Edinburgh torchlight procession 2019 & German markets 2019/20

There are some excellent reasons to plan a Scottish winter vacation, especially around the festive period. The German Christmas markets, bringing in the Bells at the biggest street party, Edinburgh winter wonderland, the Torchlight procession, the crazy Loony Dook and for fitness fans, the Santa fun run. New for this year, Edinburgh Castle will be hosting the Castle of light in November and December. More details below.

The Torchlight photo procession credit to Ian Georgeson and Edinburgh’s Hogmanay.

LOONY DOOK 2019
Loony Dook 2019@shutterstock

Reasons to Book a Festive winter break in Edinburgh

This year 2019 the Christmas markets will run from 16 November 2019 – 4 January 2020. Tickets are on sale now for 2019 Hogmanay in the gardens, starring Mark Ronson at 9pm in Princes street gardens and street party tickets are on sale at £31.

Edinburgh Hogmanay 2019/20 – There are 10,000 tickets available for Residents of Edinburgh City at £20 plus £1 booking fee.

The Torchlight Procession Dec 30th 2019 at 7pm. This festive outdoor walk is accompanied by pipers and drummers and thousands of people walk through the City of Edinburgh carrying fire and wax based torches. Everyone in the procession must have a ticket and no children buggies are allowed on the route but children under 16 can do the walk provided that they are accompanied by someone over 21 years of age.

The torchlight procession has three starting points throughout the city and torches are collected from here. Your ticket will indicate your starting point. Remember this event is outdoors and warm waterproof clothes are essential. Tickets are on sale  from edinburghshogmanay.com Tel: 0131 510 0395.

Edinburgh Christmas Markets
shutterstock for all your video/photo

Edinburgh Castle of Light.

Time slots apply throughout the festive run up to Christmas. Dates 14-17,22,24, 29-30th November 2019. 1-2, 5-8, 12-15, 19-22nd December. 5.30pm to 10PM.

Edinburgh city centre
Lou Armor@shutterstock

An art light installation within Edinburgh Castle walls. Early bird discount and Historic Scotland members discount. On the day prices: Adults £22, children 5-15 years, £13.50, and family tickets 2 adults and 2 children £64. www.edinburghcastle.scot

Edinburgh Zoo is delighted to announce the return of the Giant Lanterns of the Lost World which will run from November 15th 2019 to January 26th 2020.

Lost World Lantern Edinburgh Zoo 2019
Lost World Lantern Edinburgh Zoo 2019/20@Edinburgh Zoo

Highlights will include a volcano, a T-Rex, a giant snake and other amazing microbes and dinosaurs. Prices start at £8.50 for children and £17 for adults. More details on www.edinburghzoo.org.uk/lanterns. The lantern trail is a one mile loop and time slots should be pre booked. From 4.45pm to 9pm. This event does not give entry to zoo during day to see the animals.

Fancy a special Festive Ball?

The Assembly rooms will be hosting their great Hogmanay Snow ball Ceilidh. Tickets priced 49.99 up to VIP at £99. Sheraton Grand Hogmanay Snow Ball – £149.99, Ceilidh band, welcome cocktail and 5 star dining. Private tables of 10 – £1499. Details on Edinburghogmanaysnowball.com

Sheraton Grand hotel Edinburgh
Sheraton Grand /Lou Armor@shutterstock

Edinburgh Christmas Pantomime & Ballet Dates for 2019:

Festival Theatre. Snow Queen Sat 7th to Sunday 29th Dec 2019. Scottish Ballet tickets £19-£46.

Kings Panto – one of my favourites – Goldilocks & the Three Bears. Sat Nov 30th – Sunday 19th January 2020. Kings Theatre. Capital theatres.com

Hogmanay/New Year – Do you want to bring in the bells in Scotland, December 31st? Plan ahead as ticketed events sell out fast and tickets are required to get to the street party. Other great festive events include Ceilidh under the Castle and the family ceilidh, street party, concert in the Gardens, candlelit concert and Loony Dook. All events require tickets. Bookings from Edinburghshogmanay.com

Edinburgh Christmas German markets 2019
Lou Armor@shutterstock

How to celebrate New Year in Edinburgh city.

Many local people in Edinburgh celebrate the New Year with family and friends but for overseas visitors then a bit of forward planning is required for the New Year. The locals living in Edinburgh do not stand in a cold street for five hours waiting for the concert or fireworks to start. Many people are keen to ‘taste’ the hogmanay atmosphere without committing to the full 5 hours outdoors. Here are a few suggestions.

Luxury option – If you are attending the concert in the gardens, make sure you book premium tickets as the Gardens themselves are busy and the area underfoot gets muddy very quickly, toilet access and bar access can be very lengthy and bag searches will add more time to your entry. The Ross Bandstand offers the best concert views and is cordoned off from the rest of the gardens and has seats.
You can book a hotel within the city centre zone and attend the Christmas Gala Ball and then step outside to watch the fireworks, then return to the Ball. The best city centre hotels for this would be The Balmoral.The Waldorf Astoria, The Sheraton Grand and the Principle George, Hotel. Kimpton Charlotte square formally Roxburgh Hotel. Many hotels make you commit to staying 3 nights which is not ideal..

There are plenty of other hotels but the ones mentioned are closest to Edinburgh Castle where the fireworks are located. They are also the most expensive. If booking a Gala ball, be aware that this will require packing formal dress and shoes.

Men usually require Black Tie or Kilts. Check the dress code with the hotel prior to booking. There is also a Snow Ball Ceilidh at the Assembly rooms with a free after party till 5am at Shanghi Nightclub under Le Monde, tickets subject to availability.

Waldorf Astoria Festive Ball 2019
Waldorf Astoria @ Shutterstock

Alternatively book a rooftop restaurant and stay for the festive fireworks. This would be Harvey Nichols Forth Floor, the Tower Restaurant & Chaopyra restaurant. All of these have great city skyline views and easy access to the main event.

There are plenty of restaurants overlooking the fireworks, reserve your table well in advance. Kyloe, steak restaurant or Ryans bar & restaurant, or Hotel Indigo on Princes street has superb views and sells a ticketed event to watch the display.

Regular Option – For cheaper accommodation I would consider AirBB, travel lodge, local guest houses around West End, Broughton street or Lothian road. Hostel world, Holiday Inn Express and Apex, will not necessary be as close to Princes street but this may be a bonus as you can watch the fireworks from other locations around the city such as Calton Hill, Bruntsfield Links and Inverleith Park.

To see the fireworks from Inverleith Park at the end of the festival click here:

Edinburgh Virgin Money Fireworks 2019
Edinburgh Virgin Money Fireworks 2019

I hesitate to add Arthurs seat as it will be pitch black. It could be potentially dangerous underfoot. There are some great small hotels around the city which will be quieter and you could easily walk up to the festivities but escape away when you need a break. this photo below was taken after Christmas, sadly we have not had a white Christmas in Edinburgh for some years.

Raeburn Hotel Stockbridge
Raeburn Hotel Stockbridge@shutterstock

Or pre book a local pub and enjoy the festive atmosphere, great pubs are the Doric, the Queens Arms, The Ghillie Dhu, Devils Advocate and the Dome. If travelling with children, check with pub/bar first regards any age restrictions. Scots drinking law is different to England regarding children.

For Clubbers check out Cabaret Voltaire, Lulu night club, Wee Dub, Summerhall and Why Not on George street.

Children Family Events & other places to see fireworks.

If you are bringing children and are worried that they will be too tired, the festival organisers have an event called Bairns afore.

I would not recommend having small children at the large street party as the crowds are huge and trying to navigate small children is tiresome and frustrating if you have a buggy. A hotel close by or serviced apartments would be the best solution for getting children to bed and parents enjoying room service and a view of the fireworks.

Bruntsfield is a great suburb and has a large grassy area called Bruntsfield links which also has fabulous view to Edinburgh Castle, not to mention several very good children play parks.

Stay dry in Edinburgh City .

Free time over December? Stay dry indoors.
Edinburgh is cold and windy. If you prefer to stay indoors then pop into the Museum of Scotland, where you can spend hours and the kids will love the inter active activities.

Families also enjoy the Hop on Hop off bus to Ocean Terminal, which has a Vue Cinema, a Santa Claus and the stunning Royal Yacht Britannia. All indoors with children soft play/adventure zone and shops, restaurants and free parking. The hop on bus starts outside Waverley train station on the Princes street garden side and does a circular route.

Photos credit Lou Armor@ shutterstock

Remember most of the city closes on New Years Day, it is a public holiday.

Head to Queensferry and watch the Loony Dook, the Scottish solution to a hangover. This event is great fun with a parade through the town but anyone wishing to participate must buy a ticket in advance and check in on the day by 12pm. Getting to South Queensferry can be an issue if you do not have a car as transport will be very limited. Also festive goers should be aware of the Scottish drink driving laws, again different from the UK.

Thanks for reading this far if you need stock photo or video for any of your projects click here for a great selection.

To see the Loony Dook click here:

Thanks and enjoy Edinburgh this year.
Lou A.

Compare Panasonic VX980 & Canon XA11

Choosing a camera or camcorder can be pretty time consuming and I would suggest that you base your decision on a few key facts, budget probably being the main one. I have loved owning a Nikon camera D5100 and it suited my needs for stock photography with shutterstock, but it was not long before I was hankering after something a little lighter to record film footage for my blogs and youtube video.  I also did not want the burden of always carrying a tripod stand. 

If you are thinking of upgrading your equipment I would consider the following questions.

What will you be filming? Are you looking for aerial shots, night time, adventure, sport, wildlife or general everyday use.  Once you have worked out what the camcorder will primarily be used for, it is easier to narrow your search. Do not be caught up with gadgets that you will never use. 

Both camcorders offer infra red for night recordings and have at least 20 optical zoom . The Canon XA11 is classified as a professional camera and would be well suited to filming at conferences, weddings, concerts, interviews, documentaries, etc.  The Panasonic VX980 is so small that it fits into your coat pocket. Great for capturing family events, school performances & everyday use. 

Canon XA11
Canon XA11 Camcorder with handle and double mic point @ SHUTTERSTOCK

Other tools: I also like reading reviews from Digital camera world, Tech radar and places like amazon, John Lewis and Jessops.  It does take some time, but really if your spending up to £1000 on equipment, then make sure it serves your purpose. The SD cards for the camcorders rarely come supplied and there are hidden extra. The Canon XA11 does not come with a microphone and most people who are keen on videography like to buy a back up battery. More additional costs. 

Canon & Panasonic.

I started making videos to keep up with my children in this new digital era and after many, many mistakes I started making youtube videos of my travels which is great fun.  I then realised that people need video stock clips and I decided to attempt to make some cash from stock videography. 

I started with the Panasonic 4K HC-VX980 which is a little gem. Easy to fit into a hand bag, no worries about taking abroad as it is so light, it won’t tip you over your hand luggage allowance weighing in at 350g.

 The battery life is reasonable, just under the 2 hours, easy to recharge and has an LCD-(liquid crystal display) flip out touch screen. It has both camera and camcorder mode and is pretty robust. The Panasonic also has intelligent automode, (iA) which will stabilise the image, correct ISO, do the autofocus and scene detection. It also has WIFI assist and interval slow motion. It is a 4k Ultra HD camcorder. 18.91 mega pixels. more spec details at end of blog. 

