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  • Mark Shupe

My top 2022 Europe Travel Experiences Part 2. Because the sequel is always better.

Remember these are in sequence not rank order!

(And if we were doing "rank" order literally, Marseilles would fill all ten top stops. Cause, see Marseilles stinks. More in another post!)


Number 7: Scottish Monuments: Rosslyn Chapel; Wallace Monument;Stirling Castle

Rosslyn Chapel was made famous by Dan Brown in the Da Vinci code, and it also makes a couple appearances in the Curse of Oak island. You could pay $150 to take a tour from Edinburgh, or a 3 dollar bus ride without annoying tour guide commentary which took about an hour. You know I did the latter. It is set in the country side near hiking trails and I had time to explore a little trail down to an abandoned estate.

The artwork and symbolism of the chapel was interesting, and there were good self-guided material, as well as a little coffee shop. I was quite intrigued to hear the description of how the chapel had been abandoned at one time with vegetation growing on the inside. It could be my imagination, but I was pretty sure a ghost of a templar knight was talking to me. If only I understand the local ancient latin dialect.

Estate near Rosslyn Chapel

William Wallace

Exterior Rosslyn Chapel

View from Stirling Castle

Stirling Castle isn’t made of silver, but I spent most of the day there exploring exhibits, admiring gardens, views and architecture. There was a good deal of Scottish history made in Stirling castle. A variety of excellent exhibits provided a wealth of information. One of the most interesting exhibits was the Stirling’s head gallery.

Here’s a description from the official website: The Stirling Heads are one of Scotland’s great art treasures – metre-wide 16th-century oak medallions carved with images of kings, queens, nobles, Roman emperors and characters from the Bible and Classical mythology. They decorated palace ceilings until a collapse in 1777 after which they were dispersed. Most of the survivors have now been brought back together and are the centrepiece of the magnificent Image-makers for the King exhibition on the upper floor of the palace.

If you like the name James, you will love this place as there were a lot of James that lived here. So many they had to number them! And one even changed his number, when he took charge of that little country to the south called England. And don’t forget Mary, Queen of Scots.

Wallace Monument; Firth of Forth in foreground

With a few hours remaining in the day, I crossed the firth of forth through a suburban neighbourhood, and took a long hike to the Wallace Monument, enjoying the scenery every moment. The monument has some nice exhibits on William Wallace and Robert the Bruce. Did you know it was really Robert the Bruce that was Braveheart, as he wanted his heart taken after his death to the holy land? Hence why two photos of Bruce to one of Wallace!

Swords of both William and Robert are in the monument. Both, clearly, were a lot stronger than me.

Logistics recap: city bus to Roslyn chapel. Train to Stirling and hike up to castle: long hike to Wallace monument. I missed out of the Stirling Bridge battle museum due to lack of time. So take a cab Wallace monument so you can fit it all in. Air Canada runs a seasonal flight from Toronto to Edinburgh, so we routed Calgary, Toronto to Edinburgh.

Sword of Robert the Bruce

Number 8: Scottish scenery.

I was supposed to take the train from Edinburgh to Fort William, but a strike cancelled part of the journey, so after disembarking train in Glasgow, I had to scramble to get a bus ticket to continue the journey. (By the way Trainline with whom I booked the ticket never refunded me for the cancelled ticket despite my intense letter writing and lobbying. Lesson: always book direct with the train company.) The train journey through Glen Coe country is supposed to be one of the best in the world, but I enjoyed the scenery from the bus especially after the big guy in the seat next to me got off the bus. (as a matter of note, I do not like being crushed against a side of the bus by the guy next to me).

On way to Glen Coe, view from Bus

Fort William itself is my kind of place. On the water, mountains surrounding it, a charming main street, with a fantastic bookshop, and big enough for one McDonald’s but not so big and crowded it needed two. Stupidly, I hiked from town to Ben Nevis, Scotland’s highest mountain, and made it just over half way up, before it started getting dark and I had to turn around. If only the train had ran, I would have had time to make it up the whole way. They say the weather can make hiking up Nevis treacherous, but it was a perfect early June day. The green of the surrounding hills, the friendly sheep, and the nicely shaped stone paths made me feel at home.

If you said I had to live in Fort William the rest of my life, I’d not be upset. After a night’s stay at a friendly hotel, I went went back through Glencoe by bus and stayed at a place called Kentallen, where the photo with the red phone booth was taken.

Wait, how many sheep do I have to get by? Zzzz!

My hotel room had an extensive view of the water and the mountains. This was my base to explore the small plots of land I own further south, and which by legal

His Lordship on his land holdings.

proclamation allows me to put Lord Mark Shupe (lord of glencoe) on my driver’s license. I’m not kidding, I am officially a lord. And you can be too for this low, low price… That’s me on the land in the woods. The bus drove right by me one day, so I had to walk the 7 km both ways. Is thaat a way to treat a lord? No matter, I had all that gorgeous scenery to myself.

To round out my scenic views, I went to the town of Oban, which was a beautiful harbour town, then took the ferry to the Isle of Mull, drove across it and then went to the Island of Iona, where the monastery founded by Saint Columba in the year 563 is situated. It’s where the book of Kells, now in trinity college in Dublin was made or at least started at the scriptitorium. Sounds mysterious? It is. I loved the Celtic designs especially the large cross in front of the monastery. Oh, and Macbeth, yeah that Macbeth, was maybe, possibly, probably, could be buried on Iona. So you know what I did, I bought a book about Macbeth. No not the play, (well I bought that too) but a biography on Macbeth. All these places were gorgeous. But don’t take my word, look at the photos.

