Monthly Archives: June 2014

3 Unexpectedly Fun Things To Do in Scotland

It’s not hard to enjoy Scotland – there are castles everywhere, and of course those adorable sheep prancing on rolling green hills. But sometimes the best memories are made without direction from any guidebook, or even offering up that picturesque scenery so many of us long to capture. Here are three unexpectedly, surprisingly fun things to do in Scotland:

 

1. Watch Border Collies herd sheep

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Leault Farm in Kincraig is a working sheep farm that offers a herding demonstration a couple times per day. Neil, the man in charge (with a Scottish accent so thick I had to squint to understand even half of what he said) introduces his team of Border Collies, allows his herd of sheep to disperse across a large field, and then issues a series of whistled commands to the dogs to strategically herd them all back to us. Each dog has its own whistle call so Neil can direct them one at a time to run, crouch, crawl, and pop back up at the right moment to move the herd.

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We were lucky to visit when he had 3 puppies just beginning to learn to integrate with the working pack, and we saw how the herding instinct is so powerful that even without any training, the puppies knew how to crouch down and crawl toward the sheep so as not to scare them into running off.

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When a dog was not working at that point in the demo, they would come sit on the rocks with us in the audience, but they never took their eyes off the action. At one point, when the dogs seemed to be losing control over the herd, two of the experienced dogs bolted from their places next to us out to the field to assist their rookie brothers, even without being directed by Neil.

The demonstration is just for our viewing pleasure, but the place is actually a working farm where the sheep live and graze in peace for most of the year, except at shearing time, when the dogs are used to herd them in for their “haircuts.” After the demo, you get to bottle feed sheep and lambs. If you’re an animal lover like me, this place is heaven on Scottish soil.

Insider Tips:

  • The farm is hard to find so leave plenty of time to let GPS take you miles past the turn-off, then back again.
  • Catch the first demonstration and Neil will let you stay to watch the second immediately after for no extra charge.

 

2. Sit in a pub, order treacle and date pudding, and listen to the Scottish accent

20130819-_DSC5193A big part of traveling to a different country for me is to sit and absorb my surroundings – the sounds, the gestures, the accents. It helps me to feel grounded when I start to feel dizzy from all of the newness. One of my favorite memories of Scotland was sitting in a pub in the town of Inverness after a long day of chasing castles, listening to the especially thick Scottish accent in this area from a few groups of people nearby. That’s when I fell in love with that accent. And treacle and date pudding? Just the most intense explosion of flavor in dessert form.

Insider Tip:

Mums in Edinburgh has the best treacle and date pudding

 

3. Walk underneath the Royal Mile in Edinburgh

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The Real Mary King’s Close is a subterranean alley located directly under the Royal Mile that was the hub of Edinburgh between the 17th and 19th centuries. Eventually, the area was paved over to effectively “start fresh” with wider streets for better circulation and better quality of life, but much of the alleys and homes exist in their original conditions. Today you can explore these tenement alleys frozen in time on tours led by costumed guides who take on the character of a person who lived in the close centuries ago. You get a genuine feel of the claustrophobic conditions people lived in that also led to the spread of plagues and other desperate conditions. [Photo above is of the Royal Mile, as photos are not allowed on the tour]

Insider tip:

There are other underground / ghost tours heavily marketed in the area, but if you only have time for one, this one is the best because it has a richer story with more intact living spaces.

 

Have you gone to a place that was unexpectedly fun or memorable? I’d love to hear about it!

 

Adamson House – A Hidden Treasure of Malibu

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Situated on Pacific Coast Highway just north of Malibu Pier, it’s not exactly hiding, but Adamson House is often skipped by the usual Malibu weekend visitor. Combined with its architectural and natural beauty beyond comprehension, it’s exactly the type of place I love to visit and love even more to share.

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From its front courtyard outlined in roses and bougainvillea to its tiled fountains and luscious lime trees at the back, it is a fairy tale castle, Spanish Colonial Revival style. The interior (accessible by guided tour only, and where photos are not allowed) is full of custom tile created locally, which, aside from the spectacular views of the ocean and hills, was the most memorable part of the house tour. One room had tiles painted to look like a Persian rug, which I thought was pretty genius since tile is much easier to clean than a fancy rug!

