Still Wandering Through Romania

Here begins – or continues, actually, my tale of Wandering Through Romania. If you are skipping ahead on purpose, having not already read my previous Romania post, have at it. But, I do recommend starting at the beginning. Everything will make more sense. If I’ve convinced you, here’s the link: Wandering Through Romania. I’ll see you back here in a bit!

So, we explored the big city (Bucharest) and the smaller, more quaint city (Brasov). Now it was time to venture deeper into the beautiful Romanian countryside. Can you feel your blood pressure drop? Can you smell the fresh air and hear the wind in the trees? Oh, I cannot tell you how many times I caught myself humming away as I strolled along wooded country roads, or as I settled in with my morning cup of coffee to enjoy the sights and sounds of nature. Mmhmm.

Corund (Korond)

Once again, we boarded our bus with our trusty driver, Victor, at the wheel. We left lovely Brasov and headed north to Corund. Although both Brasov and Corund are in Transylvania (a region in central Romania), and the drive wasn’t really that long – about 2.5 hours – it felt like we had traveled to another country! Corund is a commune in Harghita County, which is part of the Szeklerland. Many of the street signs were now in two languages: Romanian and Hungarian. This part of Romania is heavily settled by people of Hungarian descent and Hungarian is more commonly spoken than Romanian. 

As usual, (we were becoming quite spoiled) Derek engaged a wonderful local guide for us here, just as he had done in Bucharest and in Brasov. Zoltan Pal, is a college professor and proud Szekler. The Szekler are descended from folks who, during the 13th century, were sent from Hungary to defend this region, which at that time was Hungary’s eastern frontier. They settled here and continue to live a rural style of life in this remote area of Transylvania.

Zoltan devotes much of his time to promoting the traditional life of Corund (Korond, in Hungarian). He is well-versed in many of the artisanal crafts of the region, even to the point of being an apprentice to a local tinder mushroom craftsman – but I am getting ahead of myself.

We arrived and settled into the charming Arcso Fogado Guesthouse, located just outside of the village of Corund. We enjoyed lunch at the onsite restaurant, which consisted of both Hungarian-style and Romanian-style foods.

Bijoux, Looms and a Potter’s Wheel

After lunch, we were introduced to Zoltan. Our first stop with him was the Aragonite Museum. He showed us around the museum and shared the story of Corundian aragonite. It is a semi-precious stone enriched with carbonated calcium. Aragonite can be found in other places in the world as well, like Spain, Brazil and the Bahamas. Here in Corund, Zoltan explained, it has an important place in history.

Knop Vencel, a Czech geology teacher, chose to open a grinding and polishing factory here in 1909. He employed local people and truly loved his adopted home. The aragonite was mined and then ground and polished, being transformed into beautiful decorative pieces. Many were commissioned by royalty or other important people of the day. Vencel would often have two identical pieces crafted so that he would have at least one perfect piece in the end. There was always the chance of a flaw or accident, so this way he was assured to provide the perfect piece for each client, without delay.

After WWII, a communist collective ran the factory, employing explosives to more quickly extract the stone. This method resulted in irreparable damage to the remaining deposits of aragonite, which now are only suitable for small “bijoux” rather than substantial decorative pieces. Brute force was a common theme during communist rule in Romania – an effort to do things cheaply that often resulted in less valuable products and destruction of the environment.

After our visit to the Aragonite museum, Zoltan introduced us to one of Corund’s very skilled potters. Jozsa Laszlo and his wife, Marta, produce beautiful pottery. Corund is well known for its quality pottery and Mr. Laszlo was very happy to invite us into his studio. He sat at his potter’s wheel, took a handful of clay and slapped it down. As the wheel spun and Mr. Laszlo began working the clay, Zoltan explained to us the process involved in making a piece of pottery. 

The lump of clay was beginning to take shape under the practiced hands of Mr. Laszlo – first a bowl and then a pitcher. Each time he worked the clay into a recognizable shape he would “ruin” it, while Zoltan explained that the clay can always be reworked into something new – it is never a lost cause.

The lump of clay became smaller and smaller as Mr. Laszlo demonstrated this for us. Now he had a very small vase. And still, he worked with less and less clay until he was fashioning a pitcher fit for a Barbie doll kitchen! I have one of those miniature pitchers in my own kitchen now. It reminds me that something beautiful can be fashioned out of a series of “mistakes”.

We were then invited to give it a whirl ourselves. Several in the group eagerly sat down in front of the extra pottery wheels and were each given a lump of clay to work. Everyone agreed it was a very meditative experience, because it was so important to feel the clay and to let it “tell you what it wants to be”. 

Although no one but Mr. Laszlo produced a true work of art that day, we were all feeling the urge to sign up for a pottery class! When all was said and done, Mr. Laszlo brought out a large jug of homemade palinka – a batch he had made for his daughter’s wedding, and poured it into handcrafted cups that he gifted to each of us. What a sweet gesture and delicious treat! Egészségére! (That’s “Cheers!” in Hungarian)

Our artsy-crafty day did not end there, because we were soon whisked off to the home of Susanna, a local weaver. She is a darling lady with some wicked quick moves! Both her feet and her hands were involved in the intricate “dance” required to produce a beautifully woven piece of fabric on her 150-year-old loom. Zoltan explained the complex – yet simple – way the fibers were measured and combined, and how the loom is “programmed” with the pattern, to create the designs. It’s something you have to see to grasp, really. It was pretty magical and mesmerizing to watch Susanna work! 

I brought home a souvenir that beautifully drapes my coffee table in memories of our time in Susanna’s workshop.

Our day was topped off with a visit to Zoltan’s home. He and his wife, Beata, welcomed us with a lovely al fresco meal and yet more history lessons. The entrance to their property is a beautiful, traditional Hungarian gate. Zoltan captivated us with an explanation of the traditions and meanings behind all of the symbols on the gate – truly fascinating and so charming!

Their particular gate was originally built in the 1950s. When they bought the home they made some changes to the gate to better reflect their own family – common practice when someone moves into a home with an existing gate.

What a delightful end to our first day in Corund!

Horses, Mushrooms and Bears – oh, my!

The next morning began with a cup of coffee enjoyed outside with soft morning light and a gorgeous view. I took a leisurely walk up the road near the guesthouse. The setting here is pastoral, with fresh, clean air, field after field and mountains beyond that. It was a sunny, warm day – perfect for spending time outdoors.

