Inverness

Inverness… Made most famous by Loch Ness where Nessie, the fabled (or real?!?!?) monster of the Loch lives!!  I actually really liked Inverness!  It was not too large a place, but also not too small.  As Goldilocks would say, it was just right:)

I got there on bus and of course started my day there by wandering around hostel after hostel trying to find somewhere to sleep for the night.  The hostel by the bus station was full, which was fine by me cause I got an odd feeling from the staff there when I arrived to inquire about availability.  So I wandered as always aimlessly toward what turned out to be the main shopping street and in general main street of Inverness: High Street.  Well, ok, maybe it isn’t the official main street, but it was pretty central to all things touristy (the castle, museums, tourist info center, and lots of shopping).  And perhaps another little thing to mention: High Street was closed off to traffic and was only available for foot traffic, which I quite enjoyed!!  Anyway, I found Highlander Hostel after a few other failed attempts just off High Street.  I booked a room for the night since it was the first place that I’d come across that had room… I was getting worried again that no space would be available elsewhere and I had better jump on this one!  I went to my room to settle in and was not at all impressed with the accommodations.  It just had the feeling of uncleanliness!!  Though there was a bathroom in the room itself, it was being shared by 9 others (10 including me) and just the sight of hair everywhere… Ick!!  I know that you get what you pay for and many times staying in hostels is an absolute gamble, but some places are MUCH more clean feeling and more welcoming than others…

Not really feeling that location (but being stuck there for the first night) and knowing that I wanted to stay in Inverness at least a few night (since I had to get to Loch Ness to see Nessie!!) I set out immediately to find a room for the next night at another hostel.  A little down the road from the Castle and just along the river I came across the Inverness Student Hostel.  From the second I walked in I knew this place would be great!!  And indeed it was!!  The vibe was just warm and welcoming, the place felt clean and safe, the staff were friendly and sane (at the other hostel the guy who checked me in, though there was a “no smoking inside” policy later lit one up in the check-in/common area just because no one was around… yeah… great example to set!).

The Inverness Student Hostel was all booked up for the night I arrived (I had half a mind to demand a refund from the other place and just stay there instead) but had a space available for the next two nights.  Perfect!!  That’s all I needed!!  I paid a little extra to be in a room with only 5 others, but it was worth it!!  I payed for my nights in advance to stay there the next few nights and on my way out noticed that they had affiliate hostels in Oban (pronounced by locals as “Oh-BIN” where I was planning to go next anyway).  Liking the feel of the place that much- I went ahead and booked in advance (what was wrong with me?!?! ;)) a room at the Oban hostel (called simply Oban Backpackers) for a few nights as well!!  I must admit that though the whole “find something when you get there” is fun and adventurous, also knowing that I had a place to stay for sure at the next location was quite comforting… Especially since the past few towns I had been in seemed to be short on places to stay!!

After securing my spot at the Inverness Student Hostel and the Oban Backpackers, I headed out to explore Inverness a bit more.  Since I was going to stay there for two full days, I figured a trip to the tourist info center would be wise.  There I found an all day tour (literally 12 hours long) for the Isle of Skye hosted by WOW Scotland! tours.  I won’t go into great detail here about the booking as I will save it for the Isle of Skye post I’m doing next, but needless to say I did book the tour.  The tour would not be until that Friday (2 days from my arrival date) however so I had a day in between to simply chill and explore Inverness at leisure.

At this point it was dinner time, so I wandered around for somewhere to eat.  On the opposite side of High Street there was an Italian Tapas restaurant.  And even though I was going to be in Italy soon, I really wasn’t hugely hungry so the idea of tapas really appealed to me.  Plus, I had heard that many of the immigrants to Scotland were from Italy, so I was pretty confident the food would be authentic and not disappointing!

I was right about my instincts- the food was very good!!  I had a tapas gnocchi dish with a glass of prosecco.  Now mind you, when I would go out for lunch or dinner I would only bring a certain amount of cash with me.  This was mainly so I wouldn’t go nuts on drinking too much, because lord knows if I had brought my card I could have just had my dinner and a drink, then another, then another… To my surprise, this is exactly what had ended up happening anyway!!

I was simply sitting at a table for one, enjoying my gnocchi and glass of prosecco when I noticed 3 guys sitting at the bar.  Just something about them made me think that they, or at least one of them owned the place.  Just the way they looked around and looked at things and moved around every now and again.  They had the aura of being invested.  I basically finished my meal and sat enjoying my prosecco.  One of the three guys came and stood by my table looking out to the street, then asked if I had enjoyed my meal.  I replied that I did and to satisfy my curiosity on whether I was right about whether he was an owner, I asked if he was.  And indeed, he replied yes.  One question led to another and he ended up sitting down with me (a true Italian!  Always inviting and entertaining) and asked if I wanted another prosecco.  Though I said no, I eventually said yes and was brought another glass.  I won’t drone on with every detail but basically what ended up happening was I was introduced to his cousins (the other 2 at the bar) and a nephew and after a BOTTLE of prosecco and a shot of limoncello I was invited to stay for the after party (apparently it was the owners birthday) to which I stayed for a piece of cake and WATER to sober up a bit, lol!!  I was also invited to the after, after party at someone’s house but declined vehemently and made my way back to the hostel at some point shorty after.  It was a great and unexpected time!!  Italians certainly know how to make people feel welcome!!  It was also quite entertaining because the owner was Italian but spoke English in a Scottish accent.  His cousins only spoke Italian.  I spoke English and some Spanish and even less of Italian, but could understand all 3… The bartender was from Guatemala and spoke English and Spanish, so conversations between everyone was just about the most interesting and entertaining thing!!  Between one language and another and trying to say one thing then having to interrupt someone during their conversation so they could translate something for you, it was just a mad house of languages!!  Lots of fun though!! 🙂

