22
Sep

Is it possible to have good Scotland vacations without visiting a few castles? Castles more or less dot the country side and sit right at the center of so many of the main cities. If you want to enjoy Scotland’s rich history you will find yourself at some sort of castle. Some of these castles are crumbling shells while others have been restored and you can spend the night in one of their stately rooms. There are even castles that you could get married in and rent the entire estate out for your wedding party.

A Short List of my Favorites

Haunted Borthwick Castle, this castle at first sight is so imposing with its gray brick and tall towers. The walls just growl “be ware!” The history in these buildings contains a ghost and a story to go along with it. People claim to see the ghost of a page boy that might be Mary Queen of Scots sneaking past a mob of 1000 men that had come to kill her husband. The best part is that it is in the Edinburgh area and is now a hotel.

Dunrobin Castle is a wonderful contrast to Borthwick. Parts of this castle date back to the 1300s, this castle looks like it comes right out of a fairy tale. White stone with sharp spires all over the place just screams Cinderella. One family has owned Dunrobin for over 700 years and they also have a ghost. Long ago a love sick girl fell to her death trying to escape the castle to meet her love.

Cowder Castle is the last of my short list. The photo that is on my site to represent this castle is so beautiful and makes it easy to dream about living there. This castle is extra famous because it was built around a holly tree where a donkey stopped. The donkey’s owner was told in a dream that this is where the castle should be built. The family still occupies this castle, but they do rent out a few holiday cottages.

Including these castles in your Scotland vacation will make your trip a truly wonderful experience. You don’t have to be a history buff to enjoy them. If you want to have a memorable vacation then be sure to look for the artwork, architecture, gardens, and friendly people. You just can not go wrong with Scotland vacations.

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13
Sep

Rigging for the New Year

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It’s the beginning of the New Year, and I know it’s cold outside. ‘Tis here in the South, far worse in the North. Yet, I know many of us are ready to take to the field or are contemplating plans to do so. We turn to checking our equipment and making sure it’s ready or deciding to go for something better. After all, we are desirous of the best experiences we can have and share with our fellow and intrepid travelers. How shall we rig for the adventures of this brand new year?

Standard equipment now, a good pair of binoculars, field guide, a good pair of boots, cap, some means of carrying the necessities. Yet, I know there are many times when a good scope is required as well. A good scope requires a good tripod. Ducks and shorebirds on the water, Sandhill and Whooping Cranes in grassy fields and marshes, Gallinules and Green Herons in the bayous-all better seen with a scope. Don’t forget the Peregrines on the rocky cliffs or the Bald Eagles nested in the pines above a mountain lake. There are so many times when a good scope is such a grand instrument to have at hand.

Experience tells this author that one should not try to just get by when considering any optical equipment. This is true for scopes as well. Remember you are buying or wanting to buy equipment that will allow you to enjoy the great outdoors for years to come. You are also buying the company. Make sure the company backs their product with a great warranty and service.

The Vortex 20-60 x 80 Viper HD Spotting Scope is worthy of your consideration. It is backed up by an unconditional and unlimited warranty. It comes in two configurations, straight and angled. Its lenses and prisms are of high density glass and fully multi-coated. The fog proofing is accomplished with Argon gas, a noble gas, extending the life of the scope owing to its inability to attack the O-rings and seals. It has dual focus, a great feature. Couple that with the Vortex Pro Skyline Tripod and you have a rig that is easy to get into the field and will make the experience so worthwhile. Pair a quality scope with a quality tripod. There is nothing more frustrating than having your investment in a scope being compromised by an inadequate, wobbly, heavy, useless tripod. You’ll find the Skyline is the polar opposite of that with anodized padded aluminum legs and a balance hook. It’s topped off with a micro-fluid head for smooth, easy panning of the environs. The Skyline is again backed by a very good warranty.

This author is ready to go on his next trip to the field and knows exactly to what body of water he heads. Binoculars-check; boots-check; field guide-check; cap-check; scope and tripod-you bet! Hope you’re equipped and ready as well. Happy birding!

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6
Sep

Fashion designers are styling up their clients and brand ambassadors, five-star hotels are fully booked under a variety of aliases, there are after parties being planned for after the after party, the limousines have been hired and the red carpet is ready to be rolled out. The movie stars are heading for Cannes and the paparazzi cannot be too far behind – it’s time for the Cannes film Festival.

