Road Trip Through Scotland – Part 2

The day after conquering Ben Vorlich we headed further up north. First we held our breaths on the tiniest of roads through the Scottish countryside, before hitting a more relaxing road towards Glencoe. Soon we started to recognize the landscape of the famous glen and the flocks of tourists admiring the site from our previous trip. The Instagram selfies being born there that day were plentiful.

We didn’t bother to stop for too long. New sceneries in new parts of Scotland were waiting to be seen! We quickly passed the magnificent views to the sea and mountains as we turned towards Fort William.

The memories were rushing back on those roads. The three week road trip in 2015 had been our first real holiday together. Three weeks, stuffed with camping gear in one car. That can be quite a test for a young relationship. But Waffle and I pulled it through without major injuries. Now we were yelping at each other: “Do you remember this place!” “We had a rest here the last time!” “The sea was so calm then!” What a good feeling it was, revisiting the memories, looking back to where we had come from and how strong we have grown with the time.

We pushed through, towards Fort Augustus and then turning off to Dornie and the isle of Skye. This time we would skip the island and continue to Applecross, since a dear friend had told us it to be beautiful. We had also bought a Wild Scotland guide book and it had showed us the most amazing bothy at the shores of the peninsula; Uags. That would be our destination!

Further north we found ourselves on the tiny roads again, perched between the hills and the sea, leading us through picturesque villages and by the side of white sandy beaches. The last village with a shop was Lochcarron, there we bought some essentials, beer and water and considered some CDs of quality bagpipe music – those we left on the rack.

Then it was time to drive to Applecross. The small roads, winding around the calm waters of the lochs were fun to drive. Not a long way further, and we started to climb, very steeply up through a col, where a viewpoint opened up to the west, over the moor and sea. Quick pit stop for photos was needed, before moving on.

Applecross itself is a humble little collection of houses, sitting at a shallow bay, but the view they have to the Raasay island and the Isle of Skye behind it, is quite astonishing. When we passed, it was a mildly cloudy day, and the horizon was framed by the blue silhouettes of the islands. What a soothing sight!

We followed our Wild Guide, all the way to the pier in Toscaig, and from there we would head on by foot to the Uags bothy. Toscaig itself was already a very pleasant little community, with sheep, geese and chicken running all around and the sea washing down to the paddocks.  At the pier, we packed our backpacks with the gear we would need for the night, and then headed back up to the town, where the route should leave for the bothy.

There was signpost in the beginning of the trail and it pointed the trail to the hills, through the moor and into the middle of nowhere. The landscape was brown, dotted by small lakes and sheep, with a superb view to the islands. Before long, the trail disappeared somewhere and we were struggling to find our way forward.

The navigation app from Wikiloc came in handy at that point, it had the exact route to the hut, we just needed to follow the orange line on Waffle’s phone. It really was a life saver, it showed us a safe place to cross a river and the right spots to wobble over the boulders and swamps.

It was a hike of about 3 hours, until we finally had the bothy in our sights. There was a small oak wood at the back of the house and a calm bay at its foot, the bothy itself was a stone house, perched on a cliff, overlooking the magnificent view. We were happy to find the place empty and to have it as a home for the night.

We started cooking as the sun was setting over the Isle of Skye. The wind calmed down and the sea was laying still next to us. The colors of the sunset were magnificent! The clouds were soft pink and that was reflected on the rocks on our small bay. A profound happiness was warming my insides, as I was shoveling the bagged meal down my face. What would be a better place for a human to be?

There was one lone seal, who was very much of the opinion, he could make our evening even better. So he popped his head up right next to us, in the shallow waters of the bay.  We shared a moment with the creature. Both we and the seal seemed to be equally curious, until the hunger took him fishing. We took the cue and headed to shoot the magnificent sunset.

We left the nature be and crawled in to our bedroom as the darkness fell. There were plenty of sleeping places in the bothy, and we had selected one of the rooms upstairs. Our magnificent, super warm sleeping bags guaranteed a comfy night for us up there.

The next morning arrived with clouds but luckily no rain. The weather continued to be ridiculously good for Scotland. We would have loved to stay at the bothy for a day longer, but we had only packed food for the one night. So back on the trail we went. Through the same moor, swamps and rivers.

From there on, we didn’t really know, where we would like to end up, only that by the end of the holiday we would make a stop in Dundee, which is now a home to one of my dear dear friends. Before that, we needed to get off of the edge of the world, and back to the highlands. After quick googling the navigator was set to the town of Torridon, where we were hoping to find something to hike.

But that will be another story…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

Finland – Buried in snow

Landscape, Snow, Finland

We had had already 2 Christmases without snow, so it was about time to go and enjoy some winter landscapes for my birthday. On an innocent Wednesday morning in the end of January, we were heading to the Brussels airport, to catch a flight to Amsterdam and then further to Helsinki.

