Wander

All of my posts tagged wander will be seen here. I use the wander tag for any posts about travel. This could be new countries and cities, or just day trips around Scotland. Chances are, if I’m writing about a trip outside of Aberdeen, it will tagged Wander.

 

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?

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!

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.

air france devil

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!

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?

Weekend in Paris, post attacks

My tickets were booked for a girl’s weekend trip to Paris months ago. When exactly a week before I was set to depart, Paris fell victim to terrorists attacks happening across the city killing 130 people, there were a lot of concerns on if I should continue with my trip as planned. My mother called me late Friday night (the night of the attacks) pleading with me not to go, and continued to ask me to cancel until the night before. Other family members and friends voiced concerned. Even some of the most worldly travelers I know expressed that they would have a little hesitation about going, but most of them saying something along the lines of, “I’m sure you’ll be fine, I just would hate if something were to happen to you.”

But wouldn’t we all hate to have something happen to a loved one, regardless of the exact situation. Get in a car accident or be a victim of a gutless terrorist act? It sucks either way. And I honestly was a little worried, I thought about going on the trip vs. staying home. And decided to go forward with my trip. After my trip earlier this year centered around running 26.2 miles, I was owed a lot of wine and champagne.

The city was (obviously) on edge. Armed guards in groups of 2-5 were patrolling everywhere. EVERYWHERE. On the streets, at metro stops, outside big attractions/museums. At two different times I witnessed trucks of police and guards roll up on the Champs and tape off an area of stores. Who knows why, what was called in, or what they found. One of the girls flew in from Frankfurt and before take off someone came through the airplane and matched tickets to people to ensure everyone who was supposed to be on the flight was. There was also two members of the French military on the flight with metal suitcases as their feet. Another girl who arrived (in Paris for her first time) at a different time had a frightening experience when everyone at the metro stop she was waiting at started running and jumped into the train cars on the other side. She followed the crowd not knowing what to do and was naturally pretty terrified. But she didn’t speak French and never got to the bottom of why everyone was running. You also couldn’t enter a building (aside from small restaurants) with having your bags gone through and your coat opened. Purses, shopping bags, suitcase- didn’t matter. And you had to literally unzip/unbutton your coat and show the main trunk of your body as well.

When I first landed I headed to get a manicure (obviously) and though the technician knew barely any English, asked me if I was scared having just arrived. I told her, “not more than normal.” And that’s true, but it also sucks. Because my overall normal level of fear (specifically that of the terrorist nature) is higher in general, higher than it ever has been. I’m an expatriate. I travel a lot. I fly a lot. I’m in big cities a lot. It’s no fun that there is a fear of terrorism in my head.

But I know the probability of being involved in a terrorism attack is slim. And more so, that it can happen anywhere. I actually feel as though Paris would be safer that following week than it had been the week prior. But otherwise, it could be Paris, or I could just as likely (or more so) get shot up in a Northwest Indiana Target next month when I’m home for Christmas. (Truth be told. My only nagging fear is actually in the plane. Not only from terrorism but my perception that more and more flights are crashing or going MIA.)But the whole thing just sucks. It sucks that there is any level of concern. It sucks that people won’t be able to travel, not because of money or time off, but because of safety (perceived or otherwise). Because really, really, everyone should get to have at least a weekend in Paris.

Christmas display in the center of the Galleries Lafayette

Christmas display in the center of the Galleries Lafayette

It may seem that we're all American girls with our starbucks in hand, but actually only 2 of us are American

It may seem that we’re all American girls with our starbucks in hand, but actually only 2 of us are American

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Wine Tasting at O Chateau Paris

Wine Tasting at O Chateau Paris

Reason for the trip: 30th birthday celebration for Kristin.

Reason for the trip: 30th birthday celebration for Kristin.

