Camper Life? I Bought A Vintage Fan Lee Liner Travel Trailer. I Guess I’m Home?

Camper Life in my Fan Lee Liner

Yeah! I guess now, I’m living the ‘camper life’…

Camper Life in my Fan Lee Liner
1971 Fan Lee Liner My Camper Life Trailer

Okay, maybe not so fast. Let’s start from the beginning.

In the past three (3) years I have downsized from a jam packed 2200 sf 10 foot ceilinged loft, to a shitty (they claim it was 1000 sf but I think not) apartment and two (2) 10×20 storage spaces, to today, with the two (2) storage spaces in Rhode Island, plus a 10×10 with all of my Etsy shop stock in Virginia, an SUV and a 16 FAN Lee Liner travel trailer, that I am going to refer to from this point forward as a camper.

By this time next year, I plan to be down to one 10 x 20 storage space, the SUV and camper. But time will tell.Camper life is living small

Camper life is living small. Not a lot of room in there.

My goal is to live on the road full time for the entire year if 2018 and decide if it’s pure insanity or a life of pure elation. Right now I am in the elated side, but hey… where early in.

Traveling with a 15 year old cattle dog, and mentally deficited, rather skittish cat will be but a small part of this new challenge I’ve put before myselfCamper life for Dew the cat may be trying

Dew the cat in our lovely AirBnB Providence Rhode Island

I am tired of being tied down to the limitations of owning or renting a house, especially when I am traveling so much. Yet I am not so naive as to believe this is going to be a free or even inexpensive ride.

The shear expense of upgrading the tow package on he car, readying it and the trailer for the first cross country drive, is not cheap, especially since I’m staying in AirBnBs while the work is completed.Is Roadie the dog ready for camper life?

Roadie contemplating camper life

I am still sorting out how to manage my online shops, Renegade Revival and Lightly Sauced Retro on the road. I’ve been temporarily shutting the down and reopening them, with them still surprisingly doing remarkably well. But that cannot work nor last forever. But I’ll figure it out.

Anyway, here I am in Rhode Island, awaiting parts, so Apex can install the beefier tow system into my car, writing about my future camper life. My Lincoln Aviator is my camper life work horse

Lincoln Aviator, with a V8 baby

Perhaps I should talk a moment share some of my experiences and shit I’ve learned up to this very early point.

First thing to know if you too plan to live the camper life (and yeah I know it’s technically a travel trailer, but the point is still the same) is that you really need to gain a great deal of knowledge about tow bars, tow packages, tow capacity, ball hitches, electrical receptacles, brake controllers and well just all kinds of things that I know jack shit about.

Be prepared to learn, ask questions, take notes and if you cannot fix things like this yourself, you better trust the guys you’ve got doing it for you, or you can be seriously screwed.

Camper Life FAN
American made, ‘Camper Life’ Trailer by FAN made in Lagrange Indiana

I have now learned that the 1 1/4 inch hitch that comes standard with my Lincoln Aviator apparently is not sufficient to tow my new (to me) trailer. After 3 different UHaul locations (who were all very nice and accommodating by the way), told me easily 50 different things, that all turned out to be incorrect information, I am back at my tried, true and trusted guys at Apex Tire & Service in Pawtucket Rhode Island, to have what I need installed. (I would have asked them in the first place, but did not realize that they did such things until I had wasted a day and a half with UHaul).Apex Tire and Service. Preparing me for camper life

Apex Tire and Service. Pawtucket RI

On top of everything else, the Aviator that I just purchased, needed brakes, coils, spark plugs, new ball joints and arms (thanks a LOT Perry Subaru, you WILL be hearing from me as soon as I am back in Virginia).

Since here I am stuck for a few more days in Rhode Island, I rented a great AirBnB on a lake in Shrewsbury (Mass). I had been staying in a lovely AirBnB in Providence this week, but the AirBnB on the lake is brand new, so they are offering a fantastic deal and after already paying almost a grand for staying here this week and running around trying to get so much shit done… chilling on the lake with some wine, the dog and cat this weekend, while letting everything just be and settle, seemed the best plan. So yeah, not quite living the ‘camper life’ full time just quite yet.

If you have read my story, you will know that I have been in great transition for some time now and am now dedicated on traveling through all of 2018 with no real home base. Now, I guess that has altered a bit since I actually have a home base in this trailer. Although I have no plan for the trailer to be on any particular location for any extended amount of time, it is still a bit of a home base so to speak and I suppose a place that I can call home, when I am on the contiguous US.

Once the SUV is repaired and the trailer hitch installed on Monday, I will then pick up the trailer in Carlisle MA, head from there, through Rhode Island, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Maryland, Delaware into Virginia. This will be the easily the 20th time I have driven this route and likely the last.

Now, with my Dad gone, there will likely no longer be reason to drive along this particular path any longer, unless I am on one of my ‘camper life’ journeys in the future. It’s a strange, bittersweet feeling.

