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Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Camus House, Onich, Scotland

During our sojourn through Scotland, we stayed at quite a few places. Mostly bed and breakfast but the place that stand out the most was the Victorian style Camus House at Onich, Fort William run by Alastair and Louise.

Not only did these lovely couple made us feel welcome, they also gave us many tips on the best place to visit in the area, the best place to eat. It was from them that we managed to have the best time in Scotland, hiking through the Glens. Read the account of our visit to Glen Righ and Glen Nevis here.

The whole place is so beautiful and romantic. From the lovely cottage bedroom to the warm inviting living room to the countryside looking dining room and the view of the Loch.

Can you imagine a more beautiful bedroom than this? Possibly the most romantic bedroom one can get. Honeymooners, this will be the most perfect place to smooch around if you are not the sun and sand type.

The cosy looking living room. There is absolutely no hotel style lobby to spoil the whole setup.

And the beautiful dining room where breakfast is served with a gorgeous view of the Loch Linnhe


So if any of you reading this decides to go to Scotland and in particular the Highlands, this is the place to stay. You can make your reservation through their website here. And no, I am not paid to sing praises of this place. Just my way of saying thanks for the hospitality and the great stay.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

The Prawn Noodles Shootout

A friend posted a link to a webpage review of the 6 "best" prawn noodles in Singapore. One thing led to another and soon we were talking of doing our own tasting. A wicked idea then came to us. Instead of going to the different outlets over several days, why not do it all on the same day! And so we rounded up a small group of friends and whittled down the list from 8 to 6 and finally 4. Everyone was in agreement that 6 bowls of prawn noodles in a day will be a tad too much calorie and cholesterol overload. The final shortlist - Wah Kee Big Prawn Noodles at Cambridge Rd; River South (Hoe Nam) Prawn Noodles at Macpherson; Blanco Court Prawn Mee at Beach Road and last but not least Adam Road Prawn Noodle at Zion Road.

We started out quest at the seemingly most highly rated stall of all, Wah Kee Big Prawn Noodles. As a testimony to their fame, there was already a queue at 9.50 am when our early birds reached. After queuing for 1 hour, we finally got our noodles!

This stall sells only 1 version of the noodles but with super jumbo; jumbo, big or small prawn. There was no more "small" prawns when it came to our turn. But the bowl of noodles we ordered with 2 big and 1 small prawns at $5.00 was real value for money. And the prawns were very fresh too. Unfortunately, it was also almost an unanimous agreement that the broth was too bland for our taste bud. Maybe it is because they don't add pork to the broth unlike most prawn noodle stalls. Whatever it is, it tasted different. 

Next stop was River South (Hoe Nam) Prawn Noodles. This is in a small coffee shop and there were not enough tables for the people waiting. But they have a digital queuing system so we could place our order, find a place to sit and wait for our number to be called. Very efficient. No need to stand and queue for 1 hour. We waited for about half an hour for our food.

Here they serve many different of prawn noodles - with pork ribs; pig tail; abalone; clams; To ensure a fair comparison, we only ordered the plain old prawn noodles. Broth was definitely more tastier than Wah Kee but the prawns wasn't that big or fresh. Plus point was they provided chilli powder. At the end, everybody agreed it was not too bad but not really that good too. In fact of our group who used to eat there twice a month commented that the standard seems to have dropped a lot.

From Macpherson we went to Beach Road to Blanco Court Prawn Mee. This particular place has 4 other related stalls including probably the most famous prawn noodle of them all, the Beach Road Prawn Mee at East Coast Road. Maybe because it was raining, it wasn't as crowded as usual. The wait here was, actually what wait? There was no queue and the noodles came to our table in less than 5 minutes.

They also serve various version of prawn noodles but again we ordered only the plain vanilla although some of us opted for jumbo prawn and some the normal prawns. By now some of the group were a bit jaded and has resorted to sharing 1 bowl of noodles between them. Everyone agreed the broth here was the most flavourful and the prawns were big and fresh. At least, the jumbo were. But the prices here were much more expensive with prices from $4.80 to $10.00. This bowl of small prawn noodles cost $4.80. The jumbo cost $10.80. And we all think they used MSG although we are not too sure of that. Last but not least, the portion is very small.

Medium size prawn verses Jumbo size prawn
The last stall was the Adam Rd Prawn Noodles at Zion Road. There is another outlet at the Adam Road Food centre but we choose this place because we ate at the latter more often. Unfortunately we didn't do our homework well enough and reached there at 3 pm only to realise that the stall only open at 5 pm. But on the plus side, that gave us some time to digest the food by going for a walk along the Alexandra Canal. Maybe because we were early, when we returned, there were no queue at the stall and so we ordered the  medium size prawn noodle which cost $6.00 a bowl.

When the noodles came, everyone of us were surprised. There was pork added. On top of that, unlike the other stalls, the color of the soup was more milky and not so orangy. But looks can be deceiving because everyone agreed this was the best of the lot so far.g

So exactly which one is the best. Food, as I always tell people, is very subjective. One man meat is another man poison but never the less, we all agreed to give a rating on a scale of 1 - 5 for each stall so here is the range of scores.

Wah Kee: 3 Most value for money
River South: 2.5 - 3.5
Blanco Court: 3 - 4 Most expensive
Adam Road: 4 - 4.8

But don't just look at these scores. Go try them out and see if you agree with them.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Isle of Mull, Scotland

One of the thing that we decided to do before we go over was to go on a "wildlife expedition" trip. So after some research, we signed up for one on the Isle of Mull, a place that is renown for its wildlife.

