Posts filed under 'adventure'

Finding the Perfect Horse…

Is a bunch of bullshit. How else do you think I’d wind up with this beast?!

Don’t get me wrong, I love Hamish…. most of the time.   Well, those first 3 months I didn’t. It was a combination of he was is a bit of an asshole and the fact that I didn’t want get too attached in case it was to be determined his asshole-ness was too much for me to handle that we weren’t a good fit and I’d have to sell him on. If horses were like clothes I’d be wearing him with the price tag tucked in just in case. I’ve finally moved on from that point, but sometimes I still have my doubts.

Originally, I was looking for something older. A “schoolmaster” as they say. Maybe around 11 years old, but considered all the way up to an 18 year old. Something who can do a course of wee jumps and show me the ropes. Something kind and forgiving that will take care of their rider. And what I got was a cheeky, green 5 year old that’s a real “chancer” as they say. To be fair, Hamish does seem to be a pretty honest boy and quite forgiving of me which is really impressive…I digress.

My last horse post was about how deciding to get a horse wasn’t a decision I took lightly and why/how I decided to get that horse. This post will go a bit more in depth on just how much of a process it was to get a horse. And even after this wordy post (really should get an editor) you’ll most likely have no idea of the HOURS spent weekly on: trolling horse sale pages, reaching out to sellers, chasing down videos, emailing my livery yard manager potential ponies, driving across Scotland, and crying (so. many. tears.) that was done in the horse search process.

I started horse shopping July 19th, 2016. I got Hamish November 24, 2016. 4 months doesn’t sound like that long of a time…but it was. Facebook sale pages don’t sort by date added, so I was literally spending 3-4 hours a day combing through the various Scotland horses for sale pages and reaching out to sellers to get answers to my initial questions. My full kind of list of questions was as follows:

  • How long have they had horse?
  • Why selling?
  • Does it have a birth passport or is age estimated on passport?
  • Does the horse live in or out?
  • How is it to hack on own/in company?
  • Did they vet it when they bought it?
  • Does it come with tack?
  • Does it travel in trailer/lorry or both?
  • Who are the horses farrier and vet?
  • Is the owner a member of a pony club/riding club?
  • Does the horse have any insurance exclusions?
  • Has it competed, if so in which disciplines?
  • What name does it compete under?
  • Is it shod all round?
  • What type of bit is it ridden in?
  • Has it carried a variety of riders before?
  • How does it behave in group situations – lessons/hacks

If it seems like the horse would be at least kind of a potential fit (doesn’t need to live in, okay to shoe/vet, doesn’t need a Dutch gag bit), I would then ask for some videos of it on the flat, and hopefully jumping. I would then assemble the answers and the videos to send on to my yard manager (YM) to look over and tell me what she thought.

I found 28 different facebook conversations when I searched “bit ridden” as it was one of the most basic questions I was guaranteed to ask. And a couple of those conversation threads were dealers so I had contacted them about multiple horses over the months. I’d guestimate at least 5-7 others wanted to speak on the phone so no record of that conversation.

In the next step of sending videos on to be judged by someone who knows just a bit more than my, “Yep, has four legs and a tail” I see that I sent YM 23 videos of different ponies. Most of these videos came back with a reason why the horse wasn’t a good fit for me. For example:

  • Too buzzy
  • Too small
  • Too big
  • Too green
  • Too on the forehand
  • Too short of neck with too long of back

The list could go on…. I wish I could I explain to you why the short neck with long back is a no go…but alas, I can’t. And to be honest Hamish has a short neck! But I’ll just trust the expert. Some of the 23 ponies that got a video sent were ones that I did end up riding. In some situations they sounded good enough on paper or others were last minute and convenient to where I was to crack on and get my own video (you’d be amazing how many sellers refuse to send you a video for some reason), or if I hadn’t heard back from YM but was feeling cheeky and just went for it.  Because that’s a risk in itself.

Here’s just a sampling of ponies I looked at…you have no idea…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Within that grouping of 23 ponies that got video emails, twice I got rejected! As in the owner told me no. As if finding a horse wasn’t stressful and upsetting enough…throw in a little rejection for good measure. One horse that seemed a real school master, ex competition horse that was looking for a quieter life and was ideal on paper – the owner demanded to see a video of me riding (after multiple emails and phone calls) before she’d arrange me to come up. After I sent my video she iced me out and didn’t reply to my emails or answer my calls. To be fair, I’m a shit rider. But in my defense, I wasn’t going into this alone. Sucks for her though as I saw her horse listed for months and months after I was rejected. Beggars can’t be choosers hoe!

I got one other solid rejection, I mean really solid. I went out to see him with one of my instructors. Horse was a lot bigger than I anticipated and I had to ride him in a field (which I’m not used to). Now is the time to note just how nervous I am trying out horses. SO NERVOUS. As a shit rider normally, even my instructor commented just how extra shit and nervous I was when we were driving back. I didn’t love the horse but was tired of searching and when it was decided he was quite sensible, but YM wanted to see him inside a school (as he was pretty big and stuffy) I reached out to see if it was possible to arrange him to come visit the riding school. This time I at least got a response…and it was something along the lines of they didn’t think I was experienced enough for him. Even though I told them how much help I’d be getting, lessons on him, support, and brought an instructor for god’s sake.

There was one more rejection when I said it was a livery yard and riding club. I guess sometimes there is “working livery” where your horse is used in lessons as a school horse to get discounted/free livery. And this girl refused to believe that I would be the only one riding him…oh well.

Also in those 4 months the YM also put an appeal out on all her facebook pages to find a horse for me, as well as on a trip to the Ireland/Cavan Auctions where she was horse shopping for a lot of horses, but also keeping an eye out for a horse for me. Still nothing.

Then there was the time I thought I found my horse- She’s a Lady. I saw her on a facebook group page. The guy that was selling her was a right dodger….but I decided I was just being a snob. For the first time in test-driving horses I jumped on and did a little walk, trot, and even stepped it up to a canter. I could have easily gotten on this horse and started popping jumps. She was a schoolmaster. I showed YM the videos, told her I was pretty smitten and she agreed that she looked like a nice type and the price was fair. I did mention that she seemed a little girth shy…so it was determined that I should set up a vetting, go down and ride her again, groom her, tack her up, watch her alone in a stable to see how she acts, make sure the girth thing isn’t a issue, hack her away from the stable alone…spend some real time with her.

Well to start, after my 3 hour drive I got there to find out she had lost a shoe which means I was unable to do the vetting (the imbalance would throw her off and make her seem lame even if she was sound). So I was pretty pissed off. That’s when the dodger got even dodgier. Because of course then he insisted I didn’t need the vetting. And that’s when I learned just how girth shy she was…. when I went near her girth area to groom her she started stomping her feet and twisting around to bite me. I realized I wasn’t fully confident in tacking her up so asked the seller to do it and I’d watch. He first tried insisting we tie her up first, but I didn’t want a horse that HAD to be tied up to tack. He then suggested she get tacked up outside the stabl for some reason. We went back and forth. Needless to say, as soon as he reached under to get her girth she kicked out and became a monster. As a wanna-be first time horse owner, her behavior terrified me. I called the YM to give an update of how my morning was going and it was decided that a) this guy was dodgy AF and b) She’s a Lady is extremely girth shy and unpredictable and she might become She’s a Monster if forced into box rest for a few weeks. It was the right decision, but sometimes even now I think back a little sad I didn’t get her just for the been there, done that part of her.

So, the next trip to Ireland for a sales auction (with a list of about 5 horses to look for already) I went too. I’m really not sure if I was invited, invited myself or told I was going. Whatever the case, the morning we flew out I had serious regrets. I had gotten back from 3 weeks in the US (which was my MIL’s death, running a marathon, playing nurse for my mother’s hip surgery, and the Saturday before leaving- my MIL’s funeral) on Monday and flew out to Ireland on Tuesday. With 3 people I barely knew (despite the 23 videos sent to my yard manager I really didn’t know her too well). I was honestly exhausted and sick to my stomach with nerves. Probably not a great start.

First ones in both mornings….we won’t miss a horse!