For most movie enthusiasts in Europe, this is the main event. Some go as far as travelling to Nice to get a glimpse of the stars and, if they are lucky, come away with autographs and pictures with their idols.

But they will need to catch them first. Cannes is known for glitz, and car hire companies offering luxury and prestige car hire in France are seeing their lots emptied of Porsche 911 Carreras and Panameras, as the celebrities arrange their stay. If you’re thinking of heading to the French Riviera, and especially if you’re considering hiring a car to make an impression, try Avis or another high-end company well in advance to avoid disappointment.

“Midnight in Paris” is set to open the 64th Festival de Cannes. The film was written and directed by world famous director Woody Allen and features, amongst other stellar names, none other than Carla Bruni-Sarkozy, wife of the French President, Nicolas Sarkozy.

Woody Allen has always enjoyed a love affair with the French public, who have arguably stuck by him for longer than any other audience while his star has faded in recent years. Indeed, 2002’s Hollywood Ending (which did not even receive a full release in the USA) nodded to this fact when Woody’s character, a Director who covers up his blindness in order to finish a film, wins a Gong at the Cannes Festival and declares “Thank God the French exist.”

The festival organisers are probably on safe ground kicking off with the debut of a new Allen movie titled “Midnight in Paris” – the film is likely to go down well with French audiences and Francophiles alike, as the French capital arguably takes the starring role.

While Paris remains the hot spot for movies shot in France, The UK has a proud history in film production, and several UK locations have been the stars of their own films. Here are a few of the most famous and beautiful locations that merit a visit if a celebrity-chasing holiday in Cannes is not your thing.

The Kings Speech (2010)

This brilliant movie starring Britain’s Colin Firth and Helena Bonham Carter won 4 Oscars. As expected of a story whose central character is King George VI, all of its 118mins was shot in the UK. 33 Portland Place, Marylebone, London was used as the home of the Duke and Duchess of York. The King and Lionel have their fall out at Avenue Garden near Regent’s Park, London. Elland Road Stadium in Leeds and Grattan Stadium in Bradford was used as Wembley Stadium at start of film. Ely Cathedral in Ely, Cambridgeshire stood in for the iconic Westminster Abbey.

The Thirty Nine Steps (1978)

Voted the most iconic film location in London in a poll, it gained its reputation for a scene in this 1978 thriller in which Robert Powell’s character hangs off the clocks face. For a truly iconic image of London in film it’s hard to beat the nail-biting, clock-ticking drama seen at the top of Big Ben in The Thirty Nine Steps. St Paul’s Cathedral was voted second place, for the scene in Mary Poppins where the hungry pigeons get fed on the building’s steps.

28 Days Later (2002)

One of the most popular British horror movies features various scenes set across the English capital. However, Westminster Bridge, the location for the opening scene of the British horror film 28 Days Later, stands out. In the film, Irish star Cillian Murphy’s character wakes up to find himself completely alone in London and wanders over the deserted bridge.

Robin Hood (2010)

Pembrokeshire on the south west Wales coast which has been seen in two recent films – “Robin Hood” staring Russell Crow and “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows”. It’s not hard to see how this vast expanse of beach with little pools created at low tide captivates audiences and holiday makers alike, especially those carrying surfboards. The beach is called Freshwater West Beach just down the road from Saundersfoot.

Braveheart (1995)

The 1995 epic drama was filmed in some of Scotland’s most dramatic locations, Glen Nevis, Loch Leven and Glen Coe. Glen Nevis, located under Ben Nevis is where the opening scene is shot. It’s a walker’s haven and home to Scotland’s three highest waterfalls. Glen Coe is a fantastic place for climbers and skiers in the winter and was used for filming scenes on its eastern edge close to the 3,345-foot high mountain, Buchaille Etive Mor.

Harry Potter (Trilogy)

Alnwick Castle is probably the most famous Harry Potter filming locations as the setting for Hogwarts School of Magic, but en-route to Hogwarts and at a number of other times during the trilogy, a train is seen passing over a high railway bridge. This wasn’t computer generated – the bridge is called the Glenfinnan viaduct on the line from Fort William to Mallaig in Scotland, with views down to the Loch itself.

