Scottish Adventure: Urquhart Castle and Loch Ness

The first full day of our Highlands adventure, we decided to drive down to Drumnadrochit to see Loch Ness and the sites around there. While we were not in the market for a river cruise to find the elusive monster, we were interested in seeing the ruined castle that graced its shores.

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Urquhart Castle dates back more than a thousand years and has been a rich part of local history for centuries. The castle itself is ruined, but has been restored to the point where guests can explore the various rooms and see the view from the tower. We were wise to get to the castle right as it opened to the public, as we managed to see most of the ruins before most of the other groups came through. It was a dramatically cloudy day, with winds coming up from the glen through which Loch Ness cuts. It made for a brilliant introduction to Scotland and I got several fun photographs as well!

Up the hill from the castle ruins themselves is the visitor center, where they have a small exhibit about the history and significance of the castle, as well as some information about life in a castle in the Middle Ages in Scotland. We had come from seeing the same rooms in the ruins itself, and it gave a nice glimpse into how the castle might have operated. For now, the castle is home to a plethora of swallows, who zipped in and out of holes in the walls and flew out over the loch.

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After visiting Urquhart, we stopped by the Loch Ness Centre and Exhibition, where we learned all about the history of the monster legend, the reasons it probably was not true, and how the loch has become important for other reasons. These prehistorically-created lochs have become important sites for conservation research and research into climate change.

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After that, we finished our morning in Drumnadrochit with lunch at the Fiddler’s Highland Restaurant, which boasts a library of whiskies. Of course I had to take the opportunity to sample three of the local whiskies at the end of our meal of local venison. It made for a delicious and relaxing interlude in the day.

Next time, stay tuned for our trip to the Black Isle Brewing Company!

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Scottish Adventure: The Beginning

Welcome to my series on our Scottish honeymoon! We spent nine days in the Scottish Highlands for our honeymoon and had a blast exploring the historical sites, as well as the local culture, food, and drink. Stay tuned for the next few weeks as I share our adventures.

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We arrived in Inverness on an overcast Sunday. We picked up our rental car, dropped our bags off at our guest house for storage, and then walked into town to explore. There was a bit of light rain at times, which I hear is rather usual for Scotland, but it was a lovely contrast to the growing spring heat in D.C. We found ourselves a lovely little cafe to grab a bite to eat, where Mr. Tweed had a steak sandwich and I got a full Scottish breakfast plate. Plus coffee (for him) and tea (for me).

Duly nourished, we set out to walk around the town. Inverness is sometimes called the gateway to the highlands and it was apparent that a lot of tour groups make their base in Inverness, as we had chosen to do. We did walk up to Inverness Castle, which offers a stunning view of the city. After browsing the city, we went back to the guest house.

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Ballifeary Guest House was the perfect “home base” for all our adventures. Bill and Morag were kind and hospitable and made our stay very comfortable. Morag served the breakfast every day while Bill stayed in the kitchen, and the spread was glorious. Every morning, we were offered cereal or fruit, coffee or tea, and a choice of hot entree. The first morning, we both tried the full Scottish breakfast, including black pudding, but as the week went on, we tried some of the other choices, including smoked salmon with scrambled eggs and smoked herring with poached eggs.

Everything was delicious and left us with very full bellies for a morning of site-seeing. In fact, it wasn’t until halfway through the week that I managed to learn how to tackle breakfast without coming away stuffed. Morag and I finally convinced Bill to serve me a “baby bear” portion of porridge, and then I had back bacon and two beautifully poached eggs. It was a perfect breakfast. And of course, I drank copious amounts of tea while Mr. Tweed had his own pot of coffee.

The room itself was small, but not cramped, with a lovely bathroom, and a tray of tea, coffee, and biscuits to accompany the electric kettle. I had tea in the room more often than we had tea out. It made a nice place to come back to after a day of wandering about the outer villages and countryside, and offered a ten-minute walk into town for dinner.

Friday, I’ll start in on our site-seeing, starting with Urquhart Castle and Loch Ness!

Beauty Review: invi+apotheke Peat Hair and Body Travel Kit

I thought I’d kick off the beginning of my Scottish Honeymoon Recap by reviewing a set of products that I specifically saved to take with me. I received the invi+apotheke Hair and Body Travel Kit from Beautibi as part of the aNEW box a few months ago, and the peat-infused products seemed like a perfect kit to bring with me to the land of peat and whisky.

