USA Roadtripping: The North Shore Scenic Drive

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Minnesota is a seriously gorgeous state, bursting with huge pine forests, rolling hills, and rocky cliffs.  On our second day in Duluth, we decided to do the North Shore Scenic Drive, a beautiful drive along Highway 61 on the edge of Lake Superior.  The drive stretches from Duluth all the way to the Canadian border  and is full of old lighthouses, cute coastal towns, waterfalls, and secluded  beaches.

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Pretty butterfly at Stony Point

There are many great things about the North Shore route, among them the fact that there is something to pull over and look at at least every ten miles. Travelers can stop and look at their leisure…or just keep driving; there is no right way to go about it.

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We chose Stony Point Beach –  just a few minutes outside of Duluth – as our first stop.  It’s calm, mostly secluded, and a great place to hunt for agates -a popular pastime in the area.

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Once we’d gotten our fill at the beach, we drove another ten miles to the cozy town of Two Harbors to check out the lighthouses and walk along the pier.  There were also dozens of adorable shops and restaurants along the way, though we made time for only one:  Betty’s Pies.

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I wasn’t particularly hungry that early in the morning, but I’ve always been a huge fan of pie, so I wasn’t about to pass up this stop on the itinerary.  Betty’s offers a huge range of delicious flavors, though my personal favorite was the plain blueberry; the blackberry peach with the crumble topping was a close second.

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Can you spot me?

Next up was Gooseberry Falls State Park, a good place to do a little hiking and burn off the pie we had just eaten.  The park boasts several beautiful waterfalls and miles and miles of trails.

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After some hiking and splashing around, we moved on to the next stop, which was my personal favorite:  Split Rock Lighthouse.

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We loved this spot so much that we ended up staying a couple of hours, walking along the pebble beach and enjoying the views of the pine-covered Ellison Island in the distance.  After a nice picnic, we walked up the cliff to get a look at the beautiful little lighthouse for which the area is best known.

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Our final stop was the Black Beach at Silver Bay, though it was by no means the end of the route along Lake Superior.  I so wished my family had had their passports on them so we could have crossed into Canada.  Perhaps next time!

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The beach was not so much black as it was a dark reddish color, but it was still a decent beach.  I particularly enjoyed climbing the rocks and admiring the view down below.

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It was a wonderful way to spend the day, and while at the time I had wanted to go a little farther along the highway, I was later grateful to have returned when we did because we got back to our hotel just in time to avoid the crazy thunderstorms and flash floods.

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I don’t often miss having a car, but after this little road trip, I’m thinking I’m going to have to rent them more often on our trips so we can do more scenic drives – Minnesota was so lovely!

Day 6: Glasgow

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Map of all the visitors at the Airbnb…we were the first from Turkey!

We spent the majority of our last day in Glasgow, though it wasn’t nearly long enough.

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After an epic breakfast (thanks to our Airbnb host!), we spent the  morning at the Kelvingrove Art Museum.  First of all, it’s free; second of all, they offer a huge variety of interactive exhibits, which I really loved.  I would love to see more museums with similar activities to help viewers engage with the art.

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We also visited the People’s Palace, where I saw an exhibit on pop art portraits.  Saw a portrait of Obama.  Felt instantly sad.

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For the last couple of hours, we simply wandered through the shopping district.  We stocked up on some goodies to take home (Shortbread cookies…Reese’s…pork products!) and picked up a couple of souvenirs.  We also stumbled upon a pretty cool street band.

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All too soon, we had to hop back in the car to catch our flight back to Turkey from Edinburgh.  I really didn’t feel like we did Glasgow justice…but I guess that just gives me an excuse to go back.

Scotland was such an incredible place!  We kind of planned the trip at the last minute and I’m so glad we did!  If you love friendly people, good food, rainbows, castles, dramatic views, and plaid, don’t miss out!

Day 5: Goodbye Skye, Hello Highlands

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We got up early once again on our last morning in Skye to try to hit the sights we’d missed the day before and to start the (very) long drive through the mainland highlands down to Glasgow.

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We first stopped to visit the Fairy Pools (not to be confused with the Faerie Glen), which was basically a ridiculously gorgeous series of little waterfalls at the foot of the mountains.  20161117_102534.jpg

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I imagine it’s beautiful to swim in in the summer.

