A Travellerspoint blog

Scotland

For our annual driving trip we decided to head north to Scotland. This involved putting the car on a ferry from Calais, France to Dover, England. We started the drive after work on a Thursday and were scheduled to drive until we were about an hour north of London in an effort to beat the traffic on Friday morning. The drive took us quite a bit longer than expected (read 11 hours instead of 7) due to hitting traffic in Brussels and missing our targeted ferry.

We passed through the refugee shanty town camp in the town of Calais. It is a devastating place right out of the pictures you might see in National Geographic. The sheer number of people who are stranded there and living in makeshift tents is horrific. Human rights groups place the numbers around 9000 including many unaccompanied children. This has resulted in violence and the police presence and security on the road to the port was heavy. There were tall fences separating the road with barbed wire along the top and police about every 300 feet or so. It is hard to describe the emotion that overcomes you when you see something like this first hand and this was just a glimpse from the motorway.

Not to sound dismissive but I will continue with my story of our journey as I am not trying to make this a political or news post since I don’t really have the expertise to comment too much on the subject.

We were able to get to the port uneventfully. The ferry ride took 90 minutes and Ethan had to stay in the car while we went up on the deck. It was kind of like being back on a cruise ship. It had multiple floors and there was a cafeteria, coffee shop, and casino. Quinn and I shared a beer and looked out the window at the dark sea.

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We made it to our hotel without too much trouble except we hit traffic in London even at close to midnight. That city is crazy for its traffic.

We got up the next morning and made the final push to Edinburgh. Due to the lack of motorway infrastructure we were mostly on two lanes roads and again in the queue of traffic. (Like my British English there?) We were super happy to arrive at our adorable Airbnb apartment close to the center of Edinburgh and our host was graciously there waiting for us with her amazing Scottish Deerhound. If you have ever seen an Irish Wolfhound, they are similar. Ethan paid no attention to him and I don’t think that he recognized him as being a dog. Our host even had special gourmet dog treats waiting for Ethan and of course he gobbled them up.

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We had chosen August to visit Scotland both for the weather and the Fringe Fest. This is a month long festival where they have performances throughout the city beginning from early in the morning until the wee hours of the night. (The Scottish adore using the word wee). The catalogue for shows was nearly as thick as the white pages of the phone book, remember those? There were at least 20 shows or more to choose from every 10 minutes. It was completely overwhelming. With a little google research I was able to narrow down what we wanted to see. After we found the ticket office we were disappointed to learn that most of the shows we wanted were sold out. However, with a bit of luck and persistence we were able to catch every single show we wanted. Mostly, we just showed up anyway even when we didn’t have tickets and usually there would be a few extra or someone trying to sell one for a friend who couldn’t attend last minute. Rather than give you a day by day replay of our trip I will give a little synopsis of each show we attended.

Guru Dudu- silent disco tour- The “audience” of about 30 people wore bluetooth headphones and listened to disco music while the Guru Dudu led us in dance moves. We walked around the city taking part in a kind of silent flash mob. It was soooooooooooooooooo fun and totally freeing. It was the kind of fun you have as a kid. I wanted to do it again. People would occasionally stop the group and want to know what was going on and they were usually roped into the show somehow. The Guru Dudu improvised quite a bit based on what was happening in the environment. The city was super busy because of all the shows and performers trying to drum up audiences for their shows so there was quite the opportunity for off the cuff interactions.

Wonderman- This was a play based on some of Roald Dahl’s short stories for adults. It was strange and unpredictable and also quite entertaining. I went to this one by myself to kill some time while Quinn cycled back to walk the dog.

Foot stomping traditional Scottish Folk music- held in a bar. There were three performers playing varying instruments including a variety of drums, fiddle, banjo, and stand-up bass. They were fantastic and they ended with a Scottish twist on a Johnny Cash song.

Sam Simmons (comedian)- Super weird comedy show that oscillated between bazaar, hilarious, and confusing. The comedian thought he bombed that night and about half of the audience agreed based on their facial expressions but I was thoroughly entertained.

Two random singers inside the wee pub- even when you sit down outside of a pub billing itself as the smallest pub in Edinburgh (The wee pub) you will run into live performances. We listened to two different women perform and both had beautiful soulful voices.

