating around.  You can walk through the castles’ courtyards and check out the views from the ramparts!  You can’t go inside the buildings; have to pay for that privilege when you actually  visit.  However, I have seen sights that take you inside. Probably because they have free entry!
After you practice here at Stirling, type in a new destination you would like to visit in the ‘search’ bar on the upper left of the screen.  Also, look at the bottom of this picture.  On the far left it shows the little yellow guy standing in the location of the current picture.  You can click anywhere on the map he’s standing and the view will switch to wherever you clicked.  Come on – try it!  It’s fun to explore – even virtually!
You never know what you might discover –  you might even discover yourself!
Happy Walking….

(P.S. I apologize for the lack of spaces between many paragraphs in this post.  I’ve been experiencing ‘technical difficulties.’ while editing.  Although the spaces appear in my ‘edit’ version; they aren’t there in ‘view post’ mode.  Hmm…  perhaps the ‘Editor Fairy’ will remedy the situation and tomorrow all will be well!)

A Fresh New Look

I’m so excited. Last night I spent some time and energy updating (and hopefully improving) the visual layout and format of my blog. I was having so much fun playing around with new design features and the overall appearance I lost track of time (a sure sign I’m in a creative mode). When I felt satisfied with what I created and looked up to see what time it was, I realized it was 2 o’clock in the morning!

I’ve added some new features: a ‘sidebar’ for ease in seeing and accessing various posts I’ve written in the past, a search bar and easy-to-use feedback features, such as the “Leave a Comment” section.

Hopefully this new format is more appealing and helpful for you – my readers.

What do you think?  Is it more helpful and/or pleasing to your eye?  I’d love to hear your comments and suggestions – just ‘click’ on ‘Leave a comment’ and enter your thoughts and ideas.

When I first started writing this blog I admit I was a bit skeptical about whether or not it would be an activity that would actually provide some personal fulfillment or if it would just prove to be an exercise in futility and possibly turn out to be disappointing or worse – a form of drudgery.

However, the encouragement I received from my grand daughter, other family members and numerous friends to ‘just try it – you might like it’ was apparently enough impetus to help me enter into unknown (and somewhat terrifying) territory.

I’ve never thought of myself as much of a ‘writer’ per se (and yet I do enjoy telling stories). Initially, I could only think of a couple of possible ideas for topics to write about and seriously doubted I would have much to share beyond those few. I also suspected the exercise would probably prove to be short-lived, and quite frankly, difficult.

Despite my fears of inadequacy in the writing skills department, my ability to continually think of new topic ideas and the level of difficulty it would require of me, I gathered up some courage to forge ahead and give it a try as suggested.

Much to my surprise (and delight) this act of bravery indeed has not only proven (as usual) that my fears were surmountable, but in addition, proven to me that writing a blog is actually quite rewarding, and definitely a fulfilling activity I enjoy; therefore, worth my time and effort.

In reviewing my site this morning with a “fresh eye” after sleeping on it for awhile, I’ve come to the realization that although I still don’t think of myself as a highly-skilled writer – at least it’s not that bad. In fact, much to my surprise, I’ve even received a few comments about how ‘well-written’ some posts have been (a BIG thank you for those comments my friends, they go a long way in the ‘encouragement to continue’ department!)

I also realized that although I feared I wouldn’t have much to share beyond a couple of topic ideas, I’ve already posted 20 entries in a relatively short period of time!  Wow! I didn’t realize I had it in me. Finally, regarding my fear of ‘drudgery’ and the degree of difficulty, I have also discovered that that particular fear was totally unfounded. It’s not drudgery nor difficult at all; in fact, I find it quite rewarding, stimulating and that it serves as a new outlet for creativity, something I definitely enjoy – being creative.

So, I guess you’re stuck with me for awhile yet.

In gratitude for your feedback and encouragement ~ Claudia

 

What to pack?

It’s getting close to the time of departure for my trip touring through France, starting in Paris! Just 16 days to go!

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Now we’re getting to the fun part; what I’ve been waiting for – actually preparing to leave!