We started our day in the minivan but quickly arrived at a point where travel by horse cart made a lot more sense. We piled eagerly into our cart. We enjoyed cozy seats, fresh air and sunshine, the clippity-clop of the horses hooves and the gentle sway of the cart as we headed for the Fantana Brazilor Plateau.

This plateau is home to about 800 villagers. The farms are all designed to be symbiotic. For example, the land required to feed one cow is also fertilized by that one cow. All of the farms on the plateau operate under this premise. Everything is produced as naturally as possible. These are some intrepid folks – living a simple, but hard life, in pursuit of the preservation of their lands and their traditional way of life.

Our first stop here was one of the southernmost peat bogs in Europe. Zoltan, the consummate teacher, explained how the bog came to be and why it is an important ecosystem worth preserving. He has, in fact, created an educational journey through the bog via his boardwalk laden with informational placards and teaching tools like his miniature up-close-and-personal bog “cage”. 

We learned that plant growth – specifically tree growth – is stunted due to lack of nutrients in the soil. He showed us a scots pine tree that was one thousand years old but appeared to be maybe one hundred years old. Pretty interesting stuff! We saw insect-eating plants, deadly “rosemary” that we dared not touch, and loads and loads of edible bilberries, cranberries and linden berries! We all spent some time “foraging” for these tasty gems!

While we were visiting the bog, Zoltan told us about the local brown bears. Their population has increased in recent years, while at the same time they’ve become less self-sufficient, due in part to humans who hunt the strongest and largest of the bears as trophies. The practice of culling the strongest animals has resulted in a weaker, but still dangerous, population of bears.

Local villages are often visited by these hungry animals. Our phones pinged several times during our stay in Corund, warning of bears in nearby villages! Zoltan is hopeful that this trophy-hunting practice has abated and the bear population will be allowed to gradually become more normalized. We never did see any bears during our stay.

We left the bog and headed for Tofigem Farm. Here, they produce jams, syrups and other goodies. Zoltan explained the health benefits of some of these forest berries and plant products and then we were able to taste many of them!

Fortunately we did not fill up on these tasty treats, because our next stop was for lunch at another of the local farms. We sat down to a feast of fresh cheeses, jams, fresh-baked bread, pork belly and delicious local liqueurs laid out on a long table in the beautiful garden. It was scrumptious – the setting, the food, the company… delightful and refreshing!

The afternoon continued with a visit to a tinder mushroom, aka amadou, workshop. Fabian Zoltan is unique. His craft is practiced in no other place in the world! As I mentioned earlier, our guide, Zoltan, is actually an apprentice in this craft. It was really fascinating, the entire process: from hunting the mushrooms, which are found only on beech trees in the surrounding forests, to carving out the useful “meat” of the mushroom and then the pounding and shaping of the “meat” into what looks and feels quite like sueded leather.

We had a couple of mushroom fanatics in our group who were particularly fascinated by this craft. I was pleased to discover at least ONE good use for the mushroom – much better to wear them than to eat them!

We had a chance to rest and regroup at the guesthouse before heading out to a very special dinner. We dined at Vizimalom Panzio Trout Farm. Trout is a popular meal in the region and we were served a delicious – and very filling – dinner of fried trout, dressy fried potatoes and lots of delicious beer. The restaurant setting was so very peaceful – with a garden and a creek, complete with a water wheel. What a great way to top off another perfect day in the beautiful Transylvanian countryside!

Putin’s Jeep and Chimney Cakes

Our last day in the region found us traveling a bit further afield. Our first stop was Raduly Janos’s home for a basket weaving demonstration. Mr. Janos is a Roma (gypsy) master weaver. He demonstrated how to clean the willow branches he uses to make his baskets. He has his very own creation – a contraption that does the work in a fraction of the time it takes to clean them by hand! He was a chatty fellow who loved to laugh. Zoltan was kept busy translating – and, I suspect, NOT translating – much of what Mr. Janos said.

We were encouraged to try our hand using his splitter tool that turned a willow branch into three strands for weaving. He did his work in the open air of his yard, with chickens flitting around. We admired his cobbled-together jeep that sat nearby – he called it “Putin’s Jeep” for reasons we can only guess at. He was quite proud of that car – held together with duct tape, plastic hoses and a generous dash of ingenuity!

Mr. Janos fashioned a rug beater as a sample of his skill – his gnarled hands made quick work of the project as he tamed and twisted the branches into the desired shape. We may all have joked when we were young about taking “underwater basket weaving” as an easy course in school – but I have a feeling we might all have failed that class!

More souvenirs were scooped up and then we bid jolly Mr. Janos “goodbye”.

We enjoyed lunch together at a camp in Criseni – entertained briefly by Lajos, the founder of the only known straw hat museum! Lajos was an enthusiastic man – very proud of his family’s effort to preserve and educate about this local craft. After lunch, we drove to the museum and enjoyed a presentation about the making of straw hats and the significance of the brim size and shape of a hat. Zoltan showed us the machines used to form the hats once the braided strands – assembled by local women – were sewn together. 

We had fun posing under what they like to claim is the largest straw hat in the world and then enjoyed a nip of some local palinka before taking our leave.

Zoltan scheduled a baking lesson by the local kurtos kalacs, or “chimney cake”, makers. These Hungarian sweet treats are topped with cinnamon sugar and nuts or coconut. We learned how to roll out the dough, wrap it onto the baking stick and then to cook it over open coals. They are best enjoyed fresh and warm – and we made short work of them! 

We returned to Zoltan’s house for our Aragonite workshop. He gave us some unfinished stones and taught us the art of sanding them into shiny, beautiful bijoux – a process that involves lots of patience and many different grades of sandpaper. We all came away with an appreciation for the craft and a treasure to take home as a souvenir! 

Afterward, we enjoyed some time wandering through the shops in Corund and then returned to the guesthouse before heading out for dinner.

We were driven to a hunter’s farm up in the mountains where we were served some of the best bread I’ve ever eaten along with peasant soup, venison stew and more terrific Romanian beer! We enjoyed the time to sit together and recap the day, to laugh and just soak it all in.

We bid farewell to our wonderful teacher, Zoltan, after dinner. His enthusiasm and depth of knowledge definitely left an impression on us!

