The Dark Waters of Loch Ness

I briefly mentioned our trips to Loch Ness and Hermaness in, “Top Picks of Scotland” but that was only a glimpse at our adventure looking for Nessie. Without further ado, here are the highlights of our last couple of weeks in Scotland!

Our last days in Unst were busy at the hotel. During the day we helped with renovating The Hilltop bar on Yell or cleaning in the hotel, with the occasional evening of a casual drink (or two, three, four…) in Springers bar. One of my favourite things we saw with the last of our time on Unst will delight the nature lovers out there, the Hermaness Nature Reserve!

Hermaness Nature Reserve

The hike is a bit tough and swampy at times, but it’s so worth it. You can walk along feet-tingling cliffs overlooking the North Sea and even see the lighthouse on Muckle Flugga (where you can actually stay the night if you want!). The real highlight though are the incredible bird colonies that nest along the cliff faces. At this time of year only the gannets have begun to arrive, but later this spring and summer the reserve will see thousands of fulmars, gulls, shags, puffins and kittiwakes. It’s an absolutely awe-inspiring sight, and this early in the season the smell hasn’t had a chance to get too bad either.

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Where the Shetland Ponies Play

Beach on Unst, Shetland

We rolled and rocked over the North Sea; we were bound for Lerwick, capital of the Shetland islands. Some days the sea is too rough and the ferries won’t run, stranding people at the docks. Luckily for us, we had a relatively calm ride. We set up shop in one of the lounges at the far end of the ship, watching a few movies before curling up to sleep on the benches. When we initially planned to sleep in the lounge, we felt a little shy about it, but looking around we could see that we were amateurs. More seasoned ferry riders were pulling out sleeping bags, pillows, and eye masks; everything they needed for a good night sleep curled up on a bench.

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Top Picks of Sweden

My Top Five of Sweden

In the continuing series (check out the rest of Scandinavia too with NorwayFinland, and Denmark), my top picks of Sweden!

Gamla Uppsala, Uppsala

In the valley of the kings!

Gamla Uppsala is the original site of the city of Uppsala. The present day location of the city was originally called, “Östra Aros,” and overtook Gamla Uppsala in importance in the 1200’s. Prior to that, Gamla Uppsala had been an important religious, economic, and political centre since as early as the 3rd century AD. Today, around 250 barrows (including the Royal Mounds) and the old church finished in the 12th century remain, along with a newer museum.  It would have been even better in the summer, when the property would have been filled with staff in costumes and the restaurant would have been open to the public, but we still had a great time. There were a lot of signs telling us about the area, the Royal Mounds, etc. and we had the place mostly to ourselves! We could walk around the grounds for free, and paid to go into the museum as well. The museum was small, but had some neat photos of the area back when it was a public place to downhill ski (!).

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I’m on the Road to Uppsala

        Long ago, as early as the 3rd century AD, a great temple was built in the name of the ancient Norse gods on the site of what we now call Gamla Uppsala in Sweden. This temple was said to be adorned with gold, and inside the people worshipped the statues of three gods. On the left was Odin the All-father, decked in armour and with his spear Gungnir. In the centre was Thor the thunder-god, the mightiest of the three, clutching his great hammer Mjolnir. On the right side of Thor was Frey, god of fertility,  depicted with his immense, erect Penisnir.

Odin, Thor, and Frey

Odin, Thor, and Frey

Every nine years during the month of Goi (Feb. 15th-March 15th) a general festival for the provinces of Sweden would be held, and all the people would come to this centre of worship to sacrifice to the gods. Nine male animals of each species would be slaughtered and give blood to appease the gods. The feasts and sacrifices continued for a total of nine days, and during the course of each day a man was sacrificed along with two animals. In the nine days, a total of twenty-seven sacrifices would occur. Their bodies were hung in a grove which was adjacent to the temple. This grove was so sacred to the people that the individual trees in it were believed to be holy because of the death or putrefaction of the sacrificial victims.  In this grove, even dogs and horses would hang beside human beings.

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Viking Heritage

“Then, when it was least expected, Gisli turned around and ran from the ridge up onto the crag known as Einhamar. There he faced them and defended himself. Everyone in Eyjolf’s party was badly wounded, and Gisli died with so many great wounds that it was an amazement to all. They say he never once backed off, and as far as anyone could see, his last blow was no weaker than the first.”

Gisli Sursson’s Saga

Me peeking out of an Icelandic Turf Hut

Our last thing to do has been done today. We visited “Viking World” near the Keflavik airport. Though the name sounds like some rip-off carnival, it was an absolutely fascinating museum in which I learned a lot about the epic history of the Vikings.

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