Take a Trip to Inveraray

Driving around Scotland, one is bound to pass through a plethora of small towns and burgs. Many of the quaint little locations no bigger than a main street with a few shops and restaurants. Since there are so many, it’s easy to simply drive through the majority of them without any thought of stopping. However, I’ve found time and time again that when we’ve taken time to get out of the car and walk around, many of these little towns offer incredible pieces of Scottish of history, cute shops in which to browse, quaint historical architecture, ancient cobblestone streets, and simple beauty that could never be appreciated when zooming by in a car.

Inveraray is one of those towns. A small 18th century planned town on the banks of Loch Fyne, someone could drive all the way from one end of town to the other in less than 5 minutes. Last summer two of my sons and I were on a week-long trip to Scotland and Inveraray was a town in which we were scheduled to stay. We booked a trip through Absolute Escapes and I wasn’t so sure about this stop they had scheduled into our itinerary. Needless to say, I was a bit unimpressed when we first came upon the neat row of simple white buildings which lined the main street.IMG_0991 However, we were scheduled to spend two nights there so I resigned myself to the thought that we may need to figure out some things to do outside the teeny town in order to keep us entertained. 

But as I said before, many small towns in Scotland offer a surprising amount of things to do and see. The boys and I actually enjoyed every minute of our full day in Inveraray and I would love to go back and enjoy the simplicity of the town once again. Although it’s small, there is enough to do to fill a day easily without rushing. It’s a sleepy little town with quaint shops, beautiful views of Loch Fyne, an amazing castle, and even a 19th-century jail the has been turned into a museum, making it easy to find something to do for people of all ages. As an added bonus, Inveraray is also completely walkable so you can park your car for the day and simply head out to see all the sights.IMG_1023

 

Things to do

Stroll down Main Street and visit some of the quaint shops

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Enjoy an ice cream or a coffee depending upon the weather. Maybe pick up a bottle of whiskey from Loch Fyne Whiskies. Upon their recommendation, I gave GlenDronach 12-year a try and it instantly became my favorite scotch of all time. Mmmmm!IMG_0927

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Take a walk to Inveraray Castle

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This impressive functioning castle remains the home of the Duke of Argyle and was featured in Downton Abbey’s 2012 Christmas episode, “A Journey to the Highlands”. The castle boasts an impressive Armory Hall, soaring 21 meters in height and houses weapons as old as the 16th century.IMG_0939 Taking a stroll outside the castle walls will lead you to extensive gardens with numerous marked forest walks, one of which will lead you up 800 feet to the tower at the top of Dun na Cuaiche where you can see all of Inveraray and beyond.IMG_0937 I tried to convince the boys to do the hike, but they were eager to get to the jail so I was outvoted. Instead, we simply walked around the stunning grounds close to the castle which as you can see, did not disappoint!

Become a prisoner at the Inveraray Jail

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Don’t worry, you won’t have to do hard time at Inveraray Jail, but this is an interesting museum that recounts prison conditions from Medieval times to the 19th century. The jail here was considered very advanced for its time, and the boys enjoyed learning about prison conditions of old through hands-on exhibits and interactive storytelling.

Where we stayed 

The Old Rectory Bed & Breakfast

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Owners Cathie & David have worked tirelessly restoring this 200-year-old building overlooking Loch Fyne. Many of the building’s original features remain but have been updated with a cozy, chic feel.IMG_0914 All three of us fit perfectly into one of the B&B’s larger rooms and the bathroom was spectacular! I don’t usually go around rating bathrooms of all things, but this one deserves a special nod.

The Old Rectory

www.oldrectoryinverary.com 

Newton, Inveraray

Argyll, PA32 8UH

01499 302 711

info@oldrectoryinveraray.com

Tasty eats

(MAKE SURE YOU CALL AHEAD FOR A RESERVATION FOR EITHER OF THESE RESTAURANTS)

The George HotelIMG_0925

Want to try a whiskey flight? Then this is the place for you! The George Hotel’s restaurant/pub offers a choice of 100 malt whiskeys, as well as local quality beef, and seafood.IMG_0916 The food was delicious and the building felt like a true Scottish pub with mahogany walls, leather seats, and a warm atmosphere. Plus our server looked like David Beckham so I wasn’t complaining! 

