Friday, July 31, 2015

Inverness, Scotland

Inverness, (Inbhir Nis, in Gaelic), is the most northern city in the UK.  One of only seven cities in Scotland, status is only received in 2000, it sits on the River Ness.  It is considered the capital of the Scottish Highlands.

The River Ness
While it's only home to about 47,000 people it is one of the fastest growing cities in Europe.  Last year is was ranked at the happiest place to live in Scotland, and the second happiest place in the entire United Kingdom.

Inverness Castle was built in 1835.  Only the castle grounds are open to the public and the castle itself is now a sheriff court.

The Georgian tollbooth steeple was built in 1791and is located on the high street.

The Victorian Gothic Town House was completed in 1882.  It is the local office of the Highland Council and is currently under renovation.

The Ness Bank Church was built in 1901. 

The church is home to the Faith, Hope and Charity statues.  The statues used to be on the roof of a drapery store but the building was demolished in the 1950s and they were bought by a collector in Orkney.  After the collector passed away the city purchased the states for £55,000 in 2011.

The WWI monument is dedicated to all of the local men who died in 1914 - 1918.   

High Street













St. Andrew's is the cathedral for the Scottish Episcopal Church which was completed in 1869.  The spires are squared off because funding ran out before they could be built.  St. Andrew's was the first new cathedral built in the UK since the Reformation and it's the northernmost cathedral in mainland Britain.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Dunrobin Castle

So last year for my birthday I received a puzzle of a Scottish castle.  This year I received this trip to Scotland to go see the real deal.  How incredibly awesome is that!?!

Dunrobin Castle in the Highlands and was completed in 1845.  It is the seat of the Earl of Sutherland.  The castle has 189 rooms and it is the largest house in the north of Scotland. 

From 1965 to 1972 it was a boy's boarding school but since 1973 the house and grounds are open to the public.  The only drawback is that no photography is allowed inside.


The garden is beautiful.  Twice a day there's a falcon show which is quite entertaining. 

This was such an awesome day.  Hmmm...now what to do for his birthday?

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Orkney Islands Tour, Scotland

Yesterday was a long day trip from Inverness up to the Orkney Islands.  About 14 hours long.  But it was definitely worth it.

It was quite a long drive up.  The Highlands were quite nice and we even passed by Dunrobin Castle as we made our way up north.

John O'Groats is a small village of about 300 people and is just about the most northern point on the isle of Great Britain.

John O'Groats is 1,110 km (690 miles) from London, 450 km (280 miles) from Edinburgh and just 3,500 km (2,200 miles) from the North Pole.  The Orkney Islands are only 9.7 km (6 miles) away across the Pentland Firth which takes 40 minutes by ferry.


Once across we had a six-hour guided tour around several of the islands.

Scapa Flow is the body of water linking the five islands of Mainland, Graemsay, Burray, South Ronaldsay and Hoy.  It played significant roles in both world wars as it used to be the UK's chief naval base but the facility was closed in 1956.

There are three German battleships and four light cruisers that were scuttled here.  Today the wrecks are quite popular with scuba divers.

The Churchill Barriers are four causeways that run 2.3 km (1.5 miles) which link Mainland with South Ronaldsay, Lamb Holm and Glimps Holm.  They were built in the 1940s by, Italian POWs captured in North Africa, as naval defenses but today they are just road links.

Skara Brae is a stone-built Neolithic settlement on the west coast of Mainland.  The eight clustered houses were occupied from about 3180 BC to 2500 BC.  The site is older than Stonehenge, the Great Wall of China or the Great Pyramids of Egypt.  In 1999, became part of "The Heart of Neolithic Orkney" ans was designated a UNESCO World Heritage site.  The site was discovered only 150 years ago when a severe winter storm unveiled it under sand dunes.



The Standing Stones of Stenness is a Neolithic monument.  It's thought to be the oldest henge site Britain.

Ring of Brodgar
The Ring of Brodgar is another Neolithic henge.  Most henges do not contain stone circles but Brodgar is an exception.


Kirkwall is the capital of the Orkney Islands.  It's the largest town as well with about 9,300 residents.




Construction on St. Magnus Cathedral began in 1137 and took more than 300 years to complete.  It belongs to the Church of Scotland and is the UK's most northern cathedral.


The Italian Chapel was built during WWII by those Italian POWs who built the Churchill Barriers.  The chapel is on Lamb Holm and was constructed inside barrack huts with only basic materials.


It wasn't actually finished until after the war ended.  It was restored in the 1960s and 1990s.  The inside is lovely.  It's hard to believe that it was built from raw materials inside a prisoner of war camp.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Orkney Islands

The Orkney Islands is an archipelago of 70 islands north of Scotland.  The islands sit between Scotland and the Shetland Islands.  Only 20 of the islands are inhabited with a total population over 21,300.  The locals are known as Orcadians.

The largest island is Mainland which is the 6th largest island is Scotland and the 10th largest in the United Kingdom.  The biggest settlement is Kirkwall which is also the capital.

Between 875 and 1472 the islands were a part of Norway which helps explain why the flag is almost identical to Norway's except for yellow stripes instead of white stripes.

The islands have been inhabited for 8,500 years.  Some of the oldest Neolithic sites in Europe are here and are collectively designated a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Eilean Donan Castle and Isle of Skye Tour, Scotland

©Highland Experience Tours
Sunday was a really good coach tour to the Isle of Skye.  We left from Inverness and covered 328 km (205 miles) in about 9,5 hours.