Sighișoara and Back to Bucharest

We hopped aboard our minibus again the next morning. A one-hour drive found us at the entrance to Sighișoara, a UNESCO world heritage site – the best-preserved, and continually inhabited, medieval citadel. Our local guide, Emanuel, began our tour of this charming walled city by walking us through what it would be like to be an attacking army. He showed us how the outward-facing clock tower was menacing and generally unwelcoming, but the inner-facing side was friendly. This was because, once the city walls had been breached, the citizens had best make nice with the conquering forces, right? 

Emanuel talked about the guilds who guarded and maintained each tower (we heard about this practice when we were in Brasov) and pointed out some of the more significant architectural features of the city. Not surprising, Vlad the Impaler was a feature of this tour as well. You can say that the Romanians have taken full advantage of the commercialization of Dracula! At least the references are couched in historical relevance.  

We enjoyed a couple hours of free time to wander the quaint cobbled streets of the city. Some of us climbed the five stories of the clock tower to enjoy sweeping views of the citadel and the more modern parts of the city.

We stayed in a spa hotel in Azuga, just one hour’s drive from Sighișoara. On the drive there we were treated to fruit-filled covrig (similar to a soft pretzel, but sweet), courtesy of our tour leader, Derek. The opportunity to simply relax, enjoy the pool, hot tub and other spa services were just what we needed to top off a very full, very satisfying tour. Yet another example of the thoughtful care we received throughout our tour. 

We enjoyed dinner at the hotel – some amazing food and, really, the best pickles ever! I honestly had some of the best pickles I’ve ever tasted while here in Romania – but these were the very best! The service here was top notch. Our waitress took our orders by memory and delivered them seamlessly, without a single misstep! The staff could see we weren’t eager to end the evening so left us with some bottles of wine and quietly began to close up shop. 

We arrived in Bucharest the next day, with time to enjoy the city (it was fun to wander streets that now seemed a little bit familiar!) while we awaited our Covid tests. With that task behind us, we headed to our final dinner together at the 200-year old Hanu Lui Manoc – formerly a way station/inn that has since been transformed into a delightful open air restaurant – celebrating an amazing tour and new friendships, and to simply bask in our last hours in this surprising gem called Romania!

Cheers and “Multumesc mult” to Derek and Stephanie of Wandering Earl Tours and Janet Jaffe of The Womens Travel Tribe for taking such great care to create this wonderful tour! Here’s to the next one!

Wandering Through Romania

I love to travel, and I confess, I fall in love with almost every place I visit. Many times, I’ve convinced myself that, oh, yes, I could live here happily ever after. Reality does eventually set in, of course. The afterglow fades…leaving behind pleasant memories and, hopefully, a change in my heart and perspective; expanded horizons.

I tell you this about me, because you should realize that I am freshly home from my last adventure and still wallowing in the warmth of a thoroughly delightful experience. I want to write it all down before the afterglow fades, because that feeling — that’s one of the main reasons we travel, right? Hope you enjoy…

In February, I booked a small group tour to a country that has never been on my “must see” list. I had nothing against it – it just wasn’t even on my radar. But, thanks to a year of stifled wanderlust, I was ready – ready to travel just about anywhere! I came across this tour and it snagged me. The itinerary was compelling, the group size was appealing and I had read a few reviews that helped push me over the edge. So, having convinced my friend to join me, I took the gamble – Would we be able to travel by August? Would it be safe? Would I lose my deposit? – and booked the tour. 

Who knew (maybe me, seeing as I have a penchant for it) that a country I was so unfamiliar with would capture my heart like it did?! Romania…utterly surprising and completely unforgettable.

Over the course of 12 days we visited 3 unique locations – spending several days in each – learning about the history, culture, environment and people of this beautiful eastern European country. Our pace was unhurried but each day was chock-full of delights. I had to take notes because we were learning so much every day!


I’ll start at the beginning. We landed in Bucharest, the capital of Romania, on a Sunday afternoon. It was hot and sunny. The climate in Romania isn’t so different from my home state of Michigan – four seasons, hot summers, cold winters. As we rode into the city (airport transfers included with the tour), we noticed that it looked kind of like we were driving into Detroit: a mix of tall and squatty buildings – from old and worn to shiny and new, a fair amount of traffic, and graffiti – quite a lot of graffiti, actually.

Stefan, a Bucharest native and our guide, took us on a walking tour of the city on our first day. Bucharest is a lively city on a Monday morning – a fair amount of car and pedestrian traffic. It gave the impression it is a working city – filled with locals going about their business with tourists like us just sprinkled in. As we walked, Stefan gave us a little history lesson. 

Romania became part of the Soviet Bloc after WWII and remained under communist rule until 1989, although it had gained some independence from the Soviet Union in the late 1950s. Stefan told us about his experience as a child during the revolution against Communism, which occurred in December of 1989. He recounted how, when he returned to school in January, all of his school books had had pages torn out of them – the pages that proclaimed and acknowledged the communist rule in Romania. Fortunately, he was young, and news didn’t travel quite so quickly then as it does today. Stefan was blissfully ignorant of the details of that brief, violent revolution that ended in the overthrow and Christmas Day execution of Romanian leader, Nicolae Ceaușescu, and his wife.

Despite the citizens’ efforts to erase communism, Bucharest is full of reminders: Communist-era apartment blocks, colossal buildings erected at great expense while Romanians were struggling to feed their families, beautiful churches that were moved – yes, moved – out of the public eye, by order of Ceaușescu. An engineer, Eugen Iordachescu, actually developed a technique to move entire buildings without damaging them. He was responsible for saving dozens of churches in this manner. 

While communism certainly left its mark on Bucharest, so did many other cultures, religions and artists. As I mentioned, we saw a lot of graffiti around the city. We asked about it and found out that the graffiti is a point of pride for Bucharest residents. It isn’t gang-related like so much of the graffiti found in the US. Instead, it represents the voices of those who had been oppressed for decades, finally able to speak freely and express themselves. In fact, despite some city leaders wanting to clean up the graffiti, the residents insisted that it be left alone. 

We saw things much differently after hearing that story.

The architecture is quite varied in Bucharest – from medieval to modern. We saw Roman architecture, Byzantine-style and many buildings that would have looked at home in the center of Paris!  One of my favorite buildings is this one – the Union of Romanian Architects HQ. 

Its design is quite controversial. The original building was destroyed in 1989 by a fire. The architects chose to use the remains of the original building for the new project. I find it to be a very apropos symbol for this eclectic city with its complex history and resilient spirit.