In the meanwhile Mother nature had had the brilliant idea of giving us some snowy landscapes in advance. You should know, that snow in Brussels airport means a state of paralysis for the first hour or two.  We were stranded, well aware of the very short time we had in Amsterdam to catch out flight to Helsinki. Eventually we got up in the air just 30 minutes behind schedule, and arrived to Amsterdam just in time we ran to the next gate with about 20 seconds to spare and got to Helsinki safely.

Our first stop was Tampere, to say hi to our Armenian friends Ana and Yuri. The evening was spent with sushi, wine and laughter, until we had to start heading further up to north.

As we drove on the snow around the road got deeper and deeper and the air colder and colder. Every now and then, there was an oasis of light in the middle of darkness, as some lonely house spilled its light on the snow covered land. The road was calm and we were quickly at the half way mark, where we stretched our legs and sniffed the brisk, frozen air.

I was happy when we finally reached home. The familiar red house was sitting there as always. Blanketed in snow, underneath the massive pine tree. The sauna was still mildly warm, but we headed directly to bed, falling quickly to sleep.

The morning came and we woke up to an amazing landscape. Everything was covered with frost, the temperature was somewhere around -20°c and the soft light was making it all light up and glitter in pastel colors. This was winter at its best.

A quick breakfast later we headed out. To see our cottage of course. The road to there had not been plowed for the whole winter, so we had to waddle through knee deep snow for the small kilometer before reaching our little summer home.

It looked peaceful out there. Our small huts sitting on their small hill. Surrounded by pristine snow and the wast whiteness of the frozen lake. Inside the hut it was just as cold as outside. The distinctive scent of wood and smoke had disappeared too, in to the freezing cold. Everything was just waiting for the summer to come and the frost to thaw away.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

I had missed this. A true, white, cold and snowy winter. The sound the cold snow makes under the feet and the frost that clings onto everything, making the trees wear jewelry. For Waffle this was the first time experiencing temperatures below -20°c. Luckily he had bought a super warm jacket to cope with the Finnish winter. The next days we strolled around, taking in the full wonders of winter, visited some friends and family, hunted the northern lights, stuffed a 55 inch TV into a Toyota Aygo and celebrated the birthdays of me and my dad.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

The time to go back to Helsinki came all too soon, even though we were looking forward to seeing the friends there too. We drove down in a blizzard, the visibility was very low at times, making the journey quite stressful. I had already forgotten what a snowy weather can be to drive in.

Luckily we got to Helsinki safely and ran directly into a restaurant to eat and enjoy some of my dear friends. I had randomly picked a very nice Indian restaurant in the heart of the city. The food laid a good base for the beers that followed.

The following day we spent wondering around Helsinki. I wanted to show Waffle the frozen sea, maybe to take him walking on the ice. We headed to the Uunisaari island right next to the city center.  We reached the shoreline of the island and quickly decided that walking on the ice wasn’t an option. The “ice” was heaving up and down, slowly and sluggishly as the waves beneath it pushed to the shore. We would have gotten a chilling swim.

After a while, the wintery chill of the sea wind got too much to bear. So we headed back into the city. There is a new library opened in the city center, called Oodi, and I was very eager to visit it. They organized a competition to design the thing and all, so my expectations were high.

To start of with, library is a small word to describe the building. First of all, it looks cool. Secondly, it has swallowed a whole world of things from movie theater to cafes and interactive, immersive spaces. People can come there to use 3D printers, sowing machines, format cutters, studio spaces, game rooms and learning environments and to borrow books. Free of charge. I couldn’t believe my eyes. Well done Helsinki!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

After the awe the Oodi left us with, we headed to the airport again. Back to home, back to work, back to looking into new travel ideas. Vercors, The Netherlands and things like that are on the drawing table.

 

 

Fuerteventura – Beyond the beaches

It was in Cologne, Germany where we lost the touch with mother Earth this time, as we headed for a holiday. It was Christmas eve and we were heading for Fuerteventura to spend the holidays living like hobos, in a tent, wandering around the island for about a week.

We arrived well before noon, which left us with quite some time in our hands to dive into the maps and books to find the perfect place to see the sun rise on Christmas day. And quite a spot we found. There seemed to be plenty of beach on the western edge of the southern part of the island, called Jandia. Just a short drive over a mountain ridge and we would be there.

So we set off. First winding up onto a view spot over the Atlantic. Over there we got the first idea of why the island was called Fuerteventura – Strong winds, as we were almost blown from the face of the Earth. A bit further down on the other side of the ridge, we found a road / riverbed, heading to the sea. Looked perfect for us, especially as the violent wind left the river at peace.

