Manchester is the starting point and also the last leg of the Northern UK (or Scotland) trip. We were fortunate to have sunny skies for this last leg, making the photos all look much better. As this was my first time being in Manchester, I found it to be a rather vibrant city (with lots of young folks and diverse nationalities). I found Trafford Centre to be a nice place for shopping as well. It didn't seem like there was an incoming recession, and everyone was out and about shopping and having fun!
Manchester also had its own out-and-proud Gay Village, and it was literally named "GAY VILLAGE" on the map, with signs all pointing to this small precinct. It's refreshing to see a city where diversity was truly celebrated.
Made a quick stop at Bradford and Huddersfield enroute towards Manchester (from Leeds). I was particularly impressed by the architecture of Huddersfield Train Station.
Designed by the architect James Pigott Pritchett and opened in 1850, Huddersfield station is near the town centre and the cultural hub of St George's Square, with the nearby retail centres, restaurants and Victorian architecture all within easy reach.
A Grade I-listed building, the station underwent a £1 million refurbishment in 2009, and as a result, it won the Europa Nostra, an award for outstanding European Architecture. Huddersfield was also one of poet John Betjeman's favourite early railway stations.
From Loch Ness, we arrived at Inverness and unfortunately, we had only one day to spend in this city. Interestingly, one of the key highlights was to go to the various grocery stores and supermarkets and marvel at the affordability of vegetables, salads, meats, eggs, milk, cheese, beer, cider, wine, toiletries... almost everything! I like to alternate between dining out and buying back food (either to cook or ordering takeaway to eat-in), and for Inverness, we found a large Aldi right opposite where we were staying. Hence the evening was microwaved food, cider and Disney+.
For the following day, we drove around Inverness and decided to take a walk around Ness Island. Because the weather was just right (ample sunshine + cool breeze), it turned out to be a nice stroll. Many people were also out and about, taking advantage of the sunshine, and there were many dogs running around and even going into the water around the small island.
From Inverness, it would be a drive along the northern coast, passing Nairn, Forres, Elgin and more, and making quick stops along the way. Elgin Cathedral was one of them. Due to the nature of the roads in this region, I couldn't drive at a higher speed, and by the time we reached Bow Fiddle Rock at Portknockie, we decided to drive straight towards Aberdeen instead to save some time. I was amazed by Bow Fiddle Rock though, which was this impressive sea arch resembling the tip of a fiddle bow.
From Carlisle, we made a detour to visit the Robert Burns House at Dumfries. Robert Burns wrote many poems and songs in his lifetime; with some of the famous ones being "Tam o'Shanter", but the song that everyone should know would be Auld Lang Syne. Unfortunately, we arrived too early and the house was not open. We loitered around a little bit and because it was getting chilly, we decided to continue onwards.
Since we were at Dumfries, we decided to stop by Dumfries House. The Dumfries House was currently maintained as part of the Prince's Foundation, and occupies over 2000 acres of land. We walked around the main house and the lovely garden. The weather was great and there wasn't really many people around, which certainly help to add points to my enjoying the walk around the area.
From Dumfries, we made a few other short stops, such as Cumnock, the coastal town of Ayr, Prestwick, Troon and Irvine before heading towards Glasgow in the late afternoon. The weather was turning rainy, so we quickly checked into our accommodation and settled down for the evening, since we had another few more days to explore Glasgow. I've been to Edinburgh before, and this was my first time to Glasgow. While the weather wasn't really kind during my stay in Glasgow, I do like Glasgow and find it a city that I would like to explore further. There were many interesting precincts to explore, and oh boy, there was so many large murals to see~
From Glasgow, we originally wanted to drive straight up to Inverness and move back southwards to Loch Ness, but our car host told us that it would be cool to drive towards Glencoe to see the scenery, landscape as well as to go to the "Skyfall Road". While this wasn't something I was planning to do, it sounded like a mini adventure. Also, after doing some map-plotting, it seemed that it was a more direct route towards Loch Ness via Glencoe. It turned out to be a right choice, as the drive in the Glencoe area was really nice. Because we drove up gradually into higher altitudes, we saw a change in the landscape. It kinda reminded me of a greener version of Iceland (expansive landscapes with no trees in sight). This ended up being the most picturesque drive for the entire trip.