Another memorable stop was the Atheneum. It is a gorgeous concert hall, proudly constructed using private donations from Romanian folks – definitely not funded by the government. We were fortunate to catch the beginnings of a rehearsal of the philharmonic for an upcoming George Enescu festival! 

Bucharest is quite a walkable city. There are many pedestrian-only streets tucked away from the noisy thoroughfares, especially in the old town section of the city. The art and monuments scattered around the city are well worth seeking out. I do recommend that you engage a local guide who can fill you in on the significance of the things you will see. It makes all the difference! Oh, and take a couple hours to wander through the National Museum of Art. We found it to be uncrowded, and it housed some nice surprises by Renoir, Monet and other world famous artists. The museum itself is gorgeous!

We enjoyed several meals at local restaurants while in Bucharest – especially enjoying the traditional dessert – papanasi – a warm cheese donut covered in crème fraîche and berries! Traditional cuisine reminded me a bit of German food – though, rather than potatoes, we were often served polenta. We were treated to some traditional dancing in an old beer hall – Caru cu Bere – so much fun!

Onward to Transylvania

On Day 3 we climbed aboard our minibus. We headed out of the city and toward the Prahova Valley, Carpathian Mountains and Transylvania. No tour of a European country would be complete without a visit to a castle, right? We were treated to two during our tour, the first was Peles Castle in Sinaia. 

We were dropped off at the restaurant/gathering area at the entrance to the castle grounds, where we could catch just a glimpse of the castle through the trees. We enjoyed a little lunch and purchased some fresh berries from a local Roma woman while we waited for our chance to visit the castle. Those berries were so delicious – fresh-picked, for sure!

A short walk put us squarely in front of this beautiful castle, built between 1873 and 1914, in the neo-renaissance style, by King Carol I. Stefan, again, was our guide here. He regaled us with all kinds of history and details about the beloved king and his castle. We enjoyed our private guided tour and were also able to wander the grounds on our own for a bit. It was a visual feast, the ornate Peles Castle nestled among the trees in this verdant valley – well worth the visit. 

We said goodbye to Stefan here, as he headed back to the city and we moved on to the medieval city of Brasov.


Brasov is one of the most visited places in Romania. It is located in the center of the country, snuggled into a valley of the southern Carpathian Mountains. Originally settled by Saxons, Brasov is situated at the intersection of old trade routes linking the Ottoman Empire and western Europe. Brasov was a fortified city, with each tower maintained by a different craft guild. Each guild would then be called to defend their tower, as was custom during those times, and allowed the city to be defended without maintaining a full time army.

We spent most of that first day in Old Town – the Saxon part of the city. Here, again, we were accompanied by a local guide. Anne is of Saxon descent, and well-versed in her city’s story. She filled our heads with all sorts of facts and interesting tales. Anne introduced us to the city’s history and varied architecture as well as its current attractions – including artisanal chocolate and coffee shops and a traditional Romanian bakery! We visited the Black Church, a Gothic-style Lutheran cathedral that dates back to the 15th century. Originally a Catholic church, it was adapted to the more austere Lutheran religion as a result of the Reformation, a non-violent religious transition that occured in 1542. The church, along with much of the historical city, was partially destroyed in a fire in 1689. The church gained its nickname, The Black Church, as a result of the damage it sustained in the fire.

We had plentiful opportunities during our three-day stay at the Aro Palace Hotel (a mid-century-style delight!) to stroll along the cobbled pedestrian streets of Brasov. The Piata Sfatului is the main square that fills with outdoor restaurant seating in the evening and provides endless entertainment – food and drink, shopping and people-watching. 

Anne accompanied us to the workshop of a traditional wood painting artist, Marga Armanko. There, Marga tutored us in this art. Some of us took to it – others did not (that would be me!). Regardless, it was a treat to be introduced to this art by someone who took such pride in it. We were able to carry our “masterpieces” home as a souvenir of that experience. That evening we had dinner at the charming Bistro del Arte, where we were entertained by a pianist while we enjoyed a delicious meal. 

Bran Castle

We ventured out early the next morning in order to beat the crowds at Bran Castle. Anne joined us as our guide on this day as well. She explained that Bran Castle, dating back to the 13th century, may have been visited by Vlad the Impaler (yes, a very tenuous connection!). You may recognize this king as the inspiration for Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Did you know that Bram Stoker had never been to Romania when he wrote his novel? He had only heard stories of Vlad the Impaler. He combined some of those details with his own experiences to create the story of Dracula. It is widely believed that Bram Stoker suffered from tertiary syphilis. Whether that or something else, his condition left him bed ridden, pale and sensitive to the light. Sound familiar? 

Unbeknownst to Romanians, the novel inspired people to seek out “Dracula’s Castle”. The castle’s popularity has helped to transform Bran from a sleepy town into a tourist destination. The castle was packed with people eager to see the home of Dracula. Despite its grisly associations, though, the castle is mainly a museum dedicated to displaying the art and furniture of Queen Marie. 

Traditional Egg Painting and Lunch at Gabriela’s Home

After a leisurely stroll around the grounds of Bran Castle and a wander through some of the decidedly kitschy craft stalls in town, we boarded the bus and headed for our next artisan experience. You see, this tour had a theme of sorts, focusing on the traditional arts of the country. 

We were invited into Gabriela’s home, where she served us a lovely traditional lunch, which included a LOT of polenta – just ask our tour leader, Derek! – along with some absolutely delicious visinata (a traditional cherry liqueur) and tuica (a traditional pear liqueur). While we relaxed over our home cooked meal, Gabriela modeled her traditional costume for us. She was very proud to share her treasure, an embellished blouse made by her grandmother 150 years ago! Gabriela was delightful, no English needed, though Anne did her best to translate. Interestingly, Gabriela used several words that Anne was unable to interpret. This may have been due to regional dialects or terms specific to Gabriela’s art form. It simply added extra color to the experience.

After lunch, Gabriela demonstrated her craft – the traditional painting of eggs. She is the only one in the area who still practices this art form. Gabriela has begun to teach the local children in order to keep this tradition alive. She explained how she removes the raw egg from inside the shell using a syringe to blow air in through the single hole, pushing the yolk and white out through the same hole. Clearly this is delicate work! She allowed some of us to try our hand at drawing on the eggs with the melted wax using a special stylus. The process involves several steps that include drawing the design with wax and then dipping it into the dye, letting it dry and drawing again with wax, dipping into the dye, repeating as many times as needed. She said each egg takes about six hours to complete! The designs were intricate and oftentimes depicted traditional scenes. We were enthralled and very happy to be able to purchase all of her available works of art.

