Savouring the Delights of the Historical University City of Cambridge

Saturday, the 26th of August, proved to be a lovely day for driving along the pristine and unspoiled countryside of England. I only had to travel about 100 miles south to my next destination, Cambridge.  I’ve been here once before a couple of years ago and was looking forward to returning. There is so much to see and do in this fascinating University-laden city with its rich intricacy of Gothic architecture. Its claim to some of the world’s greatest minds (Milton, Darwin, Hawking, etc.) is mind-boggling!

IMG_5184I arrived at the conveniently located YHA Cambridge hostel near the train station and got settled right in. This was the first hostel I had ever stayed at when I toured two years ago and it holds a special place in my heart because it welcomed me and introduced me to the world of hosteling which I have grown to love immensely!

IMG_5296

Botanic Garden & Hostel neighborhoodAs you can see on the map above, the hostel (upper right-hand corner) and the Cambridge University Botanical Gardens (lower left) are just a couple of blocks from one another. Trumpington Road, which borders the garden on its western edge, leads straight north into the heart of the oldest part of the city a short distance away.

During my first visit, I did not have enough time to meander through the Botanical Gardens so this time I put it first on my list! I was not disappointed in the least. In fact, I think it is one of the most beautiful and extensive botanical gardens I’ve ever visited!

BOTANICAL GARDEN MAP

We owe the existence of this garden, occupying a 40-acre site, to John Stevens Henslow, the Professor of Botany at Cambridge from 1825 – 1861. He laid out the garden in 1846 to accommodate a wonderful tree collection, but he also planted his ideas about ‘variation and the nature of species’ that would be taken up in a new and revolutionary fashion by his famous protege, Charles Darwin.

I entered the garden through the Station Road gate and began following the meandering pathways throughout discovering jaw-dropping vistas and colourful displays of flora along the way.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

The Glasshouse held a wide variety of beautiful specimens from various climates to behold.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

More paths to follow took me past glorious blooms and bursts of colour!

IMG_5228

IMG_5227

The school’s garden shop even offered up some whimsical and cheery yard art!

I kept following the intriguing pathways to see where they led through bamboo tunnels and past giant specimens of some very special trees like Britain’s Dawn Redwood!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

This place was vast and never ceased to amaze me with its variety at every turn. In the big grassy areas, there were all kinds of interesting herbaceous beds laid out in unusual patterns. I really liked the way they made circular and oblong beds scattered throughout the large lawns. I think this would look great, and work quite effectively, in my front yard lawn at home, only on a smaller scale, of course! You have to look closely to see it in the picture, but the second-to-last photo in the photo collage below shows how they staked out the beds and strung string between the posts to outline the new beds.

Ingenious! I love the way they used the space and didn’t create rigid corners in a ‘formal’ type of planting. So much more interesting and fun to wander through and around.

I ventured past two locals, a mother and daughter, painting flowers in the garden and had a nice chat with those two lovely local ladies before continuing on.

IMG_5339

IMG_5356The path meandered on through more beautifully and artfully set plantings, eventually leading me back to where I started. What a delightful way to spend the first part of the morning!

After all that walking and traversing through garden paths, I’m ready for a little cruising! I’m going to enjoy lazy summer punting on the River Cam!

If anything is stereotypical ‘Cambridge,’ this is it. Punting involves being propelled in a long wooden boat by pushing a pole against the shallow river bottom as you glide effortlessly down the river.

IMG_5234

Another great feature of the hostel is that it offers discount tickets to activities such as punting! Armed with my ticket I found my way to Scudamore’s Boatyard Punt Station and climbed right aboard – no waiting in line!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

We glided along the “Backs” of all the major Universities: King’s College, Trinity, St. John’s, etc., passing underneath its wonderful bridges like the Mathematical Bridge, Bridge of Sighs at St. John’s and turned around at the Magdalene Bridge to make our way back.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

IMG_5362

IMG_5363

IMG_5293Nearing the end, as if on queue, this swan appeared alongside the boat and graciously escorted us back to the punting station where we originally boarded. What a wonderful and delightful outing. A definite must see – must do kind of activity!