The trip to the Isle of Mull was an adventure by itself with beautiful scenery. We had to drive a long distance from Glasgow after which we had to take a ferry across. Along the way, there are the usual beautiful landscapes both on land and in the sea. Unfortunately, the Isle of Mull by itself is quite a boring place with nothing much to do if you are not into nature. 

This is Tobermory, the main town of Isle of Mull. It is also a "ghost" town after 6 pm when all the shops closes. 

We drove 20 miles to this place to find everything closed. Our consolation was that the only remaining place still opens for business happens to serve the best seafood in the whole of Scotland!  More of the food in another blog post later.

Back to the wildlife expedition. We were picked up at our hotel the next morning and driven around together with some other nature lovers to look for porpoise, eagles, otters and deer. We drove all over the Isle stopping at strategic spots where everybody will rush to bring out their super binoculars and telescope and long lens. We had brought along a binoculars but soon put it aside after realising that what we had was totally inadequate for the task it was supposed to perform! We found this out when everybody was going gaga over a sighting of porpoise in the sea. Me with my 200mm camera and M, with the binocular saw nothing! We put aside our gear and borrowed the spare binoculars from the guide. And the whole world changed!

Here we are staring out to sea. What did they see?

This was what I captured on my camera's 200mm lens.

See anything? How about this cropped photo?

Yes seal. They were just a speck in the sea and the guide saw them while driving and stopped so that everybody can get a "closer" look. Its amazing how he navigates the small narrow road and yet see birds and all sort of animals.

What do you think this people are looking at here?

Inland and up in the sky. What I saw was this

A beautiful sky. But there was something there. Like this eagle soaring high up in the sky. 

Oh pardon me, did you say what eagle? There, that speck in the middle of the photo just between the 2 trees in the middle of the photo. And to be honest, almost all the sightings of wildlife were like this. The animals and birds were far far away and only visible via the powerful binoculars and telescope. Like this sighting here for otter.

See the otters? No? Neither did I until I borrowed some of the more powerful binoculars and telescope.

And with the powerful equipment it was like we were up next to the animals and birds! No wonder these people got so excited every time they spot something. 

About the only animal we can spot with our naked eyes other than the cows and sheep were this pair of Red Deer. Unfortunately we were in the van and could not get down to watch them close up. 

But overall, while we were disappointed that we did not get to see the animals closed up like what we imagined in an African safari, we were happy that we still managed to spot almost all the animals that were present on the Isle of Mull, although abide from a long long distance. Still, it was a great experience for newbie birdwatcher like us. The guide from Isle of Mull Wildlife Expeditions, David was warm and friendly and very knowledgeable. We enjoyed ourselves very much despite it being a long long day and counted this as one of the highlight of the trip to Scotland!

More photos on FB here.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Stirling Castle, Scotland

After finding out from the Visitor Centre at Loch Lomond that there was a castle "nearby", we decided to visit it. But the Scots has a very strange sense of distance. Nearby was actually more than an hour drive away! But we got to see our very first castle so I guess it was worth the drive.

This was the first view of the castle when we reached.

 The castle sits on top of a hill and has a nice view of the surrounding

All respectable castle must have a good defence and a solid rock cliff is one of them.

And canons too!

Europeans like nudes and there are nude statues all over. Wonder what is this guy doing?

This is the hiding and resting area for the soldier during war time. Unfortunately sometime the walls collapse and kill them while they are inside

There is a large chapel with a big altar. For worship or sacrifice?

These ceilings are awesome. Apparently they are medallions handed down over the years and are of royalties from UK and Europe.

The tapestries are just as beautiful.

 Nice castle with a nice history and lot of stuff to see if you are into history. You can find out more about the castle here

Monday, October 13, 2014

Loch Lomond, Scotland

The most famous place in Scotland is probable Loch Ness, home of the mythical Lock Ness Monster. Naturally that was on our must visit list until all the locals we spoke to told us not to waste our time travelling there. So in the end, instead of Loch Ness, we ended up at Loch Lomond.

Loch Lomond is the largest lake in mainland Britian - i.e. England and Scotland and is about 71 sq km in surface area. Certainly it was big cause we could see that it stretches on and on and even when we were driving up to the highlands, we keep passing signs pointing to Loch Lomond.

We decided that the earliest way to explore it is to take one of the short cruise. There are different cruises available including sunset dinner cruise but we had only time for short cruise. What we saw on this little cruises were beautiful houses along the river banks. Most of them have been converted to hotels and it seems celebrities from all over the world flock here to stay and escape from the crowd.


There was even an island which is Scotland's first naturist island! Unfortunately we didn't get to land there to take in the "sights" although I am sure with the bitter cold wind, there won't be any brave soul baring all on the other.

Anyway, there are plenty of other kind of birds, the real kind that is. Seagull, ducks are in abundance flying all over the place.

But what really got M excited was the first sighting of black berries! And there were plenty of them growing wild all over the places. 

At Balloch, the part of Loch Lomond that we were at, there was a small Bird of Prey Centre and naturally we had to go in and see and we got up close to many beautiful owls and eagles. More photos will be posted up on my Facebook Check it out there..

We also discovered an automated toilet.

Visitor has to put in the correct fee and the door will open.....and the toilet cleans by itself. How about that!

From Loch Lomond, we moved on to our first castle......

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Glasgow, Scotland

What is there to see in Glasgow? To be honest nothing much. Just lots and lots of old building. From Victorian era apartments to Gothic style buildings that resemble castles and palaces. And most of them look alike like those in those photos.

An office building in Buchanan Street

A shopping complex in Glasgow Town Centre

A coffee joint in another converted building

Gallery of Modern Arts

Glasgow City Chamber in George Square

Main building of University of Glasgow

Kelvingrove Museum