Samphire Seafood Restaurant

Although Inverary is small, we managed to find some amazing places to eat. The Samphire Seafood Restaurant didn’t disappoint. A small space offering locally sourced sustainable seafood, shellfish, meat and game, the menu offers something to please everyone. I was a bit worried because I don’t eat fish and we were going to a seafood restaurant, but I tried the Angus beef burger and it was fantastic. 

How the heck do you get there?

Inveraray is about 2 1/2 hours west of Edinburgh. We took our time driving there, stopping at the adorable burgh of Culross for lunch, then meandered through the Trossachs National Park while enjoying the stunning view of Loch Lomond. It was a very easy and enjoyable drive, but make sure you keep a lookout and don’t end up speeding right through Inveraray once you get there. 😉IMG_0923Although it’s small, Inveraray has a lot to offer. In addition, it’s a good stopping point when on your way to other destinations such as Oban, the Hebrides, or the Cowal Peninsula. It’s a simple, romantic little town that is sure to surprisingly capture your heart as it did mine. In the end, I even decided I liked the plain white buildings that lined the shore, realizing they served as a brilliant backdrop to the still waters and hills of Loch Fyne.IMG_0930 So put Inveraray on your Scotland itinerary and while you’re there pick up a bottle of GlenDronach for me. Oh, and if you see the server at The George Hotel who looks like David Beckham, tell him I said, “hi”!

Things We ❤️: Absolute Escapes

Did you know I love Scotland? Shocker, right? I mean, I did just tell you all the reasons NOT to go to Scotland. But it’s true, this amazing country is first on my list whenever anyone asks me where they should go on a vacation.IMG_2162 Scotland truly offers something for everyone. History, natural beauty, amazing architecture, culture. The list is endless. Yes, I could never get enough of Scotland. So when I had the opportunity to go back for a second visit I was perhaps even more excited than the first time. Don’t get me wrong, the first time was fantastic. My mom and I went on a 10-day Outlander/Mary Queen of Scots tour and loved every goofy, girly minute. But this time my husband and three of our kids would be joining me for a 16-day visit and while they’re adventurous, I knew they wouldn’t want to see all things Outlander. Plus, I really wanted them to love the country as much as I do (no pressure, haha!) so everything had to be planned perfectly. 

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Family bonding

Since I had already been to Scotland once, I knew some of the things we should visit that the family would enjoy. However, I wanted to explore more of the country than I did before and found that I was at a bit of a loss where to start. I mean, how do you know the best route to take or the best B&B to choose? This was the first time I would be driving, and on the wrong side of the road no doubt ;), so I was already a bit nervous about getting around. I began trying to plan the trip by looking at Tripadvisor, Hotels.com, and other search engines but found myself getting overwhelmed quickly, and felt as if there was a lot riding on this trip so didn’t want to be the one to mess it up by making a bad choice. 

 

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I’d say hiking to the top of King Arthur’s Seat in Edinburgh was a good choice!

By pure chance and a lot of Google searching, I came across Absolute Escapes. They looked promising, boasting ratings of 4.9 out of 5 on Facebook and 98% on aito.com, so I sent them an inquiry just to see what they had to say. I was connected with Pippa, one of their lovely tour guides who shared with me a little bit of what Absolute Escapes is all about. Here’s what she said:

We believe that travel should be exciting, intriguing, rejuvenating and memorable. That’s why we’ve created a company staffed by the most knowledgeable, passionate and enthusiastic experts available. Our philosophy is to offer special holidays tailored to your individual requirements. We use our expert knowledge to seek out the best that the UK has to offer – the best places to stay, the best experiences, the best routes and we take away the hard work by arranging it all for you.”

Since this was exactly what I was hoping for, I was willing to give Absolute Escapes a try. This trip was going to be a tough one to plan because it was a logistical nightmare. Some of the family was coming on one date. They would leave and others would come. We wanted to see a lot so needed to organize many different places to stay, a car rental, routes, places to eat, etc. Taking all that into consideration, I was happy to get any help I could. Pippa quickly answered all of my questions and was clearly very knowledgeable about all things Scotland. After a few more emails back and forth, I knew this company was going to make my trip planning much more manageable. 

 

 

So patient Pippa and I spent the better part of a month emailing back and forth while working out an itinerary. She was so wonderful, answering all of my questions and really taking the time to listen and understand exactly what it was we wanted to do. She offered many wonderful suggestions on things she thought may be of interest to us and the best way to make it all happen. I honestly cannot say enough good things about her. 