Panasonic 4K Camcorder

                                           Panasonic Camcorder 4K -VX980.

The Leica Dicomar lens and the 2O Optical zoom suited my needs.  I especially like the way the lens screen opens automatically when you want to start filming unlike the Canon which you have to flip open manually.  Both camcorders have tiny buttons on the side which is easy for me but could potentially be a nightmare for men with big hands.

As I mentioned earlier the Panasonic suited my needs initially but after uploading  several short clips to iStock, an online video  agency,  I realised that the colours on my video clips compared to others were not as rich. 

Upgrading was my next option and price was my biggest factor. It is easy to go mad with these things but set a budget and work to it. The Canon XA11 is lightweight and has excellent zoom and clarity. For serious film makers it has a  double mic point and carrying handle. Easy to record and photograph with, giving you the option of complete manual control. I don’t think that it is big enough to warrant a shoulder support but the 5 axis stabilisation is very impressive. See video footage below. It also has a tracking system if you are recording during sport matches.

Canon XA11 Dimensions:5.2″ x 7.1″ x 9.1″ (1.6 pounds w/ battery).
Full HD Recording Modes: 1080p @ 30fps, 1080p @ 24fps, 1080p @ 60fps, 24p, 30p, 60i, 60p
Camcorder 20x Lens: 35mm equivalent: 26.8mm-576mm f/1.8-2.8, filter 58mm

Dual SD slots. Wide DR and Highlight Priority Modes. You can remove the handle which makes it much easier to fit in a bag. A little heavier than the Panasonic this weighs 745g before the attachments. (MIC handle & Mic holder).                                      

128GB SD Card:MP4: up to 8 Hours (50P @35Mbps)
AVCHD  up to 10 hours 10 Minutes (5p @28Mbps). 

Canon XA11 – beware your microphone is not too big and enters your frame.  Check out best mics online. (RodeNTG3).  The Canon XA11 has no built in memory. 

Canon XA11 Camcorder
Canon XA11 Camcorder@ Shutterstock

The main fault that I find with the Canon is that if you are in a hurry to capture a scene and switch it one etc, get the settings and off you go. Check the LCD  screen as the Canon will record with the shutter down and not alert you!  On the plus side the Canon XA11 will pre record before and after you start filming. It does have a HDMI output which you will be able to connect for Live Streaming.

The Canon XA11 Off button is also wedged between the media and cinematic and you may think that you have switched it off but it’s not. Check the green light goes out or your battery will run down.  The Canon XA11 will also only film in HD and not 4K, which could be a game changer for you. Many platform now compress 4K  in the the new VP9 Codec (youtube) which yields better results on playback. 

Panasonic HC-VX980 and Canon XA11 camcorder

                             Difference in size with Canon Mic handle removed.
                                                       Panasonic HC-VX980 and Canon XA11 camcorder

To summarise, with both camcorders, there is not much difference in size, the Canon is obviously heavier and has some serious tools but as I said, it really depends on why you need or want a camcorder. I bought my camcorder online and I would recommend that you shop around for the best price. If you are moving up to semi professional video then the Canon XA11 is the obvious choice, easy to use camcorder that you can take anywhere without being too precious, then its the Panasonic. 

The Canon is almost double the price of the Panasonic but you will see that the richness of colours and tones and stabilisation make this a superior piece of recording equipment.  To watch my film comparison of raw footage of zoom, stabilisation and slow motion click here. 

I hope you have fun with whatever equipment you have. I filmed the Worlds Pipe band championship in Glasgow on the VX980  using the inbuilt mic for the bagpipes and drums.  I have discovered that the Canon attracts a lot of attention. People stop and stare and actively stand in your line of vision. Most annoying. The Panasonic is very discreet. 

Click here to see the Worlds Pipe band championship 2019.  Enjoy your equipment whatever you choose and keep your precious moments alive. 

Thanks for reading, I appreciate your time.

L. Armor.

Panasonic VX980 – Recording Image Size
Still Image [16:9] 25.9megapixels (6784 x 3816), 14 megapixels (4992 x 2808), 2.1 megapixels (1920 x 1080) [3:2] 20 megapixels (5472 x 3648), 10.6 megapixels (3984 x 2656), 2.0 megapixels (1728 x 1152) [4:3] 20.4 megapixels (5216 x 3912), 10.9 megapixels (3808 x 2856), 0.3 megapixels (640 x 480)


Simultaneous Recording 4K MP4: [16:9] 20.4 megapixels (6016 x 3384), 8.3 megapixels (3840 x 2160) Other than 4K MP4: [16:9] 14.0 megapixels (4992 x 2808), 2.1 megapixels (1920 x 1080).

LENS FOR MAIN CAMERA – F Value F1.8 (WIDE) / F3.6 (TELE)
Optical Zoom 20x  -Focal Length 4.08 – 81.6 mm
35 mm Film Camera Equivalent [Motion Image (16:9)] 4K: 30.8 – 626 mm (Level Shot Function OFF), Full-HD: 37.0 – 752 mm (Level Shot Function OFF or Normal)
35 mm Film Camera Equivalent [Still Image] 34.5 – 690.3 mm [3:2] 30.8 – 626 mm [16:9] 37.6 – 752.8 mm [4:3]
Filter Diameter 49 mm
Lens Brand Leica Dicomar Lens

 

Canon XA11 

  • Additional Features

    RGB primary color filter, GPS ready, Wide Dynamic Range (WDR), Pre-Rec function, digital tele-converter, built-in IR illuminator, fast motion recording, simultaneous multi-format recording, slow motion recording, night vision infrared imaging

  • Low Lux / Night ModeGPS ready, Pre-Rec function, RGB primary color filter, Wide Dynamic Range (WDR), built-in IR illuminator, digital tele-converter, fast motion recording, night vision infrared imaging, simultaneous multi-format recording, slow motion recording.

48 hrs in Bristol with Edinburghcitymom

After reading an amazing blog about the Bristol Balloon Fiesta last year, I decided that I had to see Bristol and experience its amazing landmarks. This city has a huge appeal, with one of the top universities in the UK, (teenager daughter applying) and strong links to Banksy, the famous graffiti street artist.

I love the way that Banksy art has evolved from street graffiti and stencilling to spray paint and now his art is being sold at auction houses around the world. Having previously viewed his exhibition in Amsterdam, I was keen to find more of his earlier street art.

The identity of Banksy is still unknown, however, many locals believe that he lived 12 miles away in Yate.  Some of his works have been preserved and the famous Grim Reaper is on loan to the M Shed, a fabulous museum on the waterfront documenting the lives and times of the people of Bristol and the growth of the city.

photo Lou Armor@shutterstock

My second curiosity with Bristol was the floating harbour. What on earth is a Floating Harbour?

Bristol grew up around a point on the river Avon six miles inland. The tidal range of rivers in this area is the greatest of any in the world and for merchant ships trading around the Bristol Chanel they could either be carried all the way to Bristol by the tide or if they timed it wrong, the larger ships were stuck in mud, sometimes for a week.

The Matthew of Bristol
The Matthew of Bristol- Lou Armor@shutterstock

This often meant that the city port was blocked or completely congested by stranded ships, waiting for the tide to turn. Trade was being lost to Liverpool and this prompted the wealthy merchants at the time to devise a plan to make the river non tidal.

William Jessop devised a plan in 1802 which amalgamated other previous proposals to dam the river and implement the use of several Weirs to control the water flow.  This created the floating harbour.

Look out for details of the Bristol harbour festival, an annual event that celebrates the maritime history of Bristol. (Dates are not yet online). I spent a whole day exploring this part of the city because there is so much to see.  Street food, music, entertainment and of course the fabulous SS Great Britain.

SS Great Britain
SS Great Britain- Lou Armor@shutterstock

This amazing ship took years to bring back from the Falklands where she had been scuttled.  Raised from the sea and towed to the exact place in Bristol that she had been built, SS Great Britain was restored to her former glory. The longest steam ship in her time, she travelled the oceans for 30 years before being battered of Cape Horn.

Brunel, an English mechanical and civil engineer created history by building a ship  fitted with a 1000 hp steam engine and a screw propeller.  She is a sight to behold and the history and determination of individuals to restore her to her former beauty, makes this one of my top attractions in Bristol.  The tour of this ship is excellent, with costume actors and an opportunity to climb the rigging on the top deck.

The biggest challenge currently facing the ship is rust.  A glass ceiling covered with water was created,  based on the research at Cardiff University on corrosion.  A humidity control system also helps preserve the hull of this unique piece of British history.

https://www.shutterstock.com/g/louarmor?rid=174789014&utm_medium=email&utm_source=ctrbreferral-link
SS Great Britain – Lou Armor@shutterstock

The entrance ticket  for this museum is valid for a year, if you don’t get to do all the tour or if you need more time, pop back another day.  Details on ss.greatbritain.org

Oh my goodness, I am still no where near talking about the Balloon Festival.  A quick mention to the creators of the Wallace and Gromit trail, Gromit Unleashed 2.  These life sized statues (67 in total) have been placed all over the city to raise funds for Bristol Children Hospital and it is great fun trying to find as many as possible. There is an app that you can download on the App Store and the trail runs from July 2nd to Sept 2nd.

Day one was jam packed and it was not over yet. I had the choice of going on a lovely cruise up the River Avon or finding somewhere to eat. I had to choose the food option as the Balloon festival was going to be a long evening, but I would definitely come back and try the Afternoon-tea River trip.

The Balloon Festival is a free event and is easy to reach by bus from the city centre.  The shuttles run constantly all day and evening.  That is the easy part. Once you get off the bus I had no idea how far you had to walk.  It’s a good 25 mins up and down slopes, past fields until you reach a huge open space filled with children amusement rides and food carts. Thousands of people had already laid out picnics and brought their own chairs. These people clearly had pre booked car park spaces. Lucky things.

Undeterred I found a space next to a young family with a girl in a wheelchair. The man I stood next to was also a keen photographer and actually helped me adjust my camera settings as the light dwindled. I was here to see the night show and it did not disappoint. Sadly the crowds on the grassy bank all stood up and the young lady in the wheelchair could not see a thing. I abandoned my camera and filmed it, showing her each stage.

It was very atmospheric and I really enjoyed the excitement of the evening and the crowd reaction.  I would be more prepared next time with a warmer coat, which could also double up as something to sit on and I would wear more comfortable shoes, for the walking. The light show is basically a circle of tethered balloons that are lit up in time to a music sequence, followed by a fireworks display. Its great fun but next time I am definitely going up in a balloon. That looks amazing. Dates for this free event are 8-11th August 2019

TIPS FOR BALLOON FIESTA BRISTOL

The Balloon fiesta is dependant on the weather and no balloons were airborne early morning on the Friday due to the wind and rain. It is advisable to check the weather forecast before setting off for one of the early morning flights which must be booked well in advance.  The Balloon rides start at £125 and are available to book from bristolballoons.org

I have been recently informed by Laurence from Independent Travel Cats that there is a disabled viewing platform at the bristol Balloon Fiesta and disabled parking. Both need to be pre booked. His balloon fiesta blog is an excellent resource for families.

