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Scotland Revealed: Isle of Mull and Iona

Before I jump into the Isle of Mull tour experience and since this is the first blog post of the New Year, Happy New Year everyone. I hope you’re all off to a great start in 2013!

I wanted to share a quick blog post about Bowman’s Tours departing from Oban, Scotland. We opted for touring the Isle of Mull and Iona which departs from the beautiful Oban Bay. After almost missing the tour ferry, which was docked on the other side of the bay from our bed and breakfast, we were finally off with the wind at our back. This tour took the majority of the day so plan for that; and make sure to bring a rain coat just in case.

The tour begins with a scenic ferry ride to the Isle of Mull; once there, you basically board a tour bus and let your guide navigate on a single-lane, two-way traffic road. They have a saying in Mull: you don’t drive on the road, you drive on what’s left of the road. Apparently, road maintenance is a difficult task to keep up with here.

The bus tour was nice, but I would have much rather brought the car aboard the ferry and explored Mull at my own pace. Lesson learned.

I will say this, though… our tour guide was great and he provided us with fantastic explanations of Mull’s history, life on the isle, and local wildlife in the area. I was pleased to see seals along the coast and some very interesting trees.

Mussels at Martyrs Bay Restaurant in Iona

Mussels are popular in Iona and Mull; so much so that it’s a popular trade to catch them for a living. Martyrs Bay Restaurant right near the dock offers these locally caught mussels in a garlic and wine sauce that will tingle your tastebuds and make you savor every bite. The portion was large and not too expensive either. Wish I had a picture…

Also, not too far from the dock is a pretty little beach area.

Isle of Iona - Scotland, UK

Inverness, Highlands, and a Torrential Downpour While Driving on a Twisty Road

Good times were had by all on our way to Inverness, the capital city of the Highlands in Scotland. I’m not really one to enjoy driving in the rain while it’s dark outside; even more so when I’m in an unknown area. This is one of those trips that got the best of me here… I needed tack sharp concentration on the long, twisty roads because the windshield wipers couldn’t keep up with the buckets of rain these storm clouds were dropping. Let’s just say I’m glad this ride is done with and behind me.

Scottish Calm (Scottish Highlands Calm Before the Storm)

Before the weather turned into a giant mess, the clouds swirled viscously around the greenery and I found this juxtaposed tree in a scene that really does a great job of displaying the Scottish Highland’s grandeur. It was particularly difficult to keep the camera dry enough to salvage the shot, but I managed. Patience and persistence…

Scottish Highlands Calm Before the Storm

Edradour Distillery and Whisky Trails

Edradour Distillery is known as Scotland’s smallest whisky distillery, but don’t let that fool you into thinking it’s not worth the visit. This place is the real deal and in my Scotland experience, Edradour gives the best whisky tour out of the few I visited. I say this because the master distillers know their whisky, will correct your misconceptions (if you have any), and go out of their way to please your taste buds. I enjoyed Edradour’s tour, but the real treat comes afterward.

Contrary to what you might read on Trip Advisor or the other travel review sites, their tasting room cost (cash bar) is disclosed up front before your tour tickets are purchased and it’s made crystal clear that additional whisky can be purchased for a modest fee after the tour. Some people complain that it’s not free anymore… well, I will happily fork over a few pounds for a dram (or three) from a fine selection of whisky that can’t be found anywhere else.

Not only does Edradour have a fantastic whisky selection, this distillery is the only one I visited in Scotland that allowed us to sample “The Angel’s Share,” which is defined as the percentage of evaporated whisky in the air during the casking period that’s been left for the angels to enjoy.

“The Angel’s Share” in the warehouse is enough to get you wobbly!

Whisky Trails

We opted to take the “whisky walk” to the Edradour Distillery. Unfortunately, we had to skip Blair Athol’s tour because tickets were sold out. Rick Steve’s “whisky walk” suggestion to hit these back-to-back left us hanging. So, in order to avoid the wasted trip to Edradour, we called ahead to make sure there were openings.

We’re good to go. The “Edradour Walk” was underway… wait, where are the trail markings? Yeah… it took a little while to get the hang of things, but we finally found our way to the Black Spout, which is a medium sized waterfall on the way to the distillery.

The trail markings were great up to the point “Edradour Walk” disappeared. We were faced to make a choice at a fork in the trail with different, but similar colored arrows; if I remember correctly, there was a yellow arrow with a white circle and a green arrow with a clear circle.

We made the wrong decision and instead of getting to the distillery, we trudged through really high grass that had not been cut in months. We were also in the middle of a midge gathering. Don’t breathe… carbon dioxide only attracts more of these annoying bugs. No, must… stop. Whisky Trails is born.