On the other hand, Loch Ness was nothing to shout about. There were several lochs, with Ness being the most famous one. And nope, I didn't see any sea creatures (lol).
Thought I'll do a journal about my Scotland trip (July to Aug 2022 period). It takes time to organise the photos and write about the trip, so I will do it a bit at a time (and time's so hard to find as always). So we arrived at Manchester, got the car and then quickly got on our way. First quick stop was Preston. As the weather wasn't fantastic, we got out of the car and took a quick sweep of the city centre area centered around the Harris Museum, Art Gallery and Library before driving off towards Carlisle.
Along the way, we made a visit to Lancaster Castle, which was a free-entry medieval castle in Lancaster, Lancashire. Again, the weather wasn't great, but it didn't stop a wedding couple and their entourage from celebrating and taking photos at the castle. In fact, during the 18th and 19th centuries, until the Bankruptcy Act of 1866, Lancaster Castle housed between 300 and 400 people in the debtors' prison at any one time. Apparently the prisoners had their last meal at the Three Mariners pub before heading towards the castle, so we decided to have our lunch there as well.
Another quick stop along the way was Brougham Castle. Founded in the early 13th century, it was used as a formidable barrier against the Scots invaders and welcome Edward I in 1300. Unfortunately, part of it is in ruins.
The first rest stop for the trip would be Carlisle. We walked around Carlisle and found ourselves in Carlisle Cathedral. Carlisle Cathedral is the second smallest of England's ancient cathedrals and has a long and turbulent history. It started life as a Norman Priory Church in 1122, becoming a cathedral in 1133. When we visited, there was music playing in the cathedral (tubular bells?) and was welcoming indeed.
The city of Carlisle is not too big and walkable by foot, and everything closed early by about 6pm. The early history of Carlisle is marked by its status as a Roman settlement, established to serve the forts on Hadrian's Wall. Carlisle Castle was built in 1092 by William Rufus, which explained the name of the Wetherspoons that we visited, aptly named "William Rufus" lol!
From Bilbao to Santiago de Compostela
The Northern Spain trip was one that was taken during the COVID-19 pandemic storm. 2020 hit all of us with this dark swan event, and grounded literally the entire world. In 2021, with some semblance of normalcy creeping back to some tourist destinations, it was time to make plans for some careful travelling! Hence this trip to Northern Spain.
As usual, many photos were taken during the trip, but I'll try to insert those 360 photos that I've consistently taken and posted on Google Street View. Enjoy!
First stop (after checking into the hotel) was Guggenheim Museum at Bilbao. At it was getting late, we reckoned that we will take time taking photos, and enjoying the cool yet sunny weather instead of going into the museum.
Actually the view from the nearby bridge is the best as it provided an expansive view of the museum. If you walk along the bridge, you can see the various light reflections off the Museum exterior, giving the museum a very interesting sheen. Due to the fact it was the COVID-19 period, there were not many tourists at this area, making it a nice walk around the museum, the surrounding park as well as along the river bank. The first day was a short one due to jetlag.
We then took the funicular (Funicular de Artxanda) up to the lookout area, called the S. Cook Bilbao Lookout. This lookout is famous for the red "BILBAO" characters which are obviously popular with the tourists. While the hill is not very high, it still offers a view over Bilbao city (not too many skyscrapers fortunately).
While looking for a place to eat, I read the reviews and decided to head over to Cafe Iruna to try their tapas and drinks. The Café Iruña located in front of the famous “Jardines de Albia”, was inaugurated on July 7, 1903 by the great Navarrese promoter Sir Severo Unzue Donamaría. We arrived a little too early (remember lunches start very late here in Spain), so we had tapas and drinks before settling for their value-for-money lunch set.
