New Scotland?

Good Morning!

Technically, my vacation ended today. Which I am celebrating by getting up at 6 to write before a workday that ends at 8pm. But I have coffee in my Maine mug, and yesterday was a hot and steamy day in Milwaukee, so it’s basically the same thing, right? Probably.

We woke up on the misty fifth morning of vacation in a whole new world. The evening before had been pitch dark and foggy, so beyond some blurry headlights and the outline of our B&B, I had no real concept of what we would see. My first impression was that the room was startling in how comfortable and well decorated it was. I always try to add one “fancy” stay to my travels, as I usually go for the cheapest safe option. Ye Olde Argyler Lodge of Argyle, NS exceeded every expectation. A four-poster bed, an equally comfortable daybed for Best Friend; vaulted ceilings, and a rain shower.

As if that weren’t enough, the crown jewel of the space was the enormous window overlooking Lobster Bay. The sun was just rising (something is wrong with me, where I cannot sleep in on vacation – far too excited to see new things, I guess). I looked out the window to see the water at a perfect flat calm. Not a single ripple. No wind either, and pure silence. Imagine the silence of South Dakota, with the addition of forest and sea. We were in some other place.

My travel style is always seeking a balance of exploration and restoration – which is why I’ll seek out pubs with crazy traditional music, and spend hours in museums or cemeteries. Action and silence. Portland had been action – exploring, sweating, talking to lots of folks. Nova Scotia was the source of silence. It was also, finally, thankfully, about 30 degrees cooler than it had been in the States. As the sun rose, the breeze picked up slightly, and I think the temperature topped out around 75. With C, it’s hard to tell what’s really going on out there.

We eventually got up, got dressed, and headed down for breakfast. I was reminded of a college-era trip to Wales where they greet you and then tell you what’s for breakfast – on this day it was a lovely omelette with other lovely things and fresh orange juice. Fantastic coffee. After breakfast, we took our coffee to the porch and watched a few boats head out of the bay. THINGS I LEARNED: Fishing is done in the winter – especially for lobster, they shed in summer and are not good. A good fisherman makes the bulk of his money in the first six weeks of the season, and you almost never see him except he comes home to shower and head out again. A lobster over 2lbs is hard to eat and you need tools to cut the shells. The more you know.

At this point, the universe decided we’d had enough peace. The hostess came out to ask if we had plans for the day. We asked what was in walking distance, and she was like “…nothing…you don’t even have bikes?” Nope. In my defense, the website suggested that there were lots of options for recreation – and did not suggest that the closest was 10 miles away and that we would need a vehicle. Oops. We actually weren’t really bothered by this (there was a hiking trail nearby and we had books and stuff). So I asked, “when do you serve lunch or dinner?” “We don’t….the dining room is only open on the weekend.” Huh. That definitely is not clearly stated on the website. It’s becoming clear that we are here until the shuttle pics us up in 24 hours, with no more food until breakfast, and no way to get food for ourselves. Hilarious. Still not that bothered, but this is clearly a huge problem for our hosts.

They checked in with us all day to see if we were ok, connected us with some other guests who did have a car to take a ride into Pubnico, the nearby town, for the Acadian Heritage Festival. These ladies were hilarious and welcoming, but the festival was…cute. And small. And over when we got there. We saw some really lovely quilts, and signed the guestbook…and headed back. Around 6pm the room phone rang with an offer to give us a ride back into “town” for dinner at the Red Cap. I actually think that all the miscommunication was worth it because it led us to this spot.

Tiny, unassuming restaurant that also offers a few hotel rooms. We arrived at 7:50, and though it technically closed at 8, there was no rush, no break in the friendly service. The food was amazing (possibly slightly flavored with relief over actually eating dinner). Scallops and oysters from the nearby bays. Lovely local wine. Coconut cream pie for dessert. Medium coffee, but not a big deal. Really lovely service – I have to say, as I work my way through my thirties, I increasingly appreciate when people refer to Best Friend and I as “you girls”. This is totally tied up with my South Dakota life, and it still makes me smile. We ate everything possible and then wandered outside to wait for our ride back.

The stillness was augmented by the huge bright moon, which I fully failed to take an accurate picture of. The whole landscape was lit up, and the water of the bay was shining in the light. Fireflies abounded. Crickets and frogs sang. The peace had returned.

A day in a series of images. Travel is never not an adventure.