In any event, after stumbling home I went to sleep then left the next morning for the Inverness Student Hostel.  The next day wasn’t the best of weather so I mainly just did indoor things like a Natural History museum and caught up on emailing, etc.  I was supposed to go back that evening for dinner with one of the cousins, but felt not very social (dang hangovers!!) that day sadly.  Plus, I had an early tour the next day and wanted to be 100% for it!!  I kinda felt bad about not showing for dinner, but such is life!  You can’t please everyone.  But I am very grateful nonetheless for their hospitality and the great time that was had the night before:)

On to Isle of Skye

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Huntly

It wasn’t terribly far, nor a bad bus ride over to Huntly.  To my disappointment later I realized that Huntly wasn’t technically inside the Highland area at all, but rather about half way between the highlands and the coast…  There was another place I was looking to go to -Tomintoul- that I know for SURE was in the Highlands, but it was only accessible by bus on Tuesdays and that would have meant about a week killing time in other areas nearby.  Tomintoul sounded appealing simply because first it was in the Highlands and second it’s the highest point of the Highlands… Getting there is half the battle though!!  In any event, Huntly was a simple quiet and quaint little place.  When I arrived however the weather was not quite cooperating as it had been so far.  It was wet and cold and simply dreary!!  Very Scottish normal weather I’m sure, just not what I had been used to thus far.

When I arrived I was dropped in town center square.  Since I of course didn’t have a planned place to stay for the night, I wandered toward the tourist information center in the square… It happened to be closed and looked as if it would only be open when whomever worked there decided to show (I love small towns!!).  There was a little map in the window however that marked a few spots for B&Bs/hotels.  I made a mental note of them and started heading in their direction.

Mind you, there was a hotel in the town square itself called Gordon Arms, but I figured being THAT close to the center square, it would probably be too expensive!  So I wandered off down the road in the cold and the mist and found the first place of interest.  No vacancy, but the nice woman did refer me to another potential place.  So off I went back down the road, down the side street, straight on till morning, and found the next lovely place.  No vacancy… Hmmm… I really didn’t take Huntly to be THAT popular a destination, especially since there was no one on the streets or no other signs of life really aside from the Hotel owners/workers and some shop employees along the way!

I asked once again about any other place potentially open, but sadly no.  So I wandered back to the square and in the opposite direction from where I went before and found another place. No answer… At this point it looked like I could be running out of options… So I wandered into the Gordon Arms hotel holding my breath at the potentially huge sum of money I would have to pay for the night.  The hotel clerk greeted me but asked me to hold for a minute.  When he arrived ready to check me in, he asked “Are you staying at the hostel?”??

The HOSTEL????  You have a HOSTEL here???  Sure enough, just around the corner not a stone throw away was the Highlander Bunkhouse!!!  A hostel for all the crazy cheap backpackers like myself:)  Yay!!!  Oh and best part too of the hostel, only a few steps from the pub!  Double yay!!!  So I paid for a night and settled in to my room.  I was the only one in my room, which was great, so it was like having a private though there were several other people staying in the hostel.  At this point I really wasn’t sure how long I would stay in Huntly.  There was certainly much to do there- several castles to hike to, lots of whiskey distilleries to tour, etc, etc. But with the weather being as it was… Well, let’s just say that it just didn’t inspire much of any sort of effort on my part!!  So if the next day had the same weather, then I would go.  But if it cleared up or showed some promise of clearing up, then I would stay!

In any event, after settling in it just happened to be about beer o’clock… So I headed into the pub for a pint!  Now, K and I have had a few chats before about how great pubs are just from the perspective of being able to meet locals fast and chat them up on things to do in their town!  This pub was… well… a tiny bit different, but not at all in a bad way!!  I wandered in and at the bar were 6 men.  Literally as I walked in it was like the room silenced and all heads turned to see who was coming in… I wasn’t sure if that meant that the regulars were all already there so they simply weren’t expecting anyone else to come in, or if they were an unfriendly type, or what really…!!

I sheepishly walked over to the side of the bar (trying my very BEST to seem confident and not sheepish at all!!) sat down and asked the bar maid, who suddenly appeared from around the corner for a beer.  And that was basically all it took!  Within a few minutes it was like I was just part of the gang.  They asked questions of me, I of them, and it we were all best of buds in no time!  Everyone was buying everyone else drinks and the festivities just went on like this for hours!  As the evening went on, more and more people came and went, which really gave me the distinct feeling that this pub was probably one of the only ones in town as well!!  Funnily enough, the 6 original guys who were in the bar (and then another 3 that came in later) weren’t locals at all.  They were simply contracted workers who were staying in Huntly to work on wind turbine projects near Huntly.  So they weren’t able to give me much information about the area and what to do (nor could the barmaid as she had just recently moved there too) but after a few drinks, I lost interest in that kind of information anyway!

I will say that at least I did behave myself!!  I cut myself off at a point, got some food and went to bed so I wouldn’t be hung over the next day!  Generally, well, I do like to drink and have quite a hard time moderating myself… But I guess as I get older it gets a little easier as the impending thought of the hangover is enough to make me stop with the booze and start with water!!

I bid farewell and thanks to my fellow bar mates for the night and headed to my hostel.  The next day unfortunately had the same dreary and cold weather as the day before.  So true to my word I packed up and headed to Inverness.

On to Inverness

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