Findhorn and Forres, Scotland

I recently had the pleasure of taking a trip up to Scotland. It took me 5 trains to get from my parents home in England up to the small town of Forres situated on the Moray coast. I was lucky enough to be attending a training course in Forres and had the opportunity to explore this idyllic corner of the world.

On our free afternoon my fellow participants and myself visited the ecovillage at Findhorn, and wow what a place! Not only has this ecovillage grown from nothing to a thriving community in the past 50 years, it has been at the forefront of eco-friendly design and experiments in community life. However, the thing that struck me most about this place was the undeniable commitment to craftsmanship. This was most evident in the construction of the Universal Hall that plays host to many events.

This stunning building, nestled between the trees, is a showcase of craftsmanship. From the conception of the overall design through to every detail of the stained glass windows, mosaics and interior decor this building is exemplary. The mosaics on the pavement outside immediately caught my attention:

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But I think that one of the most impressive features is possibly the dry stone walling. Dry stone walls are common in this area but usually have a rather rough appearance. Not so in Findhorn ecovillage! Here dry stone walls have been taken to the next level and the precision is pretty mind-blowing.

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On this wall the stone even creates a mural showing the river Findhorn flowing through the Cairngorms and running out to the sea at Findhorn Bay.

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As mentioned above, in the ecovillage they have also experimented with various types of sustainable construction and eco friendly design. This house is incredibly made from an upcycled whiskey barrel! Apparently you could still smell the whiskey for 5 years after the house was complete!

After visiting the ecovillage, we took the short walk over to the beach.

Walking down the beach, we took a short cut across the dunes and arrived at the little harbour and sat down for a well deserved fish and chips. The north of Scotland gets ridiculously long days in summer so we were able to sit outside into the evening and enjoy the fabulous reflection of the boats on the mirror-like water:

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The next day we had another treat as we were able to spend a couple of hours at the Highland Games in Forres. We saw various races and athletic competitions, a very competitive tug-of-war, traditional Scottish dancing, Haggis burgers, plenty of kilts and of course…a whole host of bagpipes!

 

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Highlights of Croatia #2: Zadar, Split & Brac

Part two of my highlights from my travels in Croatia last year is here! Part 1 covered Zagreb, Karlovac and Plitvice Lakes. This second part is about the beautiful Croatian coastline.

First up is Zadar! I visited Zadar twice last year while travelling around Europe. It is a charming little city perched on a peninsular with plenty to see and do. The historic centre, with its red roofs and white towers, is very picturesque.

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View from one of the aforementioned towers

If architecture or history is what you are in to you can find it all here. Roman, byzantine or Venetian the architecture is top notch!

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But one of the main attractions in Zadar is neither historical nor architectural – it is in fact musical. The sea organ, located on a promenade with a fantastic view, uses the movement of the waves to push air through organ pipes set into the sea wall to produce some pretty amazing sounds. This is accompanied by a solar powered light show (think dance floor) to make a unique experience.

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Te sea organ is set into these steps/seating
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View from sea organ (yes that is a yellow submarine)

Next up was Split. Now I have to make a confession from the start that I didn’t much like Split. I found it to be dirty, smelly, tacky and over-priced. However, I will admit it has its beautiful parts.

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Another great thing about Split is that ferries leave from here to many of the islands including the one I chose to visit: Brac.

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Bol Harbour

I stayed in the little town of Bol on the island of Brac and I loved it! It was the end of September when I visited so the busy summer season was coming to an end and Bol was returning to being a sleepy fishing village. I really enjoyed sitting at a cafe by the harbour (pictured above) and watching the locals coming and going.

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Lovely tree-lined walkway leading to Zlatni Rat

Walking along this tree lined walkway you arrive at Bol’s most famous attraction. Zaltni Rat is a spit of beach that stretches out into the water, changing shapes depending on the currents. What most people don’t realise is that it is a stone beach rather than a sandy one – but I loved it because you don’t leave feeling like you have sand in all the wrong places.

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Zlatni Rat beach
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Sunset at Zlatni Rat – stoney beach not sandy

Bol was my last proper stop on my European tour last year before heading back to Zadar for my flight. And what a way to finish. Despite catching a cold (was lovely and hot in the sun, but chilly in the shade which was not good after swimming), it was one of the best places I have visited and would highly recommend a visit.

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Simply stunning sunset Bol, Brac – no filter needed
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And the sunrise on the way to the ferry back to Split

Final words on the Croatian coastline: is becoming touristy and over priced but there are still lots of gems that make it worth it.

Berat, Albania

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Deep in the heart of Albania is the beautiful city of Berat. The two neighbourhoods of Mangelem and Gorica face each other across the river, each displaying the characteristic architecture of the Ottoman era, cobbled streets and a certain undefinable charm. High on the hill above Mangelem is the castle and from here you can capture views of the surrounding mountains.

I was lucky enough to spend some time in this city learning about its history and up close and personal with some of its wonderful architecture. The most memorable aspect of the city for me is the neighbourhood of Mangelem where the house almost look like they are built one on top of another and hundreds of windows stare out – getting the city the names ‘city of a thousand windows’ or ‘city of a thousand eyes’.

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But I will not only remember Berat for its architecture – trust me to unwittingly arrive on the day of a craft market. There were still several stalls out when I arrived late on a Sunday, but I was drawn to one in particular. This couple sold me some stunning woven table runners made in the north of Albania, in the Shkoder region. The weaver has won national awards for her stunning designs and craftsmanship.

I was attracted to the simple and elegant red and white designs which I think are so typical in the Balkans and although they appear simple there are some deceptively intricate patterns.

Final words on Berat: Character, Charm & History.