One more morning in Maine

…ok I didn’t forget – in fact, I think to myself almost hourly “now, there’s a thought for the blog”. WordPress needs an app-like feature for those of us hopping in and out of wifi range. So, now I’m about five days behind in documenting the Grand Adventure. In my defense, I’ve written several Yelp reviews, instagram captions, and text messages, so I’m obeying my birthday resolution to “write every day”. Anyway, I digress.

The last day of the Grand Adventure: Maine dawned cool and cloudy. It was a travel day for Best Friend and I – headed to Canada that afternoon! In the morning, she had some work to catch up on, so I headed out on foot to see what’s shaking on a Sunday morning in Portland. Turns out, it’s a lot – temporarily free of the heat wave, but with highs projected to reach 90 again, the Eastern Promenade was in full effect. I walked up the hill to get coffee (Hilltop, I miss you already), and saw, in no particular order: yoga, dog walking, basketball, little league, soccer, and countless joggers. Rain moved in briefly, but did not interrupt the exercise rituals happening all through the park.

For myself, I walked up to Hilltop, got another excellent cup of Jamaican coffee, and took my ham and brie sandwich to go. With the sun peeking through, I sat down on a dry-ish bench to enjoy a final look at the mist rising off the bay. If I had this view, I would be late to work every single day. I could not move off the bench until the sailboats were in full view and my coffee cup long empty. Dang, Maine. I’ll have to try a sunrise trek down to the lakeshore back home and see if I see a similar effect.

Back up at the apartment, Best Friend was done working, so we headed out for breakfast. It being Sunday morning, everywhere had a wait so we would up at the strangely empty “Lolita Venoteca”. Empty to the point that the staff seemed surprised to see us. We sat outside and enjoyed an array of breakfast tapas (fantastic coffee, medium food). Before heading back to get packed up – Sunday was ferry day!

We scurried around getting the apartment ready for check out and hopped in an Uber to the ferry terminal (so close! If it hadn’t been so hot, we could have walked it). We got to the terminal and sat. And sat. The CAT ferry is newly back in commission after several years hiatus (US vs Canada in: “Who Pays For This Boat, Eh?!”). With one crossing per day, we arrived early so there could be no mistake…on this day, we needn’t have bothered. It turns out, there was a customs hold on an entering passenger, which delayed boarding by over an hour. An hour spent in a hot, airless holding space. Where the vending machine was out of everything except Diet Pepsi. Ugh.

Eventually we were shuttled to the boat and boarded – and instantly all was forgiven. I love ferries. Every since Scotland pushed my perspective on what this can be, I would prefer to travel by ferry everywhere. Huge plushy couches for resting. Movies on screens. Scallops for dinner. Ice cream. A little travel desk to ask your random questions about Canadian travel. Plus, an outside area where you can go if you are brave (more on that in a sec). I loved every second of this crossing. Not the least because the “factoid” presented by our captain was that we had made our crossing in record time. 4.5 hours! Considering that it wasn’t too long ago that the same crossing took nearly 22 hours, I think we were all suitably impressed. Best Friend worked some and napped some. I read some and explored the boat – which prior to its current incarnation, was a Hawaiian cruise ship and a hospital ship after the Haitian earthquake. All of the signage still says “Mahalo”.

We arrived in Yarmouth, Nova Scotia around 10pm, in a flat calm and a thick fog. The fog horn had been going throughout the final 30 minutes of the voyage. When they led us all down to the “disembarkation” area, the fog was rolling in and filling the hold. Everyone was quiet, as we waited for the dock to be lowered. We crossed, passed through customs and were on our way! We were fortunate that our cab was still able to pick us up, despite arriving hours later than planned. George, of A to B Taxi service, drove us the 24km to Argyle, while sharing fishing stories (some funny, some vague “you’d have to be there – to know how it could be in winter…I’ve seen some things) and navigating the fog with ease.

We arrived at Ye Olde Argyler Lodge – the next adventure about to begin!

IMG_9079 Lovely, lovely Promenade, with sunlight peeking through.

The sailboat stayed alongside for an impressive length of time. These two lighthouses were the final farewell from the States before they were lost to view.

Me on the outside deck of the ferry ^

  1. Hell no, this is nuts! (Back pressed against the wall, instantly dizzy and unable to move).
  2. 3 ish minutes later. Ok, maybe can peel self off wall and take two steps so that can take better pictures.
  3. Tentatively approach rail and place one hand. Still on ship. Possibly this is not so bad.

