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!

 

Not a cairn in the world…

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* * *

2017 is Canada’s 150th birthday. And today is my fortysomethingth birthday. Happy birthday to us both.

To celebrate this nation’s birthday, all of Canada’s national parks are allowing free admittance. So all y’all get yer damn passports updated and come up here and check out the parks for free and pump your money into the economy.

Cape Breton Highlands National Park is one of the prettiest drives one can experience. But first: face cutouts!

 

Is he a good sport or what?

About seven minutes into the park, we stopped at a lookoff and an eagle flew by. Not too shabby.

My primary goal for this trip to Cape Breton was to hike the Skyline Trail. And it was awesome. It’s an easy hike–almost five miles of clear trail, though the return trip is mostly uphill. The views are every bit as good as they appear in every brochure you will ever see about Cape Breton. And there are a lot of other people around. The ranger said somewhere between 500-700 people per DAY do that trail. It didn’t feel like that many, so that bus must have pulled up after we left.

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It’s hard to capture the wild beauty of the park. It just falls short in pictures. But it’s magnificent–mountains on all sides, the smell of pine and beach roses as you drive, and the ocean by your side as you roll up and down the Cabot Trail.

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Yup, we’re dorks. But we’re happy dorks.

Off the beaten path, at the tip top of the province, is Meat Cove, a campground that is beyond compare. I camped here when I visited before, so I’ve already gushed about it. And if you’re friends with me on facebook, you probably see the Meat Cove Chowder Hut pop up with “Kelly likes this” on the banner above it. I know this because a friend recently asked me what the hell this chowder hut was all about. Anyway, it’s a fun ride in and an extraordinary view. Mountain top poutine? Why yes!

EXCEPT that on the long drive in, I felt something very painful on my inner thigh. I looked down and saw a bee in my lap. I haven’t been stung in years. And it hurt like hell. I made Kirk stop on the side of a dirt road in the middle of nowhere so I could jump out and inspect the damage. So there I am, on my birthday, getting stung near my unmentionables, and dropping trou on the side of the road for everyone to see. It’s more than seven hours later, and it still hurts. So by the time I got to Meat Cove, I had earned a beer.

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The rest of the afternoon went by quickly, driving through the rest of the park (approximately two hours’ drive without stopping) and singing along to a 90s mix Kirk made me. Why it took him four days to pull that out of hiding, I don’t know. But it’s good stuff. And now we’re bedding down at a B&B in Wreck Cove, Nova Scotia. Here’s a map in case you’re playing along.

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And now time for well-earned sleep. Night.

 

That time we crashed the town party

So, hey, we’re in Cape Breton! It’s been a few years since I’ve done this, and I’m so happy to be experiencing it all again. I might be scaring Kirk with enthusiasm. We’ve heard fiddles, it being the Ceilidh Trail after all, and we’ve bought the obligatory CD or three of local music. And I found my way back to a sweet little beach I happened upon by accident the last time. On one side is rolling farm land. The other side looks like Ireland, with houses plunked down on a hillside. The water is warm and clear, and I watched a crab skitter by. Then we plunked our asses on camp chairs in the water and sat back. Pure bliss.

We’re staying at a great German B&B with a huge galloping cat named Mister in Port Hood tonight. There isn’t much happening here, except when the enormous bike blew through town with all kinds of people on it and everyone raised a ruckus over it.

I have no idea what that was about. Neither did the proprietor.

Up the road, in Mabou, we went to dinner at the famous Red Shoe Pub. I had a local oatmeal stout that paired nicely with a sticky date pudding that I’ve been dreaming about since my last visit.

Kirk has taken to saying, “What next, boss?” I think it’s supposed to be partially endearing. But we all know that sarcasm is honesty said slant. And fine, I’m happy to be the boss.

So I directed him down a side road toward a lighthouse on the map. After winding a few miles outside of downtown, we thought we’d be all alone by the water. Nope. The pier was hopping! People everywhere greeting each other and loading coolers onto boats. The lighthouse was not the main attraction. Kirk asked what was going on, and one of the good people of Mabou told us it was a boat parade to celebrate the town. Kind of like Old Home Days back in New England. Cool! So we went back to town and took up with the locals to wait for the boats to come in.