IMG_5401I really wanted to continue touring around the rich gothic architecture of the Universities and the winding streets of the city’s centre but didn’t want to walk.

What better way to see the city than riding a bicycle like the locals. Most of the city centre’s streets are closed off to vehicular traffic and are pedestrian-only anyway. It’s such a lovely,  relaxing and fun way to take in the sights.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Cambridge University has many famous alumni, including mathematicians such as Sir Isaac Newton, philosophers such as Bertrand Russell and Ludwig Wittgenstein, and writers such as John Milton and Lord Byron. It was the site of Rutherford’s pioneering work in nuclear physics as well as Crick and Watson’s DNA work. Cambridge academics have won more Nobel Prizes than those of any other university in the world.

IMG_5304

And there are also a few others that are not quite so famous…

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

IMG_5437

To top off a perfect day exploring the beauty and history of Cambridge, a glorious sunset adorned the western skyline! What more could I ask for? I feel so grateful to have had such a perfect day exploring this wonderful city and discovering more of its many treasures.

The next morning I drove further south to a town made famous by Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, another university city which boasts some of England’s finest medieval architecture, including one of its oldest cathedrals. However, as I have said before, that’s another story for yet another day!

 

 

 

 

 

Thistle Inn

It was a long day exploring Threave Gardens in the morning and then Sweetheart Abbey on the Solway Coast.  I headed back to my room at The Thistle Inn in the quaint and friendly village of Crossmichael.

I really enjoyed my stay here.  My hosts, Nick and Dee, treated me so great!  They upgraded my room out of the kindness of their hearts and it was so comfy and convenient to the sights and attractions I wanted to explore!

Dee is a fantastic cook and I had the pleasure to enjoy some fresh scallops in brandywine sauce that evening. It was absolutely delicious.

After dinner I was in for a real treat – it was “Quiz Night” at the pub and all the locals showed up to enjoy some really great “craic!”

All of the locals really made us “visitors” just feel right at home and I had a LOT of fun laughing and having the time of my life! I haven’t had that much fun in a long, long time forging memorable friendships all the while! I especially enjoyed meeting Ed, or “Mr. Magoo – how do you do!” as he would say…he made me laugh and feel ever so welcome. Thank you Ed!

Nick even had a ‘pub dog’ named Kyle.  What a wiggle-worm he was – so full of puppy  energy. It was difficult for Nick to try to get him to hold still for a photo – what a happy dog!

“Enough of that,” Kyle thought, “I’m outta here!”

img_8468

I’ll never forget my stay at the Thistle Inn and the wonderful people I made friendships with.  When you are in Galloway, be sure to stay at this wonderful little Inn. The people are the best, the food is fantastic, the Inn is located very conveniently to many wonderful sights and attractions and yet out of the hustle bustle of a busy tourist town. You’ll feel right at home….

thistle-inn-2

 

Back in Scotland! First stop – a visit to Crathes Castle Gardens

IMG_4155IMG_4156Yes indeedy, I am back in Scotland once again and oh-so-happy to be here!  I landed in Aberdeen yesterday after a very long flight and just in time to enjoy an evening meal with cousin Lindsay at Cult’s Hotel where we both enjoyed a traditional meal of Fish & Chips!

Afterwards, we got caught up on the latest news and of course enjoyed a ‘wee dram’ before retiring for the evening!  Yum!  IMG_4161IMG_4163

Then I fell fast asleep…

First thing this morning we woke up to sunshine, and although we had planned a kind of laid back, “de-jetlag,” kind of day, we decided to make hay while the sun was shining and we headed straightway to Crathes Castle. We visited and toured the castle last year in the springtime.  Since it is much later in the season the garden is now blooming profusely and absolutely beautiful.  I’ll let the pictures pretty much speak for themselves.IMG_4165   IMG_4195

