British Isles Destinations

Must See Destinations in the British Isles

If you’re planning a trip to the British Isles, be sure to include theses destinations on your itinerary.  These are some of my favorite cities in England, Wales, Scotland and Ireland.  Click on the heading for more details and photos.

Shrewsbury, England:  A picturesque river city in Shropshire with a medieval past.

Shrewsbury School Across the River Severn

Shrewsbury School Across the River Severn

Conwy, Wales:  A beautiful little coastal town in Northern Wales with an awesome castle.

Conwy Castle on the North Coast of Wales

Conwy Castle on the North Coast of Wales

Inverness, Scotland:  A city in the Scottish Highlands near Loch Ness and Urquhart Castle.

Inverness Castle, Inverness, Scotland

Inverness Castle, Inverness, Scotland

Galway, Ireland:  This eclectic city on the west coast of Ireland is the gateway to Clifden and Connemara.

Galway Cathedral on the River Corrib

Galway Cathedral on the River Corrib

 

A Western Russia Itinerary

Timing is Everything

          Just a few months before the Russian invasion of Ukraine, I took a three week, independent rail and bus journey through Western Russia and Ukraine.  This fabulous trip began and ended respectively in the gateway cities of Helsinki, Finland and Kiev, Ukraine.  In between, I visited the Russian cities of St. Petersburg, Moscow, Saratov, Volgograd, Astrakhan on the Caspian Sea and Rostov on Don before heading west into Ukraine to visit the cities of Yalta and Odessa on the Black Sea and Kiev on the Dnieper River.

The Medieval Town of Porvoo, Finland

The Medieval Town of Porvoo, Finland

Three Countries, Three Seas, Three Rivers

          I learned that train travel in Russia, while safe and reliable, could be painfully slow.  At times I literally wanted to get out and push the train to make it go faster when there was no apparent reason for it to be going so slowly.  Fourteen hour bus trips were the norm.  But these protracted sojourns gave me a wonderful opportunity to meet and get to know the friendly folks in Finland, Russia and Ukraine.  Even with this fast paced trip covering a huge territory, there was still plenty of time to explore the Baltic Sea, the Caspian Sea and the Black Sea.  And I was able to check off one of my bucket list items by dipping my toes in the Volga, the Don and the Dnieper Rivers along the way.

The Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood, St. Petersburg, Russia

The Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood, St. Petersburg, Russia

City by City Itinerary

1)  Helsinki, Finland (3 nights)

-arrived by plane from SFO

2)  St. Petersburg, Russia (3 nights)

-arrived by train, 5 hours

3)  Moscow, Russia (3 nights)

-arrived by train, 4 hours, 45 minutes

4) Saratov, Russia (1 night)

-arrived by overnight train, 15 hours, 30 minutes

5)  Volgograd, Russia (1 night)

-arrived by train, 6 hours, 30 minutes

6)  Astrakhan, Russia (1 night)

-arrived by train, 8 hours, 30 minutes

7)  Volgograd, Russia (returned for train connection to Rostov on Don)

-arrived by overnight train, 10 hours

8)  Rostov on Don, Russia (1 night)

-arrived by bus, 8 hours

9)  Yalta, Ukraine (1 night)

-arrived by overnight bus via Simferopol, 14 hours, 20 minutes

10)  Odessa, Ukraine (transfer to train)

-arrived by overnight bus, 14 hours

11)  Kiev, Ukraine (2 nights)

-arrived by train, 8 hours, 30 minutes

Yalta on the Crimean Coast of the Black Sea in Ukraine

Yalta on the Crimean Coast of the Black Sea in Ukraine

A Whirlwind Trip!

