Self-Drive Scotland: A Tale of Many Castles


Current Location: Edinburgh, Inverness, Fort William, Stirling, and assorted locations throughout the Scottish Highlands


We had gotten halfway up the muddy, craggy hillside of King Arthur’s Seat when it hit me: there wasn’t a skyscraper to be seen on the horizon. In contrast to other global cities that we have visited , the view from the top of the small mountain lets you take in Edinburgh better than anywhere else in the city (save maybe the castle). We didn’t choose to stay up there too long because it was getting dark, but we had passed a ruined church of some kind just off the path, on a more remote face of the mountain. You could almost feel the ghosts inhabiting the ruins of the place, the history that all of the masonry had seen, and the growth of the metropolis happening at its feet. The degree of sentiment that the pile of stones put off, coupled with the beautiful view from halfway up the mountain makes King Arthur’s Seat a thing that you shouldn’t miss.



Of course, while we were there, it rained all the time, and there were pretty profound gusts of wind. Many of the mountainous areas were still covered in ice and snow. Tourist season was supposed to start in a few weeks, which means that the areas we elected to travel were less crowded and less expensive. That also means many of the amenities (restaurants, places to stay, gas stations) were not available to us as we made our way across the country. It occasionally reminded me of the landscapes of Paris, Texas–wide expanses, little human activity.


We appreciated the vastness and the quiet and the freedom to drive ourselves most of all. I definitely believe we saw more than we would have on any guided tour.

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Two Days on Isle of Skye

Current Location: Portree, Isle of Skye, Scotland


Isle of Skye is the largest and northernmost of the major islands in the inner Hebrides of Scotland. March is not the time of year that most travelers decide to visit the Isle of Skye. In the summer months, they swarm the island to see the Cuillins and get mere glimpses of natural wonders like the Faerie Pools and Neist Point. In the winter, the famous green hills and rugged landscapes are covered in a dense brown heather and the clouds rarely part. Everyone in Scotland jokes that the dictionary is exclusively composed of different words for rain. However, we found an immense peacefulness being alone with the fog (and without the tourists!).


Maybe this is informed by the music I listened to when I was growing up, but the Scotland of my mind can be seen from two separate angles. It can be twee and adorable like Belle & Sebastian, with elegant continental breakfasts and tie-dyed, spray-painted sheep. Or it can be darkly pastoral, with an almost-surreal landscape, and occultist signifiers in broken-down cairns and castles, like Mogwai or Boards of Canada. Fortunately, on this trip, we got a taste of both styles of Scottish living when we drove over almost the entire length of the territory, and especially so when we were on the Isle of Skye.


There were moments where our small car felt like a submarine. The lichen-covered rocks and sulfurous-looking hills of the countryside were coral reefs, the sweeping grasslands plains of seaweed. I had my drone with me, and the moments that I could successfully fly it (through the onslaught of wind and rain), if you had changed the axes it would not have been dissimilar from diving deep to excavate some kind of shipwreck. Except, unlike the bottom of the ocean, there’s sheep everywhere. So many sheep.


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Weekend Trips- Capilano Suspension Bridge Park

Current Location: North Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada


Since moving to the Pacific Northwest, it hasn’t really been in the budget for us to take any massive trips. At first, this was a huge bummer for a pair of avid voyagers such as ourselves. But our blues quickly dissipated when we discovered the seemingly infinite number of beautiful small-scale adventures right at our fingertips. Hence, this weekend trips series is something new we’re trying out and we hope you also love it!



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Cross Country Train Trip- Glacier National Park

Current Location: East Glacier, Montana


I know it’s been an awfully long time since we’ve posted, and after such a busy summer riding the rails, I’m certain you’ve all been waiting on pins and needles to see our favorite stops. I promise folks, this post is worth the wait because Glacier National Park is one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever set eyes on.


The first leg of our journey had us taking the Empire Builder from Chicago to Portland. Since we were desperate to see the Montana mountains, we were gleeful to discover that Amtrak has a station in East Glacier Park Village on the Empire Builder route. The station is right on the outskirts of both the Park and the Blackfeet Indian Reservation.


