Take Me Back to the Isles of Staffa & Lunga!

Have you ever done one of those meditation exercises where you’re told to close your eyes and picture a place that brings you calm and peace? A place with unrivaled beauty that makes you feel happy? Well my friend, the Isles of Staffa and Lunga in the Inner Hebrides of Scotland have become my “meditation vision”. That being said, I don’t really do much meditation, but if I did these places would be foremost in my peaceful mind. The words “stunning beauty” don’t even begin to describe them. At one point in our journey, I found myself standing practically alone atop Staffa feeling so incredibly blessed to have the opportunity to experience something so special.

The Isles of Staffa and Lunga are not exactly an easy jaunt from the main cities of Scotland. For us, our journey took us from Edinburgh, to Inveraray where we stayed for a couple of nights. Next, we journeyed to Oban, hopped on a ferry to the Isle of Mull, and the next day boarded a tour boat with Staffa Tours out of the picturesque town of Tobermory. Are there easier routes? Perhaps. But we took our time enjoying the beautiful sites Scotland had to offer along the way. 

Staffa Tours specializes in boat tours to Staffa and Lunga. They were very professional, kind, and offered nice, comfortable accommodations with seating both inside and outside. Not to mention they had bathrooms onboard. An important convenience if you are going on a full day tour. Although the boat was full (perhaps 50 people), there was plenty of seating for everyone and once we arrived on the island, everyone scattered about so it never felt over crowded.

Jack’s best “Blue Steel”

As we sailed across the Atlantic Ocean towards the Treshnish Isles, I found myself enchanted by the water. It’s difficult to explain, but I’ve found this in the Lochs of Scotland as well. The water seems extraordinarily thick and glassy. Although we were in the open ocean, the water still seemed to take on this thick, heavy demeanor. It’s fascinating to watch a boat cut through the water and create a slow, smooth wake that can span out for what seems like a mile. I find it eerily beautiful. Maybe I’m weird being fascinated by something like this, I don’t know. But it really is a very unique phenomenon.

Our first stop was the Isle of Staffa. All I can say is that if we went nowhere other than this island, I would have been content. Beautiful is not even a worthy word to describe the attributes of Staffa.

The island itself is made up of basalt volcanic rock that has come together in a uniform matrix. Almost like a 3-D puzzle. Fun fact, The Vikings gave Staffa its name because the basalt reminded them of their houses, which were built from vertically placed tree-logs (thanks Wikipedia!).

It’s absolutely incredible. A short walk along a cliff brings you to the famous Fingal’s Cave, a site visited by both Queen Victoria and Felix Mendelssohn who was so moved by the beauty of the cave that he wrote the Hebrides Overture as a tribute.

As we approached, a lone bagpiper stood at the mouth of the cave playing a hauntingly beautiful melody. When he finished he told the small crowd around him that it had been his life-long dream to play his bagpipes here. I felt privileged to be part of such a special occasion. 

After our bagpipe serenade at Fingal’s Cave, we hiked to the top of the island and sat on a grassy spot near the edge of a cliff. A soft sea breeze kissed our cheeks as we took in in the majestic view. Sea birds called overhead, and an expanse of sparkling aquamarine water undulated below. It was remote, peaceful, and absolutely beautiful.

I thought for a second about hiding out on Staffa and letting the boat leave me there, but realized my two boys might not appreciate the island as much once night fell and we were all alone in the dark, so I begrudgingly dragged myself back to the boat. However, we were excited because our next stop was the Isle Of Lunga to meet some Puffins!

The Isle of Lunga is similar in composition to the Isle of Staffa. A rocky base covered in grass and heather. Again, breathtakingly beautiful.

After hiking up a short trail, we came across our first puffins. To say these little guys are adorable is an understatement. I can see now why people travel far and wide to get a glimpse of these birds. Burrowing into their nests set deep in the heather, they pop out and look at you with as much curiosity as you them.

I could have sat and watched them all day. However, I was with my two boys and you know boys, they’re always onto the next thing. “Yeah, yeah, cute birds. I get it, now let’s move on”. 