Finally, our trip was all booked through Absolute Escapes. The lodging, car rental, driving routes, everything. And when I say everything, here’s exactly what I mean: 16 days=1 rental car, 2 ferry crossings, 9 B&B’s, 1 boat tour, and Explorer Passes (paid entry into select castles and monuments) for all 5 of us. They even sent us a packet with our detailed itinerary that included drive times, contact information, places to eat and things to do. It was perfect.IMG_5256 All that being said, you never fully know what you’re going to get until you arrive at your destination and see how all the details play out. Since I had never worked with Absolute Escapes before, I’ll admit that I was a bit worried that things might not go as smoothly as they looked on paper, especially considering all the details involved. But I’m pleased to announce they did! Our rental car was waiting for us at the airport, all the B&B’s were wonderful, and the sights we saw were absolutely amazing.

 

 

If you aren’t completely sold yet, according to their website here’s a bit more of what this company has to offer:

Absolute Escapes is a leading specialist in self-guided walking holidays in the UK & Ireland, and tailor-made travel to Scotland. 

  • We offer self-guided walking holidays on some of the finest long-distance trails in England, Scotland, Ireland and Wales. 
  • We also specialise in tailor-made travel to Scotland including self-drive itineraries and escorted tours. 
  • We customise all of our itineraries to your exact requirements based on our experience and intimate knowledge of Scotland. Whether you’d like to drive the North Coast 500 or island-hop around the Outer Hebrides – choose from the many itineraries, experiences and accommodation options that we offer, then contact one of our specialist consultants who’ll turn your ideas into your perfect tailor-made trip.

I would say they are all this and more! Absolute Escapes is a fantastic company that’s willing to listen to what your interests are and will tailor your trip exactly to what you want. They spend a lot of time working out all the details and have many relationships with local businesses that offer them good rates and in turn, can end up saving you money. From start to finish, I cannot recommend them enough.  Read more

A Day in Bangkok. Top 5 Things You Must See.

When I was a teenager I lived on the island of Oahu in Hawaii. Do you know that in the entire 5 1/2 years I lived there, I never once visited Pearl Harbor? How ridiculous is that? As an adult, I look back on that time and realize it was such a missed opportunity. I now believe in the importance of seeing and experiencing all a place has to offer, especially if you live there. 

I suppose that’s why in our 2 1/2 years in Shanghai we went on dozens of trips, booked countless local tours, and tried to immerse ourselves in the culture as much as we could. It’s fascinating to learn about another country’s history and culture. Now living in Bangkok, we have a blank canvas on which to begin our exploring again. Read more

Go to Koh Chang and Do Nothing!

We just returned from a fantastic 4-day trip to Koh Chang Island, Thailand. Perhaps part of the reason it was such a great trip was due to the fact that we never left the resort. After a fun-filled but challenging summer including visiting 4 countries and making one international move, we really needed a break.  Read more

Who’s Ready for Some Good Old-Fashioned Axe Throwing?

Being Bangkok newbies, we haven’t yet had a chance to explore all this great city has to offer.  We are finding there are endless things to do and see here, and having two relatively uninterested teenage boys makes sightseeing as a family a bit more challenging. I stand corrected: not a bit more challenging, a LOT more challenging. So, how do you get two boys out of the house and away from the tv on a school holiday? You’ve got to plan something big. Something that will trump video games and laying around the house all day in their underwear. 

Enter the Golden Axe Throw Club.

Golden Axe Throw As soon as I discovered this little Bangkok gem, I knew the boys would be intrigued. I mean really, what male on the face of this earth would turn down the chance to throw axes at a target for fun? And to be honest, I was pretty excited too!IMG_3874

So with only a slight amount of moaning, we piled into the car and headed out on our first family field trip (minus one hard-working husband). When we arrived, we were greeted at the door by Ryan, the owner of the Golden Axe Throw Club. All I can say is that if anyone looks like a lumberjack, it’s this guy! Is it a requirement for all serious axe-wielding men to have an awesome full and thick beard? If not, maybe it should be! Needless to say, we were off to a great start. Being taught how to throw axes by an authentic looking Canadian lumberjack? Umm, yeah! 

