The hell you went up

Day 2 in Scotland, we decided to take a boat tour because we had pleeeenty of time to hit the train to Edinburgh and on to Inverness. In fact, we did a dry run, walking up all the steep trails in town to find the train station so we would know exactly where to go when the time came. Aren’t we good planners?

The boat tour was fine. There were advertisements for puffins, but halfway through the tour, the narrator said the puffins are only there through July. Sad trombone. So some seals and an old abbey now used for tours and weddings out on an island.

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And… garden gnomes. An island covered in gnomes.

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After the tour, we pounded pavement to the B&B to pick up our bags and then make our way back uuup the hill to the train stop. We got there in plenty of time, bought tickets, and sat to wait, all proud of ourselves.

Until the message board announced the train was full and would not be stopping at our stop. By that time, it was too late to walk all the way back down the hill to town to catch a bus into the city and still make our train to Inverness. We were stunned for a minute. And then everyone around us made magic happen. A young guy called a cab for a few of us who had train reservations. A man named Hugh shared the cab with us, as he was in a hurry too. The cabby thought to bring us to a closer station so we would be sure not to miss our trains. It worked. It all worked. I was entranced.

***

The train from Edinburgh to Inverness is ~3.5 hours and an absolute marvel. We watched a father flying a kite with his two sons, a Clydesdale mare nudging her foal to get up and walk, crumbling cemeteries, mobile homes along the river Broadchurch-style, and sheep–so many sheep–living the life in the heather on the mountainsides.

 

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OMG the world is amazing and you’re not paying attention!

***

Inverness is a big little city that spans out over a pretty steep hill. Town is at the bottom of the hill. Homes are at the top of the hill. So the walk from the train to the B&B was not bad. Except for the hill. We had done enough hills in Queensferry. So we huffed and puffed with our bags up the hill.

The B&B owner was super nice, with that fantastic deadpan British wit. So as we were signing in and he was showing us a map of the town and pointing out dinner options, he kept saying, “There’s the hell you went up.” And I kept nodding enthusiastically. It wasn’t until we were halfway back to town that I realized he was just saying “hill.” His accent made it accidentally punny. So I decided I’m going with hell. It was the hell we were to walk up many times.

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That time the queen just missed us

Good bye, Norway; hello, Scotland!

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Noelle chose a great B&B (Ravenous Beastie!) in Queensferry, an 11th century town on the shore of the Firth of Forth that celebrates the procession of the Burry Man each year. Per Wikipedia,

“A local man is covered from head-to-toe in sticky burrs which adhere to undergarments covering his entire body, leaving only the shoes, hands and two eye holes exposed … His ability to bend his arms or sit down is very restricted during the long day and his progress is a slow walk with frequent pauses. Two attendants … assist him throughout the ordeal, helping him … and fortifying him with whisky sipped through a straw, whilst enthusiastic children go from door-to-door collecting money on his behalf. The key landmarks on the tour are the Provost’s office and each pub in the village.”

Don’t try to tell me that’s not fantastic.

So we show up at this adorable town and get situated at our cute B&B and immediately step over to the pub.

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We walk up to the bar to order our first pints, and an English woman at a table nearby calls over to Noelle and hands her a glass of whiskey. “Try this.” Her friend then does the same to me. We receive the glasses, take a sip, and then start to hand them back. Both women refuse, tell us they’ve already had too much, and thus begins a lovely friendship. We talked with them, their husbands, and then the bride and groom who were to be married the next day, for which they were all in town. “How long have you been in town,” we were asked at one point. “Ten minutes?” we laughed back.

***

And this is why the British Isles rock. There are countries where no one will speak to you (I’m looking at you, Paris and Norway). And then there are countries where people freely engage (a wink and pat on the bum at Ireland and Scotland). And while Norway was beautiful, Scotland is the balls. Because from the cabby to the people in the pub to the B&B proprietor, no one really feels like a stranger after a couple minutes. I think we were actually invited to crash the wedding by our new friends at one point.

But at another point, one of the husbands said, “I need to ask you both something.” We straightened up, took a deep breath, and said, “Go ahead; let’s get it over with.” Trump does not have fans, well, in a lot of places. But the Scots particularly dislike him. We knew that’s where he was going. “I have never met anyone who favors him,” the husband said as we talked. Well, this wasn’t his lucky day either.

And so we hung with the natives for an hour or so before heading out to find food. In this tiny town, the local chippy was the way to go. By the way, this place serves ice cream, fish and chips, meat pies, and Indian appetizers. MAGICAL.

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While we’re at it, let’s talk about the bridge in the background there. And these two, one in front of the other, below.

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Queensferry is big on its bridges. Three to be exact. The red one shown above is a 19th century train bridge. Another is for regular traffic. And the third is to open this week to replace the second. (Or work in conjunction with? No idea.) In fact, our cabby told us the queen is coming for the grand opening of the bridge. So she just missed us. Damn shame. I think we would have gotten on great.