IMG_4326

IMG_4168

IMG_4169IMG_4170IMG_4172IMG_4173

IMG_4174

IMG_4177IMG_4178

IMG_4181IMG_4184

IMG_4188   IMG_4193

IMG_4196

This is the beautiful dovecot off in the corner of the garden…. it even has it’s own heraldic device!IMG_4198

IMG_4203Butterfly bushes, astilbe, poppies and fountains…

 

 

IMG_4207IMG_4210

IMG_4212

IMG_4213

IMG_4223

Then there was this gnarly old tree with a chiselled out stone which serves as a planter box, bigger ones were traditionally used as horse or cattle troughs. Interesting rings of bark on that old tree.IMG_4228  IMG_4225

IMG_4226

IMG_4214

IMG_4215

And of course, there were fuschias galore…IMG_4217

IMG_4218

IMG_4220

IMG_4222IMG_4231Inside the greenhouses….  more floral treasures
IMG_4232 IMG_4235and more fuchsias…

IMG_4239

IMG_4240grapes and begonias…IMG_4241  IMG_4242

IMG_4243IMG_4247

IMG_4248IMG_4249

IMG_4250

IMG_4255

IMG_4256

IMG_4258  IMG_4259

IMG_4264IMG_4266

IMG_4265and one heck of a giant gnarly thistle!

IMG_4268

IMG_4269IMG_4179

IMG_4272Lindsay stopped to smell the roses, especially these since they are the Crathes Castle Rose!IMG_4273

IMG_4277

IMG_4278and for my friends back in Oregon, you should definitely recognize this tree since we have an abundance of them and use them for a good hard firewood – the madrone!

IMG_4280IMG_4281

IMG_4282

IMG_4283IMG_4290

Those beautiful Yew hedges so painstakingly pruned and such an unusual specimen of hedges and topiary…

IMG_4291

IMG_4293

IMG_4294IMG_4296

There was even a friendly resident kitten that begged me to rub her belly as I passed.

IMG_4302

I love this dragonfly statue in the water feature.

IMG_4312

IMG_4305

IMG_4319

 

IMG_4322  IMG_4325

 

IMG_4332

On the way back to Lindsay’s house we passed by the Falls of Feugh, where the salmon muster all they have to climb the falls in order to get to their spawning beds.IMG_4342 During the spring run the water is so high and rushing so fast you can’t even see any of these rocks and that one fir tree in the background, nearest the river, is on a tiny island all by itself!

 

For dinner (or Tea as the locals call it), we headed to one of our favorite places to eat…IMG_4343

I got my coffee…IMG_4344

and we both enjoyed Scampi and chips! Yum!

 

 

IMG_4345

I’m really enjoying myself and so happy to be “home” again in Scotland.  Can you tell?

IMG_4346Tomorrow we have another VERY interesting and exciting day planned.  Stay tuned because we are headed for the 175th Lonach Highland Gathering where there will be pipers and drummers, dancers and lots and lots of men in kilts who will be tossing the caber amongst other things.  It should prove to be one fantastic day you won’t want to miss!  Until then…

 

 

 

 

 

 

Part Three – North Shore Oahu; a little “island” time

After travelling to Paris in April and the Butchart and Butterfly Gardens in May, I received a spontaneous and surprise invitation from my son, Will, in late July to visit him and his girlfriend, Amy, on the North Shore of Oahu for a week.

I love spontaneity, as you’ve probably surmised by now, and he didn’t have to twist my arm very hard at all to accept his wonderful invite.

Their studio bungalow served as a perfect launching pad for lots of adventures and the making of very special memories indeed.

will and amy's studio on Olohio St

will and amy's kitchen

They were the perfect hosts, providing lots of homemade island yummy treats and meals from their kitchen and my ‘bedroom’ was outside under the stars no less!

Lucky for me, Amy even works at a Amy where she worksgreat coffee shop!  After arming ourselves with wonderful freshly brewed Hawaiian coffee, we headed to the local farmer’s market to gather some fresh veggies and Poke! Yum!