Ben Nevis

Yesterday was our 3rd wedding anniversary….here enjoy some photos from my favorite day of life:love this glatl0517 glatl0559 ohhhh but i also love this one... glatl1052 glatl1047

Last year for our anniversary we had decided on a weekend getaway to the west coast to do our first proper hike. We did the Pap of Glencoe.  Which wasn’t even a munro (a mountain over 3K feet in Scotland), but it was hard. Maybe it was because it was the first real hike, or maybe I was really out of shape, or who knows but it was hella hard. But we love the west coast (as does Stella girl) and really wanted to continue the anniversary tradition and head out there. We also know we might not be here next October (although, I am hoping we are) so we’re starting to think about our Scotland to-do and to-see list and getting things checked off. So we decided to head back on over to the west coast and take on Ben Nevis, which is the biggest mountain in the UK standing 4,409 feet.

From last year’s trip and the Cairn Gorm climb where we (either Stella or us) almost died, it would seem I’m a glutton for pain. But hiking is pretty rewarding, there is a clear start and end, and the views and scenery are amazing. And Stella loves it. Like LOOOOOOVES hiking. And it’s Scotland! This is what you do in Scotland. Had I ever really hiked in America? Nope. But I’m not in America. And if you’re signing up for expat life you have to embrace what your new home offers. And it’s hiking here! I got waterproofs and hiking boots and a head torch and rucksacks all since I moved here, and I aim to use them.

happy dog

happy dog

We did decide it wasn’t really necessary to take off any extra days. We headed to Fort William on Friday afternoon (its about a 3 ½ hour drive) and checked into the Lime Tree Hotel- a small place (about 10 rooms) with a good restaurant, breakfast included, and they are dog friendly. Bonus: it’s right in the center of Fort William and about 10 mins from the starting point of Ben Nevis.

Friday night we dealt with another 30 min drive from the hotel to the Clachaig Inn for dinner. Both trips we tried to stay here but they’re always booked! It’s alright because they were a little far from Ben Nevis, but definitely worth the trip for dinner. And of course, they’re dog friendly. Even the restaurant. E and I both had the Smoky Pork & Chorizo Chili and it was really, really good. I know a lot of people who have stayed and recommended it, and while I can’t say I have, if you’re traveling with a pup it’s a great dinner option at the very least.

Saturday morning we had breakfast at the Lime tree and made our lunches, packed our bags and headed out to the hike. As I said it was about a 10 min drive, so easy peasy. There is a big parking lot (£3 for parking all day), the actual center that we didn’t go in, and restrooms- PH33 6PF. Definitely go potty there because the problem is not only are there tons of people on the hike, but also there is nowhere to hide to loo it up. Even for the guys…just too many people.

Okay so before we left for the weekend, but after we decided to do this and book the hotel and all, I really started freaking out about if I could make the hike or not. I mean it seemed pretty intense. They said it would take between 7-9 hours and the weather could change and be awful, and the top is really cold. I read about all these lists of things you should bring (compass and head torch and lighter and extra shoelaces) and really started freaking out because we’re really amateur hikers and kinda hacks. We packed the best we could…forgot the head torch, but had a lighter and a compass (not that we knew what to do with it), loads of layers, gloves, hats, LOADS of food and water for us and Stella, waterproofs…no extra laces but ya know.

the summit is up there somewhere

the summit is up there somewhere

I had also wanted to start hiking at 8 am since daylight is decreasing and I had visions of it taking 15 hours and getting lost and who knows. But brekkie didn’t start until 8am and I am not missing free breakfast. So we ended up getting the visitor center around 9ish and set off the journey. It seems 9 am is a very popular time to start, though there were some people who must have gotten there at 7 or 8 am, and then bewilderingly we saw some people starting off at about 5. And they didn’t strike me as epic hiking kings or anything. I hope they were prepared or didn’t attempt to do the whole thing.