Price & Location The event is free and during the day they have character balloons and loads of entertainment for families. The event is held in Ashton Court and the shuttle bus only takes about 20mins but lots of people walk across the Clifton suspension bridge and go that way.  The bridge however closes around 6pm and you cannot return that way. I took the shuttle bus at 7pm and I had  plenty of time for the night display which started around 9.20pm. I even managed to grab a very tasty burger at the show. Toilets are a bit of an issue. Not enough and extremely busy.

Transport: Taxi and Ubers are another option but I found the Uber to be constantly on surge price rates due to the sheer volume of people and after a particularly expensive ride I took a local  taxi back to my hotel which was considerably cheaper. I think because he was not following a google map and knew quite a few short cuts and dropped me at a bridge. A difference of £4. The same thing happened on the way back to the airport, so be aware of the surge prices and try the local bus and taxi services.

I arrived into Bristol by the airport shuttle bus which was very cheap and the driver was most helpful as no one seemed to have a clue where they were going! You can buy a ticket at the airport machine or pay the conductor £7.

Other great attractions in Bristol city. To see my video clip collections of Bristol click here: www.pond5.com/artist/mature.

I think one of my favourite sites in the city of Bristol, was the Clifton suspension bridge. This amazing bridge spans the Avon Gorge and is a stunning piece of engineering. There are free tours on the bridge at 3pm, Sat/Sundays and Bank holidays from Easter to October. There is a visitor centre and a Hard Hat Tour of the Leigh Woods Vaults. These hidden chambers designed by Brunel were only recently discovered. Details on all tours at http://www.Cliftonbridge.co.uk.

Photo available at Lou Armor@shutterstock

I, of course was still searching for Wallace and Gromit and guess who had the best views? Look up from the bridge and you will see the Observatory on the hillside. Kids will love it up here as there is a swing park. If you are feeling brave, there are tunnels through the hillside to a viewing platform overlooking the Gorge. “The Giants Cave”. Not for me, but if small spaces don’t bother you, the views would be stunning.

Places of Interest: I had the best intentions of visiting the Aerospace Bristol, the new home of Concorde but I simply ran out of time.  If you or your family love aeroplanes, satellites, missiles and everything about air travel, then the opportunity to climb into Concorde, should appeal.

All details on the website, http://www.aerospacebristol.org. Open 10am-5pm, 7 days a week except Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and Boxing Day. The Concorde hanger is closed a few days a year for private functions, call in advance or email: 01179 315 315 or email the box office.

The reason I missed the aerospace was due to my Banksy trail. I could not leave before finding one of my favourite pieces, the girl with the earring, except this one in true Banksy style has an alarm box for an earring. Follow the harbour walk past SS Great Britain and its on a warehouse wall. I loved it.

girl with pearl earring
girl with pearl earring

The Museum of Bristol has the Paint pot angel, a collaboration with the museum and Banksy.  This can be found in the entrance hallway and this is another free venue.

The best way to see this city is on foot. I walked from Stokes Croft  to the  museum and then Clifton village, and on to the suspension bridge.  There are plenty of restaurants, cafes and beautiful coffee shops to stop and grab a refreshment.

Don’t take my word for it. Easyjet fly into Bristol city or take a direct train links from London or most parts of the UK.

Thanks for reading, I appreciate your time and enjoy Bristol. Bath is pretty close by if you have time combine both.  Any other great places that I missed please leave in the comment box.

Thanks for reading, I appreciate your time. Check out my travel video on YouTube.

Lou A.

Explore Alicante in Spain (72hrs)

I just love this small compact city. I have visited Alicante in Spain, three years in a row and each time I discover something new. Alicante or Alacant it’s (Valencian name) is on the eastern coast of Spain, in the Mediterranean region of Costa Brava. Its original name was Lucentum, meaning the ‘City of Light’. Famous for its wonderful palm lined boulevards, the Old Quarter and its stunning beaches, Alicante is a popular cruise ship destination.

Alicante city port in Spain
Alicante city port in Spain@ shutter stock

Flights & Transfers: We flew direct from Scotland to Alicante and it is a pleasant 3 hour flight, with a one hour time difference. The currency is the Euro.

Alicante–Elche Airport is 20 mins from the city centre and I usually pre book a taxi which is around 20/25 euro as there are normally 4 of us travelling. The airport has a good taxi rank but if your flight arrives with 3 other flights you may find there are no taxi available and that is why I recommend pre booking. I normally use airport transfers.

There are plenty of Car Hire companies at the airport, including Hertz, Europcar and Centauro amongst others. You can also use the C6 airport bus which is around 3 Euro and tickets are purchased on the bus. The bus stop is at Level 2, Departures.

Alicante city@shutterstock
Alicante city Lou Armor@shutterstock.

During my most recent stay in Alicante, I decided to explore the Old Quarter, Barrio Santa Cruz, nestled under Mount Benacantil. Narrow, colourful streets, weave upwards past the oldest church in the city, past the music school, until you get the best views of the city below. Spain like most mediterranean countries is quiet in the afternoon as most locals enjoy a Siesta to escape the heat of the midday sun. A good time to explore if you want deserted street. Don’t forget to carry water and a sun hat as many cafes are closed for Siesta and re-open late into the evening.

Museo de Arte Contemporaneo de Alicante (MACA)
Museo de Arte Contemporaneo de Alicante (MACA)@shutterstock

The first place I stopped at in Alicante old quarter was the Museo De La Asegurada, known as the MACA, found next to the church of Santa Maria, this museum exhibits many contemporary paintings, sculptures and lithographs of over 140 Spanish artists, across 4 storeys and two basement levels.

Works from Miro, Picasso and Chillida can be found here at the Plaza Santa Maria. The museum is open from 10am and entrance is free, which is a great bonus. Remember it is closed on a Monday. Tel: +34 965 140 76. Next to the Museum is the Basilica of Santa Maria, worth a quick look inside at the stunning altar and the marble font by Carrara. Built in Valencian Gothic style the front doors are beautiful with ornate carvings and statues. The statue of the Virgin is by the sculptor Juan Bautista Borja. It is visually stunning and many people sit in the square with a drink admiring the exterior.

I discovered that very close by to the Basilica is Alicante city Segway tours. One of my favourite ways of quickly seeing a city and learning about its history without antagonising my troublesome left knee! The young man informed me that the tours last 1.5 hours and take you to the top of the Mountain and Santa Barbara Castle.

Other private tours include a Tapas tour, wine experience and bike tours and of course Sunset tours. Segways are the easiest things on the planet to use and we have tried them in Rome and America and I can highly recommend, especially if a long walking tour is impractical for you. Open from 9am-7pm. C/ Mayor 45, 03002 Alicante. Julien: (+34) 656 332 485. info@segwayalicante.com

alicante segway tour
alicante seaways tour

Meandering slowly uphill now I passed many beautiful alleys and streets that make up the Old Quarter. Overflowing with plant pots and brightly coloured houses, this feels very traditional and Spanish.

El Barrio, Old Quarter Alicante
El Barrio.Lou Armor@shutterstock

I did not make it to the top of Mount Benacantil and the castle of Santa Barbara. That is on my next trip. My daughter assured me it was stunning as she jogged to the top every morning! ‘Sunrise is special’, I was informed.

I personally would take a taxi or the elevator that is across from the promenade. The lift costs two euro seventy to go up and it is a free return. There is a guide to take you up in the lift and the castle entrance is free with a cafe and a small drink/food booth. Open from 10am onwards.

Santa Barbara castle, alicante
Santa Barbara castle, Alicante @shutterstock.

During my Alicante long weekend I stayed at the Melia Alicante. This lovely hotel has the best location with the marina to the front and the beach to its rear. There is a gate from the pool which gives you easy access to the promenade and the hotel restaurant overlooks the beach with fantastic views down the coast.

Alicante beach in July, Spain.
Alicante beach in July@shutterstock

I have travelled to other parts of Spain but this beach is ideal. There are sun loungers and parasols to hire and the sea is not covered in huge pebbles or has a sudden shelf drop. It just gently slopes out and its warm. Go further along the coast for a little more space as everyone packs into the area beside the cafe and restaurants. There are coastguards along the beach and the area is police patrolled. There is also a water assault course which I usually get dragged out too, but this year big Sis stepped in and I enjoyed watching their antics under the shade of my sun lounger.

The Explanada de España is the beautiful tree lined promenade that runs parallel to the port, from the Puerta del Mar. Also known as the “Paseo de la Explanada”, the street is decorated with wave effect mosaics and is popular with families, runners and dog walkers. It also has local stalls with interesting merchandise and small gift ideas.

Look out for the statue of Icarus, Greek legend says that he plunged into the sea to his death after flying too near to the sun and damaging his wings. The bronze statue is situated in the water opposite the Melia Hotel on the marina side. It is the work of sculptor Esperanza d’Ors.

The marina is a great place to find fabulous seafood restaurants behind the Casino next to the Melia hotel. There are street stalls and of course the beautiful replica ship of the Santisima Trinidad. People have mixed reviews about the ship. It is a tourist attraction but seems to be used more for relaxing on deck with a drink than historical references.

There is also the Museo Volvo Ocean Race museum dedicated to one of the toughest sailing races in the world. Interactive, it has a simulator and fascinating video presentation and a guided tour of the old boat. It’s free and the opening times in the summer are Sunday 11:00 – 15:00 and Mon – Sat 11:00 – 21:00.

Santisima Trinidad, replica Galleon ship in Alicante Port. Spain.
Santisima Trinidad Alicante. Lou Armor@shutterstock

Families will enjoy a stroll along the famous Mushroom Street – San Fransisco Street.

Yellow bricks, giant snails and huge life size mushrooms make this street a big hit with families and children. The statues were designed to regenerate this part of Alicante and produced by Sergio Martinez. Lined with boutiques and cafe’s, it is a popular route taking you to our next stop, Plaza Portal de Elche. Here you will enjoy the shade of the magnificent Rubber trees and enjoy the beautiful fountain and welcome cafe in the square.

If you have young children or teenagers and it does get too hot, then I would recommend walking or taking a taxi to one of the air conditioned shopping malls. Alicante has a few and the teenagers will enjoy having some freedom to shop at Bershka, Desigual, Mango, Pull & Bear, Benetton and HM amongst others. There are usually pharmacy and food courts here too.

Alicante also has outlet stores which I would have loved to visit but I was short on time. The mall in the photograph, is easy to find if you walk along the marina and round behind Mount Benacantil or take a taxi. Plaza Mar Shopping centre.

Outlet stores are Carretera Alicante, 94
03690 San Vicente del Raspeig (Alicante), Tel: 34 96 566 44 98.

Other malls include Centro Gran via Alicante and Centre Comercial Panoramis.

Plaza Mar shopping centre Alicante
Plaza Mar shopping centre Alicante

Entertainment at night.

This last trip was full of surprises as my sister flew out with her two daughters, one of whom is a huge karaoke fan. Much to my surprise behind the casino amongst all the wonderful fish restaurants is a karaoke bar. When we arrived it was pretty empty but the older male singers were incredibly talented. We did not know any of the Spanish songs but the young ones took turns to sing the English songs.

