Posts filed under 'explore'

Girls weekend in Porto

Man, it’s tough committing to blogging. I’ve got an injured pony (more on that in another post), an injured body (damn my chronically dislocating shoulder) and a lot going on…but damn it, I’m going to keep trying. If not for anyone else but my mother who persistently asks me where’s my next post.  So here it is…which is some text, yes, but a whole lot of pictures.  That’s what happens when you go on a girls trip with a bunch of photogenic gals, one of which is an actual photographer (Check out Christine Jackson Photography HERE and get excited because we’re having a family shoot in the fall with her).  Needless to say, she wasn’t in most pictures but taking them…but if it’s just a shitty iphone pic it’s mine.  I tried not to steal her gorgeous normal pictures but just ones of me cheesin’.

Yes, these is me cheesin’…but aren’t we adorbs?

 

Can you believe this was my first ever girls trip? If you know me well, that’s actually not too surprising. I’ve never rolled deep with a posse of ladies but rather like to keep my friends separate (I’m an extroverted introvert and groups of people make me feel like I need to perform). We had a group of 6 ladies for a short weekend trip (though slightly adjusted a day because of flights) flying out of Edinburgh to Porto directly on Saturday evening, and getting back late Tuesday night (11pm arrival, and then the 2 hour+ ride home to Aberdeen). It was a good mix of ladies, 3 moms and 3 unspoiled by motherhood (ha!).

This was my second time to Portugal (see first time recap HERE) and I was excited to see another part of the country. I’m actually going for my 3rd trip to Portugal this fall with E and my mother back to Lisbon…there’s just a lot of love about this country so I’m not minding the duplicate trips at all! Porto as a city is just as hilly as Lisbon, and like Lisbon is against water (though the River Douro, not the Atlantic) and maintains a quaint feel with pedestrian only streets and tiled buildings.

 

This trip we had a secret weapon…Lillian, you might know her from The Smalls Abroad, who is actually Portuguese. Born in Canada, but her extended family is in Portugal she holds dual citizenship, and her parents still own a house there, and her fluency was so helpful! It’s just nice to feel like you aren’t getting ripped off for being a tourist when you have a native speaker with you. Which reminds me that this is actually the 2nd time I traveled with a secret weapon native speaker…but the last time I have YET to write about (2 years post)…our trip to Croatia. Alas…

The Smalls Abroad and Hot Dogs to Haggis

 

Porto is obviously known for making Port wine. And while the port wine is made a bit further away from the city centre of Porto, planning in some winery tours is a must. We booked a private tour through EcoTours Portugal for 71 euros a person, which had one poor man drive our gaggle around, hitting up two wineries with lunch in between (lunch wasn’t included in the price but tours and tasting were).  Even if you don’t like Port…you’ll learn a lot and the views are amazing.

Our very lucky tour guide!

 

What a view, huh?

we cheese so well!

I have to say, I wasn’t ever a fan of port before, but the trip changed my mind a bit. I think a combination of trying new things as well as a phenomenal dessert pairing helped. In the end, here’s what port I found I liked.

  • Rose’ port – because I’m totally a #basicbitch. Rose’ and Slay all day!
  • P&T – I’ll never abandon gin, but a white port and tonic is a refreshing drink.
  • Graham’s 20-year port – Was it the dessert I had with it? Was it the 7 bottles of wine before it? We’ll never be sure, but I thought it was delicious.

Diane was also quite fond of Graham’s 20 year

Unfortunately for our little jaunt, we got in late Saturday night and because we didn’t know when we’d be checked in and all that, didn’t have a dinner reservation so unfortunately had to wind up eating at such a tourist trap of a place…. the food wasn’t awful but it was just meat and cheese and over priced sangria. Tip: If you’re in Porto, when go down to the main square on the river, while looking at the river, the places to your right tend to be more authentic (They are up on a ledge from the river) while to the left with their seating at river level are more touristy. Portugal has a great food culture but our only two dinners being on a Sunday and Monday night really limited where we could go eat, as those are the days most restaurants are closed. We even had a difficult time finding a little grocery store that was open on Sunday to get our breakfast essentials.

