Austin Day Two

After spending our first day exploring downtown Austin, we drove south of the river and parked up at Zilker Park, very close to Barton Springs Pool.  There was zero chance of relaxing by the pool today as the temperature had dropped further, but there were some brave souls taking a dip in the natural spring water.  I can imagine how beautiful it would be to spend time here in the summer.

We walked along the creek, crossed a footbridge, and continued parallel to Ladybird Lake.  There were a few people out on the hiking trail, but we had much of it to ourselves – the wind was quite harsh coming off the water which I suspect kept people indoors.  As we passed under Congress Avenue Bridge, we could hear (and smell) the hundreds of thousands of bats that live there – tiny little squeaks!  At sunset, people watch them fly out from underneath the bridge – there are some amazing photos to be found online of this phenomenon.  

We continued our walk down South Congress Avenue, stepping over the Bird scooters that had been liberally abandoned all over the place (I didn’t even know they were a thing).  The road was a little trafficy, but it was a lovely to spend the morning checking out the unique shops and restaurants with their glorious signs.

We thought about going into Allen’s boot store but a) it was really busy and b) I knew I end up spending a lot of money on boots I’d never wear, so I settled for just photographing their sign.  We then peered in more store windows before stopping for lunch at Jo’s Coffee, warming our hands around our hot cups because it had turned bitterly cold (I know – I keep complaining about the weather, but it was just so unexpected!).  I spent way too much money on a Jo’s tote bag – in my defence, it’s an amazing tote bag – and headed back to Zilker Park to find the car.  

This walk around South Congress had made me realise that I needed more suitable clothes – the t-shirts I’d packed were not remotely appropriate – so on the drive back to the hotel, we stopped at a few retail parks.  We just visited some standard shops including Ulta and Skechers.  Nothing special, but I really appreciated having the car so we could go and buy an emergency coat from an outlet store!

Back at The Domain, we went on a little wander for some more shopping.  The Domain is a lot bigger than I expected, and we seem to have ended up walking about two miles and even then I don’t think we saw everything it had to offer.  Once we’d had our fill of window shopping, I stopped by the Sprinkles cupcake ATM (conveniently opposite our hotel), Husband stopped by the Apple store (conveniently next to our hotel) and we went back to the room for a little nap.  

We didn’t end up going out for dinner in the end as the Archer’s excellent room service tempted us.  We spent the evening planning for the next day – a nervous drive north to see more of Texas.  

I think we managed to see a lot of Austin over our two days in the city.  If we had more time, we perhaps would have spent some time exploring east and west of downtown, maybe been a bit more courageous with our driving, or visited Lake Travis.  There’s always next time

November 2018 Things

Where did November go?  It feels like we were only just on our countdown to our Texas trip, and now we’re already in December.  It’ll be 2019 before we know it.

Texas
There’s more posts to come about our trip to the Lone Star state – we had such a great time even though we were only there for a few (very cold) days.  

Black Friday
I find Black Friday a bit ridiculous, particularly for British people who don’t have Thanksgiving.  The discounts are never particularly good, or on anything that you might want, and it all smacks a little too much of desperation.

So that’s why we bought Virgin Atlantic tickets to New York.  I got too giddy.  

Elis James and John Robins
Right at the beginning of the month, I saw Elis and John at the Hammersmith Apollo for my first experience of “tasting the vibe” (that makes sense if you listen to their podcast) and was sat in the middle between two Podcast Devotees and two people who hadn’t listened to any shows.  I was getting very different energy from either side of me – on the left, two people giggling away; to the right, two people who could not care less.  I felt bad for dragging them into the insanity – at the beginning of the show, Elis asked if there was any newbies in the audience, and then told them that they were in for a tough time.  That’s a bit of an understatement.

I enjoyed it though!

Olaplex Shampoo
I bought this from Sephora whilst I was in Austin, and it is probably the best shampoo I have ever used.  It is pricy, but you really don’t need much – which is something I feel all shampoo brands say, but it’s true this time.  My hair normally never lathers effectively unless I’m using a whole shot glass full of product, but not with Olaplex.  And it’s really maintained the pink colour in my hair.  I’m incredibly impressed, and will probably buy the conditioner soon.  