Its a really good laugh and my sister blasted out Katy Perry, ‘Baby your a superstar’. Unforgettable! It was filling up fast when we were leaving but if you are want a sing song this is the place for you.

Water Sports: Other activities on the marina behind the casino are the jet ski and boat hire or fishing trips. Walk to the end of the restaurants and you will see the signs.

Food and Drink

It really is a great city and I never pe book a restaurant. We just wander through the streets and stop wherever we like the look of. The British tend to eat earlier than the locals and I have never found this a problem. Some restaurants are closed on Mondays, so check them out online if you have a favourite before heading out.

Alicante city restaurant, Spain
Alicante city restaurant, Spain

I hope you enjoyed my blog post. Any other tips please submit. I hope to travel further up the coast next time and see the stunning beaches at Altea, Calpe and visit the Guadelest Valley.

All of my photo are available on Shutterstock. For video clips of Scotland, click here.

Thanks for reading, I appreciate your time. If you would like to see more of my travels, here is my youtube video from my tour around Scotland to Skye, Torridon and Dornoch, part of the NC500,

Click here: Tour Scotland.

Lou. A

Travel Tips to St Petersburg (Russia).

St Petersburg was the imperial capital of Russia for two centuries and has changed names from Petrograd to Leningrad and is now back to St Petersburg.  Founded in 1703 by Peter the Great, who had a vision to turn a vast area of marshland into a vibrant city to rival the great cities of Europe and open new trade routes.

Rich in history and culture.  You will be fascinated and thrilled as you explore the amazing palaces, museums, churches, canals and streets of this beautiful place.

Cartier building, Dvortsovaya Embankment, St Petersburg.
Cartier building @shutterstock

I travelled to St Petersburg, Russia in September and travelled from London Gatwick direct to Pulkovo with British Airways.  The return flights cost around £275 with luggage and took around 3hrs and 20 mins. The Russian Visa application cost around £115 and biometric finger printing is required for all visa applications.

Travel Guide Visa to St Petersburg: Everyone visiting Russia requires a visa whether it is tourist, business, student etc. You will not be allowed entry into the country without a visa. The passport must be valid for 6 months after your departure from Russia. Migration cards and registration on arrival plus tips to navigate the application process here. click this link. https://wp.me/p8JB3K-9K

Transport to St Petersburg from the airport. Pulkovo, the nearest airport is located 23km south of Saint Petersburg and has no train connections to the city centre. The usual forms of transport are taxi, shuttle bus or local bus.

The local bus does not go near the city centre and you will have to connect by metro. The city has a good network system but it can be confusing with four train stations in the city. I would recommend buying a Pocket guide, this is one of my favourites. Do not expect  many of the local people to speak English and the signs are also not always in English. I found that the young people were keen to help and chat and when stuck our phrase book was a great source of laughter and communication. Don’t forget to pack your travel adaptors for Russia.

We stayed at a fabulous hotel called the Astoria which had the best central location next to St Isaac’s Cathedral and two streets from the Hermitage, also known as the the Winter Palace. All the latest facilities and mod cons in the hotel and bedrooms. Air BB is also very popular in Russia.

Travel Guide  – what to see in St Petersburg

Keen to explore the city we immediately set of to visit St Isaac’s Cathedral, a stunning piece of architecture with 100kg of pure gold on its domed roof….

Photo@shutterstock

It is worth the climb to the viewing station but as it was September and a bit cold and drizzly, we opted for the rooftop bar overlooking St Isaacs which had heaters, blankets and the best cocktails….it’s called the W Terrace. We did go back the next day to see the interior of St Isaac’s.

The inside is adorned with angels, sculptures and incredible murals. This building would be on my top 5 attractions in St Petersburg and very easy to access. We did not pre book and simply paid the entry fee at the door.

The Winter Palace

The next day we started early to tour the stunning Winter Palace. This was the home of the Russian Emperors from 1763-1917 and today is comprised of 5 buildings that make up the State Hermitage Museum.

The rooms are exquisite with artworks from Rembrandt, Leonardo Da Vinci, Monet and Picasso. It is a non stop visual feast and you really need a tour guide to appreciate all that is available.

We only had 4 hours and it was well spent with our guide.  Olga was amazing and had an incredible knowledge of the many State rooms and artefacts, as part of a private tour she guided as swiftly through the long entry queue and navigated us to the best parts of the museum, it could take at least 3 days to see everything in detail. There are 3 million pieces of art and world culture artefacts! A guide also lets you skip the very long queues and remember most of the tickets you book online need to be exchanged for bar coded tickets before entering.  Buy a guide book as a souvenir at the shop in the Winter Palace or buy a the pocket guide before you go.

The afternoon was spent on a boat tour of the Nevi travelling through 5 different canal routes, passing the Voronstov Palace, Bronze Horseman, Church on spilt Blood and many more architectural gems. We did not book the boat trip and just turned up at the Pier. The young guy was so chatty and helpful, we had a snack at the little cafe next to the pier, the Cafe Diner at 27 Nab Reki Fonatnki. This is also the meeting place for the free city walking tour daily from May 11th- sept starts at 10.30am. Details of the boat time table on anglotourismo.com

Out in the middle of the river it is extremely cold, everyone gets a cosy blanket or the option of staying below deck. This would not be required in the summer months when it is much hotter.

Food and drink in Russia. The wine is super expensive and the food was good wherever we went. We did pre book restaurants for dinner but during the day, we just stopped if we liked the look of somewhere.

Luxury experience would be the Caviar bar at the Belmont Grand Hotel.
If you do not know your Beluga from your Sevruga from your Bester caviar, just look at the prices! When in doubt go for the sharing platter…this hotel does cater for gluten free, soya free, etc. If you get the chance try a cocktail….

Other fabulous places to visit include: The Church on Spilled Blood which is both a historic monument and a work of art. This is the place where Emperor Alexander II was murdered. The site is marked inside by a special chapel, under the bell. The inside of this building is completely covered in mosaics.

Photo Lou Armor@shutterstock

CSC_2010

Photo of Catherine Palace also known as Tsarskoye Selo. The Tsars Village.

I could talk all day about these places but instead I would suggest that you spend a day in the city centre and see The Marble Palace and The Yuspov Palace also known as the Moika Palace. Tickets for this are limited, we used a guide who sorted the tickets and access.  The history is fascinating and the small  Rasputin Museum brings the historical events alive, as you survey the interior basement room and life size models of the soldiers on that fateful night.

Take a day to enjoy the shops and buy some souvenirs, the Russian Christmas baubles make a lovely inexpensive gift for family and friends. Of course you must buy a Russian doll set which children just adore. I was surprised to see that you can buy Russian animal sets and caricatures of famous people.

We were unable to visit the fountains at Peterhof but this place is definitely worth a visit and you can go by hydrofoil to add a bit more excitement to the day. Definitely go and see Catherine Palace, it is magnificent with beautiful grounds, a large pond and granite terrace and the Hermitage Pavilion. I’ts stunning.

 

Visit Vasilievsky island and the fabulous Mariinsky theatre. We had the most amazing night watching Romeo and Juliet. You can book a ballet show that includes dinner and a ballerina joins you after the show for a short chat about the performance, life as a ballerina etc. click here if interested Viator .  It’s not cheap but if you had a ballerina niece/nephew on vacation it would be a unforgettable evening. The building is simply stunning.

Shopping: The streets are wide and pleasant to walk along, the main shopping area are Nevsky Prospekt, if you get the chance go to the Singer building. Bolshoi & Vladimrskyiy prospect.

Safety, money and tips

If booking a taxi it is advised to book at the taxi desk inside the terminal and pay then. This will eliminate any dispute over fares and cash. Alternatively book online in advance before departure. The currency is Roubles and other currencies are illegal. Most credit cards are accepted with the exception of American Express. The preference is Visa or MasterCard. 

 

I enjoyed walking around the outside of the Winter Palace taking photographs and I did not feel threatened at any point or unsafe during the day. I had a big clunky camera and a cross over bag and kept my bag closed at all times especially when  taking photo’s.  We did not walk alone in the dark at night through St Petersburg unless we were on the main thoroughfare which is really busy.

 

There are problems with pick pockets at the major tourist sites but it’s the same in the Vatican in Rome and on the Ramblas in Spain. Keep your wits about you. The person who is siddling up to your group  chatting on their phone may not be as distracted as they appear to be.

Keep your wallets at the bottom of rucksacks and don’t flash bundles of cash in public. Ask the hotel concierge or locals what is the average tip as hugely over tipping attracts attention. We tipped 10% on average.

Best time to visit

I had a fantastic time in St Petersburg and I would definitely return.  Visiting in September had the advantage of less crowds, cooler temperature and better hotel and flight prices. The Hermitage attracts millions of visitors but it was pleasant to tour in September. Late  September and early October you will find many things have shut down for the season.  This is the main reason that we were unable to see the fountains at Peterhof.

Families with children : pre school children, school age children and students with I.D are free of charge to the Winter Palace. Children will also love the museum of Soviet Arcade machines, near the Church of the Saviour on spilled blood. It also has a small cafe and English written instruction sheets. You get 15 old soviet coins to use on the machines, ice hockey, air ball games...discount with international student card.

Russia in miniature, kids will love the Grand Maket Russia Interactive Museum. Metro ride from city. 800 sq metres of the cities in Russia with moving cars and trains with special day and evening effects.  Address: Tsvetochnaya St., 16, St. Petersburg 196084. 

Have you been to St Petersburg, do you have any great tips?

Don’t forget your travel adaptor for Russia.

Thanks guys, I appreciate you reading this.

Take Care

Lou

This post contains affiliate links.

Scotland Travel Road Trip

Hi guys, welcome back for the second part of my travel blog, ‘Road trip around Scotland’ featuring Whisky, Mountains, Glens, Castles & Golf. The first part of my blog included Edinburgh to Loch Lomond, Glencoe and the Isle of Skye. Details here wp.me/p8JB3K-i3.

The next part of the travel guide around Scotland takes us from the Isle of Skye to Dornoch in Sutherland, Inverness, Perth and back to Edinburgh. Tasting some fabulous whisky, exploring the most beautiful castle in Scotland, (in my opinion) and touring the spectacular A896 in the Scottish Highlands.

The road from the Isle of Skye is the A87 which joins the A896. This is the same route that you would take to get to Applecross to attempt the famous Bealach na Ba Road. Weary of single track roads and keen to check in to our newly refurbished bedroom, we enjoyed the scenic road to the Torridon House Hotel.

LouArmor@shutterstock

 

Nestled at the foot of Loch Torridon, the Torridon House hotel has the most spectacular views. Looking over the mountain ranges of Beinn Alligin and Beinn Dearg in Achnasheen, Wester Ross beside the narrow sea Loch of Torridon.

We were staying overnight and it was definitely my favourite hotel on our road trip. The whisky and gin bar are the best I have seen yet. Comparable to Gleneagles and Turnberry but more intimate and unique. The food was excellent and the rooms have been recently refurbished. The hotel still retains many original features and provided a welcome break from driving.