360 All stars- Kind of like street performers meet bboys meet half time show. The performers included two break dancers, one BMX bike stunt man, one cirque du soleil type ring performer who rolled around in a big ring, a Harlem globetrotter type basketball guy, and a live remix loop artist creating music throughout the performance. We enjoyed how well they put all of this together and how each performer was picking up tricks from the others and worked together.

Here are some pics from around Edinburgh. Did I mention that the city itself is a UNESCO world heritage site?

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Gin and Literature- A guy with a fascination in literature and Gin weaved together passages from different books where alcohol featured heavily in the story, or where the author themselves may have written the work while heavily under the influence. Either way, his event paired gin cocktails with key works of literature and proved to be an excellent evening.

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Military Tattoo- An annual event that brings together military bands from around the world to perform at Edinburgh Castle. We were seated with a great view of the performers and the light show on the castle wall. The US military sends bands from all the branches and they are quite a prominent part of the show. One of the most impressive performances wasn't a band, but a kids motorcycle stunt team with some of them maybe as young as 5. The British bands did a tribute to David Bowie with fireworks and an awesome light show and the night ended with Auld Lang Syne and all the Scottish people crossed their arms and locked hands. It was certainly an amazing experience, and included performers on horses, a presentation of the Queen's Carriage and horses, and of course, many, many bagpipers and dancers.

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I wanted to stay in Edinburgh longer to keep seeing more shows but it was time to move on to our next location. We had to book all of the lodging in advance because there is a serious lack of accommodation in Scotland for the month of August due to the short tourist season, lack of big hotels, and large number of visitors due to the festivals. So, we couldn’t stay longer even though I would have loved to. We did do a little hike up a hill in Holyrood Park to look over the city and the Queen's Scottish Palace before we left.

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We drove a couple of hours to Loch Lomond, checked into our BnB and immediately went out for a hike into the hills.

Stops along the way

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We learned that a loch is the term for lake, so as you can imagine we had a view of the loch during our hike. It was quite beautiful with a changing landscape and one could see why there are so many stories of fairies and sprites in Scottish literature. The landscape just seems like the setting for a big fairytale.

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Next stop Oban. We were hoping to take a ferry to one of the Scottish Isles and see Fingal’s cave. Google it! The weather did not hold out and it rained and rained and the wind blew and blew. The ferries didn’t run for 3 days and our plan was foiled. So, we did what we could around Oban and luckily we were able to check into our next place a day early. In Oban we went to the Oban Distillery which was quite interesting and we got to taste a 13 year Oban whiskey which they do not sell and we were also given a wee dram of Oban 14. What is a wee dram you might ask? Well, a dram is a unit of measurement for Whiskey in Scotland, and maybe other places as well, I have no idea.

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We also went on a little rainy day hike up a nearby hill until we were up in the clouds and couldn’t see anything anymore. We also passed through a little bog. I believe this is my first bog.

Next stop, Fort William.

Oh just some more "stuff" along the way

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We couldn’t check into our BnB until 4 so we had some time to kill. We went over to the train bridge made famous by the Harry Potter movie. We went to the look out and wanted a little more adventure. So we went off the path and into the marsh and hiked up a nearby hillside. Then we decided to hike over to another view point to hopefully get a picture of an oncoming train. The hike left us sopping wet but laughing and having a grand time. There is something adventurous feeling about going off trail and just bushwacking around in the marsh. We never got a picture of a train and we heard later that the train was cancelled due to a landslide. The rain here is serious business. One other thing we learned about Scotland is about their midges. These are little biting gnats that attack you when you are standing still or walking slowly. The only way to get away from these buggers is to hold your breath and get a little jog going. They are terrible! Awful! And horrible! I cannot express my displeasure for the midge enough and they found a way to bug me for much of the trip. The good thing about midges is that they are really only around in the late afternoon and when you are near water. Okay, enough complaining about midges. The train bridge was really neat even without the train and my hiking boots can take on a heck of a lot of water before they soak through. This is a good thing to know.

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The next day remained rainy but only intermittently so we went to Glen Coe to see if we could get some clear views of the valley. I am not sure that the pictures do it justice but the soaring mountains on either side were something. There was also a bagpiper playing at one of the pull outs which of course added to the ambiance. We hiked around a bit and then went into town to check out some of the shops and have dinner. The rain can’t keep us down.

