"Petra!" Twinkle eyeing my husband. "Wadi rum!" He sighs & gives me the eye. "Baptismal pools?" As much as I wanted to celebrate my 40th birthday with something big & different like the natural wonders of Jordan, the tension that is happening around the country doesn't appeal to my husband. Even if I told him that Angelina Jolie was there to aid Syrian refugees. Although Jordan is Jordan & might be relatively safe, donkey back riding to Petra would just have to go back to the bucket list.
We decided on the islands of the Scottish Highlands, to my delight of having the chance to see the Northern Lights, or the Aurora Borealis. Booking last minute plane tickets, hotels & routing our week holiday, we were finally ready to go to what seems to be almost at the top of the world. Maybe not top enough for the Northern Lights because the sky was dancing in Iceland, Norway & Sweden during the nights I was hoping for one. We were a week late for it when it lighted the sky in Scotland, but it was on the day of my birthday!
Scotland's weather is incredibly erratic & it made it a challenge to capture good photos. One minute you have blue skies, the next minute you have winds that can whisk away one's toupee, then after you're drenched in rain in the cold. The Scots were saying it's even no surprise if hail or snow falls. Bothered but I was reminded this is Scotland & despite of the fickle skies, the locals are amazingly welcoming & pleasant. In the first hour we arrived Inverness, looking for a place to satisfy our grumbling bellies, an old couple happily asked us if we needed directions. No better time for kindness when you have an emtpy stomach & we were not disappointed with the restaurant.
No Scotland visit will be complete without a whisky distillery tour. The Speyside region has a Malt Whisky Trail & as a personal favorite of my husband, we caught the last tour of the day of The Glenlivet. I never tried whisky & after learning more, tasted a 12 & 15 year old, I'm still not a drinker of whisky. Even peaches or raspberries soaked in it.
Inverness is also the home of Loch Ness. I read about Nessie in the Reader's Digest Strange Stories & Amazing Facts when I was 12 & I was still blown away being in front of this ordinary but mysterious lake. My childhood imagination still lurks somewhere.
A three hour drive from Inverness brings us to Gills Bay to catch our ferry to the islands of Orkney. My husband was already reluctant about driving during his holidays, let alone driving on the left. But in the end, he really enjoyed the scenery & the diverse landscapes that he wanted to stop at every photo-worthy spot. We have forgotten that life on the island starts early & ends early that looking for a place to eat at 9pm was difficult especially if the centre town is deserted. Luckily we were guided to the only one open, an Indian restaurant and we already wanted to try one. I loved the papadums & naan.
Even if we didn't see the Northern lights, the islands of Orkney is a World Heritage Site so rich in history & by history I mean 5000 years. Back to the Stone Age & stories of Vikings. The Standing Stones of Stenness were said to be erected around 3300 BC, with the highest stone standing at 5.7m tall. The Ring of Brodgar is a wide circle of standing stones & believed to be a site of spiritual rituals around 2500 BC. Yet, nobody really knows what the standing stones are really for.
The centre of Kirkwall, one of the biggest towns of the island, has cobble stone streets & a magnificent 12th century cathedral of St. Magnus built with local red sandstones & yellow Eday stone. These stones really made the building impressive & nothing I've seen anywhere. If only I took 10 minutes to take a peek inside the cathedral in between running up & down the main street looking for the tourist office & post cards.
The Skara Brae, northern Europe's best preserved Neolithic village. A glimpse into the everyday stone age life! I can't get over how small they were. The stone bed boxes, the doors & pathways. It is located by the sea & when we visited, the wind was howling with sand. I can't imagine how they got through the harsh weather while here I am already complaining about a little sand storm.
There sits a banal looking hill, the Maes Howe, actually an ancient tomb from about 5000 BC. The enormous sandstone blocks brought from several miles away are amazing. The vikings came crashing into the tomb looking for treasure & destroyed the roof of the tomb. It's the only part that is not authentic & they let you know by painting the whole ceiling white. They didn't really find anything in the tomb, only viking graffitis that says, "Ottarfila was here," or "Thorni bedded Helgi". As they say, nothing has changed through time. There were engravings of a crusador cross & a dragon. And around the winter solstice, the setting sun shines on the entrance passage to the back wall. The sun sets behind the mountain just aligned to the entrance. Again, nobody knows what the tomb really is for & the tour guides are open for your personal theories. There's a live feed webcam for you to watch the sun creep into the tomb when winter comes. Note that the two photos are within an hour - blue skies then comes the gray & rain!
Going back to the mainland, all we had was rain. Passing by the Castle of Mey, was the summer house of the Queen Mother Elizabeth. Beautiful stone building, it's like a sand castle! We passed by the most northern part of the British mainland, the Dunnet Head to end our Scotland trip. Not without a wonderful fresh haddock fish & chips on our last night in Thurso. Scotland is wonderful with its breathtaking landscapes & having 2 or 3 seasons in a day, there'll always be a rainbow. I have never seen so many of it in one day.
Just the way I wanted my 40th & a wonderful celebration of our 12th year. A new place, first times & a wow from the wonders of the world.
Merci, mon mari! Tchin tchin!