Eddie Izzard
Tickets for Eddie’s latest tour went on sale this week – November 2018 at the London Palladium.  I managed to get two tickets for my BFF and I seven rows from the front – YES!

Austin Day One

With two days in Austin, we wanted to tick off as many sights as possible.  We decided to split the city into two – north of the river, and south – day one being our northern adventure.

Before we flew out, the weather looked really promising – beautiful sunshine and a not-too-hot 25ºC.  We packed t-shirts, sunglasses, and plenty of SPF for me.

What a waste of time that was, because the temperature dropped to 8ºC and we were FREEZING.  I had to buy a coat as we were completely unprepared – it’s Texas for goodness sake, it’s supposed to be hot!  The consequence of this was that some of our walks were not particularly pleasant, and the rain got a little tiresome, but I suppose at least we weren’t walking around in the sweltering heat!

Although we’d hired a car, we decided to get an Uber from The Domain down to the city centre as Husband didn’t feel like trying to find a parking space.  It was a good decision as the traffic was crazy, so we just sat back to enjoy the half-an-hour ride.  

Our Uber driver was very confused by our first stop and checked with us a couple of times to make sure this was where we wanted to be.  Oh yes, this was exactly where I wanted to be.  The Co-Op on Guadalupe Street is three floors of merchandise from the University of Texas – we’re talking flags, bumper stickers, sweaters, children’s clothes, even Christmas decorations.  I bought a bauble.  A BAUBLE!  I am not ashamed to admit that this was my favourite store in the whole of Austin and we spent 45 minutes filling a basket full of Texas Longhorns goodies.  I should have bought more.

After my spending spree, we walked south towards the Capitol Building, stopping to take photos of Jeremiah the Innocent – an iconic mural by Daniel Johnston of a frog saying Hi How Are You.  This was one of my Austin must-sees, but I can’t remember where I saw it first – I’m sure it’s appeared in the titles for a TV show I watched years ago, but no idea what that was.  I’m pleased I’ve seen it in person now.

We wandered around the outside of the Texas State Capitol building for a while, taking photos from every angle.  We were in Austin just days after the divisive mid-term elections which had initially worried us as we thought there might be some unrest, but there was no drama whilst we were there.  The Capitol building and the grounds were very peaceful, quite impressive and imposing and we considered going on a tour – maybe if we had more time.

As we sat in the grounds and watched the visitors (and squirrels), we scoured Google Maps for somewhere to get brunch.  It was only 11am but we were a little peckish after skipping breakfast so we took a little detour to Walton’s Fancy and Staple on 6th Street.  This was a deli/restaurant/florist and I fell in love with it.  We got there when there was plenty of seating, but by the time we left it was packed – I’m so glad we got there early, as we would have missed out on their delicious sandwiches.  

After having the first of many debates with myself over whether to get a tote bag (a recurring theme pretty much everywhere we went), we continued our walk and ended up at the 6th Street Historic District.  We were here to pick up some legendary Voodoo Doughnuts, and spent a good 5-6 minutes just deciding on what to get – their flavour combinations are phenomenal.  The restaurant is cash only (I made sure I had plenty of $$$) and is open 24/7 – I hadn’t realised this prior to our visit and had spent the morning being worried that they’d sell out.  After a really great chat with the guy behind the counter who seemed genuinely excited that we were from the UK, our choices were boxed up and we continued our adventure.

In all of the travel guides about Austin, people raved about 6th Street.  We were there during the day, so we didn’t see it in all it’s neon glory, but honestly we didn’t want to hang around for too long.  It felt kind of… sketchy, and this is coming from someone who has hung out in some very sketchy places.  Neither of us felt particularly comfortable, so we quickly took some photos and wandered further towards the river.  

We didn’t want to cross the river today as that was scheduled in for day two, so instead we walked west down the hiking trail.  It started to rain ever so lightly and the wind was picking up a little, so after a quick Google, we decided to find a place to get some snacks and head back to the hotel.  We cut up West Avenue and found the most amazing building – the Turbine Generator Building of the Seaholm Power Plant.