I’m told an obligatory photo…

We got in on Tuesday afternoon and would be at the auctions all day Wednesday and Thursday, flying back Friday early afternoon. It’s crazy, fun experience that I recommend to anyone…and there’s horses for all abilities. Ponies in my budget, but I also saw a bid win at £20k only for the reserve not to be met. But don’t be fooled, it’s wicked hard work. Being new to horsing in general I was pretty overwhelmed with about 250-300 horses to look at, with 3 different arenas they travel through and then the auction ring right next to the jumping arena with auctions going all day long. Not to mention it was freezing cold and you’re on your feet from about 8am-5pm, running up to the stables, back down to the arenas. Trying to follow a horse you’re interested in, but also wanting to see if you can meet it in the stable beforehand or chat with the owner when all the horses arrive at different times. We had gone through the catalog and starred quite a few that sounded good…but you quickly go through that list. Maybe the horse is a jerk in the stable, maybe his conformation is shite and prone to injury, maybe it’s jump is massive, maybe it’s canter is too difficult to sit to, maybe the dealer lies and tells you the horse has been out and jumped around the arenas when you know for a fact that the horse has sat in the stable all day. It’s a total crapshoot. I don’t know if any of the 3 I was prepared to bid on were ones initially starred from the book.

Horse #1 was a slow moving gal from a private seller. Definitely something that I could be riding away on immediately. The opposite of buzzy. Problem was, she looked like hell. Definitely had worms, no condition, they didn’t clip her, a mangy beast. I wasn’t excited about her but knew I needed to be rational and she would be a safe bet for a first pony. The YM thought her worth to about £2,500 TOPS. So we bid on her and had a £2,000 winning bid didn’t meet the reserve. We found them afterward and they wanted £3k. We tried to negotiate and give them £2,500, but they weren’t having it so we let them walk away.

Horse #2 I really liked. Probably because he wasn’t a damn grey! We were all set that we were going to bid on him and I was stoked. But the owner was a friend of a friend and we told him how novice I was and he discouraged me from bidding because he thought the horse would be too green for me. Funny enough he claimed he had the perfect horse for me and then I saw the freaking thing and was terrified of it- a massive horse with a MASSIVE jump…. that ended up going for over £8k anyway (WAY out of budget!)

Horse #3 is Hamish. Actually, his official name is Corker Creppello and he had no barn name. Yeah, that’s right, I named that damn grey Irish horse a Scottish name. It was near the end of the last day and he was a bit of a last ditch, hail mary effort. He was in my budget and he’s a nice type. Being only 5 he is VERY green, and to be honest, I’m not really even cantering on him yet. But the nice thing about a young, green horse is that there is LOADS of growth potential. And honestly, he’s made such a better rider of me and given me so much more confidence already (not without knocking it down frequently as well). It’s a bit backwards that we have to stumble in the dark (okay, not totally dark, I take about 3 lessons on him a week, get him schooled by my instructor, and get loads of help from staff…so maybe stumble through poor lighting is a better description) and learn from each other what works and what feels nice.

It’s funny how things changed. I started with a budget of £2K to MAYBE £2,500. That went up to £3,000 – which Hamish just snuck under (and to be honest I would have gone £3,500 because at this point I was so exhausted I just wanted to move on from horse shopping). But my budget wasn’t ever including things like vetting, sales tax (in the case of the auction), transportation home (more expensive when he is coming from Ireland of course), personal transportation to see horse (again, more expensive involving flights and hotel rooms).   It makes me wonder, what if I just had a £4-£5k budget from the start?! Ah well….I did learn a lot in the process! (I am learning that horse people are fantastic and finding some sort of positive out of horse shit and are exemplerary at ignoring blaring truths, most commonly: horses are stupid money pits).

And then beyond budget, Hamish is definitely not an easy schoolmaster. And he is a stupid (but totally handsome) grey. And I know we’re not riding off into the sunset or anything. And though my confidence is up he is a total bloody chancer and every month or so tests the boundaries that unfortunately, sometimes still results in me being a bit scared of him. But almost every horse would do that. Schoolmaster or not…horses aren’t perfect. And I appreciate Hamish’s cheek…He’s got personality and it’s never almost never mean spirited. And maybe it’s my complete naive-ness talking (or just ignoring the blaring turhts), but I’m super hopeful of the future I have with Hamish. Actually, I was just told given a little encouragement to sign up for our first Intro Dressage test to give us something to work towards. Which is a whole new level of terrifying exciting…

Don’t worry, I can’t imagine there won’t be an epic blog post on how right before Hamish and I fell into a pile of shit and then went into the arena where he spooked at a funny looking plant and took off across the highlands dismounting me with a broken rib…or something like that. High hopes right?

 

 

 

 

The princess, the pea, and long haul flights

I have become one of those people who I used to make fun of. In some sort of defense for myself (that perhaps is actually just stupidity) it took a lot of years. I first traveled abroad at 16 and from 22-29 took yearly trips abroad. But in these last 2 and half years I’ve been flying…a lot. And while not every flight is a long haul over night flight, they are becoming more frequently…several times a year. And with that, I’ve become a princess when I fly.

Well maybe not a princess. That assumes some great amount of privilege/wealth/respect/authority that I don’t have at all. So scratch princess…just a particular bag lady of air travel.

I don’t like flying. I love when I encourage someone to come visit or see a part of the world and they tell me they don’t like flying. Honestly? Does anyone like flying? I mean I know we’re supposed to enjoy the journey and all, but I don’t think they literally mean enjoy being crammed into a flying tin can with 1,000 strangers, confined to a foot-by-foot amount of space, being fed shitty food. And while I’m sure those in first class don’t mind traveling as much as us in steerage… I’m pretty sure there’s about a million things they’d rather be doing. Flying sucks. It it’s a means to an end. And I have finally stopped fighting against an unspoken rule I have in my head that there’s no difference in being utterly miserable and just kinda miserable in air travel.

So here are the changes I’ve made that are making my air travel better.

Headphones – really nice headphones. They were a birthday present and they have now made traveling so much better. I admit I was coming from the ear bud world so there was a lot of room for growth. But now I have Bose Bluetooth noise cancelling headphones. THEY ARE AMAZING. First, my ears don’t hurt from wearing them. Second, they really do cancel out ALL the noise. Third, they have Bluetooth and thus can be wireless. They also do have a cord for watching back-of-the-seat movies…. but it’s great to be wireless when I want to just listen to my peaceful piano playlist and try to go to sleep. But really…the noise cancelling is phenomenal! I wouldn’t wear these running, or walking…but for flights (or drowning out a snoring husband) they are amazing.

Eye mask – I’m not picky here. Fancy satin or a cheapie the airline gives you…essential. Because there’s always that one asshole that leaves his window open just sliver on the other side of the plane that lets in a laser beam of sun right into your pupil an hour before you needed to get up. I hate that asshole. Last year E (without eye mask) asked a flight attendant to get said asshole to close his shade, and she came back to say that unfortunately he was sleeping. I wanted to tell her to wake his ass up. Because there were at least 6 other people suffering for his asshole careless slumber…I digress…

Toothbrush – I rarely brush my teeth inside the plane because the tap water is gross and any water I have on hand I think the priority is to drink it. But it’s so nice to be able to brush my teeth right when I get off the plane. Or if it’s a super late one before I get on (extra bonus I’m deterred from eating gummy bears)

Motion Sickness Wristbands – I don’t get “sea sick” in the air very often at all. But when it comes on, it’s terrible. And it’s always the last 10 mins before landing when we’ve needed to circle around the airport before landing. On the plus side, I normally start yawning immensely right before I get nauseous and these are a serious relief. First string of ridiculous yawns they go on and while it doesn’t totally halt feeling crummy, but it really, really prevents it from making me horrendously ill. Bonus – I carry these in my purse at all times because on Scotland roads…. travel sickness sneaks up on you a lot.

Upgraded class – I can’t afford first class…or even business class. But on any flight over 5 hours, I have made the decision I can definitely afford the extra $100-$150 to upgrade to economy plus. A little more legroom goes a long freaking way. And if you are a frequent flier with an airline, you’re more likely to get bumped up to that new level that floats between economy plus and business…where you don’t get to lie down to sleep but you do get champagne. SCORE!