How did a 50 something woman end up giving up all she owned to live the camper life? Creating in only a few months a life dedicated to traveling and keeping moving on?

Honestly, I do not have much of an answer. I just know, here I am and I am the happiest I have ever been. There is no way to know how this will end up, but worse case scenario, 2019 comes around and I am left right at the place I started, except I will have spent an entire year traveling the world.

With less idea of what is before me and as little as possible concern for what is behind. Being as present and as honest as is possible to everyone and everything, even to myself and present in the moment is all I can do.

Camper life will be for me or it will not. Be it one step forward, six steps back, at least I am taking steps.

Life is the only thing you have and you only have one chance to utilize it to its fullest until it’s over. I may not succeed, but I I do not think that I care. Next week I will be driving in my new (to me) little vintage camper and I guess that then I will truly be my only home. I feel as open to anything and free as ever!

AirBnB Benefits All Especially The Solo Traveler

Gorgeous kitchen of my AirBnB in Glasgow

As is obvious, I am an avid solo traveler. Although my posts are currently focused on my most recent trip to the U.K., I have traveled much more than that, long before there was AirBnB or blogs for that matter.

Arnisdale House, Scotland AirBnB Scottish High;lands

Having traveled for most of my life, in looking back through my past adventures, perhaps I should have been much more cautious. But hey, I was young, fearless and determined. Often youth is a time less focused on concerns for welfare.

Now in my midlife, I have a greater realization of the potential hazards around me. I do not tend to allow such dangers to greatly sway or hinder my passions, either in life or travel. Yet today, I am much more cognizant of potential issues. AirBnB has become a bit of a safety net for me in that respect.

Solo Traveler Advantages of AirBnB

There are a lot of advantages to AirBnB and similar sites and apps, that help support ones desire to travel. I will share some of those advantages here, but one in particular stands out to me.

Gorgeous kitchen of my AirBnB in Glasgow
Gorgeous kitchen of my AirBnB in Glasgow

Retrospectively I realize, I’ve either been extremely lucky (since I certainly was far from cautious) or perhaps the world is just a safer place than many people think. I’ve gotten into strangers cars. Slept on their couches, floors and beds. I have walked through dangerous neighborhoods like Compton, where I clearly stood out. But in all of those years traveling alone, I never thought about who would have noticed if I’d gone missing?

CBGBs not an AirBnB
CBGBs not an AirBnB

Hell, at 13 I would walk from Grand Central Station to CBGBs and back, in the wee hours of the night / morning. That NYC was a far different place than it is today. I’d sneak out the window and take the train into NYC. Essentially, no one would know where I went or that I’d gone missing until morning.

Road to Arnisdale House AirBnB
Road to Arnisdale House AirBnB Arnisdale Scotland Scottish Highlands

So what’s this all about you ask? Well, it is about AirBnB and similar types of hotel disruptive apps. It is how AirBnB increased my sense of safety when traveling alone simply by knowing there was someone at the other end expecting me.

Utilizing AirBnB has saved me a shitload of money for more reasons than you may think. But it’s sheer existence has changed the way I travel. AirBnB quite literally opened up a new world to me, within the world, I thought I already knew so very well.

AirBnB cottage. Dublin
AirBnB Cottage, Dublin Ireland. Superb! But no coffee maker.

The Power of Alternatives

When AirBnB started, it was the idea of a place for guests to stay that was cheap and safe, yet also provided extra income for those willing to host with very little costs or middle men, so to speak.

Such a perfect AirBnB in Glasgow. I’m booking it again!
Gorgeous Glasgow AirBnB. The host, delightful

Like other disruptive services, AirBnB opened a up a window of opportunity for those looking for alternative ways to make some money. It also opened up a new world to both the guests and the hosts. Today, AirBnB can be a cash cow for many. Although the prices are at times like that of hotels, they still offer unique benefits that seem to help one save quite a few bucks.

View from AirBnB Miramare, Agerola Italy
View from Miramare AirBnB Agerola Italy

With me, traveling on my own often means driving. Driving for weeks and months at a time. Therefor having someone on the other end expecting me is a huge plus.

A hotel isn’t going to freak out if I don’t show (for the most part). If the host of the AirBnB I book does not intend to be there, I give them specific instructions to expect me to ping them upon arrival. If I don’t contact them in a reasonable amount of time, they are to contact me.

Arnisdale, Scotland AirBnB
AirBnB bedroom in Arnisdale. The wine was a nice touch too!

To think of me meandering through Bali, at 17… on my own. No one even knew I was there. I could have vanished into thin air and it would have taken months to track me down. So this is one really big perk of AirBnB. On top of this unintentional perk of AirBnB, there are so many other pluses in utilizing them and similar sights, over hotels, motels and hostels.

Wonderful kitchen. Arnisdale Scotland AirBnB
Fantastic kitchen Arnisdale House, AirBnB. Scotland

Home Cooked Meals & Traveling with Pets

Some of the more pragmatic perks involved in utilizing AirBnB, is the option of cooking for yourself or ‘self catering’ as it is more commonly referred to overseas. Sure you can still eat out, but you’re not forced to eat out at every meal.