The whole area has been turned from a decommissioned power station into a new neighbourhood full of residences, shops, and restaurants, and is just a delight to walk around.  I really liked the energy and the atmosphere here, and whilst a few of the retail units are still empty, it definitely has promise.

We popped into the nearby Whole Foods which was very exciting (for boring people like me) because it’s the original one, dating back to late 1970s.  If you like Whole Foods, I highly recommend a visit, but I admit that it’s not going to be top of many people’s list.  

We picked up some water and other fun snacks, then Uber’ed back to our hotel room (with a driver who was not happy about going to The Domain).  Back in the hotel room, we feasted on our Voodoo Doughnuts before having a quick wander around the rest of The Domain.  We did consider going back downtown for dinner that evening, but having walked almost 20,000 steps, we decided to stay local for the night.

Should have got more doughnuts though.

Mr Jones Watches – Vertigo

Whilst I continue to mess around with my photos from my recent trip to Texas, I thought I’d post a little update to my Mr Jones Watches collection.

A quick recap – here’s my post about first watch.  And then I bought number two and three.  Covered off four, five, and six on one busy day last year.  Quickly followed up with number seven.  Eight, nine, and ten had to be done to celebrate their 10th birthday.  Eleven appeared one Christmas.  And finally, twelve, thirteen, and fourteen were covered off here.

Earlier this month and unbeknownst to me, Husband made a visit to the Oxo Tower on his lunch break and bought a new addition for my collection.  We were staying in a hotel room that night after going to a comedy gig, and he hid the box under my pillow so I’d find it when we got back.  Unfortunately, I was so tired (and the bed was so comfy) that I didn’t notice and slept on it all night!  Fortunately, no damage was done by the time I found it the next morning.  

Prior to his purchase, I had been debating about buying the Vertigo – specifically, which colour combination I preferred.  I had been through each of the 100 images multiple times, and finally had my top 5.  It was really hard to choose though – I loved all of the pink and purple tones, but also the yellows and turquoises.  The artist Paul Wardski has created such a beautiful design, and it’s unlike any of the other watches I have.

Lucikily, Husband knew the one I wanted and it was still in stock when he visited.  I’ve worn it non-stop, and every so often I get mesmerised by the detail.  It’s a very distracting watch.

I do love a numbered watch

Archer Hotel and The Domain, Austin

We had two days in Austin on our Texas mini-break and knowing we were going to hire a car gave us a bit more freedom than we normally do when picking a hotel – we didn’t have to rely on finding something super central.  I am so pleased that we had this option as we were able to choose one of the best (if not the best) hotels in Austin – the Archer Hotel.

The Archer is located at The Domain shopping and restaurant district in North Austin which isn’t everyone’s idea of what Austin should be, but I loved it.  It was very easy to walk around and we felt very safe even exploring the area at night.  It has everything we need in a holiday base.  Well, almost everything – we missed having a CVS/Walgreen type store, particularly when I urgently (yes, urgently) needed nail polish remover and couldn’t find anywhere that stocked it.  

The hotel itself is beautiful.  We booked a King Suite which was very generously sized with a separate seating area and the most insanely comfortable bed.  There was a wonderful waterfall shower in the bathroom which was stocked full of Malin and Goetz toiletries (my favourite!), topped off by a comfy dressing gown and Archer branded slippers.  The decor was perfect, everything was so clean and tidy – we really couldn’t have asked for anything more.  

We had a great view over The Domain from our huge window where I could see my favourite stores (Sephora and Sprinkles cupcakes), and there were fantastic restaurants just steps away.  We ate at Velvet Taco on our first night and had amazing chicken tacos – I would happily have eaten there again but we were too exhausted after our walk around South Austin so we ordered perfect room service from Second Bar + Kitchen in the hotel.  

I’ve already mentioned the amazing service that the Archer offers, but it really is second to none.  When we arrived, there were caramel sweets waiting for us in the room, and the turndown service came with delicious snacks – we had shortbread one night and a moorish caramel brownie the second night.  I wish we were there for longer.  