Lounge Access – You’d think we fly enough to be whatever level needed for lounge access right? We don’t because we use so many different airlines. E has a petroleum card for Air France that let’s us cut in line for security and boarding, but he doesn’t get a guest in the lounge with paying extra. Because we always have at least one 4-hour layover in a flight, we have made the decision to get a CC that gives us lounge access. That’s right…we now have the Case Sapphire Preferred. I haven’t been able to utilize this lounge access yet…but I will be very soon. E has though and he loves it.

 

 

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Butt pillow – Not for the every man, but for me. I cracked my tailbone in high school (official x-rays not taken as my parents were away and we didn’t have health insurance and since there’s nothing you can do about a broken tailbone it didn’t really matter) playing soccer. I did sit on a donut at school and I couldn’t play for weeks. Since then my tailbone would act up maybe before a big storm (my butt could tell when it would rain, ha!) but was fine for about 15 years until last year. I know the exact trip home my tailbone started acting up…I’m blaming long flights, hospital chairs, and I’m sure horseback riding doesn’t always help (especially since I really have worked how to sit the canter well or come down lightly over a jump all the time). Anyway, I carry a butt pillow. I don’t care if it’s embarrassing. Ass pain is no joke.

Spotify Premium – In total transparency what I am insisting you have to make your travel more enjoyable, I no longer have. But if you have Spotify premium and can download playlists so you can listen to them without wifi…most importantly, said Peaceful Piano playlist, life is so much more enjoyable. Or maybe it’s a Home Coming playlist that you like to hear to get you in the mood to that beautiful Chicago skyline as you land…I did have premium for 5 months of so…but then I got a horse and E said we needed to cut costs. So my great sacrifice was Spotify Premium…my friends think this is a very funny exchange but shhhh, it seems E hasn’t run the numbers yet.

Neck pillow – I don’t always carry this. To be honest, the ass pillow takes up a lot of space. And if for whatever reason it’s a packed flight and I can’t get a window seat I don’t bring it. And if I am flying with Stella…no way. Because airlines do provide you with a little pillow…but bliss is a neck pillow with the addition of leaning into the little window nook. But to be honest, I brought a neck pillow ONCE last year. Though now I judge less when I see people with them.

So that’s my list of the little things that make a flight that much more enjoyable tolerable. As I stated, I don’t have all the things on the list for every hour flight down to London. It depends on the time I’m traveling, duration of flight, where I’m going, the company I’m with…. but I am over being embarrassed for being a bag lady if that’s what makes god awful air travel more tolerable.

What are your must haves for a long flight?

Behind the Scenes

Wanted to gloss over the bits of life that have taken place in the last 10 months or so (ha!) that won’t make it into a blog post.  Looking back…it seems I really fancy a costume/themed party.

End of June – one of my best friends Merima came to visit.  Expect to see more of Merima on my Croatia recap post.

 

July – We attended a surprise America themed 30th for her husband – hoodie hoo!

July 8 – My cousin and Uncle come to visit.

Have you noticed we take everyone to Dunnottar Castle?

August 28 – We had a Guns n’ Grilling party!  Had a whole mess of us (18?!) go to clay pigeon shooting and then back to our house for a lot of grilling and booze.  Unfortunately, didn’t take any pictures so these I stole from some of our friends.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

September 4 – Erik and Aaron ran their 2nd Inch by Inch Swim Run in Loch Lomond

November – Whilst home in November I spent some quality time with family and got to meet my new little niece.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dec 10 – Made it to the last Aberdeen Perry’s Christmas Party. (They’re moving this summer.)

 

December – Goodbye Hussars.  Ah the downside of expat life.  This was our first friends we were reaaaaally close to that left.  I cried.  It sucked.

The longest, saddest brunch.

December – Enjoyed our time back in the states for Christmas.Dec 29 – Made the trek back to Scotland.

Dec 31 – NYE watching the fireballs in Stonehaven again (see previous year’s blog post here)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Photo by: http://christinejacksonphotography.squarespace.com/

Photo by: http://christinejacksonphotography.squarespace.com/

Jan 27 – Burns night!

2nd year in a row for a monique lhuillier WITH POCKETS!

Some of the girls – we had 2 tables.

 

 

Feb 4 – AWA’s Mardi Gras Party – we were the pajama themed table.

 

March 4 – Our friends Lillian & David hosted an epic 80’s party.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

March 24 – We celebrated our friend Seth’s birthday with Curling and Karaoke

Victory!

The person who fell the most was the Scotsman.

Didn’t fall at all this time!

My sweeping partner cared more about posing than sweeping!

 

March – I really started to learn why grey horses suck.

Spring – Lotta horse time.  Luckily, it’s not all lessons and hard work.  I’ve been super lucky to have some friends trust me with their ponies to go on hacks and enjoy the Scottish countryside.

Spud and I taking a break in the River Dee

 

Edinburgh in August

Another option in Edinburgh (August or otherwise) is a free walking tour with Sandeman! Highly recommend it.

Another option in Edinburgh (August or otherwise) is a free walking tour with Sandeman! Highly recommend it.

When we moved to Scotland just over 2 years ago, I had heard something about the “Royal Tattoo” and how it was this crazy big show of bagpipers and performers that only takes place in August at the Edinburgh castle and I realllly wanted to go. But there was about 2 weeks left of the show and the mark up on tickets/available dates were sure to make that impossible.

To top it off, when my mother was going through my dad’s office after he passed away, she found a file on Scotland that he had started for a trip they had been planning to take. On a sheet of yellow legal paper (typical Ray fashion) was the word TATTOO. Obviously, it had to be done. So we had planned my mother and her friend Pat were coming to visit in August and we would start the journey in Edinburgh. (It helps that in the summer there is a direct Chicago to Edinburgh flight). But when my mom came last year I never blogged about her trip. I was a bit overrun with things (also never blogged about my 2 weeks in Croatia…it’s coming I swear!): mainly visitors and vacations. And despite the fact that I’ve been a less than stellar blogger lately…I’m attempting to make up for it. So here’s a little combo post about why you should totally visit Edinburgh in August.

When my mom and friend came, the 3 of us had the place (a really fabulous and ridiculously expensive Air bnb) to ourselves for Friday and E came down on Saturday for Tattoo. This past weekend, E and I went down to Edinburgh for my birthday weekend getaway and stayed at The Carlton Hotel. Both really nice…but you should know, ridiculously expensive in August. Why?

Just a little wine spill in our Air Bnb

Just a little wine spill in our Air Bnb

We got to enjoy a beautiful fireworks display with our wine at night.

We got to enjoy a beautiful fireworks display with our wine at night.

Edinburgh Fringe Festival. Aka The Fringe.

The Fringe is the world’s largest art’s festival. It spans for the entire month of August. In 2015, there were over 50,000 performances of over 3,300 shows at 313 different venues. They say the city doubles in size during this month not only with tourists (to see the shows, but also to try and see summer in Scotland) but with all those performers as well.

And Edinburgh is a beautiful city...reason enough to visit.

And Edinburgh is a beautiful city…reason enough to visit.

Edinburgh Castle in the middle of the city.

Edinburgh Castle in the middle of the city.

Last year, I didn’t try to tackle any Fringe shows with my mother and her friend. I’m sure I could have, but there was a lot of the city to see, catching up, etc. It would have made it all a bit more rushed. And in hindsight, I agree with that decision since I knew nothing about Fringe. Now I’ve come back from 6 shows over the course of <48 hours and I think I have my wits about me and would be able to lead the charge for a weekend excursion back. (Which I totally am going to plan for my birthday again next year with some friends). So here are my tips for Fringe.

