Oban seems like a small, out of the way sleepy town – but for those looking for a peaceful and slightly spiritual retreat, I highly suggest Oban. Here you will find avenues to the Isle of Mull, Iona Abbey and Fingal’s Cave on Staffa Island.
History of Oban:
Oban sits on the Firth of Lorn overlooking the Isle of Mull, Kerrera and Lismore. Oban in Gaelic is An t-Oban, which means ‘Little Bay’. I was corrected several times on how to say the name of the town, it is not O-bahn, it is Obin. Gaelic is the language of the Scottish Highlands and since the 17th Century Battle for Culloden, was systematically banned and nearly lost. Now it is being taught in schools throughout the Highlands to help preserve both the culture and the language. Should you visit the Scottish Highlands, you will see many signs both in Gaelic and English. As of 2006 9.4% of the population in Oban still speaks fluent Gaelic.
Oban itself dates back to the Mesolithic times, where early evidence of cave dwellers was found in the centre of Oban (right where Oban Distillery sits). Bones found within this cave has since been dated to be around 4500BC. Oban is a unique bay compared to others in the Highlands, as it has two sides of the land masses protecting its bay during the brutal winter storms. This makes it a perfect place for fish and other oceanic animals to take refuge, and also was the perfect place for cave dwellers to find food.
Kilmartin House and Standing Stones
If you head up to Kilmartin House Museum, you will see one of the earliest forts made, dating to approximately 500 AD! This structure is under the care of Historic Scotland, so be sure to plan your visit and opening hours accordingly. Surrounding this area you will also find 350 ancient monuments including burial Cairn Stones.
I was able to see some of the Kilmartin Standing Stones, and the small cup and ring marks within the stones indicating these were placed here thousands of years ago. I could feel that sacred ceremonies were conducted in this area for nearly 5,000 years. Perfectly aligned with the symmetry being obviously visible to anyone who cares to look. At first I didn’t want to see these stones, I was so exhausted, but pushing through my own fatigue I was able to see some of the most beautiful coastline and be witness to history that was thousands of years older than I. It is about a 30-minute drive, easily navigated to via Google Maps.
Traveler Tip: Before going to Scotland be sure to download Google Maps onto your phone and the Outlander Audio Book. These are great ways to both stay entertained (as the radio is not easily tapped into in the Highlands), and to not get lost should you run out of Wifi.
You will see a gravel parking lot on the left, pull into any spot and walk across the street to the gate opening. You will cross over a bridge to the sign explaining how old the Kilmartin stones are and where the other stones in the area are located as well. Walking in a space this old only adds to my own data bank of belief that Scotland is full of magic and mystery, and that I had just become part of this lands history as well.
The Sixth through the Ninth Century in Oban:
By the early 6th Century AD under the Kingdom of Dalriata, with the Scotii tribe the Kingdom of Scotland would grow. Legend has it that three sons Fergus Mor, Aonghas and Loarn mac Eric were not given this kingdom and it was passed to their uncle. They then took their followers and migrated to the west of Scotland to establish their own Kingdoms — brining with them the ‘Stone of Destiny’ (an important Scottish Royalty tradition that is still used to this day).
The 9th Century brought Viking crossings into Scotland which also brought 400 years of war and struggle. This will play an important role in the history of Iona Abbey on the Isle of Mull just off the shores of Oban.
The Eleventh Century Onwards:
By the 11th century Oban was in Viking hands, the MacDougall family, who were Viking descendants established themselves as one of the most powerful families in the Scottish Highlands. Eventually the family relocated and their castle fell into ruin in Oban. Sir Walter Scott, a famous Scottish author published his book Lord of the Isles in Oban. This brought many visitors to Oban, and houses began to pop up in the area.
During the 19th century, the steam ships were using Oban as a stopping point and refuge from storms on their way from Glasgow to Inverness. A local banker, obsessed with Roman and Greek art decided it was a good idea to build an amphitheater at the top of the hill. John S McCaig wasn’t the smartest banker and the unfinished tower tops one of Scotland’s most striking shores to this day.
Where to Stay in Oban:
We stayed at a quaint little Oban Airbnb Home with our lovely host. She grew up on the Isle of Mull and speaks fluent Gaelic. She has loads of stories and just wants you to sit down and have a cuppa tea before you do anything else. She gives great directions, provides you with the BEST breakfast and has the best Blood Pudding of anyone in the Scottish Highlands.
Traveler Tip: It gets cold at night, even in the summers (especially if you are from a dry climate like me), so bring a sweater.
Our room was comfy, warm and was so cozy….we nearly got stuck to it the next morning trying to get up for our early 730am tour. There are places to park with a quiet neighborhood, nearby grocery store and petrol station. The shower is warm and is a short 10-minute drive from the center of town. Should you choose to walk, be sure to check the weather. As we were going to be dropping the car at the Edinburgh Airport right after our tour the next morning, we chose to drive.
Isle of Kerrera : This is the island directly visible from Oban, but due to no ferries servicing the area, can take several hours to get to. Currently the population there is only 35, but if you have the time stop by and see Gylen Castle. This castle was built in 1587 by Duncan McDougall of Dunollie. If you get a look inside, there is a passage underneath it that reportedly still has visible head carvings with an inscription reading “trust in God and sin no more”. Here is a Map of Kerrera and accommodations are available on the island with Airbnb style homes.