So we started at about 9:15am and were done right at 5. But E’s little Garmin told us we only were active walking for 5 hours, 25 minutes, and 10 seconds. We had taken a couple breaks on the way up to give Stella water and/or eat a banana, but then we spent quite awhile at the top eating a full lunch, having hot tea (definitely bring a thermos of hot water up there!), exploring, and taking it all in. But yeah, we really kind of hauled ass uphill I think (thanks to my big booty) and definitely took much longer going down. Oh my old aching knees.IMG_1719

We lucked out with great weather on the hike. Although it was freezing at the top. Freezing.  We thought it was a cold so I started with a dri-fit tee, dri-fit long sleeve, and my waterproof jacket…but within a quarter mile took off the extra long sleeve. I kept the water proof jacket on because it was misting for the first bit and I didn’t want to get wet, but it stopping misting pretty soon and I rolled up the sleeves. At the top though…woah it was cold. I immediately took off my sweat soaked tee shirt and put on two long sleeve dri-fit tops, a Patagonia fleece and my waterproof jacket, a hat and gloves. But I still couldn’t get my fingers warm! I wanted to pour the hot tea on them. I also had a scarf that I didn’t end up using but what if I needed a homemade splint or something?! 🙂

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Kept Stella away from the cliffs

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I also used walked sticks for the first time on this hike! Maybe that’s why I thought it was an easier time up? And even though I still hated the journey down and my knees hurt…maybe they did help them to hurt less and make it easier? Who knows, but I think I would take them again.IMG_1738

The path is EXTREMELY well marked. You can’t miss it (assuming it’s not covered in snow). And we were there in the off-season and there were so many people…we rarely were on a spot where we couldn’t see others. I heard in the prime “summer” months its basically one long line trudging along (because there are parts where the path is slim). You do not need a guide if there isn’t snow on the ground. If there is snow…well hell if I know because I’m not hiking with snow. I do think you should make sure to have lots of layers and water and food, and of course proper attire and shoes. But I didn’t think it was that bad of a hike actually…and I’m really not a hiker. Nor am I in very good shape at the moment. So if you’re thinking about doing it….DO IT! Because then you’ll get to say you hiked to the summit of the UK’s highest mountain! #braggingrightsIMG_1775I hope next October we’re still living in Scotland and will be taking another weekend trip to the west coast to concur a new munro. Until then, I’m really looking forward to some friends coming in the early summer and heading to the Isle of Skye with them for hopefully great weather and gorgeous hikes. Get training Tracy and Brian!

E & Stella dog, contemplating deep deep thoughts

E & Stella dog, contemplating deep deep thoughts

Dhanakosa Meditation & Yoga Retreat

Clearly, I am still not blog focused. I’m pretty much tying myself to my computer right now to type this retreat recap up. I’ve been busy with my client, American Woman’s Association stuff (like prepping and hosting 30 women at my house for breakfast and coffee on Wednesday morning….yes 30), and golf. While the Indian Summer tried to disappear Mon-Wed, it was back today and a couple of us got together and played 9 holes, it short sleeves, in October, in Scotland! How great is that? What wasn’t great…I swear I am getting worse at golf. Oye.

So….my meditation & yoga retreat….IMG_1671

At some point last spring I started googling meditation retreats. I’m not sure what exactly possessed me to do so. But I did use to meditate pretty religiously and even did a couple 6-week block sessions of guided meditation that worked on different techniques. What led me to meditation was my FGM (Fairy God Mother aka shrink) who didn’t think I should just be drugged when I was sad. So I guess maybe I was feeling a bit sad, overwhelmed, run down and thought I should get back to meditation. Or maybe I just saw some Real Housewives of Wherever and they went on a fab retreat….who knows.

I probably was in over my head before I started. I swear when I originally googled only 2 retreat places came up in Scotland that were a reasonable drive. I didn’t want a flight, and I didn’t want a greater than 5 hour journey. Now as I google, man it seems there are tons of these places. And it also seems like there are a lot better options for me. Anyway, the one place originally found was super luxurious and expensive, and the other one, the one I went to, Dhanakosa, seemed more practically priced but no massages. I was okay with that…I thought.

Now maybe I’m using better search terms or have a better understanding of what I’m looking for. But now in the greater google search I have found centers that seem to be fairly priced, more luxurious, not vegan, only 3 nights, AND options not to have roommates. Not sure on the atmosphere, but already these are seemingly better options that what I chose.

