Captivating Cambridge

Market Cake, AirBNB, and a Magical Piece of Cheese

The Beatles Suite at The Edgewater Seattle

For a hotel and Beatles junkie, this was pretty much as good as it gets.

Nessie, Inverness, and the Left Side of the Road

Exploring The Highlands of Scotland.

London Calling

18 Hours with Her Majesty

Captivating Cambridge: Market Cake, AirBNB, and a Magical Piece of Cheese

"You had Market Cake without me? That was against the rules!"

I knew all of the nicknames. Market Cake. Bicycle Bakery. Lemonade Guy. Falafel Truck. The list of MJ's favorite purveyors of delicious bites in Cambridge was anything but short, yet she had plans to introduce me to them all during my first visit to the city she's called home for 2 of the last 13 months.

After exploring Cambridge both on my own and on foot to the tune of 9 miles, I just happened to find myself in the city's outdoor market with a ravenous appetite. I scarfed down a hearty fried egg sandwich from one of the vendors and then roamed the stalls in search of something sweet. Soon I stumbled onto a booth serving up a variety of cakes and gooey brownies, with the first bite of the latter releasing every ounce of serotonin in my body.

It wasn't until much later that I realized my egregious error: This was Market Cake.

Should I have clued in that a guy selling cake in the market might actually be the dude affectionately known as Market Cake? Absolutely. Was I sorry? 

Not in the slightest.

Thanks to this introduction, I realized pretty quickly that Cambridge was my kind of place. Any town where a guy pedals the avenues selling sweets from a table strapped to his bicycle is certainly OK by me. But this was just the beginning of the long list of things that I, too, would come to love about this city.

For starters, Cambridge provided me with the first real excuse to try AirBNB. As a self-proclaimed hotel junkie, AirBNB was never really on my "to do" list. That is until I tried to find a hotel in Cambridge on the same weekend that prospective students flock to town to tour the university.

Enter my gracious host, Rikako, and her flat on Orchard Street.

Any trepidation to the notion of crashing in a stranger's guestroom vanished when I told MJ the address of where I'd be staying. As it turned out, Orchard was among her favorite streets in the city, and it was easy to see why. Orchard, it seemed, was the very definition of charming.

The same could be said of Rikako and my home for the first three nights in town. Besides the great location, the room and bath were clean and comfortable and I slept like a log each evening. Most importantly, the experience showed me the beauty of AirBNB, and my pocketbook was certainly thankful. If you're traveling solo and need a place in Cambridge, be sure to look up Rikako. Something tells me that she and I will cross paths again in the future.

The next day's 5 a.m. sunrise brought with it the beginning of my solo expedition of Cambridge. MJ's advice for the day was pretty simple: Go get lost. 

So I did...

As appealing as the idea of wandering the city aimlessly was, there was one place that I knew had to be my first stop. You see, for over a year I'd endured the stories and pictures of the famous Chelsea Buns at Fitzbillies. Given my affection for all things pastry, there was no question what I was having for breakfast. That is until I actually arrived at Fitzbillies and discovered they also served pancakes with Chelsea Bun syrup. Sooo I had both.

Sufficiently fueled by a mixture of sugar and caffeine, I followed a path to the south along the River Cam and soon found myself wandering through a series of fields known as the "fens." Once an expansive marsh, the fens were drained centuries ago to provide more arable farmland for Cambridgeshire and the surrounding counties. Today they make for an interesting green-space in the city, with livestock roaming just as freely as the humans.

After dodging cow patties in the fens, I made my way over to King's Parade where I dodged an even greater abundance of tourists. But enduring the crowds was a small price to pay for the rare opportunity to visit many of the historic colleges that make up Cambridge University. From manuscripts by Sir Issac Newton - and a descendant of his famous apple tree - to the mind-boggling King's Chapel, the colleges are one spectacular sight after another. And yet I came away feeling as if I'd only scratched the surface.

As morning turned to afternoon, the need for both my mid-day iced coffee, and an escape from the busloads of tourists and prospective students, became difficult to ignore. I found both just down the street at Hot Numbers and the Fitzwilliam Museum. The former served a killer cold brew among the best I've ever had, which I later discovered is used for an equally delicious coffee stout. The Fitzwilliam, meanwhile, provided a complimentary and quiet retreat from the crowds with a host of comfy chairs to soak in their Impressionist masterpieces.