McCaig’s Tower – see Oban history above for more information on this quirky Roman tower in the middle of the Scottish Highlands. Dunstaffnage Castle: Flora MacDonald was held at Dunstaffnage in 1746 before being sent to the Tower of London after she helped Bonnie Prince Charlie escape the Battle of Culloden. The castle is also host to a 13th Century Chapel and imagine what it must have been to live in a place so isolated.
Castle Stalker: This picturesque castle is located just north of Oban and beautifully surrounded by water. Only open between April and October, tours must be arranged in advance. There is intrigue, murder, wars and revenge that surround this castle. Take a deeper look into this small Stalker Castle’s BIG history.
Iona Abbey:A must visit for any Christian who wants to see how Christianity was passed to the Vikings. I will be posting more on this lovely and very spiritual place next week.
Staffa Island’s Fingal’s Cave with Puffin Sanctuary: This will also be included in the post for this next week on tours there, how to get there, opening times, best time to go and so much more. Inveraray Castle is not to be missed as this is the Clan seat for the Duke of Argyll, which Oban is
Inspired and Suprised by Oban
You wouldn’t think that such a small spot on the map in Scotland would hold so much history! It doesn’t appear, at first, to hold much in the way of tourism….but oh how wrong I was. So should you find your way home from Inverness or Fort William to Edinburgh or Glasgow….be sure to spend a few days in Oban. Take the ferry to the islands, see the castles, check out the Kilmartin Standing stones and especially the Oban Distillery. Plan your visit around the many festivals, and make Oban your central hub for visiting so many wonderful places in the Scottish Highlands.
Sailing in Seattle seemed like the perfect activity to experience what those in Seattle call a right of passage to being a true Seattleite.
Note: This post is NOT, I repeat…NOT sponsored — I am simply sharing my love for Sailing after my first experience with the best Captain & Sail boat on the planet.
Booking a Sailing in Seattle Trip:
When you decide to book your sailing, I would highly recommend the captain and SY Cynthia R Boat (unless you have a group of more than 6 people). I found the captain through the Airbnb experience page, but he also has a website Emerald City Sailing you can book your unique adventure through. If you do have more than six people just let Michael know and he can make arrangements for parties of 12, 18 and 24 on other ships that have that capacity.
Traveler Tip: Never tried Airbnb Experience? Get $40 off your first stay by signing up with this Airbnb link.
Getting to SY Cynthia R Boat:
The Pier that the boat departs from is north of Seattle, about a 25-minute ride from Pike’s Place Market. I took an Uber Shared ride and it cost me about $14, but I would allow for extra time. Once you get to the Pier, there are private docks that you have to have a card to get into; so be sure to get Captain Michael’s number. It is a short walk to the boat itself, and then you have to board the boat via a small plastic step stool with 2 steps. Your captain can help ensure you get on safely. We had one passenger who recently had a pelvic fracture was on crutches and still was able to safely get on the boat. Once on the boat, you want to make sure you have your footing, so hang onto something as you make your way around the boat.
Meeting the Captain
Captain Michael Schaible was born in Seattle Washington. He is a certified PADI Master Diver, licensed boat captain and was part of the US Coast Guard in 2014. He is certified with the American Sailing Association levels 101, 103, 104 barebones charters and 105 coastal navigation, Instructor level 201-204. So needless to say he has quite the resume and knows what he is doing. The thing I found fascinating about the Captain was that he can read the wind based on the texture of the water.
Sounds like a false claim doesn’t it? Nope, I was able to identify what he was talking about based on the water texture, but my goodness, to have the razor sharp eyesight to see that far ahead of the boat (I’m talking several miles) without binoculars was quite impressive. He is a second generation vendor at the world famous Pike Place Market. His family runs a textile business that his father established in 1973, El Gringo Imports. He is very excited about this textile business, and even has some amazing sweaters to keep you warm while on the boat — which are also available for purchase, should you so desire. For those traveling from abroad, he also speaks Spanish fluently, so can accommodate International passengers as well.
The History of the Boat
Cynthia R is a historic and classic modern sailing yacht measuring 44.4 feet long. Designed by John Alden Company as a ketch rigged Pearson custom center cockpit sailboat. She was first launched in Thomaston Main by the Morse boat building company in 1967! You wouldn’t think she is this old when looking at her, but age is just a number, she is beautiful just the way she is 😉 If you go below deck, ask Michael for the history of the boat book collection he always has stored on board. Here reflections of the original owner’s voyages across the Atlantic four times, the sailing path of his trip with his wife through the Mediterranean and across the world are laid out in a storybook-like way to keep you enthralled for hours.
These voyages are also chronicled in Robert Carter’s book: Sail Far Away, Reflections of Life Afloat. This non-fiction book is an account of the 10 years in Europe Robert spent with his wife, sailing Parts of the Boat It is important to know what the parts of the boat are, especially when sailing in such frigid waters in Seattle. I personally didn’t realize that if someone falls into the water here (even if it is in summer) without a wetsuit that they can go into hypothermia very quickly. So in order to not get knocked into the water here are some main points.