As we checked out, we had a great conversation with Nate on the front desk – he gave us valuable advice for our drive up to Fort Worth, we chatted about his visit to the UK a few years ago, and he talked passionately about the hotel brand which has genuinely made me want to stay at the other Archers.  He told us all about the ‘souvenir’ cabinet in the lobby – instead of generic, tired tourist rubbish, each Archer has its own curated range of gifts made by local artists.  The display was almost like a mini gallery, which complimented the rest of the beautiful art displayed around the whole hotel.

We were throughly impressed by our stay at the Archer and should we find ourselves in Austin again, we wouldn’t hesitate to go back.  Not only because we didn’t get to experience their outdoor space like their pool and patio (it was so freakishly cold – more on that in later posts) but also because I really want to see what other turndown treats they offer!

Delta One Business Class – A330

A few months ago, one of the many travel blogs I follow alerted their readers to a sale on some unusual routes for Virgin/Delta codeshare flights.  One of the destinations was Austin, Texas – a city Husband has visited many times for work but never as a tourist – so I spent the evening playing about with flight options.

Unfortunately, we took too long thinking about it and the flights disappeared at midnight (very Cinderella).  We berated ourselves for not being more spontaneous, and I set up an alert on Google Flights just in case they appeared again.  And a few weeks later, they did – this time, we didn’t wait and snapped them up immediately.  Heathrow to Atlanta on an A330 followed by Atlanta to Austin on an A321.

Whilst I was excited about visiting Texas for the first time, I was equally excited about visiting the Virgin Atlantic Clubhouse in LHR again.  When I visited for the first time last year, we’d had a bit of a stressful morning, so I had planned to get there earlier to take full advantage of the facilities this time.  Sadly, it was still not meant to be – the traffic was horrendous and that ridiculous private security lane in the Upper Class Wing took forever once again.  People in that queue simply do not understand how to go through airport security.  Once we got to the lounge, we only had about 45 minutes there, which was not enough time to get a spa treatment.  Boo.

I had been reading up on the Delta One product over the past few weeks and found that there are a lot of mixed reviews depending on which plane you fly in.  We were unfortunately in some relatively old A330s – clunky buttons, creaky seats, stinky toilets and just very noisy overall.  But there were several things which made the flights more pleasurable:

  • The bedding – the seats have seen better days, and it felt really weird not having an armrest on one side (we were in 2C and 2G which were open to the aisle) but the bedding by Westin was amazing.  The pillow was the softest pillow I’ve ever slept on, and the blanket was the perfect thickness.  I slept so well on both the international flights – I really wish I could have stolen the bedding.
  • The staff – the Purser on the LHR-ATL leg of the journey was amazing.  He had the perfect level of care for us – referring to us by name when checking our meal preference, making sure we had everything we needed but also giving us plenty of space to nap and watch films.  We didn’t feel harassed or ignored.  It was exemplary.
  • The amenity kits – Kiehls products, cute socks, and mouthwash.  Hell yes!  Why do other airlines not offer mouthwash!?  It was a shame we got the soft Tumi bag going out to the US –  you can get the hard case monogrammed free at Tumi stores and there happened to be a Tumi near our hotel that we could have visited.  Never mind.

We haven’t done an indirect flight to the US for a while, but we gave ourselves plenty of layover time in ATL as I have read that it’s a nightmare to get through.  However, immigration for us was a breeze as we now have Global Entry so we sailed through in record time, collected our bags, re-checked them, and were sat comfortably in the Sky Club by gate A16 in no time.  There are a lot of Sky Club lounges in Atlanta, so I did a bit of Googling to find out which to visit (the best report I found was on pointsmd.com) and A16 came out tops for us on the way out.   We had popcorn, plenty of coffee, and big windows to sit by to watch the rain whilst waiting for our flight to be called.  It was not Clubhouse standards, but still a welcome spot of calm in an otherwise manic Atlanta Airport, and I’m very grateful for it.

We even had time to explore underneath the concourses and see the wonderful Flight Paths installation between terminals A and B.  What a lovely thing to have in an airport!

The two internal flights from Atlanta to Austin were unremarkable.  We were lucky to have much newer planes for both trips although they were still insanely noisy, and we didn’t get any cabin service because of turbulence (which honestly didn’t feel that turbulent).  I don’t think we were missing much though – they were short flights, and I mostly slept.  The main thing bringing us glee was that we were in seats 1A and 1B.  Because we are nerds.