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On our last day we rode our bikes down a canal out to a lake with a beautiful lighthouse on the point. Unfortunately, we left the camera home for this one. We also rode past a series of locks called neptune’s staircase. Here is a link. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Neptune%27s_Staircase. Pretty neat feat of engineering.

Fort William is the home of Ben Nevis which is the highest mountain in the United Kingdom. We cheated and took the cable car up! We waited until the second day because it was not quite that clear on our first day there. We were rewarded for our patience with beautiful views and a fun little cable car ride. We thought of our friend Andrea a ton on this mountain because there is a world class downhill mountain biking course. I am pretty sure that the people going down it have some decreased frontal lobe functioning. You have to be a wee bit crazy to go down this course. I am sure they all love the fact that they don’t have to ride up but can take their bikes on the cable car.

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We ate dinner at Ben Nevis Inn which was a little mountain restaurant with gorgeous views. The benefit of being so far north is that you still have daylight even after dinner so we were able to walk up the path a bit to get one last view of the mountains before heading to our inn.

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We saved the best of Scotland for last in the Isle of Skye. We lucked out by having the best weather for this part of the trip. The drive itself was incredible with ocean, mountains and unique geological formations due to the volcanic history of the area. We were told that the eruption of one of the volcanoes in this area contributed to the separation of Europe and North America and similar rock “DNA” from this area can be found in North America as well. More pictures of stuff along the way.

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It is really tough to describe these areas with words alone so I will just leave it to the pictures.

Day 1: Fairy Pools:

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Beach at the end of the fairy pool road:

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Church by our airbnb

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Day 2. Quiraing: In my top 3 favorite hikes of all time

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Fairy Glen

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Day 3: Old Man of Storr

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Dunvengan Castle with a glimpse of seals

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Boat ride to see Sea Eagles. Officially called the White-Tailed Eagle, it has the largest average wingspan for Eagles in the world. They can span as large as 8 feet. The boat captains threw some fish out as bait, and after we waited for 10-15 minutes, they eventually came down from their nests and snagged the fish from the water. Quinn said he wouldn't leave Scotland if he didn't get to see this, so it is lucky (or not) that we got to see it.

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Our Airbnb at this location was just fantastic with two bedrooms and a fully stocked kitchen, living room, and laundry. We set up shop here and enjoyed some home cooked meals as well as Olympics in the evening. Not to mention that it had a loch view with sheep grazing on the hillside. Downside to being on a loch, midges. So no outside dining.

The Isle of Skye packs so much punch for its micro size and is an outdoor adventure lover’s dream. It has wildlife, geological formations, mountains, and ocean. It is really a fantastic spot.

All of this heading north meant that eventually we would have a long drive south. So, on Thursday morning we woke up at 5:30 AM and spent the next 12 hours in the car heading to London. It actually didn't feel like such a long day because we were able to drive on divided highways rather than twisty, turny roads so it went rather quickly. We were pooped by the time we arrived and Quinn found some to-go Thai food and we had a picnic in the room.

In the morning we went on a supposed 6 mile adventure into central London on our bikes. We estimated that it would take us about an hour to ride in but it ended up being about 15 miles and took about 4 hours! There was so much traffic and so many stops that even with pedal powered transportation the commute was horrendous. We weren't in a rush though so we had a great time exploring the bike routes and seeing London from the biker's perspective. Quinn had not yet been to the Tower of London so we did the tour together and I got to once again see the crown jewels. The wealth of the royal family is just unimaginable and it slaps you in the face on the tour. Unfortunately, I got a flat tire in London so we rode the tube back to the hotel and enjoyed another night of Thai food in a quaint suburb of London.

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It turned out that we were staying in the predominately Indian area of London and we took advantage of this fact by eating amazing Indian food and touring the Indian temples in the area. Aren't these places amazing?

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We weren't able to take pictures at the second one. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/BAPS_Shri_Swaminarayan_Mandir_London. This one was built with marble that was from a quarry in Italy. The marble was shipped to India where it was carved by mostly "volunteers." (I find this part of the description suspicious and wonder if it is was slave labor) and was then shipped back to London to be assembled like a bunch of Legos. This whole process only took about 12 years.

