Tuesday, September 28, 2010


I mentioned that the trip from Islay to Skye was pretty harrowing, but you may be wondering what exactly I meant by that. Well, we narrowly avoided being killed with boredom as we waited for more than two hours for our ferry in Port Askaig. The ferry trip was mostly uneventful, although it was delayed in leaving, so we didn't get to the mainland until later than we expected. I thought our drive up the west coast to Skye would then take about 4-5 hours, depending on how many stops we made.

What I didn't know is that the A85 and the A87, two (supposedly) major roads in Scotland are n.a.r.r.o.w. Like, narrower than the word I just stretched out using periods. I'm talking country lane narrow. Add in the fact that they were also crazy curvy, ess curve after ess curve, pretty much non-stop. So top speed was, what? Maybe 40 mph? Then it started getting dark. Then random animals kept jumping out at us - a HUGE buck scared the living daylights out of me, but luckily stayed on the shoulder, and an owl or some other fairly large bird that actually flew into the car as we were driving. And I had decided to take a turn at the wheel, so I was the one driving (shhh. . .don't tell DSH, but I'm *much* better at it than him!). The driving portion of the trip ended up taking nearly seven hours (including our pit stop for dinner) and by the time we got to the b&b (at 1am, our poor, poor host!), my neck and shoulder muscles were in a gross, twisted bundle.

Skye was pretty and we had good weather again. Go check out the pictures for some amazing scenery (oh, and maybe another distillery shot or two, also).

For the two days between Skye and our return to Edinburgh, we didn't have an itinerary. We figured we'd kind of wing that part and see where it took us. Fortunately for us, we narrowly missed staying in Inverness (gateway to Loch Ness) which would have been a mistake. It's not a particularly good looking part of Scotland, or maybe we're just spoiled by the loveliness of Islay and Skye, and it didn't seem like there was a whole lot to do there. So we kept going until we got to Pitlochry. 

Pitlochry had more charm in half a block than Inverness had in its entirety. Plus, it had the added bonus of being less than three miles from the smallest distillery in Scotland, Edradour. :-) We checked in to a b&b - our biggest, nicest room yet - and then headed out for some walking, exploring, and the hunt for dinner.

Which (finally) brings us to today. We're in Perth until tomorrow when we head back to Edinburgh for the last days in Scotland.

* * * * *

Completely unrelated to anything, but funny enough (I thought) to warrant a mention: Breakfasts with DSH have been, let's say, interesting. The traditional Scottish breakfast consists of all or a combination of the following - a fried egg, black pudding (made from blood, oats, and seasonings, it actually tastes a lot better than it sounds), sausage and/or bacon (it's more like Canadian bacon), grilled tomatoes, grilled mushrooms, and a potato scone. What makes it interesting is that DSH hates fried eggs and grilled tomatoes, but he always at least attempts to eat them because he doesn't want to be rude to the b&b host. This means that he fast chews his way through it and you can tell he's trying really hard not to taste anything. Because I wouldn't be me if I just let this go, I of course teased him about it. It was all well and good until he made a comment about the black pudding being like a scab. Ewwwwww. He got his revenge, but I really haven't been able to eat black pudding since then.

Sunday, September 26, 2010


The Isle of Islay was all about whisky. (And no, "whisky" isn't spelled incorrectly, even though Blogger is underlining it with a red line for me. Whisky is spelled without an 'e' when it comes from Scotland and with an 'e' when it comes from Ireland or the US.) It just so happens that Islay produces DSH's favorite kind of whisky and there are eight different distilleries on the island (an island, btw, so small that only about 3,500 people live there). Although I like whisky, Islay whiskies are too peaty and/or smoky and/or medicinal for me, so I was glad to play DD and just take pictures everywhere we went.

Actually, my first shot of the day made me very happy. Why? Well, only because I got a picture of something I really, really wanted to get a picture of while in Scotland.

It's a Highland cow! And they're not at all like the shy sheep that run away from you. This guy and about five of his friends came right over to the fence we were standing at to say hi. I think they probably thought we had food for them (we didn't), but at least we got some pictures out of it.

