Posted by: M.J. Bolstad | August 13, 2021

There She Goes: First Post-Pandemic Travel #5

My trip has officially come to an end, and I am back at home. It’s nice to sleep in my own bed, with a few more days to decompress before I’m back at work. Well, decompress and take care of a few post-travel chores. For example, I’ll be heading to my parents’ place this morning some time to make use of their pressure washer. The carnage of dead bugs on my car will certainly need taking care of, especially since I’ll also need to head for an oil change now.

The last couple of days of my trip weren’t particularly interesting. In truth, other than a lovely visit over breakfast at Cora’s with my friend Alanna, the rest was really “mission-based”. The second-to-last day, I headed into South Edmonton Common. My first stop was Mountain Equipment Coop, where I needed to pick up a new suitcase, since Big Blue’s handle caught on the netting of my trunk and broke before I even left Yellowknife. I don’t often get sentimental about material objects, but I did feel a bit sad saying goodbye to my trusty travel bag of many years. Still, she had a good run, and I do think Miss Scarlet, my new bag, will also serve me well.

A large blue suitcase next to a large red suitcase.
Big Blue served me well, until she couldn’t, so now Miss Scarlet will travel with me.

After MEC, I hit Ikea for a new duvet and a couple feather pillows. I love how they pack them, rolled tightly. They fit nicely in my new suitcase. After that, I got an overdue haircut at Chatters, since they could take me in a walk in, then hit Sephora, but wasn’t feeling it. I popped into Indigo next, and bought books, intending to read in the cafe until dinner, but the Starbucks was closed. So, bored and not wanting to kill more time shopping for stuff I don’t need for the sake of shopping, I went back to my hotel, started the packing process, then drove back to South Edmonton Common for dinner at Earl’s. Dinner was nice, because I ate outside on the patio. Then it was back to my hotel, where my cousin dropped by for one last visit, then off to bed to be ready for West Edmonton Mall the next day.

The drive to West Ed wasn’t too bad, since the Anthony Henday means less city traffic now, though there was some construction. Once arrived, I put on my mask and made my way in. I’ll admit to being incredibly anxious. South Edmonton Common had felt manageable in terms of people, but West Edmonton Mall, with more concentrated groups of people, mostly unmasked, was nerve wracking. Still, I needed my older (and favourite) Mac battery replaced, and had thought the Apple Store was the place I’d need to have done (though apparently I could have gone to South Edmonton Common now, oh well). The tech, Peter, was super helpful. Even though they usually take 3-5 days to repair, he did the work himself to make sure it was ready for pick up same day so I could drive home to Yellowknife the next day. For all Apple sometimes frustrates me with decisions, their service was really exceptional, and I appreciated it.

While my Mac was repaired, I hit up the shops I needed things from: Lush, Torrid, and even one more trip to Sephora to pick up some good conditioner. Again, it felt completely mission-based, and wasn’t super fun shopping. Even trying on clothes wasn’t particularly fun, since I didn’t feel like I could drift in this post-pandemic world. After that, I picked up my Mac, had a late lunch in Moxie’s, then drove back to Leduc before the city traffic got bad. I ate dinner – Mango Chicken Curry at the waitress’ recommendation – at XI Spices again, since the first night was so good, then retired for the night, as packed as I could be.

The next morning, I grabbed some snacks at Safeway and gassed up the car, then hit the road. The drive was fairly uneventful and was even quiet at times as I drove to Whitecourt, Valleyview, through Peace River, Manning, and finally stopped in High Level for the night. I stayed at the Super 8 and ate at Boston Pizza again for dinner. It was busy, since Wednesday is wing night. I don’t love wings, so I had a salad and pizza and an impulse fish bowl margarita with beer that I didn’t finish as it was too cloyingly sweet for me. I slept well in the quiet hotel, then hit the road again in the morning, ready to head home.

The check in at the border was fairly easy, in part because the road was so quiet. A benefit of driving on a week day instead of a weekend, I suppose. Then, I planned to stop to take pictures at Alexandra Falls. It ended up being a drive through, however, as I was greeted by a sign noting a mama bear and her cubs were in the area, advising everyone to stay off the trails and in fact not leave their vehicle. So onward I went, until I arrived home. I did take a few pictures of bison on the way from out my window where I felt safe to slow to a quick stop beside them. They thankfully stayed off the road, since there was so little traffic it might have been a long wait to find someone to lead me through them if they were blocking the road. I’m definitely too chicken to try to move them off the road myself!

A bison eating grass next to the road
A handsome bison

So now I’m home. It was an interesting trip, for sure, part nerves because of the Covid situation, part restlessness because while this travel helped with the need to get out, I miss that new discovery feeling I get on travels to new places. Still, I’m glad I made this my first trip. I got to connect with so many loved ones and felt so loved by friends and family, and that is incredibly important and priceless. I’m not sure when or where I’ll travel next, but I know this dipping of my toes in the water shows I am certainly ready and able to go. So I guess I should get on renewing my passport and figuring out when I might next be able to take time off work, because I can – and will – travel again. And, after so long thinking it might never again be possible, feels pretty priceless too.

Posted by: M.J. Bolstad | August 9, 2021

There She Goes: First Post-Pandemic Travel #4

My trip is winding closer to a close, but even as the days of holidays creep closer to the end, I’m feeling like my soul is getting nice and full, and I’m definitely feeling very loved.

I spent yesterday taking a little adventure with my cousin Jer and his husband Chris. They were supposed to come pick me up in the Leduc, but their condo carpark had a little mishap. The door came off its rails, so no one could come in or out. I wasn’t about to let a derailed door derail our plans, so I told them driving into the city centre to pick them up – and then drop them off, was more than doable. So with my trusty Siri hooked up, I drove through the traffic – and a bit of rainstorm, lightening and all! – to pick them up. It was surprisingly not too stressful, though perhaps because the rain meant more people decided to just go back to bed instead of hit the road. Not us, though! We made our way two hours south to check out the Trochu Arboretum, since I’d seen a friend post about it.

