Here are some of the most wonderful experiences in the area surrounding Inverness
Feeding reindeer in the Cairngorms
The Highland Games in Balleter (so many bagpipers!)
Sweeping, take your breath away views at every turn
For the next journey on our trip, we drove from Inverness to the Cairngorms, a gorgeous mountain range and national park in the Scottish Highlands for a reindeer feeding.
Feeding reindeer in the Cairngorms was one of the most magical experiences of my life. We were brought to a vast meadow, and walked along a wooden path to reach the pasture. All of a sudden, we heard the clip clopping of hooves behind us and found that a herd of reindeer had joined our walk and were prancing directly behind us. As we fed them, they gently nudged us with their velvety, soft noses.
Some background info about the herd: A Scandinavian adventurer fell in love with an American woman and moved to Scotland but missed the native animals from his own country. He imported the herd of reindeer from Sweden to the Cairngorms in 1952. There are currently 150 free ranging members of this beautiful reindeer herd.
The Magical Highlands
On the drive from the Cairngorms to the highland Games in Balleter, we were rewarded by this spectacular view. We were so gobsmacked, we pulled over, leapt out of the car and just stood there eyes wide and sighing. This is the Scotland of your dreams.
Off to the Highland Games!
The HIghland Games in Balleter was everything I was hoping for and more. I was so thrilled we were able to see this. As luck would have it, there was one Highland games held in our area while we were visiting Scotland and it was on the last day of our trip. I wanted it to be a surprise for Brad, and I was literally bouncing around in my seat on the way to the games. Situated between two towering, pine covered mountains, the location could not be beat. These games featured highland dancers, log tosses (think giant highlanders wearing kilts and rock band t shirts), competitions for best clan costumes (and let me tell you they were decked out and magnificent), fresh donuts, and so many bagpipes. At one point, the bands entered the field and there were around 50 bagpipes marching in union, kilted up.
We ended our fabulous Scotland road trip in Edinburgh. We met friends for dinner at a Mediterranean place. At this point we had been travelling for five weeks and I don’t remember the name of the restaurant, but it was tasty, wonderful to catch up with old friends and a great cap to the most wonderful trip. We headed home for three days where we recouped (and spent most of the time lounging on the couch watching Poldark yelling during every scene – “We’ve been there!”) Then we left for a week in gorgeous Rhodes.
We chose Inverness as one of the stops on our Scotland road trip primarily for its proximity to historic sights, Loch Ness and surrounding natural beauty. I didn’t plan to spend much time in the city, but I was pleasantly surprised when I fell in love with this beautiful little medieval town. The Inverness Old Town is dominated by the Inverness Castle perched on a hill, cobble stoned streets, bright flowers blooming everywhere, and nightly Ceilidh’s – impromptu live Scottish music sessions! Very close to the historic sights of the Battle of Culloden, the Clava Cairns and Loch Ness, Inverness is lovely, transporting and great fun.
Highlights of our Inverness road trip
Here are some of the can’t miss experiences in and around Inverness:
The Battle of Culloden and the Clava Cairns
The medieval Inverness Old Town and listening to a ceilidh
Fish & Chips at the pubs
Loch Ness and Urqhart Castle
Feeding reindeer in the Cairngorms
The Highland Games in Balleter (so many bagpipers!)
We headed for The Battlefield of Culloden Moor where the 1745 Jacobite Rising came to its final stand. This is a powerful and evocative place. A MUST for all Outlander or Scottish history fans.
Jacobite supporters, seeking to restore the Stuart monarchy to the British thrones, gathered to fight the Duke of Cumberland’s government troops. It was the last battle on British soil and, in less than an hour, around 1,600 men were slain – 1,500 of them Jacobites. Stroll the grounds and imagine these highlanders standing tall, fighting for their people, their land, their very way of life.
A few minutes away from the Battle of Culloden you will find the Clava Cairns, ancient Bronze Age standing stones dating back about 4,000 years, and the inspiration for Diana Galbadon’s Craigh Na Dune, the stones that transport Claire to 17th century Scotland in Outlander.