Fringe for Virgins

  • You can buy tickets the day of, 5 minutes before a show starts (or even possibly be given them for free), but I recommend doing some research and seeking out shows you want to see, and buying those tickets in advance- that you can do online.
  • Shows are split into categories: Cabaret and Variety, Children’s Shows, Comedy, Dance/Physical Theater/Circus, Events, Exhibitions, Music, Musicals and Operas, Spoken Word, and Theater…though one show might be in several categories. They all have a suggested age and a blurb about them.
  • Sometimes you read a blurb and are really interested in it, and then you go to the show and it is nothing what you expected.
  • At the Fringe website, you can sort by date, narrow by time of day, and by category. It’s really very handy in planning a weekend.
  • Unless it’s something very highly recommended and publicized, you can buy tickets the week of. There was one (small) show I had wanted to see that was sold out 3 days in advance. And then there was one larger one that was written up in a few publications as the Best of Fringe 2016 that was sold out at least a week in advance.
  • You can’t print tickets at home, but you just pop into one of the many ticket-printing centers, swipe your credit card, and all the tickets you’ve purchased come out at once.
  • If you’re planning on seeing quite a few shows, definitely pull up the venues on a map. Edinburgh is very walkable, but if you only have 30 mins to get from one show in the Meadows to another show on the North Side of the city…you’re not going to make it without a taxi.
  • Speaking of, there is Uber in Edinburgh. Not a big deal for Americans…a very big deal coming from Aberdeen.
  • There is no assigned seating. And even though we were never early to queue, and actually dead last a couple times, there are really no bad seats.
  • There are no bad seats because the venues are TINY. You will be sitting arm pressed against hot fleshy arm at every venue.   It’s Scotland so it’s never warm out, but underneath your sweater or jacket, have something cool on because the venues are hot. And take off your outer layer as you sit down because you won’t have the room to do it mid-show.
  • Shows are generally an hour. We went to one that was 90 minutes. I really wish it ended at 60 minutes. Make sure you really are keen on it if you see it’s 90 minutes.
  • Some shows really might not let you in if you’re late…generally shows start 2-3 mins late, so a small buffer window. But if you arrive RIGHT on time, you’ll be fine. And no one looks down upon you if you’re clearly late because you stopped at the bar first.
  • There are bars at every venue (pretty much) and you can always bring drinks in. I actually didn’t think the drinks were overpriced compared to something like Taste of Chicago.
  • At one show, the comedian (that I really enjoyed), asked for money at the end. But she referred to some people buying tickets. Which led me to believe a lot of people got in for free. But then I felt weird not giving money because I loved her…but also had paid about £13 per ticket. Just know this can happen, but in 6 shows, only one asked for tips at the end.
  • For dining: unless you’re planning on going to places that are strictly no reservation (El Cartel, Ting Thai Caravan), you need to make reservations. Our plans got slightly shuffled around and were originally going to do El Cartel for dinner, but did them for lunch instead. So for dinner Saturday night we went with the only place we could walk into, which was less than good tapas. Thankfully, it wasn’t our last meal on earth.
  • If you’re going to eat at the aforementioned no-reservation places, pad in lots of time to wait. Or better yet, go at an off time. For lunch at El Cartel, they open at noon and we were there at 12:15, which is early for lunch. But we had gotten up and ran 6 miles that morning so it was a late breakfast for us and we beat the crows and were seated right away. The next day, the same thing where we showed up for a late breakfast (11:30) and managed to get seated right away and beat the lunch rush.
Only at Fringe...Smut while you wait.

Only at Fringe…Smut while you wait.

The crowds are madness in August

The crowds are madness in August

My tops 3 (of 6) performances that I saw at Fringe this year was:

2nd runner up: Amelia Ryan: Lady Liberty (Cabaret and Variety/Comedy)

1st runner up: Andrea Hubert: Week (Stand-Up/Story Telling)

1st place: Love, Lies and Taxidermy (new writing/comedy)

If I had more days I would go see the other performances in the same venues as Love, Lies & Taxidermy – most of which have the same cast. Really cool venue, really liked what they did. Had actually wanted to see Every Brilliant Thing (done by them as well) but it was sold out! Alas…

Beyond Fringe

As previously mentioned, in conjunction with Fringe Festival is the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo. Also only taking place in August, dubbed as the “World’s Greatest Show.” And I have to say…. it’s pretty great. With the magnificent background of the Edinburgh castle, more bagpipes than you can shake a stick at, a supremely choreographed routine that has a different theme each year, representations of many different nations, as well as different kinds of musicians, dancers, and performers, topped off with a stunning fireworks display…. it’s incredible.IMG_1415 IMG_1399
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So if you’re questioning if Tattoo is worth it? The answer is definitely yes! My advice would be to buy tickets as soon as humanly possible to get good seats at a fair price. Though there aren’t any truly bad seats…if you’re not in the Royal Gallery or Premier Seats (we weren’t) you just don’t want to be tucked in a corner, or too low so that you can’t see the whole scope of the arena. Even though we bought tickets months out, a lot of the good seats were sold out the night we wanted to go. I compared scalper-like sites but I found that if I bought directly through the Tattoo, paying a little extra for the ceilidh package, I actually got a better seat for less money than buying a normal ticket from Tattoo or a ticket from a third party. Bonus, we went to the ceilidh afterward, which provided one drink and quite a lot of food included, and my mother and her friend got to watch and learn some traditional dances. It was definitely worth is.

 

 

 

Stella in the Country

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I love country living. Even when its flaw (being far from city-centre) becomes more and more abundant (as our social life gets fuller and fuller). I was a little worried initially about feeling alone and closed off- especially when it came to just having contact with people on a day that E is out of town and I have no reason to go into town. I remember one weekend when we moved to San Diego- E had been sent to New Jersey to work and I didn’t leave my apartment from Friday when I got home from work until Monday morning. Hadn’t unlocked the front door! Man, I kinda dream of a weekend like that now with sweet, sweet hibernation.

Anyway. With Stella-dog that’s never going to happen again. But I still was a little worried about actually interacting with people even though I knew I’d be outside. As it turns out- it’s rare that I take a walk with Stella through the woods or down the road and don’t run into anyone. And a lot of time, they want to talk. Everyone is friendly and engaging. Just yesterday I met a 5 year old girl (and her grandpa) who told me all about her new baby brother that’s coming next week, that she wants to be a veterinarian, that there’s a boy in her class that squeezes her hand too hard, and then she likes to feed Disney and Spirit (the horses down the lane) carrots whenever anyone will take her to them. It was pretty delightful other than my worry that maybe Disney and Spirit are getting way too many carrots as I feed them quite often as well and I know of at least one other neighbor that does as well.

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In some ways taking Stella out here is the exact same as taking Stella out in Chicago. Of course we don’t encounter our regular local homeless people or stop in to the same high end shops to get free dog treats (shout out to Lululemon, Barbour, Burton, Brioni, Ugg, Ted Baker, Sprinkles and Ugg), but we do meet and talk with our neighbors, get pets from strangers (more Stella than me), and sniff some dog butts (more Stella than me). There’s just the added bonus of not ever being on a leash, drinking water fresh from the burn, and chasing the occasional deer.

dog water fountain

How stella hydrates: Chicago vs. Scotland

The biggest difference in our typical “go outside” in Chicago vs. Aberdeenshire isn’t the scenery, it’s everything else!

CHICAGO DOG WALKS

ABERDEENSHIRE DOG WALKS

Leash Carrots (for horses)
Standard Collar Light Up Collar or Vibrating Collar (depending on the season)
Poo Bags Head Torch
Money (it always seemed like a good idea to stop at the Sprinkles cupcake ATM) Reflective Vest or Rain Coat
Tennis Ball & Racket Wellies or Hiking Boots
Trainers, snow boots, or flip flops

 

 

I still am loving country living and fear more a re-adjustment to a big city rather than something more rural (I just may eat my words some day). I’m pretty sure Stella has so qualms about her change in scenery either!

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Sheepdog in training.

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Travel Trials & Tribulations

Ask people what they would do if they won the lotto or didn’t have to work anymore and a lot of them would say “travel”. Obviously, there are a lot of great benefits to travel, one of which is it sure isn’t work. It’s easy to think travel is…well easy. The gorgeous photos, the limited mention of funds spent, the adventure…. I totally add to that delusion in my blog posts. So I want to set the record straight. Travel is fantastic, but don’t think everything goes as planned. And I tend to plan EVERYTHING. I’m pretty Type A when it comes to travel with restaurant reservations, itineraries; I even make lists of what I’m wearing on which days. It’s kind of surprising I even like travel…. given that no matter how well you plan, shits going to go wrong.