It isn’t a big garden, and I’m more likely to go again from Calgary since it’s a bit of a drive, but it was rather lovely and quiet, and I’m glad I went to check it out. We meandered around the garden a little while, stretching our legs after so long in my littler car, which is a little easier for me at 5’3 on a good day than my taller relatives!

A stone fountain with flowers fallen into it, and more blossoms visible in the background.
A flower in a fountain at the arboretum

After that, we drove about 20 minutes to Torrington, because there was something there they’d been meaning to check out for years and had never gotten around to going. Well no more – all three of us have now visited the world-famous Gopher Hole Museum. It was weird, charming, and hilarious at once, with gophers stuffed by a taxidermist and dressed in posed in little dioramas. They have had visitors from all over the globe, and it was rather busy for a somewhat out-of-the-way tiny town! If you are somewhat in the area, I definitely recommend swinging by. They’ve had visitors from all over the world, a map of pins showing that really a tonne of people from all over have found their way there! It certainly is a unique experience!

Two stuffed gophers are posed at a little dining table. One gopher is clearing the table, wearing an apron and pearls. The other, in a little vest and tie, has a speech bubble that says "Boy, am I ever stuffed."
The little speech bubbles were so funny!

After that, I drove us into the city, parked by Chris and Jer’s building, and then we took their car – since the carpark had gotten fixed about an hour before we arrived, thankfully! – to Hanjan, a Korean restaurant, for dinner. We shared a few different dishes and I let Jer and Chris do the ordering, and it was so, so good. My drink was both beautiful and delicious too, and I mostly ordered because I liked the name and look of it – Yuja Butterfly Pea.

A glass with a straw, the drink blue on top and yellow on the bottom. A paper reading "Hanjan" sits on the site.
Yuja Butterfly Pea

After that, I made my way back to the hotel, for a glass of wine and quiet time in the room.

Today, I got up early to meet a friend I hadn’t see since we graduated from college in 2004. It was so lovely catching up with her again, taking a lovely hike on her property – an acreage about a 25 minute drive from my hotel, having a homemade breakfast, then sitting in the sun when it finally came out from behind the clouds. I even saw my first ever hummingbirds! I was basically delighted – they are so cute and fast!

A picture of a lake surrounded by brush and trees
A picture from my hike today

After that lovely visit, there was just time enough to swing to Safeway to pick up some watermelon then grab my sweater at the hotel before having Siri guide me into south Edmonton to Jackie Parker Park, where I met up with more college friends, who came from different parts of the City and even one from Camrose (cutting her holiday a little short to boot!) to be able to meet together in a COVID-safe way. It was a wonderful, wonderful visit and even though I forget to get pictures, I feel like my heart took pictures. I’ve heard a lot of times from other Yellowknifers how hard it is sometimes when you go all that way to the south and then still have to be the one to go out of your way to see friends, but honestly, that has never been my experience. I’m so incredibly blessed. I know I’ve told my friends how much it means to me, and I hope they know how truly appreciated and loved they make me feel, that when I say I’m coming to visit, they ask how they can see me in a way that works for me. I have so many good people in my life, and I’m so, so happy.

Posted by: M.J. Bolstad | August 7, 2021

There She Goes: First Post-Pandemic Travel #3

Another few days of travel behind me, and while some things are easier – like feeling comfortable on larger highways in traffic – I’m also aware that every day I have more chances of being exposed to COVID-19. I’m less worried about getting it than I am of bringing it back with me or inadvertently passing it on, so I’ve broken out the masks for when I’m indoors. Fortunately, social distancing was kind of my thing before it was a thing, so I’m used to keeping to myself and away from strangers.

Keeping to myself was also something I made sure to plan for as part of my holiday, and yesterday was the day I took to just chill by myself. I started my day at Cora, an old favourite, for breakfast. I had the “Louis the Undecided”, since I didn’t want to decide between salty and savoury, and this dish offers both. An excellent choice, for sure!

I’d booked myself to the University of Alberta Botanic Gardens and, using my trusty Siri, navigated there for its opening. I spent about an hour wandering the gardens, getting a little turned about once or twice but mostly just enjoying the quiet… until the daycare kids showed up. Then I found a little quiet corner by the rose garden, pulled out a novella, and read it cover to cover. I’ve found concentrating on new reading material hard during the pandemic, but the holiday has helped, so The Empress and Salt and Fortune made for a lovely break from taking a break, as it were. A quiet fantasy novel that trusts its reader to put the pieces together, short yet full of evidence of lush world building, I’m glad I brought it along.

One of the lovely spots in the botanical garden

After that, I drifted back to my car, then back to the hotel. It was hot by then, and I think that just tires me out. I meant to just lay down a few minutes on my bed, but instead ended up taking another nap. If not the heat, then perhaps just perhaps a holiday was long overdue.

After my nap, I got up in time to head for a body treatment at the Elements Spa in Leduc, about a five minute drive from where I am staying. I went for the Neroli blossom body treatment with Danyell, since it was new and I wanted to do something I hadn’t done before. It was relaxing, though I’m used to more therapeutic massages than the more relaxation techniques used as part of this treatment. If you, like me, prefer deep tissue, you’ll want to have that added on separately if not ask for that instead. Still, my skin felt nice and moisturized when I was done and headed to dinner. I hit up Habeneros for fish tacos and white wine sangria. I thought I was trying somewhere I hadn’t been, but the place seemed familiar, though not enough I can’t be sure it wasn’t just deja vu. It’s been so long since I travelled! Still, even if it was a repeat visit from another trip, it was well worth it. The good was tasty and the servers nice and friendly, despite the A/C being on the fritz. Perfectly fine for me as a customer in a cotton romper, sitting pretty and sipping my cold drink, but for someone on their feet and in and out of the hot kitchen? Much harder!

