Overnight Train to Scotland (A Vlog!)

It’s been a long time since I did a vlog… like maybe 3 years, but for some reason, I’ve been in the mood lately to switch gears a bit and add this format to my site. I think because I’m starting to love the idea of falling down the rabbit hole of Youtube channels, it feels right to join the fun.

And besides, I thought for certain things/topics- well, it’s really just a more effective format of communicating.

So a few weeks back, I headed up to Scotland on the Caledonian Sleeper train. It runs nightly from Euston Station to Scotland. It leaves late (like midnight!) and gets in early (like 7am!), so you really have full days wherever you are coming/going from to enjoy without loosing much to travel.

I’ve taken it a few times before, and I’ve always liked it…. And I thought, since so many people seem to want to know what the easiest way to get to Scotland is from London, it may help to just show you what way I prefer. While I’ve done the others (drive, fly, train) many times before… and, to be honest, will continue to do in the future, I can’t help but prefer the sleeper train over the rest. It feels nostalgic and efficient to me… and when I’m not with my tiny kids, it’s the best way for me to get to Scotland.

So without further adieu, my vlog of my overnight sleeper over-party-for-one on the Caledonian Sleeper train. Enjoy!

And make sure to subscribe to my Youtube channel so you don’t miss any of my upcoming adventures. (Hmmm… maybe my “nesting” phase involves creating new blog projects, because I’ve been lining up so many of these for the weeks to come. Don’t miss out on what’s in store!)

Have you traveled between Scotland and London? How did you get there? Weigh in with your experience below and share what you liked/disliked about how you traveled. It’s always so helpful to share your experience, so please do!


Find more of my posts on traveling to Scotland here, and check out my full travel guides to Scotland & Edinburgh.



*images original to Aspiring Kennedy

Posted on July 3, 2017 and filed under scotland, travel.

Pack Your Bags | Isle of Skye

Back in the day, you’d often find the two of us on the Isle of Skye each summer. In the days before kids, we would find ourselves enjoying the long summer days up on the Western coast of Scotland… and, to be honest, we made some really sweet memories. It’s been a few years since we made it up there- but this summer, we came back up for a few days to help with one of our student groups and we got to see just how special this place is with fresh eyes again.

The Isle of Skye isn’t the easiest place to get to if you visit Great Britain. For example. It’s not an easy day-trip from a major city… you’d need at least 4-5 days, in my opinion, to get up there and really make it worth your time. It may not be the best trip for a first-time visitor to the UK, but if you’re a repeat visitor looking for a way to experience this gorgeous country a bit deeper- this may be the perfect spot.


HOW TO GET THERE?

INVERNESS TO KYLE OF LOCHALSH |  The easiest city to use as your base for a trip to the Isle of Skye is Inverness. You could fly easily from London or take the cool Caledonian Sleeper to Inverness. From there, you’ll want to rent a car. (Luckily, there is a Hertz just outside the main train station or rental agencies at the airport to make this breezy.) Now, I don’t normally recommend renting a car if you visit Britain- as trains/public transport are so good- but this is area of the country that just can’t be done without one. The good news is: the roads are so empty, you’ll not feel overly stressed if you are used to US driving.

This route will take you by the famous Eilean Donan Castle that sprawls out over the gorgeous loch. You’ll be able to stop here and see the famous castle that has been pinned over and over again on Pinterest in person. Along the way, you’ll also get to enjoy the scenic lochs. Stop by Fort Augustus for a ride on Loch Ness to spot Nessie, too. If you take this way to Skye, you’ll be able to cross the bridge from the mainland to the southern part of Skye and then drive up.

 -  or  -

FORT WILLIAM & THE JACOBITE TRAIN | If you have a Harry Potter fan in your house, this is the option for you. First, take the overnight train to Fort William… or you can go during the daytime via a bit of a longer route. This tiny town has a cute high street tucked with small eateries and charity shops, but the main draw is the Jacobite steam train that departs every morning. This train, often referred to as the “Harry Potter” train, will chug you up along a scenic route to the coastal town of Mailleg. You’ll cross over the Glenfinnan Aquaduct (from the HP series), and land in Mailleg where you can eat lunch before hopping the short ferry to Armadale, Isle of Skye. 