 

We stayed here for one night and during the day we enjoyed watching other guests play archery as we wondered around the substantial herb gardens and enjoyed afternoon tea. I loved taking photographs of the Highland Cows in the field beside the hotel and the magical sea Loch. It is a very popular stop for hillwalkers and cyclists. Don’t forget your midge repellent in the summer months.

Highland Cow travel Scotland
Highland Cow on road trip Scotland

Refreshed and recharged we continued on our way through one of my favourite routes – Torridon to Kinlochewe. Like many scottish roads it is mostly single track and once again the driver has to continually look ahead for passing places. We were very lucky with the weather and this stretch of road was visually superb and we were more than happy to drive slowly and let other drivers overtake us when it was safe to do so.

We rejoined the A832, connected to the A835 to Dingwall and on the A9 to Dornoch. We are now in the Royal Burgh of Sutherland. Royal Dornoch is famous for its golf course and is on many a bucket list of golfers around the world. I have to say the beaches are magnificent and stretch for miles along the coastline with only the odd dog walker leaving footprints in the sand.

Dornoch beach, Sutherland Scotland.
Lou Armor@shutterstock

Dornoch is part of the NC500 which starts and finishes in Inverness and is a famous Scottish route of over 500 miles of stunning coastal scenery. We did not have enough time to do the full route but I would love to have travelled to Castle Mey in Caithness, which was restored to its former glory by the Queen Mother. It can be found on the A836 in the parish of Canisbay, about 15 miles east of Thurso.

Attractions in Dornoch include the Carnegie whisky cellars and the Dornoch Cathedral. Both worth a visit. We were staying at the Dornoch Castle Hotel and we were keen to try this famous whisky and gin bar. This award winning bar stocks many rare and vintage whiskies and can be found on the Scottish Whisky trail. You can book a whisky tasting session here which looks great fun.

 

There is a small free guest car park at the rear of this hotel. I found the bedroom difficult to access with lots of stairs and it had the smallest toilet I have ever seen my life, but I did love the 4 poster bed. Again bring plenty of travel adaptors with multiple plug sockets, it is not always easy to find a spare socket for everyone in some of the older hotels.

https://rcm-eu.amazon-adsystem.com/e/cm?o=2&p=48&l=ur1&category=ce&banner=0NMM69180HDZTAHXRQG2&f=ifr&linkID=3c8a744a2137f6289eb7ac1198df6097&t=edinburghcity-21&tracking_id=edinburghcity-21 Nearby Attractions on part of the NC500.

The reason I have always wanted to visit Dornoch, well actually 20 mins up the road is the village of Golspie and the magnificent Dunrobin Castle. This Stately home is the family seat of the Earl of Sutherland and the Clan Sutherland. The original castle dates back to the early 1300’s and has been rebuilt and extended many times. The rear of the castle beside the car park gives no indication of the beauty and magnificence of this stately home. It is best viewed from the bottom of the ornamental gardens.

Dunrobin Castle Golspie
Dunrobin Castle @shutterstock

The Castle is said to be haunted by a young woman who was imprisoned in the 15th century by the Earl of Sutherland who planned to marry her. She tried to escape by climbing down a rope of sheets, but it is said that the enraged Earl caught her and cut the sheets with his sword. Sounds of her crying can still be heard coming from the seamstresses room. I did not encounter any ghostly apparitions but I loved touring this castle. There is only a limited section of rooms open to visitors but the staff were most helpful and very knowledgeable and I was allowed to take photographs.

 

TOP TIPS FOR VISITING DUNROBIN CASTLE IN SCOTLAND

(1) The falconry display is really enjoyable, featuring golden eagles, peregrine falcons and other birds of prey. There is an opportunity to take pictures of the birds before the display starts. I would try and get down to the gardens 15 mins before the start. There are 2 displays a day during June/July & August. Display hours change in Sept. The castle is closed in the winter months.

(2) Carry a small cagoule and umbrella in your bag, the falconry display is outside with no cover.

(3) Check the cruise ship arrivals timetable at Invergordon before booking as the castle can be really busy.

(4) Some people may find the animal trophy heads disturbing, and will possibly not enjoy the Museum in the castle grounds. It is a private collection and optional to view.

(5) The castle is closed during the winter months and has reduced hours in April/May & October, check the website before driving.

Dunrobin Falconary display
Dunrobin Castle Falconry display

Our next adventure included the whisky trail and two distilleries, The Balblair and the Glenmorangie. The Balblair distillery which is one of the oldest distilleries in Scotland was founded in 1790 and rebuilt in 1895. It can be found at Edderton. You may think you have gone the wrong way as you travel down a single track road but just keep following the signs. You will eventually reach the Balblair Distillery. This is a great tour and the staff were very knowledgable. We loved the tasting session and did not come away empty handed.                    Photo credit Lou Armor@shutterstock

 

You do not have to sample the whisky and you can ask to take it away for later if you are driving. Remember Scottish drinks laws are different from England. For details click here on my first blog post. Travel guide to Skye via Glencoe

Feeling slightly light headed after sampling some rather divine malt whisky made in a sherry cask I was planning on abstaining completely at Glenmorangie.. …the best laid plans.

Glenmorangie is a much larger distillery with a great gift shop but again no cafe on site or refreshments apart from whisky. Tip: have some bottled water with you or in your car or bus. We did not do the tour here and again it is advisable to prebook to avoid disappointment. We stayed at both distilleries for an hour and they are reasonably close to each other. I enjoyed both these distilleries but they are quite different.

Glenmorangie distillery
Glenmorangie distillery@shutterstock

Heading back to the car we were now en route to Inverness. We did not stop here as we wanted to drive through the Cairngorms National Park on the A9 to reach the House of Bruar, which is a popular driving break through the scottish Highlands before you hit the city of Perth.

The House of Bruar has some great shops, traditional scottish gifts, large indoor restaurant and is very close to Blair Castle, the ancestral home of the Clan Murray. Many people also stop here to do the famous Falls of Bruar walk, which has a series of waterfalls and inspired Robert Burns to write, “The Humble Petition of Bruar Water”

House of Bruar
House of Bruar, start of Bruar Falls

We stopped here for an hour, I love theses shops, especially the food court. For any fans of the Netflix series ‘The Crown’ you may wish to visit Blair Castle. This castle also featured on season two, episode seven of ITV’s Victoria, when Queen Victoria comes to Scotland for some respite from the pressures of London life.

Rested and recharged we were now on a mission to reach Edinburgh by early evening. If you have more time, many tourists stop at the picturesque village of Pitlochery, which has two distilleries and a salmon leap. It is a good size town with lots of quaint shops and cafe and bars etc. Try and get to Queens View for the most amazing views down Loch Tummel.

Now many visitors hiring a car may be worried about re-fuelling in the Highlands. Fear not. All the towns have fuel stops, the locals need to get around too.. ..We were running low on fuel and it was an easy detour off the motorway to Carrbridge. You will find that the nearest garage/refuelling points are well signed. However, rather than a 2 min stop down the road it may be a 4mile drive down the road. As I waited for my husband to refuel I stretched my legs and discovered this beautiful bridge right next to the garage and opposite the Carrbridge Hotel.

The Old Packhorse Bridge, Carrbridge Aviemore
The Old Packhorse Bridge, Photo Lou Armor@shutterstock

 

For any Outlander fans, I would definitely recommend stopping at Culross in Fife, it is an amazing Royal Burgh and medieval village where you can often find film crews making Outlander.

We did reach Edinburgh by early evening and I totally loved my road trip. It was amazing. There are plenty of place I would still love to see but that is for another post. Choose your roads wisely, you will need longer than you think on single track roads. Take your time, enjoy the journey, not the destination.

My Road Trip click on this 3 min youtube link: youtube Scotland must see bucket list

Stock footage from my travels is available here.

I hope you enjoyed reading this road trip and I have given you some ideas for your next Scottish Adventure. Thanks for reading, I appreciate your time.

Lou. A.

Edinburghcitymom

(This post has affiliate links which may earn me a small commission at no expense to yourself).

SKYE TRAVEL ROUTE (Scotland)

The Isle of Skye is a popular road trip in Scotland and there are several routes that travellers can take to reach this magical island. Our route to Skye started from Edinburgh and then we headed across to Glasgow on the M8 as I wanted to drive up the banks of Loch Lomond. If you drive from Edinburgh via Stirling you skim the top of Loch Lomond which does not always give the best views. If you are unsure of driving on single lane roads then click here for the etiquette. Remember that some people are doctors and midwives and it is good etiquette in Scotland to make allowances and allow cars to move forward on single track roads.

Loch Lomond road trip to Skye
Loch Lomond road trip to Skye

Blue skies and a bright sun lightened our mood as we snaked our way North on our Skye road trip. Our first stop was at the Ardlui Hotel, which has stunning views across Loch Lomond,  a good size car park and outdoor seating area. Popular with dog walkers and locals.

 

Ardlui Hotel, Loch Lomond
Ardlui Hotel, Loch Lomond. Lou Armor@shutterstock

Loch Lomond is part of the Trossachs National park, which is free and is a fresh water Loch. It is the largest stretch of inland water by surface area in Great Britain. There are plenty of opportunities to get involved in water activities or explore the beautiful local walking trails but we wanted to reach Glenfinnan by dinner time so we had to keep moving North after our rather expensive bowls of soup…..

Road to Skye Driving Tips and Car Hire.

If hiring a car to self drive to Skye or for touring the NC500 I would advise you to  hire a small vehicle with a satnav.  The satnav  will work most of the time but occasionally in the more remote locations, it will take you on the wrong route.  I say choose a smaller vehicle as you may struggle to manoeuvre a large car  on some of the single track roads if trying to pass  buses etc. There are plenty of garages to refuel on the way to Skye, every main town has one and there are more than 6 electric car charging points on Skye.  Check out zap-map.com

Skye road trip Scotland
Map reading Skye road trip

I recommend that you buy a UK road map. The bigger maps list caravan and camping sites and advise on routes, road markings and traffic signs which may be unfamiliar to you. They will also illustrate the names of the  mountains you are passing and allow you to plot your route based on the category of road. (Eg. Dual carriageway, A roads, B roads and M for motorway etc.) Looking at a map in the UK, the green coloured roads are good driving roads.
The A82 is an A road, which is known as a primary route. It will be a good driving road to take you from Glasgow to Inverness. (Photo 1). The 2nd photo is from Skye and is an example of a some of the roads that you will experience which are also categorised as A Road but these roads can be single track road with passing points most of the way.  B roads are minor roads connecting villages.  (Details on drink driving laws and mobile phone laws in Scotland at the end of blog post).

Must See on the road to Skye. 

Glencoe is famous for the massacre in 1692 following the Jacobite uprising. Thirty eight members of the clan McDonald were killed by the government forces and between 40-100 men died of exposure.  This makes Glencoe a hauntingly sad place in stark contrast to the majesty and beauty of the area.  There are a few free places to stop and take photo’s and most of the big tourist buses move on after 15/20 mins. It can get real busy in the summer but it is worth trying to park here or at the Visitor centre further along.

We sadly missed the turning for the Glencoe visitor centre but from past experience it is run by the National trust and Members of The Trust have free entrance to the paid exhibition. Many tourists also stop to use the gift shop, toilets, take the woodland walk and grab a cuppa. (The exhibition is optional).

