I'm sharing my travel experiences, candid opinions and what's on my mind. If you think it's inappropriate for a travel writer to stir up discussion on his blog with political observations and insights gained from traveling abroad, you may not want to read any further. — Rick
Orkney is blanketed with the stony remains of a thriving Neolithic community. And Skara Brae illustrates how these Neolithic people hunkered down in subterranean homes, connected by tunnels and lit only by whale-oil lamps.
I’m here with my crew, filming this underground village for one of three new episodes about Scotland. We made a point to have an hour here before the arrival of the cruise ships. Standing there on that desolate bluff, all alone with these ruins, I marveled at how all of this was accomplished without the use of metal tools. This was the Stone Age — before people learned to use metals. The Stone Age!
It seems everyone visiting Scotland tours a whisky distillery. But try to visit a cooperage as well. Last year, while working on my Scotland guidebook, I enjoyed the Speyside Cooperage (about an hour southeast of Inverness) and knew I had to come back with our Rick Steves’ Europe crew. We just did, and filmed what I’m sure will be one of the best sequences of the three Scotland episodes we’ll be releasing this fall.
Join me with this little clip, from the floor of this amazing workshop.
Of the hundred or so whisky distilleries in Scotland, about half lie near the valley of the River Spey. Its prized waters, along with a favorable climate and soil for barley, have attracted distillers here for centuries.
Along with natural resources (water and barley), a critical part of the Scotch-making process is quality barrels. The Speyside Cooperage welcomes visitors with guided tours. From an observation deck, you’ll watch master coopers making casks for distilleries throughout Scotland. Perhaps the single biggest factor in defining whisky’s unique flavor is the barrel it’s aged in.
The process is essentially the same today as it was centuries ago. In order to be water-tight, the oak staves are lassoed tightly by metal hoops, and tight-fitting lids are banged into place and sealed with a calking of freshwater reeds. Finally, the inside is artfully charred, creating a carbonized coating that helps give whisky its golden hue and flavor.
The United States actually contributes to the character of Scotch whisky because most of the casks used in Scotland are made from the staves of hand-me-down bourbon casks from Kentucky. It’s impressive to see the intensity and focus of the coopers — who are paid by the piece.
It’s day 86 of my 100-day trip to Europe, and I’m in Inverness. While not much for sightseeing, the unofficial capital of the Highlands is a great springboard for nearby sights. It’s also entertaining in the evening for live music in the pubs — there’s always something on.
We dropped into MacGregor’s pub for their Sunday traditional jam. While my crew worked hard to capture the musical magic for our show, I got to just relax and have fun. I love how they say in Scotland’s pubs, “There are no strangers…just friends you’ve yet to meet.” Especially when you leave the touristy center of town, locals give you a warm welcome.
When my friend and fellow tour guide, Colin Mairs (he’s our local guide as we shoot these three episodes), shared his Highlander yhoop, it occurred to me that most cultures have a similar kind of whoop that shows joy or excitement: “Opa!” in Greece, the tongue-warble in Eastern Turkey, “Olé!” in Spain.
What’s your favorite foreign “whoop”? I’d love to see you demonstrate — please share a video clip with me onFacebook orTwitter.
I love TV production — it’s travel, writing, and creativity on the run in beautiful and unpredictable corners of Europe. This clip shares a moment with my wonderful Scottish guide, Colin Mairs, sitting out a squall in the car and deciding what we’ll say about cutting peat in a bog on the Isle of Skye. I like to get local voices into our shows, but it’s not always easy. We work with lots of guides. All of them are smart — but not all of them can deliver while the camera rolls. Colin is great that way. We’re making three exciting episodes on Scotland, which will air as part of our new Season 10 of Rick Steves’ Europe, starting in September. Stay tuned!
I’m traveling in Scotland with my crew filming three new episodes of Rick Steves’ Europe at the same time…and it’s complicated. In this clip, I share a peek into the fun my Scottish guide Colin Mairs and I have balancing the scripts, scheduling our shooting days, getting permissions, and dealing with the unpredictable Scottish weather. (Try booking a piper in full regalia tomorrow — but only if it’s not raining.) It’s 10:00 at night and still light in our peaceful B&B lounge, which comes equipped with some nice whisky and a view of Oban Bay. (By the way, B&Bs often have lovely lounges that few guests take advantage of. Make a point to double the size of your world by considering the lounge an extension of your bedroom.)