So of those eight distilleries, we went to six of them over two days, some of them twice. They all have a very distinct look about them and it's one that I happen to find very photograph-able (uh, easy to photograph may be a better word choice? lol). The walls of the buildings are whitewashed and the distillery is always on water. We got a great weather day, too, so I ended up with lots of shots with bold color - whitewashed buildings, lush green grass, and crystal blue water. Here's just a taste of what I mean:

Being on Islay was fun, but we were really looking forward to seeing Skye - we'd heard it was one of the most beautiful places on the planet. If only we'd known how intense the trip would've been, we could have prepared a bit better...

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Pigeon legs and church bars

We hired a car, got outta Edinburgh, and headed to Stirling and Falkirk before ending up in Glasgow. In Stirling we had a very odd pub meal and took pictures of a cool old castle and cemetary. The destination in Falkirk was the Falkirk Wheel, something we'd both heard about years ago. I have to say, the wheel was interesting, but I'm glad we hadn't planned on staying in either Stirling or Falkirk overnight; there was just enough to see and do for a couple of hours and that's it.
(Me at the Falkirk Wheel)
When we finally arrived in Glasgow, it couldn't have happened a moment too soon - being in the car was turning out to be highly stressful. The car we hired was a manual and of course the driver sits on the right. Neither DSH nor I had ever driven on the other side of the road before, but we decided to give him the first go at it and I'd be the navigator. Navigating tends to be stressful for me on a regular day, but add in the fact that I kept having to tell DSH that he was WAY too close to the curb/line and, well, I couldn't wait to be out of the car.

Day one in Glasgow was spent wandering the city centre. We went in and out of shops and walked all over taking shots of cool old buildings. I can't tell if it's because of the economy or if it was the weather or what, but Glasgow seems pretty depressed. The buildings are solid and dark and drab. Edinburgh may have ranked as the more interesting of the two to look at, but so far neither one of them are on my top 10 cities list.
(Oran Mor)
All of the walking and perhaps a bit of lingering jet lag meant that we were ready for a rest by mid-afternoon. We headed back to the guest house, watched a movie, and took a nap. We woke up refreshed and ready to head back out to meet Marion, a friend of Toto's who he'd told me to reach out to when he found out I'd be in Scotland. Marion took us to a part of Glasgow called the West End that we hadn't explored yet. We had a drink first (I don't remember the name of the place) and then had dinner at the Ubiquitous Chip. Marion made all kinds of recommendations - we had venison haggis and pigeon legs, both very tasty - and introduced us to Irn Bru (pronounced "iron brew"), a Scottish soda brand that outsells Coca-Cola (it tastes a bit like bubble gum for some reason and really isn't my thing, but Scots love the stuff). Afterwards we went to Oran Mor, a church converted into a bar that had pages and pages and pages of whisky to choose from (DSH was a happy man!). We eventually said goodnight to Marion, but not before she told us to be sure to call her if we needed anything or if we wanted suggestions for what to do when we leave the Isle of Skye (I still haven't figured that bit out yet).

This is why couchsurfing is so cool and why I recommend it so highly. Marion isn't at all involved with CS, but Toto is and that's how we ended up meeting her. I wouldn't have had Scottish contacts if it wasn't for Toto and CS, and we never would have found those really cool spots if it hadn't been for a local. It's nice to get off the tourist track and find out what the locals are getting up to. My piece of advice? Even if you're not comfortable with the idea of couchsurfing, you should still make every effort you can to talk to other people and get to know the people who live in the area you're visiting. I can guarantee that it will only enhance your experience.

Anyway, for day two in Glasgow, we decided to go back to the West End. We popped in and out of vintage stores, grocery stores, cupcake stores, and the Botanic Gardens. We also took lots of pictures of the University of Glasgow buildings and grounds. In other words, we did heaps of walking and wandering. :-) In a bit, we'll go out for dinner - I have a hankering for Indian food - and then we'll probably call it an early night. Tomorrow we leave Glasgow for the Isle of Islay, but we'll make a pit stop at Loch Lomond on the way.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Edinburgh the First

The flights to Edinburgh were good and uneventful - on time arrivals and not a single crying baby in sight! It was a little more "eventful" when it came to accommodations and I put that word in quotes because I mean it in a bad way. Without typing it out and having to relive the frustration of it all, I can sum it up by saying that the communication from the apartment owner was a bit lacking which meant that we lugged luggage around Edinburgh a lot longer than we should've had to, never very fun when you're short on sleep.