Today, I made my way into the city with my dad and grandfather, then we met up with my aunt and uncle to head in to Imagine Van Gogh. It’s a delightful, immersive experience, where music plays loud enough to sink into your bones and your soul as Van Gogh’s work lights up and dances across different screens and complementary floors, so you are yourself part of the painting. It was a wonderful experience and I definitely recommend.

Courtesy of my auntie Lezlee, a picture of me taking a picture, in the midst of Starry Night

After that, we stopped at the Paint Stop so dad could get some art supplies before he and mom hit the road tomorrow, then we hit lunch at a random stop on the way out of the city, which happened to be a dim sum place called Tasty Noodle. I think it was the first time with dim sum for both my grandpa and me, and it was definitely very tasty!

After a bit of a break at my hotel, I drove to my grandparents for a family dinner, where a whole bunch of the crew made their way to visit. It’s lovely and restorative but also a bit overwhelming, so after family photos and dessert, I said my goodbyes and am now back in the quiet of my hotel, feeling ready for a little different kind of restoration after the hubbub of large group of us! Tomorrow is also a family day, but on a smaller scale – spending a bit of time with my cousin and his husband on a little adventure somewhere none of us have been but within driving distance. I’m looking forward to a new adventure – and to a good night’s sleep before then!

Posted by: M.J. Bolstad | August 5, 2021

There She Goes: First Post-Pandemic Travel #2

I have a few more days of the trip behind me, and already it feels like I need to try to cram more, more, more into my trip or I’m wasting it. I’m not wasting it, I remind myself constantly. Visiting is good, and I’m glad I’m taking the time to see many of the people in my life I cherish, but I also need my rest and recovery time. Balance is key, and I’m hoping I’ll strike the right one while on this adventure.

The last three days have been nearing hectic. I spent Monday mostly on visits. First, I drove to Wetaskiwin to visit my grandparents for a few hours. I drove to the Safeway to grab a latte, in large part because that’s how I navigate to their home, but will admit I maybe turned a street too early and had to scrounge through my memory to find the right way to the house. It’s been such a long time since I’ve even thought about travel, I hadn’t quite got the memory in place!

After a few hours visiting and seeing my grandpa’s garden, I moved on to Camrose, where I went to college and where my godfather and family live. It was more visiting there, before I left to walk on the trails around Mirror Lake to get some exercise and revisit old haunts.

A cormorant sits on algae covered rocks on a lake
A cormorant on Mirror Lake in Camrose, and shout out to my godfather for identifying the bird. Otherwise, this would be described as “kind of like a black duck, but longer neck and pointier.”

After that, I went back to my hotel, then walked to the Ricky’s All Day Grill for dinner. I had the California burger and fries and it was fine, but nothing spectacular. After a walk back to the hotel, my cousin came over for a visit and we ate cheesecake I’d grabbed at the Safeway with wine I’d stashed in the fridge to chill. It was lovely, but I didn’t let her stay too late, because I had an early day the next day!

On Tuesday, I drove in to the city – that is, Edmonton – to hit up the zoo with my old friend Liette and her family. She has two little boys, so the zoo was a little extra magical seen through their eyes. I still love looking at all the animals, and we had a lot of fun. The most hilarious was probably getting serenaded by a Gibbons, who gave a fantastic operatic performance of sorts that could be heard halfway across the zoo. Liette likened the sound to the sci-fi instrument the thermemin, and she was not wrong!

Once we’d done most of the zoo and were melting in the heat a little, we made our way to a Dairy Queen for an ice cream treat. It was definitely well earned! Even though it wasn’t as hot as it could have been, 28C is a lot for this northern gal to handle walking about in!

After ice cream, Liette and family went there way and I went mine, back to my hotel where I ended up having a little nap. It turns out I was a bit worn out, because I’m usually the type to just power through then go to bed early. Instead, I cat napped for an hour, then went out and grabbed some dinner at Safeway. I had some salad and ginger chicken, then went to bed fairly early after all, nap or no!

Today was also a visiting day. I met up with my cousin then, but this time we and her four kids made our way to Fort Edmonton Park, where we checked out the streets theme by different year, the workers in period costumes that must have been so hot to wear today! The kids enjoyed themselves looking at the old stores and workshops, seeing the farm animals, helping do laundry in 1920s style, and then taking advantage of a few rides in the midway. Then it was off on a train ride around the park. We didn’t see everything, in part because by the end I was completely lagging in the heat. Heritage parks are super neat, but they aren’t super air conditioned! We spent the better part of four hours in the park, so it’s not a surprise I was wilting by the end.

A woman with dark hair and a young girl with blonde hair and glasses sit in a carnival ride swing. The woman is smiling while the young girl has her mouth open in a scream. An empty Ferris wheel is visible behind them.
My goddaughter found the swings a little scary at first, but she rallied! Meanwhile, the breeze created while swinging felt divine!

I made my way to Montana’s for dinner a little while after the visit, where I had a started house salad, a sangria with charming cotton candy for rim decor, and a buttermilk chicken dish that was really good. Now it’s back at the hotel to get some rest before tomorrow’s adventures… which are, to keep the balance, completely on my own for the day. I’m looking forward to new things again, that are this time quiet things! But a little loud has been good for me too.