 

homemade lemon drop

Later that first day, we made homemade lemon drops (double YUM!) and headed to Will and Amy’s favourite beach, what they have dubbed “Pools,” just down the road to watch the sunset.

amy and claudia

claudia and amy

will and amy at Pools

A perfect ending to a perfect first day in paradise!

The following day, after a wonderful and filling island breakfast…

we visited their favourite roadside fruit stand and walked to Kewela Beach.

will and the cocanut

kewela beach scene

horseback riding

and finished the day at Turtle Bay resort watching yet another gorgeous sunset.

We enjoyed a lot of activities during the week, including the Haleiwa Arts Festival…

stained glass

woodburning

One day I helped Will propagate a few newly sprouted baby water lilies in a nursery bed from his lily pond…

IMG_3870 (Edited)

while the precious Gheckos kept the porch clean…

and just had a nice, ‘hang loose’ kind of afternoon.IMG_3878

I thought it was a perfect day spent with my son, but little did I know he still had a few surprises up his sleeves for later that evening.

He prepared a wonderful meal for all of use, utilizing the fresh herbs he grows on his lanai…

and we savoured it outside under the rising full moon laughing, talking and just having one heck of a great time together.romantic bungalow full moon July 2016

We sat there altogether on the grass enjoying the beauty of the moon filled sky when Will decided this was the perfect moment he had been waiting forIMG_3883 (Edited)

IMG_3916 (Edited)He reached in his pocket and pulled out my mother’s wedding rings which he had asked me to bring with me…

and he proposed to Amy and she said “YES!”

Is that just so darned romantic or what?!? I felt so honored and pleased to be able to share that special memory-making event with those two happy people who are in love!

IMG_3964 (Edited)Before that blessed week came to an end I managed to do a few more things like…snorkeling and collecting seashells for my friends in Scotland and Ireland (per request)…collecting shellswent sightseeing around the island….and on the final morning of my visit (as usual) I headed down to the beach one last time….

Afterwards, I headed out to the small local airport where Will works.pacific skydiving I watched the skydivers flying above and coming in for landings on the airstrip…

I got to meet a lot of the great people he works with; fellow skydivers, parachute packers, and then…

We climbed aboard this airplane…13700177_1232181353473226_6801992845649414878_nand I got to do a tandem jump with my son! Oh my goodness, it just doesn’t get much better than this!  Talk about an adventure. It’s divine to fly like a bird soaring at 14,000 feet and I couldn’t think of anyone I’d rather do it with.  He’s the best of the best!divineHe even gave me control of the canopy and showed me how to turn… what a kick!13908875_10210314513238814_7380960552469859364_o

13920036_10210314512998808_2896948972195778432_o

Well, that concludes this three-part blog of my travel adventures so far this year. I hope you’ve enjoyed it.  I’ve been wanting to catch up with myself for months and been trying to find the time to write these blog posts before I set off on yet another adventure.

In less than one weeks’ time, I’ll have my bags packed once again. I am headed back to Scotland and Ireland for 2 months. Many, many more travel adventures await! Stay tuned. See you in Scotland!

 

Going Solo

I first began traveling solo before I retired.  Because of the kind of work I did, I was required to travel to distant cities and some very remote places for training, meetings and special assignments.  Usually this meant I was traveling alone.  It presented some challenges at first, but in the process I learned a lot of new skills, gained a lot of confidence, realized how resourceful I can be when needed and in the end, actually became quite competent at “going solo.”

The first time I tried “going solo” on an actual vacation (not required for work) it wasn’t planned to be a solo trip at all.  I had been saving up money and vacation days in order that my daughter and I could go to Hawaii for 10 days – my treat.  However, as the day approached when we were scheduled to depart, my daughter was unable to go with me as planned.  My first reaction naturally was to cancel entirely and re-schedule for another time.  Much to my surprise, my daughter told me I should go anyway; she knew how much I was looking forward to it and besides she couldn’t imagine when she would be able to join me in the near future.