Also fascinating was that the home had all original furniture and appliances, including a seriously flawed early dishwasher, which ran water straight through it while spinning the dishes in a circle. How many glasses do you think they broke in that contraption?

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From the back lawn, you are left without any question as to why the family chose this location to build their fairy tale villa. Imagine it a hundred years ago without being able to see a single building, but even today, it makes sense. Even the most picturesque lifeguard tower (featured in the movie “Gigi”) and Surfrider Beach are perfectly framed by the house’s landscaping!

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The home is part of the National Register of Historic Places, and can be rented out for events. My only wish is that you could stay overnight and wake up to this view out of your bedroom window.

If Edward Scissorhands Lived in San Diego

If I had scissors for hands, I would definitely be creating bunnies and dinosaurs out of bushes, no question. What would motivate a person with *hands* for hands to do this, however, I would love to know. This work of art that requires consistent upkeep is really someone’s front yard.

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It would be fun to go with a few people who know cartoons really well and try to name all of the characters  you can recognize in this one-of-a-kind garden. Harper’s Topiary Garden is in San Diego’s Mission Hills neighborhood. If you run into the owners, ask them what inspired them to create such an enchanting garden, and then thank them for sharing their whimsy with everyone. They seem like people I’d like to have over for tea and macaroons!

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Address: 3549 Union St. (between Upas St. & Vine St.), San Diego, CA 92103

 

 

 

Experience Mexico Without Leaving Los Angeles – Calle Olvera

Walking through Calle Olvera in downtown Los Angeles is as close to walking through a market in the heart of Mexico as you can get in the U.S. without packing your passport. The tiled street is flanked by shops, restaurants, and historic buildings, with stalls down the center, all celebrating Mexican culture.

This area is supposedly the birth place of Los Angeles, and it also appears to be the resting place of every color of the rainbow. You see so many colors and textures at once that it’s quite overwhelming at first. Everything catches your eye – the bins of candies, the shoes lined up on the wall, colorful dresses hanging, and those creepy leather masks.

Take your time and wander through the stalls, and you will find some treasures that you might not be able to resist taking home. Particularly beautiful were they children’s dresses in the brightest colors, and I was happy to find a striped cotton blanket I had been looking for to use as a beach blanket. There was no bargaining, but prices were decent.

If you’re lucky, you might even happen upon a mariachi band strumming guitars and singing while strolling through the calle. Being serenaded while shopping in a marketplace of color explosions completed the sensory overload that is Calle Olvera.

 

Catch the Lavender Fields Before They’re Gone

The beginning of summer brings so many joyful things – longer days, warm nights, and for a fleeting window of time – blooming fields of lavender! The Keys Creek Lavender Farm in Keys Creek, California, just a few miles from Escondido, is open to the public every year during the months of May and June for tours, special events, and general wandering about.

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The first thing you notice when you arrive (other than the surprise of the final two miles to the farm being a dirt road), is the intensely sweet smell of lavender that is nothing like the usual smell of lavender products you find everywhere. It is such a popular scent, yet I find that few products capture the actual smell of fresh lavender. It smells sweet like honey, and it’s hard to not dive into a bush face-first, except for those bees, oh, and that it’s not allowed.

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Speaking of which, I was rather disappointed to discover that I couldn’t even walk through between the rows of lavender to get THAT PICTURE – you know the one I mean, of me traipsing through rows of purple with arms out and face upturned to the sky. Sadly, the farm kindly asks visitors to stay on marked paths surrounding the fields.

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Despite the restrictions, you can get very close to the lavender and breathe in its honey-like, herbal scent and take in the surrounding views. Unlike many lavender fields, the Keys Creek Lavender Farm is set in a hilly area, so you can walk to the top of the small hill and see some stunning views.

If you are in the San Diego or Orange County area, it is worth a visit, especially on days when they may have a special event going on such as afternoon tea or an evening concert. While you’re there, pop into the gift shop full of lavender goods, including bunches of dried lavender. Depending on when in the season you visit, different varieties of lavender will be peaking, but no matter when you go, you can be sure of a sea of purple!