We were completely charmed by Gabriela and so impressed by her skill. She gifted each of us with an egg that also included her handwritten explanation of the design. Yes, many of us are now facebook friends with Gabriela. You can be, too:

Returning from our full day, we stopped at the top of the valley to capture the sweeping views of Brasov nestled below. Delivered safely to our hotel after this amazing day, we were left to our own devices for the evening. Several of us headed for the main square and an evening of laughter and traditional palinka (a plum brandy-style liquor).

Beyond Brasov… so much more yet to come

It was time to move on from Brasov. Each day of this tour seemed to build on the last and provide unending delights. Could our experiences to this point be beat? We couldn’t imagine it. We were just past the halfway point of our tour, but, our final days were SO full that I will leave that for another post. I hope you’ll return for it – you won’t be disappointed!

I won’t stop here without acknowledging the hard work of our tour leader, Derek Baron, of Wandering Earl Tours. He crafted a perfect tour, taking into account his audience (we were all women over 50) and the environment, and making excellent use of his local sources. I can’t recommend him highly enough. Thank you to Janet Jaffe of The Women’s Travel Tribe for partnering with Wandering Earl for this tour!

How I Tackled Wanderlust in the Time of Covid

I’m tired of talking about it, thinking about it, and being paralyzed by it. But, Covid has been top of mind for the past year and a half and it appears to be settling in for the long haul. So, how does one tackle wanderlust in the time of Covid? 

That is a question I have wrestled with since Summer 2020. I’ve taken a few local trips – one of which I wrote about in my Trips with Pip series. There’s more of that to come, because Michigan is worth writing about. I live in a beautiful state with many treasures to uncover, for sure. 

I’ve enjoyed taking the few trips I have done this year and felt quite safe doing so. Here’s my check list for travel these days:

  1. Is my destination relatively safe?
  2. Is my mode of travel safe?
  3. Is there a risk of getting “stuck” in my destination?
  4. Is the experience worth the risk?
  5. By choosing to travel, am I putting anyone else at particular risk?
View from my airplane window – Anticipation!!

I’m vaccinated. I wear a mask when appropriate or mandated. I get tested as required. I take other appropriate hygienic precautions. I think the key is that you live your life with a little added consideration for those with whom you might come into contact and follow the law of the land you are in and/or from. That’s about all that you can do. Would I travel to a place that has a dangerously high incidence of a deadly disease? Nope. Will I suspend traveling until Covid is gone? Nope – because I don’t think that day will come anytime soon.

These days, not only am I considering travel while a pandemic is still very much present, but I am also trying to shift away from expecting my kids to be my constant travel companions. I’m seeking out other styles of travel that don’t involve them. So, last winter – and February in Michigan would give anyone cabin fever – I was itching to travel and ran across an opportunity scheduled for August. It seemed like a safe bet – 6 months down the road.

A Facebook group I’m in was offering a small group tour to Romania for women over 50. Romania? Who goes to Romania? Well, I decided that I would go to Romania. The itinerary was compelling and the group size (max. 12) was appealing. Next thing I know, I am chatting with a friend over some wine and cheese. I brought up the tour to her, asking if she would like to join me. I had no expectations that she would agree to go, but after skimming the itinerary, she promptly said, “Yes!” We booked the tour the next morning. That was that.

I waited anxiously for a few months, agonizing over the possibility of the tour being cancelled. I was chomping at the bit to book flights because the prices were great. “Hold on”, they said. “Let’s make sure the tour fills up”, they said. So wait, I did. Finally, I got the go-ahead to book the flights. I’m no expert, but I’ve booked a few flights in my day, and I was really happy to end up saving $200 per ticket by researching online and then calling the airline directly. Who knew that I would be quoted a cheaper price by the agent than the fare I’d found online?! Score! Flights were booked and we began to feel like this would actually happen.

Fortunately, there wasn’t much else I had to do to prepare. I had my passport and my vaccination card, and I was already pretty well equipped for travel with luggage and such. I did purchase a couple of things – namely some no-wrinkle, water-wicking tops and pants and some new sandals that felt like a dream on my feet (they are Skechers, which I know aren’t for everyone, but my wonky feet love them!). I knew we’d be doing a lot of walking and that the weather would be similar to Michigan – which, for August, means hot and humid. 

I also spent many evenings working through the DuoLingo Romanian language course – not much else to do when it’s winter in Michigan and there’s a pandemic, to boot. I learned some pretty useless phrases, like, “I am a woman and you are a boy”, “I am not a child and you are NOT a man” and “the woman has apples”. Try slipping those gems into a conversation, why don’t ya! All I really needed to know were some niceties and a few necessary things like “where is the bathroom?” and “how much for the beer?” DuoLingo failed me on that front, I’m afraid. I’ve a mind to write a note to them to explain that many of us take to learning a new language just so we can get by in a new place. We don’t need to tell people what they are or what they are holding… Ah, well, the course was fun, just the same.

So, all of that to say that I tackled wanderlust in the time of Covid by: 

  1. Dreaming and planning – isn’t that half the fun?
  2. Reminiscing over past travels – taking the time to organize photos and putting my impressions on paper
  3. Traveling locally, and
  4. Making plans for international travel that seems doable. 

Of course, the fact that airlines and accommodations are being pretty liberal with their change fees and refund policies made it much easier to consider than it might have been in the past. Here’s hoping those policies don’t disappear anytime soon! 

I just returned from my tour of Romania, and I have to say, it was one of the best vacations I’ve ever taken. Stay tuned – I’ll tell you all about it soon.

What have you done to tackle your wanderlust over the past 18 months? I’d love to hear about it!

Scotland Part III – Up, Down and Around

As promised, here is Part III of our Scotland trip. This will take you from Glasgow to Beauly and back down and around to some smaller towns, ending at Edinburgh. It bookends the two previous posts. All told, we spent two full weeks in this beautiful country.

We flew from Toronto direct to Glasgow via AirTransat. As I mentioned in my first Scotland post , the drive from Michigan to Toronto was well worth it as we saved a ton of money and flying time. I would fly internationally with AirTransat again – very positive experience. Upon arriving in Glasgow, we (my Japanese sister, Rihoko, my daughter and her boyfriend, and I) picked up our rental car. We chose a minivan that seats six easily and could do seven in a pinch. I’ve already regaled you with the adventure involved – deciphering the Glaswegian accent, navigating the city streets on the “wrong” side of the road and braving the giant roundabouts, which also spun in the wrong direction – so I won’t repeat. 