Fully relaxed but once again amped with iced coffee, I set off for the Cambridge Botanical Garden. It was here that I finally embraced MJ's advice and got fully lost on the paths that weave their way through this oasis. It was also here that I decided my legs needed some rest, and a random bench next to a fountain and under a tree seemed like just the place. 45 minutes later, I woke up from one of the most epic naps in history.

Although dinner time was fast approaching, it was about now that I made the ill-fated detour that led to the so-greasy-it-soaks-through-the-bag brownies known as Market Cake. But as amazing as the Market Cake and Chelsea Buns might have been, nothing could have prepared me for the amazing-ness which awaited at The Free Press pub.

But first, a word on the pub itself...

The Free Press has been around for roughly 125 years and gets its name from a short stint as a printing house for a local newspaper. While I'm not much on phrases like 'hidden gem' and 'proper pub,' both would aptly apply here. The Press also happens to be an office of sorts for MJ during her sojourns in Cambridge, and during my initial visit to her home away from home she had me try something which made me question everything I knew to be right in the world.

It looked like chicken, tasted like chicken, and had the texture of chicken. Only it wasn't chicken... It was cheese. I quickly learned that this slice of voodoo magic was called Halloumi, prompting me to place an international call to a specialty grocer back home to see if they carried it. They do, not that this news kept me from consuming my body weight in Halloumi over the next week as if I'd never see it again.

The sun was fading over the chimneys of Orchard Street as this marathon day came to a close. I'd explored and ate my way from one end of Cambridge to the other, getting to know a little of this city that is dear to MJ's heart. As I slowly sauntered down the empty street, comfortably stuffed with Halloumi and Greene King IPA, I was pretty sure that I was starting to get it. There would be much more to see and eat in the coming days, but it was already plain to see that Cambridge is a truly special place.

Enjoy Your Stay

Adventures with Uncle Deej - Bug on the High Seas

I've said it before and I'll say it again... Becoming an uncle for the first time was one of the most rewarding items on the benefits package included in the contract with my wife. Over the last decade, we've had some great adventures with our niece, from birthday celebrations at Cirque du Soliel to a somewhat impromptu trip to Disney on Christmas Eve. But now that she's a bona-fide teenager, MJ and I are at last able to treat Bug, as she's affectionately known, to some of the more grand adventures that we've often dreamed about.

For three years running, we've set sail aboard the Brilliance of the Seas during the week of Thanksgiving. This cruise has become a new favorite tradition of ours - one which has sadly come to an end due to Royal Caribbean schedule changes, but I digress. Last year, in between the 47 rounds of putt putt while cruising with our nephew, Old Sport, I slipped into the Next Cruise office and booked another Adventure with Uncle Deej. Only this time, it was Bug's turn.

We waited until the summer to tell Bug there was a trip forthcoming, knowing that a year's worth of anticipation would border on cruel and unusual punishment. Naturally, being the loving uncle that I am, I decided the best way to share where we were heading was through a rudimentary game of Carmen Sandiego. Soon our text thread was filled with near daily requests for clues, which were duly replied with obscure geographic references as well as one lengthy and riveting discussion on latitude and longitude. Given that Bug is exponentially smarter than me, I'm taking the fact that it took many rounds of clues as proof of the game's success.

In what seemed like both an eternity and the blink of an eye, the weeks and months of excitement eventually gave way to the cheesy welcome aboard photograph.

Just as we learned the previous year with Old Sport, cruising with a teenager is a very different world than the one MJ and I are typically accustomed. For starters, I had to lug an entire carry on bag worth of books onto the ship. You see, Bug reads at roughly the pace of a book an hour, so this was just to tide her over during the two sea days. Somewhere among all of those clues, I probably should have told her the ship has a library.

Another key difference... When Old Sport wandered into a gift shop, he'd guilt me into buying an inflatable cruise ship or a Royal Caribbean magic marker. Bug's meanderings, on the other hand, had the potential to be far more costly. I learned this lesson not three minutes after stepping onboard the Brilliance, thanks to her visit to the Next Cruise office to pick up brochures for a 28 day trans-pacific cruise to Australia.

