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I've been to Loch Ness a handful of times now, but I had never been to the Loch Ness Exhibition Centre at Drumnadrochit, located in a village near Loch Ness. My parents were over for for three weeks in November and December, and we went to Scotland at the end of November. They have always wanted to see Loch Ness, so I took them there, and we decided to have a look around the exhibition centre.

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Actually, I was not expecting much as I don't believe in Nessie, the Loch Ness monster. I thought that this museum would be a "gimmick" but I was actually pleasantly surprised. This museum explored the lake itself as well as the famous "creature" and plausible explanations for what the sightings could be attributed to. It first discusses the history of the lake from its formation and then the sightings of the lake monster. The exhibition continues and explores the science, technology, and the hype around the famous lake resident, and this also led to some important discoveries and environmental research.

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I will not spoil it, but I did see some documentaries and unsolved mysteries with similar phenomenon of lake monsters, and it is believed that they are schools of fish or the motion of water circulating. Loch Ness itself is an extremely deep lake, so equipment and sonar has been sent down to explore the lake, which is no feat to be taken lightly. The exhibition goes on to explain this and shows off some of the equipment, which has had to be built to withstand the high levels of pressure in the lake.

The most important aspect to take away from the exhibition for me is that the lake is so deep and has been able to monitor humankind's environmental influences on the world by measuring the soil at the depths of the lake. It's actually quite astonishing when you think about it that you can see the effects of pollution and weapons on the environment.

In addition, the exhibition also had a small display on boats and planes lost in the lake over the years. The exhibition itself is a part of a large gift shop, and visitors can also get their photographs taken with the "Nessie" sculptures. There's also a tea room near here and games.

Carisbrooke Castle is located near Newport on the Isle of Wight, Hampshire, England. The castle is a motte-and-bailey one, and there was likely a fortress in the location from pre-Roman times as a Roman wall was discovered here to provide protection against Viking raids. Charles I was imprisoned in the castle after the Civil War and later executed. The castle contains a museum, wall walks, chapel, museum, gardens, and a well room with donkeys. I visited it in the summer of 2009.

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The castle has beautiful views from the top of the mound where the older castle keep used to be situated. Cannons can also be seen here along with beautiful gardens. There are also nice wall walks around the castle.

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The resident donkeys draw water from the well-house up, and donkeys have been doing this for hundreds of years. There are daily demonstrations to watch the donkeys bring the water up via the water wheel, 49 meters from the bottom of the castle well. When I visited, Jigsaw was the name of the young donkey that demonstrated this to our group.

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The chapel is known as St. Nichloas'. It was built in 1904 to commemorate 250 years since the execution of Charles I. The chapel is a memorial for the war dead of the whole of the Isle of Wight after World War I.

Beauly Priory near Inverness, Scotland

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Beauly Priory is located northwest of Inverness, Scotland in a small village named Beauly. The word 'Beauly' translates to "beautiful place", and this word and the priory has French origins. The priory is not the most-documented, but it was probably founded in 1230. The priory was founded by the monks from the Burgundy area of France under the Valliscaulian order. The order changed in 1510 to the Cistercian order, and it became abandoned after the Reformation. The lead from the roof was taken, and the stones were removed to use in other buildings. The ruins of the priory can be visited, and it is free to walk around inside.

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The priory was visited in August 1818 by writer John Keats and Charles Brown. They collaborated on a poem inspired by the priory, known as "On Some Skulls in Beauley Abbey". 

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Since 1913, the priory is in the care of the state and looked after by Historic Environment Scotland.

Inverness Castle

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Inverness Castle is located along the River Ness and on top of a hill in Inverness, Scotland. The castle is located in the city centre. The red sandstone castle was built in the 1830s on the site of an earlier 11th century fortress. Currently, the castle's grounds (including a beautiful viewpoint over the river) and the north tower are open to the public while the remainder of the castle is closed.