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On the way off of the Isle, we toured through the impossibly beautiful Eilean Donan Castle. The family who bought and restored it still use it as a holiday home…what a place to vacation!

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Back in mainland Scotland, we passed through a beautiful area called Glen Coe, where we hit a snow storm!  I didn’t get many photos because it got dark quite fast and it was very foggy, but I can’t even describe how lovely the mountain pass looked surrounded in snow.  It was like a winter wonderland!  I know the slippery conditions and narrow roads had our friend who was driving on pins and needles, but the views were out of this world.  We proceeded to sing “Let It Go” obnoxiously while the snowflakes swirled around the car.

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It was an incredibly long drive and it was hard to leave the Isle of Skye, but we happily arrived in Glasgow late in the evening, where we enjoyed a fabulous hearty meal and rented a cool and quirky apartment just outside of the city.

Day 4: The Isle of Skye

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The Isle of Skye was truly one of the most magical places I’ve had the privilege to visit.  It seemed like the stuff of fairy tales.  Rolling green hills, waterfalls, mountains, rainbows, castles, forest – you name it, it was there.

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A lovely morning greeting in the parking lot by the trail.

We got out bright and early to start out with our hike to The Old Man of Storr.  It was an incredibly cold day with a bit of light rain, but we were determined not to let that stop us.  The views from both the bottom and the top were spectacular.

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Sheep!

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When we were about halfway up the trail, the most incredible thing happened.  Out of nowhere, huge, quarter-sized snowflakes started flurrying down on us.  At first, we were a bit worried we’d have to turn around before we go to the top, but it stopped as quickly as it had started and it was absolutely beautiful!

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The iconic rock formations at the top of the trail were much bigger than I expected!  To give you some perspective, I am also in the photo above.

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So green!

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We kind of just stood in awe of it all for a little while before we finally turned back around to continue to our next point of interest.

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Our next stop was a waterfall view point…and yes, that is a rainbow at the bottom.

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We then took an insane, winding mountain road that was pretty much one lane all the way up to Quiraing.  It was super windy…and when I say windy, I mean zero gravity windy.  The birds could not even fly!!  It was insane, but also pretty cool, especially when it pushed us along the trail.

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We stopped for lunch and were lucky enough to find a little brewery that had COFFEE, which I desperately needed at this point in the trip.  I also bought some tasty whiskey caramels.

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After fueling up, we drove through the Faerie Glen, which is aptly named because it definitely looks like the kind of place where fairies would live.  This photo does it no justice, but  it was one of my favorite stops on the trip.  So surreal.

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At this point, we were running out of daylight and trying to squeeze in a couple more stops before the sun set.  We made it out to coral beach, and while it wasn’t exactly beach weather, we all enjoyed the chance to stretch our legs and look at all of the strange colors of moss on the rocks.

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Our last stop for the day was this bridge at the bottom of the Cuillin Mountains.

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I really cannot believe we jammed so much into about ten hours.  It honestly still feels like it was a dream.  Every angle offered a dose of sensory overload.  It was such an amazing day!

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Day 3: Loch Ness

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After a good night’s sleep at Inverness, we hit the road to see if we could catch Nessie before the sun set!  The drive was absolutely beautiful, featuring tunnels of trees decked out in fall colors and plenty of sunshine.

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We also saw a ridiculous number of rainbows throughout our journey.

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On our way through Loch Ness, we visited Urquhart Castle, which had a fascinating, albeit depressing history.  We got the grand tour and the weather was honestly pretty great considering the season.  Our tour guide was hilarious.

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On the way out, we spotted a highland cow!  I love how furry they are.

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Our next stop was the adorable town of Fort Augustus, which was greener than green and full of rustic charm.  I fell in love with this Nessie sculpture!

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Oh, look.  Another rainbow.

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The views of the Loch were picture perfect.  Fun fact:  loch is just the Gaelic word for lake.

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Pretty fall colors and fabulous friends.

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After a hearty dinner (and a little Scotch whiskey!) at a local pub, we took off for our final destination for the night: the Isle of Skye.  We checked in to our cozy Airbnb, which reminded me of Clue for some reason.  I absolutely loved the plaid carpet!  It was the perfect place to pass the night chatting, snacking, and playing board games.