Rule One: Stay in the boat
Rule two: Stay behind the Mast when the wind is blowing
Rule three: Don’t get on the boat if you have problems with dizziness or can’t keep your balance on solid ground.
Other than that, its all a matter of getting to know the boat. Michael is actually a sailing teacher and is really patient and open-minded about those who want to learn. He even let me cinch down the jib halyard and jib sheet (aka the ropes that tighten down the sails and control them). Here is what I personally learned on my first sailing trip about the boat and all its parts:
Mainsail: Catches the wind
Jib: Helps with turning the boat and also catches some wind
Mast: Holds up the sail
Boom: keeps mainsail stationary and helps to keep constant sail trim
This is what will hit you push you right off the boat should the boat need to turn quickly to not run into a sandbar or rocks. So as I pointed out before, stay behind the mast & the anchor point of the boom if the sails are out.
Keel: Stabilizes boat and also uses water pressure to propel the boat forward.
Tacking: turning the boat through the wind (but requires a lot of velocity to do this)
Jibing: turning the boat through downwind point of sail, requires a lot of weight management and distribution.
So ladies, don’t be offended if he asks you to step into a certain spot to help maintain the boat direction. It is for your safety and has nothing to do with you being fat or the anchor of the boat — it could be he is trying to even out the heavy stove downstairs.
Trim: A way of sailing the boat so as to create less resistance and faster sailing time like they do in racing.
If the sails are too tight the wind will bounce off of them like bouncing off a brick wall. If the sails are too loose they will ‘luff’ is the technical word, but I prefer ‘laugh’ at you by flapping in the wind. When they flap I feel like they are saying, ‘HA! You think you’re going anywhere? THINK AGAIN!’. Lastly, make sure you bring a snack, something warm to wear (that is wind resistant), and be sure whatever you bring (including cameras/hats/shoes etc…) are secure and won’t roll off the boat when you start sailing. The flat floor of the boat when sailing goes to about a 50-degree angle at times to help with speed and trim.
Passengers on the Boat
In total there were 6 passengers on the sailboat, and it was just the right amount for everyone to have a place to sit. One thing I would mention, don’t expect a cushioned seat of gold with servants to place grapes in your mouth gingerly. This is a boat, with a place up front for about 5 people to sit/lay (Michael does provide cushions, but no gold or servants). There is a place for 3 people to sit behind the wheel, although you will have to move quite a bit for Michael to be able to actually sail the boat.
The other 5 passengers were all from the Greater Seattle area. There were two other couples and then 2 single women. I became friends with one of them, Berkley, she had this bubbly personality that was so infectious. I personally get nervous in groups of people more than three, so it was nice to have someone to connect to. Berkley was so interested in my website and instantly wanted my Instagram handle. She didn’t care to talk much about herself, just wanted to know everything about me. She helped me take photos, asked about trips I was going on – and each time I tried to ask a question about her…..she played it off as if she wasn’t that important. So Berkley, on this public platform, I want to thank you for being so kind and making me feel included and comfortable with your group. I think you have are a beautiful human being inside and out & hope we can have another grand adventure in the future. You see, my Culture Trekking friends, it doesn’t matter if you travel solo or in a group — there will always be a kindred spirit whom you can connect with. They will teach you how to be a better friend, and maybe even become a lifelong friend. So please do not be afraid to travel alone — or start a conversation with a local. In doing so, it enriches your soul and provides a memory that will be forever burned in your mind.
Helping Sail the Boat
Not only was Berkley kind and inclusive, but Michael was a fascinating individual as well. If you put a California Surfer Yogi Master onto a sailboat…..Micheal would be the definition of that image you just conjured up.
He had a Jewish Star with each of the Chakra stones in it on a leather cord, a hat to control the long slightly curly sun-bleached hair, sunglasses and a smile that took up his whole face. Although there was a certain amount of shyness that was hard to pinpoint. So I decided to try and make everyone feel more comfortable by doing something a little silly, try to help out on the boat.
Michael let me cinch down several lines, and the rest of the group watched as I put my back into it. If you try and do this, just know your triceps are going to be in outright protest when you do. Luckily I had Berkley and the rest of the group as my cheerleaders, which ended up putting a huge smile on my face. I even got to sit behind the wheel!!!!! I steered us out to the Puget Sound while Michael got our sails ready to go, and then BOOM! Sails were out, lines were tight, and I WAS SAILING A BOAT!!!! GAHHHH!!! I became so comfortable about an hour into it, I just felt like jumping into the water (fully clothed mind you). We were relaxing in front of the gorgeous view of the Seattle skyline and I just wanted to jump in. Luckily, Michael told me, ‘uuuuhhhh, that wouldn’t be a good idea, but I mean if you really want to I guess we could make it work.
The problem is, the water is cold enough that you could only be in there for about two minutes before I would have to pull you out because you could easily get hypothermia’. So professional of him to say not say what he likely should have said ‘that’s a stupid and dangerous idea’ in such a nice way. Thus the Rule ONE from above, stay in the boat with your seatbelt fastened and arms and legs inside the ride at all times (unless your in warmer waters that is).