Once you arrive, you’ll need to coordinate getting a rental car to meet you in Armadale. There are local “car hire agencies” that offer this service, and make it easy for you to arrive by ferry and leave with a newly rented car.


Once you arrive, you’ll have one of the most stunning landscapes to explore. (Find ideas on where to go on my previous Skye posts or my travel guide.) When you’ve had your fill of roaming in the wilderness, taking photos of hairy coos and cuddly lambs along the roadside, and stopping to climb along waterfalls- you can either relax at a country hotel (like the Flodigarry Hotel, where we stayed) or head into the main town of Portree for some socialising. 

The summers on Skye are magical, but be sure that you book early if you plan to visit. (Seriously, at least six months or you’ll find yourself scrambling for something decent.) 


If you're looking for more posts on the Isle of Skye, look here, or find more in my travel guides to the Isle of Skye and Scotland. Or take a trip through our Instagrams under my hashtag #KnightsSkye


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*images original to Aspiring Kennedy

Posted on June 19, 2017 and filed under travel, isle of skye, scotland.

Pack Your Bags: Luss on Loch Lomond

Well, here we are- up in Scotland for the week! On our way up to the west coast, we stopped at the famous Loch Lomond for a few hours in the tiny town of Luss.

When we arrived, Viola informed me that she was going to let our coach driver know that "in English, we call a 'loch' a 'pond.'" Luckily, as most Scots seem to be, he is a good sport and thought it was pretty funny. (And to be honest, I kinda did, too.)


LUSS, SCOTLAND

This small lakeside (or "lochside?") town offers travelers heading to the West Coast and Isle of Skye a scenic stop on their journey. While the parish church may have an original baptismal font dating back to the 5th century, the truth is- there's not a huge historical drive to see the town. What makes it worth the time then?

Well, to put it plainly: she's a looker. With tiny cottages lining the street covered in bright flower boxes and huge bushes of fluffy flowers lining the path- Luss merges a stunning lakeside view with a perfect little town.

If you go, expect to spend 1-2 hours walking to the pier, grabbing a coffee (I like St. Mocha on the pier, personally), visiting the picturesque village church and chatting the kind man who welcomes visitors there daily, and getting a baked treat from the Luss Village Shop before you leave. Try one of their various homemade cakes or treats with a cup of tea before you go, like their homemade Gypsy Cream. (It's cookie sandwich comprised of oat & ginger cookies smoothing together a massive hunk of vanilla icing in the middle.) 

homemadegypsycreamlochlomond

Should the day allow for time for a meal in Luss, head to the town's Loch Lomond Pub. It's a cosy in spot to settle in and enjoy an afternoon.

lochlomondluss.jpeg

 

(Also... when did I get SO pregnant. I saw the picture Tyler took below and couldn't believe I actually look that big. Third times a.... whale of a time?)

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violaknightscotland.jpeg

 

CONTINUING ON...

From there, you can continue on your trek West. Soon after, you'll pass by the unexpectedly grand Inveraray Castle settled beside the quaint seaside town of Inveraray. (This town could be a good lunch option, too.) 

And further on, make sure you make time to stop by St. Conan's Kirk- a tiny jewelry box of a church perched along a gigantic Loch. The church is one of Scotland's smallest, but boasts big character. It has gorgeous (but small) gardens that surround the property that make the visit even better.

Then from there? Keep going. Stops liken Oban and Fort William await. If it were me, I'd go all the way to Fort William to get to the Jacobite Train for a Harry Potter-esque journey up towards Skye.

 


Looking for more posts on Scotland? Check out my travel guides to Scotland & Edinburgh here, or find my last posts on Scotland here.

You can also search some of the best spots to stop in Skye with my Instagram hashtag, #KnightsSkye.



*images original to Aspiring Kennedy

Posted on June 6, 2017 and filed under scotland, eat, drink.

Monkey Porridge

Harrison wakes up earrrrrrly. Neither Tyler or myself would proclaim ourselves as early risers, but we have to now. (At least one of us does at a time. We take turns getting up with him every other morning which really helps ease the pain.)

On my mornings sitting in the dark daylight hours with him, I often get ambitious with breakfast. This is mainly out of boredom, but it's actually given me the time to think through what we eat a bit more than I had before... and has given me some extra creativity in the kitchen beyond my countless years of cereal.