A must see in the Inverness area is Loch Ness! We strolled the banks of the iconic Loch Ness, and explored Urquhart Castle. It is easy to see why this place has sparked the imagination of so many. Loch Ness is vast, and deep and seeped in mythology. The Highlands themselves make you feel like magic must exist.
Where to stay:
We stayed at a cute little B&B called the Silverstrand Guesthouse, very close to the Old Town. It was less then a 10 minute walk to the center. The friendly owner welcomed us in a kilt 🙂
Where to eat:
The Castle Tavern. This cozy pub built in the 1700s overlooks the river Ness and has a gorgeous view of the Inverness castle. I had great fish and chips (natch), and Brad had a pie. They also have a bunch of stellar ciders on tap, and super friendly staff.
Best places to hear bagpipes:
The Highland Games of course! The 50+ person band decked out in kilts was the piece de resistance of the games. Long live the bagpipes! Our favorite place in Inverness for a good old fashioned Ceilidh was Hootananny’s. Live folk music Sunday to Wednesday night.
* I have realized that every time I hear the bagpipes, the teen in me desperately hopes they will break out in the steerage jig’ from Titanic. Hasn’t happened yet, but I live in hope! *
Next – Feeding Reindeer in the Cairngorms and the Highland Games!
Our Epic 9 Day Road Trip Through the Scottish Highlands
The Scottish Highlands have long been one of my most favorite places on earth. Filled with wild, rugged landscapes, rolling lush hills filled with deep purple heather, majestic mountains, cascading waterfalls and of course bag pipers, Scotland has a way of working itself into your dreams.
I first visited the Scottish highlands more than ten years ago during a semester studying abroad, and I have been dying to show it to Brad since. I was thrilled to include it in our six week vacation last summer.
Highland hikes, particularly the Quiraing and the glorious sweeping views in the Isle of Skye
Eating fish & chips and listening to bagpipes at local pubs in Portree
The Battle of Culloden and the Clava Cairns
Listening to a ceilidh and exploring the Inverness old town
Feeding reindeer in the Cairngorms
The Highland Games in Balleter (so many bagpipers!)
We rented a car for our week in Scotland which I highly recommend, as there is so much you will want to see and public transport isn’t a practical option. With a car, you can drive at your own pace and hop out for photo ops and hikes, of which you will want to do constantly because Scotland is breathtaking.
We spent the first day in Glencoe, an incredible glen nestled between towering mountains. Glencoe is lush, verdant green, full of cascading waterfalls and yellow wildflowers. Shrouded in mist and surrounded by majestic mountains, the drive into Glencoe is where the magic really begins on your roadtrip.
Prepare to pull over every two minutes for gasp-worthy photos. Scotland is a place that truly makes you feel like magic exists.The day we arrived, a resort was hosting a Harry Potter movie night, as the third movie was shot in Glencoe and we arrived to this sign:
Harry Potter 3, The Prisoner of Azkaban was filmed in Glencoe, so we immediately went off to hike the area where they filmed Hagrid’s Hut! Located in the Clachaig Gully, the hillside is easily assessible. We parked and I ran right for it. Sadly, the hut (and Hagrid) aren’t there anymore, but the landscape is exactly how I remembered it from the movie, and I could one hundred percent picture the pumpkin patch, smoking chimney and Buckbeak raising his enormous head to gaze at me!
Where to eat:
The Claighann Inn. There is one rollicking restaurant in this tiny village: conveniently located near Hagrid’s hut. I had a curry and sticky toffee pudding which is a spongy cake covered in caramel served with vanilla ice cream and I highly recommend.
Next we headed to the Isle of Skye
Exploring the Isle of Skye is all about stunning hikes, take your breath away views, rolling hills full of deep violet heather and gamboling sheep, tiny pubs serving crispy fish & chips and stirring nights filled with bagpipes and live Scottish music.
The Quiraing is my absolute favorite hike in Scotland. We took the four hour route, and for parts of our trip, it felt like we were the only people in the world. Known for it’s gorgeous green unique topography, lochs and wild flowered covered mountains walking the Quiraing felt like hiking in a fantasy land. Best time to visit is the early morning or the late afternoon, though sunsets will be very late in the high season (around 9ish to 10ish).