(A view of Edinburgh from the castle)
But we're here now and settling in nicely, I think. We'll be circling back to Edinburgh before we leave, so there was really no gameplan for the first full day here. Our agenda seemed to be "let's wander around and see what we see." We ended up seeing a lot - Edinburgh Castle, Salisbury's Crags, the Royal Mile, the National Museum of Scotland, street performers, Scott Monument, a couple parks, the University of Edinburgh, and heaps of cool shops and pubs - so I'd say the plan worked.
(Window of The Scotch Whisky Experience)
Plus! I've eaten haggis twice now. The first time I had it with neaps and tatties (mashed turnips and mashed potatoes, the traditional accompaniments); the second time it was on the best pulled pork sandwich along with some chili jam (the combination sounds weird, I know, but it was SO yummy). 

Friday, September 17, 2010

Vacation vs. RTW

In less than seven hours my flight leaves for Edinburgh. Wow, where did the time go? It seems like just last week I was in New Zealand.

I've been crazy busy these last couple of weeks with trip planning and it got me thinking how different the planning is for a vacation versus a round-the-world trip. For one thing, I know where I'm sleeping every night for the next 14 nights (well, mostly; there's a night or two that's still up in the air). Transportation has been secured - in the form of a car rental. Packing is almost finshed. Boarding passes have been printed. And the soon to be famous Shannon L. Kirkpatrick travel folder of awesomeness is compiled.

[Aside: What? You don't know about the soon to be famous Shannon L. Kirkpatrick travel folder of awesomeness? Well. . .When I start planning for a trip, all of my notes go into a folder. These are notes on potential itineraries, comparisons of car vs. train travel, reminders of who I inquired regarding room availability, must do's or must sees, etc, etc. Then, once I start getting confirmations I put those in the folder, too. Everything is highlighted and in the order that I'll need it for easy access (i.e. flight confirmation followed by car rental confirmation followed by directions to hotel followed by hotel confirmation). Makes sense, right? It helps keep me organized and sane. I don't save these folders generally, but an added bonus is that if I wanted to add ticket stubs or a few favorite pictures or whatever, it'd probably make a good keepsake of the trip.]

Anyway, there's been no mention here of a travel folder before because RTW travel is a whole 'nother animal. When I was traveling through India or Thailand or Indonesia, I rarely knew where I was sleeping in two night's time, let alone two weeks into the future. I reserved a spot on a bus or train only hours in advance, if that. Packing was pretty much always done (for those quick getaways!) and boarding passes were something I got right before I walked through security.

It's two completely different ways to travel. One is more structured and one is more by the seat of your pants. You might not think that the same person could travel in these two different ways, but I honestly enjoy both and think there are pros and cons to each. It really depends on your trip goals.

What kind of traveler are you? Do you plan out each and every detail, or do you go with the flow? Maybe you use a hybrid of the two?

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Now with added detail!, Part 2

I'm calling this version the "photo quality isn't great, but the story behind it is" version. :-) For part one go here.
The above shot was taken in Prague. I'd met Danilo and Elin, two really cool couchsurfers, and we were all in great moods. If I remember correctly, it was a Friday night and we were ready for a night on the town. As we walked to the meeting place for the CS party that we were going to, I stopped in the middle of the street to take this picture. The light isn't great and the shot ends up looking a little fuzzy and out of focus. I like it, though, because with all the good mood vibes in the air and the excitement of a night out with cool people, I was feeling kind of warm, fuzzy, and out of focus myself.

See those colorful, swirly blobs? Yeah, those are koi fish and in case you didn't know, they are very hard to photograph. (Well, at least they're not running away from you like sheep do, but they're fast and taking pictures through water is hard to begin with.)