So, for your amusement, and perhaps a dose of reality, here’s a sampling of the shit that has gone wrong when I’ve traveled.

♠The most recent travel woe was when our flights to Tromso were cancelled, 2 hours before take off. Resulted in an unexpected night over in Oslo, frantic rearranging of our schedule, and E taking an extra day off work. Flexibility is key!

♠The trip right before Tromso, we got to Chamonix and didn’t have any luggage and made a rookie mistake of not having a carry-on bag. Lessons learned!

♠My first trip abroad was to Paris with my parents and friend, who was sustaining off of Coke Light and baguettes. When she finally did brake and need some real food, she ordered a sausage. Once she cut into it, this awful smell hit all of our nostrils. She took a bite and nearly gagged. It took a while, but finally through language barriers, came to find out the sausage was made out of intestines.

♠While driving across Italy, E stalled a car right around a corner from a busy round about. We were all screaming since we were sure a car was going to slam into us…E couldn’t take the pressure and just jumped out of the drivers seat and abandoned us…. In correcting that error (with my brother now driving) we nearly got stuck (literally stuck) in an alleyway. We had to fold in the mirrors and we all held our breath…some guys on the street were nice enough to move ladders, garbage cans, and cats to make sure we could fit through. Come to think of it, there are about 4 other “incidents” with that car in Italy. Let’s just say, we all actually thought we were going to die or have to pay for extreme amounts of damages at least once.

One of the many times we almost died...here we were in Austria, before we got to Italy.

One of the many times we almost died…here we were in Austria, before we got to Italy.

♠Last year we were in Croatia for my birthday. For my day, I planned a nice hike up to a cave. This was on the way to another destination, and so there was only this one-day to do it. Nature had other plans and as soon as we came into the town it started hailing so hard we had to pull over on the way there. We tried to wait it out but after 30 minutes there was no end in sight so we carried on…to celebrate my birthday with (surprisingly good) pizza – that I accidentally dropped half on the floor of the restaurant. Happy 30th.

This is the storm the came in on my birthday in Croatia.

This is the storm the came in on my birthday in Croatia.

♠In high school I had a teacher who had gone to Rome the summer before. It’s all she could talk about and spent a full class in detail of the Vatican, passing around a book and doing a slideshow of her pictures. I was religious (catholic) at the time and I wanted to see the Sistine Chapel more than ANYTHING. Years later when studying abroad in London, I took a trip to Rome with a guy I hardly knew (un-romantic) who was a huge douche bag. We stayed at an awful hostel, got lost/trapped at some insane only-in-Europe Rave, and I had a splitting migraine the whole trip. Alas, I was going to see the Sistine Chapel. We were going to do it on Sunday, and we flew out Monday morning. We get to the Sistine Chapel and it has closed 30 minutes earlier for the day. I sat on the ground and wept. It felt like I got sucker punched and someone was playing a mean joke. This is probably the reason I am so insane in my travel plans and probably why I gave up on god.

Finally made it to the Vatican and the Sistine Chapel

Finally made it to the Vatican and the Sistine Chapel

♠Also in studying abroad…. I spent 4 nights in Dublin without pajamas. Which shouldn’t be that big of a deal…but I was in a cold hostel and only had skin-tight jeans that had booze, and more than likely some remnants of puke on them.

♠On our honeymoon in South Africa, E got “mugged”. It’s in quotes because it wasn’t a mugging in the traditional sense, it was E being a chump and inadvertently giving a guy his atm card AND the pin code. Luckily, it was a bank we didn’t keep much money in and after a lot of stress and tears, got it all sorted away…and eventually got refunded the money despite the fact that basically all banks declare if you’re a dumbass in South Africa, it’s not their problem.

♠Oh you think that’s the only bad thing that happened on our honeymoon? Think again. The last bit of our honeymoon we were in the Seychelles. We had hired a private tour of the island that ended with a few hours on a private beach and a picnic lunch. At some point…. right about here:

Lovely photo...E's ring was probably sliding off his finger right now.

Lovely photo…E’s ring was probably sliding off his finger right now.

E lost his wedding band. The white gold, engraved, not-yet insured wedding band. Poof. Floated away in the sea. There were a few hours of a seething newly wed there.

♠When we went to Turkey, we forgot our real (or any) camera. We only had our phone to capture the memories. Thus, no photos can be blown up and displayed.

Would be great if we got high quality pics of this experience...

Would be great if we got high quality pics of this experience…

♠We went to London to meet up with E’s friend who was to be in town (from Texas) to see the Dallas Cowboys game. He had a bunch of friends in the UK, so through his organization we all got tickets together. Then he realized he couldn’t come. Luckily, his friends were nice and we got along swimmingly…otherwise it was going to be a real awkward night.

♠The same trip to London, we had tickets to see Phantom of the Opera. I dressed to the nines. It poured down rain that night. Umbrellas broke. Streets are flooded. I showed up looking like a drowned rat. Still…a great show!

♠I think the most recent time this happened was in Istanbul…. but it’s definitely happened prior to. When you put your bank card into the cash machine and it gets flagged and not only do you not get money, but you don’t get your card back leaving you with no access to paper money. ALWAYS bring back ups and alert your banks people.

♠Using expired sunscreen and burning to an absolute crisp in Turkey. And before the burn totally settled in, going to a weird chakra massage where I was put naked on a table with hot oil water boarding me. I smelled (and felt) like a fried chicken by the end. The oil trapped in all my internal body heat and I spent the night with E putting cold towels on me, and having them turn actually hot to the touch every 5 minutes. Then the next day, despite painfully running through Charles De Gaulle, missing a connecting flight and suffering with my third degree burns in a shitty hotel until I could get on a flight the next day, and find some aloe vera relief.

♠Flying across the Atlantic when you realize that new prescription for your dog has a domino effect, and she now has to pee. Badly.

"What?! I would never disrupt a flight with a need to pee."

“What?! I would never disrupt a flight with a need to pee.”

♠Thinking that you’re checking into an amazing AirBnb…. only to arrive to a slightly dirty, slightly moldy, room with weirdly stained towels. But the view is great….

♠When E came to visit me in London (when studying abroad), we took a weekend trip to Paris. Our first night, even though it was late, I wanted to show him the Eiffel Tower. We got on the metro, and somehow read the map wrong, we went all the way to end of the metro- the wrong way. And it was the last train of the night. We had no idea where we were or how to get home. We tried to hail a cab but none would stop. We found a restaurant that was open and tried to figure out a cab but no one spoke English. This was before smartphones people! We went out and just started walking, eventually stumbling upon a cabstand and finally getting a cab home.

We finally made it to the top of the Eiffel Tower

We finally made it to the top of the Eiffel Tower

♠That same Paris trip…we were broke college kids and booked the cheapest hotel we could find. It was on the 5th floor, of course no elevator, in a pretty rough neighborhood. And better still, the metro stop closest was closed down for construction, so we had to get off a stop early and walk up a massive hill every time. It was just a warm up for the 5 flights of stairs. I swear I lost 5lbs that weekend.

♠And my own fault, there are have been a couple times when I let my guard down, and became a little over-served. This resulted in hellacious days on holiday the following day. Glad I got to see the Spanish Riding School in Vienna, but I barely pulled it together and would have had a better time if I didn’t have to put my hands on my knees and my head in-between my legs every 10 minutes to stop from passing out. And it probably wasn’t my finest moment, and definitely one of the most painful travel days returning from Lisbon after staying out until the sun came out, running to the hostel to get our things (and puke) and then head to the airport. Not sure how many germs I picked up lying on the Lisbon Metro floor but…. let’s not think about that.

So yeah, travel definitely has its downsides. But like seeing how other people live, eating new foods, speaking a new language…there’s plenty to learn from the nightmares of travel. Like be careful with your debit cards, don’t buy your husband nice jewelry, always have a carry on bag, sunscreen expires after a year, you can’t control the weather or the airlines, and how to adapt to change.

What’s the worst thing that’s happened to your on a trip?