Doo the cat. AirBnB Chapel hill North Carolina
Chapel Hill North Carolina, Doo the cat enjoys the AirBnB

This not only saves you money, but offers more healthy options and more control of your calorie intake. It also lets you eat when you want. Make snacks to take with you or sandwiches for picnics, you get the gist.

When traveling with babies or pets, I consider this an ideal situation. Yes many AirBnBs allow pets. Some are even ok with babies.

Full Scottish Breakfast AirBnB Inverness
Full Scottish breakfast. AirBnB Inverness

It’s good to keep in mind that although self catering is a huge AirBnB perk (when it is offered), that it does not always mean full use of the kitchen, especially outside of the US. I do not believe AirBnB has stringent criteria for what this means.

It also doesn’t always mean there is a stove. Some may not have an oven. It could mean access to a microwave or even only a fridge. I searched AirBnB for specific criteria and couldn’t find anything. Because of this, it is best to check and not to assume that you have access to an entire kitchen. Also check if you might be sharing said kitchen.

AirBnB Arnisdale Scotland. Real coffee!
Real coffee thank God at Arnisdale House AirBnB

What to Know When Booking an AirBnB

I suggest you ask if they have a can opener (especially if traveling with pets) or a coffee maker. If you’re like me and going to need them. Coffee often means that shit some people consider to be coffee called Nescafé, especially outside of the US.

Shockingly, in the U.K., Ireland, and similar places abroad… many people do not have coffee makers, or even French presses for that matter. The inhumanity! It is all about the tea.

Groceries. Dublin, Ireland AirBnB
Groceries. Dublin, Ireland AirBnB

Before you go, do make sure there is access to food either already there or at a place to which you can get. Some AirBnB locations can be pretty darned remote. Since I mostly drive, I can pick up groceries for remote areas. If you’re in a remote area with no transport and the kitchen is empty, it’s sort of redundant.

Scottish breakfast. AirBnB Kirkwall Scotland
True Scottish breaky Kirkwall AirBnB. Kept me going all day!

Complimentary breakfast is a great AirBnB perk, but not all comp breakfasts are created equal. In some places, like Scotland, a good Scottish breakfast can go a long long way. Seriously, a true Scottish breakfast will keep you going well to tea (dinner) time and the chance to interact with others is most often a plus.

But breakfast to some is tea and yogurt. Which is fine, but it will less likely tide you over to dinner. Also, a plus is when along with breakfast, comes conversation with other guests or your hosts. It’s an added bonus for a solo traveler like me.

Breakfast by AirBnB host day 2 Edinburgh. Delish!
Breakfast by AirBnB host day 2 Edinburgh. Delish! Scottish oatmeal

Do make sure if you’re expecting a comp breakfast, that they can meet your dietary needs. In Italy I was once offered only custard, donuts and tea for breakfast. I ate an apple and had an early lunch. When asked if they could provide alternatives like oatmeal, eggs and fruit… they happily obliged the next day.

Since I generally walk many miles in a day, covering most cities on foot, so a hearty meal makes it easy to keep going without being focused on my next meal.

A Place to Park & Advice From Locals

Free parking is a fantastic AirBnB bonus, if you’re a driver like me. When a staying in a major city, a promised parking spot can save you a ton of money and aggravation. Downtowns New York City, London, San Francisco, Boston, Paris etc… can be an outrageous expense for parking.

In Florence and Rome car break ins are rampant and finding any parking can be an absolute nightmare. Oh, and try parallel parking with 2 inches of space in front and back while newly driving on a different side.

London parking in front of AirBnB
Look at that parking job in front of London AirBnB

One of my favorite perks of AirBnB is the opportunity to get a true locals advice on where to go, what to do, where to eat and when.

Roseleaf in Edinburgh. Suggested by AirBnB host
Roseleaf in Edinburgh. Fantastic pub, suggested by my AirBnB host. Kedgeree, yum!

Without AirBnB I would have never found the Roseleaf in Edinburgh. I’d have never gone to Gellions in Inverness, I’d never have forgone driving into Dublin’s city center and taken LUAS instead. And I’d never have driven out to Brough Birsay on the Orkneys (one of the best parts of that fantastic journey)

Washing Machine AirBnB Durness Scotland
Durness Scotland AirBnB Washing machine! Yay!

There’s No PLace Like Home / But AirBnB Can Come Close

OMG! I almost forgot. A washing machine. After 3 weeks on the road, I was glad to see this washing machine in Durness. So glad, I almost kissed it. (I actually may have).

It’s crazy expensive to have your knickers washed at a hotel and time consuming in a laundromat. (although it’s a great way to meet the locals). Since I carry only a backpack, I often must rinse my clothes in the sink. To actually wash them? Joy of joys.