Posted by: M.J. Bolstad | August 4, 2021

There She Goes: First Post-Pandemic Travel # 1

In November 2019, I came home from my European adventure replenished and by February 2020, ready to start thinking about the next travel adventure. Then, March 2020 happened. The world became a scary place then shut right down. Our little territory has only 13 ICU beds for the whole population, and to keep the vulnerable safe, we locked down tight. Months and months later, even when restrictions eased within, our territory stayed closed to keep the COVID-19 cases, rising rapidly elsewhere, out and away from our vulnerable populations. It seems like it would never end. Then the vaccine came, and we slowly started thinking about easing up on isolation restrictions after travel. So when the Chief Public Health Officer said those fully vaccinated residents could travel and return without isolating at home, it was finally time. I’d been fully vaccinated as of April 15, and now I could finally, FINALLY go.

So go I did.

Now it wasn’t as easy as that, for a number of reasons. First, I needed to work out the time off, and figure out where I felt ready to go. I ended up reaching out to my parents, who were thinking of travelling to see my dad’s parents, and asking if they wanted to time it to drive out in convoy together. I felt like starting with family who I haven’t had the chance to see was more important than seeking out new adventures right now. I knew I wanted to drive, because while 16 hours on the road is long, even split over two days, I find myself not quite ready to fly. I also found myself much more nervous to travel. There’s no residents with COVID in Yellowknife currently, but in Alberta that’s not the case. Still, I was ready, so on July 31, I set out on the road behind my parents truck, aiming for our hotel in Peace River for the night.

A yellow flower indigenous to the NWT
I didn’t have the chance to take pictures on the road, so here’s a flower from the area I took in June to break up the text! What kind of flower I have no idea. It’s yellow!

The drive was not without its delays. While no bison blocked the highway, there was some construction that slowed us down on the front end. Then, a quick stop for lunch at Alexandra Falls Day Use Area turned into a two hour delay when my car locked itself with the keys on my seat, to my horror. Incredible thanks to Winnie in Enterprise and the ladies at the gas station, who helped my parents and I find a callout from Hay River, and to Andy’s Auto who came out and got my door open. My stress was through the roof at that point but, expensive lesson learned, we were able to get out on the road and make it to the Third Mission Heritage Suites for our overnight.

I didn’t get any pictures, but I definitely would recommend staying there. It’s an old mission building from something like the 1920s, but the inside suites have been modernized. My parents and I shared a suite, each with our own bedrooms with comfortable beds. It was contact-less entry but the lovely host (Carole) was just coming in the door when we pulled in just before 11 at night, then showed us to the suite. There’s no elevator, so not necessarily the best choice if you are not able-bodied (though ground floor suites may be for rent, I’m not sure) but definitely an excellent stay. There was a kitchenette stocked with water in the fridge and complimentary snacks in the cupboard, and the living area had a big TV and plush leather couches. The next time I choose to drive out, I would definitely stay again, though of course on the way back I’ll be staying in High Level, since it’s a little further down the road in that direction.

The next day, we had breakfast at a nearby hotel then hit the road, stopping for a bathroom break in Valleyview and then at a rest stop outside Whitecourt, then I went on to my hotel in Leduc – the Wingate by Wyndham – and my parents went onward to stay with my grandparents in Wetaskiwin. My cousin Robyn kindly invited me to dinner and offered to bring me a plate if I wanted to just chill, but I declined in favour of decompressing and recovering from the exhaustion of the road by eating in the hotel restaurant, XI Spices. It was the right choice, not only because the dinner – butter chicken with garlic naan and a mango mimosa – was fantastic, but I really wasn’t in any shape to visit at that point. After dinner, I basically made myself stay up until close to 9, when I take my medication, then rolled over to sleep and was out for a solid 8.5 hours! I didn’t even wake up once, and that’s not usually the case.

This image shows a dish of butter chicken in front of a basket of naan and a glass containing a mango mimosa with a straw.
Dinner was incredible, even through my exhaustion!

This is my first real holiday since the end of November 2019. I’m staying a little in my comfort zone but trying to balance finding new places to see and new things to do with making sure I get some rest and relaxation in. It’s a bit of a different world out there, even in places I’ve been. But I’m ready to dip my toes in the water and start the travel train again. I’ve missed it. After what feels like forever, and felt like might never happen again, I’m on the road again.

Feel free to check out the Spotify playlist I made in honour of this road trip!

Posted by: M.J. Bolstad | November 22, 2019

EU Go, Girl! Adventures in Europe: Part # 13

It’s been five weeks, and it feels all too short as my adventuring comes to an end, even though part of me is beginning to be ready to be at home again. Tomorrow morning, I set out for Paris – at least, for the airport – where I will overnight before heading to Canada the next day as far as Toronto, then home on a third day. Getting anywhere from Yellowknife can be a bit of a process!

I’ve tried to squeeze in some more adventuring without overdoing it, though there’s still things I didn’t manage to do in Scotland that I thought I might, such as head to the zoo, check out Aviemore and North Berwick as per suggestions I’d received, or go back to the Scottish National Museum. I will have to make a point of not waiting another 14 years before coming back!

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Christmas Market!

Wednesday, I started my morning with the Edinburgh Christmas market with Peyton and Yvonne, who’d bussed down from Dalkeith to check it out. After a Belgian waffle from one of the vendors, we explored the market, stopping at the booths for some Christmas shopping. I didn’t go on the rides this time round, though I was thinking of trying the giant ferris wheel again. I think it’s a different one than fourteen years ago – I remember the pods being bigger and sort of rounder, and it doesn’t seem as tall. Perhaps that’s just memory though. I was thinking I’d go back and go round once, but there were just so many other things to do!