These days, I'm cooking up pancakes and french toast with fruity compotes made from whatever frozen berries we have in the freezer. I'm whipping up cream to smear on toasted brioche, or concocting smoothie bowls or yoghurt bowls with a covering similar in size to that of a 6 year-old's FroYo cup. Its kinda like arts & crafts time for me... except I'm pulling through my dry good canisters and deep freeze rather than my glue sticks and paper racks.

Recently I posted an Instagram of our porridge and had several people message me for the recipe. My recipe? Umm, there's not really a recipe... but I figured I could walk you through the toppings to help you make your own.

And just in case "porridge" makes you think of some exotic British meal... it's just what we call oatmeal here. So... yeah, you're now one step closer to unlocking the mystery of Monkey Porridge. Follow along for the rest of the story!


MONKEY PORRIDGE

What you'll need:

  • Oats

  • Water

  • Salt

  • Cinnamon

  • Peanut Butter

  • Bananas

  • Almonds

  • Honey

  • Chia Seeds (if you have them)

  • Bee Pollen (if you have it)

Cook oats according to instructions. (Use steel cut or good quality old-fashioned oats. None of that microwave nonsense. It's time you learned how to make the easiest meal ever.)

Add some salt. Add some cinnamon. Add some more cinnamon because it makes it so dang good. Stir everything in and let it cook.

Stir on medium-low and cook it slow. (I plan to cook mine for around 15 minutes.) It's not a race.

While the porridge is cooking, chop up a handful of almonds and put them in a skillet to toast over low heat. (Keep a watch on them- they seemingly sit forever and then turn black when you stop watching them.)

After your porridge is done, put it in bowls. Stir in a spoonful of peanut butter to each bowl.

Top with sliced bananas, chia seeds, shredded/desiccated coconut, bee pollen, roasted almonds and a drizzle of honey.

Serve with a hot mug of coffee and feel really smug that you have an insanely good breakfast that is great for your body and a good way to keep your weekly grocery bill on budget.


So, like I promised, it's not rocket science... but it is a fun way to make regular old oatmeal less boring and into something that is really quite tasty. 

 

Still hungry? Find some of my most popular recipes here:

Honey Pecan Salmon | Quinoa Crusted Fish & Chips | Garlicky Mushroom Bruschetta | Easy Banana Bars



*images original to Aspiring Kennedy

Posted on May 19, 2017 .

A Dummies Guide to Iceland (With Kids)

This spring, I’ve been B U S Y with travel consults. It’s definitely the most chaotic time of the year for me as summer approaches and so many people are getting their trips ready for the months ahead. While the bulk of people come for help with vacations for the UK & France, I have to say- Iceland is quickly becoming a big contender for the most popular destination.

While it definitely appeals to the young traveler- it is equally as popular with young families. And, as someone who has brought her own small children with her for the past five years on repeat trips there, I can easily vouch for why it is a fantastic spot to travel with children.

For anyone that is planning to come to Iceland, I thought I’d give you a few basic facts that either are asked often by clients or that I have learned from being there year after year. I figured there would be endless resources online for families planning a trip to Iceland echoing these same thoughts, but when I actually checked- everything was several years old… and now wrong! With the increase in tourism over the past few years, things have changed and I figured I would give some updated and specific pointers that really can change how you plan your family trip to Iceland.


1. CHILDREN UNDER TWO ARE NO LONGER ALLOWED IN THE BLUE LAGOON

I hate to charge in straight away with this bummer, but I have yet to talk to a person going to Iceland who doesn’t plan to visit the legendary Blue Lagoon. This is a real bummer, as I’ve always brought my babies in the lagoon with me. However, with the growing popularity and increase in visitors, there is now a VERY strict rule that children under two aren’t allowed in. You can swap off on who has the baby, but the lifeguards will (basically) yell at you if you bring a little baby in the lagoon that is under the age limit. 

If you’re still looking for a similar experience, you can always try another lagoon in Iceland. There is the “Secret Lagoon,” also known as Gamla Laugin, that (as of 2016) allows little ones. Or you can head to any of Iceland’s local pools where kids are not only welcome, but will have amenities to really entertain them…. for about $3 per person. Not only will you be with 100% real Icelanders, but you’ll get a great view at the (admittedly, quirky) fact of culture of life in Iceland: they are obsessed with swimming and go to their local pools frequently throughout the week!