We flew back to Heathrow from the International Terminal in Atlanta so visited the Sky Club there.  It was small, with very similar food choices as in A16 and a very… active bar crowd.  It was raining very heavily, so the outdoor space was closed – from what I’ve read, the outdoor space is what makes this lounge unique so it was a shame to miss out.  There were showers at the back of the lounge, and if we’d have had a little more time, I would have taken advantage (it took forever to get to the correct gate when we flew in from Austin which eat into our layover time).  The other passengers astonished me in this lounge though – we had screaming drunks, loud Instagram Stories vloggers, and parents allowing their children to smear food all over the place.  I’ve never seen anything like it!

Atlanta back to Heathrow was a very similar experience again, except the toilets were somehow worse and Husband’s seat hadn’t been cleaned properly so he found a crusty old sock waiting for him before he sat down (eww).  However, the flight attendants called us by our names again, and still provided the same excellent level of service so we could look over the negatives.  The food on both flights was good, but I’m not really a foodie person so I skipped a couple of the courses as I preferred getting some nap time.

Something I wasn’t particularly comfortable with was the biometric boarding used at the gate in Atlanta.  I know I’m fussy with my data, but no one explained to us why we were having our photo taken or how it was going to be processed.  I only found out afterwards what it was, and not once did anyone explain that we could opt out.  I don’t really understand when we actually opted in!

It was a perfectly decent flight, but I don’t think we’d choose to fly Delta Business on the A330 again as they’re too old and noisy.  I’d love to try the new suites on the A350 or 777 but I’m not sure if any of them currently go from the UK.

That said, if a good deal pops up again, I could easily be tempted.  Only this time, I’m going to get to the Virgin Atlantic Clubhouse the night before.  Just in case.

October 2018 Things

Okay, okay – I know it’s the 15th November and I still haven’t posted my favourites from last month.  I’ve had a busy few weeks so have got myself a little behind on posts, but it would bother me if skipped October, so let’s get going.

Celtic Manor
I have almost certainly included the Celtic Manor on a monthly favourites before, but we managed to do something a little different on this trip.  We normally order room service (eating burgers in your PJs is bliss) but we decided to get properly dressed up to eat at Steak On Six this time round – it was a very meaty dinner, but so tasty.  It’s the first restaurant I’ve been to which offers a selection of knives – who knew there were so many types of knife!

Simba Bed
We’ve had an Eve mattress for a while now, and it’s honestly the best thing we’ve ever bought for our house.  So ridiculously comfortable, but I felt that our old bed frame (bought from a supermarket in a Christmas sale about 8 years ago for £50) wasn’t doing it justice.  Enter the Simba bed – yet another bed bought in a sale, albeit for considerably more than £50 – which has turned out to be the second best thing we’ve ever bought for our house.  The headboard is a sophisticated grey which wouldn’t look out of place in a Scandi drama, and matches perfectly with out already grey bedroom.  Every night has been even more blissful than before.

Working From Home
We’re trying out something new in the office, so every Thursday, I work from home.  I love it.  My commute to work has become so stressful so having one day off from the painful drive is enough to reduce my blood pressure.  I can start working at 8am and get a lot done without my phone constantly ringing.  I do miss having two monitors so I don’t think I could be at home every day (or could I…).

Excessive relaxation
I did some overtime during Registration last month, so decided to take TOIL and have a facial at the Purcell Rooms in a nearby village, a hair salon with a beauty room for Aveda treatments.  I chose the 90 minute facial which was such a treat, and featured massages for my feet, hands, shoulders, and head.  It also had a heated bed.  Heavenly.

Museums and Cake
It’s my new routine for London museums – follow them up with baked goods.

Museums and Cakes

London has a lot of excellent exhibitions going on in various museums at the moment.  I’ve recently had two trips in to the city, and saw a couple of very different shows, enjoyable for very different reasons.

A couple of weekends ago, I met up with a friend to go to the Museum of London.  I’ve been passed it a few times and a) didn’t appreciate what it was; and b) could never figure out how to get into it as it’s seemingly in the middle of a roundabout.  I’m so glad I’ve finally visited as it’s now possibly one of my favourite museums.