 

Friday Faves 4.15

I don’t mean to fall away from blogging ever. I really don’t. It just happens. I just get busy. I didn’t get back to Scotland and recovered until a week into January, and since then have been to 3 different countries (France, Norway, USA again). And I have to say, those trips have been my most procrastinated, lasse fair trips I have ever planned/been on. Anyway, I though it’d be good to commit a little time back to blogging. Thinking about getting at least 2 posts a week, and what better way to get a post out than with a Friday faves?!

So this week’s Friday faves:

 

IDShot_540x540Coconut Milk! I have documented the lack of coffee creamer in this country. And I just can’t bring myself to stocking the fridge with single or double cream to put in my coffee (though I certainly take advantage if there’s some leftover from another recipe). And if you follow me on twitter, I have a melt down about my broken heart for my American Keurig and K-cups at least once a month. So I am so happy to welcome Coconut Milk in my life. Yeah, I like almond milk but it doesn’t do much for my coffee (chai tea lattes are another story). But coconut milk not only cuts the coffee taste, but actually makes it taste like coconut! It has literally made my mornings much sweeter.

David Lloyd Aberdeen  My gym has officially reopened.  Sadly, even with a “£4 million renovation” the gym still sucks in the same ways it always has.  But it’s nice for it to be open.  They’ve been closed since before I came back from after Christmas due to the crazy flooding in Aberdeen. So here’s to committing to twice weekly Body Pump and Pilates if only my body would cooperate.

American Ovens. I don’t have one….and boy do I want one. I am so tired of trying to bake in the country for everything to either blow up, taste bitter, get stuck, or fall apart. I try something once every month or so, only for the result to be a crumbled pile of bake goods, possibly looking like literally dog poop, and me in tears.   You don’t know how good you have it American residents.

BFFS. Since I’ve moved, I’m pretty much only guaranteed to see my closest Midwest friends once a year. And my east and west coast friends….who knows. Well this year is the year of friends! I’m going to NYC twice where I’ll see my Asian, I get to see Merima (who’s a Cali-girl) when she comes over to my side of the pond, and not only will I see Heather, Megan and Tricia at Christmas time, but I’ll be welcoming Tricia into my home, meeting Megan in Northern Ireland, and seeing Heather in London. HOLLA!  Let’s hope this helps, not hinders, homesickness.i have such pretty friendslg and tric

No. 1 Magazine. Because for some reason, Scotland’s (only?) gossip/celeb magazine has a picture of me in it- whaaaaaat?!?! I find my new socialite status more than a little amusing. And to think, in Chicago after 8 years I never even was able to attend an event where a photographer was (unless volunteering).IMG_3204
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Cold Year

It has suddenly dawned on me that I may not see temperatures North of 60 degrees this year?! Ahhhhhh. I don’t even like the heat…but that’s a little extreme. Last year we had a pretty epic year of vacations, with a lot of heat and beach time in both Turkey and Croatia. And I got a girls weekend in Lisbon…and unfortunately, quite a warm weekend in Paris for the marathon. My vacation planning this year was a little dictated by outside forces, but beyond that I made a crucial error in planning two winter holidays.

I would like to to take this same picture....but substitute sand for the snow, a chaise for the snowmobile, and a swimsuit for the snow suit. PLEASE.

I would like to to take this same picture….but substitute sand for the snow, a chaise for the snowmobile, and a swimsuit for the snow suit. PLEASE.

Snowboarding in Chamonix, France and Northern Light chasing in Tromso, Norway.

Seriously, what was I thinking?! It’s okay…I’ve already started planning for next year and I’m thinking 2 weeks in Thailand in April. It’s sad how excited I am for something that’s a year away. But what’s cracking until then….

We’re going to NYC/NJ TWICE this year. These are the pre-dictated holidays.

April – I’m heading down to London to see my BFF who’s visting her in-laws there.

May – NYC/NJ for my brother’s wedding, and I’ll stay on to hang out in NYC with my mom, uncle, and goddaughter.

June – Isle of Skye with our friends visiting from Chicago.

July – a possible weekend get-away with a friend, otherwise 3 groups of visitors back to back to back.

August – Northern Ireland for a long weekend.

October – Possibly Copenhagen for a long weekend.

November – NYC marathon.

December – Home for Christmas.

Next selfie needs sunglasses and sand.

Next selfie needs sunglasses and sand.

 

But it looks like E won’t be able to carry over days, and that leaves us with maybe 3-4 extra vacation days so I’m thinking, we MUST make it somewhere warm at the end of November. Thanksgiving on a beach would make me pretty thankful I think. Maybe Tenerife, or Malta, or Majorca? We’ll see, but I don’t think I can make it an entire cold year!

A little bit of this needs to be happening in 2016

A little bit of this needs to be happening in 2016

Arctic Adventures in Tromsø

 

024I have been meaning to write the quintessential #BucketList post…but haven’t gotten around to. Let’s be honest, haven’t gotten around to much blogging lately. Anyway….a main issue of the Bucket List blog post is I really need to reevaluate my bucket list. I think I might split it up into an American list, and abroad list. To be honest, it wasn’t until I’ve moved to Scotland and started traveling more abroad that I realized how much I want to see of America. That’s a good thing right?

One thing that has ALWAYS been on my bucket list has been the Northern Lights.   I don’t know when exactly I heard about the Northern Lights but I remember thinking, “What the hell?! This is crazy! Why hadn’t I heard of this sooner?!” Then there was pinterest of course I saw (and pinned) this picture on my Bucket List board:

What everyone pins and envisions when they plan their dream Northern Lights trip of course.

What everyone pins and envisions when they plan their dream Northern Lights trip of course.

Because who wouldn’t want to sleep in a glass igloo looking at the stars?! And so it was decided (in late 2015) that we would make my Northern Light dream come true this March. And we were going to stay in a glass igloo. Until I really looked into the glass igloo thing and decided not only against is but against Finland. No offense to Finland….as it turns out Norway is just easier to get to. As for the glass igloo place, well it has some pretty shady reviews, is overly expensive, and you’re stuck in the MIDDLE OF NOWHERE FINLAND. It’s not only a pain in the ass to get to, but you have no dining options and are trapped. I quickly realized I wanted to be remote enough to see Northern Lights, but not go stir crazy trapped in a tiny igloo with my husband for days on end. And thus we have Tromsø Norway.

Tipped off to the location from a friend, I realized this island off mainland Norway, well above the Arctic Circle has everything I could want to do, an American hotel chain, many dining options, a beautiful topography, and the Northern Lights. DONE.

Way above the Arctic Circle

Way above the Arctic Circle

Our schedule was as follows:

  • Thursday: Aberdeen-> Oslo -> Tromsø
  • Thursday night: Northern Lights chase
  • Friday 8am: Dog sled
  • Friday night: Northern Lights chase
  • Saturday: Sleep in!
  • Saturday night: Northern Lights chase
  • Sunday: Snowmobile
  • Sunday night: open for possible Northern Light chases if we haven’t seen them yet.

But as always, the great words of Robbie Burns ring true, “The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry.” Our flight to Oslo got cancelled, so after being present a few different options we took a flight to Stavanger, then to Oslo, where we stayed the night (put up by SAS airlines at the Radisson Blue), and then had a flight out to Tromsø at 8:30 in the morning on Friday. We also tacked on a day and changed our return flight from Monday to Tuesday.

So fine, we got a night to explore Oslo…but that meant our Thursday night light chasing (pre-paid of course) and Friday dog sledding (pre-paid of course) was out. I immediately emailed the Northern Lights group we paid 3 nights with (Thurs-Sat) and they were booked Sunday AND Monday, but put us on a waiting list. As for the dog sledding, also booked all the other days (what did I expect, I booked all this stuff months prior!), but did have a Sunday night dog sledding session available. The snowmobiling I hadn’t booked prior, but our hotel (Radisson Blue Tromsø) had a Tromsø Safari desk in the lobby. This company does some of their own bookings, but also arranges trips through other companies that are actually doing them. When we got in on Friday I went to the desk to inquire about snowmobiling and they said they had no availability Sunday, but did have Saturday. I took what I could get and booked it.

