Isola d’Elba!! Though I am half Italian, I never knew that this little archipelago off the coast of Tuscany in the Mediterranean Sea even existed!! The shame, I know!!! Thankfully my dad did as he suggested a weekend trip there to explore the little land and its numerous beaches!! From his house outside of Florence it took about 4 hours to get to the dock at Piombino where we drove on to a ferry-boat (called MOBY) and headed to the port in Portoferraio on the island of Elba. Though the weather had been very sketchy for several weeks prior to our trip, and though it even rained on the ferry ride over, we got two full days of sun on the island and only had cloudy days on the day we arrived and the day we left:) Seriously lucked out since it was toward the end of summer/early fall that we went to begin with!
Our hotel (hotel Gabbiano Azzuro- hotel Blue Seagull) was located in a town called Marciana Marina on the North Western section of the island. The town itself is a cute little quaint place with the usual shopping, restaurants, beaches, marinas and hiking trails from here to there. The hotel, while really not terribly impressive inside offered quite a delicious breakfast including some of the best brioches I’ve personally ever tasted! They were filled with Bavarian cream… YUM!!! Just looking at them however pretty much capped my daily allowance of sugar intake… lol!! I should probably clarify that the hotel itself was quite clean, the people very nice, the location an easy walk to/from the town center, but the rooms were not that big and while they boasted that each room had a private balcony, the majority of those balconies looked on to an abandoned building and you could only see a sliver of a nice view. However, we were not there for the hotel… we were there for the BEACHES!!!
As far as beaches are concerned, I seriously didn’t think the ones in San Blas could be topped but the ones on the Island of Elba sure do give them a bit of a run for their money!!! The colors of the water surrounding the island at the various spots are out of this world beautiful! I found myself literally taking the same exact picture 3 or 4 times over just to make sure I was properly capturing the colors!!
The beaches are quite different from one another and some were even different from any I had previously been on before. While I’ve mainly been used to beaches with sand, many of the beaches on Elba consisted of stones!! I wasn’t expecting this aspect at all!! The stones are like river stones, therefore not sharp in any way, but smoothed out from years of sea water sanding them out. While they weren’t that comfortable to lay out on, they weren’t completely terrible either and it was due to these stone beaches that the colors remained so crisp and lovely, even when in the water!
Needless to say, after mapping out several beaches for us to visit, the next few days were spent just going from one beach to the next, sunning and tanning, swimming and snorkeling and generally just loving the water and life! It was a great and relaxing time to be sure!! Even more of a bonus was that we were still in Italy so dinners were to die for!! I Love Italian food!! The last day was spent driving almost all the way around the island, taking several pictures along the way before heading back to the ferry and then home.
Though there was lots of drinking throughout my trip to Scotland (and Glasgow was no exception) I was at least countering some of the calories I was ingesting via beer in the form of hikes! As Anna is also a big fan of hiking, we set off for Loch Lomond to take on Conic Hill!!! Markie also joined us for the day of fun!! 🙂
Now, while we are fans of hiking and walking in general, we aren’t necessarily the most organized of people… Real hard-core hikers are prepared in advance. They pack the necessities, make sure they have the right shoes, get up at the rear of dawn to make it to their destination so they can get in a good hike before lunch. Yea…. this was not us at all!! We woke around 10, made our way out of the house maybe around noon?? Left in jeans and random everyday-use sneakers. Then went to get Markie, headed to Conic Hill to climb the “mountain” (it’s really just a hill!!) got some candy bars and some water at the little store at the base of the hill, then headed on up! Actually, had it been completely up to Markie, we would have just stayed at the base where there was a little restaurant and had some whiskey and beer instead of climbing at all (he was like “you were serious about hiking??” lol!!). So after convincing him that yes, we really were going for a hike, we headed off!
Though again we kept calling our hike “a hike up a mountain” it literally was just a hill. The climb was not tough or really that steep, just cold and quite windy at the top!! The more movement we made though the warmer I felt (of course from circulating the blood) but the second we would stop, I would freeze!! It only took about 45 minutes to get to the top at a very leisurely and relaxed pace. The view from the top was splendid as you could see all across the Loch and each of the little islands in the Loch. Sadly, that particular Loch is quite popular for parties in the summer and such… I say sadly because apparently there are a lot of deaths that occur in that Loch due to people getting too drunk, then getting on their boats or trying to swim or what have you… And because of the currents/depth/clarity/size of the Loch, it’s more like people just go missing… The bodies aren’t always found:( In fact, not that long before we were there, a news report had come out that a foot had washed ashore on one of the beaches on the Loch… Joy!! It was thought to be from a case years before of a child that had apparently drown, but the body was never found…
Another interesting thing to note about Loch Lomond for those seriously into hiking and camping out during hikes… It is the start of the West Highlandway which is a 4-5 day walking camp route!! It is quite a popular route and in fact even as we were coming down off the Hill, we passed several younger people with their backpacks, yoga mats and wee tents strapped to them. Obviously they were off to tackle the West Highlandway!
For sure had it been actually warm weather I could see being interested in doing something like that… But you all already know how much of a complete wimp I am in the cold!! Good times! In any event, once we made it back down, to reward ourselves we just had to stop in for a pint and some whiskey to warm up!! Since Anna was driving though, she could only have coffee… poor thing!! Don’t worry though, she caught up to us later that evening once we ditched the car! 🙂 We hung out for a couple of hours enjoying our beverages then headed back to town for the evening festivities!
Almost forgot! On the way back we actually stopped in to visit with Anna’s dad for a few moments where we were scoffed at each time we called “Conic Hill” a “mountain” 😉 Obviously we were trying to sound tougher than we actually were and her dad knew better!! Lol!!!