We had gone specifically to see the London Nights show – beautiful photographs of London at night from late 19th century to more modern images.  The photos were stunning and as I wandered around the exhibition, I wished that I could take better night time photography.  I loved the photos where you can’t place when they were taken – the ones which look like they could have been taken yesterday.  The exhibition is on for the next couple of weeks, so go see it if you can.

We then went on to explore the rest of the museum, which is where I quickly fell in love.  There is such a huge range of items on display, all related to London through the ages.  One of the most wonderful permanent exhibitions is the Victorian Walk – a parade of beautiful shop fronts set out like a winding street.  And the shop – oh my goodness, the shop.  What a fitting way to end our visit; I could have spent a great deal of money in there.

After our trip, we walked through the quiet City of London and found ourselves in the vicinity of the insane Doughnut Time.  Their creations are out of this world – the doughnut I had was covered in glitter, and the one I bought for Husband was a white chocolate cheesecake flavour with Oreos.  Truly epic.

Museums and baked goods was the theme of this weekend as well.  There were three exhibitions Husband wanted to see at the V&A  all with a nerdy theme – one on videogames, one on computer art, and one vaguely futuristic.

This trip wasn’t for me, so I allowed him to geek out whilst having a quick look at the displays.  Husband was amused that he found me reading about feminism in video games after temporarily losing me – where else would I be?  It was also fun to see the computer art exhibition as it was in an area of the museum I hadn’t been in before – every time I go to the V&A I find something new.

I loved the arcade games at the end of Design/Play/Disrupt.  I was pretty good at the three Line Wobbler LED games by Robin Baumgarten, and desperately wanted to play a game called Breakup Squad but some kid wouldn’t get off the machine.  I also got to play Queers in Love at the End of the Worlda beautifully poetic game by Anna Anthropy.  It was a crowded gallery though, and the rest of the games all had queues of people waiting to play.

And the baked goods?  Well you can’t visit South Kensington without a trip to the Hummingbird Bakery, especially because they had their halloween cupcakes in at the moment.  HOW CUTE?!?!

Museums and cakes – the two best things about London.

September 2018 Things

September started with a mini-break, ended with a mini-break, but with a healthy dose of Freshers’ Flu in between.  Classic.

10th Anniversary
This September saw my 10th work anniversary, and when I think about how far I’ve come, it’s a little astonishing to me.  My very first week saw me stood at the door to the Main Hall (above) handing out Registration forms for the new starters, literally no clue what was going on or anything about my Institution.  Exactly 10 years later found me back in the hall, but with one fairly big difference – this year, I was in charge.  I don’t know who thought it would be a good idea to have me run the operations side of things, but we did manage to get through about 5500 students largely without incident, so go me!  I did get some dirty looks from the staff who did not like my music choice (there is nothing wrong with 6 Music!) but on the whole it went really well.

And now to start planning for September 2019.

Spa treat
My Mum treated us both to a spa day at the Macdonald Berystede hotel for my birthday, and the only time they had when she booked was conveniently at the end of Registration week.  I really appreciated being able to relax after being on my feet all week.

I’ve been to plenty of spas but never for a ‘spa day’ so it was so nice to experience the facilities at the Berystede, which included a “thermal suite”.  I was very excited by this – different saunas, a salt room, a steam room, a cold room (my favourite) and two fancy showers.  We were then on a Sunday afternoon and we had the whole thermal suite to ourselves – my Mum loved the salt room, and the heated loungers were so relaxing.  We’re already planning our return visit.

TK Maxx bargains
I am partial to a rummage in the TK Maxx beauty aisle, and September saw me visiting several times a week because I kept finding amazing things.  Sachajuan conditioner, Skin Laundry cleansers, Byredo perfumes, Bosica face masks.  So many good things.  Not only that, but they’ve also had a huge shipment of the Tatty Devine homeware, so I have cleaned my local store out of that as well.  I haven’t been in for a week or so, so I should probably plan a visit for this week…

Crazy Rich Asians
I read the book last month when the film was released in the USA purely because of the hype.  I enjoyed reading it, and loved the different perspective it showed me, so planned a trip to the cinema with my BFF.  He took me to the Picturehouse Central, where we sat in the comfy seats of the sold-out theatre amongst a crowd who loved it.  It was such a great atmosphere to watch the film in, with laughs, tears, and cheers for Rachel and Nick.