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Women always seem to focus on “What shall I wear?” and I’m no exception.  I’ve been planning what I will wear and therefore, what I need, to pack in my luggage. I like being organized and prepared and I’ve found that a bit of planning contributes to having a stress free travel experience. Once I decide what type of clothing is appropriate for the weather forecast, I gather all of the items I would like to take together in one place. It helps if I pretend as though I’m actually leaving tomorrow.

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I get the appropriate luggage out for the trip I’m about to embark upon, pack it up to see if the items I’ve chosen will fit in the luggage and determine if it will meet the weight limits for the airlines. Taking this step also allows me to know what last minute items I might still need to purchase before I leave.

I checked the forecasts for the various locations in France I’ll be touring. Generally, I can expect temperatures to be in the low to mid 60’s with cooler evenings and probable chances of rain here and there during my stay.

For clothing requirements, that equates to ‘layering’ in order to adjust each day, and time of day, accordingly. Since the weather will be quite similar to what I experience here at home in southern Oregon, I’ll be wearing what I usually wear with a couple of new colorful and comfortable blouses added to perk up my wardrobe. I am all about wearing comfortable clothes to travel in. I dress casual; nothing fancy or requiring dress shoes to match for me which allows me to stay within my budget!

After I ‘practice pack’ the bags the first time, I usually need to fine tune it a bit. More often than not, my eyes are bigger than my luggage. I decide which items are not absolutely necessary but instead fall into the “nice-to-have-along” category. If it really isn’t necessary, I don’t bring it. “Why carry it if I might use it only once or twice?” is my motto. Nor do I bring anything I’m not willing to lose, like nice or expensive jewelry for example! I also often remind myself that there are stores in Europe and if I need something which I forgot to bring along, I can always buy it when I get there.

Since I’ll be using mass transit at the onset of the trip, I chose the following luggage: one medium ‘checked’ bag (super lightweight and with wheels) and one carry-on size backpack.

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I can handle these two pieces easily by myself on trains, buses and while ascending stairs without difficulty or assistance when necessary. Each piece should ideally be a maximum weight of approximately 20-25 lbs. (The lighter – the better!)

When I leave Paris and am using a rental car to tour and explore the countryside, I can also adjust what I have in each piece of luggage. I will use the backpack to carry only my valuables and the other items needed for a day or two to take into the hostel with me; leaving the remaining bag in the locked rental car out of sight. I don’t have to constantly haul both bags in and out of various locations all of the time.

If you’re not sure what you can personally carry, I highly suggest you practice. Take the time to pack it all up and actually go on a bus or train ride somewhere in your town with all your gear. Walk around the streets and window shop for at least a half an hour, eat a meal, walk up and down some sets of stairs, etc., in order to see what you can comfortably handle on your own and what will be required of you while traveling.

Many times, especially if one plans on using mass transit, one will find it necessary to walk some distances with luggage in tow in order to get from one place to another. This can include some difficult navigational scenarios which can include cobbled-streets or uneven pavement, turn styles, narrow spaces, stairs and escalators….just to name a few. Toting over-sized or cumbersome luggage, or too many pieces of it, can prove tiresome and next to impossible, especially if traveling ‘solo!’

One of the things I like about this backpack is that the shoulder and waist support straps can be stowed away in the zipper openings in the back of it, turning it into a easily managed carry-on.

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Clothing is by far the biggest element and therefore takes up most of the room available. My trip will be almost 6 weeks long – 41 days total. I can’t possibly carry enough clothes to have a clean outfit to wear every day of my trip and yet I want to take enough for variety and so I don’t have to spend precious time doing laundry very often.

It’s important that the pieces I choose are interchangeable, coordinated, and can be worn in a variety of combinations. I pack enough clothing to last about 2 weeks and schedule time in my itinerary for doing laundry. It’s also prudent to select pieces of lightweight clothing which dry quickly. Try to avoid heavy fabrics, such as thick denim for instance, or bulky sweaters if at all possible. I prefer light cottons and knits.