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A castle has been present at this location since 1057 and had witnessed several sieges and a conflicted past. The new castle was an improvement the older ones and included a water system and gas.

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The viewpoint from the top of the hill overlooking the river is stunning, and over the holidays, the churches, bridges, and other areas along the river are covered in colourful lights.

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At the bottom of the hill next to the castle is an ice cream shop called "Cool Ness Ice Cream Parlour". It's a large shop that looks like it hosts parties for children and other events. I had mint chocolate chip ice cream, which came with white chocolate ice cream chocolates.

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Have you ever been to Inverness Castle?

A Visit to Gretna Green & Moffat

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On visits to Scotland, I ususally stop at one of the two places (or both) on my way up and back again: Gretna Green and Moffat. I believe that tour buses/coaches also stop at these two places as there are usually buses here or space for bus parking. Gretna Green is a border town on the English-Scottish border, and Moffat is a bit further north-east. I will explain below why I enjoy visiting.

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First stop is Gretna Green. Because it is a border town, it had different laws such as marriage age. Becuase of this, a lot of people in the old days flocked to the town to get eloped in the blacksmith's shop over the anvil. The blacksmith's shop is still here and a museum that can be visited. The anvil is here as well, and the museum talks about the location and its history. A lot of weddings still take place here daily, and I've seen them take place. 

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Gretna Green (follow signs to the old blacksmith's shop) is a complex shopping area. In addition to the museum and a cafe, there are a couple of gift shops here and a food store. On my last visit, I saw a guy playing bagpipes.

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There are also a few notable sculptures here, including the one below featuring enter-twined hands to symbolise love.

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Down the road about thirty minutes away is the town of Moffat, a small town in the Scottish countryside. The attraction here is Moffat Woolen Mill. It used to be a working woolen mill, and there is a small exhibition at the back near the toilets of the looms and a documentary on how they work. The complex is a huge gift shop, home shop, and clothing store. I love browsing here and came back with something that I've wanted for awhile - a mermaid pillow.

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There is also a restaurant on site here, and I have eaten here a couple of times now. This time, I was with my parents, so we decided to get the special Christmas roast. This came with a cracker. I got the two course one, and that included a bowl of soup. The soup tasted delicious. The rest of the food was good too, but I thought that the vegetables were a little bit bland. They also serve afternoon tea here, and it's a lovely place to stop and have a browse and stretch legs. It's popular with older people who may be on the coach tours.

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Both Gretna Green and Moffat Woolen Mill are worth a stop when traveling through the area. Have you ever been?

Oxford Castle at Christmas

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Before Christmas, I had a quick trip to Oxford. Oxford Castle is a Normal Castle, and it was built in the 11th century to replace an older motte and bailey castle on the hill near where the current castle stands. The castle was used for administration and a prison in the 14th century, and it was left in ruins after the Civil War. It then became repaired and used as a prison, and another prison was built next to it. This was used as a prison until 1996, and then it was turned into a hotel. The medieval part of the castle, such as the tower and crypt, can be toured today. Tours are guided only and take approximately 45 minutes.

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After visiting the castle, I had a wander down the main street in Oxford, which has changed a lot since my last visit.

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I went to the Christmas market and the fudge shop. The Christmas market is just a small one with roughly twenty wooden cabins. 

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Unfortunately, we did not get to go inside the castle for a tour. We arrived in time to take the last tour of the day, but we wanted to walk around Oxford and see other places. We ended up actually making it a shopping trip instead.

Nymphenburg Palace in Munich, Germany

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While in Munich, I got to visit Nymphenburg Palace. Nymphenburg Palace is located west of Munich's centre and came to life in the mid-1600s and was a gift from the Electoral Price of Bavaria to his wife, Italian Henriette Adelaide for the birth of their son. The palace was a summer residence and designed in the Italian villa style. Henriette called the palace the "abode of the nymphs", and she envisioned being dressed as the goddess Diana while at the palace. She died in 1676, before the work was completed.