Even though it was over priced, they lit our sausage on fire so points for that.

We ended up eating at Vinhas d’alhos on Sunday night after we had walked past it on Saturday night trying to find anywhere that would take us. Most nights (perhaps every) they do a live Fado. Now what’s Fado? The google tells me it’s popular folk music originated in Portugal. It’s included as a UNESCO’s Intangible Cultural Heritage. Fado comes from the Latin word fatum (fate in English). It is most commonly performed over dinner and bounces between love and death and sadness…with silly little songs. A great experience to say the least.

Another reason I would recommend Vinhas d’alhos (specifically if you’re a group of ladies) is it seems they only hire cute male servers. I mean, they’re little men (I am a strict 6’3” or above type of gal) but when you’re sitting down you can’t really tell their height and they are all just so charming and cute. The food was good, not mind blowing, but they made great wine recommendations, you have a view of the river, and we got a welcome drink of Port and tonic.

Our last night we went across the river, which actually isn’t in Porto, but across the Douro River in Vila Nova de Gaia. In this area there are a lot of Port Cellars and while we originally planned a tour + tasting…bagged it and just went for the meal. It’s kind of like whisky distillery tours…once you’ve seen one, you’ve seen em all. I have to say, the food here is amazing, and the view is even better as you’re looking over Porto from high above. There is a big patio that hosts some couches for pre-dinner drinks, as well as has a glassed in section with tables for dinner. It got a bit cool at night, but I believe you could open up the doors/windows on a nice night and be practically eating al fresco. And to be fair, the interior it top notch…but since we’re stuck inside Aberdonians, we wanted out! This was a pricey (for Portugal) meal but I thought it was excellent…and even with about 5 bottles of wine, an appetizer, main and dessert (2 desserts for some as previously mentioned), AND port pairing with dessert, AND tip (which isn’t necessary in Portugal but for such good service we went with it) it was £70 a person.

We had perfect weather.

View from Graham’s/Vinum

A much better than my shitty iphone camera skills shot by Christine

And on the subject of food…make sure you try pasteis de nata for breakfast…or snack…or anytime you see them. A flakey shell with a sort of vanilla custard inside…drool.Other traditional foods to try:

Grilled Octopus

Bacalhau (salted cod fish – can be served a 1,000 different ways)

Alheira – a smoked bread and meat sausage, when asked what kind of meats? The response was, “all”

Maybe not traditional, but have you ever seen me so happy? Ice cream for the win!

To me the allure of Portugal is friendly people, warm climate, pretty cities built into hills against bodies of water, good food and wine…. and all that for SUPER CHEAP. I mean, I think I ate more on this trip than any other holiday (some people in our group might have even ordered two desserts on multiple occasions…) and we averaged 7 bottles of wine a day…. AND IT WAS CHEAP AF. And just reiterating, it was really good, fresh, seafood and yummy, local wines. What’s not to like? I’m already looking forward to my next trip.

One more selfie before I go…

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?

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.

 

 

 

For the love of the ‘Deen

I’ve said this before, but I really love Aberdeen….most specifically, Aberdeenshire, and really, all of Scotland. It’s charming and quaint, rural and majestical. In fact, last month a job opportunity opened up for E in Brussels. It’s always been the goal that eventually we would get transferred to Belgium, but when E mentioned it to me, I started to cry. I don’t want to leave Scotland! At least not yet….and to be honest, even though I know it will have to eventually happen, and I’m excited about the prospect of what the next expat assignment will bring, you’ll probably read about the fact that E has moved me kicking and screaming.

So for this Friday faves, I’m going to share 5 links that help me prove just how grand life in the ‘shire is.  Hopefully, this will inspire you to come visit (next year, fully booked this summer already) or make you a little more excited for your upcoming trip to the North.