          As you can see, this was not a trip for the faint at heart.  It required sticking to a rigorous schedule, with many long hours on trains and buses, but it enabled me to see some fabulous places that tourists may not have an opportunity to see again for quite some time.  Within months of returning from my trek through this area, Russia invaded the Crimean region of Ukraine, which it has occupied since.  Russian troops are still marshaled on the border in the Rostov region of Russia.  Within the same period of time, the train station in Volgograd, where I made several connections, was bombed by terrorists.  Yet, I would not have wanted to miss this chance to explore Russia and the Ukraine and to meet the wonderful people who reside in these two counties.  To a person, they were friendly, welcoming and interested in the American visitor traveling solo through their homeland.  Stay tuned for lots more information about traveling through Russia in future articles on your favorite travel blog, Blue Orb Travel.

Perchersk Lavra Monastery on the Dnieper River in Kiev, Ukraine

Perchersk Lavra Monastery on the Dnieper River in Kiev, Ukraine

British Isles Itinerary

A Good Starting Point for Planning Your British Isles Itinerary 

This summary of the itinerary for my recent 18 day trip through the British Isles will, hopefully, help jumpstart your own trip planning process.  I’ve just completed a detailed series of postings featuring each city I visited, including where I stayed, how I got there and what I saw at each stop along the way.  If you decide to follow this itinerary you’ll get a good overview of England, Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, while keeping the travel times each day to a minimum.  For me, getting there is half the fun, so I love riding the trains and buses through the countryside from one town to the next.  This is often a great way to meet people and it’s wonderful to be able to leave the driving to someone else when you’re on vacation.  If you’re traveling in a group of two or more, however, it may be more economical to rent a car, but remember, driving a car with manual transmission on the opposite side of those narrow roads is not for the faint of heart!

London, England

London, England

Customize to Fit Your Own Schedule

A word of caution…as a solo, budget traveler, I like to squeeze as much as I can into my trips, so this pace may be a bit fast for some.   If that’s the case or if you don’t have three weeks, you can use any portion of this schedule and tailor it to fit your own timetable.  One possibility, for example, would be to separate it into two trips, the first just concentrating on England, Wales and Scotland and the second just on Ireland.  Another suggestion would be to do England and Wales in one trip and Scotland and Ireland in another.  By dividing the trip in this manner you would have time to spend two nights in some of the major cities like London, Edinburgh and Dublin and at major scenic destinations like the Cliffs of Moher and the Ring of Kerry in Ireland.

Conwy, Wales

Conwy, Wales

City by City Itinerary 

As you can see from a quick look at the list below, you will be traveling to some of the most famous and interesting destinations in the world…and getting from one place to the next will take you through some of the most beautiful scenery on the planet.  Here goes!

1)  London, England

-arrived by plane from SFO

2)  Bath, England         

-by train, 1 hour 45 minutes

3)  Cardiff, Wales

-by train, 1 hour

4)  Shrewsbury, England       

-by train via Swansea, 8 hours

-scenic Heart of Wales train journey

5)  Conwy, Wales                             

-by train, 2 hours 30 minutes

6)  York, England                                     

-by train, 5 hours

7)  Edinburgh, Scotland                            

-by train, 2 hours 30 minutes

8)  Inverness, Scotland                     

-by train, 4 hours

-scenic Highlands train journey through Cairngorm Mountains

-LochNess

9)  Glasgow, Scotland                      

-by train, 4 hours

10) Belfast, Northern Ireland           

-by train and ferry, 6 hours

11) Londonderry, Northern Ireland  

-by train, 2 hours

12) Sligo, Ireland                             

-by bus, 2 hours 30 minutes

13) Galway, Ireland                         

-by bus, 2 hours 30 minutes

-Clifden and Connemara

14) Limerick, Ireland                       

-by train, 2 hours

-Cliffs of Moher

15) Tralee, Ireland                           

-by bus, 2 hours

-Dingle Town

16) Killarney, Ireland                      

-by bus, 1 hour

-Ring of Kerry

17) Cork, Ireland                             

-by bus, 1 hour 30 minutes

-Blarney Castle

18) Dublin, Ireland                          

-by bus, 4 hours 15 minutes

Loch Ness, Scotland

Loch Ness, Scotland

Summary of Expenses

Airfare: (San Francisco to London and Dublin to San Francisco) $807.00

Land Transportation: (trains and buses) $613.00

Lodging: $1,327.00 (average $74.00 per night)

Food: $144.00 (doesn’t include breakfast which came with most hotels)

Incidentals (including entrance fees): $73.00

Total Expenses: $2,964.00

Londonderry, Northern Ireland

Londonderry, Northern Ireland

Las Vegas or Europe?