The first two hours of our hike were fantastic – filtered sunshine bathing the pass and a light breeze. The last two hours however were…..not. The sun disappeared and the wind picked up, turning our path back into a frigid wind tunnel. We had to hurtle down the track through the buffeting wind and hide between rock formations for a breather. At one point, I almost gave up – Nope, NOPE! It was so, so cold. Worth it though, for the incredible views. Especially when we were nice and warm, sipping coffee and eating piping hot fish and chips afterwards 🙂
The hairy cows of the Scottish Highlands are wonderful creatures, and a huge highlight of the trip was stopping to say hello to every single one we saw. I have named this gentleman Hamish. I love him. He was a very gentle soul and allowed us to nuzzle his ears, while gently nudging us with his noser.
We made a stop at Kilt Rock on the way to the Quiraing. This waterfall is a must see, but the shrieking wind was so intense, we parked, leapt out of the car, enjoyed the bagpipes playing nearby, breathed in the clear, salty air, snapped a photo and hopped back in the car.
The iconic Old Man of Storr is an easy hike, less than an hour. The Storr walk uses the same path up and down, starting & returning at the same point (the carpark). A very well maintained path leads right to the base of the amazing rock formation – but get there early as by the time we finished around 11am The Old Man was completely covered by fog. Haha- WE saw the Old Man of Storr! Insert me wiggling about taunting everyone feeling very smug. (Because usually I am the one who wakes up late and misses stuff).
On the way from Glencoe to Portree, we made a stop at the 13th century Eileen Donan Castle.
Where to stay:
We based ourselves in Portree, an adorable, rustic town on the sea, and the capital of Skye. We stayed at Fisher’s Rock B&B. I think B&Bs in Scotland and England are unbeatable. If at all possible, try to stay at one during your trip. Lovely hosts, great views, delicious breakfasts and thoughtful touches.
Where to eat:
The Harbour Fish & Chip Shop. Across from the beautiful pink, yellow and blue homes of Portree on the promenade. Crispy, perfectly salted fish and chips served with gravy. We even heard the servers speaking Gaelic!
The Pier Hotel: Intimate, rustic Inn serving tasty Scottish fare. Fun pub filled with lots of locals.
Best place to hear bagpipes:
The Isles Inn. We came here to eat as well. We love Scottish music and wanted a place to listen to bagpipes. Our B&B owner mentioned this place. While grabbing a drink, Brad chatted with the bartender about places we could hear some good live music and she said, “well my brother’s band is playing here tonight, he’s great!” It was so much fun, we went back twice. Great, rollicking atmosphere. Fantastic, live music. Full Scottish band. Highly recommend.
Note: Scotland can get very cold, even in August, when we visited. We were lucky to have some days of sunshine in the highlands, but we had carry on luggage for our entire 6 week trip, (not an easy pack) so had to buy a few items for hikes. Wellies and windbreakers were our main purchases. We picked them up at a local supply shop in Portree. I also picked up the above green wool hat at an adorable shop in St. Ives.
Next blog post: The breathtaking, stirring to your senses, Inverness!
Oh you guys, this Outlander episode was filled with so many great moments. Sacrifices! Gauntlets! Tearful farewells! Fireside tales! An unexpected couple! Red coats! Let’s dive right in, shall we?
Operation Rescue Roger
Claire, Jamie and Ian arrive at the Mohawk camp and attempt to trade goods for Roger’s life. Ian leads the negotiations because he has the best language skills. (BTW, when did Ian become fluent in Mohawk??) While Claire is showing the goods to a ferocious group of Mohawks, they see her stone necklace and visibly recoil. The chief murmurs “she is wearing Otter Tooth’s necklace!” and promptly tells Claire that she must leave. (Who the f*** is Otter Tooth, I thought to myself, because I honestly did not remember this necklace). Cutaway to a Mohawk women staring significantly at the necklace as a confused Claire retreats with Jamie and Ian. A bit of background info: in the beginning of the season, Claire found a skull in a cave with a stone embedded inside. She puts this stone on a necklace. She then has visions of a ghost – a bloody Mohawk man painted black.