  1. Aberdeen is Scotland’s “kindest city” and the third kindest in all of the UK. This was based on a study which “measured the average number of good deeds carried out by residents.” This is no surprise to me. There are so many stories of people helping each other out , from lost dogs to kindly neighbors. In my own time here I’ve been free to go after forgetting my wallet at eateries, given gifts by my neighbors, and had my house called up by another neighbor when there was a bad storm.   The people here are nice. See the article HERE.
  2. Aberdeen is the second cleanest city in the UK in terms of air pollution. Well done ‘Donians! See the article HERE.
  3. There are more castles per acre in Aberdeenshire than anywhere else in the UK. I personally fancy the very gothic castles (Fyvie) or the ruins (Dunnotar)…but there’s a castle here that will take your breath away, no matter what you fancy. See the article HERE.

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    Dunnottar Castle….always breathtaking just 15 mins south of Aberdeen

  4. But somehow Aberdeen still has a bad rap. At least people have fun with it. Check out this Buzzfeed list: 32 Reasons You Should Never, Ever Visit Aberdeen. It’s more than adequate in summarizing why I love it here. Check it out HERE.
  5. And where else can I force my husband to take m on Sunday drives, pulling over and stopping suddenly everytime I see a baby sheep or Highland Coo? As I did a 7 days of Sheep on Instagram recently, I’ll just treat you to some Coo pictures now. 🙂DSC_1032 DSC_1060 IMG_3820 DSC_0104 DSC_0335

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?

 

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!

Long Weekend in Chamonix

I had posted on my personal facebook page that we had booked our first trip for 2016 and it was Norway. But a little trip to France popped up and became our first trip of 2016. It was a little late planning, so we were limited on possible weekends as well as accommodation options and in some ways reservations for dinner…but despite all that…it was a fabulous trip!

E and I don’t snow sport. At all. Okay, E claims he used to ski and was good at skiing and looooooves skiing, but we’ve been together almost 11 years (or 12?) and he has not skied once in that timeline. Not once. He HAS snowboarded once, with me, and the summary of the story was we went, we fell a lot, the RZA was there, and E drove home while I slept harder than I ever had in my life, and for weeks following my wrist hurt.

So why the hell would we be up for a long weekend skiing and/or snowboarding in the French Alps? Uhhh, because it’s the French Alps obviously.

IMG_2785And what could have been a disappointing long weekend was a fabulous one, despite our lack of snow sport experience. It was recommended that both E and I snowboard instead of ski because of our knee injuries. E thinks next time he’d say “screw it” and ski anyway, but I feel much safer that my kneecap stays in place when both legs are locked into the same plane. That being said, snow boarding is hard. The falls are hard. And sometimes I just want to be able to move my feet! But let’s be honest, snowboarding once every 5 years, it’s not going to be pretty. That’s why going to Chamonix with two other couples made so much sense: there is so much more to enjoy than just snow boarding and skiing.

I will say we were lucky because we had great weather. Not great in that everyday was perfect and sunny. But great because on the first day we didn’t really play on the mountain, it was pretty sunny and lovely with some snow flurries later, the next day we got about a foot of snow which I love, and another day we had some sunshine before a crazy storm blew in. The last half-day before our flight was rainy and miserable…good thing I only planned to eat inside that day.   It also helps to really get along with the people you’re traveling with. Even if those people are breeders. Yeah, I kicked it with a baby for a weekend…kinda. And it wasn’t so bad. Wasn’t so bad …but made me thankful for my IUD still. Traveling with other people is a risk. We hadn’t had any great travel partners as of yet, but this group worked really well. Obviously since I wasn’t there for the snow sports, the time off the slopes was the most important and it was a good time.

And I’m saying that after Air France screwed us, lost our luggage, and I got a disease. Pretty impressive.

We flew out at 5pm on Wednesday evening to arrive at Geneva airport at about 10, and were hopeful to be at our flat in Chamonix at 11:30 or so via our shuttle. Our friends had arrived earlier in the day. We ran about an hour late due to dealing with trying to locate our bags (MIA at Charles de Gaulle, who would ever guess?) and waiting for all of our shuttle mates. And I was really tired and pissy at not having even contact lens solution (I really need to start doing a basic carry on bag, I know, you’d think I’d learn…. luckily our friends found us some tooth brushes) and being tired and having to wait at the airport and starting to feel sick. And then our shuttle couldn’t make it up the hill to our flat. And I kinda thought the trip was ruined. But we were welcomed into our flat with booze (for E, I felt off) and some borrowed clothes and a big bed. It was going to be okay. Although I had this underlying nagging disease that every day grew progressively worse, really coming to full steam on Sunday the day we were to fly home, and continuing for over another week, even after 3 days solid in bed. I digress…