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The brand invi+apotheke is a 100% natural hair and body care brand from Korea that uses peat extracts in their products because of its supposed antioxidant activity from plant sterols in the peat matter. I know that peat makes my garden happy and my whisky delicious, so I was intrigued. The fact that the products are sulfate-free was icing on the cake, as I try to avoid sulfates due to personal sensitivities. Plus, all the products are pH-balanced to be between pH 4.5-5.5, which is ideal for skin and scalp. Personally, I find my body and scalp just as finicky as my face when it comes to pH.

So, armed with these adorable bottles of black and grey goo, I made my way to Scotland to get a picture of peat in its natural habitat. Of course, I didn’t manage to hike an actual peat bog, but I did get a nice glamour shot at Inverness Castle. Duly recorded, I figured I could crack them open.

These products do not mess around with peat extract. The hair and body cleansers are both deep black in color, and the hair treatment is a satisfyingly dingy grey color that suggests that peat is a large part of the formula. They also have an earthy, herbal smell, although, as one Redditor noted to their dismay, they do not smell of peaty whisky. Nevertheless, I found them quite pleasant, if possibly a bit of a polarizing scent (Mr. Tweed was not so convinced, but still used them).

The cleansers are quite gentle and all three products are pretty thin in texture, making for an interesting first day when I dumped out a handful of hair cleanser to wash my hair. They need to be shaken before use, but other than that I find they lather as well as any of my other sulfate-free shampoos, and provide gentle cleansing. The treatment felt a bit lightweight, but I didn’t have any trouble with hair dryness, so it did the trick, although it might not have served me pre-haircut.

While I would probably be tempted to repurchase full sizes of the products, they are tricky to find. Beautibi doesn’t carry them. I will also note that, while I like a bit of gentle cleansing for my hair, I did find my hair started to feel a bit gunky after nine days in Scotland with nothing else stronger. I would probably want to use a weekly clarifying shampoo and use these the rest of the time. But it was nice for days when we came home sweaty and I wanted to wash my hair on consecutive days.

All in all, I enjoyed these products. I wish they were a bit easier to find in full sizes, though.

NB: I purchased these products with my own money and have not been given any incentive to review them. There are no affiliate links in this review, but you can access my affiliate links here.

The Tea Leaves and Tweed Wedding, Part Two: The Reception

Last time, I shared the story of our wedding ceremony day. As I mentioned before, we offset a rather tiny wedding ceremony with a larger celebration the next day, so we could celebrate with more of our friends. This was the “big event” day, and the one that had occupied most of my time and energy over the months leading up to it.

We decided to have a brunch reception in the middle of the day, both because we both love breakfast food, and because out guests might appreciate being able to get home at a reasonable hour, even if they had a drive of a couple hours, rather than paying for a hotel room. I was so thrilled to find Adelphi Mill as a venue because it’s beautiful, has two floors of hardwood flooring, and allows renters to bring whatever food and beverage they want. From there, I found a fantastic local caterer who would do waffles (including gluten-free waffles for our celiac guests!): Wicked Waffle.

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The food was our biggest splurge. We made the decision to go with full catering because it meant we wouldn’t be on our own for setup, serving, rentals, and cleanup. The caterer actually provided pretty much everything we needed, other than the tables and chairs already provided by the Mill. Our one stipulation was that we provided coffee beans and tea leaves because Mr. Tweed and I are very particular about our coffee and tea, respectively. We ended up ordering full-leaf tea bags from Rishi Tea and picked up our freshly-ground coffee the day before from our favorite coffee shop, Vigilante Coffee (they even tucked a wedding congratulations card in the box with the beans!).

After our ceremony day, we both went home so we could play with our cat and spend the night in our own bed. I awoke the next morning next to my new husband and smiled. We snuggled for a bit, made something to eat, and then packed up to go to the Mill. We got there about three hours early. I stayed behind to meet the caterer while Mr. Tweed went to get more of our decorations. We also had a friend meet us to help set up tables, which was good because the caterer ended up hitting ridiculous traffic and being late (he made up for it by bringing an extra staff person to help with setup, free of charge). But by the time it was two hours before the reception start, things were underway.

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I made the decision to keep decoration very simple. A single pink silk rose in a white vase on a lace doily sat in the middle of the dark green table cloths the caterer brought to contrast. It was lovely and simple and the centerpiece didn’t block anyone’s view. And, because they were silk flowers, I could take advantage of Afloral’s Black Friday sale and get all our flowers and vases (including those for my bouquet) months in advance. I also made my own bouquet, a boutonniere for Mr. Tweed, two small corsages for our mothers, and a small bouquet for our friend’s daughter, who joined us for the ceremony as a sort of unofficial flower girl (her mother was unofficial matron of honor).