After the market, we found a nice place to eat lunch, a pub called the Black Rose Tavern. I want to give it a nice shoutout, because this was the first place I’d seen in Europe that made a really, really pointed effort about being accessible. They offer audible as well as braille menus, have notes about service dogs being welcome (and have water bowls for them!) and how they make an effort to try to seat those using service dogs in quiet places, more out of the way places to help avoid bystanders trying to pet them when they are working. They also note their bathroom is narrow and not wheelchair friendly, but have made arrangements for patrons to use a neighbouring place with more. The service and the food was good too!

For the afternoon, I had coffee with another former teacher, which was lovely. Then I made my way back to my hotel long enough to pick up the bottle of Prosecco I had chilling, and I made my way to Dalkeith. At lunch, Yvonne and Peyton had mentioned it was the last game night, and when I said, “That sounds fun, I kind of wish I could go!”, they said anyone was welcome, and urged me to join. So I did! Once in Dalkeith (about 45 minutes by bus), I was able to grab a sandwich and mango for dinner before walking to the campus, which is really Dalkeith Palace. We played a game called Isle of Skye, and it was very fun! I’d have liked to play another round, but instead did the wise thing and bused back since it was getting late. Dalkeith also has some fun history, I think, that I’d like to look into more!

Thursday, I had decided, would be a castle day. I started my morning with a bus to the Craigmillar Castle, a ruin more on the outskirts than the better known Edinburgh Castle. It was really quiet there, only a few other tourists because it was more out of the way, but really fun to explore. Mary, Queen of Scots, had convalesced there, and it may have been a favourite spot to come for hunting, though the history is a little spotty itself there. I liked poking about and would definitely go back again.

After the first castle, I bussed back toward the second castle, making a stop at the nearby Elephant House Café, where J.K. Rowling wrote some of the Harry Potter series, for brunch. I had quiche lorraine with salad and potato salad, and it was very good! Then it was off to Edinburgh castle for more exploring.

More of Edinburgh Castle is preserved than the Craigmillar Castle, and it was neat to wander around, especially since I got the audio guide to learn more of the history. From the room where James the VI of Scotland (and I of England) was born, to the beautiful War Memorial, to St. Margaret’s Chapel, to the Scottish Honours (crown jewels and Stone of Destiny) to the panoramic views of the city, there was so much to see! I saw as much as I could before having to be back for my dinner plans. Plus it was getting a bit chilly, as the wind is a bit piercing that high up! There won’t be any pictures of the Honours or the War Memorial, of course; photographs of those are not allowed.

For dinner, I went to Origano, a lovely Italian place, with my friend Jennie, an editor I’d sort of interned with back in my uni days. It was lovely to catch up (though the visit a bit shortened because I took the bus in the wrong direction – of course I did – and wound up needing a bit of running about to find the meet up point). The food was good, the company even better. The we headed over back to the bookstore near my hotel, because Jennie had worked on the latest issue of The Evergreen, and it happened to be launching at Topping and Company that night! So I got a fun literary evening too, before heading back up to bed.

Today, I crammed in a little more touristing, and a little more personal too. I started by bussing to Marchmont Crescent, just to see the place where I once lived. The Chinese takeaway place my BFF and I loved is still going, as is the paint-your-own pottery place we tried out once. Then I had brunch – late breakfasts and dinners seem to be a travel theme for me – at The Birchwood, a lovely little restaurant that came up on a Google search that was lovely and just down the street.

After brunch, I checked out the Writers’ Museum in Lady Stair’s Close, as small and cute as I remembered, with things like a hat that might have been worn last by Sir Walter Scott or a key like one he’d been given, as well as some other paraphanalia owned by Robert Louis Stevenson and other Scottish writers. Then I made my way to the Scottish National Portrait Gallery, a spot I’d wanted to check out, because portraits are my favourite kind of art. I love seeing what people looked like and wore, and learning about historical figures but also just historical people who had their portraits painted. After that, I stopped to do some souvenir shopping on Princes Street and a teeny bit more Christmas shopping before making my way back to the hotel to pack.

My bags are mostly done, and I have a taxi booked for the morning. The trek home starts all too soon. So off I go to bed, to be as ready for the journey as I can.

Posted by: M.J. Bolstad | November 19, 2019

EU Go, Girl! Adventures in Europe: Part # 12

Another few days in Scotland, and though it doesn’t feel like home, I don’t exactly feel like a visitor, either. This is a nice change, as is having all my things in the same hotel for several days on end. I do like to travel to lots of places, but there’s definitely something to be said for not living from a suitcase.

The past few days have been a combination of laid back and eventful in turn. After my Highlands tour on Thursday, I’d made plans to climb Arthur’s Seat with Yvonne and Peyton from my goEUgo redline tour. I puttered about in the morning, then made my way to Holyrood Park to meet them after stopping to buy a Ridacard (electronic bus card with my picture on it and everything) for a week. It was windy and rainy, so we made the call not to climb that day, and instead went for coffee, since the teahouse we’d hoped to go to was full. Peyton and Yvonne indulged me, and we went to the Elephant and Bagels coffee shop where I ate many a bagel while writing in a little corner back in my uni days. I had, alas, just eaten lunch (haggis, neeps and tatties!), so no bagel for me, though I may go back and grab one for old times’ sake in the coming few days.

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Stuffed and on display, Dolly the Sheep, the first successful clone.

After that, we did a bit of wandering around Victoria Street for a bit, so I could look for Christmas present ideas, then we stopped into the Scottish National Museum. We thought we had an hour, but it closed at 5 pm not 5:30 as thought, so not much was explored this time. It was neat to see the fashion exhibit on the first floor, and there is the stuff Dolly the Clone Sheep, which was rather cool to check out in our brief time there. Entrance is free, so the short time didn’t set us back any!