Jaunty Murtagh Gobbles A Feast
Cue a smiling Murtagh arriving by horse and carriage to Aunt Jocasta’s plantation house, also known as River Run, strolling jauntily up the steps and proceeding to devour a delicious looking meal. Murtagh becomes upset upon hearing that Bree plans to marry Lord Grey because “Bree canna marry a redcoat!” She gives him an icy retort and leaves. In other news, I am obsessed with Bree’s purple velvet four poster bed, and think I need to incorporate “dinna fash” into my everyday vocab.
Ambush! Tussle! GET THEM JAMIE!
Back at the camp, Jamie hears something in the distance. He tells everyone to stay very still, as a Mohawk comes hurtling out of the trees straight at Jamie. They tussle, Jamie wins, knife to his throat. Highlanders are the best. The Mohawk woman from earlier strides into the camp telling Claire she wants the necklace. Claire questions why this stone is so important. Cue: a fireside story at twilight! Yassss. I love a good fireside tale. Turns out the ghost Claire saw previously was a traveler named Otter Tooth who visited the Mohawk to warn them about their future, and the destruction of the Mohawk nation. He advises the slaughter of all white men to protect the tribe. The Mohawk thought he was possessed and subsequently killed him and disposed of the stone when he became violent. However, some Mohawk believed him and think whoever has the stone will learn about the future. Claire agrees to give her the stone, in exchange for help freeing Roger.
With almost zero planning, they head to the Mohawk camp to liberate Roger. Understandably, Roger is upset to see Jamie, but Claire calms him. Everything goes terribly wrong, and they are stopped at gunpoint by the Mohawk while escaping. Claire eases the situation by yelling PEACE. The chief says he will let them go, however Roger must stay as no trade has been made.
Jamie instantly offers himself as barter. As in, zero hesitation. I knew Jamie was going to sacrifice himself. I KNEW IT!
I did not know that seconds later Ian would take his place. Insert me yelling: NO! Roger isn’t worth Ian! Not Ian! His love for this family is so pure, he is willing to sacrifice himself so that Jamie can return home with Claire to Brianna. He also wants to take responsibility for his part in the mishap with Roger and Bree. There is absolutely nothing Jamie can do about it, as Ian has already made a promise to the Mohawk. In one of the most gut wrenching moments of this show (and that is saying a lot) Jamie questions – “How can I part with you?”
And I shouted – I don’t know!
Ian responds, you told me once you hoped I would become a man of worth. Don’t make me break my promise. Jamie, desperately proud of his nephew and trying to be strong for him says “You dinna ken how worthy you are.” It is a beautiful scene. So many tears. Ian is crying. Jamie is crying. Claire is crying. I am bawling. It’s almost unbearable. At least Rollo (Ian’s beloved and loyal dog) is staying.
Silver Fox Murtagh and Aunt Jo Jo Mix it up!
Murtagh and Aunt Jocasta are discussing politics. Murtagh says that Aunt Jo has grown too complacent and wants her to fight for the regulators. Aunt Jo accuses Murtagh of only visiting when he wants something. Murtagh calls her a lunatic and the look on his face when he immediately realizes his error in judgement is priceless. Things escalate. Apparently, hardcore arguments about politics and character assaults are considered seductive in 1700s Scotland, because sparks are flying and emotions running high. She flings a glass of whiskey in his face (Murtagh doesn’t hate it) and the next scene begins with the two of them in her bedroom. Her bedroom YOU GUYS! It is the next morning, and Aunt Jo Jo says breakfast has arrived. Murtagh, hair down and flowing in all its glory replies let it wait, because…you know. Finally, a moment of happiness! It is romantic and tender and wonderful. I fully support this couple. We must protect them at all costs!
Brianna gives birth. It is a quick scene. She seems rather apathetic. The best part is Murtagh pacing frantically outside and bonding with the little tyke afterward.
Not the Mohawk Gauntlet!