Logistics recap; You can take one one of the long hiking trails to reach several of the spots, but I took train and bus from Edinburgh via Glasgow to Fort William, local bus to Kentallen,regional bus to Oban, then train to Glasgow, for a two night stay before train back to Edinburgh. I enjoyed the Scottish trains when they were running, mostly because luggage storage was easy with luggage racks over most seats large enough to handle a standard carry on case.

Oban harbour sunset.

Oban Harbor day time

It tool me awhile to think it through,but I finally decided to go to the Isle of Mull!

Celtic cross and interior "decoration" St.Columba,.Iona.

I was supposed to do a tour of Isle of Skye and the outer Hebrides, but enjoyed these locations immensely. Can’t wait to get back tor the Skye tour.

By the way, I might have had one or two tastes of whiskey as I enjoyed this tremendous scenery.

Number 9: The art and architecture of Ravenna.

Ravenna was for a short period of time the capital of the Roman empire, before the empire collapsed. Ravenna is known for exquisite mosaics that are well preserved at several locations. I took an official tour from the local tourist office and was not disappointed. The cover of my history book entitled Ravenna came to light on one of the mosaics. The main mosaic sites are within easy walking distance. The tomb of Theodoric, king of the Ostrogoths which followed rule of the Romans, not so easy. Its an interesting structure, but it has only one object in it, an empty tomb that looks like a bathtub. It’s cool, but if you are short on time, make sure you take in some comedie. Divine comedie that is. This is where Dante Alighieri finished the masterpiece, as he had been exiled from Florence. His tomb sits next to museum in his honor, with a new section recently opened for his 700th anniversary. If you are not in the know, you probably are familiar with the diveine comedy, divided into three parts, inferno, purgatory, and paradisio, where Dante takes a tour through all three. His view in paradisio is the best reasoning for the explanation of how a grand deity is responsible for the universe and can still allow bad things to happen.

It all starts with the famous phrase, “Abandon all hope ye who enters here.”

Which was kind of how I felt twenty minutes into the official Dante tour, I took when I had to provide information to the tour guide.

p.s. as deeply intense as the book is, there’s also flatulence jokes, one at the devil’s expense. So, you know, classy.

I was so inspired, I wrote a spooky ghost story in the shadow of his tomb.

Food is delicious, hey, it’s a Italy. I was going to including Padua in this discussion, but remember last time I said I had a challenge of diving 22 by three? Well, I’ve decided to divide 24 by 4, so my head doesn’t hurt as much. So now four parts to this saga, and Padua, or Padova, deservingly gets its own spot on the list! You can get the most out of Ravenna in one day, or you can stay two, and go to that feisty independent country of San Marino. I did and it ended up as the next experience.

My book!

The actual art from the cover come to life!

Logistics: I flew into Venice Marco Polo airport from Canada, then bus to Venice Mestro train station, then train to Ravenna, changing trains at Ferrara.

Number 10: The pocket country of San Marino

Let’s be honest. San Marino was not easy to get to if you didn’t have a car but it’s not impossible and it’s worth it. San Marino is one of those pocket countries that is surrounded by another, in this case Italy. Its small alright, but scenery is unique.

To get there, I took the train to Rimini from Ravenna and then the first bus of the day to San Marino. All the tour guides will tell you where the bus stop is and a tobacco shop where you buy tickets, the only place to buy tickets. Only they are both wrong, so check the internet for recent blogger posts.The only thing worse than relying on the guides for this information is by asking fellow travellers. Me and another gent who was much more fluent in Italian, translated for me, as we went to six different spots before we learned the place to buy tickets was on the bus, despite whatever every other source said. The bus stopped in front of the Napoleon hotel, also despite other internet sources.

As it was the first bus of the day, I had a good seat upfront to myself and good views.

It took maybe 85 minutes to get to San Marino and its capital city at the top of the kingdom.

What’s so special about San Marino? Three castles!

Each perched as if on a giant aerie. Three fairy-tale castles, with magnificent views over the countryside. Squint and you could see the Adriatic or aegean sea. Not both; the one on the east side of Italy. Yeah, that one, it begins with A. Most of the capital is pedestrian only and can be easily covered in a day. I stopped in the country’s parliament chambers, at

San Marino Council Chambers

the archeological museum, but mostly admired the views and castles. That’s me at one castle, taking picture of another castle! Lots of places to eat with views out over the countryside. The bus back was not so fun. Crowded and cramped, it was near the end of June and hot. I walked around Rimini, to let train traffic die down, and ended up walking to a very nice beach but the most crowded I’d ever been on. Was glad to get back to Ravenna, and one more chat with the ghost of my hero, Dante Alighieri.

Logistics recap: train to Rimini from Ravenna, scramble to locate bus stop to San marino. Take bus, after buying ticket on board.

West facing view San Marino.

Sorry, there's only four this week. I had more all lined up but the system wouldnt let me post.

Next week: I pause my countdown of 2022 travel items to pay tribute to my little buddy, the Westie, Thunder who passed away this time last year. It includes a description of my high octane race to get home from Strasbourg to be with my wife and he at the end. It might make you sad, but pictures of his little face will put a smile on your face.

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Apr 16, 2023

Lord Mark, oh how I would pay a small fortune for a tour guide if you could catch the bus and stop for me. In another life, we shall travel together to smell the sites and see the ranks of favours. To venture the Rosslyn Castle and hike the high hills, a story discovered in each step. Thank you for cherishing your every walk to take us on the trip for years to come, without falling on our faces. Carry on, wonderous traveler. Sarah Butland

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