A scenic vantage point on the way to the Edradour Distillery in Pitlochry, Scotland

*** For those of you interested, I found the “distillery,” which was actually hidden in a neighbor’s basement. No, that’s not true, but I did think I found it and proceeded to ask the gentleman out front gardening if I had finally made it to Edradour. He smiled, then led me through his private entryway to an unmarked road pointing in the direction to go. ***

Driving in Scotland and 12 Miles to Mallaig

Where to begin… well, driving in Scotland is a challenging experience, that’s for sure! At least for an American…

Driving in the UK is the complete opposite to what we’re accustomed to. The driver seat is on the right of the car and the cars drive on the left side of the road. So when you have oncoming traffic, cars whizz by you on your right, a sensation that I haven’t felt since acquiring my driving permit years ago.

Okay, that bit is tough at first in its own right, but that’s not the only challenge here. If I’m not completely in shock already, the roads outside modern cities are extremely winding and narrow. Eek! I cringed at the sight of oncoming traffic on more than one occasion, but I will say this… once you acclimate yourself for a day or two, driving in Scotland is like wearing an old hat; it just feels right! Ah, I meant left. Sorry for the bad joke…

We toured the country in what was essentially a clockwise circle that originated in Glasgow and worked our way north and west till we reached Inverness. We had fantastic opportunities to see the Highlands and their breathtaking views along the way. Rain clouds loomed and were never too far from sight; that’s okay because rain is beautiful in Scotland. It has this way of amplifying color–especially the greens.

12 Miles to Mallaig

The Highlands are truly beautiful and worth seeing firsthand if the opportunity presents itself. The scenery changed dramatically from flat land to jagged rocks and huge green rolling hills (I may be a little off with that statement because I had my eyes glued to the road in total concentration for a lot of the drive).

We were on our way to the Mallaig ferry when I spotted a patch of Fox Glove overlooking a loch with green landmass in the distance (that’s a lake for you westerners). I don’t remember too many of the location details, only that we were "12 Miles to Mallaig."

A dynamic landscape that depicts foxglove and yellow flowers in the foreground and a loch with green islands all under an overcast and moody sky.

Abroad in Scotland and Prince William Gets Knighted at St. Giles Cathedral

My fiance and I just took our first trip to Europe together – Scotland was the logical choice; neither of us have ever been, so this trip was exciting in more ways than one! I scrambled to get the necessary paperwork together since I’ve never really needed a passport before. Expediting is a godsend by the way and well worth the added fee.

Scotland, UK was our number one choice for a few reasons…

  1. We discovered the Rock N’ Roll marathon series sponsors a half marathon here (no, we didn’t run on this trip, thankfully).
  2. Scotland received rave reviews by close friends and relatives.
  3. The Highlands are absolutely gorgeous.
  4. Whisky. Enough said.

Driving on the other side of the road was challenging and made me cringe quite a few times on the narrow, winding roads facing oncoming vehicles overstepping their boundaries, but I wouldn’t have done this trip any other way; I also have a new appreciation for Ford and a diesel engine.

Our trip began in Glasgow after an overnight flight. We drove in a clockwise circle through Loch Lomond, Oban, Mull, Iona, Glencoe, Isle of Skye, Inverness, Pitlochry, St. Andrews, and finally Edinburgh, the country’s capital city.

To sum up this trip in one word… epic. Scotland is beautiful, the food is fantastic, the cask beer is to die for, and the whisky and distillery tours are worth the trip alone.

Prince William Gets Knighted at St. Giles Cathedral in Edinburgh

Part II of our trip was in Edinburgh; we stayed for three full days. Unknown at the time of booking this trip was the fact that Prince William was being knighted at St. Giles Cathedral into the Order of the Thistle. The Queen was also visiting her home at Holyrood Palace for the week so street parking was a bit chaotic at times. Also, I was a little bummed that we couldn’t enjoy high tea at the palace cafe. Maybe next time I’ll get a personal invite. I can only dream…

Prince William was knighted into the Order of the Thistle Thursday morning, which from what I understand is the highest order in Scotland. The only Order that precedes this is the Order of the Garter in England, which he also previously received. Cool stuff! And noble!

I had an opportunity to take a few photos at St. Giles Cathedral on Wednesday morning while most of the population was still having breakfast. I paid my £4 £2 to the cathedral and had to move quickly before visitors washed into my photos. I found the perfect vantage point, set up, and clicked a few frames. Here is the end result of today’s post. Enjoy!

A symmetrical wide angle photo of St. Giles Cathedral pillars, stained glass, altars, and old stone.

Brotherhood Winery and My First Wide Angle Experiment

I love Brotherhood Winery; not only for their fantastic wine, but also their underground cellars and old stone hall. So what if the grapes are mostly grown in Chile.

Technically, Brotherhood is not a vineyard because their grapes are grown offsite at other locations in New York; their grounds are still beautiful so it doesn’t really matter. At the end of the day, Brotherhood Winery has the oldest underground wine cellar in America and some of the most visually stunning tasting rooms I have seen to date. Try their Riesling; you won’t be disapponted!