 

After that, we continued with our post-Arthur’s Seat plans: dinner at the Sheep Heid Inn’s pub, one of the oldest if not the oldest continually-operating pub in Scotland. It was a good meal with good company, and I’d very much go back again. The chicken and leek pie I had was amazing, and the three of us also split the sharing dessert platter – five amazing dessert selections. Then it was buses back to our respective stays, with Peyton and Yvonne kindly helping me navigate. I’m doing okay on the public transit so far, but that first day I was nervous and my sense of direction is ALWAYS dicey at best.

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One of the works on display: Dunnator Castle by Walter Hugh Paton

Saturday I didn’t get up to much, either. I’d hit that point where I kind of just wanted to stay in my room all day, but also felt that I was wasting my time if I didn’t go do something. Also, I did have to do something fairly crucial – laundry. The in-house laundry service here is EXPENSIVE. It’s eleven pounds for one dress! Instead, I did a whole load, washed and dried, for about eleven pounds (possibly twelve, I’m not certain how much I spent on the drier in the end). I did have to take a bus to get to the laundromat, as there doesn’t appear to be a lot of them in Edinburgh anyway, but I made it and have clean clothes enough for this last stretch of time. Then, I made my way to National Art Gallery for a while, taking in the art.  The collection is good here, and it’s also free! I love that about the United Kingdom – they make galleries and museums accessible to everyone!

After that, I felt I’d appropriately left my hotel long enough, so went back for the evening. I also wanted to get an early night, because Peyton had let me know she was planning on going on another tour on Sunday, and so I decided to join, and so did Yvonne! So we made our way to Rabbie’s Cafe for our small coach tour with Rabbie’s, the same tour company my parents and I went to Skye with, years ago. It was just as great. Only 7 of us on this small group tour, and our guide Dave was funny and engaging. He also made the most of the daylight hours, taking us to a few scenic stops on our way to Jedburgh, where I went in the ruins of the old Abbey. The entrance fee came with an audio guide, and it was neat to learn about the history of the place. After that, it was off to the Borders.

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It’s me! In England! By a big rock that says England, because I’m in England!

For some reason, I had in my mind that a Borders tour would be one “border” of Scotland on the seaside, so was ecstatic to realize we were going to cross over the Scottish border into England. I’d never been into England! And now I have! We went to the remains of Hadrian’s Wall, then on to Vindolanda, the ruins of an ancient Roman fortress. It’s being excavated on an ongoing basis, in part because of the Vindolanda Letters being found there. These are the ancient remains of old letters on wood, showing regular, every day life in the area.

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Lanercost Priory, lit by sunset

After Vindolanda, we had just enough daylight time for one more stop, the Lanercost Priory, and old haunt of James the Second of England, also known as The Hammer of Scotland. Only part of the church has remained in use over the years, so it is partly preserved historic building, but also partial ruin. Very interesting dichotomy!

From there, it was time to make our way back to Edinburgh, through a long, beautiful sunset. Yvonne and Peyton made their way back to their campus for game night (their professor designs board games and the students get to test them out, how cool is that!) and I went back to crawl into bed, because the weather was looking like it might be nice the next day, and I had PLANS.

Those plans? To finally climb Arthur’s Seat, an extinct volcano described by Robert Louis Stevenson as “a hill for magnitude, a mountain in virtue of its bold design”. You can drive up part of the way, but I did the hike from the bottom up, all the way to the peak. It was hard, especially since I am not in the greatest shape and, sunny or not, it was a bit frosty out and therefore slippery at times on uneven ground (and the last bit is steep!). But I made it! I pushed myself all the way up to the very summit, and with rewarded with panoramic views of the city and beyond.

After that, I made my way back down via a bit easier route because I thought it would take me closer to my bus stop (spoiler alert! as ever, my sense of direction is terrible and it did NOT). I made it, however, in more than enough time to head to the One Spa, where I’d booked the Escape. There are no pictures allowed, of course; no one wants to be subject to strangers taking photos of them in their swimsuits. It was the perfect escape after my hike, however, with a lovely pool that swims out to the outside, plus various things to try out in the thermal suite, from saunas to those thermal chairs I liked on my cruises and more. It’s not cheap at 75 pounds, certainly, but there’s no real time limit. I stayed the recommended three hours and no longer, but mostly because I hadn’t eaten lunch and needed to get food in my tummy more than I needed to stay in the glorious rooms. I would certainly do it again; a nice treat once a trip.

As for today, it was mostly personal things. I met an old tutor for brunch, then made my way to see another local friend at the bookshop I used to haunt/got some work experience with the owner/freelance editor (said friend). After that, I did some more shopping – Dad, your present is covered, but that’s all I’m saying! – then back to the hotel. Tomorrow will be more of the same, more or less – though I do plan to do some of the shopping at the Christmas Market, which I’m excited to do! Also, learned today that whoever I called at the front desk the other evening was mistaken – Crowne Plaza DOES do in room service whether their restaurant is open or not, which means I got to do pyjama dinner tonight. Very pleased (and not just because I bought my own wine this time).

 

Posted by: M.J. Bolstad | November 15, 2019

EU Go, Girl! Adventures in Europe: Part # 11

Another wonderful day in Scotland yesterday. I hadn’t forgotten how much I liked it here, but certainly experiencing it again is something else altogether. I’m already feeling a bit like I won’t be able to squeeze everything I want to in to my trip! But I have days to go, and will do what I can, and if I have to come back again … well, that’s hardly a chore, is it?

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A hairy coo, for which the tour company was named.