Not so important to me is the TV and cable access that many AirBnB provides, even in remote locations lacking much infrastructure. But for me the access to decent Wi-Fi, so I can post, or download pics or video is a huge bonus.

Bathroom Glasgow AirBnB
Glasgow AirBnB bath!

Lastly, being able to plunk down on a couch in your jammies with a glass of wine is a true pleasure. Doing so after a nice hot bath, with your clothes churning in the wash even better. Ultimately having all of that while nibbling on foods you enjoy in a place that feels like home, makes all of the difference in the world on a long excursion.

AirBnB & Extended Stays

Staying at an AirBnB for at least a week. Getting to know the neighbors or if in a remote area, the camels or sheep. Having time to yourself in your own space, is such a different experience than just “staying” somewhere, because you become part of the community instead of just observing it. For me it’s the best addition to my traveling life that has occurred beyond the advent of GPS.

Oh and I must admit, I too love a good stay in a nice hotel. Fine food, lots of catering to your needs. I am all up for that. But for me, that’s vacation, not travel. I can go anywhere and obtain fine service in a fine hotel. Travel to me is melding into your environment and becoming as much a part of it as you can. There certainly are benefits to all sort of travel and quite frankly, I’ll take any sort of travel, pretty much to anywhere over almost anything else.

Killdrummy Castle Hotel not an AirBnB but amazing
Kildrummy Castle Hotel aka Kildrummy Park Castle Hotel. Picture by Elizabeth Whitener, Aberdeenshire Scotland 2017

Unexpected Benefits of AirBnB

A really unexpected perk of AirBnB has been the locations. Although I have stayed in some amazing places such as Miramare (which is an actual BnB, in Agerola Italy). The neo gothic half ruin in which I stayed in Fiesole Italy (sadly no longer available) or in Arnisdale Scotland (I will return there) were just as magical as the journey itself.

These places took me to places to which I never would have been if not searching out places on AirBnB. My stays there were as wonderful as the journey that brought me to them.

Fiesole AirBnB
Gothic Revival half ruined estate Fiesole Italy AirBnB

Lastly, the enduring friendships, interesting people, the exceptional conversations I have had while staying in AirBnBs have added to my travels so significantly, it is hard for me to imagine traveling without it.

Aberdeenshire: Scotland’s Castles, Other Coast & Hidden Wonders

If you are not from the UK, an archeologist, a paleontologist, an ancient or Celtic history buff or perhaps in the oil industry,  it is unlikely you have heard much about the Aberdeenshire region of Scotland. If you are from England, you likely think it is mostly a grey, dreary, wretched place. In fact it seems a great many Scots think this too.

Sunny Day in Aberdeenshire
A beautiful and sunny day in Aberdeen Scotland Aberdeenshire 2017 photo by Elizabeth Whitener

When I decided to drive around the entire coast of Scotland, shunning the typical “North Coast” route for one of my own making,  I was inundated with information about the route commonly known as the NC 500 . I found little about Scotland’s North East Coast beyond grumbles from my UK friends as to why I would even WANT to drive THAT coast.

The popular North Coast 500 is a lovely drive through my beloved Highlands, but you miss so very much stopping at 500 miles in. Yes you get to see the remarkable Highlands, but you miss out on most of the castles.

Arnisdale - Donan
NC 500 near Glenelg, Scotland Highlands Photo by Elizabeth Whitener 2017

The NC 500 part of my journey was truly spectacular. But Aberdeen and the surrounding area (Aberdeenshire) were equally full of splendor.  So much so, I plan to do it all again next year. All of it!

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Kildrummy Castle Ruins (a true castle) Scotland 2017 Photo by Elizabeth Whitener 

Since I am currently writing about my experiences as they unfolded, we’ve now left Edinburgh. I have much more to write about that city, but for now we are about a 3 hour drive Northeast-ish of there.

I only stayed at one conventional hotel during my month long journey. The rest of the time I stayed with friends or at AirBnBs.

I stayed at Kildrummy Park Castle Hotel for two (2) nights. It was at the tail end of the season, so the hotel was relatively quiet and I got a great deal from Booking.com. It was worth every damned dime.

Although rather remote and only accessible via some extremely rural roads, that is the general nature of such a journey anyway. It’s location made access to the numerous wonders in the area fairly easy and the view, service and food were simply stupendous. If you decide to stay there, ask for Fiona.

Kildrummy Castle Hotel
Kildrummy Castle Hotel aka Kildrummy Park Castle Hotel. Picture by Elizabeth Whitener, Aberdeenshire Scotland 2017

The hotel was built in 1900, partially from the ruins of the original 13th century castle that it now overlooks. It was turned into a hotel in 1950. Located near Kildrummy, which is fairly inland from the coast, but nothing in Scotland is really THAT far away (at least not to a road trippin’ American).

In Aberdeenshire, or let’s say the area between Edinburgh and Aberdeen (and a wee bit beyond) it seems one cannot drive more than 10 miles without bumping into an ancient castle. Now I am not talking about Tower Houses like the magnificent Castle Fraser, which is not really a castle at all, see my post about this here–> Tower Houses of Scotland aka Scotland’s Castles I am talking about castles, real Scottish castles!