Here are examples of the various pieces of clothing I decided upon:

Tops: IMG_04039 long-sleeved blouses, 2 of which can also be worn as an ‘over-shirt’ for layering purposes with adjustable sleeve lengths. IMG_0416

 

 

 

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5 knit long-sleeved and 3/4 length Tee-shirt type tops in a variety of colors

 

 

4 short-sleeved shirtsIMG_0408   IMG_0411

 

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4 sleeveless

IMG_0420  1 long lightweight knit sweater blouse

3 lightweight knit long-sleeved sweaters

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These blouses will be paired with 8 pairs of pants IMG_0470(all skinny jeans in lightweight stretch denim blue or black).
I will also include a outdoor type vest and a lightweight fleece jacket in case a sweater is not sufficient to keep my upper body warm on cooler days and a lightweight and water-resistance coat with a hood in case of spring showers which can roll up small to fit inside my purse.

In addition I will pack the following miscellaneous undergarments:

10 pair panties, 2 bras (1 white, 1 nude), 12 cotton camisoles to wear under tops in various colors and of course some socks (6 pair for flats, 6 pair for tennis/walking shoes)

Other miscellaneous items include a belt, bathing suit & cover up, pajamas, a couple of cotton handkerchiefs, a pair shorts or Capris and 3 pair of shoes: basic black flats, my favorite walking shoes and boots (each fitted with new cushioned insoles for additional walking comfort). I will wear the boots on the airplane to save space in my luggage. Make sure you choose footwear which are already ‘broken in’ and won’t create blisters or feel uncomfortable for any reason. Nothing is worse than developing sore or blistered feet after touring sites and attractions all day because of wearing brand new shoes!

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Once I’ve narrowed it down and decided on each individual item, I make a complete list of what I have assembled. Since I wear most of these clothes on a regular basis, I make the list of what I ultimately decided upon so when the time arrives to actually pack my bags to leave for the airport, I can easily refer to my list and grab the items from my closet which I have previously decided upon. The list I prepare also includes all toiletries and miscellaneous items as well.

Here is a list of the toiletries I generally pack:

IMG_0465My make-up bag contains foundation, blush & blush brush, mascara & lipstick, hair cutting scissors (my bangs grow fast and often need trimming!), toenail clippers, moisturizer, eye makeup remover, hand cream, razor, tweezers, floss, a couple of Band-Aids and Neosporin, hairbrush, toothbrush & toothpaste, emery file, Q-tips, lip balm, a couple of hair ties and a clip, feminine products and a small snack-size zip lock bag containing a few pain relief tablets such as Ibuprofen and Excedrin. For ease in make-up application (and so I can see what I’m doing) I also include a small travel size magnifying mirror (with a light) which can stand  by itself.

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The other toiletry bag serves as a shower kit containing small squeeze bottles of shampoo & conditioner, a small bar of soap in a plastic storage box and a washing scrunchy. The shower kit has a hook attached to it so it can be hung in or near the shower for easy access. I also like to add a few zip lock bags in various sizes for holding and keeping any wet items separate, such as a wash cloth for example.

The shower kit will also contain a hairdryer & flat-iron. If I don’t already own one that was purchased in the country where it will be used, (and therefore, have the correct type of plug attached to it) I just buy it when I get there.

For instance, I brought a hairdryer from home when I went to the UK last year along with a converter and adapter that I was told would do the trick. It worked – slightly – but not enough for the hairdryer to actually dry my hair; it didn’t end up having much ‘output’ of air to do the job as expected and desired. So I went shopping and bought one complete with the correct plug to match the UK outlets when I got there. Much easier and much more efficient! When I return to the UK in the future, I’ll have it to take with me. If you stay in hotels, you probably won’t have to pack a hairdryer; most have them available just like here in the USA.