Embracing Freedom and Feeling
When you get me on any kind of boat, I feel like I am home. When we were kids my parents had a boat, most of our summers we were out on the water trying out the latest water toys. I remember the air chair, the chariot, the doughnut tube roller coaster thing that would spin you over the wake & roll you over and over until you finally just drop out the back of it because you get so dizzy.
So as soon as I stepped on Michaels boat, I felt at home, I felt peaceful and immediately took my shoes off and walked every inch of the boat. (I’m a little nosy and slightly impaired when it comes to being appropriate in social situations). Luckily Michael was laid back and let me snoop around his boat home.
Once we got out to the water, surrounded by the serene beauty of the Puget Sound and the Seattle Skyline — I couldn’t help the feeling of freedom. There was an inherent sense of feeling free — like I was away from the crowds, the cruise ships, the taxi’s the muggy heat of the city. I had the wind blowing in my hair, a fabulous group of passengers around me, a Captain who regaled us with stories of the boat crossing the Atlantic four times….I felt at peace there. I could have stayed out on the ocean for hours on end. At one point I even thought, ‘I need to get my own sailboat so I can live in it like Michael’. Once the wind hits those sails, and you feel the boat tilt, the water lapping at the sides of the boat, the sun glistens on the water, and the only sound you hear is the wind whistling in your ears telling tales of adventure……nothing can beat this feeling.
It was the perfect timing for me to experience sailing. My Mom had just discovered after 35 years of marriage that my Dad had been living a double life. They were in the process of getting divorced and all the drama that comes with that. No matter how old you get, finding out your Dad was not who you thought he was, is always hard, and I was going through a significant mourning period.
So being able to be on this boat, imagining disappearing into the great blue beyond was just what my soul needed. I can’t tell you how grateful I was for this experience, for the freedom I felt and it truly helped peace return to my soul. One of Michael’s goals for his passengers is to have this type of spiritual experience. To have a sense of calm in a world that never has enough time for the quiet moments of life that are so precious and rare.
If you are going to Seattle, and have a chance to hang with Michael on his boat…..do it…..no matter what the cost is. I promise you won’t regret sailing in Seattle with him. It isn’t like the commercialized sailings that are right off the main pier, this experience is unique because he and his boat are unique.
Michael has been sailing for so long, through so many countries, has so many adventures to tell — there was not one minute I felt bored. You will get to help sail the boat, feel peaceful away from the rat race of life, and see the Seattle Skyline without having to fight others for the perfect picture. You will capture moments that more commercialized boats don’t allow the time or space for. Most importantly, it gives you the perfect setting to connect with people in a way that will make your trip to Seattle even more memorable.
This was NOT a sponsored post, everything in this post I shared with you was to help you see how doing the unique things…..even if they are a little more expensive, can have the greatest return in meaningful memories that will fill your soul. Personally, I cannot wait to book an overnight (or maybe a few nights) sailing trip up through Canada and through the plethora of islands that surround Seattle.
As Always Happy Travels, Happy Tales, and See You on the Flip Side.
Seattle Sightseeing Photography Tour with Tim Menzen. What a great opportunity for me to see the hot spots of Seattle, not get lost, and maybe get some good ideas on how to be a better photographer. I booked the experience (which was ~$50 at the time), and a Sailing in Seattle Experience (article on this to be posted next week). I was finally set for my three day weekend in Seattle.
Tim Menzen is a Photographing Camera genius, well at least to me. He often is recruited to do videography for local news stations, shoots for sports teams, car racing, rallies, and so much more. The man is legit and knows his stuff. Take a look at his Facebook and Instagram posts to get a better idea.
I met Tim at the Art Museum in Downtown Seattle (appropriate for the type of tour we were doing). He was very communicative, told me what he would be wearing, what to expect, and was flexible when my Uber was late. He shoots with a Cannon 1DX (the beast of all beasts of a camera), and was really jealous about that honestly. I shoot with a Sony DSC M3 (which has an incredibly steep learning curve with the technology), yet he really helped me discover how much more technical I can get with my camera.
The Seattle Sightseeing Photography Tour isn’t just about going to the hot spots, tourist traps, or getting those Instagram worthy photos. He teaches you to utilize your camera and finally get out of the Auto mode – resulting in less grainy photos with darker pictures, the play of light to your advantage, helping you be more aware of your surroundings fostering the creative edge, and takes you around the more unique areas of downtown Seattle.
Walking the Seattle Sightseeing Photography Tour
I was a little nervous about how much walking we would have to do, not because I can’t physically do it, only because I was afraid of getting hopelessly lost in the end. Just to calm those fears, please know that he takes you right back to the Art Museum so you can get your bearings again.
The walking itself was not that strenuous, you do have to go up and down several flights of stairs, so those with bad knees beware. It was a Saturday that I chose to do my tour, and unfortunately, there were 2 cruise ships in port, and loads of tourists. As we walked into the hoard I turned to Tim and said, “I hate crowds, it makes me nervous – so if we can avoid them a little for this particular tour and see the more unique things about Seattle that revolve around the culture in Seattle – I’m happy to do that”. He happily agreed to get out of the crowds and showed me the more artistic side of Seattle. Winding through alleyways and backstreets, I was able to see the best and the worst of what is…..Seattle.