So our schedule turned into:

  • Thursday night: Oslo
  • Friday: roam around Tromsø/sushi
  • Friday night: Northern Lights chase
  • Saturday 8am: Snowmobile
  • Saturday night: Northern Lights chase
  • Sunday: SLEEP IN
  • Sunday night: Dog sledding
  • Monday: Sleep in, walk to the other side of the fjord
  • Monday night: possible Northern Light chase

Our night in Oslo was pretty uneventful. We walked around the city, which was fine but am glad we weren’t planning on staying there too long.   Our hotel was right across from the airport, which was amazing for an 8:30 am flight (we left the hotel after 7:30 haha), and it’s very easy to get a train into the city center. We had dinner in the city center, and after perusing Trip Advisor we found Klosteret Restaurant. Which in English would be translated to the monastery. As can be expected, it was underground with fantastic brick walls and arched ceilings and candles everywhere. Super cool and romantic vibe, super knowledgeable staff that provided us with wine pairings for the two first courses, and a beer pairing for dessert. And it was a beer I loved! I have never ordered a beer…but this beer I would drink. Funny enough, it was from Colorado and was a coconut-chocolate porter…yum. Anyway….was a really nice dinner but not sure I’d go plan a trip back to Oslo.

So I’ll do another post about the ins and outs of Northern Lights chasing…and I don’t want to overlap too much. But after doing 2 nights with Arctic Explorers (we were refunded for the night we missed) and 1 night with Tromsø Safari…. definitely book with Arctic Explorers! They are the best. It’s only a group of 8, you get some food, they build you a fire, you get clothes…they are slightly more expensive than the average company, but totally worth it.

Our first night, after a very lack-luster first glimpse of green, we hit gold….green-gold. In several different locations.

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Campfire with Arctic Explorers, complete with marshmallows. Everyone enjoyed hearing about s'mores from the Americans.

Campfire with Arctic Explorers, complete with marshmallows. Everyone enjoyed hearing about s’mores from the Americans.

The thing about chasing Northern Lights is you leave early (anywhere between 5:30-7) and don’t get back until late (anywhere between 1am-4am).   On our first night, we weren’t back until about 4am and then had to be up at 7am to get dressed, have breakfast, and get to the bus to take us an hour and a half ride to go snowmobiling. We were really tired but were glad we were doing something so fast and active, because it kept us awake. Even though we booked through Tromsø Safari in our hotel, we were bused out to/with Camp Tamok with the Lyngsfjord Adventure group. Our bus was nearly full but some people were dog sledding, some snowmobiling, and some reindeer safari-ing. The website delivers what it promises: “No noise, crisp Arctic air, untouched wilderness, and a once-in-a-lifetime experience.” It was incredible. I soon realized I like to ride on the back of a snow mobile more than drive, but I did do a little driving on the 15k way out/up. At the turn around point, we were actually on an untouched frozen lake that was about 1 meter and a half under fresh powder. We had 15 minutes then to just tear it up on the frozen plateau. I was quite proud I got to 50 mph…of course E got to 60. He made a pretty accurate observation that I simultaneously get more confident and more tired/lazy at the same time, which was a bit of a scary combination for him riding on the back. Regardless, it was beautiful and I had a blast.IMG_2983DSC_0573 DSC_0576
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When you return all the groups convene in the lavvu (Sami tent) and served a traditional meal: a creamy fish soup with salmon and white fish and vegetables. It was damn good- though not as good as cullen skink if I’m completely honest.DSC_060120160319_133302

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We got back before 4 which was nice, and our evening pickup for the Northern Lights wasn’t until 6:30 so at about 4:30 we went to get burgers at Huken Pub (ranked #2 for good reason!) Super small (about 20 people could fit comfortably) and with a pretty small menu: mainly burgers or savory pancakes (think taco pancake). Here’s a tip: go up to the bar and order. We sat there looking stupid for a while. Anyway- I HIGHLY recommend it for the burger (there are only 2 burgers to choose from- I told you small).

We got back and layered up (never enough clothing to keep completely warm) and went out again, this time with a totally new group and guide for our second night. We were the only ones of the 8 in the van whose this was our 2nd night. This night wasn’t nearly as good. It snowed most of the trip, we had to get out and push the van twice, and when we did settle down, there was a house with lights on (funny enough, everyone in Norway, EVERYWHERE, especially the remote areas, leave all their lights on all night long, no matter if they’re home or not. And no one really knows why….) and a type of dock lit up across the fjord that weren’t doing our pictures any favors. And then, the Northern Lights were barely visible to the naked eye. One woman actually couldn’t see them at all…she kept asking, “So you never see green in the sky?” When we all saw green (albeit very faint).

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No lights but just a cool pic.

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We got back a little earlier (maybe 2:30 or 3), which was great because I was exhausted. We both were. We were pretty happy to sleep in the next day and slept until almost 1. We really didn’t do anything other than get dressed, go get some crab legs for E and reindeer stew for me (yum) and get ready to head out again at 5:30 for moonlight dog sledding.

Reindeer Strew

Reindeer Strew

We did the dogsledding through Active Tromsø…basically because they had the best reviews in terms of knowing about, being passionate about, and being kind to their huskies. The main guy actually races in the Iditarod and was there during our visit. But we were in great hands anyway. The dogs are all super sweet, although so skinny. I guess this is normal…but so skinny! It’s kind of like me with horses, I think they all must have indoor stables and fancy rugs and treats all the time. These aren’t house pets (though I would make them house dogs), they have a job that they’re here to do. Still, I want all the puppies and horses in my house!

E having some tender moments with an Alskan Husky

E having some tender moments with an Alskan Husky

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Resting up before the 9 to 5

Resting up before the 9 to 5

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Anyway, initially I was super bummed out about having to do the nighttime dogsledding. Now that I’ve done it- YOU MUST DO IT IN THE EVENING. We had a nearly full moon and a crisp clear sky (the hotel was saying how good the night was supposed to be for Northern Lights). It was so bright. And the location. Oh my god the location. If I could live in Norway, I would live here.

Evening dogsledding under the moonlight

Evening dogsledding under the moonlight

When the moon was behind a mountain, it got pretty dark.

When the moon was behind a mountain, it got pretty dark.

Where was I exactly? No idea. About a 45-minute drive from Tromsø. It was so remote and absolutely breathtaking. You get a full get up including AMAZING mittens and boots. Better than we got for snowmobiling or light chasing. It definitely took the longest in this kit for me to get cold.

Outside the dogsledding camp

Outside the dogsledding camp

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So lessons learned….dogsledding is hard. Made harder by the fact I think they severely underestimated our weight. Everyone had 5 dogs, except for one solo gal who had 4. One person is in the sled, the other is the driver. You can switch often and pretty quickly, but it doesn’t matter when we weigh too much for the dogs. From the start we were losing ground. Erik spent most of the time running and pushing and not sledding at all. He thought he was gonna die so at one point I took over, little did I know around the corner there was a huge hill. I wasn’t riding the sled at all, just pushing and cheering on the dogs and we came to a dead stop on the hill. The snow was deep and the dogs and I realized we could not push and drag E’s big booty up. It was pretty hilarious. E had to switch out and get us up but he was really dying. The lead guy came back at one point and asked how we were doing- he had definitely noticed our sled was holding everyone up- we told him a bit slow, so he took one dog from the solo ladies and added it to us. Helped a ton! But still were lagging behind after hills, so much so we couldn’t see anyone and our dogs went the wrong way, causing the 4 sleds behind us to follow and we ran headfirst almost into the leader. He had to create a totally new track/path. Pretty funny. But going back in was a lot more downhill and with the extra dog, we were all able to enjoy it.

When we arrived back at the dog camp, we all stayed in a line waiting for them to bring each sled in and tie up the dogs individually so we’re sitting, freezing our little tails off for a little bit. All of a sudden E tells me to turn around (I was rolling around in the snow with the puppies of course) and right above the mountain behind us were the Northern Lights. It ended up being a pretty fantastic show and I was so glad we had our camera on the sled with us. We didn’t have our tripod so I was lying in the snow with my camera bag and hat stacked up trying to get some height for the pictures. It was amazing. I mean really…magical. To be out there in the middle of nowhere, after such a great trip under the moonlight with the dogs, to then have this great showing of Northern Lights. I couldn’t have planned it better.