Ian proves himself a terrific bad ass, while Jamie fights for Brianna. The Mohawk camp have set up another gauntlet, this time for Ian. Ian races his way down the gauntlet, leaping over swings, throwing punches and diving under tomahawks. He’s really effing agile, and incredibly brave making the very best of this situation, proving once again he truly is a man of worth. He drags himself to the end where he is welcomed into the Mohawk tribe by the chief. Ian’s smile, combined with his tentative turned jubilant whoops intermingling with the war cry of the Mohawk is a well-earned thing of beauty.
Simultaneously, a livid Roger takes a run at Jamie pummeling him. Jamie stands passively allowing Roger to vent his anger. (Oh, Rog. Jamie could kill you with his little finger.) Roger is confused and furious because of the abuse he has suffered, and Jamie is furious because Roger left Brianna alone to get assaulted. Jamie explains why he attacked Roger in the first place, followed by revealing Brianna’s hideous ordeal. Roger does not know if he can spend his life in the 1700s with a son to whom he may not be the father. (At least, I think that’s his position. Who knows when it comes to toe-rag Rog.) Jamie is fuming. Not only has he lost his nephew ensuring this dude’s safety, but now he may abandon his daughter?! Claire tries to diffuse the situation and allow Roger time to think but says “Whatever you choose, you must be sure. This is our daughter!” The two stand strong and supportive side by side. The juxtaposition of the gauntlet with Jamie and Roger’s “fight” is so epic I watched it twice. Roger goes away to think – presumably about what a tool he is.
Jamie and Claire arrive at River Run….sans Roger. I GASPED. They tell Brianna that Roger is alive, and knows everything. The look on Jamie’s face as he watches Brianna’s heart break is tremendous. They tell her that they will always, always be there for her.
Insert me yelling – Roger you better show up!
There is a great moment where all the main players are eating dinner in silence, worried about Ian and Brianna in their own private ways. Brianna walks into the room, and smiles at them all, taking her place at the table like the survivor that she is.
Brianna is packing away her clothes preparing to return to Fraser’s Ridge when she sees a ragged figure riding a horse in the distance. She drops her things and runs out the front door to greet the horseman.
It’s Roger. He did it! He showed some backbone! They embrace. It is sweet. They are happy. And best of all Roger says…”Let’s go see my son.”
Fine, I guess I have to accept the fact that Roger is hanging around. WITH PROTEST. And, I really think Brianna deserves better or at the very least a sincere, well worded apology.
As the Fraser’s are preparing to leave, there is a knock on the door. The red coats have arrived! WTF? OH NO! Everyone assumes they have come for Murtagh. Jo Jo caresses Murtagh’s hand, staring tenderly into his eyes. Jamie’s side eye as he realizes romance is brewing between his Godfather and his Aunt made me cackle. Murtagh hides while Jamie answers the door. The red coats present him a letter saying that Jamie has been ordered to hunt down the traitor….MURGTAGH FRASER.
Final Thoughts On The Finale
LOVED it. Best finale yet. Hit all the right emotional notes. Touched on all of our favorite characters. Created a new couple that demands to be worshiped, provided closure and set us up for a hell of a new season. Long live the Frasers.
If you tuned in to Outlander hoping to see more of Jamie and Claire in this episode than last week, I feel it is my duty to inform you that you will be highly disappointed. I am so sorry to be the bearer of bad news. You do get to see snippets of Dreamy Lord Grey and Brianna strengthening their friendship, Fergus and Marsali becoming a new power couple of note, and of course Murtagh escaping jail, but not nearly enough. Because this episode, or at least 2/3rds of it, is all about boring, growing more grizzled by the minute, Roger. Not to say that Richard Rankin isn’t a quality actor. He is, and does the best with the subject matter he is given, it’s just that Roger is a truly unlikable, roll your eyes every time he comes on the screen, kind of character. At several points in this episode I yelled out “Oh Roger, I DON’T CARE!!”
I just want to see more of Jamie and Claire. Is that too much ask? The scriptwriters need to use more of these wildly charismatic actors, as they are the reason most of us fell in love with, and still watch the show.