It snowed all night Wednesday night. On Thursday 3 of the other 4 (Lee, Cris & Sam)went to play on the mountains. E and I shopped around for some undies (yeah Icebreaker undies!), sorting out claims for delayed luggage, getting our rentals squared away, and E even rented some snow pants and got on the slopes for an hour. I met up with Kaitlin who spent a long day at home with her not-even-3-month old and we went for a walk, got some groceries, and found a place for some not-exactly-après-ski. Soon the rest of the group came down the mountain and joined us.

The entire crew, apres-ski

The entire crew, apres-ski

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Coolest parents I know

Coolest parents I know

We had dinner in. Drank more. Played games. Our suitcases arrived. It snowed all night again.

We all woke up pretty early on Friday. It was snowing. Momma K had a nanny arrive at 8:30 am and we were all off at about 9am. I spent the morning with Kaitlin as she very patiently tried to teach me to snow board, and then E and I split off to the Lodge (which was at the top of the Gondola ride up the mountain, but there were additional chair lifts to take you higher up to additional runs as well) to warm up the seats for everyone to meet for lunch and drinks.

Before getting my ass kicked.

Before getting my ass kicked.

The absolute best scotch of my life.

The absolute best scotch of my life.

"help me Kaitlin!"

“help me Kaitlin!”

Serious discussion going on here...

Serious discussion going on here…

I swear I didn't go down the hill with a pole...I just needed a little help.

I swear I didn’t go down the hill with a pole…I just needed a little help.

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After, E and I had a 4-hour snowboarding lesson on a bunny hill. E was clearly better at me, but the lesson really did help a lot…. I mean, after a series of embarrassing falls off the t-bar chair-lift type thing and wiping out entire herds of French school children attending their own ski school, progress was being made. I really tried to just not even start moving when I saw the herd (of school children) were on the move since they travel down the hill in single file, s-swerving lines…but they were EVERYWHERE. I would have never gotten down. Every time I tried to explain to the instructor that I wanted to wait until the path was clear, he would instruct me to carry on and explain that “there are enough French children. Take them out. They will learn!” Dodging all those baguettes was pretty exhausting work so sometimes I would ask for a break at the top of the hill where I would lay down. The instructor kept asking if I wanted to go over and sit on a bench. He didn’t understand how happy I was to lay in the snow and have the snowflakes hit my face. It was still snowing. It was amazing.

Finally at 4:30 our lesson was over and I had made it down the entire {bigger} bunny hill without falling! Success. Turns out E and I were out later than everyone else (man I felt like a BA for about 5 minutes)…but on our way back we walked past this adorable chocolate and macaroon shop…and it was still snowing and just magical out. E went in and ordered 2 hot cocoas and a variety of macaroons and told them we’d sit outside. They thought we were crazy, but other than the fact the macaroons got a little soggy, it was delightful.IMG_2717 IMG_2716 IMG_2703DSC_0468 DSC_0460 DSC_0449DSC_0440

 

We got home, got dressed. Went out to dinner. It was still snowing. We left dinner and headed to a bar. It was still snowing.   Pretty much at any time you could see a snowball sailing through the sky from one direction or another. At one point we were having a snowball fight amongst ourselves, but when we encountered a group of Brits, ended up in an all out war with them. Halfway through, a man runs across the square with his hands up yelling, “Hold fire! I’m Australian!”12728940_10102555688930917_5585971102045684411_n IMG_2725 IMG_2721 12717654_10102555669584687_3696069848752789269_n

It was still snowing, and it was the best snowball snow I had ever seen. The entire town is a mass of tourists from all over (a surprising amount of Americans even), and everyone is in great spirits and there for a good time. Needless to say, everyone was super nice at the bar. The guys joined a darts game and I befriended the local bar-dogs who cleaned me out of leftover Stella treats that were in my pocket. We eventually made it home with only one disaster of Sam getting hit in the face with a snowball, thrown my none-other than her husband. Words were said.