We had meals at a few really nice restaurants, such as Restaurant Alameda (at San Sebastian) which offers menu with local and seasonal products, and they have held a Michelin star for over twenty years. We also tried Arzak, a 3-starred restaurant focusing on traditional Basque cuisine by Elena Arzak, who was named best chef in the world by Veuve Clicquot. Nevertheless, I think that dining is not always about the stars, and homely restaurants and cafes can be a joy to dine in. A case in point is Hidalgo 56, a nice cafe-restaurants serving pinchos at San Sebastian.
Another interesting part of the trip was driving all the way into the mountain areas (lots of curvy turns) to this place called Fuente De, where you can take a cable car up to the mountains, with snow walks and amazing views. This is also a stop for hikers who want to spend a few days hiking in the snowy mountains.
If you are a fan of Gaudi, then you would want to include this stop as part of your trip. El Capricho de Gaudi. El Capricho is one of the few projects completed by Antoni Gaudi outside of his native region of Catalonia and produced a summer villa for a wealthy donor based in Comillas, Cantabria, Spain. One interesting aspect of this design is that Gaudi decided upon a different shape of roof than he would normally use, due to the different weather and climate conditions of this area close to Santander in Northern Spain. His normal consideration was, of course, Barcelona, and so in this case he demonstrated an understanding of the implications of working in a different part of the country. It's a great stop for 1 or 2 hours.
At Santander, one of the main highlights would be Palacio de la Magdalena. It was built in 1909 to house the Spanish Royal Family. There were some local tourists visiting the place as well, and as with the previous stops, we were the only Asian folks doing any visiting. (We did not see any Asian travellers until we reached Santiago de Compostela.
Gijón or Xixón is a great stop for the Northern Spain trip. The city itself has this nice bay-beach area with underground parking. There were so many locals who were bringing their dogs out to play. The humans-to-dog ratio here is incredible! Generally, if you are visiting this city, you will also be making the stop to Oviedo which is quite nearby.
Another really quick (morning) stop was Ribadesella. a small town in Asturias along Spain's northern coast. As we arrived on a Sunday, everything was closed and there was no one around. We managed to find a pub-cafe place which was open for a quick bite before taking a few photos and then going on our way.
Summary of My Norway-in-a-Nutshell Trip
Honestly, this was my first attempt to commit time to do a day-by-day blogging of my Norway-in-a-Nutshell trip. It was a time-consuming affair, as writing, journalling or blogging should be focused on quality rather than quantity, on passion rather than facts. In this aspect, this would be a work in progress, and I might just add more bits and pieces in time to come.
But with everything, I would have less time once I am back in Singapore. So it would be wise to summarise everything here, at least as a tidy first draft.
Norway Day-by-Day Journal Entries
Throught the Norway trip, I have stopped to take many 360 photos. I was able to upload them into a single Norway collection at Kuula. You can see my 360 photos via this link or directly below.
Searching for the Right Travel Hashtags
Looking for the right hashtags to add to your travel posts on Instagram, or even on Facebook or your blog can help others find your entry. This can also help boost views, and get more people commenting on your photos and entries. In addition, travel hashtags can also help you find other like-minded instagrammers who love travelling as much as you do.
If this is the case, what are the evergreen hashtags that you can most likely use for your posts? Read on to find out.
Unique Travel Hashtags that are not Overused
While there are the common and conventional hashtags such as #travel or #holiday or #vacation, they are not really the case. Due to the large number of uses for these hashtags, your entry would be easily buried by other new snapshots by fellow travellers. Instead, consider these hashtags which are related to the theme and love for travelling but not overused:
One key trick is to choose your travel hashtags based on your personal travel philoshopy such that it is intrinsically you. Another key point is to use your hashtags consistently so that your followers will be able to see your photos (this is most evident when you have posted a large collection of photos over time). Some possible examples:
Hashtag Your Locations
One key idea also is to hashtag your locations. It could be both the country as well as the city that you are exploring. For example, I am currently exploring Norway and I am in the city of Kirkenes. I would use these hashtags: #norway #kirkenes.