If you look close you can see some dog pee I was practically laying in.

If you look close you can see some dog pee I was practically laying in.

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And we got home at like 11pm! Score!!! Seriously, this trip was thrilling, but exhausting.   We got to sleep in on Monday and even though we had great Northern Lights the first night, and the night of dogsledding, didn’t want to regret missing out on anything. So we booked a lights chase for our last night with Tromsø Safari. Much bigger bus, no fire, no clothes (that we were told there would be- more on that in the next post). But we did see the lights…but like the second night…shit location. Lights everywhere. We got a few pics but since we were totally freezing we didn’t want to take our gloves off to mess with the camera, and the background light was terrible anyway, we just kind of enjoyed them.

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Tuesday morning we woke up and started our journey home. Tromsø -> Stavanger -> Oslo -> Aberdeen. Right when we arrive in Tromsø we got news (via Twitter) about the attacks in the Brussels’ airport. Oddly enough, nothing was mentioned at any airport except when we landed in Aberdeen where there was a sign stating if we were there and had seen anything to come forward. It was pretty weird the Norway didn’t seem concerned at all. In fact, we didn’t show a single ID until our flight to Aberdeen. 2 flights without showing an ID…kind of odd. But I have to say I’ve flown down to London without showing an ID as well. Clearly there are some loopholes.

Anyway. I HIGHLY recommend a trip to Tromsø. It’s great for a couple, but in hindsight would be really great with 4 couples and then you’d basically have your own private group for everything. Our hotel wasn’t great, but the food we had always was. It’s not a trip where you’ll have lots of sexy time or anything- you’ll be too exhausted. But it’s pretty exhilarating and romantic even if you pass out the minute your head hits the pillow (or side of the shuttle bus as we tended to fall asleep on every journey). And I can really recommend Arctic Explorers for Northern Lights chasing, Active Tromsø for Dogsledding, and Lyngsfjord Adventure for snowmobiling. You’ll see a wide array of landscapes, and meet some really cool people. So start planning your trip next winter! Oh, and get some cash (Norwegian kroner) to tip these people!!! Seriously, they are working hard to give you a good experience; they are modest and caring…TIP YOUR GUIDES!

5 Reasons Air France is the WORST

Just Say

  1. Their food sucks.   I’m not sure how a French airline sucks at croissants, but they do. I mean your flight is coming directly from Paris. How do you even find croissants that bad in France?! If I was French, I would have to quit my stewardess position as it would be unethical for to hand out such an abomination of an excuse for the pastry of my people. I could get a better croissant at Lidl in Aberdeen. And I won’t go into depth…but a “Radish and Pesto” sandwich? WTF is that? And where the hell is the Coke Light? No one likes Coke Zero. Give me the good stuff damn it!
  2. They are always on strike. It’s like everyone decides it would be a great time to go to Ibiza and so they just schedule a strike….like every other month. They apparently make it known their dates of holiday strike, but unless you’re getting French news, you’re not going to know about it. Because they still let you book flights on the days there will be a strike and don’t bother sending you an automatic email of their current holiday strike plans. And then they wait until the day before their holiday strike and they email you letting you know your flight has been cancelled- no guarantee to get you out, but give them a call and they’ll see if they can figure something out. What type of policy is that?! It seems airlines have no problems blacking out days of travel, why not start blacking out the days all your employees are going to take off?!
  3. They approve you for the shortest, stupidest, most unrealistic connection times that there is in no way possible for at least (if not more than) 50% of travelers. See: people over the ager of 50, people with children, people with carry on bags without wheels, people who aren’t aerobically fit enough to run a 5K at at least a 9:39 min mile pace. My last connection left me sprinting through Charles de Gaulle, boots and winter jacket in hand, trying not to slip on their stupid floors in my socks, not even getting a chance to see what the seasonal macaroon flavors are from Lauduree. If we weren’t Priority Access which allows us to cut some security lines (and weren’t runners), there is no way in hell we’d make half our connections. And last time, despite the fact that we made the connection, our bags didn’t. And this isn’t a one-off occurrence. I actually cannot remember the last time I didn’t have to SPRINT through Charles de Gaulle. At least carpet all your floors so I don’t have to worry about tearing an ACL on top of my worry of making my flight.
  4. Which brings me to #4. Not 100% an Air France problem, but because their hub is Charles de Gaulle, it goes into the pile of hatred for Air France. The flight to Aberdeen from Paris leaves from the same terminal every time. It’s always a little commuter plane, and you always have to take a shuttle bus out to walk up into the plane. I cannot tell you the amount of times I’ve (sliding into the line at the next security check point (whether that be passport control or a full on security screening), panting, sweating, and totally unnerved at the fact I am going to miss my next flight) and the airport employees brush me off. Every time I find an employee and explain to them that my flight take off time is in 20 minutes, they look at the gate number and tell me that it’s fine…the gate is right down the (slippery, tiled) hall, I’ll make that flight after standing in hellacious line. I then try to explain to them that no, I have to take a bus to the actual plane, the last bus leaves 15 minutes before the take off time (if I’m lucky, sometimes the last bus leaves 20 minutes before take off time.) Whether it is the language barrier (doubtful) or just the fact they are unaccommodating assholes, they don’t seem to understand this and just do a half-ass reassurance that I’ll be fine…not letting my skip to the front of the line. Do you know how hard it is for E to restrain me from finding that ass clown and absolutely freaking out on them after we miss connecting flights because the last bus already left?! I’m going to start taking pictures of them, hiring a PI, and sending them dog shit in the mail. Charles de Gaulle employees are the absolute least helpful, least sympathetic, and quite frankly seem to lack any moral compass or soul when it comes to the 3 minute difference between making a flight and not making a flight. Even when I am doing all in my power running through airports, hurdling luggage and children, and not eating macaroons. And what’s most frustrating is that I actually haven’t missed my flight…my flight is still out there waiting to take off…but I missed the last bus out to my flight. Which for some reason they can’t figure out a system to have a little backup van waiting or just arrange for another shuttle to take the 3-10 people out to the plane. I won’t even get into the massive dudes with machine guns walking around and being sequestered in little parts of the airport with 5 people per square foot for security lockdowns that seem to happen with alarming regularity…. No lie, on one connection we got put on lock down 3 different times on the way to our gate. But because there were 15 people held up in that- they arranged for an extra late shuttle.
  5. The accommodation they provide when you miss your connecting flight…or more likely, miss the shuttle bus out to your connecting flight. After we have been traveling all day (2 or 3 flights in Turkey to get to Paris) and then they wouldn’t let us cut the line or provide another bus to take us to our taxied plane, they give us vouchers for a hotel and dinner and directions to another shuttle bus to take us there. Despite the fact that our luggage is in the airport (because if you didn’t make the flight, your luggage sure isn’t), they can’t give it to you. So you get on the 20 minute shuttle and check into your shitty, shitty hotel (Ibis I think?) where they don’t have any simple hotel amenities (like a free toothbrush or a kiosk to buy contact solution), and E has to wander from hotel to hotel in the area collecting the essentials because you’re in the middle of nowhere with 0 stores of any sort. Then you eat from the weirdest and probably most disgusting buffets you’ve ever encountered (only made more disgusting from the fact you smell like a whirling dervish who has raged for 24 straight hours) and head back to your room to get out of your smelly clothes and shower, thinking you’ll just sleep/lounge in the towel (heaven forbid there is a bathrobe here) while you hand-wash your unmentionables and then use the 1 Shetland-pony-powered hair dryer to try and dry them for tomorrow…. only to discover the towels aren’t even big enough to wrap fully around you and the hair dryer smells like burning. UGGGGGGGH.

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Seriously. Air France is the worst. You’ve been warned. If you have the option to take an Air France flight, or ANY OTHER FLIGHT IN THE WORLD, take your chances elsewhere. I mean, I think Malaysian Airlines would probably be a better bet at this point.

Do you have an Air France horror-story to share? Or any other airlines you suggest I avoid in the future? I wanna hear em!