Annie Bananie en Europe

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The hills are alive…at Glenfinnan Viaduct!

In July 2017, when I was still living in Glasgow, my friend Mini visited Scotland and I had the pleasure of hosting her and showing her around. We had a full weekend to go wherever in Scotland we wanted to, and Mini asked me for suggestions of places to see. I thought about it long and hard. There were lots of great places to see that doesn’t require more time than an overnight stay, but we wanted to pick somewhere that I hadn’t been to yet so that it’d be new for both of us, which was challenging because I had been to a lot of places!

Then I thought…hey! How about Glenfinnan near Fort William? I asked Mini, “Are you a fan of Harry Potter?” She answered, “Yes!” “Well then I have the perfect place – let’s go see the Harry Potter Bridge!”

Of course Harry Potter fans who have seen the movies would know that I was talking about the Glenfinnan Viaduct, which the Hogwarts Express crosses on the way to Hogwarts. I had known about it for a while with the intention to explore during a free weekend but somehow never got to it, so Mini’s arrival was the perfect opportunity.

We set out on Friday night and took the train to Fort William on the West Highland Way, which was around 3.5 hours from Glasgow. The West Highland Way has got to be one of the most scenic train routes in the world and I could never get enough of the views along the way. As it was mid-summer in Scotland, the sun was only beginning to show signs of setting even close to 9 pm (time that this photo was taken).

The next morning, we took another train westward to Glenfinnan, surrounded by lochs (Loch Shiel shown here) and mountains (Sgùrr Ghiubhsachain on the left) and beauty everywhere. There was a trail that would lead us to a designated viewpoint for the Glenfinnan Viaduct- seems like they’ve got it all figured out for us tourists.

Greenery, sunshine, companionship – seemed like a perfect day! The destination was the Glenfinnan Viaduct, which meant that we had to backtrack a little as our train crossed it before arriving at Glenfinnan station. Ordinary trains like the one we took regularly cross the viaduct, but we were there to see the crossing of the Jacobite steam train, the real Harry Potter experience!

We found the trail and started walking. We timed our walk so that we would arrive near the viaduct viewpoint well before the Jacobite was scheduled to appear. I think there were only two crossings of the Jacobite each way per day (the regular train crosses more often) so we definitely could not be late. Thankfully the trail was clear as day, and we were still surrounded by gorgeous scenery! We also had to make sure that we got back to the station in time, after the Jacobite crossing, to take OUR train back to Fort William, so it did take some planning ahead of time. But hey that’s what I love doing, and the anticipation was building up!

What’s that? A train on the viaduct? Yes, target in sight, though that was the regular train, not the Jacobite that we were waiting for. There was still a lot of time before it was scheduled to cross, and we were glad that we were not lost. Now to find the best viewpoint…

…this was a good place, but not quite close enough. Though, this perspective does show the grandiosity of the natural setting that we were immersed in. You could imagine how grand the viaduct itself was, but it seemed like a toy compared to the hills in the distance!

Ah, finally we arrived at the foot of the viaduct, right underneath it to feel its grandness close-up. We decided to split up to take photos from different angles, and I chose this place as I thought that it’d offer some great photos of the train and the viaduct together.

We kept looking and soon after saw a place where lots of folks were already set up and waiting. And we thought, that must be it, the official viewpoint that was sought after. It was about half an hour before the Jacobite was planned to appear, so our arrival gave Mini plenty of time to adjust her gear to take the perfect photos.

THIS. This is the place where the iconic photos of the Jacobite are usually taken. No wonder there were so many others guarding their spots. Those curves and arches on the viaduct look so smooth and aesthetically pleasing ❤

Mini's "gear" wasn't complicated or high-tech – just a smartphone, actually. We had to make things work by using what was available, namely Mini's backpack, wallet, and selfie stick, which all played a part in ensuring that her phone stood upright and still. Now all was set and we wait for the main character's appearance…

…but I had to run back to my spot, quickly because the train was coming! There it comes, choo choo! (Yes the train did make the sound.) I wonder if people on the train knew that outside their windows, many people were waiting for them to pass by 😛