The history nerd in me was even more thrilled to discover that the Glacier Park Lodge, built in 1913 by the Great Northern Railroad, is less than a block’s distance from the station. We didn’t stay at the Lodge (I would’ve had to sell a kidney to afford it), but it was amazing inside and from the Lodge’s vast windows we got our first view of the Rocky Mountain Front. Surreptitiously, for our last afternoon, we posed as guests so that I could conduct a job interview and K could recover from food poisoning before getting back on the road.


Instead of hitchhiking or cycling into the park, as many of our fellow campers did this season, we rented a truck and set out with our backpacking gear. Naturally, we timed our stop at Glacier National Park to perfectly coincide with both wildflower season and (as always) tourist season. I was certain that all the campsites would be taken (they were) and all the trails would be crowded (they were). But we were not prepared for how occupied everything would be, or how gorgeous everything was.


Nothing could dampen our spirits once we entered the Park because Glacier is simply a masterpiece. Every view is a postcard, and every lookout is a painting.

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Viñales Valley- Jewel of Pinar del Rio


Current Location: Viñales Valley, Pinar Del Rio, Cuba


We chose to head to the Viñales on a 3-day tour to escape the hustle and bustle of noisy Havana. The internet hails this lush green oasis as a must-see part of Cuba. Tobacco, coffee, sugarcane and numerous other crops are cultivated at the bottom of the valley and towering limestone cliffs (called mogotes) offer tourists numerous hiking and rock climbing options. Among these elevations are the oldest mountains existing in Cuba and some of the oldest in the Caribbean. There are also impressive geological formations and cave systems throughout the hill faces.


Viñales is about a three hour drive from Havana, although naturally it took us about six in the ancient truck that was sent to fetch us for our tour. It kept breaking down on the highway and needed to be restarted by hot-wiring. Still, it beats the crowded sweat-soaked buses, or horse-drawn carriages that many locals still ride into the city to sell their crops.


Though it is small, Viñales thrives on tourism. The town consists of rows of beautiful pastel colored casas—each distinctively named—-where visitors can rent out rooms. We were dropped off at a bright pink house (much to my delight) called Casa Musica. However, this pastoral place is not just houses. Just down the road is the seat of commerce, where numerous small businesses—-including a market, shops and restaurants—-make their home.


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Havana- The Pastel Polity


Current Location: Havana, Cuba


Maurice, our Airbnb host in Havana, picked us up in the airport just as the daily rainstorm was starting. We were trying to figure out how to overcome our language barrier (he spoke French, and minimal Spanish/English) and he gave us some advice that managed to carry us through our days in the city. The first Cuban Spanish phrase we learned was: “Taxi collectivo. El Capitolio. One CUC.” That bit of logistical knowledge and a tall glass of tamarindo juice were our welcome to the country.


The aesthetics of Cuba are something to marvel at. It’s an amazing melange of near-ancient Spanish architecture from the early colonial efforts, and 1950’s and 60’s modernism. Take those influences, don’t repair them for a couple of decades (because proper maintenance is expensive) and then paint it all pastel. The cars are the same; beautiful colors, and everything is stripped down on the inside. All the things that are not essential are torn out–you might have to short-circuit some wires to roll the windows down or start things up. You can see classic American, Russian, or French cars going down the road at all hours–those are the taxis.


But I’m getting a little ahead of myself.

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Our First Chinese Wedding

Location: Jian’ou, Fujian Province, Chinaedit00

We visited China recently to attend the  wedding of one of our closest friends (formerly translator and life-saver). Davi and his blushing bride Cherry graciously invited us back to spend a week with their family and friends to celebrate with them. Naturally, we accepted their invitation!


We packed our bags with our finest dress clothes and stuffed our suitcases with gifts for the happy couple. We weren’t sure precisely which day the wedding would be on, but we booked our trip for a few weeks. We quickly realized that we knew absolutely nothing about attending a Chinese wedding. We didn’t know if there was a ceremony, what activities to expect or what to wear. As a result, we ended up embarrassing ourselves quite frequently.


Thus we bring you this post about one of the most fascinating weeks of our lives. Here are some things we learned and some things that happened to us. Perhaps they will help you out if you ever find yourself in the unlikely position we were in.


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