Oban! Pronounced Oh-Bin… What a lovely little place to visit! Sadly the weather was absolute crap during my stay, but at least I got a little sample:)
I took the bus from Inverness (or In-bir-nis in Gaelic) early and headed to Oban. I skipped going to Fort William because I had heard there really wasn’t much to do there, but in Oban there is the opportunity to go to several neighboring islands via ferry or boat, etc. So I was excited to check out the area for sure! On the way there just outside of town there is the Scottish Sea Life Sanctuary!!! I was quite tempted to jump off the bus right then and there as one of the stops was just in front of the facility, but that would not have been very sound seeing as I had my backpack with me… Plus, I figured I could always go back since I was staying three nights in Oban.
I spotted the hostel I had pre-booked to stay in (Oban Backpackers) as we drove down the main street to the bus station. I headed easily out to the hostel and was greeted by a very accommodating and friendly German man. I’m honestly not sure he took a single breath during his 5 minute “welcome introduction” lol!! But just as the Inverness Student Hostel was, Oban Backpackers was also warm, welcoming and a generally great place to stay!! They had large areas where people could hang out and chat and offered an area to put down the backpacks while one waited to check in! Just love that feature in a hostel since many times I had arrived too early to check into my room but didn’t want to be stuck hauling my crap around or sitting at the hostel simply waiting for check-in!!
But I’m rambling again… Since I had arrived a bit earlier than the actual check-in time, I put my crap down in the designated area and headed out with a very detailed map of Oban, which I acquired from the very friendly hostel host! The map itself was already very detailed (you know, one of those tourist maps provided by the city) but the host marked several areas of interest on mine before I left his presence so that I would know everywhere to go and see and do right off the bat! Obviously he was used to a gazillion of the same questions from travelers, so in an attempt to stave them all off, he simply answered them all up front, lol!!
So with my map in hand and my bag no longer on my back I headed to the Oban Tower. Located only about 10 minutes up the hill from the hostel, it provided a great place to take some aerial shots of the town!! From there I just wandered around the small town just exploring and getting ideas on what to do for the next coming days while there. The town itself is a little horse shoe shaped town located directly on the water. It has a shipping dock and lots of varieties of boats bobbing in the harbor all for their various purposes. There are even castles just a short hike up the way from the main part of town AND even a whiskey distillery in the center of town!! Yes, Oban does offer quite a bit of activities for those looking to kill a few days in a cute seaside town in Scotland…
Now, even though there were trails to walk, castles to see, a Sea Life Sanctuary to visit, a whiskey distillery to tour and nearby islands to take a ferry to for a few hours… I did absolutely none of those… 😦
I know!!! I know!! I’m totally bonkers!!! And I promise I TRIED to go see the castles and the Sea Life Sanctuary and even the distillery, but alas no… I’m totally going to blame it ALL on the weather!!! Yes, the weather!! I already mentioned above that the weather was absolute crap while I was there… And yes, it was just cold and windy and blustery basically the entire time I was there!! Ok, well the first day wasn’t so bad, but since I didn’t bother or care to look up an extended forecast for the area, instead of putting my rear in gear and actually doing some of the hikes and island visits on my first day (or half day, since I used the morning bit to get there!!) I simply spent it walking around and planning my activities for the next days… So anyway, yea… The first day was quite successful in the sense that I had a solid plan on what I was doing for the next couple days…
But the next day, once I rose and dressed and stepped outside into the blustery cold and wet and WINDY weather, I realized that all my plans were about to go to right out the window!! I first searched for something to nibble, then headed to the boat dock to see about catching a ferry to the nearby island of Kerrera, where there is a lovely monastery to walk around and enjoy a coffee in… But the docks were closed due to the windy weather. No boats, no ferry’s, no island… So I wandered to bus station to find out about the Sea Life Sanctuary bus to see if I could catch it and at least spend some time there. However, the majority of the park would have been outdoors and on the water basically, so if the weather was crap here, 20 minutes up the road wouldn’t be much improved… So I decided against that action… I thought ok, what about walking to the castles??
Finally an option that may work out! So I headed back through town on the main road, then cut through a little side street to the trail that would lead to the castles and just as I rounded the corner got slammed with the biggest wind gust yet!! My poncho flapped around me viciously while I got pelted in the face with rain drop after rain drop… This was not good!! And after only a block of that nonsense I turned back up the next little side street and headed back to the hostel to warm up.
After inquiring about “what to do on nasty weather days” to the hostel host (whiskey tour is what he suggested… or just a pub!) I headed to the whiskey distillery and decided against the tour (I wasn’t really that in the mood for whiskey, plus had no way to carry the glass gift they apparently gave at the end in my backpack) so I did the next best thing… Went to the pub!
Turned out to be a fine rest of the day as far as I was concerned!! Met an interesting guy from the States who was traveling all of the UK and Ireland on his motorcycle!! He actually had his personal motorcycle flown over and was driving it all around!! Needless to say he was being responsible and only had food and one drink at the bar, but it was really cool to meet someone who was doing something that brave!! Well done on him!!
So that’s how I killed my days in Oban… Ate, drank, drank, ate, curled up for a movie on my Samsung Tablet, and generally found any excuse to stay out of the weather and stay indoors!!! Some of my roommates had tried to go to the castle as well, and they succeeded!!! Brave couple!! However they didn’t really get to see anything at all since the mist was all around and the castles were closed… LOL!! Poor things!! They really looked wrecked when they came back!! But I’m sure they still had a great time being adventuresome!!