Am now mesmerized and spend 30 minutes taking 1 million pictures of sunset, water, spray, and generally enjoying the view. Success!

IMG_9098 (1)Waiting to leave the boat, looking out into the foggy, silent darkness.

IMG_9100 (2)Why is Canadian money so pretty? And clear in parts? Dang, y’all.

Annnd…I’m back!

This blogging thing though – is my perennial New Year’s fail, but I’m trying again.

In the interim, since the Great Escape of 2014, the following travel has happened, and will be updated in the future:

  • Myriad boring work trips (will not be featured – planes, chain hotels, conference rooms)
  • NYC take 652 (approx), September 2015 – special Brooklyn edition
  • Dominican Republic, January 2016 – in which I try a new kind of travel
  • Big Powderhorn and Michigan UP, January 2016 – skiing, snowshoeing and polar vortexing
  • Door County and Washington Island, July 2016 – in which I sleep outside and live (camping)

All to be illustrated and shared beginning in September of this year. In the meantime, the makers of “Great Escape 2014” bring you…

“Grand Adventure 2016!” In which we explore Portland, Maine; Yarmouth and Halifax, Nova Scotia; and as much of Prince Edward Island as a person with determination and a rental car can fit into four days.

So buckle up – or, as many boats are involved, batten down those hatches for the ride!
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Thinking Thankful

Wow. What an incredible month after a long year when it seemed that nothing could or would go quite right. November notwithstanding, I find myself feeling grateful for the events of the last month, and looking forward in anticipation to all that is yet to come.

To briefly recap; on the first of October, I stood in the chilly darkness of a Dublin morning, waiting for a bus. I didn’t know it at the time, but I would spend that day hiking the cliffs on the west coast of the country, and eating steak and Guinness stew to the music of fiddles and drums. It would be a day to soothe my soul, and remind me of the great beauty in the world.

After returning to the states, I experienced one of the most resplendent fall seasons in my memory. The colors could bring you to tears. Day upon day of crisp sunlight, as though the universe was making up for the misty, grey spring. I picked apples. I drove back roads. I carved pumpkins and roasted the seeds. I put the flannel sheets on the bed and I sipped apple cider. Nearly every day brought another gift. Trick or treat was warm enough to sit on the porch and pass out cupcakes. Children wore costumes without snowpacks.

The final week brought another trip-this time to NYC for work, but with the option to stay longer. An opportunity to see Halloween in with my little cousins, and get excited all over again for costumes and candy. An opportunity to shiver with thousands at the Greenwich Village Halloween Parade, and compete for a cab when it started to rain. October was an amazing month, and a daily reminder that all seasons pass, hard or easy, and that there is so much in this world to make us happy.

Today it’s raining. Today it’s cold. Today it’s November. I sip a peppermint mocha and begin to steel myself for the holidays, for the mad dash to 2015. There will be events to coordinate, gifts to buy, baking to do. There will be snow to shovel and ice to salt, a furnace to have inspected, and Halloween decorations to pack for another year. It will be tiring.

But, there will be magical, crystalline mornings and hot chocolate. There will be music, food, and family traditions that have endured, no matter what. There will be starlit nights and peaceful, contemplative Sundays. First snows and “It’s a Wonderful Life”. I’ll visit my best friend and celebrate my baby brother’s 14th birthday.

I’m committing to retaining the joy of the last month. I’m deliberately choosing positivity. And now, I’m choosing Chinatown for lunch. All this cold rain is making me feel like pho. And it will be excellent.

Vacation over? Prove it.

So, I’ve been back in the states just over a week – and the re-entry has been solid. Customs happened in Ireland, which meant three separate security lines in Dublin, but on the plus side, I was able to grab my bag and run for the bus almost immediately on landing. A quick ride home (after 13 hours on assorted public transit, what’s 72 miles?), met by my friend Mitzi at the bus station – made it home to find my mom and dog waiting for me! A total surprise, considering I was planning to drive to Madison the next morning – it was an excellent welcome home – a final day of vacation that was just as happy as the days before.