Getting To Know My Camera
The first couple of stops I had my camera on Auto mode, I had told Tim about my background as a travel writer and photographer. A part of me was a little nervous to look stupid in front of this professional, but we all have to start somewhere right? I told him that I felt like my composition in my photos was horrible, I try to be a cutesy fartsy Instagram babe and usually fail miserably at it, and then told him that I really didn’t understand how to control the lighting with my camera other than the dial on top. I’m pretty sure this rough introduction helped break the ice, and he took it all in stride and we got to work.
He had me stand in one spot, showed me how his Cannon worked, stood behind me as I tried to find the same settings. Refreshed me the in’s and out’s of Time value and aperture & how the photography world trends have changed since I took my photography course in college (where we were still shooting on film— yes, I realize this makes me sound ancient). Shooting the Parking sign, again and again, changing different settings, zooming in and seeing the grain that resulted from those changes was very beneficial to me personally.
It’s hard to start exploring the settings in the camera, not because it is hard intellectually. I am so afraid of screwing up my camera (when I use it so often) and not being able to get it back to where I need it to be for other shoots. Having someone guide you through it, tell you its ok when you (insert preferred cuss word), and then help you fix it – really helps with the nerves.
Not only did he help with the technical aspect, but he also validated me as a photographer. I showed him my own Culture Trekking Instagram, and he said, “I think your composition looks great” — now I just need to work on telling a story with my photos instead of just shooting fun ads for those destinations.
Here’s the thing, anyone can be a photographer….you take out your phone, take a photo of your pet, apply a filter and there you go…your a photographer. Most people can become professional photographers without much training, or rather get that training via Udemy or YouTube. However, a real artist or artistic photographer….will incorporate all of these things and capture the viewer with a suggested story with one click of the shutter button. Having an ability, eye, and sense of the story within a setting is the way to really make a name for who you are and the message you want to create. Do you want the story to be of the game, or do you want to show the more human side of the teammates hugging after a goal, a player running to his partner/child after they cross the finish line? Human moments are the best sort of moments for me, but telling the story is what makes it true Art.
For this tour though, I tried to focus on implementing the techniques he showed me while touring downtown Seattle. So here are a few of the places we visited, and some of the good photos as well as some of the…..well….not so good photos. Just to help you see that out of 500 photos there are only a few that are worthwhile sharing due to composition, storyline, lack of graininess, and my own personal preference to what I deem to be an ‘ok photo’.
The Gum Wall
Taking the back road from the Art Museum, you find some classic Seattle Liberal stickers and signs (which I thought were quite comical). Everything was relatively clean and orderly, then you start to see it….The Gum Wall. This iconic spot started in the mid-1990’s outside the Theatre, Unexpected Productions. The Theatre didn’t allow gum inside, the most logical solution was to stick it on the wall outside as you entered and put a quarter on it to thank whoever had to clean it up.
The gum literally stuck….with now 50 feet of wall on either side of this theatre covered in second hand chewed gum. There are surrounding businesses selling the gum to help the disgusting artistic expression of defiance, and now it is now an iconic part of the city.
The quarters have disappeared, and historically appears it has only been cleaned once in November of 2015. When the cleaning began, I don’t think they realized what they were getting into. There were several inches of gum stuck to the wall with the deterioration of the brick happening underneath. They scraped and steam cleaned the walls for weeks, it took 130 hours to clean the wall. The next month, you could hardly tell that it had been cleaned as loads of tourists came to take part in the mastication party.
Selfies abound and I just couldn’t bring myself to participate in this right of passage. My medical background and the roiling stomach and heebie-jeebies I was experiencing from this disgusting attraction made taking photos of the pretty girls taking selfies totally adequate. Needless to say, I took the obligatory photos at the wall and then told Tim I was ready to move on. (Still get a lump in my throat thinking about this).
As you make your way up the slope and take a right up towards Pike Avenue, you will see artistic ‘posts’ of different artistic events located in town. SO MANY COLORS! I WAS DYING! Turn around and appreciate Ghost Alley Espresso, this lovely coffee shop was formerly the first Public Male Restroom (for my UK readers… the Loo). Yep, go in and help yourself to a brown cuppa coffee and think of how many…….never mind….just enjoy your coffee.
As you walk up the slope of Pike Ave, you will start to hear the hustle and bustle of Pike Place Market. Fun Fact: the slope you are walking on was formerly where they would hold the soap car races (back in the day). Once you reach the top of the slope, STOP, turn around…..this is the best place to take a photo that doesn’t require you to have 500 other people in the photo with you in front of the Pike Place Sign. There are plenty of fresh flowers for you to buy and hold in the surrounding shops. I personally didn’t feel the need to do this, but apparently its a ‘thing’ to do this.
Walking Pike’s Place Market:
There are a few places you should visit, or at least see if you like the tourist traps and tasting original or local cuisine. See the Pike’s Place Market directory to plan your visit and hit the best of the best.
I personally didn’t feel the need to indulge, especially with how long that line was. This is where the original Starbucks Coffee store originated before becoming a global phenomenon. I would suggest going to the Starbucks Reserve instead at a location within walking distance of Pike’s Place, where you can sit down and be educated and taste different coffee beans and roasts from around the world. These highly specialized roasts are variable depending on the week & what their researchers send in. There is no menu or cash register (you pay a flat fee), you sit down/explore the store and just indulge in the Starbucks Brand like never before.