Depending on what part of the country you’re coming from, a round trip plane ticket to Las Vegas can cost anywhere from $200 to $500.  For just a few hundred more you could fly to the British Isles and see something new and exciting.  Remember, either way you still have to eat and sleep, so the expenses once you get to either destination will be similar.  The choice was a no-brainer for me!  Considering all the fantastic things I saw, the wonderful people I met and the awesome accommodations I had on my nearly three week trek through England, Wales, Scotland and Ireland, doing all this for less than $3,000 was a great value for this budget traveler.  Be sure to check out the other articles in this series for more details on planning your trip to the British Isles.  Tally Ho and Cherrio!

The Ring of Kerry, Ireland

The Ring of Kerry, Ireland

The Llys Llewelyn Guest House, Conwy, Wales

The Llys Llewelyn Guest House…An Awesome Accommodation

          As the gateway to Snowdonia National Park, Conwy, Wales is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the British Isles.  At certain times of the year finding accommodations there can be difficult without planning ahead and that is exactly the situation I found myself in when I stepped off the train early in the afternoon on a Wednesday in late May.  After checking several ‘bed and breakfasts’ near the center of this historic, medieval town and finding them fully booked, someone suggested that I try the Llys Llewelyn Guest House just a few blocks up the hill in an area of Conwy appropriately called Mount Pleasant.  It was located right next to the old town walls and afforded a spectacular view of the town, river and castle below.

Llys Llewelyn Guest House Next to the Old Town Walls

Llys Llewelyn Guest House Next to the Old Town Walls

One of My Favorite Sleeps!

          From the moment I spotted the impressive edifice and walked up the front courtyard, I could see why this place was listed as a historic building.  Roger Hughes was covering for his father that day and invited me in when I rang the bell.  He had a room with private bath available for $48 including a traditional English breakfast.  I was soon checking in to a large room that included two beds, a television, and a table with a fully stocked coffee and tea tray.  The room was clean, cheery and welcoming and was appointed in what I would call ‘old fashioned’ décor.  After unpacking and getting myself organized I was soon out the door and on my way to explore Conwy.  I had only to step across the street to find an ancient stone stairway leading to the top of the old town walls where I began my walking tour of this quaint Welsh village.

Room #1 Looking Out to the Town Below

Room #1 Looking Out to the Town Below

Like Being in an Old British Movie

          After a wonderful day of exploring Conwy and environs, which I described in my previous posting, I returned to the Llys Llewelyn Guest House around 9 PM exhausted and ready to sit down with a cup of tea.  Even at this hour it was still light out way up there in the northern latitudes.  I plopped myself down in the overstuffed chair by the window looking out at the estuary and the town below and watched the darkness settle in.  As the lights in town came on one by one and the castle gradually faded into a mere silhouette in the shadows below I began to feel like I was in an old British movie.  I could almost see Robert Donat and Madeleine Carroll coming up the walk (The 39 Steps) and half expected Dame May Whitty to knock on my door (The Lady Vanishes).  OK, maybe I’m getting a little carried away, but you had to be there.  It really was an entrancing feeling to be a part of this wonderful setting so far from home.

Dining Room at the Llys Llewelyn Guest House

Dining Room at the Llys Llewelyn Guest House

Up Early for Breakfast

          Alas, the knock never came on my door and after a good night’s sleep I was up early the next morning to catch the train to York, England.  After packing, I went down to a charming dining room to find the owner, Alan Hughes, waiting to take my order.  He prepared a delicious breakfast and then asked if I would mind if he pulled up a chair so we could chat.  I was glad to have the company and enjoyed hearing him talk about the history of the area and how he came to be the proprietor of the guest house after retiring as a Welsh Olympic ski coach.  He explained how he enjoyed meeting his guests who came from all over the world and that having an opportunity to get to know them was reward enough for his efforts as a good host.  After breakfast we took a quick tour of the rest of the facility which has a number of large well-furnished bedrooms available, including family, twin and double, most with en-suite facilities.  If you’re lucky enough to find yourself in Conwy, Wales I recommend Room #1 at the Llys Llewelyn Guest House, so you can sit in that chair by the window at the end of a busy day of sightseeing and watch the sun go down!