I went at it a little aggressive. Doing a full 7-day retreat that focused on yoga and meditation…even though I have no experience of yoga, and do not aspire to be a yogi or supplement a workout through yoga. I am just keen on yoga to help my meditation and help me relax and stretch. I guess I also just had unrealistic expectations. While I didn’t fully know what to expect in this, I was looking at it like sleep away camp or a Natural Helpers retreat…or even a weekend long church retreat. It wasn’t any of these things.

Sleep away camp at Camp Tecumseh was the best week of my life every year as a kid. I went knowing no one, had a super scheduled day, rode horses for half the day, made great friends, never had drama….I just always left feeling better and more confident than when I came in. In high school I went to two Natural Helpers retreats (not sure what it is- this site gives a pretty nice explanation) I first went as a student experience it, and then as a senior in high school I was a leader helping other students. Then, in college E and I went as the college leaders. We both loved the program, loved the weekend retreat, created great friendships, grew on a personal level, and came back feeling better than when we left. Even during my brief Jesus-y phase, I went on a couple weekend retreats and drank the kool-aid, made great connections, and left feeling better and more centered than when I came. I just thought this would be the same, but it wasn’t.

A lot of people who were at the retreat (about 25-30 of us) had either been at this center before or been to other meditation retreats before. There were only a couple people who were totally new to the whole process with me. At the end of the retreat, most people talked about how this was the most social retreat they had ever been on…which left me stumped. I wanted to have hugs and a massage chain and write letters to each other about how amazing we all were and we didn’t do ANY of that. What the heck, this isn’t social.   I didn’t even get past surface level stuff with more than 5 people!

The daily schedule was something along the lines of this:

7 Wake up bell

7:30 mediation

8 meditation

8:45 breakfast

10:30 yoga

1 lunch

3:45 optional extra yoga

5 meditation

6 dinner

7:30 Varying evening meditation and/or talk

To boot, I had 3 roommates to share one bathroom with and you had daily chores. Roommates are awkward. Not them as people, mine were actually quite lovely, but having roommates is awkward…especially as grown women, having periods of silence, and sharing a bathroom on an all vegan diet.

I said optional extra yoga in the schedule but everything was optional, you could do whatever you wanted. Only one day did I do both meditations in the morning, because it was just too much. For the normal 10:30 yoga session the retreat was split into two groups, you chose which leader you wanted to go with after they talked about their yoga. It was pretty much a full 2 ½ hours though, all the way until lunch. The yoga group I was in…well it wasn’t the yoga I expected. To kind of sum it up, for 2 ½ hours a day we kind of rolled around on the floor and pretended we were seaweed. Okay, we didn’t pretended to be seaweed the entire time, but that happened daily, and we really did just kind of roll around on the floor for the entire time…trying to feel our bodies and move fluidly. One day I decided to really embrace it hoping for great results…and despite my best efforts, had to ditch the next day on the whole experience because I kind of had enough.

I did do the extra yoga session one day with the other instructor and I liked that. I guess it was Ying/Restorative Yoga where you held a pose for a while and focused on your breathing. That was nice and only an hour long. Lots of lying, no seaweed.

It took me until Wednesday morning to have a really good meditation session, but all day Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday morning before leaving I was in the zone. Despite going batshit crazy on Thursday evening, leaving the retreat center, and going two miles up the road to connect to wifi and drink two large glasses of wine (sacrificing one meditation session which I think was totally worth it- because I should not there is no contact with the outside world.  Not only is it frowned upon, but I didn’t have any service within a 5 mile radius of the center…I even ran up a mountain to try and get a signal and couldn’t.  It was rough.  I missed E & Stella-girl). But even once I got my meditation on, I just felt unfulfilled. Repeat retreat offenders seemed to really get a lot out of the experience. And a lot came with some pretty big stuff to work through…to come to a big come to Buddha moment. Maybe I just didn’t go deep enough?