Fraser full view
Castle Fraser. Magnificently preserved. Built in 1636 Z plan Tower House. Not a castle. Photo by Elizabeth Whitener, Inverurie, Scotland, Aberdeenshire 2017

Don’t get me wrong, there is a seemingly endless array of Tower Houses, Castellated Houses and Baronial House in the area. All well worth seeing as far as I am concerned. Some still in use, some well to moderately preserved and some in ruins dotting the landscape. But let’s talk castles, true castles.

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Dunnottar Castle. A true 16th century courtyard castle. Stonehaven Aberdeenshire. Photo by Elizabeth Whitener 2017

Magnificent Dunnottar Castle. A menacing ruin of a castle jutting up from a huge rock, surrounded by what is often a very turbulent sea. Fortified in the Early Middles Ages, the remaining buildings are from the 15th and 16th centuries.

Dunnottar is a little less than 2 miles south of Stonehaven, and you can make a day of castles and tower houses if planned well.

Castle FraserCraigievar Castle, Drum Castle and Crathes Castle (all actually tower houses by the way) are not so far away. They are all part of the National Trust of Scotland  so give them a call before you go. They are super helpful and every one of these properties have their own unique qualities.

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Crathes Castle & Gardens. The painted ceilings of this castle are wondrous. Built 1596 Banchory Scotland, Aberdeenshire. Photo by Elizabeth Whitener 2017

Check ahead that Dunnottar is open before you go. It is private and not attached to the National Trust. It was NOT open when I was there due to weather.

Also check schedules for events, as well as road closures along your route. Drum closes down to the public for special events and road closures happen frequently. I do not advise it, but I drove around the road closure signs after circling for too long. It isn’t uncommon for detour signs to lead you either in a circle or to nowhere, according to the locals.

Dunnottar is truly a marvel, and is a huge part of not only ancient but more modern Scottish history. This impressive group of structures belonged to the Keiths from the 14th century and was practically impenetrable until the shit hit the fan after the 1715 Jacobite rising. See my short post on the subject here–>  And then the English… 

If you wish to go a bit off of the beaten path, there are the Nine Castles of Knuckle, 2 of which are gone. From west to east, the castles are Dundarg, Pitsligo, Pitullie, Kinnaird, Wine Tower, Cairnbulg, Inverallochy, Lonmay and Rattray

  1. Kinnaird Castle (tower house) now The Museum of Scottish Lighthouses
  2. Winetower (?) – preserved
  3. Cairnbulg Castle (z plan tower house) – private residence
  4. Inverallochy Castle (true castle) – ruin
  5. Dundarg Castle – ruin
  6. Pittulie – ruin
  7. Pitsligo (keep) -ruin
  8. Lonmay Castle (gone)
  9. Castle of Rattray (gone)

True castles in Aberdeenshire to note. Click on them for further info. Some quite obscure.

Cluny Castle – Z-plan Castle – Built 1604 – Private Residence – South of Monymusk

Corse Castle – L / Z plan Castle – 16th Century – Ruin – Three miles NW of Lumphannan

Coull Castle – Fortress –  13th Century – Ruin – South of Coull

Findlater Castle – Courtyard Castle – 14th Century – Ruin – Sandend

Inveralochy Castle – Courtyard Castle – 13th Century – Ruin – Inverlochy Inverlochy Castle Hotel looks like a great place to stay.

Kildrummy Castle – Castle of Enciente – 13th Century – Ruin – Kildrummy

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Kildrummy Castle – 13th Century ruin – photo by Elizabeth Whitener Kildrummy Scotland 2017 (quite a sunny day too)

Lauriston Castle – Courtyard Castle with later additions – 13th Century – Private Residence – St Cyrus (right outside of Edinburgh). A beauty with fantastic gardens and views. Lots of people walking dogs! Lots of wonderful little benches and hideaways.

lauriston Castle view
View from Lauriston Castle. True 13th century courtyard castle with additions. Private residence. Look, another sunny Aberdeenshire day! Photo by Elizabeth Whitener 2017

Toluqon Castle – Courtyard Castle – Built 1589 – Ruin (Historic Scotland) – Pitmedden

Scotland, ALL of Scotland, has so much to do and so much to see. Plan your journey well and be open to making changes as you go.

Scotland is just a beautiful place. Its diversity is as unique as is its history, its flora and fauna and its people.

Closing yourself off to one part of this country, to me, is like getting a glimpse of a small corner of a masterpiece and calling it a day, never getting a full view of all that you could have seen.

Tower Houses of Scotland aka Scotland’s Castles

“ABC!” he said to the women in front of him, with the tinge of a cockney lilt. We were all standing in little stone room utilized as the gift shop / lobby of yet another of Scotland Castles, Drum Castle, awaiting the tour to begin.