“But what would I do by myself?” I resisted.

“Whatever we would have done together, that’s what,” she replied, “since when do you NOT know what to do?  You travel by yourself all the time for work and have a great time doing it, imagine what a super time you could have doing what you want instead of doing what was required of you?

Armed with her encouragement to do so and the desire to “stretch” myself out the “box” I had confined myself in, I began playing a game with myself that I often played with my children – the “What If” game.

I didn’t have the answers readily available so I asked myself, “If you DID know what the answer was, what would it be?”  It was just the question I needed to ask myself. Like usual, when asked, I came up with the answers that could  free up my imagination to discover the answers I already possessed but was resistant to,  and then was able to explore the possibilities I hadn’t allowed myself to consider.Twin Falls, on the way to Hana.

When all was said and done I did go to Hawaii by myself and it turned out to be the ultimate travel experience of a lifetime.  Because I saved up enough money for two, I had plenty to last me for not just 10 days but twice as long!  I went to Maui for 10 days and then hopped on over to the big island – Hawaii – for another 10 days!  I loved the time I had alone doing exactly what I wanted to do, when I wanted to do it and the ability to change my mind in a moments’ notice without affecting anyone else in the process.  During that vacation I also realized that I am not so much a “tourist” per se, but rather a “traveler” and that there is a big difference between the two.

I discovered for instance that “travelers” take more risks,  gain pleasure in overcoming difficulties and discomforts and also, are open to and seek out other people along the path of exploration.  I thought that I was in the minority, traveling alone, but soon learned that almost half of adult Americans are single, divorced or widowed and that solo travelers represent about 21% of all travelers.  There are over 15.9 million in the US alone!  Wow!  I really am not alone in this adventure!

Since that first trip of “going solo,” I have travelled many other times and visited many other places.  Sometimes alone; sometimes with others.  Both are good and have their merits, but I find I actually prefer the solo adventures.

The solo adventures are indeed very special trips and stand out as my favourites.  They offer unique opportunities to better understand who I am, appreciate my own impressions and opinions and build my self-esteem tremendously.  I love the freedom they offer and the independent spirit I get to enjoy.  I get to explore my own fantasies and pleasures of discoveries, both of self and new ly found, serendipitous locations around each corner.  I get to go at my own pace, stopping when I want, forging ahead when I have a driving desire, and that I do not have to cater to others needs and desires all the while which can be in conflict with my own.

Going solo doesn’t necessarily mean going alone, however.  If you are new to solo travelling,  and would like to try it for yourself but you lack the necessary confidence, you might consider other options available to you.  For instance, as a solo traveller, one can also go on group tours as a solo person travelling without a partner.  My biggest obstacle is finding a friend or relative that has both the time and the money to travel with me when I want and am able to.  Usually, those two criteria don’t coincide very often.  Rather than not travelling at all because I don’t have anyone that can join me,  I do have the option to join a specialized tour group.  I prefer small and intimate tours and have found many wonderful resources online for just that purpose.

For instance, there is one particular site I have discovered, “Women Traveling Together” (www.women-traveling.com) that offers some very unique and interesting travel opportunities specifically for small groups of women of all ages. They apparently do more than just travel; they are spontaneous, embrace the unexpected and make new friends in the process.  Just my kind of travellers!

Another example which has piqued my interest is a “Bike and Barge” trip.  The following websites are wonderful opportunities to see the beautiful Dutch blossoms in bloom in a unique and very enjoyable way on a bicycle during the day and sleeping on a boat on one of the many canals in the Netherlands.  They also offer bike and barge tours in other locations as well!

www.bikeandthelike.com

http://boatbiketours.com/

bikebarge.com

There are so many possibilities out there just waiting for you to consider.  Use your instinct and follow your dreams.  Maybe you are like me; someone who enjoys their own company, and often relishes solitude, lingering where you desire and moving on when you’re ready.