A Russian classic passed down from Babushka to her Grandchildren. This particular pastry shop will delight you with the authenticity and handmade Russian pastries. The line for this shop was also quite long, so I again passed it up given I only had two hours with Tim. Check out the Piroshki Piroshki’s Menu for all the delicate delights they have to offer.
Pike Place Fish Market
I personally call this place the Fisherman’s Bar because you step right up, order your fish and a show ensues. The show of throwing the slippery slimy fishy’s across the bar to each other, while yelling what the fish is, who ordered it and how many. It is hard to miss should you find yourself in Pike’s Place. If you have an Airbnb, typically you can have the Fish cleaned and skinned for you, then take it back to your rental and cook up a great meal. There are plenty of fresh vegetables, fruits, and herbs in the market to really cook up something good. I would suggest taking a look at the Fish Market Menu before approaching the bar, as they move very quick, and you don’t want to accidentally get hit with a fish while trying to decide what to order.
Artisan Crafts and more
Tim and I made our way into the market itself, right under the Restroom sign there are some stairs that lead you down underneath the busiest part of Pike’s Place Market. Here you will find all those items you could wish for as souvenirs at a much more reasonable price than those shops above. You also get an added bonus of seeing the photos of what the market looked like back in the day, before it became Instagram famous.
For more information on Unique Photo Stops near Pike’s Place, Check out The View From Right Here – where a local lays out her glimpses of the beautiful Seattle Region.
There are not very many Alley’s that are named in Seattle, this particular alley was named due to the Post that was produced and sold along this alley. The alley begins at the North End of Virginia Street, between first and western avenues running all the way to main street at the South end. The alley is not continuous as it has had apartments built, sectioning it off.
We walked all along Post Alley, and it was the perfect way to avoid the worst of the crowds in downtown Seattle. It also has some of the cutest boutique shops, photo ops, unique structures and a fabulous Irish Pub and Wine Bar in Seattle. I would suggest coming here instead of in the heart of Pike’s Place Market. If you notice a super long line of patrons waiting at the North End, that particular line is apparently for some Clam Chowder.
I’m not a foodie per se, so I get a bit snarky when it comes to waiting in lines to taste food. Personally, I feel you waste your time for something that will just end up in the toilet in the end. I know I know, gross Janiel (insert laughing)- I’m a medical person…. we talk about shit all day.
We made our way down to the Pier where we got some fabulous views of the Puget Sound. He gave me some tips on how to shoot on cloudy days and the layout of the surrounding mountains.
Pre-Photo Tour tidbit: When driving into town via Uber, my driver said that the Ferris Wheel on the Pier isn’t really worth it. The part that he said was MUCH better and more affordable was Wings Over Washington, this was built like the ride in Disneyland Soarin’ Around the World – and he said that this will give you all sorts of visions of how beautiful Washington can be, is indoors, and perfect for those rainy days.
The biggest charm factor for me during this tour was the plethora of courtyards with lush foliage, cute cafes, murals and a general ‘live your life well’ relaxing feeling. While you will have to take the Tour with Tim (that has a nice ring to it doesn’t it), to find all these courtyards – you can really find murals and fantastic places to exercise those photography skills by just wandering downtown Seattle.
I did find a fantastic map of different murals throughout the city at The Evergrey with the histories behind each mural (if you love street art like I do). There is also the article from the Seattle Met on ‘The City Is a Canvas’ which has some great advice on where to find the best murals.
Safety in Seattle
Not all of Seattle is safe, so as a general rule daytime is safe, nighttime is not. If you like the Party scene go up to Capitol Hill where most of the college crowd hangs out and there are a lot of the LGBTQ bars and such are as well.
If you find one of these, just leave it, if you find a man/woman passed out with one of these near them….just make sure they are breathing – drop a Tylenol and a bottle of water and then keep walking.
Ending the Tour
Seattle stole my heart because of this tour. I was able to see the best of the best, and even the underbelly that is also iconically part of what Seattle is.
There is a plethora of conflicting representations here with a general feeling of embracing not only the fickle weather patterns but also Art, Technology, History and the Present – all which make a great big interactive platform to discovering the best of what Seattle has to offer.
I did not get paid to tell you to book a tour with Tim but appreciated his validation of my work, the tools that he taught me and the patience he had while I took my sweet time with getting it right. I will definitely be back to Seattle, I hope very soon. Have you been to Seattle? What was your favorite part? Have you tried an Airbnb Experience before? To Book a Tour with Tim Menzen visit Airbnb Experience Photography Tour with a Pro. New to Airbnb? Sign up with this link and get $40 towards your next Airbnb experience. Stay tuned for my Sailing in Seattle Airbnb experience & don’t forget to PIN this article below.
As Always……Happy Travels, Happy Tales, and See You on the Flip Side.
Any local knows that Princes Street Gardens used to be the site of the Nor Loch and we’ve heard the tales of Greyfriars Bobby and the Mackenzie poltergeist many times before. Not only are these famous creepy tales of Edinburgh originating from here, but stories of Scrooge and none other than Lord Voldemort of the Harry Potter series were inspired characters of this city. So for all those story hunters, doing a self-guided ghost tour of Edinburgh will give you loads of stories to draw from.