Off course no trip to Scotland is complete without taking some photos of Highland cattle.

Our next stop was at Loch Ness where we saw the ruins of Urquhart Castle.

But still no sign of Nessie.  Perhaps the third time's the charm and I should come back once more.

On the west shore of Loch Ness is a small village village called Invermoriston.  The claim to fame here is the ruined Thomas Telford bridge that was built in 1813.  The stone bridge took eight years to build and it crosses the River Moriston falls.

Eilean Donan Castle is the 3rd most visited castle in Scotland.  It was founded in the 13th century on a small island.  The castle was rebuilt from 1919 to 1932.  A footbridge was built to connect the island to the shore.
WWI war memorial


The castle was opened to the public in 1955.  Unfortunately, no photography is allowed inside of the castle.





The Isle of Skye is Scotland's second-largest island and the largest island of the Inner Hebrides.

The island is 1,656 km² (639 mi²) and is home to about 10,000 people.

The Skye Bridge


The isle is connected to the mainland by the Skye Bridge.  It was a controversial toll bridge with very expensive rates.  The tolls were discontinued in 2004 after much local protest.


Kyleakin is a small village on the isle's east coast.  It is home to a ruined 15th century Castle Moil which is near the harbor.  The castle was the seat of the Mackinnon clan.

Elgol is a very small village on the shores of Lock Scavaig.  The population is only about 150 people and many are Gaelic speakers.  This was a nice place to grab some tea and enjoy the view of some small islands.

View of the Highlands

Loch Carron
Our final stop was at a viewing point above the village of Stromeferry.  This gave us a lovely view of Loch Carron which is where the River Carron enters the North Atlantic.

This was a really nice day and a very good start to our Scotland adventure.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Made it to Inverness

I'm back in Scotland.  A little birthday trip to the Highlands.  Specifically, in Inverness which is one of Scotland's seven cities. 

It should be a great few days here as we've got a few adventures planned.  Tomorrow we're taking a bus tour to the Isle of Skye and we've got another trip, way up north, to the Orkney Islands.
The River Ness in Inverness

What I'm most excited about is a trip to Dunrobin Castle which is why we're here in the first place.

Now to get some sleep as we have a big day tomorrow.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Another Drum Circle Outing

A couple of years ago, my former boss took her management team out a drum circle team building event.  I remember that it had been a lot of fun.  Well she suggested it and we went with another group of managers.  Again, lots of fun. 

The guy who facilitates it actually uses the drums as some sort of musical therapy.  Some of us were more rhythmically challenged than others but no worries.  I may try to do this again with my team. 


Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Czech National Revival

After the Battle of White Mountain, the Czech lands were basically Germanized by the Hapsburgs.  The Czech language was almost wiped out.  He was no longer used in state administration, schools, university or the upper classes.  Many Czech books were burned and Czech became the spoken language of mostly illiterate peasants.

The Czech National Revival, České národní obrození, was a cultural movement in Czechland during the 18th-19th centuries.  Its goal was to bring the Czech language, culture and a national identity back to life.

Some of the most influential people in the movement were Josef Dobrovský and Josef Jungmann who introduced the Czech language in schools.  Jungmann also wrote the first Czech-German dictionary.

Frantíšek Palacký was another leader in the movement.  He was a historian who wrote History of the Czech People.  Czech literature was championed by novelist Božena Němcová, poet Karel Hynek Mácha, and political columnist Karel Haylíček Borovský.
National Museum in Prague

In Prague, the National Theater opened in 1883 and the National Museum opened in 1890.

One side effect of the National Revival is that it made Czech an even more difficult language to learn.  By trying to make the language as "Czech" as possible many very old Slavic words were incorporated which lasts today.  For example, the word for theater in most Slavic languages today is "teatr".  But in Czech it is "divadlo".

"Music" in most Slavic languages is "muzyka" but in Czech the word is "hudba".


This is also one of the reasons why the names of the months in Czech are so different.

Here's a Pilsner Urquell commercial from 2010 that I found on YouTube.  It shows Josef Jungmann get inspiration for the revival.  But then he slips up and says "danke", thanks, in German.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

The Battle of White Mountain

The Battle of White Mountain, Bitva na Bílé hoře, took place on 8 November 1620 in what is now district 6 in Prague.  While it was more of a 'fight' than a 'battle' which lasted less than two hours and it took place on more of a 'hill' than a 'mountain', it is still an important part of Czech history and every school child learns about it in school.

In 1617, Ferdinand II became Holy Roman Emperor and King of Bohemia.  He was a devout Roman Catholic which worried many Bohemian Protestant nobles who feared the loss of their religious freedom and semi-autonomy within the empire.  The Emperor orders the Protestant nobles to either covert to Catholicism or leave their lands.


Battle Reenactment ©Prague Post
On one side were 30,000 Bohemians and on the other side 27,000 troops from the Holy Roman Empire, Spain and the Catholic League.  Neither side wanted to give weapons to peasants so most of the fighting was done by mercenaries.  About 4,000 Protestants were killed or captured while the other side only lost about 700 people.

The battle is reenacted every year in Prague.

Following the battle marked the start of the the counter-reformation and Catholicism was reintroduced to the Czech lands.  Hapsburg control of the Czech lands was solidified for the next 300 years as Czech culture suffered as German culture become more prevalent.  The Czech language was only used by peasants at least until the National Revival

The Battle of White Mountain took place at the beginning of the Thirty Years' War and here's a quick 3-minute video I found on YouTube that explains it all.