Once I convinced her to put the brochures away, we spent most of the afternoon before cast-off eating exploring our way around the ship. In the year that had passed between visits, I had forgotten just how much I missed the 3pm visit to Cafe Lattitudes.

Shortly after sail away, I learned a couple more valuable lessons about traveling with teenagers. The first is that they have both an aversion to the camera and a spidey-sense that alerts them to employ a host of creative face-covering tactics anytime a picture is being taken. Hence why my camera roll is filled with a variety of photos like this...

The second thing I learned about traveling with teenagers is that their outward displays of excitement are.. shall I say, mostly non-existent. For example.. On our way down to Tampa, Bug mentioned that she really hoped we saw dolphins at some point during the cruise. Wouldn't you know that roughly 10 minutes after cast-off, a group of dolphins came jumping right by the ship. The reaction: A slight shrug of the shoulders. Then there was the much anticipated pass under the Skyway Bridge. Same thing. Although, I probably should have expected that one. The anticipation was really all mine and, after all, it's just a bridge.
Over the next several days, however, I managed to catch a glimpse of countless moments that could have been mistaken for excitement, as well as a number of those elusive hands-free photos. We had one such sighting while waiting on some dock runners in Key West...

Then there was this...

She seemed to take to bartering in Cozumel...

As well as some wacky exfoliation...

And really, who wouldn't smile at this view?..

But nothing brought out that rare teenager excitement quite like her appearance on the morning show. Which bears some explanation...

Every morning, the cruise and activities directors, Jerome and Flavio, aired their own version of the Today Show discussing all of the fun things scheduled that day. During the show, they read various "shout outs" which guests were invited to leave in a box in the atrium. These are usually birthday wishes, random questions, etc. After day one there were no shout-outs submitted, so Jerome and Flavio encouraged guests to "ask us anything." Bug took this as a challenge and proceeded to deposit half a dozen questions, all of which they read the next morning. The next day we were so busy chowing down in Rita's Cantina, she didn't get her questions submitted before the cut-off time. Of course, neither did anyone else, which prompted this response on the next day's morning show...

After exploring Cozumel, we spent the afternoon stalking searching for one of these gents so Bug could make a proper introduction. We eventually found Flavio, who suggested we meet he and Jerome that evening outside of Bug's favorite place...The Next Cruise office. It seemed that this girl, who just a few days before had an aversion to the camera, was now set to make her debut on the small screen.

Her "shout-out" that day?... A request to play Frosty the Snowman on the atrium piano, which Jerome and Flavio were happy to oblige.

As is always the case with these adventures with Bug, to say we were sad to see it come to an end would be an understatement. And as the sun slipped over the horizon for the final time aboard the Brilliance, a famous line from Hamilton played on repeat in my mind.
"Look around, look around, at how lucky we are to be alive right now."

Then again, any onset of post-trip depression would have to wait for a different day, because another magical adventure was awaiting us back onshore.

Enjoy Your Stay

Adventures with Uncle Deej - Old Sport Goes to Disney

Over the last several years, I've learned quite a bit about myself while navigating the uncharted waters of uncle-hood. Perhaps the most glaring piece of wisdom I've obtained is the unsettling realization that I make terrible deals with my niece & nephew. Read: Paid $50 to skip a 90-minute line for the Haunted Mansion. Worst of all, I think these two are wise to my awful bartering skills and exploit it anytime they can. But, as the President-Elect will surely attest, there's positive spin to almost every lousy deal. In this case, one of these slippery negotiations with Old Sport led to a weekend at Disney among the best in recent memory.

The scene was a late summer evening in the Magic Kingdom. After a day filled with tiki birds, corny jokes on the Amazon, and a magical magnetized train, it was time for Old Sport and his parents to head for home. Meanwhile, his Aunt MJ and I had a date with the new Abracadabar at The Boardwalk before collapsing in our room at The Dolphin. Naturally, this news brought an unbearable bout of sadness from Old Sport, and one of those infamous negotiations...