Alan Hughes, Proprietor, in the TV Lounge of the Guest House

Alan Hughes, Proprietor, in the TV Lounge of the Guest House

Conwy on the North Coast of Wales

Conwy…A Medieval Welsh Town 

          Conwy is located near the boundary of Snowdonia National Park on the coast of ‘old north’ Wales (not to be confused with New South Wales!).  Pronounced ‘Conway’, it is a medieval walled market town that boasts one of the best preserved castles in Wales.  The short train ride from Shrewsbury, England cost about $25 and took us through some beautiful scenery along the way.  As the train approached town we crossed the Conwy Railway Bridge dating back to 1849, which is situated along side the Conwy Suspension Bridge dating back to 1826, now used for pedestrians only.  Even before disembarking, passengers are treated to an up close and personal view of Conwy Castle as the train circles around it before stopping at a tiny, unmanned train station.

Conwy Castle on the North Coast orf Wales

Conwy Castle on the North Coast orf Wales

On the Irish Sea

          On arrival visitors immediately get the impression that they are in a quaint little village of historic significance.  What makes it even more interesting is that nearly 30% of the town population speaks the ancient Welsh language.  The town is located on the Conwy River where it widens into an estuary leading to the Irish Sea.  Looking across the water one can see the town of Deganwy on the far side.  Conwy is a great jumping off point for forays into Snowdonia National Park with its picturesque hamlets like the famous Betws-y-Coed.  With the many outdoor activities available in the park, it is definitely one of the places that will be high on the list of stops during my next trip to Wales.

The Waterfront Looking Toward the Castle

The Waterfront Looking Toward the Castle

A Popular Tourist Destination

          Since Conwy is such a popular tourist destination, I knew that finding a room there might be difficult, but little did I realize that I would end up staying in a Bed and Breakfast that would turn out to be one of my favorite ‘sleeps’ of the trip.  I will feature the Llys Llewelyn Guest House in my next posting.  But for now, trust me…this is where you will want to stay when you visit Conwy.  An access point to the medieval town walls was located close by the B and B, so after checking into my room I ventured out and climbed to the top of the walls for a good view of the town, the castle and the estuary below.  Among the best preserved in Europe, the town walls cover three fourths of a mile and have 22 towers.  Dodging the many school children visiting that day, I followed the walkway along the top of the wall until I had the lay of the land and was ready to explore what awaited me below in more detail.

Street Scene in Conwy, Wales

Street Scene in Conwy, Wales

Historic City

          Although small, the town of Conwy is filled with historic sights which are easily seen on foot.  The Castle was built by Edward I of England between 1283 and 1289 and in my opinion is one of the most beautiful of all the castles I have seen in Europe.  Virtually across the street from the castle is the town itself, which contains a Guild Hall, the Aberconwy House, which is a medieval merchant’s town house, the Plas Mawr, which is an Elizabethan town house, and a funny little dwelling right on the waterfront that is billed as the smallest house in Britain.  A statue of Llywelyn the Great stands in Lancaster Square from which the narrow streets of town fan out.  In addition, the remnants of the original Conwy Abbey, which he built, can be seen at the site of the new church in the center of town.