Curiosity led me to ask Ryan how in the world he ended up bringing an axe throwing club to Thailand. Here’s what he told me:

I met my wife, Sirilak Sathanart when I first visited Thailand in Roi Et. I met some Thai blacksmiths online that invited me to come to make axes with them. So I came here to learn how to forge an axe from scratch, after being an axe-throwing coach in Canada.  I really wanted to learn how to make the tool I was using so often to throw, before opening my own venue.  After returning home to Toronto Canada,  it didn’t take me long to get back to Thailand. We spent most of a year in Roi Et where we were throwing axes in our backyard before moving to Bangkok to find a venue and start our own axe throwing club. My wife was 5-9 months pregnant as we started this company, working hard every day to see it open, and a few months after opening we welcomed our baby boy Atom to our little axe family! Bangkok was the perfect place to introduce the Canadian sport of axe throwing to a variety of cultures and people from around the world. IMG_8911 (1)

If that’s not a great start-up story, I don’t know what is. It’s great to come across someone who is passionate about and loves his career as Ryan does.

After signing waivers and a short safety talk, Ryan took some time and showed us how to properly throw our axes at targets and before we knew it, we were throwing like pros. Well, maybe semi-pros, we did completely miss the targets quite a few times.IMG_3866 Once we were more comfortable with our axe throwing techniques, we played two friendly target throwing games against each other, both of which I…ahem… won (just had to throw that in there for recorded proof that I actually beat my boys in something sporty).

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Just sayin’!

When we finished our games, we bellied up to the bar and celebrated by throwing back a couple of waters and a strawberry Fanta.IMG_3872 From start to finish, it was a really fun way to spend an afternoon feeling tough and sporty while bonding with my boys.IMG_3858

 If you think you’re ready to throw axes like a true Canadian lumberjack and are considering a visit to Golden Axe Throw Club, here’s everything you need to know:

CONTACT INFO

3 Lat Phrao Wang Hin 67 Alley

Lat Phrao

Bangkok, Thailand 10230 

+66 063 654 0600

https://axethrowingbangkok.com

Check out their Facebook page here

HOURS OF OPERATION

Monday & Tuesday:
Closed

 (Advance Appointment by Email/Call only)

Wednesday & Thursday:
16:00 – 23:00

Friday, Saturday, & Sunday:
11:00 – 23:00

WHO CAN THROW?

Ages 12 and up. No experience is necessary.

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My 12-year-old superstar

COST

1 HOUR PUBLIC LANE BOOKING

1-6 players

Public Lanes (up to 6 ppl/target)

฿500 BAHT / Person

2-3 HOUR PRIVATE LANE BOOKING

7+ players

2-3 Hour Private Group Bookings

฿800 BAHT / Person

WHAT TO EXPECT

According to the Golden Axe Throw website:

SETUP

Sign a waiver and ensure you have proper footwear (closed-toed shoes).

MEET YOUR AXE COACH

Your axe throwing coach will explain the safety rules and provide a 5-10 minute instructional session. They will also monitor your safety, and provide tips to make sure you are having fun and hitting as close to the bullseye as you can!

WARM UP PRACTICE SHOTS

Each thrower then gets around 15 throws, before rotating out.

LET THE GAMES BEGIN

Once players are warmed up, you will begin mini-games going head to head with another thrower for 3 rounds (5 throws per round). Each throw is worth up to 5 points (the final throw can be worth 7 points if you yell CLUTCH! & hit the small green circle). We rotate throwers every 3 rounds, 15 throws, or about 5-10 minutes.

WINNING 

Whoever gets the most points wins the round. Best 2/3 wins the entire game. 

(did I mention that was me? ;))

Don’t worry if you lose the first 2 rounds – we always throw the final 5 throws of round 3 because throwing axes is fun!

PAYMENT

Payment is something that happens towards the end of a walk-in or event. You will be notified when you have 10 minutes left and may have the option of throwing for another hour if there is availability.

WHAT ELSE CAN YOU DO AT GOLDEN AXE THROW?

CORNHOLE

KNIFE THROWING 

We will definitely be trying this next time!

EAT

A full catering menu is available from an authentic Italian Bistro serving gourmet pizza, pasta, cold plates, and appetizers.

DRINK

A craft beer bar is available with a selection of over 40 imported & local craft beers as well as cheap Thai beers, light spirits, and non-alcoholic refreshments. 