 

2. YOU CAN RENT CAR SEATS FROM RENTAL CAR AGENCIES AT THE AIRPORT

Many people seem to feel restricted by the thought of checking car seats and having to schlep their own car seats all the way from the US. I feel that. It’s a hassle. The good news is, you can rent one with your rental car and skip having the hassle of bringing your own. Just check in advance, but there is typically a giant rack of them ready to distribute when you get your keys.

If you aren’t renting your own car, I’d recommend bringing your own car seats. Taxis WON’T drive your children unless they are in a car seat. While countries like the UK & France have loopholes to allow for children to ride in their parents’ laps in taxis, Iceland has strict laws that prohibit driving children without a carseat. (I’ve learned this the hard way!)

3. ICELAND IS VERY KID FRIENDLY

The good news is: Iceland has been kid friendly and, from all we have seen on our recent visits, continues to be so as the country booms in popularity. Sure, now there are some chic restaurants that wouldn’t be the best place to bring your toddler, but for the most part- the country is geared for little ones. Hotels are happy to put baby beds in room, when they have been requested in advance. Rental car companies can provide car seats, again when they have been requested in advance. While some countries feel a bit stuffier to the notion of bringing along a baby with you, Iceland is a great place to take the kids for their first trip abroad as the culture is still unique… but with enough personal space and freedom to give young families flexibility without a scornful eye.

 

4. PACK A SNACK

I know this sounds silly, but if you have room to bring some snacks for your kids- you’ll save yourself some serious cash by avoiding stuff in the gas stations and grocery stores. As you’ll most likely know or have heard, Iceland is EXPENSIVE. With the high value of the krona combined with the unceasing demand of tourists, the Iceland people are raking in the cash. They have no incentive to keep their food at normal prices when tourists will keep shovelling money their way. Save your money for good meals out, and don’t fond yourself tearing up over the absence cost of granola bars and bottled water. (PS. All tap water in Iceland is 100% perfect. Just bring refillable bottles and save yourself the unnecessary expense… and having the locals giggle at you for paying for bottled water when you can get the same out of the tap.)

5. ICELANDAIR IS GREAT WITH KIDS

While most people coming from the US will have to connect at some point in their journey to Iceland’s main airport in Keflavik, it’s worth considering flying with Iceland’s own airline, IcelandAir. Especially if you’re traveling with kids. While most airlines operate under the policy that all ticketed passengers pay the same fare (after all, a seat is a seat), IcelandAir has reduced fares for kids. Not only is the economic value a plus, but they are just, well, really nice to families. When kids board, they hand them a little box of food, headphones and colouring books. All seats come with personal entertainment systems, and there are plenty of options for kids. 

The other perk that IcelandAir famously offers passengers is the ability to do up to 7 days of a “lay-over” in Iceland (where all of their US-Europe flights connect anyway) for no additional fee. It was originally a marketing aim to get people to explore the country, but even now that Iceland is one of the top travel destinations- it’s still an offer to their passengers. This makes it a great stopover for families on their way to Europe, as it can help pace out the craziness of jet lag between the drastic time changes. Basically, a couple of days in Iceland doubles the fun… and halves the jet lag.

6. KIDS ARE FREE MOST PLACES

The truth is, most of the sites won’t actually charge you anyway. With the main attractions being beautiful outdoor sites, you’ll be able to walk up to most of them and enjoy them without paying a dime. However, for some of the paid outings- small children are free, too. For example, Into the Glacier is an amazing experience that we have taken my children to several times. While the site doesn’t say it, I’ve written to verify that small children are free. The company does need to know that they will be coming, so they recommend buying tickets for the adults and then writing to say that lap children (think toddlers & babies, not your 8 year old. Sorry!) will be coming, too. While they don’t need a ticket, they do need to be accounted for in the giant trucks that transfer people onto the glacier. If you’re planning for any paid excursions, its best to check with the provider. My guess is you’ll either be relieved to hear that they can join for free…. Or are too young to come with the group outing. Either way, it’s best to check in advance to avoid a busted day of travel.


Find all my travel posts for Iceland here or check out my travel guide to Iceland here.

Still want more? Book a travel consult for one-on-one with a session to help plan out your trip. 



 

*Images by Ashel Parsons for Aspiring Kennedy

Posted on May 17, 2017 and filed under iceland, travel, kids.