I also decided to wear my original dress for the reception, as it was more suited to dancing than my ceremony dress, and the beautiful floors were made for dancing! In fact, Mr. Tweed’s main job in wedding planning was to take care of the sound system (which we borrowed from his parents) and the playlist (we mostly used songs we had, with a few purchased off Amazon for the occasion). We ended up going to the Mill in our plain clothes and bringing nice clothes to change just before the reception. Since my hair and makeup were the same as the day before, I’d gotten quite good at it and our caterer even remarked at how quickly I’d gotten ready. With the place set up and our clothes changed, we were ready for our guests.

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The reception went so smoothly. We caught up with everyone, drank mimosas, had coffee and tea, and chatted. Then, the buffet opened and everyone got waffles and things. We moved to the upper level, which was set up with tables around the edges of the room and a dance floor in the middle. Once people had mostly finished their meal (with seconds!), we stood up to thank our guests and had our first dance.

Mr. Tweed and I have been dancing together practically since we first met, so our first dance was a fun and special time for us to focus on each other. We did a swing dance to “Hallelujah I Love Him So,” sung by the irreplaceable Eva Cassidy (whom I had the good fortune to see live before her untimely death, and who was one of my father’s favorite artists). We had fun and our guests seemed to love it, so much so that some of them said they were too intimidated to follow us onto the dance floor! But we kept at it, had a few more dances ourselves, and got a nice group up for “Love Shack.”

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And through all of this, my dear friend and head shot photographer, Bill, took gorgeous photos. He even had Mr. Tweed and I join him outside for a few portraits, which were a nice addition to the shots Josh had taken the day before. Honestly, after the first bit of initial chatting, I hardly noticed him taking photos and was pleasantly surprised by how many great moments he captured.

By the time our dancing playlist had worked through to its final song, many of our guests had already left. The few who were left helped us with clean-up (although the caterers handled most of the big stuff). Mr. Tweed and I changed out of our nice clothes. We packed everything up, and then went home to decompress. And the next morning, we met up with a few of our local friends and people who had stayed in town for coffee and pastries at Vigilante, as is our typical Sunday morning tradition.

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A note on budget:

We ended up spending roughly $8.3k for the whole weekend. Roughly $4.3k was catering (including cash gratuities for each staff person), with $1.5k for our two outfits (including the fact that I got two dresses!). We spent $800 on the venue, $650 on ceremony-day photography, $600 on beverages (sparkling wine, coffee, tea, and water), $300 on decorations and flowers. The remainder was spent on the legal paperwork for the ceremony, plus a little extra for songs we had to buy for our playlist. Invitations we did for free through Paperless Post, and we used a free WordPress theme for our wedding website. I did my own hair and makeup (although I included some extra hair and makeup products in the outfit budget). The Jefferson Suite, plus the luncheon at the tavern after the ceremony was probably less than $1,000 altogether, so our entire wedding weekend was probably just over $9,000.

And thus concluded a fantastic wedding weekend. After the weekend was over, I took a day to myself to relax, return the key to the Mill, and get my post-wedding haircut. Stay tuned next week for the beginning of my posts about our Scottish Honeymoon Adventure!

Photography credits: All photos by William Cornett.

NB: I am not affiliated with any of the businesses linked.

The Tea Leaves and Tweed Wedding, Part One: The Ceremony

I’m finally going to post a recap of my wedding to Mr. Tweed! Those of you who follow the blog know that we celebrated our wedding over a month ago, but what with travel and things, I haven’t had time to go through the photos until now. Our wedding celebration was a bit non-traditional, although I like to think of it as very traditional. We decided to get married at the local courthouse, which meant that our ceremony would be quite a small affair, but Mr. Tweed wanted to have a dance party for all his friends, so we planned a separate reception the next day for a larger group of people.

During our wedding planning, I drew inspiration from vintage wedding traditions. In Emily Post’s Etiquette, the wedding ceremony and celebration is described as a brief, private ceremony, followed by a breakfast or luncheon at the bride’s family home. To that end, I planned our wedding weekend to be as simple and traditional as possible in this vein. We would be married at the court house, as we don’t attend church regularly and wouldn’t have a local family chapel to stop by. And, of course, we would want to have lunch with those who attended our ceremony. But we also wanted to have a midday party for our bigger reception, since many of our guests were coming from just a two-hour drive away, and having a reception that ended earlier in the day would mean they wouldn’t need to pay for a hotel if they didn’t want.