Keep in mind that there is only one area that will require you to pay for access and that is to the underground vaults beneath the city.
Now the lush, and peaceful gardens in the center of Edinburgh these gardens were once witness to horrific events that took place on Princes street ages ago. A large body of water once graced this valley north of the Castle Rock, claiming the land as far back as 15,000 yrs ago as a byproduct of the ice age. The lake eventually dried up and Edinburgh was quickly thriving and growing. With many residents living in the 15 story housing within the cities fortifications, all the human waste had to go somewhere convenient. Enter the story of the Nor’ Loch. The stench from this ancient sewer plant must have been overpowering if the wind blew the wrong way, thus giving Edinburgh the nickname ‘old reeky’. Not only did the Nor’ Loch hold the human waste of the overpopulated city, but brutal punishments, murders, executions and public ‘dookings’ were very common at the edges.
Mr Sinclair was one of these tales, where him and his two sisters were sentenced to die for the crime of incest in 1628. Mr Sinclair and his two sisters were packed into a box with holes drilled into it and dumped into the Nor’ Loch with a padlock firmly in place. When renovations were made to Princes Street Garden, and the swamp drained, a box with 3 human remains were found in the mud. Upwards of 300 men and women were burned alive here for the crimes of witchcraft and wizardry. They were tied up, dragged down the slopes & dumped into the filth. If they sank to the bottom, well they were declared free of evil spirits. If they floated, well then a swift burn at the stake was in store with the human waste being a terrible fuel for those fires. It was some 200 years later that the city began to call for the draining of the cesspool. The New Town was beginning to be developed and by 1764 Nor’ Loch was drained. Princes Street Gardens was then built from East to West and finished around 1876.
Grey Friars Bobby:
John Gray arrived in the city in 1850, looking for work and attempting to avoid the dreaded workhouses, he joined the Night Watch with the Edinburgh Police Force. The nights in Scotland can be long and lonely and sometimes haunted. John Gray adopted a Skye Terrier named Bobby. These two were truly the best of friends. After years of roaming the streets and keeping the good people of Edinburgh safe, John came down with Tuberculosis. He eventually succumbed to the disease on February 15, 1858 and was buried at Greyfriars Kirkyard. Continuing his watch unfailingly, Bobby, his loyal dog and companion continued to stay at his masters grave – even in the worst conditions and weather.
The gardener tried to oust the poor thing several times but the dog was steadfast. The gardener’s heart eventually softened and a bed was made for bobby, complete with padding… allowing him to stay by his master’s side. People would come from miles around to see Bobby take his afternoon meal, following a cabinet maker to the Coffee House where he and John Grey would often go together. This routine took place for over 14 years, Bobby keeping constant watch of his masters grave until his own death in 1872. A Baroness, moved by this story of loyalty, erected the granite monument and statue commemorating this loyalty, who is now the most famous dog in Scotland. The Scottish people’s love of Dogs is still apparent today throughout the city. If you visit the statue, you will notice that it’s nose is quite worn. It is believed that rubbing Bobby’s nose will bring the visitor good luck and safety while touring the Kirkyard. The Grave of the beloved Bobby will also have several sticks placed by tourists, to help Bobby’s ghost be able to play fetch with his master again.
Not long after the ‘National Covenant’ was signed into practice, a document to keep Scotland Presbyterian, King Charles II took the throne and disavowed all those who covenanted and forcibly demanded those throughout England and Scotland to accept the state religion. It was June of 1679 that the military forces swept the country in the most bloody battle for religion known as Bothwell Brig. Several thousand Presbyterian Covenanter rebels were bound and imprisoned in Greyfriar’s Parish – this became known as the ‘Covenanters’ Prison’.
These covenanters endured inhumane torture, starvation, exposure, beheadings and so much more. This was all done at the hands of Lord Advocate Sir George Mackenzie, who we now know as ‘Bluidy MacKenzie’. His double life found him as both a loving father and business savvy gentleman, as well as the sadistic side of torturing these souls in the name of the King. Bloody Mackenzie was responsible for 18,000 deaths of these Covenanters, until his death in 1691. He is now buried in a tomb in Greyfriars Kirkyard. This Black Mausoleum Tomb is now the source of the most well-known paranormal activity in the entire world. In 1998 a homeless man broke into the sealed tomb, ransacked the tomb breaking many of the things inside. While trying to open the casket that held Bloody Mackenzie’s body, a hole reportedly opened up in the floor and the man fell into another chamber. The homeless man had fallen into a Plague tomb, where many bodies had been previously dumped and buried during the great Plague in Scotland.
This released the vengeful spirit of Bloody Mackenzie, who has since been named the Mackenzie Poltergeist due to the 500 ghostly attacks that have been reported and photographed near this tomb. These attacks include burns, skin gouges (around the neck and abdomen); unexplained bruises; broken fingers; feeling as if one’s hair is being pulled. Some visitors have said they were punched or kicked by an invisible attacker.