Next time I’ll have to try a Pickleback (whiskey and pickle juice), because what goes better with throwing axes than whiskey and pickle juice?

THOUGHTS AND THINGS

  • Before you go, book your visit online to reserve a lane.
  • Wear closed-toe shoes.
  • There’s no air conditioning, only large fans so it can get hot especially if you are as intense as I am when it comes to axe throwing. 😉
  • 1 hour is a good amount of time for a great experience.

Overall the three of us had a great time at The Golden Axe Throw Club and agreed we would like to return. And honestly, if the boys want to do something more than once, it HAS to be good! I would highly recommend giving this Bangkok destination a try. It’s fun, unusual, and will make you feel like a true lumberjack. 

USA-Detroit Airport

This is a series meant to help you find the best of the best in lounges everywhere.

Our 12-year-old, Jack has become a lounger-extraordinaire. He knows how to get the most out of any lounge experience and always manages to get our full money’s worth out of any visit. As a result, we have come up with a lounge rating system according to our very discerning lounge critic. Enjoy, and may you too achieve lounge nirvana!  

Jack’s Rating System

1 (worst)—5 (best) 

Ambiance

Comfort  

Sustenance 

Bathrooms 

=

Overall Score

________________________________________________________________________

USA-Detroit Airport

McNamara Terminal, Concourse A

Delta Detroit Sky Club Lounge

located after security on left, before the fountain

(AMEX Platinum card)

additional guests incur a $29 charge

Ambiance: 3

Comfort: 2IMG_2919

Sustenance: 3

Bathrooms: 4

=

OVERALL: 3

Jack said the ambiance of this lounge was “fine, but nothing interesting”. We have lounged here a couple of times now and the lounge has been very crowded every time. Comfort was given a 2 because there were very few chairs with tables, and no charging ports handy, making working on a device and eating difficult. Sustenance was originally rated lower until Jack found the macaroni and cheese and homemade chocolate chip cookies. Overall there were not many food choices and the serving area was under construction so most of the food options were placed in a makeshift corner of the lounge, making it feel almost like an afterthought.IMG_2925 However, Jack did love the macaroni and cheese and cookies so the overall sustenance rating jumped up to a 3. The bathrooms were awarded a 4 rating because Jack thought they were “impressive and fancy”. That’s about all the detailed description on that topic I could glean from this 12-year-old. So overall, not the best lounge rating this Little Lounger has awarded, but it will do as a way to spend some time before your flight out of Detroit.

And one last mom tip…

Make sure you stop by Chick-fil-A in the airport before you go to your gate. Buy a chicken sandwich for the road. Trust me, 2 hours into your flight you will remember you have that little bag of deliciousness and will thank me. 😉IMG_2930

Finland-Helsinki Airport

This is a series meant to help you find the best of the best in lounges everywhere.

Our 12-year-old, Jack has become a lounger-extraordinaire. He knows how to get the most out of any lounge experience and always manages to get our full money’s worth out of any visit. As a result, we have come up with a lounge rating system according to our very discerning lounge critic. Enjoy, and may you too achieve lounge nirvana!  

Jack’s Rating System

1 (worst)—5 (best) 

Ambiance

Comfort  

Sustenance 

Bathrooms 

=

Overall Score

________________________________________________________________________

Finland-Helsinki Airport

Almost @ Home Lounge

by gate 32

(Priority Pass)

Ambiance: 5

Comfort: 2IMG_0769

Sustenance: 5

Bathrooms: 1

=

OVERALL: 3.25

Jack’s favorite part of this lounge was the availability of Oreos and Pepsi Max. Before I knew it he had eaten 11 plates of the delicious cookies! I guess I should have been paying more attention (mom fail-haha.). The lounge was a bit crowded and we had to wait for a seat to open up. Once we sat down, Jack did not think the seats were very comfortable. The outlets available were not universal but the nice ladies at the front desk offered us an adapter. Bathrooms were located directly outside the lounge which is always a bit of an inconvenience, but they were clean and the women’s bathroom offered the soothing sounds of birds chirping, giving you the feeling you are outside in nature (an impressive and unexpected touch). On a side note, although we didn’t leave the airport, we found the Finns to be the nicest people we have ever had the pleasure of interacting with, and hope to someday return to this beautiful country.