The Wild, Hairy Haggises and the Hogwarts Express

And now another installment in my much overdue recounting of our vacation to the UK last summer . . .

Our first day through Scotland last August was a little insane.  We took a 2-3 hour drive and made it into an 8 hour drive.  We drove through or stopped by at least a half dozen places I’d like to go back and see again.  But we were only just beginning.

My main reason for wanting to come to that particular piece of Scotland, both on this trip and on our previous one (where it didn’t work out) was Harry Potter.  Or, more specifically, the Hogwarts Express.  Harry’s journey to Hogwarts in the movies was mostly filmed along an actual train line in western Scotland.  It’s possible to actually ride a steam train along the route they used for filming, but we knew we’d want to explore along the way, so we drove the (theoretical) hour each way.  (Of course, it took us much longer, and we thoroughly enjoyed it!)


We started our day with a trip to the grocery store to pick out a picnic lunch.  (Wherever in the world we are, grocery shopping is always an adventure.)  Once we had managed that, we got on our way.  From the very beginning of the journey, we’d catch snips of views and vistas that were familiar from the movies, but a lot of the scenery was obscured by trees.  No worries, it was still beautiful.  Our first real stop along the way was one of the most iconic images from the movies — the Glenfinnan Viaduct.  It was pretty cool to stop and see it, and a nice piece of our ongoing collection of visits to Harry Potter places.


We walked around a bit, and the boys really wanted to cross the road to check out the loch across the way.  While Dan and the kids began their explorations, I explored the gift shop.  I’d been looking for something small, kid-friendly and iconic to get them as souvenirs, and I found exactly what I was looking for: the “Wild, Hairy Haggis“.

401Most people have heard of the traditional Scottish dish called haggis (which Dan tried on this trip and which I tasted … REALLY not my thing) but the Haggis creature is not as well known (mostly because it’s entirely made up).  They are sweet little stuffed animals with a cute story, so I got one for each of the boys.  It was love at first sight, and our new Haggises were excellent companions for the rest of our trip, immediately befriending Ignis, who was also journeying with us.  (Dragons feel very much at home in Scotland, as it turns out.)

I am so glad that the boys were dying to play at the loch, because it would up being not only one of the most beautiful spots we visited in all of Scotland (which is truly saying something) but also another staple from the Harry Potter movies — this lake, Loch Shiel, across from Glenfinnan Viaduct, is known as the Black Lake at the foot of Hogwarts Castle in the movies.  And it was absolutely stunning.  (I love Scotland.)





438As we trekked on, we again found many places worth stopping for a look.  (Did I mention that I love Scotland?)  And we caught many views of the train line we were following.  The further north we got, the more rugged, and the more coastal, things became.  We eventually started looking for a place to picnic, and found a beach on a river that looked public and promising.  We ate our sandwiches and played in the sand.  B bravely waded into the frigid (even in August) water.  We watched people play with their dogs and saw a big group of kayakers arrive along the beach.  We got a bit chilled and very sandy, but it was a great picnic.




We continued on to our “destination” (pretty much as far as you can go in that direction without catching the ferry to the Isle of Skye, which, incidentally, I wish we’d done) — Mallaig, a tiny fishing town, and the farthest north I’ve ever been in my life.  We stopped for an ice cream and then turned around to repeat the beautiful journey back in the other direction.  It was another amazing, beautiful day in a stunningly gorgeous place.  We chose this place to see where the Hogwarts Express made its trip, but that had almost nothing to do with how much we loved our time there.


Dreaming of the beach

It’s cold, rainy and windy (very windy) here in Vienna.  My boys are sick.  (Liam’s diagnosis is two separate viral infections at the same time — one causing diarrhea that he’s had for 10 days, one causing croup.  Lucky kid.)  I’ve been in the house, nearly constantly, for a week.  Benjamin *might* go back to school tomorrow.  Maybe.

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Missing the beach

Austria is a landlocked country.  I’ve never even lived in a landlocked state before, so this is a strange concept for me.  Growing up, we went to the beach every summer.  When I was little, my grandmother had a place in Ocean City, Maryland, and then when we got older, we’d go to the Outer Banks in North Carolina or to Cape May in New Jersey.  As an adult, I’ve been to Cancun, the Bahamas, Hawaii and Florida, in addition to trips back to Ocean City.  The beach is regular fixture in my summers, and occasionally even in my falls, winters and springs.  It’s an important part of my childhood memories, and a love that is shared with my entire family.  Only a few years of my life have passed without a trip to the beach, and nearly all of those were for specific reasons (we didn’t go the summer that B was born, for example).

I haven’t been to the beach since May of 2010, and it’s starting to bug me that we can’t just get in the car and go.  Getting to the beach from here would be expensive, and it would be a major undertaking.  Not impossible, by any means, but it’s just not what we’re planning on focusing our European vacation travel on:  we have beaches at home, but we don’t have Paris, London, Rome and Bavaria at home.  I’ve been itching to go, though.  I miss the ocean, the sand, the breezes.  If we’d been at home, we would have taken Liam to the beach for the first time this summer.  He’d probably hate it, because it would severely limit his mobility, but we’d take him anyway.  I know he’ll love it once he’s bigger — he’s bold and fearless, so he’ll probably stress me out completely in and near the water forever, but I know he’ll be ready to jump in the waves, if only to follow his big brother.

Benjamin wants to go to the beach, too.  He’s been three times (I think?).  The first time he was pretty ambivalent:  not thrilled about the sand, mostly, although he kind of liked the water.  The second time he was distinctly more interested, and the third time, he loved it.  That third time, we went in May, and the water was way too cold for me (even though I was 5 months pregnant and everything felt hot).  Benjamin and Dan got in the water, though, and played in the waves.  After that, they got out and B tried to bury Dan in the sand.  He was enthusiastic about going down to the water even when it was raining, chilly and foggy.  Benjamin has definitely learned or inherited the love that both Dan & I have for the beach and the ocean.

It’s hard for me to tell him we’re not going this year.  He wants to play in the sand and in the ocean.  We read stories about the beach, or he sees it in a cartoon, and he asks when we’re going.  I think, one way or the other, we’re going to have to make sure we go next summer — I don’t think either of us can hold off another year.