 

Day 2: Coastal Views

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After a short and sweet visit to Edinburgh, we headed out early Monday morning to check out some of the small Scottish towns along the coast on our way up to Inverness.  It was our first real day of driving and we were excited to see what would present itself along the way.

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We first stopped in the tiny town of Perth to check out Scone Palace, but it ended up being closed, which was a bummer because I wanted some scones.  Still, we stopped to stretch our legs and goof off at a local playground.

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Our next stop was the coastal town of Arbroath, where pretty much everything looked like it belonged on a postcard.  We pulled over by the marina for a picnic lunch before exploring the town.

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Speaking of which, yum!!  Going to a huge grocery store with so many options made me feel like a kid in a candy store with a credit card.  I didn’t even know where to start!  My mouth was watering at the sight of so many things I’d forgotten.  That cranberry sunflower bread in the top right corner was legit.

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After lunch, we walked around the town center, where we saw this beautiful abbey from the 12th century.

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We took one last glance at the sunset before quickly heading to our final destination for the day before running out of light.

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We pulled into one of the most beautiful sunsets I’ve ever seen in my life.  Seriously…the sky looked like it was on fire.

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And then there was Dunnottar Castle.  This was truly one of the most magical places I’ve ever been.  Bridges, waterfalls, and a crazy sunset all paving the way to an incredible medieval fortress by the sea…needless to say, it felt a little surreal.

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As if all that weren’t magical enough, on the way out, there was another auspicious sighting…

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…THE SUPERMOON!  This picture isn’t the best, but it was pretty incredible in person!  It was so big and orange and effervescent.

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It was a truly unforgettable experience.  After stopping for some Five Guys and peanut butter and jelly cupcakes in Aberdeen, we continued on to Inverness where we proceeded to crash in our Airbnb.

 

Day 1: Edinburgh

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We landed in Edinburgh very late Saturday night, ready to begin our epic road trip.  We got totally lost on the way to our apartment and our gracious friend (who volunteered to drive the whole trip because the rest of us are wimps!) had a bit of a learning curve trying to drive on the opposite side of the road.  We finally made it around midnight and proceeded to collapse in our beds immediately.  It’s not a real road trip if you don’t get lost at least once, right?

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We woke up to the most epic sunrise!!  I can’t remember the last time I actually saw a sunrise before this.  I am very much not a morning person and avoid any reason to be up while it’s still dark, but in the colder months, there are very few hours of daylight in Scotland.  The whole time we were there, the sun rose at about 8:00 and had set by 4:30.

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We walked to the city center and found a cute little breakfast cafe, where my husband was brave enough to try a haggis breakfast roll.  I opted for some sausage and a huge cup of coffee instead.

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After stuffing our faces, we walked over to Edinburgh Castle and made it just in time to see the changing of the guards.  There was plaid everywhere and I loved it!  I was also struck by  how green everything was, despite the cold.

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The castle proved to be quite interesting, especially in the scope of information and activities offered.  I scoffed at the high admission price in the beginning, but really enjoyed myself once I got in there.  Scotland has a fascinating history and culture that seems to be too often overlooked.  For me, the highlight of the visit was the medieval music lecture by Mr. Tribble.  It was a very unique perspective of Scottish history and I really enjoyed seeing and listening to all of the different instruments.

DSC_0032.JPG In addition to the music lecture and the usual tour, the castle also had several cafes full of delicious food,  whiskey tasting, and interesting shops.  It’s not cheap to get in, but it’s definitely worth seeing if you’re in Edinburgh.

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On the way out of the castle, I stumbled upon what is now one of the new highlights of my life.  There was a small owlery that was letting people hold and pet the owls for a small price.  Anyone who knows me knows that I’m a huge Harry Potter fan, and so I could not pass this up, even though it was pouring down rain.  This little guy’s name is Ragnar.  For a brief moment in time, I felt like a real witch.

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The last item on our agenda was to hike Arthur’s Seat, but due to the very unfortunate weather, we pretty much just walked up to it and turned back to civilization because it was dark, freezing, and wet.  We had to settle for a night at the pub.

DSC_0006.JPG  All the same, we fell in love with this magical medieval city and would not hesitate to go back.  It was very charming and full of cozy and friendly vibes…and it was only the beginning!

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