“ABC!!” he said louder to her back and pretty much all of us this time….

He was a handsome guy. Tall, lanky, pasty white. He looked black Irish to me, definitely a Brit. He had that haircut I love on men his age. Shaved on the sides long on the top, reminiscent of a 1930s style. It added to his boyish charm. His tone was playful.

His girlfriend or wife or whatever she was to him had her back to him (and me), but I could tell she was rolling her eyes as she paid the lady at the counter. His brown eyes twinkled, he was complaining but with mirth. The small crowd in the low ceilinged room was silent.

Having paid she slid by him and out the front entrance, leaving him with an audience staring at him in muted suspense.

“Another Bloody Castle!” he asserted, smiled broadly, swept the long piece of hair from his eyes swooping it back over his head and walked out the door to await the tour guide.

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Drum Castle. One of Scotlands oldest tower houses

They call them castles all over Scotland, but actually, they are tower houses. Referred to as castles, pretty much all over these days. Even by the National Trust of Scotland which owns and maintains many of the castles aka tower houses of Scotland today. These fortified estates were built with the defensive nature of castles in mind. If you know much about the history of Scotland, you understand the need of such castle like structures.

They initially appeared in the middle ages, mostly in Scotland and Ireland, later turning up in Spain, Italy and France. Built in more remote or mountainous regions, (which at the time was much of Scotland) where people were often left much to their own devices and raids of one’s home was common place.

Craigievar Castle (tower house) Scotland tower house
Craigievar Castle (tower house). A pink harled structure near Alford, Aberdeenshire Scotland. Photo by Elizabeth Whitener aka januarymoon 2017

The high middle ages was a time of great extremes in Scotland and seriously tenuous relations between many europeans. Great Britain changed allies more often than the king changed his hat. There was a rapid and sudden population increase, a mass exodus from the rural areas to the cities, endless wars, economic strife and then the plague aka Black Death… which is suspected to have killed upwards of 50% of the population. Things were a wee bit unstable. For Scotland, perhaps even more so.

Castle Fraser
Castle Fraser (tower house). The most elaborate Z plan castle and truly grand inside and out. Located near Kemnay in Aberdeenshire, Scotland

Tower houses were simply large homes, built to maintain the safety of those within, with limited man power or forces. They became popular with aristocrats for obvious reasons, and were often stark and foreboding on the outside while filled with the comforts of the wealthy inside. They popped up all over Italy, England and Spain during times of strife, but today Scotland seems to maintain some of the finest examples of such residences.

Some of the tower houses of Scotland are now owned and managed by National Trust for Scotland. Others remain privately owned. But there are so very many you can visit throughout Scotland that continue to be intact. It is so worth visiting as many as is possible.

Edinburgh Above & Below: Less Touristy, Obscure & Free Things to Do & See in Scotland’s Capital

 

Edinburgh. One of my favourite cities. For me a mix of everything that makes a city great!

Edinburgh
Edinburgh – a city of Scots

Edinburgh is a completely walk-able city, brimming with art, literature, food and music. Set within a rich and ancient history. With its lush gardens and well preserved architecture, Edinburgh is just as vibrant and diverse as its hills are old… and don’t forget the best part of Edinburgh … it’s full of Scots.

Edinburgh Castle
Tourists at the entrance of Edinburgh Castle. Edinburgh 2017

Alas, I am not alone in this sentiment, which means this famous festival city is often teeming with visitors from all over the globe and heavily laden with commercial tourist traps. Also, although I consider Edinburgh to be a very affordable city, it is certainly not exactly cheap, especially in peak season. With this is mind I have devised a list of unique or lesser known places to see and things to do, some off the beaten path, some right in the middle of the city, some on the cheap, some completely free and some just kinda weird.

Now, don’t get me wrong, visiting the most heralded locations, if at all possible, is well worth anybody’s time. Yet if you are there for only a short visit, have already visited the most common sites, simply cannot stand crowds or are on a highly restricted budget, there is plenty to do or see.

Two Cities One Edinburgh

Commonly broken up into two (2) sections. Edinburgh is made up of the highly populated Old Town.

EDINBURGH CASTLE stands as the venerable head of OLD TOWN. THE ROYAL MILE cuts its grand way down the middle, ending at the PALACE OF HOLYROODHOUSE and HOLYROOD PARK.

The most common and popular sites are the aforementioned Edinburgh Castle, Royal Mile, Palace of Holyroodhouse, St Giles Cathedral, The National Museum of Scotland,  The Scottish National Gallery.

Extremely popular in the NEW TOWN is PRINCES STREET & PRINCES STREET GARDENS AND THE SCOTT MONUMENT.

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Royal Mile Close

There are so many more popular things to see and do, I simply cannot share them all, but TRIPADVISOR is a great place to find out about what might best suit you.

Now onto my list of less touristy, more obscure or unusual haunts.