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We chose to have our ceremony at the historic Annapolis court house because it’s a beautiful building in a beautiful part of town. The “theme” of our wedding actually ended up being the 18th century, as we were married in an 18th-century court house, had lunch in an 18th-century tavern, and our reception the next day was in an 18th-century mill building. Mr. Tweed’s parents were generous enough to offer to pay for our post-wedding luncheon, as well as a night in the tavern’s Jefferson Suite the night before, so we could wake up on our wedding day and simply walk next door to the court house.

Leading up to the wedding, it seemed the ceremony would be simple, quick, and unremarkable. But I decided to throw a bit of a spanner in the works when I decided I didn’t want to wear the dress I had bought for our ceremony. The dress I had was lovely, but it was full-skirted and designed for dancing, and I had something a bit sleeker in mind when I thought of my ceremony. Against all advice, I put off listening to my gut feeling and ended up buying a new wedding dress two days before the wedding. I had it overnighted from Nordstroms, and received it the day before the wedding. While it wasn’t tailored to me, it was still very close to perfect, especially when I found a friend with a steamer that I could borrow to relax the wrinkles from shipping. With the dress in hand, I packed everything up, and Mr. Tweed and I drove to Annapolis.

 

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The Jefferson Suite was beautiful, even though the doorways were a bit short for Mr. Tweed. But it was a lovely place to spend our last night before the wedding, and appealed deeply to my sense of vintage whimsy. We spoke to the owner and they agreed to bring us up a tray of breakfast quite early the next morning, as we needed to be getting dressed around the time breakfast would normally be served. We had dinner with my sister and her partner, newly arrived in town from Australia, and then slipped into bed for a good night’s sleep before the weekend’s festivities began.

The next morning, I was so excited, I woke up before 6 a.m. I turned over and chatted with a very groggy Mr. Tweed, and then checked my phone. As the sun came up over the city, I could feel myself getting even more excited for the day. Around 7 a.m., we both showered, and at 8 a.m., our breakfast tray arrived.

 

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It was fresh scones, cream, jam, tea and coffee, and orange juice! Such a perfect breakfast for a big day. It was light enough (and one of my favorite things) that I was able to eat a good breakfast even on a nervous stomach. And of course I treated myself to plenty of tea. Thoroughly fed and caffeinated, I set to doing my hair and makeup and getting into my dress. As a final touch, I pinned my lovely, custom-made whimsy from Tanith Rowan into my hair. Our photographer Josh arrived at 9:30 and we were off to the court house.

We only had a short wait for the ceremony, but it felt like ages. The ceremony itself was short and sweet. Mr. Tweed and I shared a few moments where we tried not to make each other giggle. Afterwards, we made sure to have photographs with all our various family and friends. Then, we wandered off with Josh for some shots with the two of us before lunch. It was a nice little retreat from the group of family and friends who had come to our ceremony, and gave us some “us” time, even though it was being photographed the whole time. Towards the end, Josh showed us a little secret garden path where we got some beautiful, intimate shots.

 

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From there, we went back to the tavern and had lunch, which passed in a blur of fried chicken, speeches, prosecco, and caramel cake. But the food was delicious and the company heartfelt. Honestly, it would have been a perfect wedding right there, without anything else. But of course, this is only Part One…

Image Credits: All photos by Joshua McKerrow [website]

Beauty Review: I’m From Ginseng Serum

NB: I purchased this product with my own money and have not been given any incentive, monetary or otherwise, to review it.

So this review has been a bit of a long time coming. I first saw this serum on Wishtrend when they were recruiting testers. I didn’t get selected to test the product, but I was interested enough to buy it when it was released. Unfortunately, that was right before my wedding and honeymoon, so the testing process was delayed and then interrupted. But I’ve been using it for a month (minus the week of my honeymoon), including three weeks uninterrupted at this point, so I’m going to give you my thoughts.

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The short review is that, honestly, I wasn’t that impressed with this. I mean, my skin has been looking good lately, but it doesn’t really correlate with using this product (it continued to improve while I was on my honeymoon without it).