Let’s Go Wide Angle For a Sweeping Brotherhood Winery Hall Interior View

I recently picked up a new lens to be used for landscapes and interiors; it’s the Nikkor 24mm 2.8D for those of you that are interested. What really made me decide to go with the D model over the G is that the focal distance chart is easier to read than the 1.4G counterpart. Also, it’s not too important for my shooting style to have that extra two stops since I won’t be using this little guy for portraits. I have a nifty 50 1.4 for that sort of thing.

I wanted to get my camera close to a foreground element, the barrel in this case, and see how sharp this 24mm lens is at its hyperfocal distance. If I remember correctly, I’d say I was just over 2 feet from the barrel, which still gave me an acceptably sharp foreground at f/16.

I love these multiple light source photographs because of how they create such mood… particularly, those warm tones against the stone from the incandescent light fixtures mixed with swathing sunlight from the doorway and distant barn door.

Wine barrels mixed with old stone, wooden beams, incandescent light, and swathing sunlight create the perfect mood.

Red Dahlia in HD Crop

I was traveling to Sussex County last week to visit a potential wedding venue for next year’s festivities. Yup, I’m engaged! With that said and me being my romantic self (or not), I was moved by the Dahlia gardens all over the property and snagged this unusual 16X9 HD crop of one of the red ones near the playhouse.

A 16X9 crop of a partial red flower

Happy May Showers and Leaf Drops

With the upcoming Memorial Day Weekend upon us, make sure you realize its significance and pay tribute to our troops of past and present. Here’s to hoping these past few days of May showers are behind us for this coming weekend.

Leaf Drops

I found this leaf about a month ago after a torrential downpour in front of my home and managed to successfully block off traffic to get this shot.

Water droplets from a torrential downpour sit on an oval leaf laying on the pavement.

Creative Cropping and a Magenta Columbine Flower

A little while back I was getting creative with a sunflower photograph and decided to crop it in a different way. Enter creative cropping. Remember these sunflower petals?

Well, I took this idea and ran with it to create an extremely dynamic composition. No cropping this time, though. All 12 megapixels are present and accounted for.

Magenta Columbine Flower

My community is filled with a bunch of interesting flowers. So many in fact, that I have infinite opportunity to create a new photo every day. If only I had the time… Kudos to our neighborly gardeners for keeping up with planting new ones all the time.

Shooting nature photos on a daily basis creates curiosity; at least with me. I always want to learn more about the subject after my shoot. I got lucky with researching this next flower because I had to dive in with no knowledge of its name. A quick search for perennial flowers in New Jersey and I nailed it on the first try. This is a Magenta Columbine flower.

A dynamic composition with lots of empty space of a magenta columbine flower.

Washington DC Attractions and the New World War 2 Memorial

I was recently in the Washington DC area for a close friend’s wedding celebration and decided it would be a great idea to stay an extra day or two to explore a few of the Washington DC attractions. The itinerary was simple. Wing it.

So, with that in mind, I think this trip was super successful because my girlfriend and I got to see DC lit up at night, The White House, Spy Museum, Olde Town Alexandria, and a whole bunch of other historical monuments like the World War 2 Memorial and the Washington Monument.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with the Washington DC area, the public transportation system is convenient, fast, and extremely easy to navigate. The Metro has a color coded system that navigates through DC and parts of Virginia in lighting fast time for a modest fee.

Spy Museum

Appearances can be deceiving; that saying rings true for the exterior of the Spy Museum as well. Most of the buildings in the DC area are exquisitely detailed and grand. Not as much with the Spy Museum… it was a nice looking building, but it appeared small.

Appeared is the key word here; we were astonished to realize the massive size of this building by the length of time that the self guided tour took to complete. The exhibit displays gadgets that were used through the ages and gives you a side by side comparison of how the technology has evolved over time. Audio/Visual bugs were really stealthy, even 50 years ago.

The tour progressed from technology and tactics to famous spys and stories that would have surprised even the most analytical person.

Be sure to put this museum on your to-do list for the next visit.

World War 2 Memorial

There is no better time to see Washington DC attractions than at night. The lighting is intricate and well thought out, from smaller pillar lights to flood lights for the Washington Monument. Even walkways have recessed lighting to help lead your eyes. The Mall is also less crowded so navigating to your destination is much easier.

The World War II Memorial looks great. I especially liked the pillars that surrounded the monument. Each pillar represents a state and was adorned with a wreath. Spend some time here and make sure you pay attention to every last detail. Look for significance in the gold stars and make sure you read the placards. Oh, don’t forget to look up when you’re on either side of the structure near the arches.

A view of the Washington DC World War 2 Memorial at night.