"I want to stay at the Dolphin with you, Uncle Deej." (Mumbled while rubbing eyes for full effect)

"Tell you what Old Sport, I'll make a deal with you.. Between now and Christmas, Aunt MJ and I will bring you to Disney, just the two of us, and we'll stay at The Dolphin. Deal?"

"Deal." (Still mumbled while rubbing eyes for full effect)

Given that this kid has never once forgotten anything, especially the specific terms of any transaction with him, I booked our room the following morning with both great anticipation and a dash of terror.

Why the terror? Well, I've said it countless times before... Parents with kids visit a Disney with which I'm completely unfamiliar. And yet, here we were diving headfirst into that alternative universe.

On the flipside of that coin... Taking Old Sport to Disney and spoiling him rotten is something we've looked forward to since the day he booked a ticket with the stork. Based on the fact that we arrived to find him sitting on his luggage in his driveway, I'd say he shared the sentiment.

After a journey consisting of 109 questions - 42 "Can we ___'s" and 67 "Are we there yet's" - we arrived at The Dolphin, setting Old Sport's dancing feet into overdrive.

Next stop... Epcot, where Rapunzel was waiting at the gate to give him a proper welcome.

One of the pearls of wisdom my brother gave me before departing was to establish early on how many gift shops Old Sport would get to visit. The consequence for not doing so would likely be "Uncle Deej, can we go in that store?" followed by disappointment when the idea is shot down. While waiting in line for my afternoon iced coffee, Old Sport found a gaping loophole in the 2 store limit I'd previously imposed. The pin kiosk...

Next the dancing feet took us to Figment, where Old Sport proceeded to tell me everything that would happen next on the ride. I told you.. The kid doesn't forget anything.

After a brief stop at the magical fountain thingy's outside of Figment - Ok, Ok.. Journey Into Imagination -  we were off to The Land for dinner at Garden Grill. The next hour or so for Old Sport went something like...

Bite of Food
Talk to Mickey
Bite of Food
Talk to Pluto... You get the picture.

This was only my 2nd time at Garden Grill and each was an unexpectedly good experience. I say unexpectedly because this place seems to fly under my radar, and given we had no issue getting a reservation with less than 30 days notice, perhaps I'm not alone. Good food, great characters, and a revolving restaurant which, as Old Sport put it, is also a ride.. A great combination.

Finally, it was time for the main event... Soarin'. As you can see, he was a little excited...

This has long been one of my favorite rides at Disney, but this time was different.. Seated in the far right section, with Old Sport to my left clutching my arm for support, I found myself watching his reactions for most of the ride as opposed to the movie. Then I did something I've never done before.. I looked around at all of the other people dangling from this giant Erector set. Wouldn't you know, their reactions were all the same as his. Whether they were young, old, or too-cool-for-school teenagers, their expressions were all the same: Sheer joy.

Yeah, I cried a bit.

So earlier when I mentioned that this trip brought a dash of fear, roughly 92.7% of that concern centered around one thing... The stroller. To put it mildly, crowds aren't exactly my thing. Toss in the need to push around a Mini-Cooper through World Showcase during Food & Wine and you've got the Deej-equivalent of a root canal. Thankfully, we all survived and made it to The Boardwalk at a perfect time...

The next morning, our itinerary consisted of just two events. The first is my own tradition unlike any other... The morning walk for coffee. I didn't think Old Sport would quite appreciate the majesty of these few minutes, but it seems he's got more of his uncle in him than I'd presumed.

Of the 42 "Can we____" questions we received on the way down, 29 of them were "Can we play putt-putt." I will be the first to admit that my brother and I have brainwashed Old Sport to love a few things that are dear to us. Anything related to the game of golf is, quite naturally, at the top of that list. And so, the final stop of our first solo adventure was the Winter Summerland putt putt...

As we made our way home, with Old Sport soundly asleep in the backseat, I found myself filled with both pride and a sobering realization. Four years have passed since I wrote the first Adventure with Uncle Deej on the day he was born. Time is absolutely zooming by, and I desperately want it to slow down. And yet, to paraphrase Hamilton, I know the only way to get to the next grand Adventure is for the world to keep on spinning.

Another of those terrible deals that I'll just have to accept.