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I just want to start by saying that there are sheep on the dryers in Norway. I repeat, cute sheep icons on the dryers.

IMG_6133And yes, we did laundry. And yes, we just made educated guesses. Do you remember those videos of what it’s like to be illiterate in the grocery store and accidentally pick up Comet when you mean to grab Kraft parmesan in the green can? Did I just date myself? Anyway, it was like that. “I think this is detergent…” “I think that means extra dry…” Noelle’s knowledge of German has been helpful on this trip.

***

So on day 3 in Bergen, I started out with a little sightseeing on foot.

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Then Noelle and I did the proper fjord cruise. We picked a 3-hour tour to keep things light. And we lucked out with the most incredible weather. I got a sunburn. In Norway. I didn’t think that was possible. Hell, we didn’t even pack sunscreen.

I’m just going to let the pictures speak for themselves.

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Then it was one last spin around the city to take it all in before an early departure for the airport. One thing that I find disturbing in this lovely city is the “art.”

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Close up? No, Norway. No.

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What do you think this is, America?

This is what Rick Steves means when he mentions the “anatomically correct unicorn.”

Whatever, Norway. Go ahead and act reserved and then ritz up your town with a bunch of naughty bits and gun furnishings. I’m on to you. And I like you. And I’m going to get fit to look better in spandex and rob a bank so I can afford you and then I’ll be back! You heard me. Until we meet again…

Fjord Focus

What is Norway good for, if not fjords, right? And over the past two days, we’ve managed to hit four fjords, and it’s all been amazing. I’m breaking this into two posts so it doesn’t get obnoxious.

On day 2, we rented a car to get out into the countryside and have a little adventure. Noelle did the driving; I researched and directed us to Eidfjord, which seemed a little quieter (and a reasonable 2.5-hour drive each way). And the Avis guy said, in his staid Norwegian way, that we should take rt 7, which is more scenic, and to head a little outside Eidfjord for a waterfall. Okey doke.

What a winner of a day! It was overcast, but who cares. Waterfalls; small villages; insane mountain tunnels; narrow, Irelandesque lanes scuffed up with tire marks… and two good pals laughing and oohing and aahing over it all.

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Tyssefossen

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Picnic park in Granvin. We stepped into the water. It was as cold, but less cold than the Atlantic in New England this time of year.

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Kinsarvik sheepies! Noelle said this one could come home with us, but my backpack already exceeds the weight limit for the puddle jumper we’re taking to Oslo.

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Also Kinsarvik. There is a tunnel on either side, each with a rotary system in the mountain. You crazy, Norway!

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Eidfjord!

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Voringfossen outside Eidfjord. The drive here is wild. Curly Qs inside the mountain tunnel and a gorge so deep my fear of heights kicked in and wouldn’t allow me too close to the edge when we got out of the car.

After this, it was time to head back to Bergen. All of this beauty is exhausting, however. Noelle drove and I did the violent head-bob thing for a couple hours as I tried in vain to stay awake while we passed all the pretty scenery. I don’t remember any of the ride.

We spent the evening doing the tourist thing in Bergen. We wandered around downtown…

 

…and ate dinner at the fish market after all the cruise ships left. I dig the people working the fish market. After a long day of waiting on tourists, they are tired, punchy, and real. They sang “Roxanne” when it came on the radio. One flew by on a rolling cart. With all of the mild mannered locals, seeing folks let loose was fun. I could spend a day just taking photos and video of them.

 

We ended the evening sitting on couches at a waterside bar. We watched the sun go down and the houses on the mountainside light up while we nursed our drinks and watched people walk by. Bergen, you’re seriously expensive, but you’re adorable.

 

 

Going to Bergen? Pack your spandex.

Funny that I’m half Swede and never thought about traveling to Scandinavia. Though, now that I’m here, I’m not sure how I am even remotely Scandinavian. I’m much more crude Scot, which will be the latter half of this trip and the blood of which does not at all run through my body.

But here I am in Bergen, Norway. This is the brainchild of my friend Noelle. And she got us this great Airbnb tucked into an adorable neighborhood just outside the tourist scene.

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Yes, I’m on Pinterest. Yes, I have read up on hygge. But until you’re in an incredibly simple white space with a brazen yellow chair, relaxing on pillows, and looking out at the rooftops of other adorable homes and relaxing with a friend, it’s hard to fully appreciate. I’ve already let Kirk know I want to come home and paint everything white. Funny, I don’t think he responded to that specific comment.

The neighborhood is fantastic. If you keep to the cobblestone, you’re on a sidewalk of sorts. They wind around people’s homes and gardens and feel intimate at times.

***

After having a nap to acclimate, we did the ultimate tourist thing: take the Floibanen to the top of Mount Floyen. It’s an impressively steep funicular ride to an incredible view of the city.