Alright, so here’s the deal with the I’m From Ginseng serum. It has 7.98% red Korean ginseng extract (although the word “extract” can be variable in strength), along with a bunch of other extracts and oils to help aging and dull skin. Its color definitely convinces me that it’s pretty packed with herbal-y goodness (and there are no explicit coloring agents in the ingredients list), and it includes extracts like licorice and peony (for brightening) as well as green tea and adenosine (for anti-aging). Ordering the serum was uneventful, particularly since the serum is in Wishtrend’s “Free Shipping” area and the only thing I paid for was a couple dollars for a tracking number. It arrived in a couple weeks, actually sooner than I had expected.

When it arrived, I swatched a little on my hand to see that it is a viscous liquid/thin gel, with a pale brown color and a distinct floral scent. Honestly, I wish they hadn’t put a fragrance in it, as the fragrance is the primary reason I’m not terribly thrilled with it. I’m a lover of floral scents, but this has a powdery, artificial floral scent to it that isn’t terribly pleasant when doing my (largely unscented) evening routine.

I find the serum lightly hydrating and not sticky. I dispense four drops into my palm, spread it between my hands and then press onto my skin. I only applied this in the evenings, after actives and hydrating toner, and before facial oil and emulsion/cream. If I sheet mask, I apply it under the sheet mask. At this point, I’ve been using it for about three weeks uninterrupted since my honeymoon, plus an additional week before I left on my honeymoon.

And, honestly, meh.

The main thing I notice is the smell. I’ve noticed a decrease in acne and an overall increased brightness in my skin, but it’s something that has been going on pretty steadily for the last few months, and hasn’t been markedly more pronounced since using this serum. And, as I mentioned before, I actually saw the effect pick up while I was in Scotland with an incredibly abbreviated routine, not using this serum. So I’m honestly not convinced that this serum really does much for anti-aging or brightening.

I do have some early signs of aging (I’m only 34, guys), including a deep-ish forehead wrinkle and some fine lines around my eyes, as well as some PIH from acne on my jawline. But I honestly think that increasing my hydration with multiple applications of hydrating toner, as well as using acids regularly has done more to decrease these things than this serum.

In short, I will not be repurchasing this.

White2Tea Reviews, Part One: The Oolongs

NB: These teas were sent to me free for review, though all opinions are my own, and I have not been given any monetary compensation for this review. There are no affiliate links in this review.

So a little while ago, I got in touch with Paul from white2tea and he offered to send me “some samples.” When the box arrived, I was overwhelmed at his generosity. I received samples of three different pu-erhs (one ripe, two raw), two different oolongs, and full pressed cakes of a white tea and a black tea. And a tea pick. Whew. So needless to say, I haven’t even gotten to all the teas yet, but I thought I’d start sharing my reviews, starting with the two oolongs.

I got enough in each sample to allow for 2-3 sessions with each tea, so the first session I did strictly according to their guidelines: in gaiwan, with a 5 second rinse, and then steepings starting at 5 seconds and increasing 5 additional seconds for each subsequent. I basically went until I felt like the tea had given its all. After that, I tried each tea with one of my standard daily brewing practices, either steeped four times for a bit longer each time, or grandpa-style.

Milan Dancong: This is one of the infamous “Duck Shit” varieties of tea from the Guangdong province of China. The story is that a farmer found this beautiful style of tea and gave it an unpleasant name to deter other farmers from stealing it. Whatever the story, this does not smell like excrement, but instead flowers and honey and a bit of the classic oolong scent, which I think smells a bit like cannabis. The brew is light and subtle, especially at first, but it soon releases a strong flavor in subsequent steepings, even becoming nutty or smoky. I also found it utterly delightful drunk grandpa-style. This is not an inexpensive tea, and so it’s one I would consider repurchasing if I were craving a really lovely oolong for special days, but not one I would necessarily repurchase for every day. But we shall see how the increasingly hot weather affects my desire for heavier oolongs and my sensibility with money.

Shui Xian: This, on the other hand, is a medium-heavy roast oolong with what I consider the “classic Chinese restaurant tea” character that I notice in Wuyi oolongs. At various points in the steeping, I got floral and honey flavors, but later smoke and earth and even tobacco flavors. It does have a pronounced minerality that blends well with the earthy quality, and a touch of sweetness. This was also beautiful steeped grandpa-style, although I had to be careful not to forget about it too much at first. This is one I would absolutely buy again, once I’ve worked my way through my stash a bit, possibly in the autumn when I start to crave heavier-roasted oolongs. The photo above shows this tea steeped grandpa-style after refilling the water three times.