Brianna Confronts Stephen (And Lord Grey is Wonderful)
At least Lord Grey features in this episode, delightful as ever. Even Bree, during my favorite line of the show, admits that it’s “impossible not to like you.” When he hears the news that Stephen Bonnet will be executed for murder, he immediately tells Brianna who declares that she wants to speak with him. Lord Grey, sensibly and hilariously refuses, because he says, your father asked me to take care of you, and ““taking afternoon tea with a murderer” does not exactly fulfill that request. Brianna goes on to say that she received a letter from Jamie (featuring the only scene with Jamie, riding through the woods and providing a voice over) urging her to forget vengeance and seek forgiveness, in order to move on with her life. While I love Jamie for wanting the best for Brianna, it seems a little rich, considering upon hearing about Bree’s assault, he beat the living hell out of Roger, and sold him to the Mohawk.
So – off Lord Grey and Brianna go to the jail cell to chat with the rapist/murderer. If Brianna must endure this horror show, Lord Grey is the perfect partner to accompany her – sensitive, empathetic and endlessly considerate. Meanwhile, there is a wonderful moment when Marsili realizes Fergus is planning to break Murtagh out of jail, and wholeheartedly supports him. These two are a budding Jamie and Claire – loyal and loving and brave, willing to sacrifice all for those they care about. I love them.
Bree meets with a chained Bonnet in his cell, and says her piece. She says that she has forgiven him, and shows him her growing baby bump. He rips out a ruby from his teeth (what…how…was this a thing in the 1700s?!), and gives it to her to aid in raising the child. He says some foul nonsense about how at least he will live on in his child, causing Brianna’s reserve to break and she says the child will never know his name, Stephen will not exist, her child will grow up to be a good person, etc. etc. She leaves with her head held high, and a modicum of closure. Get it Brianna!
Fergus Storms the Prison
As Brianna is leaving, she runs into Fergus and his gang breaking Murtagh out of jail. (They intend to blow up the jail to cover their tracks after they save Murtagh, and time is of the essence.) In one of my favorite scenes the jail breakers hold a gun to Lord Grey’s head and he says the equivalent of “unhand me good sir!” Murtagh and Lord Grey have a tense moment trading salty barbs (I actually don’t remember why these two don’t like each other. Pity, because I’d watch The Murtagh and Lord Grey show all day.) Everyone manages to escape the jail before it explodes. Fergus grabs Murtagh and they run and hide in Marsali’s waiting covered wagon, and head to Fraser’s Ridge. Lord Grey and Brianna head back to Aunty Joscasta’s, presumably.
One horrific cliffhanger – someone has dropped the the keys during the prison break, and the last shot we see before the explosion is Bonnet reaching frantically for them. Is he alive!? Knowing this show and its track record, yes he God damn is.
There’s a nice moment where the militia question Lord Grey and Brianna about the explosion, asking if they saw anything of importance. Lord Grey, honorable and kind as ever, says unfortunately they did not. I really need this man to get his happy ending.
Roger is Awful
The rest of the show focuses on Roger, who has been thrown into a hut in the Mohawk camp for bad behavior. Because this section was truly so boring, I am going to condense. He meets a priest in the hut, Father Alexandre, who while working as a missionary to convert the Native Americans, denied his faith by falling in love with a Mohawk woman Johiehon and having a son. The Mohawk welcome the union with open arms and want him to baptize the infant. The priest refuses to do so because – reasons. He gives a spiel about how baptizing his child would send the kid straight to hell, and although he has turned his back on his faith, he cannot do the same to his son. The punishment for his refusal will be death by a small fire, under his feet. Roger is appalled and insists the priest perform the baptism and look out for himself, because if there is one thing Roger has learned from his ordeal traveling through time and space to find Brianna it is “I am number one.” Insert me yelling – “OH, GO AWAY ROGER!” Things escalate. Roger is horrible. He devises an escape plan urging the priest to follow. They dig a hole to escape the hut (mmm good plan) but do not finish in time. The priest chooses to die for his sins and insists that Roger escape and he will provide the distraction. The priest goes to the pyre, and Roger flees. Upon hearing the priests screams, Roger does some hair pulling (and I did some eye rolling), then runs back to “save” the priest. He throws a barrel full of some sort of powder into the pyre and it explodes, covering the priest in flames and mercifully killing him more quickly. Johiehon, who has been forced to watch the slow mo torture of her beloved, sets down her baby and climbs into the pyre, hugging the priest as both are enveloped in the inferno. Roger is returned to the hut.