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Warning, Americans: If you are obnoxious here (or anywhere), you will be discussed. Noelle overheard a woman say in German that a loud American nearby had “a voice that sounds like a pig.” Just keep it down and enjoy the view.

As if life couldn’t get better at the top of the mountain, there are goats. Just hanging out. Like it’s no thang.

 

And hey, look, they’re all named…

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Wait…what?

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And there he was.

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Noelle petted him and called him Barry. And a very dark-skinned man from some other country said to us in broken English something along the lines of, “See, he looked at me. He knows we are the same.” And so it goes. It’s not about ignoring our differences. It’s about embracing them. So, thanks, Bergen, for naming your one black goat after our one black president. And lefty America can rest knowing that Barry is seriously chillin on a mountaintop and being enjoyed by all.

Not enjoyed by all? The unbelievable walk back down to the city. Don’t get me wrong. It’s a great walk. It’s beautiful, it’s scenic, it’s quiet. But it’s also 45 minutes straight down on swtichbacks. And for two tired old broads, it was a feat. My toes tingle just looking at this picture.

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What impressed me on this walk was not the number of people walking and running up this mountain, but the simple fact that EVERYONE was wearing spandex. Like pants. No one in Bergen covers their spandexy bums, men or women. They flaunt them. And fuck. They should. Everyone here is in perfect shape. Not a rubbed thigh to be seen in all the land. I’m the fattest person in Bergen.

And to celebrate my superlative stance in Bergen, I topped the day with a reindeer hotdog. Covered the way the locals like: with lingonberry sauce, mustard, and dried onions. It was delightful.

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Then it was time to pat my belly and get some real sleep. Cheers.

Much ado about puffins

I know, right? You’re all thinking, “Damn, girl, just skip the talk and show pics.” Well, cool your jets. Plenty of almost good pics to come.

So there are two puffin tour outfitters on Cape Breton (that I’m aware of). I opted for the one that has a little puffin wearing a captain’s hat on the logo a few years ago. I honestly pulled up and was ushered onto the boat. My timing could not have been better. And so I returned.

Bird Island Boat Tours is a third-generation family business. Captain Vince (second generation) is no joke. I’m fascinated by him. Direct, a little gruff, but clearly passionate. I looked forward to seeing him on this return visit.

So if you go to CB, drive out to Big Bras d’Or and take this tour. Stay in their cabins or camp on their land. These people are great.

Okay, okay. Puffins. Last time I did this, I had a point and shoot. And then I think I blogged using stock photos because I had no idea that puffins are tiny, fast and wily. My puffin pictures looked like pepper sprinkled onto a paper plate. As Kirk was packing up, I told him not to bring anything but the telephoto lens. I don’t think he fully believed me. He does now. And I’m entirely proud of the blurry photos I’m about to show you because they aren’t horrible. It’s that simple.

Exhibit A

^telephoto is necessary

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Getting an action shot is impossible with my gear. Kirk has fancy equipment, and would hold his finger on the shutter button and move his camera through the air, sounding like he was fighting the Luftwaffe–tat tat tat tat tat tat tat tat tat tat tat. He calls it the “spray and pray.” His pictures are great. I got fuzzy, awkward stuff like this.

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Ah well.

I remember the first time on this tour being the pivotal moment when I began to think eagles are assholes. While Captain Vince has never seen an eagle eating a puffin or attacking a puffin, they’re there. Waiting. And eating other stuff.

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There are seals and herons and other birds on the island.

But let’s be real. It’s about the little guys.

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And I’m pretty sure I’ll get back some day to do a third tour.

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Send nuds!

Today, we drove down out of the mountains, over to the eastern side of Cape Breton. We saw local art on the way.

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I appreciate that 1) he left a phone number, 2) he doesn’t know how to spell “nudes,” and 3) he went back and tucked the “e” in there. I’m sure his phone is blowing up wherever he is.

There’s also an intersection outside Sydney with a lot of licking.

Tucked over in the northeast corner of Cape Breton is Fortress Louisbourg. In all the times I’ve come up to NS, I just haven’t had the energy to make the trek there. Luckily, that was tops on Kirk’s list of things to do. Because I’m lazy about my camera on this trip, I’m using the phone, and it just doesn’t do justice. I’m all sad face as I go through my pictures today. Moise, roll the tape…

It was fun. The staff are incredibly knowledgeable and kind. It’s worth the long drive. Also, they were giving out free samples of their Fortress rum, which will grow hair on your chest. Yum!

You didn’t doubt that I would find sheep, did you?

* * *

One thing I have really enjoyed is watching Kirk take pictures of families struggling to get a selfie with several people in it. He’s a pro with the camera, and it’s just a sweet gesture. Warms the cockles.

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What are they posing in front of, do you ask? Perhaps it’s the world’s largest fiddle…

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Cheers!