Skye road trip through Glencoe, Scotland
Glencoe, Scotland – Lou armor@shutterstock

Our next destination was the fantastic Eilean Donan Castle which is at the Kyles of Lochalsh on a tidal island, connected by a footbridge. It is often described as the most beautiful castle in Scotland and you can get married here. Sadly, you are not allowed to take any photographs inside.

The castle was a ruin and the ancestors of the MacRae family rebuilt Eilean Donan and opened it to the public. The castle is filled with family heirlooms, hence the “no photo policy”.  There is a well stocked gift shop and cafe and I suggest you park on the right for this view. The walk across is only 5 minutes and you can purchase tickets at the bridge.  All details on the website below and information on their self catering apartments.
eileandonancastle.com

Eilean Donna castle Scotland
Eilean Donnan castle – Lou Armor@shutterstock

The Banqueting Hall is stunning. The rooms are easy to access but the corridors are narrow with stone steps. It can get very busy and at times difficult to pass people. During the summer months the Scottish midge can be a problem and for some reason the Scottish midges seem to object to the Avon cream and it is a popular deterrent. I strongly suggest that if travelling in the months of June-Sept that you purchase some Avon midge repellent.

We stopped here for about 45 mins and then headed off to Fort William en route to Glenfinan on the Shores of Loch Shiel. At Fort William take the A830 to Glenfinan. This was a good road with stunning views across Loch Eil to Glen Garden. This leg takes about 25 mins and the car park at Glenfinan was full and we parked on the hill outside the Catholic church about 2 mins past the car park.

The visitor centre again has toilets, refreshments and gift shop. This centre is run by the National Trust for Scotland. Behind the visitor centre is a short free walk to view the twenty one arch Glenfinan viaduct made famous in the Harry Potter films.

church at Glenfinan monument @shutterstock
church at Glenfinan monument. Lou Armor@shutterstock

The steam train that crosses the bridge is called The Jacobite train, which goes to Mallaig and details can be found on jacobitetrain.com

The wall around the monument tells the story of the spot where Bonnie Prince Charlie raised the Royal standard initiating the Jacobite uprising. The walk to the monument is free and the guided tour costs money. You can book the guided tour to climb the  monument at the Glenfinnan visitor centre. www.nts.org.uk

Way behind schedule now we raced on towards the Skye bridge. (My fault for taking so many photographs of the amazing scenery).  Our overnight deluxe stay was at the fabulous Three Chimneys and their small boutique hotel, ‘The House Over By’. The Three chimneys was the UK restaurant of the Year in the Good Food Guide, and I can see why.  This is also where the sat nav goes mad and takes you to the middle of Colbost, when it is nearer to the start of the town.

Three Chimneys restaurant on Skye@shutterstock
Three Chimneys restaurant on Skye@shutterstock

Refreshed and recharged after our stunning 7 course taster dinner and beautiful fresh breakfast, we were ready to take in all the free sights Skye has to offer.  I woke up early to drive to Neist Point Lighthouse.  Like many of the roads on Skye it is pretty badly pot holed and single track with passing points. It does improve for the last 5 mins and there is a free car park just before the walkway.

The walk to the lighouse is described as a 20 min walk. If, like me you have dodgy knees, it may take a bit longer.  The path is steep and uneven but use the hand rail and go at your own pace. The scenery is like another world, its very Jurassic and moody.  Young people and keen walkers will take this walk easily in their stride. Some people just sit here and have a picnic and do not go to the lighthouse. Its your holiday, see how you feel on the day.

Neist Point, road trip to Skye, Scotland
Neist Point, Lou Armor@shutterstock

Next stop was the small but beautiful, Dunvegan Castle.  I was told that the seal trips from here are very good and give amazing views of the castle from the water.   It is quite expensive to visit the castle and for that reason I took my photo’s from further up the coast, looking back.

Back in the car, we followed the A850 to the Fairy Glen in UIG. I was a little confused as to why the Fairy Glen is regarded by many as a Must see location? We were very disappointed.  If heading North on the A87 from Portree turn right on the road just before the Uig Hotel. It is a very difficult road to navigate and there are quite a few blind bends and in all honesty, I would not go back.

It is a series of small hillocks and someone has placed a circle of stones. The locals laughed when we said we were looking for the Fairy Glen! The Fairy pools at Glenbrittle on Skye may be a better option. If you have travelled to this area then pop into the lovely pottery studio at Uig Bay and have a snack at the cafe on the harbour, next to the ferry port, the views are superb. There is also a small brewery here, famous for its Red and Black Cuillin beers.

Fairy Glen free attraction Skye
Fairy Glen free attraction Skye

I would suggest that a drive around the headland to the Quiring IS a Free Must see. This area is famous for dinosaur tracks, which have been discovered the size of car tyres, at Brothers Point or Rubha nam Brathairean. Ref: (Guardiannewspaper).

Kilt Rock, free tourist attraction on Skye, Scotland
Kilt Rock, free tourist attraction on Skye, Scotland

Admire the spectacular scenery and drive on to Kilt rock/Mealt Falls and admire the free waterfalls. Complete the drive and stop off at The Storr. There is parking here and a walk which highlights the wonderful scenery. Listen carefully to the strange sounds which swirl around these mesmerising cliffs.

Most of the places on Skye are driving locations and if you love the outdoors, walking fishing, photography and nature, then this is the place for you. If you are looking for luxury hotels with spa and jacuzzi, then Skye is not for you.

We ended up stopping for a lovely burger at a very cool burger van before heading on to Portree for a late lunch.

Edinburghcitymom road trip to Skye Hebrides Scotland.
Edinburghcitymom Road trip to Skye, Hebrides, Scotland.

This was in April, if you are travelling from May onwards I recommend you pre book restaurants or pubs. There are plenty of places to eat in Portree the main town and the visitor centre is here with a good size car park.

Portree, road trip to Skye
Portree. Lou Armor@shutterstock

Golfing on Skye – Skye is an island and accommodation must be pre booked during the High season. There is a golf course on the island called Sconser and again if you wish to play contact the club and ask about availability.

Accomodation on Skye – Insider tip – There is a Facebook page for accommodation on Skye, which may be useful. Its called skyerooms and a new hostel called Skye basecamp who also hire out bikes from Skye cycles. There are some great reviews and photo here and may be useful for  last minute bookings.

When to Visit Skye on your road trip. Choose your time to visit wisely.  The summer months in Scotland are very busy. The midge season in Scotland starts early June until Sept. Only the female midge bites and midges are most active in the early morning and evening times.

Hillwalkers and fishing fans may wish to buy a protective midge head net. My daughter does a walking award scheme in the highlands and will not hike in the Highlands without her net.

Don’t forget your travel adaptors for the UK.

https://rcm-eu.amazon-adsystem.com/e/cm?o=2&p=48&l=ur1&category=ce&banner=0NMM69180HDZTAHXRQG2&f=ifr&linkID=3c8a744a2137f6289eb7ac1198df6097&t=edinburghcity-21&tracking_id=edinburghcity-21

Top Attractions on Skye Road Trip we missed

We did not reach the Talisker Distillery malts.com or the Gardens at Armadale. The former home of the McDonalds, with beautiful woodland walks. 40 acres of gardens surround Armadale Castle. These would definitely be on my list of to do.  I was also recommended the Bella Jane Aqua Explore tours to see Whales, Dolphins, Puffins and basking sharks.
Bellajane.co.uk  

We headed off the island, through the most fabulous scenery, on our way to Torridon, Inverness and Dornoch. Details of this trip will be on my next blog post as it covers part of the NC500, details of this amazing place on my next journey. Watch my road trip video here to inspire and help you plot your scottish bucket list.

Click here: Road Trip must see Scotland

I hope you have enjoyed the first leg of our Scottish Highland tour. The next drive is breath taking. Details of the link at the end of this post.

Dunrobin castle, Golspie Scotland
Dunrobin fairy tale castle in Scotland in village of Golspie.

Skye Bus Tours alternative to a Road trip

If I have completely put you off driving to Skye there are many tours that will take you. These include, The Highland Explorer Tours, The wee red Bus, Haggis Adventures and Rabbies. If travelling by Rail, then take the train to Inverness and on to the Kyles of Lochalsh. For Broadford (south) take the Stagecoach bus and for Portree (main town) take the Citylink bus.  There are fuel stations with shops along the route in most of the towns. The language is in English with Gaelic subtitles. Tourist signs are coloured brown on the roads.

Legal requirements for your road trip to Skye.

The drink driving laws in Scotland are different to England and I recommend that the driver abstains. (The current allowance is 50mg of alcohol in every 100ml of blood). If visiting any whisky distilleries they will bottle your free samples for later.  Seatbelts are compulsory for all passengers in Scotland and only hands free phone are allowed. You will be fined on the spot for using a hand held mobile. You will not always get advanced warning of speed camera’s.

Driving Tip on the Road to Skye – If on a road with passing points it is polite to pull in to the nearest large space. Don’t charge through aggressively. Take these roads slowly and always look ahead to the next passing point.  The person rushing through may be the local midwife or emergency worker. On The isle of Skye some of the livestock are not fenced in, be especially careful if heading to Neist Point.

What to wear? Be prepared for many seasons in one day. Bring a cagoule and warm layers if hiking, good waterproof walking boots are essential. When hiking in the Scottish mountains always carry a small whistle, have a torch and some emergency rations and plenty of fluid in the event of getting lost or needing assistance. The number in Scotland for assistance is 999 or 112.  Scottish insects: To avoid Ticks, cover your legs and tuck your socks into your boots for protection. Full details on dealing with ticks here. https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/lyme-disease/

If you want to avoid the crowds then September until June are your best months.  In winter the landscape is different, snow capped mountains, orange moss and strange heathers and gorse. It’s the most stunning scenery and worth the drive.

If you are visiting Scotland and do decide to start your trip from Edinburgh via Stirling, which is a motorway route, these are my top 3 must see locations nearby. https://youtu.be/3aBeYhAHyc0

Thanks for your time, I appreciate it.  If you have any other Skye tips, please let me know below. Details for the 2nd leg of my road trip around Scotland can be found here: click on this link – Travel around Scotland part 2.

Film clips available on Pond5 and iStock

lou Armor.

 

This page has amazon affiliate links which earn me some commission. All personal details submitted will remain confidential and not submitted to 3rd parties

Shutterstock: Earn Money online. (Beginners Step by Step guide)

Shutterstock is a stock agency based in the USA and this will be an important point to remember later when I discuss hashtags/Keywords.  At this moment I will go through the basics of Uploading your photo’s. The importance of Keywords. Reasons for rejections and Success.

I have been uploading since May 2017and started with 3 images. My portfolio now has 733 images.  February 2018,  I made $44 dollars for the month and the previous month I made $43.  I regularly now make $50 dollars a month (2019).  I take photo’s where ever I go. Shopping, car garage, kids day trips. I use Payoneer for international bank transfers as you are paid in US dollars and I am in the UK and this is a safe method for me with low transfer rates. You can also get paid by Shutterstock to your Paypal account.

earings to date 2018

Important point – I am an Amateur photographer and I do not know how to use Lightroom or Photoshop. I only use my Mac. 