Returning home in October certainly has it’s perks – I left the dull green of a waning summer to find fall colors emerging everywhere. Halloween season is my very, very favorite time of the year – so this past weekend, with a bright, cloudless sky and a chill in the air, I decided to celebrate by going apple and pumpkin picking! This is something I haven’t done in years, so I looked all over the internet for the perfect place. I also wanted to get out of the city and see some more colors, so off the beaten path was required. There are a few places close to Milwaukee, but they are so overrun with bounce houses and carnival rides and “punkin chuckers”, that it’s pure chaos. Luckily, the Apple Barn fit the bill nicely.
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The Apple Barn was a little over an hour by the county highways (drove through Honey Creek and Sugar Creek among others) – such a nice peaceful drive. I love to look at all the little pocket sized farms and gardens. Hard to believe that we’re probably only six weeks or so out from the first blanket of snow. When I got there, the crowds were still pretty thin, and it was perfect picking weather!

Cortland apples - perfect for cooking, eating, and storing!

Cortland apples – perfect for cooking, eating, and storing!

So many apples! So hard to choose the perfect ones - they were dropping off the branches all around me.

So many apples! So hard to choose the perfect ones – they were dropping off the branches all around me.

Have to appreciate how the trees are trimmed - not only for easy reach, but interesting shapes.

Have to appreciate how the trees are trimmed – not only for easy reach, but interesting shapes.

I started with only one “peck” bag, but the apples were so big that I ended up picking two full bags before I made myself stop (this was difficult) – and then it was over to the pumpkin patch! Another failed lesson in self control :).

First look at the patch - SO MANY PUMPKINS!!! #overload

First look at the patch – SO MANY PUMPKINS!!! #overload

Now – there were some choices here, there were plenty of perfectly good pumpkins stacked on a wagon, but why go the easy route? How often do you get to wander around, examining as many pumpkins as you want – still on the vine? I knew I wanted three, and I was planning on two large and one medium (priced by size, trying to operate with a modicum of self control, considering the half bushel of apples in the wagon already), so I looked and looked for the perfect combination of shapes, sizes, and orangeness.

The most sincere pumpkin, from the most sincere patch ever.

The most sincere pumpkin, from the most sincere patch ever.

Much to my surprise, and despite the fact that I could barely lift one of them, all three turned out to be “medium” price – excellent! Packed my prizes into the car and then went to sit under the gorgeous trees and listen to the live music, taste the free honey crisp apple wine (someone bought three bottles. no names.), the hot apple cider, and of course a caramel apple.

After a few hours (and a few too many bees) it was time to head home – and now my house is filled with apple sauce and apple crisp – just waiting for the perfect moment to carve! ~Brianne

Seriously - it took me about eight different settings to capture these leaves - and it was fully worth it.

Seriously – it took me about eight different settings to capture these leaves – and it was fully worth it.

Only one bounce house - this place definitely kept the focus on the orchards and fields. And wine.

Only one bounce house – this place definitely kept the focus on the orchards and fields. And wine.

Looking down the hill from the orchard ridge - Wisconsin in fall is just gorgeous.

Looking down the hill from the orchard ridge – Wisconsin in fall is just gorgeous.

The Rain is Falling

And it’s making me lazy. Today has been an interesting experience of more “typical” Irish weather. Before today. It rained briefly on the Wednesday of my first week, and rained overnight on my first night in Dublin, but besides that we’ve been “blessed with the weather” with gorgeous sun every day. The last few days it’s been getting steadily cooler, and from the vantage of October 3rd, it appears that fall is going to come anyway.

I’m back in Dublin after a restful day by the water in Galway. The hostel there was nice enough, but very noisy and crowded, so I spent the day exploring all the little shops, drinking coffee and reading near the waterfront. Exactly what you are “supposed to do” on vacation I think. I do think that my sight seeing culminated in he cliffs of Moher and the west of Ireland, so I’m spending today much the same as yesterday, making the preparations to go back to the states, and hiding from the rain.

I did explore some more shops and had a nice little breakfast at Kilkenny Cafe (sorry, all the hostels, the breakfast y’all offer is…very minimal). I’m beginning to wonder if I will be able to fins British style sausages in the states-I think I’ve eaten them for breakfast every day of this trip. I’m thinking of potentially taking the DART train down to Howth for a lovely dinner by the sea tonight, but if the current cold and heavy rain continues, I’ll probably just find a pub, chips, cider, and one more night of traditional music.