It is a fluff film but it was refreshingly fluffy, and definitely cemented my desire to visit Singapore next year.  And get a pink Audi R8 like the one Peik Lin drove.

Strictly Come Dancing
September is when Strictly fever takes hold in the Untold Blisses household (BFF was disgusted when I told him I couldn’t see Crazy Rich Asians on a Saturday evening because I needed to be home in time for the live show).  I haven’t yet decided who I am supporting, but I always enjoy watching Katya’s and Oti’s choreography, and how both Pasha and Gorka dance.  I’m looking forward to spending the next dozen Saturday nights on the sofa!

Islay – The Distilleries

Islay is stunningly beautiful, and we both would have fallen in love with it regardless, but the main reason we visited was for the whisky.

There are currently 8 distilleries on the island, although there have been many more ‘lost’ over the years.  Islay whisky is so very strong and very distinctive, all down to the peat fields that you drive through on your way around.  I’m saying all of this as if I tasted any, but don’t actually drink so was purely there as a driver for Husband.  Expect dirty looks if you tell the locals and tourists that you’re a teetotaller.

Our whirlwind tour started with Husband’s favourite – Laphroaig.  He was treated to a two hour experience – a tour of the distillery, followed by an hour in one of their warehouses tasting three special casks.  This was a really fun 2 hours (and introduced us to people we would see again and again from our tour group – Islay truly is a ‘small world’ kind of place).  After tasting the casks, we used a wooden suction tube called a valinch to extract a small bottle’s worth of our favourites (well, Husband chose his two favourites).

During this first tour, I learnt about something which would save Husband’s liver – the driver’s dram.  As I wasn’t drinking, I assumed we’d only have two options for the samples we’d receive – we decline mine, or Husband drinks them all.  Fortunately, the distilleries have tiny bottles that you can pour your samples into and take away with you.  Goodness knows what would have happened if he had to drink double the whisky.

Laphoraig was my favourite tour, and I especially loved the shop and bar area – warm and snug, with free coffee and big comfy sofas to aid recovery.   I could quite happily have spent all afternoon here, but we had more distilleries to visit.

Next up, we went to Ardbeg – we didn’t actually tour this one as we couldn’t quite fit it into our schedule, but stopped here for lunch at the Old Kiln Cafe where we ate hearty sandwiches followed by clootie dumplings.

With full tummies, we drove back to Lagavulin for another hour tour followed by three samples (and some driver’s drams).  I found Lagavulin slightly more corporate, although their waiting area was very cute.  There were no photos allowed on the tour which made me roll my eyes a little – Laphroaig positively encouraged it – but it was still enjoyable.

Two tours was probably enough for the day, so we started afresh the following morning with Bruichladdich.

We chose their Warehouse Experience, which was less of a tour and more of a ‘sit in a warehouse and get hammered’.  Again, very enjoyable for a whisky fan as you got to sample some limited edition casks whilst sat amongst the barrels, listening to our guide telling us all about life on the island.  Bruichladdich is noticeably different to the others – they call themselves progressive, and they definitely feel less stuffy, more youthful.  They also make a gin called The Botanist so we’ll need to go back and try that at some point as well.

Our final distillery on this visit was Kilchoman which was different again.  Whilst the first three we visited were right by the sea, Kilchoman is on a farm, more inland and down a long single-track road.  They’re a much smaller scale operation, really family-orientated.  They really felt like a hard-working team – not that the others didn’t seem hard-working, but Kilchoman is the newest distillery so there was a lot more of a buzz in the grounds.  Another added bonus – their small cafe at the back of the shop served amazing cakes which I highly recommend.

Four distilleries in two days didn’t seem like a lot, but we were definitely tired.  Our next trip needs to be longer – we have four other distilleries to cover off, and we possibly even need to pop over to the neighbouring isle of Jura to samples their whisky too.

For a someone who doesn’t drink, I sure have been to a lot of distilleries.