More often than not, I would recieve not only likes by the locals but sometimes also from the businesses in the city. Another option could be a variation such as #instanorway #ignorway.
Associated with Brand-related Travel Hashtags
Many city and country tourism boards and offices have their unique hashtags, and it is often a smart thing to include them in as well. Travel magazines and media also have their own branded hashtags which would help with your outreach.
For example, the best IG hashtags for Oslo for tourism would be the following:
So, if you are not using the hashtags well, you might want to consider using appropriate hashtags in the future. Remember to use between 7 to 25 hashtags as this range seems to generate the best views. Enjoy!
Trondheim, the charming third largest city in Norway
With a population of 193,000, Trondheim is not a big city on a European scale. However, it is the third largest in Norway. I personally did not have much time to spend in Trondheim, but I was still able to catch most of the key attractions, which I would share more here.
The Nidarodomen Cathedral - Gothic Style
Trondheim has a number of sights that each year are among the most visited in Trøndelag. The Nidarosdomen cathedral is an impressive sight. The cathedral is the national sanctuary of Norway, built over the grave of St. Olav. Work began in 1070, but the oldest parts still in existence date from the middle of the 12th century.
Nidarodomen Cathedral also calls to fame as being the world's northernmost medieval cathedral. You can choose to visit the cathedral together with the Archbishop's Palace. Otherwise you can have a sit at the entrance to take in the sights of the various sculptures adorning the various levels of the cathedral.
Joint Ticket – Nidaros Cathedral - The Archbishop Palace
Adults NOK 200
Students/Children (6-15) NOK 80
Families NOK 480 (2 adults and max 3 children)
Students/Children (6-15 years)
Families 265 (2 adults and max 3 children)
Tips on getting the most out of the Cathedral visit
The Old Wharves of Trondheim, Norway
The oldest of the wharves along the River Nidelva date back to the 18th century; nevertheless, they still give the impression of the waterfront as it was long before then. The wharves are colourful and and well-maintained.
The wharfs have a long history as storage facilities and loading/unloading cargo from the ships that came with traders from all over. The oldest wharfs in Trondheim was built around 1700 on both sides of the river Nidelven and the best-preserved wharfs today are the ones on the Bakklandet side, between the Old Town Bridge (Gamle Bybro) and Bakke Bridge.
Trondeim Bicycle Lift
Invented in 1993, this is the one and only bicycle lift in the world, and you can find it in Trondheim. When using the lift, the right foot is placed on the starting point (the left foot stays on the bicycle pedal). After pushing the start button, the user is pushed forward and a footplate emerges. A common mistake among tourists and other first-time users is that they don't keep their right leg outstretched and their body tilted forward. This makes it hard to maintain balance on the footplate, and can result in falling off.
This is very popular in Trondheim partly due to the university population coupled with the relatively flat grounds in Trondheim, making it a city that's very bicycle-friendly.
Kristiansten Fortress is one of Trondheim’s main landmarks. The fort was built after the great city fire in 1681 and now stands guard over the city. It saved the city from conquest by Sweden in 1718. The fortress was decommissioned in 1816 by king Charles XIV John. The fort offers a spectacular view over Trondheim and its surroundings, the fjord and the mountains. Currently this fortress is managed by the Norwegian Defence Estates Agency.
Monday - Saturday 9-18
Sunday (summer season) 10-17
Geiranger - Trollstigen Scenic Route, Norway
One of the key highlights of the Hurtigruten Norway Cruise was the Geiranger-Trollstigen scenic route. The cruise ship docked near the Geiranger bay, and we had to take a small speed craft to get to shore. The town of Geiranger was packed to the brim with tourists, probably enjoying the unusually warm summer.