You can still make money.  

Who wants your photographs?    I assume it is car magazines, travel magazines, local supermarket, newspapers, agencies, food bloggers …the list is endless. You do not get to see where your photographs are published. You can see the country it was downloaded too and which photo, but that’s all.

How to make Even more MONEY? 

Upload to multiple agencies, use photo’s with NO trademarks that can be used as commercial shots rather than editorial shots OR upload film footage. These pay more. You can also upload music and illustrations.

Commercial photo are those that could be used in an advertising campaign, have no visible trademarks or branding and have the proper model releases etc.

A Model Release? If you have crowds of people in your photo you cannot obtain model releases for everyone and these pictures can only be editorial photo’s which means less money. However,

If you have a selection of fresh fruit on a wooden table in your garden, this can be used commercially, and pays more. Provided that there are no logo, brands or visible trademarks. The Drawback to commercial photo’s…..

Everyone tries to produce them. Your photo would have to be Exceptional to get chosen from 120,000 fruit boards or cheese boards…you may find that by using local herbs or dried fruits from your specific region this gives you the X factor that makes your photographs stand out.

What are Keywords? These are the words  that you will use to describe your picture and this can make all the difference. 

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Okay this photo was rejected by shutter stock so we will use it as an example. It was out of focus. Keywords are needed to describe the photo to the buyer, which makes it easier for search purposes.

A. Poor or insufficient Keyword hashtags would be: flower, orchid, petals, greenhouse, indoor, pretty. 

B. Another contributor may use a similar photo with the same keywords but also added stem, tropical, flora, bloom, botany, beautiful, herbaceous, horticultural, Orchidaceae. 

Can you see the difference? 

Now imagine.  I am a busy editor on a deadline for a gardening brochure and have 40 mins to change an entire page because of a late advert.  I do not have time to scroll through 120,000 images of orchids. I have 40 mins.  I will narrow my search by my keywords… tropical orchid, greenhouse, single plant, yellow. Whose photo will appear higher up in the search? You got it B.

Think commercially..who is looking for your photo and what will they TYPE into their search. 

Are you ready to upload?

Great it’s not a complicated system, if you get accepted straight away, brilliant. Shutterstock in my opinion wants to see you are not a one photo wonder and they will reject you a few times to check that you have a few photographs to offer.  Once you have had a few rejections, you will start to understand and think about the process more. Don’t get upset, take it as a critique and a way to improve your photography.

Don’t be put off when you see amazing photo’s and think I am not that good.  A buyer may have used shutter stock for 10 years and used all the amazing photo every year. They need fresh material all the time and YOU may have something new to offer. We are often our own worst critics!

Improve Your Photo before Uploading.

The first thing I do is edit my photo on my camera. Sitting on a bus, waiting in a queue, just start editing and straightening. Most cameras have this facility.  At home I start to review each photo and alter light, contrast, colour depth, on my Apple Mac. I have no fancy tools. Please take time to get this process right and try not alter pictures too much. Save your photo in a named location that is easy to find.

How to Upload to Shutterstock 

Once you have done your basic editing, press Upload on Shutterstock. Then it will say, click drag and drop or select multiple files. I find select multiple files easy. Just locate the files and start the upload.

Shutterstock has become increasingly popular and I find uploads are not approved for about 48 hrs.  If you upload once a week then you get a higher visibility for a few days, if you drip feed shutter stock  twice a week you get constant visibility. (In my opinion).

Click the little box beside the photo and start describing it in the field. In the description stick to the facts.

Who? What? Where? When/date. Do not over elaborate at this stage. You can use more words in the ‘Enter keywords section’. Be exact about where the photo was taken, don’t say London, UK. Say the area in London, e.g. Parsons Green,  or the street in London, then say London, UK.  Good tip here, if on holiday and you are taking loads of photo, take home a free tourist map. It helps later to pinpoint places you may have forgotten the names of.

Example. Interior of Museum of Scotland, popular tourist attraction. Chamber Street, Edinburgh, Scotland UK. OR if you can’t remember the street name , type, Edinburgh City Centre, Scotland UK.

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If your photo has logo brands in the photo then click the box Editorial.  Choose a category from the drop down box. This can be tricky as sometimes its not obvious what box to choose, e.g. people running in a marathon. Would you choose, sport /exercise? Would you choose people? Would you choose parks/outdoors?

Go with your gut instinct. I still hum and ho over photo’s. Its okay.

Upload to shutter stock

DO NOT SPAM:  Spamming is using keywords/hashtags inappropriately.

Keywords I would use are for below are : Winter Palace, St Petersburg, Russia, tourism, travel, tourist attraction, palace, outdoors, people walking, city centre, statues, ornate, exterior, pillars, September, Autumn, architecture, building. I am describing what I see.

Spamming is over use of words and descriptions. Eg. Winter palace, palace in Russia, outside palace, people at palace…this is overuse of the same words.

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photo@shutterstock

Hashtags/Keywords: as I mentioned at the start hashtags/keywords can be tricky as the American spelling of some words is different. I tend to try and use both spellings harbor/harbour. It may just be a UK thing but you will similar problems with say a place in Copenhagen. You simply do not have symbols on your key board, just try and describe a place as best you can. Eg. This street is on Nyhavn, shutter stock may not recognise the spelling, just click MARK ALL KEYWORDS AS CORRECT. This will allow your words to be saved. Shutterstock now remembers your keywords and offers you prompts, which is fabulous when you submit similar photo’s.

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Photo@Shutterstock

The Numbers Game – How much competition do you have?

Search Shutterstock for Orchid, there are 455,310. I am an amateur photographer and my orchid will never be seen. So lets change our train of thought. I am Scottish, lets try Wild Bluebell. 12,186 photo of wild bluebells. Odds are getting better for me. Lets try Wild Bluebell in rain. 286.. really, much better odds of my photo being downloaded. Its spring, I walk my dog, sun, rain, snow. So take your camera, follow the seasons, snap away.

How many people are looking for wild bluebells in the rain..it doesn’t matter. Once your photo is uploaded it is their for years to come. Someone, somewhere in the world, is writing an article on scottish wild plants and the collapse of the bumble bees colony. They need a photo..they are not going to send a photographer to Scotland, they will use a stock agency. Shutterstock in my opinion is one of the best. Don’t try and guess who wants a particular photo for what, you may never know. If you love the photo, upload it and use at least 20 Keywords.

Registering with Shutterstock.

You will have to submit  forms of identity before you can upload as Shutterstock needs details for payment to you. Payments are made to Payoneer or Paypal and are not paid until you reach the minimum payout of $35.

Payoneer will take a transaction fee, usually for me its around $3 as banking is increasing security around the world you will need to submit a passport of drivers licence I.D.  This is standard procedure and I feel safe using Payoneer as their security checks are good. They pay. into one of my bank accounts and notify you before a payment is due. I am usually paid in USA dollars. To find out more click here: Payoneer

You may want to retain exclusivity of your photo, if this is the case then stock photography is not for you.  If you love the idea of someone in the world using your photograph to promote a place, a product, a region, then you may enjoy Stock photography. Below is the link. It is an affiliate link and I will get 0.04 cents from you photo if you make the cut.

Reasons your photo do not make the cut

  1. Only submit photographs that are of the best quality. Blurry, out of focus, filtered and over exposed photo will be rejected. Tips, if your photo keep coming back rejected as out of focus, get your eyes checked….
  2. Photo less than 4MB will be rejected. If transferring from a phone, use the biggest upload size available.
  3. Poor Lighting, trademarks and poor composition means rejection. By composition I mean are there distracting elements in the photo. e.g.Branches of tree, trash cans, illuminated road signs?
  4. Poor Composition. Too many objects can ruin the balance of an image. You are striving to achieve just the right amount of detail to allow the viewer to observe the moment. Everyone can take a photo but not everyone really looks at the scene and decides on the best angle to effectively capture the moment.
  5. Shutterstock will not accept photographs from some privately owned tourist attractions due to licensing rights and disclosures. Hollywood walk of Fame will not be accepted. Shutterstock provides a list of places they cannot accept.  I would suggest that you review the list from time to the to save you wasting uploads and energy. Eg, Eiffel Tower at night, Blenheim Palace, National trust properties, Inside Colesseum Rome, Royal palaces, exteriors are sometimes allowed as editorial with captions. These photo’s  were not allowed due to licensing restrictions. Edinburgh Military Tattoo and visitor centre outside Queens View in Pitlochery, Scotland.

Cropping: Do not over crop a photograph. Leave enough space for a potential buyer to  overlay text. They may need to put a headline on your photo. Example below. I could have cropped the sky for better balance but perhaps someone wants to put. “Beware strong undercurrents”, think commercially!

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Photo @shutterstock

Success: I am not at that stage yet, many contributors on the forum say that you need 2,000 photographs on your portfolio. I have a way to go yet. Oh yes, the forum is a great source of help and worth looking over. You can have your rejections reviewed, you can ask technical questions and learn from the top contributors. The top videographers earn $30,000 yearly and stock video receive 30% of the fee.

Thanks for reading, I appreciate your time. If you are visiting Scotland don’t forget to read my Festival and Military Tattoo guide and I hope you get great success on Shutterstock. My updated portfolio is here. 
Lou A.

4 Day guide to St Petersburg, (Russia).

St Petersburg was founded in 1703 by Tsar Peter the Great, who had a vision to turn a vast area of marshland into a vibrant city giving him a seaport to trade with Europe. The city has changed names from Petrograd to Leningrad and is now back to St Petersburg. Today it is the most Northern city in the world with more than a million people.

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photo@shutterstock

I visited St Petersburg in September 2017 and travelled from London Gatwick direct to Pulkovo with British Airways.  The return flights cost around £275 with luggage and took around 3hrs and 20 mins. The Visa application cost around £115 and biometric finger printing is required for all visa applications.

Everyone visiting Russia requires a visa whether it is tourist, business, student etc.  ( Full details on my other post and tips to navigate the application process. https://wp.me/p8JB3K-9K
Pulkovo, the nearest airport is located 23km south of Saint Petersburg and has no train connections to the city centre. The usual forms of transport are taxi, shuttle bus or local bus. The local bus does not go near the city centre and you will have to connect by metro. The city has a good network system but it can be confusing with four train stations in the city.  Details on rail links St Petersburg.com

We stayed at a fabulous hotel called the Astoria which had the best central location next to St Isaac’s Cathedral and two streets from the Hermitage, also known as the the Winter Palace. All the latest facilities and mod cons in the hotel and bedrooms.

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photo@shutterstock

Keen to explore the city we immediately set of to visit St Isaac’s Cathedral, a stunning piece of architecture with 100kg of pure gold on its domed roof….

It is worth the climb to the viewing station but as it was September and a bit cold and drizzly, we opted for the rooftop bar overlooking St Isaacs which had heaters, blankets and the best cocktails….it’s called the W Terrace. We did go back the next day to see the interior of St Isaac’s.

The inside is adorned with angels, sculptures and incredible murals. This building would be on my top 5 attractions in St Petersburg and very easy to access. We did not pre book and simply paid the entry fee at the door.