We spent our first night in a Premier Inn (budget hotel) in Dumbarton, just north of Glasgow and not far from Loch Lomond. Premier Inns proved to be consistently clean and adequate to our needs, and at a budget price. I highly recommend them for stopovers. Thanks to my frugal Scottish friend, K, of Exquisite Scotland tours for the recommendation and help booking! Once we picked up my son from the train station – and I happily relinquished the car keys to him – we headed out to find somewhere to stretch our weary legs and breathe in some fresh air. 

Balloch Country Park and Scottish Delights

We ended up at Balloch Country Park, which sits prettily on the shores of Loch Lomond. This loch is often featured in songs that speak of its beauty. It did not disappoint! I highly recommend a stop here. Entrance to the park is free. There is a castle and walled garden on the grounds, impressive views of the loch, and nature trails aplenty. The castle is no longer habitable and entry is forbidden, but we were able to wander around outside and through the walled garden. I use a certain word often throughout my Scotland blogs, but I can’t help it. This park had charm. The whole country is charming. I was smitten here at Balloch Country Park and the country continued to work its way into my heart throughout our time there. 

After enjoying the park for a few hours, we found a small restaurant nearby and had our first taste of some Scottish delights – Cullen skink and haggis, washed down with some Scottish lager. Cullen skink is a creamy soup (or “skink”) made with smoked haddock. Haggis is the national food of Scotland, essentially a crumbly sausage dish. Everything was delicious!

Heading North

The next morning we headed north on the A82. The beginning of our ride took us along the gorgeous shoreline of Loch Lomond. The country roads are typically quite narrow, and with the lake on one side and stone walls fronting the homes on the other, there was very little room for error! It was the weekend and we came across many camper vans and other large vehicles that made the drive rather unnerving at times. I could see bits of colored paint and plastic embedded in the stone walls we drove by — not a comforting sign.

Once we left Loch Lomond behind, we were treated to the wild, wide open spaces of Scotland. We couldn’t resist pulling over for a rest near Rannoch Moor. The views from the highway alone drew the eye and the spirit. Rannoch Moor is a vast stretch of land. You will find rocky outcrops, rivers, bogs and more and a variety of plants and animals. This is an area I would love to return to to experience in depth. It is recommended to enjoy the area via a ride on the West Highland Railway. 

Fort William

Our next stop was Fort William, which figures prominently in The Outlander series as an important location related to the Jacobite Rebellion of the mid-1700s. The fort, originally built in 1654 and known as the Garrison of Inverlochy, was a British stronghold and means to control the Highland clans. It was abandoned after the Restoration but rebuilt in the 1690s, and then used again to support the British forces in their efforts against the clans.

The town no longer boasts a fort, though the history of the area is preserved in the collections of  the West Highland Museum. My sister and I spent some time wandering through. Fort William  is currently best known as a starting point for hiking and climbing since it is very near Ben Nevis and other munros. It is also the start/endpoint of the West Highland Way and the Glen Way – both very popular long-haul hiking trails. I would love to hike at least a part of these trails, as they promise stunning views and satisfying climbs.

We had lunch at the Wildcat Café, which boasted a delightful variety of vegan dishes. I found the entire country to be refreshingly progressive – with no-fuss vegan and vegetarian menu options. Plastic bags and to-go packaging were rare and always cost extra. Everything seemed so much more clean and fresh – even in the cities.

Heading Back Around and Down

It took the entire day to wend our way from Dumbarton to Erchless Castle – but the drive was well worth it for the sights and experiences along the way. You can find an accounting of our time at Erchless in my first Scotland post.

At the end of our idyllic international family reunion at Erchless, the kids, Rihoko and I headed out for an additional 5 days of vacation. We would be delivering Rihoko to the airport the next morning, but were determined to fit in some additional sightseeing before she had to go.

Clava Cairns

Just east of Inverness, we stopped at the Clava Cairns. The Prehistoric Burial Cairns of Balnuaran of Clava were created during the Bronze Age. The sight is a well-preserved example of a distant history of the Highlands, dating back around 4,000 years! The site is a truly peaceful setting with an otherworldly air. While walking around the grounds, which are free to enter, it wasn’t hard to imagine these prehistoric people laying their loved ones to rest here. 


Our next stop was Pitlochry. We enjoyed coffee and a scone here and visited some of the cute shops in town. The nearby Blair Athol Distillery was our true destination. It is a beautiful whisky distillery and all of us declared it our favorite whisky of the trip!

Stirling and Surroundings

We stayed overnight in Paisley, just outside of Glasgow, at another Premier Inn. After delivering Rihoko to the airport the next morning, we headed to our final stay at an AirBnB in Stirling. The location was perfect for our last few days, situated between Glasgow and Edinburgh with some nice day trip options. Our host was generous with recommendations and the flat was well-appointed with nice extra touches – like a dish filled with Scottish tablet (really tasty candy!).

Doune Castle

We visited Doune Castle, a 14th century courtyard castle – famously the exterior setting for Winterfell (Game of Thrones) and Castle Leoch (The Outlander), it also featured in several scenes of Monty Python and the Holy Grail. There is an entry fee of about $7+, depending on your chosen tour. We purchased the self-guided audio tour. The narrators were none other than Monty Python star, Terry Jones, and everyone’s favorite Outlander, Jamie Fraser (actor Sam Heughan). The audio tour included actual history as well as tidbits from the making of the shows.

It is worth noting that Stirling Castle is a must-see as well, though one we did not visit. We’d kind of had our fill of castles by then – having lived in one for a week and visited three others already. I didn’t regret this because I will be going back and can catch these gems another time!

National Wallace Monument

The National Wallace Monument, which I found fascinating, provided some amazing panoramic views of the area. William Wallace is considered the Guardian of Scotland. Over 700 years ago, Wallace was instrumental in uniting the country’s clans. After Wallace’s death, Robert the Bruce continued the fight and achieved victory in 1314. 

Once parked and admission paid for (~$12/adult), we traversed the Wallace Way, a rather steep path up to the base of the monument. You can choose to be driven by bus instead. There, we were greeted by a member of Wallace’s army (actor portrayal… of course!) who regaled us with some interesting history and fun stories. We entered the monument via the Keepers Lodge, which houses a small lounge. A gift shop is on the first level of the monument. As you ascend the 246 narrow steps of the winding staircase, you go through the Hall of Arms, the Hall of Heroes and the Royal Chamber. Continue upward to the Crown, where you get a bird’s-eye view of the area. 