Enjoy Your Stay

An Introduction to Links Golf at Castle Stuart

After spending less than 24-hours in Scotland, it was apparent that some things are done a little differently across the pond. They drive on the other side of the road, traffic lights are mostly replaced by roundabouts, and the average American golfer could squeeze in an early morning nine before most coffee shops turn the open sign. As I would quickly learn, those differences also extend to the game of golf, and in more ways than one.

Here in the former Colonies, golf has evolved into a giant game of lawn darts. We send the ball sailing through the air and, if we're lucky enough to find the green, we watch as it stops just a couple of feet from where it landed. There is certainly no denying the appeal to this type of golf.. The sight of a perfectly struck shot flying toward the flag against a backdrop of blue sky is never short on inspiration.

Across the Atlantic, that same shot wouldn't stand a chance.

To put it mildly, the seaside links variety of golf - the kind that we watch each year during The Open Championship - is an entirely different animal. The ground is firm, the turf is short, and the wind ranges anywhere from a mere nuisance to good luck standing up. But it's the degree of unpredictability that is sure to drive the uninitiated golfer bonkers. The wind and concrete-like turf make the lawn darts game impossible, so instead the ball must be flighted low and allowed to run along the ground. There's just one problem.. Most of these courses were built long before the invention of the bulldozer. Meaning the fairways are littered with humps and bumps and knobs that send the ball bouncing every which way. For the golfer accustomed to Shot A producing Outcome B, links golf at first seems a little unfair...

I hate to break it to you, but golf isn't fair.

My links golf education began at Castle Stuart, the host of this year's Scottish Open. In a land where many golf club charters predate the Constitution, Castle Stuart is the new kid on the block. Having opened in 2009, this is what you might call a "modern links;" one that was painstakingly shaped and molded into a course that has quickly landed among the best on the globe.

It was the perfect place to start my education.

But first, there was a not-so-small order of business to address... My golf clubs. Since the thought of handing them over to the airlines frightens me more than that giant spider in Harry Potter, I entrusted Luggage Forward - as I had once before - to get my only prized possession across the pond. Their service is as seamless as it comes, and while it cost more than what the airline bag fees would have, the convenience and reliability made it money well spent. After a few days of pacing my living room while they were in transit, my good friend Ru Macdonald - Scotland's tireless golf travel ambassador, who just happened to be at Castle Stuart - sent a pic of my clubs waiting in their storage room.

It was time.

In typical Deej fashion, I arrived to Castle Stuart a solid two hours before my 9:30am tee time. I expected to find a busy clubhouse and practice area, bustling with anxious and excited golfers like myself. As it turned out, I was all alone... It seemed that, like the coffee shops, even the golf courses get moving a little later than back home. I was the first name on the tee sheet, at a time when I might have been making the turn at Muni. Not that I minded.. It gave me plenty of time to enjoy the clubhouse view with a sausage and egg roll before teeing it up.
No pic of the sausage roll, but the trademark chili for lunch was awesome.

I was joined in my initiation to the links game by Castle Stuart's Director of Golf, Jeremy Matte. An American transplanted to Scotland, Jeremy spent much of the morning sharing with me the ethos behind all things at Castle Stuart, giving me an even higher appreciation for what they've accomplished here in The Highlands of Scotland. He also waxed the floor with me in our match, taking me down 4&3. More on that later...

Put simply, Castle Stuart doesn't fit the mold of your typical "championship" course. For many, the greatness of a course is proportional to it's degree of difficulty. By this logic, the higher the perceived difficulty, the better the course must be. Yet these are the same courses that usually leave the golfer battered and bruised and questioning why they ever took up the game. The one aspect that's usually overlooked by this flawed line of thinking... Enjoyability.

Not so at Castle Stuart.

Playability and recovery are the order of the day here. Wide fairways and enormous greens make for eye-pleasing targets. Where the errant drive or approach typically finds a wide range of punishment on that "championship" course, at Castle Stuart the golfer often finds they still have a shot and a chance for redemption. Granted, the next shot will be much more difficult than if they'd executed the first properly, but the opportunity to salvage something out of nothing sure beats a lost ball.
Where not to hit it on #1.