There are a number of miscellaneous items I also personally like to include:

Small travel size packages of facial tissues, 3-4 “pods” of laundry soap for doing laundry (in a zip lock baggie), a round flat sink stopper for washing small amounts of laundry (I’ve found a few sinks without plugs), a travel sewing kit (complete with a couple of safety pins and paper clips), a padlock with key (to use when there are lockable storage cupboards available at hostels to stow luggage for security purposes in while I’m out visiting sights and attractions), an airplane memory foam neck pillow for the long flight and a security waist pouch that can be worn hidden around my waist to hold my passport, big cash and credit cards while traveling (or sleeping – if there aren’t any locked storage cupboards available for use in the hostels)

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Another kind of unusual item I like to pack is an insulated picnic basket with carrying strap which contains a few pieces of plastic silverware, napkins, salt & pepper packets, and small storage containers for salads, etc.

I really enjoy a picnic lunch outdoors in a park or while I’m cavorting around the countryside visiting small villages, castles, and other interesting sights off the beaten track. I can pack my lunch (with some ice in a zip lock bag to keep the items fresh) and I’m ready for an adventure without worrying if I’ll be able to find somewhere to eat when I get hungry. I like shopping in local markets to gather the picnic ingredients and try to choose “local” and “in season” ingredients which allows me to experience the culture and its cuisine I’m visiting. It also helps with the budget; minimizing the amount of prepared meals eaten out at restaurants. I have found it’s really nice having the picnic basket along and so I always include it.

I also use it inside my ‘checked’ luggage to hold items such as liquids that might otherwise leak inside my luggage all over my clothing or break while stowed in the belly of the plane – double purpose! Another plus to having it is when I am staying at a hostel which has a self-catering kitchen, I can stow my grocery items inside it in the refrigerator with my name on it and can pack my refrigerated grocery items on ice while in transit to the next location.

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Since I am a Pacific Northwest coffee lover, a “nice-to-have” item I pack is a small, individual-serving French press with enough coffee, cream & sugar to last for a couple of days (don’t want to risking being without my fresh brewed coffee first thing in the morning – EVER!)IMG_0402IMG_0397

The last few items include:

‘Dirty Duds’ bag (to keep dirty clothes separated from clean in the suitcase) and a canvas tote bag (used for numerous tasks such as carrying clothing and necessary toiletries to the bathroom for use after a morning shower, grocery shopping or stowing my purse in while out and about. It looks as though I am a ‘local’ out doing my shopping for example.)

In addition, I usually include 2 micro-fiber, fast-drying wash clothes (there are never enough, if any, washcloths available) and a full-size bath towel. Since I often lodge at hostels, having a towel from home is another one of those ‘nice-to-have’ luxury items I usually manage to take along. Hostels usually offer towels ‘for rent’ but they usually are not very large nor absorbent! If the towel will fit, I will pack it.
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These last items all fit nicely (if laid flat) inside the zipped inner pocket in the lid of the suitcase.

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Hey, look! There’s my “Buddy” cat wanting to know if I’ll pack him as well to take along on this trip.

I try to utilize electronic devices as much as possible to store and gain access to a variety of handy information I need, and want, while traveling. For instance, as I’ve shared with you before, I have the whole itinerary mapped out in a google map I created for my trip which I can access online whenever I have WiFi connections or have access to any public computer. I scanned a copy of my passport and taken a picture of it as well, to have available electronically if needed.

I use an iPad, iPhone and an iPod. IMG_0466

I use the phone to take pictures and so I don’t have to carry around an extra camera.

I download various audio tours, walking tours and podcasts to my iPod to use when I am touring museums, taking a walking tour or visiting other interesting sights. This allows me to save money in many instances by not having to pay for the rented ones attractions offer for a fee.

And finally, I bring my iPad. I don’t want to carry around a heavy laptop in order to post to my blog. The iPad has a bigger screen than the phone for viewing and creating entries to my blog on a daily basis. Also included are the cords needed to charge the various devices (equipped with the appropriate adapter plugs I’ll need to physically plug them into electrical outlets in France). Since I plan on posting daily to my blog, and will therefore, be typing quite a bit, I also pack a Bluetooth full-sized folding flat keyboard; it makes it so much faster and easier than trying to ‘thumb’ type on the small keyboard of the iPad!