Yesterday, I took a tour of the Highlands with The Hairy Coo, which I found while googling different tour options. The company wants to make sure everyone who wants to can experience the Highlands, so offers a tips-based tour. I think making travel accessible is marvellous, and the trip itself was wonderful. Our tour guide, Brian (or Brizo, to be distinguished from the other Brian who works for the tour with the same initials!) was great; tours are always better when your guide is a storyteller, and ours certainly was one. He was funny and knowledgable, sharing great stories not only of a historical nature but with a good blend of the modern as well. Also, his music playlist for when he wasn’t regaling us was great too!

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With William Wallace’s sword, which is taller than I am! (I’m 5’3 on a good day.)

But on to the tour: we started our tour to the bridges over the Forth, with a nice stop that was long enough not only for me to take some nice snaps of the morning light, but also to pick up some breakfast, a good latte and a scone with whipped cream (no clotted cream, alas) and jam. Then it was on to the William Wallace Monument. It’s a bit of a climb up to the monument itself, seated at the top of a hill. Then it’s a bit more of a climb if you want to go up the monument: 246 steps up a narrow spiral staircase to the top of the tower. I’m not in great shape even without the lingering cold (though it does improve), nor am I a narrow person, but I climbed Macchu Pichu and up the final leg of the Rainbow Mountain, so I was not backing down from this personal challenge. There were some semi-dicey moments passing people coming down when I was going up – I ducked into window ledges twice on the lower stairs quite comically, but crawling past the nursery school kids on the skinniest bit of stair was another story – but I made it. The views are spectacular and worth every step up plus the somewhat scary trek back down (it’s steep and twisty!), and then some again.

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Doune

After the monument, it was off to Doune, which means Castle, so when called Castle Doune gave me “Moon Moon” meme thoughts. It’s also the castle where they filmed a few  different things you might be familiar with: Monty Python and the Holy Grail, Outlander, and Game of Thrones. That’s right. Doune is also a film set for Game of Thrones; Winterfell, in fact. This was very exciting to me, and I’ll admit I got “Queen in the North! Queen in the North!” on a loop in my head for a bit. The castle was fun to explore, as were the grounds around it, as I had time to walk down to the river behind it. The fall foliage was lovely, especially in the light we managed to have all day yesterday.

 

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A museum of the macabre

From Doune, we stopped in a lovely town called Callander. At the guide’s suggestion, I did a takeaway lunch so I could explore a bit. I had a bridie from a bakery, then wandered the little shops, from an artist’s collective to a craft store, to an antiquities store with a little museum of the macabre in the back that costs only a pound to visit. I went in, of course! There are the death masks of Burke and Hare, a bog head, some voodoo artifacts, different sets of animal bones and more… very interesting collection for sure!

From Callandar, we made some scenic stops along the way, seeing the lochs (river or stream fed) and the one lake in Scotland (no or outflow, so not a loch), including Loch Katrine of Rob Roy fame, the bens (mountains), the beauty in general. Also, Brian bought us a big bag of carrots in Callander, so we got to stop and feed hairy coos, which was awesome. Then, as the sun set and the sky began to darken, we made our way to the Kelpies, large horse head statues that are lit up beautifully at night.

It was an incredible, beautiful and fun day, and I would definitely recommend this tour, and The Hair Coo as a tour company.

Posted by: M.J. Bolstad | November 13, 2019

EU Go, Girl! Adventures in Europe: Part # 10

My time in Paris has come to an end, but my adventure in Europe continues, as I have now made my way to Edinburgh. I spent my last couple of days in Paris doing things a little more “low key” than the previous days. I slept in – the Ibis hotel, though a budget hotel, really was one of the most comfortable and quiet places I stayed this trip – then wandered to the Musée de L’Orangerie, as I had been told I should check out Monet’s Nymphes (Waterlilies) that are exhibited there.

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One of Monet’s Nymphes (Waterlilies) murals.

They were really quite lovely, and I think what I like about them is that they really aren’t about the waterlilies or the garden so much as they are about the transient properties of light. At least, that is what I like to think. They are also huge and hard to capture on camera, given they are curved murals. Very interesting.

The other part of the museum that was open was the temporary exhibit of Felix Fénéon’s collection of art (the rest of the permanent collection area undergoing renovations), which was also interesting. It gave a critic and writer’s perspective, and the works were post-impressionist plus some works by Indigenous African artists.

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A bird in the hand.

After the museum, I went back to the nearby Jardin des Tuilleries, as I had some bread from the previous day’s dinner in my purse, and wanted to see if the birds would come to me as well. They did, and it was such a joyful experience that, for my last day in Paris, I went back and did the same altogether. I brought way more bread that time, though I was worried for a bit it would be for nought as the sky decided to empty rain on us. I ducked under one of the little canopies nearby, with others caught in the deluge. Thanks to a handy set of napkins I’d shoved in my purse, I dried off one of the metal chairs and read for about a half hour, until the rain subsided. And then, the birds feasted, and I got to feel amazing and magic.

After that, it was back to the hotel, where I waited for my Super Shuttle. Sage told me about the service, a shared ride that picks you up at your hotel and takes you to the airport directly. It’s more expensive than the train, but cheaper than a taxi, and it meant I didn’t have to try to haul my luggage up and down several flights of stairs while trying to beware of potential pickpockets. Very worth it on so many levels, and it was super convenient.

After that, it was an Air France flight to Edinburgh, with a 10:30 at night arrival, and then a cab to my hotel, where we pulled up while a fire alarm was going off and the place evacuated. It was a false alarm, so I’m happy to laugh at having to wait until the firemen gave the all clear to check in!

Today has been a bit of a rest day, too. I was torn between holing up and watching Netflix  and reading all day, or getting out. I decided to do a bit of both, and ventured down to Princes’ Street and the Royal Mile. It’s been 14 years since I was last here, if not more, but I did feel the stirrings of familiarity in some locations and, for the rest, there’s Google maps. In addition to a lovely lunch at Bella Italia, I met a gorgeous owl and a lovely little falcon on the Royal Mile, ad I got to hold Hazel the Owl and have my picture taken.