  1. King George V Park (Eyre Place): Located in the Canonmills area, this is a fantastic park to cut through while walking from one end of the city to the other. With playgrounds for kids (Scotland Yard) and fabulously lush walkways, it is a beautiful stroll with fantastic photo opportunities. It leads you to a lot of other cool and entirely free stuff

    Leith Walkway Edinburgh
    Leith Walkway
  2. Rodney Street Tunnel (aka Heriot Hill Tunnel): This old railway tunnel, built in the 1840s, was abandoned and sealed from the 1960s to 2009. It is is now a walkway connecting Scotland Yard Park playground with the Canonmills-Leith pedestrian-cycleway. It takes you over Warriston Cemetery, offering fabulous photo opportunities along the way. A lovely walk along a tree lined path filled with cyclists, joggers, prams and dog walkers. Culminating at a really nice and modern Tesco Food Market (Super Store), it is an excellent alternative to the busy intersection at Broughton and Rodney Streets.
    Rodney Street Tunnel View
    Rodney Street Tunnel
    Rodney Street Tunnel Art Edinburgh
    Rodney Street Tunnel Art
    Rodney Street Tunnel Art
    Rodney Street Tunnel Art

    Rodney Street Tunnel Tag
    Rodney Street Tag and Art
  3. Warriston Cemetery:  Located (I think) at 36 Warriston at the Water of Leith   a Northern suburb, built by the Edinburgh Cemetery Company in 1842. It has been sitting derelict and ignored until fairly recently and it is glorious. With about 14 acres of Victorian gardens, filled with tens of thousands of macabre and ornate gravestones and tombs. The neo Tudor, Gothic, Edwardian and Victorian style of this magical place is… well magical. It is a worthy place to visit. The wildlife, from foxes to birds, is rampant. Buried there you can find notable Victorian and Edwardian figures, the most eminent being the physician Sir James Young Simpson. It lies in the Inverleith Conservation Area, is a designated Local Nature Conservation Site and is protected as a Category A listed building.
  4. South Bridge Vaults: Found just a bit south of Edinburgh Castle, you can see the arch of this bridge, built in the late 1700’s, where it crosses over Cowgate. But South Bridge is actually made up of 19 arches that are amazingly enclosed in buildings all along the way. The bridge has a history of folly and went out of use a mere 30 years after it was built. The vaults created by these arches were filled in with rubble around 1820. In 1985, a chance excavation revealed the labyrinthic network of rooms and dwelling spaces contained within. These spaces have lost none of their original atmosphere. They are still dark, occasionally claustrophobic and, when it rains in Edinburgh they can still be very damp. They’re mainly frequented by ghost tour companies today. Go check them out.
  5. Dunbar’s Close: Along the Royal Mile. I cannot believe how few people know that if you follow it all of the way down, it leads to an amazing little public garden. A perfect respite from the tourist laden and hectic areas above.
  6. Mary King’s Close: Along the Royal Mile. Possibly one of the more well known closes,  long shrouded in Scottish legend. Closed to the public for many years, it actually consists of a number of closes which were originally narrow streets with tenement houses on either side, stretching up to eight stories high‘The Real Mary King’s Close’ tour group, takes you on a journey through time, traversing a warren of hidden streets, frozen in time, beneath the Royal Mile. Led by a costumed character guide the tour tells the real stories of the people who lived, worked and died on these now hidden closes. Not as obscure as some of the above, but truly worth the hour tour.
  7. Gilmerton Cove: Located at 16 Drum Street (a bit outside of central Edinburgh, I did not walk). This is truly just bizarre. Although vastly researched, no one really knows what the Hell it is (or was). Its entrance is through an old mining cottage, turned welcome center. Guides lead you down to a huge and surprisingly extensive assortment of hand carved passageways and chambers that lie deep below ground. Maybe it was a place to hide Covenanters or Jacobites. A smuggler’s lair, a secret drinking den, or something to do with Knight Templars, no one knows. It opened in 2003 and it is a wee bit campy, but it is deliciously creepy down there, a wee bit scary and really fun. TO NOTE: Tours are limited to 12 persons per tour. Definitely book ahead. But that pretty much goes for all tours in Edinburgh.
  8. Innocent Railway (at Arthur’s Seat): Located by Holyrood Car Park. It is underneath Holyrood Park Road bridge. It is just a tunnel, but it is a pleasant walk before or after checking out Arthur’s Seat and the Craigs. If you walk to the main road it will take you to the next suggestion
  9. Dr. Neils Garden: Found on Old Church Lane in Duddingston Village. Tranquil, and serene winding paths through lush foliage. Right next to Duddingston Kirk (worth visiting as well) at the lower slopes of Arthur’s Seat (next on my list). Open to all for free 7 days a week (they do rely on private donations though) A sanctuary, built out of dedication and love, filled with trees, flowers and other plants, bridges and lovely private areas where one can sit in the sun, watch the wildlife, read or what have you. Just a wee but down the road is a wonderful and very old Inn where you can grab a bite and a pint. The Sheeps Heid Inn. Check out their website for a schedule of events. Keep in mind it can get brown, muddy and grey in the Winter anywhere in Scotland.
  10. Arthurs Seat: Located within Holyrood Park (a 640 acre Royal Park) and only a short walk from the Royal Mile, this significant volcanic mountain  is the parks highest point offering not only wonderful (if not at time a bit strenuous walking / hiking trails), but unbelievable views and photo opportunities of the city and much more. There you will find one of four hill forts that are over 2000 years old. It’s unusual diverse range of flora and geology makes it a site of Special Scientific Interest. Nearby are also a 15th century medieval St Anthony’s Chapel and the unique 150 foot cliff faces dominating Edinburgh’s skyline known as Salisbury Craigs.
  11. Old Calton Cemetery: Found at 27 Waterloo Place on the Northeast side of city center. This cemetery built in 1718 has spectacular examples of the Victorians obsession with death and the occult. Quirky, creepy, elegant and just outright bizarre. The graves and mausoleum of this Scottish “Pere Lachaise” cemetery vie with each other for the title of most quirky and elegant.