I have all the information I need stored on the devices, including my favorite guidebooks. However, just in case I find myself in a location where WiFi is not available to me during my travels, (which is rare these days, yet still possible) I also carry a printed out “hard copy” of a few important documents.

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These documents include:  my passport (plus 1 copy for in case I should lose it while traveling or it is stolen); a road map of the region I’ll be driving through; my international driver’s license (in addition to my regular driver’s license); a printed out copy of my travel itinerary with dates and lodging accommodations’ addresses, contact information, and booking confirmation numbers, as well as other special navigational instructions I want easy access to.

I like a ‘calendar version’ of my itinerary in order to “see-at-glance” what day it is and where I need to be next. I also like having a copy of each of my fellow travelers’ airline reservations so I’ll know what flight they are arriving on and when. There are also some other minor items such as copies of prepaid tickets, in this case – the Eiffel Tower, and a small notepad and pencil (not shown) that will also prove helpful.

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All of these items fit quite nicely on the outer zipped pocket of my backpack for easy access that I use as a carry-on during flights.IMG_0474

Another thing to keep in mind while packing is what each piece of luggage will physically contain while traveling on an airplane.

Due to airline restrictions for carry-on’s for example, I pack everything that could be (and therefore will be) scrutinized by airport security personnel into the ‘checked’ bag which goes in the storage area of the plane.

For instance, as I mentioned earlier, I pack all liquids (which I store inside plastic zip lock bags within my zipped picnic basket to prevent spillage into the rest my luggage compartment should a container leak or explode), heavy items, and anything the security personnel will want ‘revealed’ to them (and possibly taken from me and put in the trash) during check-in such as “weapons” I might be carrying (i.e.; nail file). Before embarking on your trip, check your airlines website for a current list of items which are restricted or prohibited in a carry-on bag.

Finally, in case my checked baggage should get delayed (or heaven forbid – lost) I try to pack enough clothing for at least 2-3 days in my carry-on so I won’t be stuck in the same clothes until my delayed bag arrives or I can go shopping to replace what was lost.

The last remaining item that I pack is my travel purse with adjustable shoulder strap & zippered openings.  It contains a wallet with my drivers’ license, a small amount of cash in the currency I’ll be using once I arrive (Euros in this case) which I get from my bank before I leave and my credit & debit cards and a couple of packages of travel size tissues. I also like to bring a small hidden pocket I can wear around my neck under my shirt where I can stash my credit and debit cards, driver’s license, passport and cash in a concealed and secure manner (if necessary).

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This purse easily contains all of the above items as well as my iPad and some snacks. It’s not a large purse by any means. I don’t generally carry a big purse because I don’t want to carry a lot of unnecessary weight around. I especially try to minimize what I carry while traveling and while visiting attractions such as a museum or cathedral that often attract pick-pockets.

I also enjoy being ‘hands-free’ so an adjustable shoulder strap is a must to allow for carrying on my shoulder, or over my head and across my chest for additional security. I don’t take the wallet I regularly use at home which has a ton of stuff in it. Instead I use a small, lightweight, travel type wallet just for that purpose and only carry the bare essentials.

The small iPod fits very nicely in one of the smaller zipper openings on the front of the purse allowing easy access and hands free storage so I don’t have to hold it in my hands while I’m listening to a podcast as I tour a museum for instance. I can turn on the podcast I want to hear and then place the iPod in a front pocket of my purse leaving my hands free.

In addition there is another zippered opening that my iPhone fits into on the front, again easy access, so I don’t have to “dig” in the main compartment of the purse to find it in order to easily take advantage of the numerous and unending photo opportunities as they arise.

Packing light and efficiently, yet effectively, can definitely add ease to your traveling experience and therefore make it a lot more pleasurable.

I hope you enjoyed and discovered some new and useful packing tips from this entry for your next trip. If you would like to share additional tips with me and my readers that you particularly like to utilize, I’d love to hear what you have to share by posting a comment. The more ideas, the better!

Thanks for your interest. I’ll talk to you again soon. My next post will probably be the day I depart. Until then… Best Regards and Happy Traveling!