That's not to say that Castle Stuart is easy.. Far from it. Just ask the 15 guys who failed to break 80 in the first round of this year's Scottish Open. But imagine the satisfaction when your dreaded slice shows up at the tee, and instead of spending the bulk of your day searching hopelessly in the gorse, every now and then you find the ProV resting comfortably on the fairway. 
On the fairway, but contending with this...

Speaking of gorse.. The round at Castle Stuart marked my first meeting with this vile plant. Gorse blooms a vibrant yellow and orange each spring, which was still around when I visited in June. But don't let the pretty colors fool you.. This thorny weed is most definitely what the devil grows in his garden. If your ball finds a gorse plant, don't even bother.. Just drop another and play on. 
Vile weed.

In addition to its offering of redemption, perhaps the defining characteristic of Castle Stuart is its abundance of spectacular views. The landmarks along the Moray Firth are framed into shots like the work of a talented photographer. For example, the course's namesake stands backdrop behind the 4th hole, while the trademark infinity greens give way to the Kessock Bridge or Chanonry Point Lighthouse. All of this is by design, and all of it serves up vivid memories even on a grey and dreary day. 
Castle Stuart behind the par-3 4th green.

Of all the new things I was introduced to as part of my links golf initiation, the aspect I enjoyed the most had to do with my score... Specifically, the lack of one. This was my first real experience with match-play; where each hole is its own match, and the person who wins the most holes is the victor. It really is a shame this style of play is pretty much non-existent on this side of the pond. Instead we add up each gut-wrenching stroke at the end of the day, as a reminder of just how lousy we are at this cursed game. 
Where not to hit it on #18.

All I know is, Jeremy was 4 holes up on me with only 3 to play.. A rather stout beating, and one that was sealed when his drive on the 10th careened off a rock in the firth and back into the fairway. What may seem like an unlucky break for yours truly, however, was really just the opposite. The sight of that ball being thrown out of the bay is just one of countless images that I hope to carry with me forever. It also sums up my introduction to links golf rather well...

Sometimes the bounce goes your way, sometimes it doesn't, but at Castle Stuart.. It sure is great to play the game.

Enjoy Your Stay.

Nessie, Inverness, and the Left Side of the Road

In most circumstances, saying goodbye to your better half for over a month would be a rather somber occasion. Yet when I ditched MJ at London's Victoria Coach Station, I bolted out of there with more pep in my step than Gene Kelly during a thunderstorm. OK, sure, I was a little sad, but feeling sorry for myself would have to wait for another day. For now, I had a date with The Home of Golf.
No sign of Nessie.

While MJ rode the bus to Cambridge, I caught a different kind of bus - read: easyJet - to the Scottish Highlands and the city of Inverness. Golf was, of course, the main attraction, however my plans for the first day of this adventure didn't involve my clubs. Instead, my goal was to recover from the hectic last few days of travel with a nice leisurely afternoon establishing my bearings and exploring a few of the sights.
My chariot to Inverness.

In hindsight, "leisurely" may not have been the most appropriate adjective.

What can only be described as anxious exhilaration hit a fever pitch when my flight buzzed the art deco clubhouse at Castle Stuart Golf Links while on approach to the Inverness airport. That sense of "Holy crap, I'm really here" had officially set in, and in that moment I was both incredibly excited and absolutely terrified. Why was I terrified, you ask? Because I knew a man was holding a sign with my name on it in the terminal, and I'd have to face my biggest fear with this trip straight away...

Driving on the left-side of the road.

This would be the 2nd time I'd ever driven on the "wrong" side of the road; my only other experience being on the island of St. Thomas where I just followed my dad in a jeep right in front of me. As I checked-in at the car rental office, I tried recalling all of the tips I'd picked up from the 322 blogs I read before the trip. Just then, the agent said something that snapped my out of my nervous trance...

"We've upgraded you to a nice BMW."

After adding on every possible insurance available, I waited outside and watched as a glistening piece of German machinery was pulled around. I confirmed with the attendant the type of fuel and color coding of the gas pump handles - Black for Diesel, Green for Unleaded... Like the lanes, also the opposite of the U.S. - and just like that, I was off.

I quickly discovered that there was just one problem... This car, by U.K. standards, was enormous. Combine that with lanes that felt as narrow as the monorail track at Disney, plus the unnerving sight of cars passing on my right, and I felt like I was 15 with my learner's permit all over again.