This trip has been amazing, and I feel incredibly lucky to be able to do this. “Embrace travel” was one of my birthday resolutionshisnyear, as was “write more”, and I feel that I’ve taken big steps toward both those goals over the last two weeks. It’s an amazing experience to spend your favorite time of year discovering both new and old favorites, and experiencing just a little more of what the world has. Just like when I was a kid standing on top of the Empire State Building, travel brings the realization of just how vast, diverse, and infinite this world is-every person, every lighted room, is another story, and while it’s impossible to see and do every single thing, I still want to try. (Rainy days make me think, haha)

This is a wonderful invention. I wish I'd snapped one up in Galway, I'm soaked!

This is a wonderful invention. I wish I’d snapped one up in Galway, I’m soaked!

One Week In

Good morning from Edinburgh! I woke up this morning thinking about the fact that I’ve been gone exactly one week today, and a new “normal” is setting in. I’m increasingly used to the nightly unpack/repack routine; used to introducing myself to new roommates several times over two or three days, used to being lost and asking random people for directions, and used to literally walking miles and miles every day, until I can’t take another step.

I love Edinburgh. I think if you took Milwaukee, aged it about 600 years, and added a few more cathedrals, Milwaukee would be about the same as Edinburgh. A small city, inexpensive, and pretty friendly as well. I got in on Wednesday night, and I am staying in the loveliest hostel I have ever seen. It’s crazy-like living in a well run yoga studio. Smells a little like sage and incense, soft music playing in all common areas,requires everyone to exchange shoes for slippers at the door, provides free breakfast, and is off the beaten track so that the street is quiet, but still close to the city center. A really excellent choice.

Edinburgh has been similarly lovely over the last few days. The first night I walked around and had a giant bowl of ramen for dinner at Wagamama. This was Wednesday, which started with pouring rain in London, prompting me to pretty much hunker down at Kings Cross station until my train at 2. What sounded boring turned out to be completely great. Things I saw/did at Kings Cross:

  • Watched an eagle hunting pigeons
  • Visited platform 9 3/4
  • Saw a Good Samaritan help a total stranger who was having a seizure (he was fine and walking, ultimately)
  • Browsed multiple bookstores and Harry Potter shops without spending ANY money
  • Ate more Worcestershire flavored potato chips than is healthy, probably.

And so is boarded my train. The last time I took this journey, it was really dark since I left late after class, so it was cool to see more of the countryside and catch passing glimpses of Doncaster, York, and Newcastle. I could see the ocean also for most of the trip, and many sheep. I did fall asleep at one point, which almost caused me to jump off at the wrong station (a little disoriented when the train stopped at Berwick). But it was an easy and pleasant 4 hours.

Yesterday was my big day here. Cold, gloomy, and windy, but I didn’t let that stop me from:

  • Climbing the extinct volcano up to Edinburgh Castle and seeing the Scottish Crown Jewels
  • Visiting the National War Museum (seriously, this Great War stuff has me in tears every, single time.).
  • Walking on the Royal Mile
  • Eating potato leek soup and caramel shortbread at Southern Cross
  • Watching some really terrible street performers
  • Getting coffee at the Elephant House (birthplace of Harry Potter!)
  • Visiting Greyfriars Kirkyard and getting locked in the cathedral, needing rescue from a security guard (oops)
  • Going on a free Ghost Tour (more historical than scary, but I like learning)
  • Sharing some pints and singing along with Scottish folk music at the White Hart.

So I’m fitting a lot in. Today I will try to visit a few more exhibits and eat lunch. I get on the bus to Glasgow at 6, which will mark the end of “revisiting old haunts” and the beginning of “unexplored lands”. I’m still having a blast though, and can’t wait to see what happened next!

No way was I going to pass this up. Even to asking a random to take the picture-wasn't going to pay the £9.50 in the shop.

No way was I going to pass this up. Even to asking a random to take the picture-wasn’t going to pay the £9.50 in the shop.

Roof at Kings Cross

Roof at Kings Cross

Chili ramen with chicken-yummm

Chili ramen with chicken-yummm

Standing on the mountaintop. Don't judge the face-the wind was nuts!

Standing on the mountaintop. Don’t judge the face-the wind was nuts!

Birthplace of Harry Potter!

Birthplace of Harry Potter!

Looking down the Royal Mile to the Firth of Forth. This is what reminded me of Milwaukee, I think.

Looking down the Royal Mile to the Firth of Forth. This is what reminded me of Milwaukee, I think.