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Over the next several decards, the palace was extended. In the early 1700s, the expanded rooms took a French character because the main designer was French. This is when the courtyard was constructed as well as the gardens and ponds in front of the palace, and they are laid out in the French style. The gardens were used for entertaining, relaxing, and games, and water features and canals played a big part.

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In the 1700s, the palace was the summer residence for the Bavarian Court and used between the months of May to September. In the 1800s, the palace was used less frequently and not updated. The gardens were updated, however, as the new owners (who became the first King of Bavaria) was interested in nature. The gardens were transformed into the subtle English garden, but the canals were kept and more landscaping was added throughout the century.

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The Great Hall was the centre of the palace and a beautifully-decorated and light room. The ceiling design was created in the mid-1700s and shows nymph and flower goddess Flora in an arcadian landscape. 

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The room off to the side of the Great Hall was also decorated well. We also explored the other rooms.

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One of the rooms held the collection of King Ludwig's 'Gallery of Beauties', a series of 36 portraits that were commissioned by the king based on his personal preferences of beauty. The women and girls were from all social statuses.

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King Ludwig's bedroom is photographed below.

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The Queen's Study has a round table made of exotic wood, and the decoration of the room has Egyption influences, which was the fashion of the time in the 1700s; the room has not been touched since then. 

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The Queen's bedroom is the location where prince Ludwig was born in 1845 to his mother and king Maximilian. King Ludwig, who became king at a young age, did not have a great relationship with his mother and he was later removed as king.

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The Chinese room was built at the time when eastern influences were in style.

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After the tour of the palace, we wandered to the stables in an adjacent building. The stables currently hold a collection of carriages and sleighs, and upstairs is a collection of china. The carriages and sleighs range across different eras and were designed to look lavish.

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Have you ever been to Nymphenburg Palace?

After visiting Hohenschwangau Castle in Bavaria, our next visit was to Neuschwanstein Castle on the hillside opposite. Neuschwanstein Castle is probably the most beautiful castle in the world and is said to have inspired the fairy-tale or Disney-style of castle. With a little bit of snow covering the ground, it was not hard to see that this is an attractive castle, and after our guided tour of Hohenschwangau, we could not wait to get inside. The castle was built by King Ludwig of Bavaria, who grew up in Hohenschwangau Castle.

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On our arrival to the castle earlier in the morning, we got a good view of it and the mountains in the background. These are the fringe of the Alps.

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Because there was snow on the ground, the shuttle bus to the castle was not running. We opted to wait for a horse and carriage, and we had to wait a little while because everyone else had the same idea.

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Once up part of the way, we had to walk up the rest of the way. There was a stop-off point for photographs before we came to the castle entrance to wait for our guided tour. We saw great views over the valley. 

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Tours to the castle are guided only, but you can walk around the grounds without a ticket. You also need to be on time for your time slot as there are ticket machines, and if you miss your tour, you are not refunded. The tour of the castle showed us the different rooms and furnishings in the rooms. The Throne Room was an impression room with high celings, marble staircase/floors, and ceiling paintings. The most unusual room was off King Ludwig's bedroom, and this was a grotto (cave) inside the castle with a conservatory. On the way out, we could look in the kitchens of the castle and the gift shops.

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I saw views of Hohenschwangau Castle after exiting, and it was already lit up. After the tour of the castle, which ended in the mid-afternoon, I wanted to walk to St. Mary's Bridge to get photographs. They close this in bad weather, and it was also growing dark.

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I managed to find my way to the bridge over the deep canyon to take some photographs. I wish that I could have gone a little quicker.

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After the visit, we had to walk down the castle as the horses and carriages were not running and it was closing time. Overall, this is an amazing castle, but it was too bad that we could not get there earlier so that we had more time there and less time spent in the queue/line for tickets.