The Da Vinci Code (2006)

Lincoln Cathedral was one of the settings for the 2006 film The Da Vinci Code, although the cathedral which is pretty historic in its own right was meant to look like Westminster Abbey. The fact is, the 13th Century Lincoln Cathedral was just more historic looking than its famous London cousin. There is plenty of history surrounding the castle including having one of only four copies of the Magna Catra in existence. Another of the locations made famous by Dan Browns’ book is The Chapel Rosslyn near Edinburgh. Again the building is steeped in history itself, but it became almost a mecca for Da Vinci Code enthusiasts after the film was released having been named in it. The 15th Century chapel is claimed to have connections with the Knights Templar and the Masons, both of whom are believed to be connected to the Da Vinci Code.

The World is Not Enough (1999)

The iconic British spy trailed the bad guys all over London. Tower Bridge, Tobacco Wharf, Thamesdown Drive, Thames Bank, Stowe School and Stowe Gardens, Royal Victoria Docks, SIS Headquaters (as expected of a true double-0). The list is endless. However, the most memorable was watching James Bond (Pierce Brosnan) chase the baddies along the River Thames in a frenetic boat chase which came to a climax at the Millennium Dome (an iconic masterpiece built to celebrate the beginning of the third millennium). It also features in the opening scene to the movie with Pierce Brosnan parachuting unto the circular landmark.

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28
Aug

Marriage is not an easy ride and it is often shaken by problems and trials. One of the hardest trials is when your marriage is losing its spark and getting dull. Couples in a stale or boring marriage may start to get confused if the relationship is still worth keeping and may end up separating if they failed to bring the spark back in their relationship. If your marriage is getting stale, you need to know how to bring back the spark in your marriage to save your troubled relationship.

When couples are caught up in the increased responsibilities of raising kids and climbing the career ladder, the marriage often suffer. Couples tend to focus more on their daily responsibilities and end up doing their own thing for the family and neglected their needs as couples. They are trapped in a routine of married life and this makes the relationship boring and lifeless. While raising your kids well and securing a stable career are good things, you also need to focus on your relationship to make your marriage last.

So how to bring back the spark in your marriage? You do not have to struggle to restore the spark that once filled your relationship, the following tips can be helpful to bring back the spark in your marriage.

Reminisce with your spouse. Bringing back old memories will remind you and your spouse on how much you love each other. Revisit the place where you first met or where you got engaged. Watch your wedding videos and look at your old photos together to remind you how happy you felt when you said “I do” to each other and realize that losing the spark in your marriage is just a phase that you both need to survive.

Appreciate your spouse more. We all need to be appreciated even with the little things we do every day. Appreciation is a validation that your spouse is doing meaningful things for the family. If we are often neglected and ignored, we get a negative feeling that our efforts are worthless and we get less encouragement to continue with the relationship. Sometimes we are quick to give criticisms and slow in giving praise. Couples have the wrong notion that appreciation is only given to extraordinary achievements or if a spouse did something great beyond his or her responsibilities. This is the very reason why some marriages become stale and boring. They become like robots who just do things for the family and eventually feel nothing because they are not appreciated. Praise your spouse for working hard for the family, for being a good parent and for being a good spouse. Make it a point to notice and praise even the little things your spouse do every day. Even a simple hug, kiss and saying thank you as a sign of appreciation could make your marriage more romantic and exciting. Your relationship will get better and it will be easier to bring back the spark in your marriage if you will praise your spouse more.

Surprise your spouse even if there is no special occasion. Make his or her ordinary day extraordinary by giving surprises. We usually remember and give gifts on special occasions like anniversaries and birthdays but if you want to bring back the spark in your marriage, give small gifts on ordinary days and make your spouse feel special even if there is no special occasion. Your spouse will feel more loved making the relationship alive.

Give your spouse a day-off. If your wife is usually tied at home with her daily chores, do the chores for her and let her have a day-off and spend a day to do the things she want to do for herself. If your husband always drive for you and the kids, give him a day-off and allow him to enjoy once in a while with his buddies or male friends. Everyone needs a break once in a while not to be burn-out. If you want to bring back the spark in your marriage, it is important to give your spouse the time to recharge his or her energies.

Do not make small things a big deal. Do not carry grudges and do not allow small issues spoil your daily relationship with your spouse. It could be tiring to live in a marriage where issues arise after another issue. Make your marriage a pleasant environment and avoid grudges as much as possible. Make a list of the things that can be tolerated and things that needs to be compromised to avoid conflicts.