Saturday we were a little more sluggish than the day before. We needed a little boost to start our day….

avant-ski mimosa

avant-ski mimosa

We decided to take the free bus service to another mountain. E and I decided to go as well because it also had a bunny hill section. This was a bad move. First, the bus ride itself was a hot, smelly, cramped death bus. Second, E had purchased a 3-day pass that we thought we could just upgrade to include this other hill, but we couldn’t so he had to buy an all-new lift ticket for the day. Third, I should have really stuck with the bunny hill I was just getting the hang of. This new bunny hill was actually at the top of the mountain and after a super scary gondola ride where I nearly hyperventilated, the others took off to their real people hills and I tried to take on the new bunny hill with E. On the plus side, it was gorgeous. On the down side, the “bunny hill” (I don’t even know I can call it that. It required an actual chairlift to get to the top. Was full of all kinds of dips, and hills, and big bumps. And was completely iced over) kicked my ass. I made it down 3 times. On the third time, I wiped out, face first, sliding down on my stomach at a wicked speed. Ice jamming into and under my goggles and my legs flinging up back and behind me like some sort of frozen ice scorpion. I threw in the towel.

Our friend Cris found me in a heap at the bottom of the hill (Cris is actually good at snowboarding) and I told him I quit. We all went to the lodge at the top for some drinks and to soak in the views for about 10 minutes before a wicked storm blew in.  It’s a shame I didn’t get more pictures before the storm blew it because it was sunny and gorgeous. We managed a few good group shots before things got real crazy, and then retreated inside to binge on fries, pastries, wine and beer. With the weather picking up, everyone other than me wanted to get a few more runs in since it was our last day.  IMG_2792

watching the storm roll in

watching the storm roll in

E was getting our fries and booze.

E was getting our fries and booze.

Entire group on the last day

Entire group on the last day

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Lee & Sam

Lee & Sam

Sam titled this: "Ladies who lunch"

Sam titled this: “Ladies who lunch”

I just cozied up with my carafe of wine and soon enough had some male suitors come share my table. Gorgeous views, hot Oregon ski bunnies, and wine?! (I should mention I don’t wear rings when I snow board) It was a much more preferable situation then trying to make it down another hill. At some point E came in because the weather was getting so bad and told me to finish up my wine and take the gondola down before they close it. He was off to attempt to snowboard down the entire thing. I was leisurely finishing my wine and my Oregon ski bunnies seemed a little concerned they were going to have to guide me down this mountain if the gondola closes, so I packed up and walked over, where I found the strongest looking man I could, and jumped into the gondola car with him. He was from Brazil. Hadn’t ever heard of tweezers. And was a better snowboarder than me.

We eventually all met up at the bottom for sausages, wine, and beer. Big shocker. Got the death bus ride home (less crowed and we had seats this time around), returned our rental gear, showered and went out to dinner. I was really starting to feel like crap but came around by the end of dinner. We went right back to the flat after because we had a ton of booze to finish there (obviously). So we just played card games and drank. And maybe the boys drank too much…but not a drop was wasted.

Sunday morning was rough. It felt colder and it was raining (it obviously wasn’t colder but it felt that way). My body was in all kinds of pain from snowboarding and from my growing disease. Sam & Lee left pretty early and the rest of us headed down to the chocolate & pastry shop to get croissants for a light brekkie, and stock up on macaroons for the trip home. We then had planned for sushi, because for whatever reason Chamonix had a sushi place that looked really good and had great reviews, and despite the fact we live on a sea…Aberdeen has no respectable sushi. We walked in right at noon when they opened to an empty restaurant, and they ask if we have reservations. We didn’t…soooo no sushi for us. We then got burgers at Poco Loco, which is hailed to be the best burgers around. They were (rudely) trying to do a In-n-Out burger thing. Not awful, not the best ever, would have been better without the attitude. Cris and Kaitlin head out to get the shuttle back and E and I were left hung-over (E) and getting really sick (me) wandering around in the rain with no place to go. Looking like homeless people camping out on the chairs of some retail store. In hindsight- should have gotten the earlier shuttle with them. After what felt like an eternity between the shuttle ride and 2 flights, we made I home (with our luggage!) and then I spent 3 full days, not leaving my bed.

one of many...

one of many…

While I wish it ended without this disease or bruises, I’m super thankful it ended with no real injuries and great memories.