The Winter Palace

The next day we started early to tour the stunning Winter Palace. This was the home of the Russian Emperors from 1763-1917 and today is comprised of 5 buildings that make up the State Hermitage Museum.

The rooms are exquisite with artworks from Rembrandt, Leonardo Da Vinci, Monet and Picasso. It is a non stop visual feast and you really need a tour guide to appreciate all that is available.

We only had 4 hours and it was well spent with our guide.  Olga was amazing and had an incredible knowledge of the many State rooms and artefacts, as part of a private tour she guided as swiftly through the long entry queue and navigated us to the best parts of the museum, it could take at least 3 days to see everything in detail. There are 3 million pieces of art and world culture artefacts! A guide also lets you skip the very long queues and remember most of the tickets you book online need to be exchanged for bar coded tickets before entering.

The afternoon was spent on a boat tour of the Nevi travelling through 5 different canal routes, passing the Voronstov Palace, Bronze Horseman, Church on spilt Blood and many more architectural gems. We did not book the boat trip and just turned up at the Pier. The young guy was so chatty and helpful, we had a snack at the little cafe next to the pier, the Cafe Diner at 27 Nab Reki Fonatnki. This is also the meeting place for the free city walking tour daily from May 11th- sept starts at 10.30am. Details of the boat time table look up anglotourismo.com

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Photo of St Peter and Paul’s fortress.

Out in the middle of the river it is extremely cold, everyone gets a cosy blanket or the option of staying below deck. This would not be required in the summer months when it is much hotter.

Food and drink in Russia. The wine is super expensive and the food was good wherever we went. We did pre book restaurants for dinner but during the day, we just stopped if we liked the look of somewhere.

Luxury experience would be the Caviar bar at the Belmont Grand.
If you do not know your Beluga from your Sevruga from your Bester caviar, just look at the prices! When in doubt go for the sharing platter…this hotel does cater for gluten free, soya free, etc. If you get the chance try a cocktail….

All the young people were keen to speak or practise English and it was a really pleasant surprise, as we spoke no Russian and were relying on google and phrase books.

Other fabulous places to visit include: The Church on Spilled Blood which is both a historic monument and a work of art. This is the place where Emperor Alexander II was murdered. The site is marked inside by a special chapel, under the bell. The inside of this building is completely covered in mosaics.

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Photo of Catherine Palace also known as Tsarskoye Selo. The Tsars Village.

I could talk all day about these places but instead I would suggest that you spend a day in the city centre and see The Marble Palace and The Yuspov Palace also known as the Moika Palace. Tickets for this are limited, we used a guide who sorted the tickets and access.  The history is fascinating and the small  Rasputin Museum will fascinate you.
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Take a day to enjoy the shops and buy some souvenirs, the Russian Christmas baubles make a lovely inexpensive gift for family and friends. Of course you must buy a Russian doll set which children just adore. We were unable to visit the fountains at Peterhof but this place is definitely worth a visit and you can go by hydrofoil to add a bit more excitement to the day. Definitely go and see Catherine Palace, it is magnificent with beautiful grounds, a large pond and granite terrace and the Hermitage Pavilion. I’ts stunning.

Visit Vasilievsky island and the fabulous Mariinsky theatre. We had the most amazing night watching Romeo and Juliet.

Shopping: The streets are wide and pleasant to walk along, the main shopping area are Nevsky Prospekt, if you get the chance go to the Singer building. Bolshoi & Vladimrskyiy prospect.

Safety, money and tips

If booking a taxi it is advised to book at the taxi desk inside the terminal and pay then. This will eliminate any dispute over fares and cash. Alternatively book online in advance before departure. The currency is Roubles and other currencies are illegal. Most credit cards are accepted with the exception of American Express. The preference is Visa or MasterCard.

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I enjoyed walking around the outside of the Winter Palace taking photographs and I did not feel threatened at any point or unsafe during the day. I had a big clunky camera and a cross over bag and kept my bag closed at all times especially when  taking photo’s.  We did not walk alone in the dark at night through St Petersburg unless we were on the main thoroughfare which is really busy. For all my photo’s of Russia click here. http://www.shutterstock.com/g/louarmor?rid=174789014

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There are problems with pick pockets at the major tourist sites but it’s the same in the Vatican in Rome and on the Ramblas in Spain. Keep your wits about you. The person who is siddling up to your group  chatting on their phone may not be as distracted as they appear to be…

Keep your wallets at the bottom of rucksacks and don’t flash bundles of cash in public. Ask the hotel concierge or locals what is the average tip as hugely over tipping attracts attention. We tipped 10% on average.

Best time to visit

I had a fantastic time in St Petersburg and I would definitely return.  Visiting in September had the advantage of less crowds, cooler temperature and better hotel and flight prices. The Hermitage attracts millions of visitors but it was pleasant to tour in September. Late  September and early October you will find many things have shut down for the season.  This is the main reason that we were unable to see the fountains at Peterhof.

Families with children : pre school children, school age children and students with I.D are free of charge to the Winter Palace. Children will also love the museum of Soviet Arcade machines, near the Church of the Saviour on spilled blood. It also has a small cafe and English written instruction sheets. You get 15 old soviet coins to use on the machines, ice hockey, air ball games...discount with international student card.

Russia in miniature, kids will love the Grand Maket Russia Interactive Museum. Metro ride from city. 800 sq metres of the cities in Russia with moving cars and trains with special day and evening effects.  Address: Tsvetochnaya St., 16, St. Petersburg 196084. 

Have you been to St Petersburg, do you have any great tips?

Do you love take photo’s or filming locations, check out my film footage at POND5, if you want to upload or join a stock agency click here: Shutterstock. You can read my blog to help you understand what buyers are looking for. Earn money online

Thanks guys, I appreciate you reading this.

Take Care

Lou

This post contains affiliate links.

Visit to Russia from UK

Once you arrive in St Petersburg, the former capital of the Russian empire, you will think that you are in any European city, Amsterdam springs to mind.  The beautiful canals, the stunning architecture and the rich heritage, will both enchant and amaze you. However, you have to get there first, and this requires a visa if travelling from the UK. Russia has a reciprocal visa policy. There are 41 countries and territories with visa exemptions but many countries do require a visa. The UK is one of them.

Photo@shutterstock

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Understanding the Visa Requirements.

Travelling to Russia from the UK there are a few important points that you must consider before booking flights.  You will not be granted entry to Russia unless you have a Visa before you arrive in the country. The Visa application can be confusing.  I shall talk you through my experience travelling from the UK. The application can be different for other countries.

This is an update as of the new rules on the Russian National Tourist office. ” Starting from October 1, 2019, nationals of 53 foreign States may be granted an e-visa to enter the Russian Federation through air, naval, automobile, and pedestrian checkpoints located in the territory of Saint Petersburg and the Leningrad region. The list of countries that are eligible is quite extensive, please click here for details.

http://www.visitrussia.org.uk/visa

Exceptions 

The other exception to having a visa is if you arrive by Cruise ship or ferry.  If visiting a Russian sea port on a cruise or ferry for less than 72hrs and you are on a pre booked organised tour with a registered local tour operator, then no visa is required for St Petersburg and Vladivostok.

Photo@shutterstock

Applying for a Visa.

I was visiting St Petersburg for 5 days in late autumn and therefore required the standard tourist Visa, also known as a ‘Visa support’. It is a requirement that you have an ‘invitation’ with a voucher code from all the hotels that you have booked.  If you do not have this then you cannot complete the visa application form.

Once you have these letters of invitations from the hotels  you can then proceed to fill out the online application.  My letter of Invitation was in Russian and I was unable to understand it or find the MBT reference number. The Russian alphabet is not the same as the UK. My friends and I decided at this point that a travel company would be an easier option as they would instruct us on exactly what was required.

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Once I had the code I could proceed to complete the online form. This took me two hours to complete as it is extremely thorough. You can take a break and come back to it, make sure that you save your answers by recording your username and password generated by the online system and click save draft on page 2. This will allow you to re access your saved application.

The questions include all your trips abroad for the last 10 years. I fortunately had my old passports to hand and this was easy to look up. Your children details, mine were abroad but past mishaps have taught me to always keep a photocopy of their passports.  Other questions include – Parents/Where they were born, date/country and place of birth. These are just a few of the questions. Employment questions, social network accounts etc etc..

Once you have completed the form,  print it off and take it with one coloured passport size photo to the nearest Russian embassy. These can be found in Edinburgh, Manchester or London.  Please ensure that your passport is signed on the back page as signatures must match.  You will also need to have two blank pages free on the back of your passport as this is where the visa is attached.

The visa dates need to cover the entire period of your stay in Russia. There are many types of visa and it is easiest to follow the guidelines on VFS Global application centre, which has a FAQ section and a helpline number. (see bottom of blog).

The visa costs around £108 and takes 5 days to process or you pay an additional fee for next day approval, providing you have filled out the forms properly.  You must also be present for biometric finger prints.

It is NOT like popping over to Spain so please give yourself plenty of time to go through this procedure. You can apply for a Russian visa up to 6 months before your date of travel but in all honestly it took us under two weeks.

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Photo@shutterstock

If you are worried that you have not filled out the forms properly, there is a system in London to have your papers checked before you apply. This costs £18, which includes   fast track upon arrival at the Application centre. This information can be found at ru.vfsglobal.co.uk/additional services.

There is also a VIP premium service which costs £150 per application on top of the visa price. Details on above website. This allows you to have an appointment time and assistance with online form if required and access to VIP lounge. They cannot fill out the forms for you.

Letters or ‘invitations’ for AirBB.  Many people choose to stay with family or friends or do AirBB in Russia. In this case the host issues the invitation and registers you on arrival. They will need to provide you with the MBT number.

It may ultimately be simpler to use a recommended tourist operator such as: Way to Russia, Visa House, Go to Russia, iVisaonline  or Visatoruss.com. for the letters of Invitation.

Arriving at the Airport in Russia – When you arrive in Russia  you will then be issued with a migration card. This is in two parts, and both need to be completed before you go through passport control. Part A is kept by the authorities and you get part B. DO NOT  lose this document as you will need it to exit Russia and the police can ask to see your documents at any time. I kept mine tucked into the back of my passport.

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Photo@shutterstock

Once you arrive at your hotel, the hotel reception will register your visa. It is a legal requirement that all visa are registered with in 72hrs except for weekends and official holidays. The hotel will need the Migration card issued at the airport, so again do not lose your documents as fines may be issued.  Other info: Call centre has a helpline that is 55p per minute so have your questions pre written to save time and money. 8.30-5.30 Mon-Friday.  Tel: 0905 889 0149

Photo@shuttersock

It does sound like a lot of effort but I have been told many times by Russians in the UK that is what they have to do to bring friends or parents here to the UK for a holiday. Remember it is a reciprocal policy…

This is only a guideline and MY experience, please use the official website for further information. Once you get head around the procedure, it’s all systems go. To read my 4 day experience click here: https://wp.me/p8JB3K-ax

Thanks for reading, if anyone has tried the mobile biometric service I would love to hear how much it costs?

If you would like to see my photo they are available on shutterstock. Click here.

Would I go back? Definitely I need to see the fountains at Peterhof! 

Thanks for reading, I hope that you have a fabulous trip.

Take care

Lou.

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