So….yeah. That was the ending. I hated it. I suppose the show is commenting on the nature of devotion and just how much people are willing to sacrifice for those they love.
I don’t mean to be insensitive, but we get so few episodes a season, and I would like to spend it with the characters I love. Can we please return to Jamie and Claire’s adventures/rescue mission for the finale?! Let’s do this folks!
Our time in Saint Petersburg was a bit of a recovery period for us. We outdid ourselves exploring gorgeous Moscow and the constant snow coupled with the frigid 12 degree weather took its toll. I’m not ashamed to admit it, Russia kicked our asses. Well, it kicked my ass, I should say. Brad as always, was fine. We rallied during our exceptional train ride from Moscow to Saint Petersburg however, and managed to get ourselves up and moving for an evening of sight seeing and a wonderful birthday dinner celebration.
After running around the snow covered bridges/canals, and hitting a few major sights, we went for a fabulous birthday dinner at Katyusha, a traditional Russian restaurant off Nevsky Prospect.
Designed to look like a 19th century cossack house, dining at Katyusha felt like being welcomed into the home of a Russian babushka in the mountains surrounding Saint Petersburg. Think – lace dollies, chintz , floral motif, and waitresses dressed in traditional garb. I adored it. I am enamoured with Russian folklore and history, and felt transported. I ordered rosemary chicken with potato pancakes, mushroom cream sauce and sour cream. Note – everything is served with sour cream in Russia and I 100% support this practice. Afterwards, we sampled homeade Russian liqueurs – cherry, cranberry and black currant, that were so surprisingly tasty we ordered two rounds!
Over the next few days, we spent a fair amount of time relaxing in our luxurious hotel room, reading books, watching movies, drinking fruit tea and eating Milka chocolate. We also managed to fit in some beautiful sights and wonderful bakeries.
Favorites Places And Must See Sights:
Palace Square: The location of bloody Sunday, which some historians say was a key event that led to the Russian revolution, Palace Square is a sight to behold. Stroll the grounds and let your imagination run wild with thoughts of Andrei courting Natasha in the grand palaces, a fur clad Anna Karenina on a troika ride or Seyit & Sura strolling through the endlessly falling snow.
Catherine’s Winter Palace & The Hermitage:
The Hermitage is fantastic. What an unexpected gem of art and splendor. Catherine’s Winter Palace houses the second largest art museum in the world featuring Da Vinci’s, Monets, Vermeers, Van Goghs, Renoirs, the list goes on and on. Also – Catherine’s rule and rise to Empress was legit fascinating. Coups! Betrayal! Murder!
Saint Isaac and Kazan
I am deeply obsessed with bday cake eg: I dream about my birthday cake year around. As this was my birthday week, and I knew I would not be able to find my favorite chocolate and buttercream frosting cake, we made it our personal mission to find delicious cakes around Saint Petersburg. We had so much luck with bakeries in Moscow, that I was super gung ho to try them in Saint Petersburg. I was not disappointed
After the bakeries, we decided to head out for some birthday drinks. Our waitress from Katyusha had suggested a cozy cocktail bar. Filled with Russian professionals, one of whom helped us order, it felt very local. The bar served innovative drinks w/ fresh ingredients. Brad ordered one of the best basil martini’s I have had in my life, second only to Lupe’s martinis, from St. Orres. You could smell the tangy scent of basil on the air, as the waiter carried us our cocktails.
Basil martini and blood orange mimosa
Train from Moscow to Saint Petersburg:
Russian trains are insanely, next level excellent. They offer complimentary food and drinks, plenty of leg room, coat racks, and announcements in Russian and English. Our train also included a very jovial (albeit intimidating looking) conductor who at one point offered to hold Brad’s coffee for him, showed us how to adjust our seats and even wished me happy birthday! The train was warm, spotless and offered gorgeous winter wonderland scenery – snow encrusted forests, and tiny Russian villages blanketed with snow. Top sights: we passed a frozen lake with a lone child sledding (pretty sobering experience) until we spied his dogs frollicking joyfully and wildly around him. Brad even spotted a fox!