I Sold Seeds, She Sold Pearls

Myself, Josephine and Vince
Myself, Josephine and Vince

I met Josephine in San Francisco while selling pearls from the oyster on Pier 39. She was visiting from the U.K., traveling around the US, and needed a place to stay. The 7 x 5 closet in my Geary & Polk flat, became her home away from home for a short time.

I moved to San Francisco from Philadelphia, drawn by the vivid music scene and dragged my then boyfriend Vince along for the ride. We lived 2 blocks away from Mitchell Brothers. (Photo from Wikipedia) in the Polk district.

Mitchel Brothers, San Francisco, California
Mitchell Brothers, San Francisco, California

Mitchell Bros

I quit my job selling pearls from the oyster for Pearl Factory shortly after Jo started, and began running a little seed and gardening shop also located on Pier 39.

By day Jo sold pearls and I sold seeds and by night we partied until dawn with the vibrant characters and sounds of the SF punk scene.

Josephine was but a short side note in my life full of music, madness and mayhem. California’s music scene of the 80s, was a debauch and wild ride one full of fantasy and heartbreak. Yet, my time with Jo, remains one of the more precious notes on the scale of my life and I have long cherished it.

Together we experienced the Butthole Surfers at the Ibeam, PIL in Berkeley, the Psychedelic Furs, Siouxsie & the Banshees, The Cramps and really more bands than either of us can recall. (Keep in mind the debauch part and you’ll understand)

In less than a year after she’d returned home to the U.K., I was at her door at 49 Daisybank Rd in Longsight Manchester requesting a return of the favour… I haven’t stopped traveling since.

Miss Josephine
Miss Josephine

30+ years later, here we are heading to see Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds in Manchester.

Time, distance and circumstance of life can never break the true bonds of friendship. Neither an ocean, nor the burdensome withering caused by age can cut the ties created in our youth.

I love you Jo!

Frothy Cup of Ire in JFK!

Panini Express JFK Airport
Panini Express JFK

After waiting for ten minutes the annoyed Indian lady looks at me as if my standing at her counter is a huge inconvenience. Or maybe more like I’m something she just scraped off of her shoe.

“I’d like a double cappuccino please!”

She looks at me with malice in her eyes.

“A what?” Her Indian accent is tinged with New Yawkerease. I know I’ve had this same sort of showdown with this ladies twin sister in the past.

I’m hesitant in my reply. “You know, uhm, a double, 2 shots of espresso!”

“We don’t got that. Only small, medium or large.” She sweeps her hand at the sign behind her head without looking at it, like she’s swiping at an annoying gnat and I’m the annoying gnat.

I hesitate once more. I saw the sign, but I don’t want a large or medium, I just want 2 shots.

“Hmmm, well what does that…” she rolls her eyes and cuts me off, turning to the sign.

“Small! Meeedium! Laaarge!

I stand there in silence. An easy minute passes with her just staring at me. It felt like an eternity.

“Small has one shot, Medium has 2, Large has 3”

Now I’m annoyed, she knew, she was just being a bitch. “Medium… please… a double!” She sighs audibly as she grabs the medium sized cup and I scoot down to the cashier to pay.

There are no other customers, just me and I pay, grateful that it’s less than $6.00 for this angry little cup of coffee.

The cashier is friendly. She smiles at me in a knowingly manner and I joke with her that this is almost the last of my American money! She sincerely wishes me a good flight and nice day and I stand there in wait for the frothy warm cup of ire.

Angry Indian Lady attempts to place the cup away from me, near the (previously unnoticed by me) sugar station. The cashier grabs it from her hand mid air. “She’s over here!” she says sweetly but with an edge. Looking at me in understanding “The sugar and milk is over there” she nods in the direction and smiles in obvious apology.

“See! I know!” spits out the Indian woman, as I scoot over to the sugar station. “I know where to put the coffee”

I walk away thinking I know where she can put that coffee too!