Create new memories. Make it a point to travel and create hobbies that you can do together to create new memories and spend more time together. Relationships will become stale without new memories and experiences. Step out of your daily routine and explore together things that you want to experience for a change, it maybe bungee jumping, mountaineering or it may be as simple as going to museums to appreciate different works of art or try a new restaurant every week to experience something different each week. Be adventurous and share new experiences to bring back the spark in your marriage.

Daily conversation. Spend quality time every day to talk about your individual feelings, hurt, frustrations and what you want with each other. Miscommunications or misunderstandings can be avoided if you check in with one another every single day. Regular conversation also strengthens your bond with each other. If regular conversation is not a common practice in your marriage, it is not too late to start now. Set aside a few minutes every day to sit down together to have a good conversation. It may be over coffee or after you tucked your kids in bed. You can also plan a date night or lunch out once a week to have more time to talk to each other. Make it a point to converse every day with your spouse despite the overwhelming demands of married life if you really want to bring back the spark in your marriage.

Say “I love you” more often to your spouse. It is a common mistake to just assume that your spouse already knows that you are in love with him or her and you do not have to say it in words. Spouses still want to hear those words. Aside from verbal words, there are also other ways to say “I love you” to your spouse like writing a love letter or sending personal love messages to your spouse though text messaging. If you really want to bring back the spark in your marriage, you have to verbalize your feelings of love to your spouse.

Losing the spark in your marriage is not the end of the relationship because there are ways to re-ignite the spark and make your relationship alive again. To save your troubled marriage visit Saving A Troubled Relationship

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19
Aug

British Cruising

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With so many cruise lines currently available today, it comes as no surprise that the majority of British cruisers have been converted to cruising aboard US-style cruise ships, with their larger than life ships. How do the British companies such as Cruise & Maritime and Thomson Cruises compare?

Cruise and Maritime

Cruise and Maritime offer lower fares on their 800 passenger ships, Marco Polo and Ocean Countess. They only offer cruises that sail from the UK which makes them a popular choice for those who do not like to fly, and sail from six ports; London, Hull, Newcastle, Edinburgh, Glasgow and Liverpool. They do not boast the glitz and glam of the larger ships, with no climbing walls or Broadway style shows, but what they do have which is a key difference is a home-from-home atmosphere and the emphasis is very much on a personal service and going that extra mile for you. Due to their smaller size their ships can slip into smaller and more remote ports of call, which they larger vessels cannot reach, making them a firm favourite with those experienced cruisers who are looking for something a little different than the typical cruise.

Both of their ships tend to avoid the Mediterranean which is heavily dominated by larger cruise lines. Instead they tend to focus on cruising to the fjords, Iceland, France, Spain, North Cape, Portugal or around the British Isles. During the festive season, Cruise and Maritime can be found sailing to the Christmas markets in Europe and longer voyages around far out destinations such as the Amazon and West Indies.

Thomson Cruises

Thomson is currently the second largest UK-operated cruise line, carrying a whopping 280,000 passengers a year. Unlike the foreign cruise lines, they don’t continuously buy newer ships, instead they focus their money on the ships they already have, which means better on board dining and entertainment, and is quite probably a reason why they win awards such as ‘UK’s favourite affordable cruise line’. They have four ships in the fleet, the Thomson Dream, Destiny, Celebration and Spirit and in the summer their ships mainly sail around the Mediterranean to British favourites such as Majorca, Turkey and Corfu. In the winter the ships tend to focus their itineraries on the Caribbean, the canaries and the Red Sea. Thomson has also introduced a test drive cruise to encourage more British cruisers. If you are staying with Thomson at one of their hotel resorts such as Palma and Majorca then you can now take a tour on their ship and see if you like the idea of cruising. They are also offering special deals for those that want to book the cruise, to entice more and more people to sail on a Thomson ship.

Fred Olsen

Quite like Cruise and Maritime, Fred Olsen boasts that warm and welcoming home-from-home atmosphere that the Brits love. They offer traditional cruising upon their fleet of four; the Balmoral, Braemar, Boudicca and Black Watch. Their key selling point is that they sail directly from the UK, so can set sail from Portsmouth, Southampton, Falmouth, Greenock, Holyhead, Leith and Liverpool and they offer worldwide itineraries to places such as South America, Singapore and South Africa.

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