Dunblane and Bridge of Allan

We drove through some thoroughly charming small towns as we explored the area. I fell head-over-heels for Dunblane, a town just a few miles north of Stirling. It is a bucolic setting on the Allan Water, a small river that eventually runs into the River Forth. A 13th century cathedral near 17th century homes, Scotland’s oldest private library and a walking trail along the river are just some of the treasures there. We visited the local museum where we met a Canadian woman who had uprooted herself from the Toronto area to return to her roots in Scotland. Her story was very inspiring!

Bridge of Allan provided great options for fish and chips, more lovely views of the Allan Water and some unique shops as well. And in between there were always hills, trees and lots of sheep. I couldn’t ask for a more picturesque drive! By the way, there are more sheep than humans living in Scotland. And, another bit of trivia – Scotland boasts the world’s highest percentage of natural redheads, with 13%, while Ireland comes in second with 10%.


We saved an entire day for Edinburgh. Honestly, that wasn’t enough. There is so much to see and do in this gorgeous old city, the capital of Scotland. Here are some highlights of our day:

The Royal Mile and Princes Street Gardens

The Royal Mile is the main thoroughfare of Old Town, with Edinburgh Castle at its head and the Palace of Holyroodhouse at its foot. You will find all sorts of things to see and do along this series of streets. We wandered through souvenir shops, visited the Scottish Storytelling Centre and enjoyed the beautiful façade of St. Giles’ Cathedral. The Scottish Parliament had attracted a slew of climate activists since a significant decision was being debated in Parliament the week we were there. It was prime people-watching where the activists had settled, let me tell you! Anna and Jake scheduled a tour of a gin distillery while Ben and I visited the Elephant House Café, made famous as the “birthplace of Harry Potter”, though JK Rowling recently shut that claim down. 

We strolled in and out of shops and found ourselves in the Princes Street Gardens. I love how the city moves from paved streets to green spaces with such ease! The centerpiece of the Gardens is the Ross Fountain, sculpted by Jean-Baptiste Jules Klagmann and purchased for Scotland by Mr. Daniel Ross, who described the fountain as “obtaining universal admiration”. Details on the fountain include four female figures representing science, arts, poetry and industry. 

Just off of the Royal Mile is the National Museum of Scotland. Our history-loving Jake, my daughter’s boyfriend, could hardly contain his excitement. He was an excellent tour guide! 

Lunch, A Haircut and Arthur’s Seat

We had lunch at the Union of Genius, a little soup shop. The soups were unique and very delicious! I highly recommend it. We stopped for coffee while my son got a quick trim at a local barber.  Well rested, we decided to head over to Arthur’s Seat. As I mentioned, Edinburgh slips easily from paved, busy streets to grassy, natural areas. Walking beyond the Parliament building and past the activists’ temporary tent city, we were suddenly at the foot of an ancient volcano in Holyrood Park. Arthur’s Seat is the highest point in the park. Only my son made it to the top. My legs had fairly given out after two weeks of walking, hiking and walking some more. Evenso, the portion I hiked up provided some lovely views of the city. At the top, of course, you are provided a full panoramic view of the area. This was a lovely midday break from the confines of the city streets. 

Dinner and Ghost Stories

A Thai restaurant, Krua Khun Mae, tucked away in one of many of Edinburgh’s closes served up a delicious dinner. Afterward, we meandered back to the Mercat Cross, eager to begin our ghostly walking tour, courtesy of Mercat Tours. Our guide shared a bunch of fun – and frightening – history of the city as we wound our way in and out of the nearby closes. She told of how Mercat Cross marks the town center, where the locals came for all sorts of “entertainment”, including whippings, hangings and the like. We learned to never look up if we heard someone shout, “Gardez loo!” from above, and then were led down into the Blair Street vaults where ghosts still wander. The evening ended with whisky and more ghost stories. The tour was a hoot and well worth the price. Mercat Tours offers several different types of tours, so the faint of heart needn’t worry! 

Stirling, Then Home

Our final day in Scotland was spent exploring Stirling itself. We saw The Kelpies, a famous equine sculpture, though we did not stop to visit. We found a quaint little bar & bothy, Nicky Tams, to enjoy a light lunch. Again, there were vegan options, even on a pub menu! After returning to the flat to pack, we walked to a restaurant recommended by our AirBnB host, The Inn of Torbrex. The food was fantastic and the service was unhurried. Tip: your server will not bring the bill until you ask for it – so different from the US. It was a fine way to wrap up our vacation. All of us were ready to head home, but thoroughly satisfied with our adventure! “Haste ye back!”, a common farewell greeting, is something I have taken to heart!

I hope you will share your experiences of Scotland in the comments. I look forward to returning someday soon and plan to spend an unhurried, un-touristy time there. Any tips you have would be welcome!

The Enchanting Isle of Skye – Scotland Part II

The Isle of Skye gets its name from the Norse word for cloud (skuy), and is commonly known as Eilean a Cheo (the Misty Isle). It is considered the most scenically spectacular of all the Scottish islands. When the mist and frequent rain retreat, the views are breathtaking. Our visit happened on a mixed-weather day (a common occurrence in the Highlands), so we were treated to both the clear, breathtaking views as well as the more mysterious and brooding misty vistas.

During my months of research while planning this trip, I lucked upon the only tour guide who was willing to contemplate a group of our size for a full day tour. K Thomson not only agreed to take us to Skye, but he provided recommendations for hotels, routes to travel, sights to see, and food to eat throughout our entire stay in Scotland. He was an invaluable resource for me and I am so grateful that I happened upon him. He runs Exquisite Scotland Tours out of Kirkhill. K’s knowledge of his country and willingness to share tips and tricks for finding good deals helped me design a truly memorable reunion for my international family. And a wonderful bonus: he speaks six languages so could share his spiel with our Brazilian and French contingent during the tour. K enlisted an additional tour operator from his long list of local connections to work with him to transport our crew.

Off We Go

The trip from Erchless Castle to Kyle of Lochalsh, where the ancient Eilean Donan Castle welcomes you to Skye, is approximately 80 miles. We took a 110-mile circuitous tour of the Trotternish Peninsula of Skye,  and then headed back to Erchless. We logged about 300 miles total on that tour. It was a long, lovely day.