The route between Geiranger via Trollstigen to Molde includes one UNESCO World Heritage site (Geirangerfjord), two National Tourist Routes (Geiranger - Trollstigen, and the Aursjøvegen Road) and one "construction of the 20th century" (the Atlantic Road). It is a 200km long stretch of road in a landscape varying from deep and narrow fjords, dramatic snowcapped mountains (in winter), cascading waterfalls and rivers, green valleys, many islands, and the signature Norwegian landscape. The 68km long road between Geiranger and Trollstigen is one of the 18 tourist routes in Norway, and undoubtedly one of the most popular one. Parts of this route is closed in winter, leaving a small window between May and October as the only possible means to visit this place. I suspect the hairpin turns, together with possible snow and avalanches in winter makes this place rather inaccessible.
The route itself consisted of a bus traversing really narrow hairpins along steep slopes. The drive is undoubtedly more dramatic than expected, and what's unique about driving in Norway is that fact that you can see people living almost everywhere. I saw farms even on the narrowest of the mountain ledges, and while many of the earliest settlers and farmers have moved on, a few remain, and bore witness to the changing times, and offered us a glimpse of how things would have been like throughout history.
First Stop. Ørnesvingen or the Eagles Road
Ørnevegen is the name of the eleven hairpin bends that ascend the steep, verdant hillside from Geiranger towards Eidsdal. There's a small waterfall that flows into the lookout and then descends below. At Ørnevegen, you can see the Geiranger town and the fjord leading into it. From here you can also see the famous waterfall “The Seven Sisters” cascading into the fjord.
Between Valldal and Trollstigen, 11 kilometres from Valldal, there's an interesting stop at the viewpoint at Gudbrandsjuvet. Gudbrandsjuvet is a 5 meter narrow and 20–25-metre high ravine through which the Valldøla River forces itself. The ravine is easily accessible from main road route 63 between Valldal and Trollstigen. This is apparently a new lookout point, and since it is along the route, it is ideal for a quick stop.
There is also a back story to this area. According to a story from the 1500s, the ravine was named after a man called Gudbrand, who ran off with his new bride and saved himself from his angry pursuers by jumping over the ravine at its narrowest point. Gudbrand was declared an outlaw for his deeds and lived the rest of his life in a stone hut in one of the side-valleys above Gudbrandsjuvet. The valley is still called Gudbrandsdalen to this day.
Point of interest: the small canyon or high ravine.
Trollstigen, 16 kilometers from Gudbrandsjuvet, is together with Geiranger one of the most visited attractions in Norway. The journey towards Trollstigen was amazing. I was captured by the curvature of the slopes that are carved by the glaciers a long time back. What's unusual was that there were trees along the steep slopes, all the way to the summit. The mountains which encircle the Trollstigen road are enormous, and the landscape changes as we climbed up.... the forests disappeared and were replaced by alpine-like vegetation.
The Stigfossen Waterfall gushes down the mountainside towards the luscious Isterdalen Valley and in the middle of all this, the Trollstigen Road winds its way up the mountainside. At the rest stop, you can take the 15-minute walk to the strategically-placed viewpoint to see the magnificent hairpin route.
The road has a steep incline of 9 percent with 11 hairpin bends as it snakes its way along the steep mountainside at its a highest point, Stigrøra, at an elevation of 858 meters above the sea level. The road brutally twists and turns through the mountainous terrain and drivers can expect rock falls, narrow lanes, steep inclines, and unpredictable weather. The route is at its most dangerous in the dark and wet which make it incredibly challenging to navigate.
It was a fine sunny day when I visited, and it was via a tour, so there wasn't any dangerous driving. If you are coming to Norway, try to make this one of the "to do" for your visit, especially if you are coming in summer. The picturesque landscapes would be all worth it!