Mabou is a town of about 1,200. So I have no doubt everyone knows each other. And then there were the two dummies from New Hampshire, sitting in camp chairs, clapping along to the live music and taking it all in. And it was great. Because for all the b.s. that comes with a small town, there’s also a lot of heart. And I was glad to observe it as an outsider. People hugging and welcoming each other home. Obvious matriarchs holding court and keeping an eye on everyone. Older men with white socks pulled way up cooking hot dogs by the bandstand. Young cousins hugging and giggling and straying from their parents. The local band playing slow tunes. Teenagers fixing their hair and walking in groups and clearly not feeing confident yet. And babies being passed from one set of arms to another across the whole park. Thank you, Mabou, for letting us be part of your town tonight.

My pictures don’t do it justice, but it’s day three and I’ve given up on lugging my big camera, so you’re just getting phone shots.

And now, as I type and Kirk saws wood, I am watching the thunderstorms roll in and thinking about how early I agreed to get up tomorrow. Because for all the resting by the water we did today, tomorrow is a lot of road and hiking. So move through, storms. Move through.

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Feeling sheepish about long driveways

Duh–Kirk told me late today that my last blog post should have been called “Poutine on the Ritz.” I apologize for this gross oversight in pun possibilities and promise to try harder.

Onward.

Perhaps my favorite thing about this trip so far is the fact that I’m with someone who can take pictures of me in face cutouts. And vice versa. All the pics of me are on his camera, so he’ll have to start his own blog.

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Kirk’s favorite thing about this trip so far are these chips.

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They come up more often in conversation than any chip has a right to do. Except for the limited edition Lay’s tikka masala chips last year. Now those…sigh…I still dream of them.

Another thing I’m enjoying is the social experiment happening on the fronts of dumpsters around here.

Rock on, you buncha hippies, you.

Those pictures were taken in Tatamagouche. And just outside the Tatamagouche Brewery, there was a food truck featuring this delightful sandwich.

And yes, of course I ate it, silly goose.

Along the way, we stopped at the Balmoral Grist Mill. It’s a sweet little place in the woods with some great local ladies on hand to explain the operation in full detail.

* * *

Okay, so I’ve complained before about getting weirded out by small business in NS. You see a sign for, say, a quilt shop. You pull in and realize you’re a quarter-mile up someone’s personal driveway and there’s no obvious store. But now you’re committed and find yourself trying to figure out whether you are supposed to enter the house or what. It stresses me out. And so it was when Kirk entered the long driveway at Lismore Sheep Farm in Pictou. Nova Scotia small business PTSD kicked in and I started saying, “No! Don’t go in! You won’t know where to enter and it gets weird and I can’t handle it and…” Kirk pretty much told me to numb my nuts. And I’m glad because…

(1) Face cutouts!

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(2) SHEEPIES!

(3) Border collie puppies!

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SHUT UP! Best. Road trip stop. Ever. Thank you, Kirk, for making that happen.

And up the road from there: a lavender farm. I’m not the biggest fan of lavender, but only a person with no soul would not be moved by a beautiful field of purple, the hum of happy bees, and the calming scent of beautiful flowers growing across the street from open, expansive water.

Past that, we saw a sign for a “picnic park.” We considered it for a minute, turned around, and went back to check it out. Yeah, this is Nova Scotia’s take on a picnic park.

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You should see the beaches.

The Northumberland Strait water is surprisingly warm, and it was great to walk into the water and not feel the quick numbing effect the northern Atlantic creates in New England. That and the green heads biting me with master precision hot sun, the sand between my toes, and the view of PEI in the distance. I’m 100% in my happy place.

And all of that driving led us to New Glasgow for the night. Just a highway stop, but the town is tiny and cute, and The Dock is a great Irish pub (in a Scottish town?).

It’s been a good day of random stops along an unplanned route, landing at a sweet hotel room without a reservation. For perspective, the ovals show where we started and where we ended up. Tomorrow: Cape Breton and rain…

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