I Love Cake:
This snug and cozy bakery was a total delight. Strung with wall-to-wall Xmas ornaments and twinkly lights, the pastel cafe serves gourmet hot chocolate adorned with fresh sugar cookies, homemade cakes and breakfast. And oh, the cakes – cinnamon and ginger bread and cream cheese and wild berry. While we sat perusing the massive menu, and watching the snow fall softly outside, Russian murmurings filled the cafe, as the scent of hot chocolate wafted through the air. I was in birthday heaven. The cafe features a variety of about twenty ornate cakes daily, and the baker’s descriptions were so luscious and detailed. I literally stood in front of this display for five minutes while the baker described the ingredients in each cake – and what’s in THAT one?!?
Taras Bulba – Ukranian restaurant. Bustling, boisterous, full of warmth and good cheer. Felt very authentic. Great, rich, comfort food – dumplings, chicken kiev, etc. * Note, they serve sour cream with everything!* Features dancing and folk singing. The type of homey, heart-warming experience you are always hoping for when traveling. We had our Xmas dinner here, and this will live on in our memories as one of our most exotic and exuberant Christmas meals.
Festively decorated Taras Bulba
Moskva – Moscow’s signature red-glazed nut cake
Potato and onion dumplings – sour cream on the side
Bjorn – Decorated with pine needles and pine cones and reindeer antlers, this Nordic restaurant has a rustic yet modern charm. Ordered the mushroom cream soup, served with potatoes and crispy onions and a sparkling rosé Russian wine. (I didn’t even know Russia produced wine!) Served with a basket full of hearty brown bread topped with large flakes of sea salt, and home churned butter. Made me want to visit the Nordic countries. Located across the bridge from the Kremlin.
Bjorn – Rustic Nordic Cuisine
Mitzva Bar: Underground Jewish bar in Moscow – right next to Bjorn. Taking the winding staircase down to the bar feels like you’re descending into the lair of a changeling. Massive crystal chandeliers hang from the ceiling. Tell the bartender what flavors you like and he will create a cocktail for you. My specialized drink was lemon with Prosecco and a hint of something sweet – citrusy and fresh. Brad’s was…weird. He ended up ordering one of mine. We also ordered a Mediterranean plate with hummus and other dips served in an ornate silver platter. The hummus and olive tapenade were very tasty. There were several other dips that can only be described as overwhelming fishy – just straight fish slime and salt really. Oh well, risk you must take when the entire menu is in Russian!
Mediterranean platter at Underground Jewish Bar
The Metropol: Iconic hotel, next to the Bolshoi. Order a stranger in Moscow and enjoy it in the grand lobby, while imagining Russian dignitaries, artisocrats and artists swanning about the place. Filled with twinkling xmas lights and gold gilded everything, a piano player adds to the ambiance. This mother of all cocktails is encrusted with ice, served with sugared blackberries, and a mini silver goblet filled with chocolates. The waitress will also bring snacks including some of the best giant olives I have tasted since since our trip to Greece.
This is a Stranger in Moscow. From now on, I would like all of my cocktails encrusted with ice, served with sugared blackberries, and a mini goblet filled with chocolate please!
Brooklyn Burger: I have to include this place, because the staff was so ridiculously friendly. We arrived from a 20 minute walk down Arbat street absolutely freezing. Upon realizing that we did not speak a word of Russian, the waiter apologized that he had no English menus but would be happy to help us find something we would like, went though the entire menu with us and brought us two tasty burgers (chicken for me), and a pot of fresh brewed fruit tea. The first thing the waiter asked in a thick Russian accent – “Where are you from? I knew immediately you were not from around here, as you look like you are dressed for the Arctic, and it is not that cold.” Brad and I burst out laughing. (It’s 12 degrees outside! We are covered in snow. It’s COLD man! In what world is this not cold?) Then he proceeded to tell us about how, to celebrate his last birthday, he went to a cabin in the forest with friends, and when they tried to drive home, they discovered the oil had frozen in the car. “That was cold, he said, even for me. Negative 40 degrees is cold.”