In 2000, Colin Grant, an exorcist, and minister of a spiritualist church performed an exorcism ceremony on the graveyard. Standing in the cemetery, it’s said he was overcome by the sensation of being surrounded by hundreds of tormented souls and evil spirits trying to break through to the mortal realm. Fearing for his own life, he left quickly, saying the evil was too powerful for him to overcome. A few weeks later, Colin Grant was found dead of a sudden and unexpected heart attack.
With the belief of magic, faeries and superstitions always comes the belief that witches are indeed real. Witch trials have a long history in Scotland and will be discussed in another article, as there are far too many things that are needing to be mentioned. To see just how far back these tales go, check out the full list of Witch trials and how the individuals died & stay tuned to culturetrekking.com for more on Witch Trials in Scotland.
The Source of Scrooge:
Charles Dickens invented the famous character of Scrooge when he misread the tombstone of successful Edinburgh merchant Ebenezer Scroggie in the Canongate Kirkyard. Dickens was horrified by the apparently hard-hearted inscription ‘Meanman’ – but the tombstone actually read ‘Mealman’ in recognition of Scroggie’s successful career as a corn trader. Thus, a legend was mistakenly born.
The Last Public Execution in Edinburgh History:
This grizzly tale of George Bryce’s execution for the murder of Jane Seton by cutting the 23-year old’s throat after breaking the relationship with him. It was 1863 and the townsfolk were enraged that this man would cut such a young girl’s throat with a razor-blade. He was sentenced to public execution on the corner of Lawnmarket and High Street.
He was to hang, with the more civilized method of the trap door mechanism ensuring a quick death by the neck quickly breaking. Thousands gathered to watch his execution, stories of the murder had been circulated and embellished to ensure the crowd was thirsty for revenge. As George Bryce was strung up, the priest giving him his last rights, a drunken Thomas Askern stepped up as the interim hangman for this occasion. What the awaiting crowd didn’t know, was that Mr. Thomas Askern had lied about his qualifications. He had miscalculated the amount of rope needed for George Bryce to fall to his death. When the trap door opened, the length of rope needed to drop Bryce quickly to his death only let him fall 2 feet and he began to strangle in full view of the crowd. The crowd began to change their tune of hatred towards the accused, to hatred towards the authorities for having to witness the slow death of Bryce.
There are various stories of the man falling to the bottom and breaking his legs, then trying to be hung again and still being alive when he was cut too quick. After which the crowd took the limp but alive body of Bryce and paraded up and down the street complaining about the authorities. Askern was nearly beaten to death by the crowd for the atrocity of his failure. Then the man was hung again and finally pronounced dead. The stories, like all stories in Scotland, were a bit embellished, and records show the public execution lasting anywhere from 12-minutes to 40-minutes. If you walk by Lawnmarket street at night, you may still see the ghost of Bryce walking the streets, confused and angry for the way his execution happened.
The moral of the story? Don’t kill your girlfriend for dumping you, you may end up with a fate far worse than death…..a very very slow and painful death. Interestingly enough, hanging’s continued in Scotland (in a more private way) up until 1963 when a man was hung for killing a husband of his lover in a jealous rage.
The Watcher in the Underbelly of Scotland:
These caverns were built in the 18th Century beneath the South Bridge of Edinburgh. Previously used as housing for the base of Scottish Society, body snatchers and prostitution….it is now full of hauntings and paranormal activity.
Taking a tour with Mercat Tours is the only way to visit these ghostly haunts, but well worth the cost. You need to have a strong sense of the paranormal, and an open mind to the unseen. As you take back alleys and passageways to the entrance to these vaults you get the feeling you are descending into a certain level of Hell.
You twist and turn through alleyways as your guide tells you of experiences the other staff members have had with the electricity. Now candles are placed along all the tunnels as a backup, should the electricity fail while a group is underneath Edinburgh again.
One particular room is called the ‘Watcher’s Room’, with the ghost said to be the most aggressive of any within the Vaults. Apparitions of a man standing within a doorway in the largest of the vaults, following guests and flipping hair, bruising staff, or saying ‘get out’ repeatedly in someone’s ear have been experienced. Paranormal crews have attempted to interact or stay the nights within the vaults, but have been unable to complete missions due to the aggressive nature of this ghost.
Should you find yourself in Edinburgh, take this tour, you will find yourself grateful that the hotels and hostels have several floors. The highest room in your accommodation is likely where you will want to sleep after this tour, as far from the presence of the Watcher as possible.
Never have I been a believer in ghosts until after visiting Edinburgh & feeling the cold grip of something on my leg while in the vaults of Edinburgh. The brutality that was exhibited, encountered here along with the plague, fires, and religious wars have made this area by far the best most haunted I have been to. Not wishing to tempt fate, I never ventured outside while it was dark, there are plenty of tours that will take you to the vaults, graveyards and even the McKenzie Poltergeist grave. If you venture out during the day, be sure to stroll through Princes Street Gardens and realize just how many people must have been buried there or died in the city. The flowers may give a small comfort, as the cold chill of the Ghostly tales drifts down your spine. If you enjoyed this Self-Guided Edinburgh Ghost Tour, be sure to share the love 🙂 Pin it, Tweet it, save it!
As Always….Happy Travels, Happy Tales, and see you on the Flip Side.