Maybe you are ready for a change or are willing to try something new.  Maybe you aren’t sure you would want to try “going solo” but are tired of not having anyone to travel with, or, the people who you can travel with don’t  want to see and experience the same things you want to.  Consider a specialized group tour that caters to your dreams and goes places and experiences the things you want to visit and experience.

The point is, if you want to travel, then start dreaming.  In today’s’ world there is no reason you can’t.  There are so many opportunities and ways of accomplishing it.  You just have to be willing to dream and play the “What IF” game.

“What if I did travel, where would I like to go?”

“What if I did travel alone, what would I do and what do I want to visit and experience?”

Stretch your imagination, believe in yourself and go after your dreams!  If you do, you will be rewarded in so many unpredictable ways!

 

 

 

 

 

Spontaneous Travel Urges

If you’re at all like me, the thought of possible travel opportunities is ever present on your mind.  Therefore, when an opportunity presents itself, I often really enjoy just being spontaneous and saying “YES!!!”

One such opportunity presented itself to me in just the last few days and I said “Yes!” to a 6-day trip to Hawaii no less!  My son asked if I would come to visit him and his girlfriend on the north shore of Oahu for about a week!

sea turtle2

Fantastic!  I didn’t see that one coming at all.  What a great surprise it was to receive that spontaneous invitation.

6836739-plumeria-flowers

In just about 10 days I’ll be flying over the Pacific and will soon be smelling the sweet aroma of one of my favorite flowers – Plumeria!  If I’m lucky (and I often am) I will also get another opportunity – skydive with Will at Skydive Hawaii! I will be celebrating wonderful events in life with him; making memories!  That, my friend, is what traveling is all about.

While I was being “in the moment” and saying “Yes,” another thought came back to my mind via my ‘travel angel’ perched upon my shoulder near my left ear.  She tapped me on the shoulder and said “Psst!”

Her urging brought to mind my desires to return yet again to Scotland and Northern Ireland this year.  Had my previous plans to return in June and July of this year not changed and been cancelled, I would have actually been there right now – as I write this. Instead, I am at home, wishing I was there like so many times.  I love that place.

“So, what’s stopping you now?” the travel angel inquired.

“Well I’m buying a new house for one thing, and will get back from Hawaii just in time to sign papers in escrow, pack, move and unpack again; that’s what!” I replied and resisted.

“Yes, this is true,” she admitted, “however, that will be done by the first week or so in August.  There’s still a lot of summer left after that, isn’t there?” she insisted.

“As a matter of fact there is…” I weakened

Before I knew it, I found myself online looking for available award miles flights! There they were – just waiting for me!  I now have in hand one round-trip ticket leaving on Aug 24th and returning October 3rd; 7 glorious weeks to explore and experience Scotland and Ireland again.  Be still my traveling heart!

The map below shows the main proposed route I will take and what I hope to visit and enjoy.

scotland map

As you can see I’ll be all over the place visiting friends, gardens, ancient Abbeys where early Celtic Kings are laid to rest, attending the Lonach Highland Gathering & Games, volunteering with the Moray Burial Ground Research Group to help find and restore ancient gravestones in churchyards, and visiting my new Frew friends again who I met in Ahoghill, Ireland last year.

frew girls

A least a couple of the “Frew Girls” will even do a bit of ancestry research at PRONI (Public Records of Northern Ireland) in Belfast to see if I can find out anything more regarding my 4th great grandfather, Sergeant John Frew 1781-1832 who died in Belfast during an outbreak of cholera.  The trip is jammed packed with a whole lot of fun and exploration!

Some might call me impulsive, I like to think I’m spontaneous.  I feel most comfortable and joyful when I’m being in the present moment, paying attention to what opportunities pass by my range of senses especially when it comes to travel.  I have found by being in the moment and “open” to what comes my way that quite often these wonderful spontaneous offerings present themselves and are brought to my attention by a tap on the shoulder and a “Psst!” in my ear! Being spontaneous is invigorating and keeps me young at heart!

Stay tuned for photos to follow in just a few short days!  Aloha!