Here’s a closer look at the Jacobite on the Glenfinnan Viaduct. I think I’d like to be on the Jacobite one day and travel from Fort William all the way to Mallaig, then take the ferry over to Skye instead of the bus. That’ll have to wait till I see my beloved Scotland again someday…

After the Jacobite has disappeared into the distance, Mini and I still had a bit of time left before our scheduled trip back to Fort William. We wandered a little along the shore of Loch Shiel and I became amazed again at how much beauty Scotland holds. And it saddened me that I’d be leaving in three months (till today I’m STILL sad that I am not in Scotland now!!)

Selfie time! Thanks to Mini’s visit, we had a fun-filled day hiking and exploring the Glenfinnan area (and I still didn’t know where to look in the camera). Of course I didn’t know at that time that two years later, Mini would become one of my bridesmaids!

Finally, we hopped onto a train back to Fort William and another back to Glasgow, going in the reverse direction on the West Highland Way. The hills are alive everywhere in Scotland, a place that will always have a piece of my heart – or heck it could have all of it if it wants!

Sunset over Loch Lomond, from the summit of Conic Hill

Time seems to pause as the silent waters of Loch Lomond wave good night to the golden globe that left us behind. Conic Hill is the only hill that I’ve walked every year since coming to Scotland, and the views of Loch Lomond and the surrounding hills and mountains continue to amaze me with every climb. The hills may be alive, but at this moment, even they seem to be getting ready to rest. I am going to miss this place when I’m gone.

The hills are alive…on the misty Isle of Skye! (continued)

I couldn’t resist posting another entry about Skye after the first one. This time I shall let the photos speak for themselves. There were so many unforgettable moments and so many precious photos that it was difficult choosing just a set of them to share, but the selected few will give you an idea of the highlights from my first trip (13 people in total) to Skye, the Misty Isle.

I want to thank again Stuart from Misty Isle Tours for making the Skye minibus day trip possible for our large group by tailoring our itinerary based on our preferences and limitations – and the day turned out to be super lovely! And of course, my companions were beyond fantastic! Honourable mentions go to Amy the selfie queen, Henry the undefeated chef, Zed the self-proclaimed Pirate King, and my rival paparazzi, XM. Thanks for the memories, guys!

The hills are alive…on the misty Isle of Skye!

The Isle of Skye is perhaps the most widely recognized destination in the Scottish highlands and a hotspot for tourism, and it’s easy to see why. Before I had even stepped foot on Scottish soil, my friend has already recommended it as the number one place that I have to visit in Scotland because it was just so beautiful. His claim was supported by multiple other friends, and I finally had a chance to make a trip up north to the Misty Isle (Skye means “mist” in Norse) in July this year – with 12 other people!

We hired a minibus from Misty Isle Tours and were very fortunate to have the adorable Stuart as our driver and guide for the day. I think Skye probably deserves way more than one simple post, but for this first introductory post I’ll show you some of the stunning landscape that we were able to see around the island, courtesy of Stuart. Maybe it would convince you that Skye is indeed the place that dreams are made of.

Skye is a photographer’s heaven and there is no shortage of good photo opportunities. The Fairy Pools are one of the most visited attractions of Skye, and while I’ll be completely honest and say I was a little underwhelmed by the actual pools themselves, the Black Cuillins that served as the backdrop were simply magnificent and awe-inspiring!

Speaking of fairy, you can’t miss the Fairy Glen, reachable via a nice scenic hike close to the guesthouse where we stayed in Uig (which was excellent, by the way). This is the kind of place where you’d expect elves to magically appear and fairies to dance in the lush green – a place worthy of its name!

The Sligachan Bridge is something you’d expect to see on a postcard. This shot was captured hastily as we passed by the bridge on the bus from Glasgow to Uig, but I was glad that Stuart took us back to Sligachan during our day tour of Skye to take a closer look at the bridge!

Another view of the Sligachan Bridge, this time from the other side with the Red Cuillin hills in the back. The perfect symmetry of Glamaig adds to the aesthetic feeling of the picture!