There were also 2 days were we were silent from about 8pm until 9:30 the next day, and then another day we were silent from 8pm through the entire next day and then the next day until 9:30am. So like 36 hours of silence. I didn’t expect this, but it actually didn’t bother me in principle. What bothered me was on the 36 hours of silence it was the 5th day there, the temp dropped, the house was cold, I was reading a depressing WW2 book (I guess at hardcore retreats no book or music (I listened to music a couple times on a run) are even allowed), the vegan gruel we were fed was getting to me, I just really felt like a prisoner.

The retreat was a £75 booking fee and then “free” made possibly by other’s donations. On the website it lists suggested donation amounts and explains you’ll have a chance to make your donation on the last full day and they take all forms of payment. But I wasn’t expecting such a hard push for donations, I mean I fully intended on paying the suggested donation amount because after all it was 6 full nights room and board beforehand. I knew they’d say something, but it was a full blown kind of rehearsed super hard push…it was intense. I guess the center is a non-profit and they said it cost £30K A MONTH to run the ‘estate’. I do not see how this is possible. And I asked two different people what do they do and what the money goes to…and the answers were vague at best. After the ask for money, it was immediately followed up by doling out chores from the staff that live there full time…while they kind of stood and watched us all work. This is in addition to the daily chores we had to do. When the time came to donate is when I snuck away to the hotel. So Friday morning I went up to donate and right away there was a, “Oh, you’re Lauren” because they kept tabs on who had donated and who hadn’t. It was just kind of weird and aggressive I thought. And a lot of money that I couldn’t see what it went to…the place is kinda shabby, we did chores, the houses are paid off. It kind of seemed that we are funding a community of people to hang out and not work. I just kind of felt like I was getting jipped. Then after I donated I came down and had MORE chores to do before we left, including stripping my own bed and changing the sheets. The guests did literally all the work. Which is fine…but then why is the donation request so how? Where is the money going?

Unfortunately, that ending put a really bad taste in my mouth. But I want to end on a good note because it wasn’t an all bad of an experience. I just kind of had to dig really deep to find the good.

Cons

  • Didn’t feel like there was a lot of free time between the schedule and chores.
  • Wasn’t a fan of the yoga.
  • Didn’t feel the leaders “lead” enough. I was looking for more direction and/or feedback.
  • Didn’t have any sort of big come to Buddha moment.
  • Kinda felt I was funding a group of people on extended vacation.
  • Vegan food pretty well sucked about 60% of the time.
  • Midge Bites
    I had over 60 bites...that I scratched so hard in my sleep I bruised. It was miserable.

    I had over 60 bites…that I scratched so hard in my sleep I bruised. It was miserable.

    Midge bites- wah!

    Midge bites- wah!

 

Pros

  • Everyone was super nice. Or at least amused the hell out of me. I couldn’t even be annoyed at anyone because I found them all so delightfully quirky.
    • Even made some new friends who I’d love to see again. Certainly I wish everyone well.
  • Beautiful location.
  • I learned a little about myself.
  • Benefitted from having such a scheduled day after my normal haphazard days.
  • Got back into running- ran 4 times in the beautiful location- even twice at 6:30 am.
  • Had a lot of reading time.
  • Got back to meditation. Not that I’ve done it since, but it can’t hurt.
  • Really got to connect with nature…it felt good.
Sunrise over the loch

Sunrise over the loch

 

My tips for you if you go to this center, or possibly any retreat

  • Get there early for first dibs on beds.
  • Get there early for first dibs on chores.
    • You do not want any dishwashing. Trust me.
    • Toilet duty isn’t bad because you get to choose when you do it.
  • Bring eye mask, earplugs, and drugs to help you sleep.
  • Don’t forget your towels.
  • Bring extra stuff if you’re driving: bathing suit for a morning loch swim, extra deodorant, extra socks, whatever.
Morning run around the Loch

Morning run around the Loch

of course i took pics of sheep

of course i took pics of sheep