I also walked up toward the castle, saw the hostel where my BFF and I first stayed when we arrived in September 2005, and rubbed the toe of the David Hume statue even though I’m not a student anymore. Then I eventually made my way up toward the hotel (the wonder Crowne Plaza Edinburgh Royal Terrace!) passing Calton Hill (I’ll have to get pictures when it isn’t so close to evening and the light is better), made a wrong turn when my free wifi dropped and ended up walking up the hill a second time to find my way, then had dinner. A good day, for sure.

Posted by: M.J. Bolstad | November 10, 2019

EU Go, Girl! Adventures in Europe: Part # 9

I am back in Paris for a few more days, and so have been continuing my touristic ventures. My first stop yesterday? Another laundromat. Ooh, la la! Very exciting! Well, perhaps not exciting, but certainly lovely to have fresh clean clothes to put on, especially my sweater, since I only brought the one and had been wearing it over mostly everything.

After my laundry was taken care of, I jumped on the metro to head to to l’Aquarium de Paris. My tourist browsing lead to targeted ads on Facebook, which is how I learned Paris has an aquarium, and since I love aquariums, I absolutely had to make my way there. I was joined by my friend Sage; she was a summer student in our shop last year, coming up from Ottawa for a four month stint in the region as part of her university coop opportunity. She’s now working on contract here in Paris, so I had a lovely buddy to hang out with over the last two days.

The aquarium is pretty great, and even though it was a chilly Saturday, it wasn’t too busy, which was so nice! I love aquariums, and so does Sage, so it was a really brilliant time. We even spent a good half hour watching the shark tank! After that, we had an early dinner near the aquarium at a place called Le Wilson, where we chose to have another of those course selection menus. Sage had a yummy mozzarella and tomato salad as her started, while I opted for the French onion soup. She had roast beef for her main, while I went with the roast chicken. For dessert, she had creme caramel and I went with my beloved creme brûlée. The platter menus are such a good idea and good value!

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A taste of the Rouen aesthetic. 

After that, it was home for an early night, because Sage and I were meeting up again today bright and early, to catch a train for a day trip to Rouen. It’s a charming little village with a sort of French medieval aesthetic, and is probably best known for being where Jeanne d’Arc (Joan of Arc) was imprisoned and then burnt at the stake. Our train left shortly after 7:30, so I hopped on the metro and made my way there fairly handily. I do like the transit here in Paris.

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The Donjon (dungeon) tower in Rouen.

The train takes about two hours to get to Rouen. As it was Sunday, many of the shops were closed, but we still found so much to do, and possibly since it was Sunday, much of it for free as well. This included our first stop at the Donjon (dungeon) – not, in fact, where Joan of Arc was imprisoned, though she was brought into the tower and threatened there before being kept elsewhere.

The spiral steps are a menace, but it was very interesting. There are examples of weaponry and clothing, as well as just some information about historical players of the time, such as “Charles the Mad”. They do escape rooms there, too, which might be fun for a group of 3 to 6 people who want to drop 105 euros on that kind of puzzle.

 

After the Donjon, we made our way to the market (stopping to get some macarons and “larmes de Jeanne d’Arc”, which are not tears but chocolate covered almonds) for later since a little shop was open only until noon. We checked out the produce and listened to the French singer for a bit, before finding the Joan of Arc church, which unfortunately did not appear to be open to the public today.

After that, we found a place for lunch called La Terrase where we got to do another platter selection, though Sage and I opted to just have a starter and main, and skip dessert, since we had macarons and chocolate almonds and also chocolates I bought in Belgium for later. Sage had a lovely prosciutto and butternut squash dish while I decided to give the oysters a go, and then she had a burger while I went with a magnificent duck in orange sauce. It was all very good, and I would definitely go back. The jazzy vibe of the place was nice, too.

After lunch, we made our way to a cathedral, another Notre Dame, this time of Rouen. I seem to be collecting Notre Dames this trip! It’s certainly very stunning, from the detailed intricacies of the outside, which must have been even more stunning before time weathered some of the precision away, to the stained glass and artistry of the interior.

We were going to go into the Musee des Beaux Arts next, but there was a little museum of iron works next door, and it was free, so we decided to check it out. It was very cool! It’s apparently “unique au monde” (the only one in the world), according to one of the staff – a little museum dedicated to work done in iron, from keys to art to tools and more, some dating as early as the first century! It was extremely interesting and definitely worth stopping in to check out.

We then moved to the Musee des Beaux Arts, and wouldn’t you know it, there was no cost to view the permanent collection today either. It was such a pleasant surprise, all the free things we got to explore today! The collection was also interesting, full of artists I hadn’t heard of but certainly talented, if not the “masters”, dating from the 1500s onward into the final collection floor of impressionists’ work, where I did know some of the artists, as Renoir, Monet, and Pisarro are featured there. There was even one of Monet’s earlier works, done before he began to work in the impressionist style for which he is well known. The Musee is also a LOT bigger than it looks where you start out, and it was a great way to while away the rest of this chilly afternoon in Rouen. I also especially liked a little room dedicated to Joan of Arc works – very appropriate for Rouen, I think!

We had hoped to stop at a coffee shop on the way to the train station, but it too was closed. We managed to find a machine that made coffee; not as nice, certainly, but it would do nicely. So Sage and I had hot drinks to go with our macarons (which we split so we could try four kinds) and our chocolate covered almost and my Belgian chocolate. It was a lovely end to a perfectly charming day, and I’m so glad I went and had such a lovely travel companion to join me!

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Travel is extra fun with a friend, especially once as nice and fun as Sage!

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