And here we come to the “bald” hills on the way to Elgol, a perfect backdrop against the clear, dark blue waters. After searching on Google Maps and checking the corresponding time that the photo was taken, I have reasons to believe that the hills seen here are known as Beinn na Caillich, the “red hills” of the Cuillin mountain ranges.

Elgol is the departure point of the ferry to Loch Coruisk. I’d heard of Elgol from a random stranger I met during a hike and was keen to visit, especially since it is where Stuart grew up! What a tranquil little village!

With a bus we had a lot of flexibility in terms of where we could go, and Stuart also brought us to Quiraing, a location with stunning landscape and rock formations. The BFG was also filmed here, apparently!

Passing by a lone house by the shore, surrounded by nothing but grassy fields, calm waters, roaming sheep, and sheer serenity. I wouldn’t mind moving here when I retire…

Of course, Skye had to show us why it was named the “Misty Isle”. We were lucky that most of the day was rain-free but there were short intervals where rain hit us hard, and you wondered if it would ever stop. Still Skye looked gorgeous in the rain and mist and before you know it, the sky opened up again and we forgot that rain was ever with us!

Back at Uig, the group stayed in glamping pods on top of a hill, where we were able to get a nice view of the main village across the bay. These pods were so cosy and comfortable that I wouldn’t hesitate going back here the next time I visit Skye! Oh, and this photo was taken at around 11:30pm in early July. I think the sky was still slightly blue well past midnight – definitely the ideal timing for our stay!

Finally, I present you with a greeting (or a goodbye) from the Skye Dragon…breathing fire! OK, just clouds, but aren’t they amazing! You could probably tell that my first Skye experience was absolutely mesmerizing and memorable, and I hope it won’t be the last!

The hills are alive…on the Isle of Mull! (Part 1)

Because of of the abundant series of events that happened on the Isle of Mull, I wrote a 3000+ word recount of the experience, which you can read here. However, most people will probably find it TL;DR, and so if you just want the summary and the photos, read on! A complete series of photos of this trip can also be found on Facebook 😉


Summer is short in Scotland, and there are only a small handful of rainless weekends during the summer months suitable for travelling. Knowing this, I had to take advantage of every sunny weekend, because very soon, we’ll be back to 5 degrees and the sun will be setting at 4 pm. After Perth, I decided to continue my discovery of Scotland by visiting some of the islands in the west, starting with…the Isle of Mull!

My main motivation of going to Mull was to go to the original Tobermory and Calgary. Tobermory is a town 300 km north of Toronto, and Calgary, as you probably know, is one of the largest cities in Canada, located in the province of Alberta. It so happened that the names of both of these places were derived from places that exist…on the Isle of Mull in Scotland! Feeling like an adventure, I was ready to roam around Mull (or well, at least half of Mull), all by myself.

Getting to Mull

Being a ferry ride away from Oban, which is 3 hours away from Glasgow by train, Mull made a perfect weekend trip. As the train headed toward Oban, which began to appear soon after it reached the outskirts of Glasgow, I began to be amazed at the number of mountains (and sheep, elaborated in the next post) in the country. How intriguing you are, Scotland.

As transport on Mull would be problematic without a car and with very limited public transit available, I decided on a method of transportation that is quite new to me – cycling! And it wasn’t normal cycling either – I rented an electric bike on the island, knowing that I would have conquer some tedious hill. Not being the fittest person out there, I definitely needed the extra power boost provided by the battery and in retrospect, I couldn’t have done it without the electric bike! My route is illustrated below (map obtained here):

I began at Tobermory, going down to Dervaig, Calgary, then south and east to Salen and finally back up to Tobermory. Evidently, this was only the top part of the island. I wasn’t even going to get close to Ben More, one of only two island Munros (a Munro is a mountain in Scotland with a height over 3000 ft, the other island Munro being on Skye) slightly to the south of the loop. The route consisted of several toiling climbs, but also segments of fantastic freewheeling after the climbs, for a grand total of 42 miles – that is 68 kilometres! Was I ready for this? Did I really know what I was getting myself into?

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