We took our tiny rental car as far down as we dared and walked the remaining bit to the beach. It wasn’t the perfect beach weather; the grey clouds were hanging low to the mountaintops and the sun seemed to have gone somewhere else to enjoy its Monday. We didn’t mind. The scenery was beautiful and there were more than enough places to put our tent to.

So there we stayed. We strolled around the beach, letting the wonderful feeling of being on a holiday sink in. We enjoyed a cheap wine with our dinner, while watching the light fade and disappear behind the mountains and into the sea. Leaving behind the magnificent wonder that is the Milky Way.

 

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

The spot we had thought to be wind free was far from in reality. We noticed that pretty soon, as the cooler night air allowed the wind to sink down from the mountains. The wind came in violent rolling gusts, beating our tent. Our tent then was happy enough to transfer the beating to our faces. Jolly.

Initially we had been planning to do a long distance hike on the GR131 crossing the island. But after realizing that it would be practically just a desert walk, and neither of us was feeling too much like dragging along liters and liters of water, we tossed the idea.  Instead our days were filled with walks across the arid landscape and searching for the perfect sleeping spots.

That wasn’t such a bad idea. After the first night, the days that followed pampered us with clear skies and the mild temperatures of the Canarian winter. We ended up finding some nice, hidden beaches in the midst of the holiday villages, perfect for us to camp at and swim in.

 

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

A few magnificent sunsets later, we decided to head further to the north, driving through the central parts of the island. On the road trip we got a welcome break of the touristic centers. They were replaced by hills with a tint of green and small farming villages. Soon we got first glimpses of the islands old volcanoes too.

On the go, we got to some natural pools at the shoreline. The water there is warmer than the ocean itself,  perfect for taking a small dip. The clear, cool water was such a relief for our tired hiking feet. The pool was home to all sorts of creatures. Small fish and shrimp came to nibble at our feet as hermit crabs were trying to find shelter from our camera lens. Quite amusing all of it, we had some true David Attenborough -moments looking at those tiny fellows going about their lives.

 

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

As we headed on, we noted the north end of the island to be a much more pleasant place compared to the south. There were hippies hanging around mixing up with surfers and more shoreline free of all-inclusive hotel complexes. The hotels were replaced by randomly scattered camper vans and mobile homes.  Our tent fit right in with them.

We were nicely right at the foot of some of the volcanoes, so we decided to hike them. We found a loop trail, walking us up a couple of the higher domes. The trail, as most of the trails on the island, was easy. More like a road than a trail.

We wobbled upwards pretty fast and soon a great panorama over the island opened up before us. As the skies were clear we also saw the neighboring islands Lanzarote and the tiny Isla de Lobos. The volcanoes themselves were also an interesting sight. I have always been somewhat fascinated about the marks of volcanism. How they tell the story of the earlier times on this earth.

On the way back we got a fun surprise as we were surrounded by dozens of curious little chipmunks! The hungry buggers had clearly learned that tourists pockets often have something for them to eat, so they were eager to investigate us too.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

After the volcanoes and chipmunks we headed back to the shore, to camp at a small sandy bay.  There were some other groups of people too, scattered between the bushes and dunes. Before long, we noticed a sound of sniffing coming closer to us from the dark. And a bit later someone stumbled over our car. And then over our tent and a pile of stones.

It was a dog. A blind little fella, who was apparently trying to find a way back to his family. The dog kept running in circles, aiming for anything with light on it. Poor thing, we couldn’t leave him running around like that, so we went to find his owners.  Luckily they weren’t far, parked with their mobile home a 100 meters away and as they called for the dog named Toby, he came home, and was clearly relieved. The owners were wondering though, how we had figured out that poor Toby was blind…

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

A few days were still remaining of our holiday, so we swam and hiked a bit more. For the last day we found a loop over the higher hills of the central part of the island, leaving from the town called Vega de Rio Palmas and heading over to Pico Lima. That turned out to be a refreshingly challenging hike, taking us to smaller trails and steep hillsides, twisting in between huge aloe vera plants.

The hike was rewarded by a great view over the island. There was a nest of a hawk hidden away under a slab of stone, and we stopped for a while to watch the parents come and go, taking care of their crying young.

On the way down we descended into a beautiful terrace garden, with fruit trees and cacti. From there an eroded river bed took us to the same village where we left from. An old lady who had seen us setting off on the trail was surprised and happy to see us back in town. How sweet.

With that hike we said goodbye to the island and headed for the hotel we had booked for the last night. Fuerteventura doesn’t make it to the list of my favorite destinations. But after the first shock of seeing all the all inclusive hotel  villages filled by Germans, the island did manage to show us a beautiful side too. Can’t possible complain about the great sunsets and the pretty beaches, never the less, I was happy to return home for the New Year’s party with Waffle’s family.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

All of the pictures are here!