 

**Note: About half of these pictures aren’t mine, they are the photo skills of the lovely Sam Mackinnon and/or stranges we harass to take our pics.

Holiday Hangover

There are certain terms and saying that you pick up easier than others living in a foreign country. I think it depends on how often you hear them and how often you say them to locals. I am now quite keen to saying “holiday” instead of “vaction” (and on saying “quite keen”– probably because that’s a common thing to talk about with people- where they went on holiday, where they’re planning on going on holiday, where I’m going on holiday. Where as I still say “yard” instead of “garden” because I simply don’t talk about my yard/garden very often. And I’m a total sucker for alliteration so “Holiday Hangover” really suites me.

Dreaded Holiday Hangover

Dreaded Holiday Hangover

There are certain terms and saying that you pick up easier than others living in a foreign country. I think it depends on how often you hear them and how often you say them to locals. I am now quite keen to saying “holiday” instead of “vaction” (and on saying “quite keen”– probably because that’s a common thing to talk about with people- where they went on holiday, where they’re planning on going on holiday, where I’m going on holiday. Where as I still say “yard” instead of “garden” because I simply don’t talk about my yard/garden very often. And I’m a total sucker for alliteration so “Holiday Hangover” really suites me.

I love to travel! Until I get home from traveling. And then I kinda hate it. So quickly you forget all the great experiences, fun, and relaxation and are tired and cranky and have a to-do list from hell and are surrounded by piles of laundry. Readjusting back to normal life after a vacation is the worst. And it’s never going to be fun, but you can take some steps to make the transition a little easier on yourself. These are my 5 steps to beat the Holiday Hangover.

  1. Schedule an extra day to recoup. Poor E- he never gets this. I on the other hand, almost always do. But back in the day I didn’t and it sucks. It costs so much to fly abroad and you want as much time as possible on vacation…but if you plan an extra day after you return home off of work and without any plans you’ll be in such a better place to return to the real world. Travel is exhausting in general, but odds are you’ll be pretty tired from your trip in general and you’ll have to unpack, do laundry, adjust to jetlag, take naps…ya know. Now after a holiday or even after a guest (or guests) leave, if I can swing it, I have one full day of doing nothing. I don’t really leave bed. And it’s amazing.
  2. Prepare before you leave. Look at your calendar for the week you return. Plan out meetings, time to unpack and do laundry, and just your overall week. Something that’s really helpful that I do is meal plan for the week we return before we even leave. I make a grocery list and depending on timing, I even pre-schedule my groceries to be delivered.JetLag
  3. Get moving. After a long holiday, the last thing I want to do is go for a run or get to the gym. You’ve been off your normal schedule and maybe you’re jetlagged. But the evidence is in, getting active helps you acclimate better and faster. Even better if you get some fresh air and natural light at the same time, but a class at the gym is better than nothing to get your circadian rhythms moving.
  4. Stay on the straight and narrow. Getting back to working out, to cooking at home and cutting down on the sauce is hard. But in truth, my body welcomes to chance to go 24 hours alcohol free (because who doesn’t drink more on holiday?) and eat some greens not covered in butter. Maybe even do some meditation and/or yoga if you’re feeling ambitious.  And then you’ll be able to lesson the days of abundant consumption and the effect it has on your waistline.
  5. Plan your next holiday.  Because not having anything to look forward to after being thrown shaking, cold and wet (at least in Scotland) back into the real world is hard. Treat yourself with something to look forward to. Maybe not a full blown trip, but something fun (a new hike, a trip to the coast, whatever) on the horizon to keep you going.

    Next 'big' trip: The Northern Lights in Norway

    Next ‘big’ trip: The Northern Lights in Norway

What are you tips and tricks to get you back on track after a vacation?