A short cliff-side walk led us to Heart Rock.

Home to literally tens of thousands of birds, this rock is a sight to behold. The sounds of bird calls is almost deafening and it’s amazing to stand there and watch as birds manage to find a spot to land on the crowded rock. 

All those little dots are thousands of birds!

After Heart Rock, we were feeling adventurous and hiked to the top of Lunga.

When we reached our destination, we all sat alone on a rock overlooking a wide expanse of open ocean. Ok, you know by now that I’m in love with Scotland, and views like this are one of the many reasons why. There are very few places in the world where you can sit isolated from the world and take in such an array of sweeping, vast beauty.

Take me back to the Isles of Staffa and Lunga!

Again, the time came to leave the island and I begrudgingly peeled myself away, looking longingly back from the boat as the island became a small dot on the horizon. Our journey brought us back to Tobermory with new memories, new adventures, and a new love of puffins. 

I highly recommend making the journey out to the Scottish Isles of Staffa and Lunga. If you do, you too will always keep the memory of their magnificence with you and may also begin to see them in your “meditation visions” when you are searching for calm. They are a tranquil place of unrivaled beauty, adorable wildlife, and perfect peace.

As a side note, Absolute Escapes helped us book our perfect trip to Scotland. I highly recommend checking them out. They are awesome!

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

Berlin Bound. History, Tours and Currywurst, OH MY!

One of the perks of living abroad is having our kids attend an international school. The education is top notch and they have so many opportunities that they wouldn’t have back home. One of these opportunities is one I am happy to get onboard with too; school world travel. Oh, my son needs to perform in a choir festival in Berlin? Well, I guess I should go too. You know, just in case he might need me. 😉IMG_0041 So, a couple of months ago my friend, Diane and I boarded a plane to Berlin. Because you know, I couldn’t go to “supervise” my son on my own. I needed a travel companion to supervise ME. Haha! After all, why should I be the only one who benefits from my child’s success? So, Berlin-bound we were and with only 4 full days to take in the city, we had a lot of ground to cover in a short amount of time. Oh, and we also had a choir concert to attend which was, after all the entire reason we were there.IMG_9695

Read more

Eat Your Way Through Shanghai on an UnTour Food Tour

Sure you’ve been on city tours before. Typically they involve boarding a bus or walking in a large group with a guide pointing out important landmarks and city highlights. Well, my friend, this tour is nothing like that. No, the UnTour Food Tour takes your city tour up a notch.  Read more

Things We ❤️: SANDEMANs Tours

Are you heading to a country for the first time? Don’t quite have a lay of the land, and are not quite sure what to see? Enter SANDEMANs NEW Europe tours. This awesome tour company provides free multi-language walking tours in 19 cities most of which are in Europe but can also be found in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, and New York. Read more

Go For a Ride With Culture Shock Bike Tours

Shanghai has many sites to see. So many, in fact, that it can be difficult to narrow them down. Culture, history, architecture. Museums, tours, activities. The possibilities can be overwhelming. And let’s face it, most people have a week, tops, in order to squeeze in as much as possible. 

Since we have established it is impossible to do it all, it becomes important to focus on opportunities that will give you the most bang for your buck. Perhaps ones that combine history, culture, and fun together in one happy package. Enter Culture Shock Bike Tours. This is a company that offers morning and night tours through the streets of Shanghai via vintage Forever brand bicycles. Read more

A Weekend in Chengdu​, China

Last week we took a quick trip over to Chengdu for some sightseeing and panda hugging. Yes, panda hugging. What a great trip! Well, how could it be bad if pandas are involved in any way, right? But really, we were delightfully surprised by Chengdu. It is a city that feels like what you would imagine China to be, encompassing history, culture, and many modern conveniences (like toilets in addition to squatty pottys-woohoo!) that make for a well-rounded trip to this wonderful area. If you are planning a trip to China, be sure to put Chengdu on your list. You won’t be disappointed! Read more