I took this shot in Bangkok; it was a jam-packed day of activity and this was taken at the Jim Thompson house. I seem to remember being in a good mood on this day, too, and was so dead set on getting a picture of the koi that I literally spent 30-45 minutes taking shot after shot, going for the perfect one. I never did get it (you can see my other attempts here, here, and here), but I sure had fun trying and I had a big, goofy grin on my face the whole time.

Finally for today, we go back to Muang Ngoi in Laos. You may recall that me and Laos didn't exactly get off on the right foot and it was all downhill from there (I won't link to it because, well, the word 'explosive' should be the only reminder you need). Then I got to Muang Ngoi and all was right with the world again. People were friendly, the vibe was laid-back, and I started to feel like myself again at last.

This shot is terrible because I'm zoomed in super far which doesn't really work so well for a point and shoot camera. I was trying to get a good shot of the moon - if you squint and have a good imagination, you can kind of see it in the top of the shot, towards the left. The rest of the photo is a view of the restaurant that was directly across from my bungalow. I spent most of my afternoons and early evenings in Muang Ngoi laying in the hammock on my porch, watching the night get darker and darker, as I listened to the chatter coming from the restaurant. The peacefulness of it all makes me smile even now.

I suppose this edition of the story behind the photo should have been called the "good moods and happy times" edition. ;-)

* * * * *

In case you're wondering how my friends in Christchurch fared, everyone is fine. Sean tells me that the damage was mostly not as bad as the media portrayed, and most Kiwis just looked at it as preparation for "the big one." I thought 7.2 on the Richter scale was pretty big, but I guess in the en zed it's only big if it's an 8 or higher, lol.

Sunday, September 5, 2010


I just got around to finally mentioning the volcano eruption that happened awhile ago in Indonesia and now there's news of an earthquake that measured 7.1 on the Richter scale in Christchurch, New Zealand.

I've reached out to my friends there, but haven't heard back from them yet. I'm (mostly) sure they are fine, but keep them in your thoughts for me.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Bungees, volcanoes, and aerials

None of these items really warrant a post all on their own, so today you get a hodge-podge of a few things I’ve been meaning to write about recently.

I thought the bungee jump I did in Queenstown was from a pretty high height at 134 meters. That is, until I found out about the one in Macau that garners the title of world’s tallest bungee jump. It’s more than 300 feet taller than the jump I made! Obviously, it’s not a jump I took – I would’ve mentioned a trip to China. J I did take a MUCH bigger leap recently, but it was with a parachute attached to me rather than a bungee cord. I’ll post pictures as soon as I get them.

The islands of Indonesia lie on the Pacific “Ring of Fire” which essentially means that Indonesians experience heaps of earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, and events like tsunamis that are often a result of said earthquakes. In fact, there was an earthquake in North Sumatra when I was there back in May. Well, the ring of fire has struck again and you’ve probably heard or read by now that there was a volcano eruption a few days ago. The volcano hadn’t erupted in 400 years. Nearly 20,000 people were evacuated, but the good news is that only one person has died (the last time I heard, anyway). The other interesting thing to note is that the volcano is only 40 miles from Medan, the city that I flew into when I first arrived in Indonesia. I can't say I'm disappointed to have missed the eruption!

And finally, Laura sent me a link to one guy's aerial photos awhile back and it was really neat looking through all of them. The photographer is Yann Arthus-Bertrand and he spent five years taking those shots. Laura sent it to me because she thought she'd remembered that I'd been to some of the places featured. As I scrolled through, I thought she was crazy because I wasn't seeing any place that I'd been to, lol, but eventually there were a handful that were familar to me. These include Fraser Island, Australia, Bazaar of Istanbul, Turkey, Palm Jumeirah in Dubai, Varanasi, India, and Los Angeles (although I didn't see the particular shot that Yann had b/c I never left the airport). A couple of my favorite shots are below, all credit to Yann Arthus-Bertrand, of course.
Stockholm, Sweden

Machu Picchu, Peru

Walled city of Dubrovnik, Croatia

What shots do you like? What places would you like to visit after seeing the aerial photos?