Our tour began at 8:30 Tuesday morning when K and Avril, of Avril’s Travels, arrived to scoop all twenty-two of us up from our royal home-away-from-home (see my previous post about our royal getaway). We traversed the winding, narrow roadways of the Highlands, heading west. Some of us (I’m not naming names!) require frequent stops on long journeys, especially those that start in the morning. K assured us all that, with our coffee intake considered, he would make sure we had adequate opportunity to take a “rest” along the way. Our mid-way stop was a small café that served up delicious hot chocolate along with a clean toilet. The Redburn Café in Dundreggan also had the requisite friendly dog, of course!

Lunch with a View and a Story

K scouted a spot for our lunchtime picnic near the Sligachan Bridge, with lovely views of Skye and a bit of protection from the relentless Highland wind. The legend of the water under the Sligachan Bridge is a wonderful tale filled with fierce women warriors, faeries, a devoted daughter and a feast that ended a great battle. 

K laid out our own fabulous feast that included meats, cheeses, breads, fruit, sweets and drinks. We huddled out of the wind and enjoyed every delicious bite, wandering around the area afterward, taking photos and breathing in the fresh sea air. Once we’d all had our fill, we clambered aboard the van and bus. K took some of us to a particularly nice vantage point for viewing the Isle of Skye and Eilean Donan. It required some climbing but we were rewarded with some lovely views of the castle. 

Eilean Donan Castle

Eilean Donan Castle is an icon of the Scottish Highlands. Eilean Donan (or the Island of Donan) was likely named after the 6th century Irish saint, Bishop Donan, who formed several small communities throughout the area. The original fortress was built in the thirteenth-century to guard the lands of Kintail from the Vikings who raided, settled and controlled much of northern Scotland and the islands between 700 A.D. and 1200 A.D. Eilean Donan Castle has been built and rebuilt throughout Scotland’s feudal history. The castle was partially destroyed during a Jacobite uprising in 1719 and lay in ruins for 200 years until it was purchased by Lieutenant Colonel John MacRae-Gilstrap in 1911. MacRae restored the castle to its former glory and it was reopened in 1932. The MacRae family remain the Constables of Eilean Donan Castle today. You’ll probably recognize the castle from films such as Monty Python and the Holy Grail, Elizabeth: The Golden Age, and the James Bond film, The World is Not Enough. The castle is open to visitors February-December each year. Due to the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, it is advisable to call ahead before planning your visit.

Kilt Rock and Mealt Falls

While we were climbing around, the rest of the group went on to a local pub to enjoy a pint and a “rest”. We came back together there and drove on to Kilt Rock. It is a rather famous spot with cliffs diving straight down into the sea. The erosion of those basalt columns and dolerite sills resemble the pleats of a kilt – hence the name. If you are brave enough to peer over the edge, you can see that some of the columns have slipped straight down into the sea. The Mealt Falls, which fall 55m from the clifftop, are lovely. 

A fair number of tour buses occupied the road, thus quite a few tourists. You should understand, though, that many tourists in the Highlands doesn’t compare to the crowds you might find in a large European city. So, we had ample opportunity to enjoy the views, get sufficiently buffeted by the wind, and then pile back into the buses.

The Quiraing and Fairy Glen

The Quiraing was our next stop. This area was shrouded in fog, giving the already magical air of this craggy place an even more mysterious feel. The Quiraing is one of the largest landslips in Britain, located on the northernmost summit of the Trotternish. This landslip is not yet finished moving, requiring regular repairs of the road at its base. The soft greens of the grassy valleys alongside the rocky outcroppings provide a stunning contrast. Islanders used this landscape to hide their cattle from the Viking raiders. Walking trails abound here. The nearby Old Man of Storr is a 160-foot pinnacle rock formation resulting from the same landslip that continues to transform the Quiraing. Legend has it that a giant was buried there and his “thumb” (Google for a potentially different translation of that story!) remains poking through the ground, forming the Old Man of Storr. As with most of the places we visited during our tour, we could have spent half a day here, but, alas, we had many more miles to go!

Our next stop was Fairy Glen. Yet another dramatic landscape greeted us here. The enchanting glen is like a world unto itself. The cone-shaped hills, mysterious circle formations, waterfalls and broad swaths of green are exactly what you would expect to see in a land inhabited by faeries. The best views can be found atop the Castle Ewan – a natural rock formation that resembles a castle. We scrambled up there, of course, despite my fear of heights. And let me tell you, if I were carrying 10 more pounds, I would not have squeezed myself up through the “castle walls” to reach the top. The views were absolutely stunning and well worth the risk of getting wedged between two rocks. One must be sure-footed here, as K shared a tale of someone who lost their footing and ended up rolling down much of the hill and suffering a broken ankle!

We stopped in the only real town on Skye. Portree is a charming town with brightly colored buildings, perched on the edge of the sea. We took some time to locate the public toilet and then wandered the cute shops for a bit. I found some jewelry made from Scottish heather – a perfect souvenir of our tour.

Lealt Falls

Lealt Falls was accessible only by K’s smaller vehicle, so some of us were fortunate to stop here while the others headed home. This stop transfixed me. We were far above the sea, with gorgeous views all around. I enjoyed the rugged peacefulness of the spot. A flock of sheep were grazing on the other side of the cliff and, when the wind was blowing just right, I could hear their bleating. We even got a nice up close view of one sheep who had wandered over our way.

At the beach sits the ruins of a dynamite factory, or maybe it’s a distillery. Diatamite, which sounds like “dynamite”, is a product of fossilized marine animals, found nearby and used for filtration purposes in the making of beer and wine. Maybe one of you knows the real story! K took us out on a ledge for better views and I am glad I once again ignored my fear of heights so I could drink it all in. I could have sat there all day long, listening to the wind, the sea and the sheep, gazing out on the gorgeous views. But, it had been a full day and we had a long drive home ahead of us.

Our whirlwind tour of Skye is one of my favorite memories of the entire trip. I will definitely be going back – maybe booking a few nights on the island so I can enjoy more of what this stunning location has to offer. I hope you found some inspiration here for your next trip to Scotland. If you’ve been to Skye, please share your impressions and favorite spots in the comments. I will follow this with Part III of our Scotland trip, which includes a day in Edinburgh and some truly delightful off-the-beaten-path treasures.