Site of the Original Conwy Abbey

Site of the Original Conwy Abbey

A Fishing Village, Too

          At the bottom of the hill along the river visitors are treated to another look at the castle from a different angle and then turning the other way, the fleet of colorful fishing boats comes into view.  As an inveterate hiker, I was delighted to find two great trails to walk during my visit to Conwy.  First, I took the long cycle path along the south side of the estuary past Bodlondeb Park nature preserve.  By the time I reached the sandy beach at Morfa the crowds had thinned out to almost nothing.  I stopped to chat with a couple of fishermen along the mussel beds before reaching the elegant golf club and marina at the mouth of the estuary.  After returning to Conwy, my second trek was in the other direction.  Crossing the river on the pedestrian bridge, I walked to the town of Deganwy on the other side of the estuary, stopping at intervals to take a look back at Conwy and the castle off in the distance.

Mussel Beds on the Mouth of the Conwy Estuary on the Irish Sea

Mussel Beds on the Mouth of the Conwy Estuary on the Irish Sea

Dinner at the Local Pub

          After perusing some antique shops in Deganwy I headed back to Conwy to find a place to eat.  From a good selection of pubs I settled on one called Ye Olde Mailcoach in the center of town, ordered a beer and some food and sat down to relax for the first time that day.  An older gentleman stopped by my table to say ‘hello’ and ask how I had enjoyed my walk.  It turned out to be one of the fishermen I had chatted with miles and hours ago.  It was fun chatting with some of the other guests at the pub who were typical of the friendly folks I met everywhere throughout my visit to Wales.  As darkness set in and the town slowly closed up I returned to the Llys Llewelyn Guest House for the night.  Be sure to stay tuned for my review of this great Bed and Breakfast in my next posting.

A Quick Tour of Conwy, Wales

 


 

The Welsh Countryside

A Scenic Train Ride through the Welsh Countryside

          Swansea on the South Coast of Wales is only a one hour train ride from Cardiff, with the ticket costing a little over seven dollars.  The two and a half hour stop over there allowed me to get out and explore this interesting seaside city before getting back onboard the train for the scenic ride through the heart of Wales.  I had read about the beautiful journey between Swansea and Shrewsbury (just back across the border into England) and it was with great anticipation that I returned to the station after walking around Swansea.  The train had already pulled in by the time I got back and a friendly lady who I recognized to be the conductor was standing on the platform.  I asked her if she had any suggestions as to which side I should sit on to get the best view of the scenery and was surprised when she offered her recommendations for each leg of the trip.

Swansea, Wales...the Old and the New

Swansea, Wales…the Old and the New

Quaint Villages and Lots of Sheep

          When the conductor saw me checking out the train, she asked, “You’re not a train buff, by any chance, are you?”  When I eagerly replied that I was, she added, “Oh, then you’re really going to enjoy this ride!”  We chatted for a few moments until a young man emerged from the train who she introduced as the engineer.  They both proceeded to explain that this was going to be a beautiful ride heading north through the Welsh countryside and that we’d see lots of sheep-studded farms, green hillsides and quaint little villages along the way…so quaint that the conductor would have to get out and manually throw the switch to lower the traffic barrier.

Conductor Lowering Traffic Barrier

Conductor Lowering Traffic Barrier

A Historic Train System

          Because it was not a heavily traveled route, there would be stretches where there was only one track for trains going each way.  The engineer and conductor explained how they would have to stop and manually insert a set of keys into an antiquated set of locks to insure that no other trains came in the other direction while we were on the track.  The conductor said she would let me know when the time came and I could come along with them and see how it was done.

Engineer Explaining Old Train System

Engineer Explaining Old Train System

Tagging Along with the Engineer and Conductor

          Well, as you can imagine, I was in hog heaven for the entire four hour ride, between watching the breathtakingly beautiful scenery passing by outside my window and getting out several times with the engineer and conductor to watch them do their thing!  They were so friendly and nice and seemed to enjoy having a passenger who was interested in the operation of the trains.  These folks were typical of the entire cadre of train personnel who I encountered on my trip throughout England, Wales, Scotland and Ireland.  To a person, they were friendly and helpful and went out of their way to insure that their passengers were safe, comfortable and got the correct ticket at the best price.  If you like trains and train travel, be sure to watch the video below.  Once you see the beautiful country scenery you’ll want to add this train ride (costing only $23) from Swansea, Wales to Shrewsbury, England to your itinerary!