And then came the roundabouts.
Wait... What??

About 2 minutes into my leisurely afternoon, I was completely stressed out. As I barreled my way through one roundabout after another, without the slightest clue if I was doing so correctly, one question kept coming to mind: How was I going to handle this for 6 days? It was now that I had a decision to make... I could toss in the towel on driving for the day and head straight to my hotel, or I could suck it up and continue with my plans.

I decided that the best way to overcome this fear was to rip the band-aid right off. At the next roundabout, I veered left and began my quest to find Nessie.

I'd love to tell you that the driving got easier that afternoon, but it didn't. Despite appearing on the map as a relatively main highway, the route which paralleled Loch Ness was nothing more than your average two-lane country road. I soon discovered that in Scotland there's no such thing as Interstates, and the four-lane divided highway was a luxury I encountered just once during the entire trip. The rest of the time was spent on these narrow, winding, shoulder-less roads.
I did this... A lot.

Along the way, I spotted an odd road-sign with the picture of a camera on it. Just a few yards ahead, there was a rather pretty pull-off area alongside the shore of the lake. Given this road was basically one long picturesque tourist trip, I assumed the sign notified folks like me that a nice photo opportunity was just ahead. I was wrong... Turns out that little camera sign warns of the possible position of speed cameras. I didn't learn this helpful little nugget of info until the very last day of my trip. Thankfully, the car rental agency hasn't forwarded me any speeding tickets... Yet. 
Not Scotland, but look... A Kodak moment ahead!

After 45-harrowing minutes, I finally arrived to my intended destination... Urquhart Castle. For the most part, Loch Ness is nothing more than a giant lake.. albeit, a rather gorgeous one. But.. toss in the ruins of a 13th century fortress and a little sunshine, and I had something that made the drive entirely worthwhile. Not eager to return to the car anytime soon, I made an iced coffee in the gift shop's coffee bar - they hadn't heard of such a thing - and soaked up what would prove to be the last sunshine I'd see for three days.

It was a good decision to soak up the rays while they lasted, because I was just a few miles up the road when it was time to learn how to turn on the Beamers windshield wipers. The rain was nothing serious, but enough to make my next destination a drive-by of sorts. The Culloden Battlefield was the site of the final stand of the Jacobite Rebellion which sought to restore the House of Stuart to the British throne. It also marked the final "pitched battle" - basically, two rows of troops facing each other and firing - on British soil. The rain seemed appropriate, given the lives lost and the 100 years of suppression, known as the Highland Clearances, which followed.
A stone honoring the members of one of the clans lost in the fighting.
The red flags mark the line of British troops.

By now it was going on 6pm and the hunger pains were coming on strong. I made my way into the heart of Inverness, pulled into the tiniest hotel parking lot imaginable, and checked-in to my digs for the next two nights: the Best Western Inverness Palace. Don't let the name fool you.. my general thought on the hotel is "Meh." The location is great, but it's clearly well past its prime and is a tour group turn-and-burn operation. That said, I slept like an absolute rock both nights. 

I'm sure part of that opinion stemmed from an unfair comparison to the Rocpool Reserve, which was my first stop on my tour of the food scene in Inverness. This place oozed class and reinforced what I knew before departing - that this was where I should have stayed - if only I could have stomached the rate. Both the smoked salmon and whisky cocktail I enjoyed here were among the best I've had anywhere. 

The next morning, I quickly learned one of Scotland's quirks... Everything opens later than on this side of the pond. Coffee shops were locked up tight until 8 or 9am, many restaurants didn't start serving until 7pm, and even the earliest tee times at the golf courses were often much later than "normal." For an "early to bed, early to rise" type, this took some getting used to, and I'm not sure that I ever did.
Don't tell the authorities... I imported a bag of Entenmann's. 

My time in Inverness was short, but in the end it provided exactly what I needed in advance of the busy week ahead. Here I found a welcome pause in the hectic travel, a few memorable sites, and the opportunity to adjust to things like 18 hours of daylight, wacky coffee shop hours, and the left-side of the road. That last one did get much easier with time, which allowed me to focus on the all-important task ahead...

7 golf courses... 5 days.

Enjoy Your Stay