A Visit to Hohenschwangau Castle (Germany)

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The day after spending a day at Lindau to see the Christmas market and harbour town on Lake Contance in Germany, I drove from Munich to Hohenschwangau to see what is probably the world's most picturesque castle and Neuschwanstein Castle and the castle on the hill across from it, Hohenschwangau Castle. In this post, I will cover Hohenschwangau Castle, but keep checking for updates. 

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Hohenschwangau Castle was first mentioned in the 12th century on the hilltop in the town of Hohenschwangau. The castle was owned by Bavarian dukes but then was left to become run down. It had a new lease of life under king Maximillian II in the 1830s as a hunting lodge and summer residence and a continued lease of life under the king's son Ludwig, who built a castle on the neighbouring hill. The last resident, the king's mother, died in 1889. The castle then belonged to her brother-in-law, who died in 1912. The castle was then open to the public in 1913. 

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On the way through southern Bavaria on the way to Hohenschwangau, there was more snow. Snow had fallen in placed on the way back from Lindau the previous day. There are mountain views, and this is picturesque scenery.

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All of the tours of the castle are guided, and I suggest to book in advance. In order to book in advance, you need a few days. Because my trip was planned at the last minute, all advance tickets for the day had gone, even though I tried nearly a week before the day of visit. There are a limited number of tickets available on the day, but there are long queues, and they could sell out if you're not early enough. For your guided tour, you do need to be at the castle for the entrance and not to miss your slot as there aren't any refunds. The walking timings on the map are more than adequate.

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We had to climb up a set of stairs on the way to the top of Hohenschwangau Castle, and these were snow-covered and slippery.

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The guided tour took us across to the rooms where we learned about some of the items within the rooms. In one room was a piano that Wagner played on as Ludwig was a fan of music and the arts. The room that Ludwig stayed in was transformmed so that it appeared that he could sleep under the stars, and some of the ceiling was fitted with orbs that could be lit and glow.

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The views from the top of Hohenschwangau Castle are amazing, so we took these in after our guided tour. We then had to walk down, but we opted not to walk down the stairs this time as they were too slippery and I saw placed where people had fallen. We decided to walk down via the road, which was virtually slip-free and had nice views of the lake and castle.

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This is a beautiful castle. Keep checking back for my review of Newschwanstein Castle next door.

Visiting Christmas Markets in Lindau, Germany

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After visiting Kufstein in Innsbruck in Austria, we headed to the town of Lindau, which is situated on Lake Constance in southwest Germany (in Bavaria). The town is on an island in the lake, with a bridge to the mainland, and the town dates back to before Roman times. There are boat trips around the lake or to an Austrian town on the opposite side of the lake. The town also has its own Christmas market, which is situated on the picturesque harbour. The Christmas market was the main reason for our visit.

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We arrived fairly early and had a wander around the Christmas market first. The Christmas market is fairly small but has a diverse selection of items for sale and the famous mulled wine.

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Smoked fish was also on offer here, and I noticed this before from other Christmas markets.

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Another popular treat I discovered in Lindau, and this was similar to a pizza. There were sweet and savoury ones, and I had the sweet one with apple and vanilla cream. I've never had anything that tasted quite like this before.

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The day we visited was very foggy and cloudy, but there was a short moment where the clouds lifted and we could see the mountains on the other side of the lake. The harbour has a lighthouse and a sculpture of a seated lion, which looks like a tribute to Roman times.

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There is also a clocktower on the side of the harbour, and this opens later in the afternoon and in the evening to offer wonderful views over the harbour and the Christmas market.

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After exploring the Christmas Market, we walked down the main street in Lindau, which is only a couple of streets away from the harbour. We saw the beautiful buildings, shops, and a huge Christmas tree. We also had dinner at a German restaurant.

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After eating, we went back to the Christmas market in order to see it in the dark. It looked beautiful lit up with the clocktower glowing.

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Whereas Innsbruck in Austria has a mountain Christmas Market, Lindau has a lake Christmas market. Have you ever been to Lindau Christmas Market?

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