Saturday, May 27, 2017

Return to Roots in Scotland

We visited Scotland in May, 2017.

The Bridge to Nowhere ...

Scotland is the land of castles and lakes. Let's start with the lakes first.

Highlands and Lakes


There are many lakes (lochs) in Scotland. The two most famous ones are the Loch Lomond and Loch Ness. If you have heard of the Loch Ness Monster, then the Loch Ness is already on your wish list I guess. Note that the two lakes are quite long, and there are multiple points along the lake where you can stop to enjoy the views. Some of them, e.g. Inverness, have been converted into tourist hot spots with their many restaurants, cafes and hotels.

the many lakes of Scotland


The 2 lakes are actually a bit far from each other - so difficult to cover in a day. If you e.g. look at all the day tours available from Edinburgh, the 2 lakes are covered in different tours. So the recommended way is to cover (Highlands and Loch Ness) in one day, and the (Loch Lomond and Stirling Castle) on a different day. This will of course assuming that you are staying at Edinburgh, and will vary if you are e.g. staying at Inverness. Even with a day tour, be prepared for many hours of driving as in a 9-hour day trip, you will mostly be driving 2/3rds of it.

Enjoy some pics below of the 2 lakes:

Lakes of Scotland
A stroll in the Loch Lomond Natural Reserve


If you are visiting Scotland, you of course cannot miss the Scottish Highlands. If you are a Bond fan, you will probably remember the amazing landscape from Skyfall where Bond stops with M on their way to his ancestral home. 

The highlands are easily accessible from Edinburgh - approx. 1.30 hours drive. The place to target is Glencoe. The drive to Glencoe is very scenic with glimpses of the impressive landscape all along the way. The roads are usually quite deserted, which coupled with the amazing landscape really gives you the "end of the world" feeling!

Amazing landscape of the Scottish Highlands 
The lone explorer



The city of Edinburgh looks straight out of a Medieval century film set - check out the pic below. No wonder it is the filming location of many such shows, e.g. Braveheart, Outlander, Game of Thrones, and the inspiration behind Harry Potter's Hogwarts.

The grand Balmoral Hotel

There are 2 main castles in the vicinity - the Edinburgh Castle and Stirling Castle, which is located slightly outside Edinburgh. Actually 3, if you count Doune castle (again, slightly outside Edinburgh), which you would remember if you are a Monty Python fan.

The Stirling castle is quite impressive, to say the least. Standing on a hill, it offers impressive views of the city of Edinburgh. 2-3 hours should be sufficient to explore the castle. It was raining quite heavily the day we visited the castle, like most days it would seem; so don't forget your umbrella on any visit to the UK/Scotland. Enjoy a few rain washed pictures of the castle in the meantime :)

View from the Stirling Castle

Both the castles (Edinburgh and Stirling) have a rich history and there is quite some debate among locals / tourists regarding which is better? Unfortunately, due to time constraints, we did not get time to explore the Edinburgh castle in detail - so we cannot really weigh in on the debate.  If and when you visit both, please do let us know your opinion :) As a teaser, enjoy a few pics of the Edinburgh castle from the outside.

Once upon a time, there was a king ...

Night in London

We had a brief stopover in London, on the way to Edinburgh. So enjoy a few pics of 'A Night in London', and a more thorough exploration of  London remains on the wish list for next time.

The very imposing London Tower Bridge
The colorful London eye
The 2 most iconic things in London - Big Ben and the Red (Telephone) Boxes

Friday, May 26, 2017

Seaside in Algarve, Portugal

We visited Algarve during Easter, 2017.


As there are few direct flights to Algarve (Faro Airport), we decided to take the opportunity to make a short break in Lisbon. So we only had a day in Lisbon, and this will be a brief primer on Lisbon; clearly a city like Lisbon deserves a whole blog post on itself.

The absolute essential thing to cover in Lisbon is the Jerónimos Monastery (below).

The colorful city of Lisbon

Unfortunately, the only day we had in Lisbon was also a public holiday in Lisbon. As such, the queue to visit the Monasteries was too long, and we had to skip it. Note that there there is a separate (sometime hidden) queue for the Cathedral, so it might be possible to at least visit the Cathedral if you are in a similar situation like ours.

The whole area is impressive, esp. the Discoveries Monument. The Discoveries Monument also has an elevator and it is possible to go to the top of the monument - and take panoramic pictures of the Monastery.

Marching onto the skies ...
Its a BLUE world!
25 de Abril Bridge

While exploring the city of Lisbon, do not forget to take a snap and (if time permits) ride on its iconic trams.

The best place to spend the evening in Lisbon, is to head straight to the Praça do Comércio. This is the commercial centre of Lisbon on the banks of Tagus river. In the evening, it transforms itself into a riverside paradise with its many cafes/bars, restaurants, and souvenir shops.
Praça do Comércio
An evening in Lisbon



Vila Vita Parc Resort

We stayed at the the Vila Vita Parc resort in Algarve. This is an upscale ocean side resort right on the Atlantic coast.

The stunning Vila Vita Parc resort on the Atlantic Coast

Location wise, it is located in Porches - Alporchinhos is the closest city/village. The closest airport is Faro, and it takes around an hour from the airport to the resort. So you will need to rent a car, or please arrange a transfer with the hotel before landing.

The resort is spread over 50 acres of landscaped gardens. So there are basically golf carts to take you from one place to another within the resort.

It looks equally stunning at night.

An evening in Algarve

The resort is amazing. You really feel as if you are in the lap of nature, and the only thing that you want to do is to leave aside your mobile/laptop and relax; even though there is perfect WiFi connectivity. This is the best way to enjoy nature, but in a luxurious setting! The resort has 10+ restaurants including a 2 Michelin star restaurant. So you can rest assured that you won't have to compromise in the food category. If you do end up indulging the excellent food, the resort has plenty of options to loose some of that in terms its many swimming pools, yoga, gym and spa facilities.

Finally, the staff are absolutely charming, friendly and helpful - so the resort is absolutely recommended. Many of the guests we met at the resort seemed to be return guests, so its quite safe to say that we are not the only ones looking forward to return :)

Benagil Caves

The Atlantic coast in Algarve is famous for its many rock formations, caves and grottos. They are indeed very impressive.

The entrance to the magical caves :)
Amazing rock formations on the Atlantic coast
Rock formations in Algarve

The best way to explore them is to take a boat cruise. From the hotel, it is basically a half an hour drive to the departure point of most boat tours. Most cruises last around 1 to 1.30 hours. While a longer duration implies that you will visit more caves and cruise farther; the caves do get a bit monotonous after you have seen the 10th one - so choose your duration wisely.

The most impressive among the caves, and the one which you absolutely need to cover is Benagil. You can get an idea of the enormity of the cave from the pic below - if you look carefully, it is me standing at the bottom of the pic (in the spotlight) :)

In the (natural) Spotlight

There are many beaches, in and around the caves; so in some cases it is also possible to reach some of the caves by walking (through tunnels) from the beaches. I will leave you to explore these tunnels when you visit!

Somehow, international tourism still does not seem to have reached Algarve; as most of the tourists seemed to be either local or from nearby Spain. You can of course take this as a favorable sign, as the beaches were not overcrowded, and it was possible to find a boat tour of the caves at last minute. Having said this, there are sufficiently English speaking people, tour operators and taxi drivers - so its all good for now - better visit it before the rest of the world discovers this hidden gem :)