We spent the evening in London and were lucky enough to get tickets to Les Miserables. This is a show I have been wanting to see since I was a little girl. It was FANTASTIC. I really was blown away by the singers and live orchestra and stage production. I was bawling along with the rest of the audience during most of the show.

The next morning we took the ferry back across the English channel and made our way home to Germany. We rushed home so that we could make it to Pigfest which is a huge festival that our town celebrates every year. It was a great ending to a jam packed trip.

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Posted by trackers 11:14 Archived in United Kingdom Comments (0)

Cycling in France

One of Quinn’s short term goals was to ride a few of the mountain stages that are popular in the Tour de France. I parlayed this into yet another lavender viewing trip to Provence. We set off after work on a Thursday night with the bikes on the car, and arrived at midnight to Artemare. The next day we toured around the town scoping out part of the route and the setup for the tour that would be coming through in the next few days. They had some tour themed equipment and sculptures.

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We went to Noisay, a really nice town on a lake, and attempted to kayak, but as with everything in France, you need to reserve ahead. So instead, we had some tea, a picnic along a river, and went to buy the tea at a local shop. People often ask if it is difficult to travel with Ethan, but this is a prime example of what often happens with him. I initially waited with him outside, but the shopkeeper insisted I bring him in and let him down so he could also enjoy the shop. Ethan didn’t cause any trouble, but Quinn did when he knocked a whole tin of tea on the floor.

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We went back to the hotel to figure out what to do with our night, because Quinn was planning to do his first ride the next morning. I think the Tour bug excitement bit him because he decided to just do his ride spontaneously right then. He set off to Ride Col du Grand Colombier, and I’ll let him add a paragragh here to talk about it: “This was a great introduction to French mountain climbs. Mountains are given a rating from 1-4, with 1 being the most difficult based on their difficulty, with an additional category called HC for climbs beyond categorization. This fit into the category of HC. It was 16 kilometers of uphill with high winds and cold temps at the top, and it was the kind of suffering that I have always enjoyed as an endurance athlete. I felt good and tired when I hit the top, and dropped down the backside, for what was a very dicey descent. I cut back home when I got to the bottom, and was home in just over 2.5 hours for my first serious climb ever. This was also 2 days before the Tour was slated to come through, so the hillside was already full of caravans.”

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That evening Quinn celebrated by having a big plate of frog legs, and I did not have them. In the morning we went for a really nice bike ride before making the move to Sisteron to get in position for the next big ride.

Even the views when getting gas are amazing in the south of France. These are pics from along the way to Sisteron.

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We explored the old town which had a really spectacular rock face that people use for multi-pitch climbing though there were no climbers there. We enjoyed an adult beverage while looking at the rock face and the opposing castle perched overhead and watched the colors change as the sun set. It was one of those surreal moments where you really appreciate your life.

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We spent the following day touring to a lavender festival in Manosque and stopped in some towns along the way including Digne les Bains. We even happened across a random car show, which was really just a car tour stopped for lunch. Along the way we enjoyed fields of lavender and sunflowers.

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The next morning I drove Quinn about 20 miles into a canyon, which felt remote very quickly and had patches of lavender on the mountain side. I dropped him off to start his biggest ride to Mt. Ventoux.

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I immediately took a nap in the car. Ethan and I then meandered through some small towns and did a little hike to give Quinn a head start. It is amazing how well marked the hiking trails are even in the tiniest of towns.

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I carefully picked my way up Mt. Ventoux by car, watching for cyclists, cars and pedestrians going up and whizzing down. It was one of the most stressful drives I have ever done, but it was totally worth it to watch Quinn summit Mt. Ventoux. There were so many riders it was like tring to pick him out of a marathon race, except there was no startring or finishing group, so there was no way of knowing where he would be on the mountain. The actual Tour de France had gone through this route 3 days earlier and the momentum and excitement amongst the amateur riders was still palpable. I’ll let Quinn have another paragraph here: “Climbing Colombier was a great warmup for this one, but it does not compare. Ventoux is 22 kilometers at a grade averaging over 7%. Every kilometer is a distance marking telling you how many are left and the average grade over the next km. It was both motivating and demoralizing because I felt proud and a little nervous about keeping up my pace. Ultimately, I finished 40 seconds under my target time of 90 minutes, and was hugely motivated over the last 3 kilometers when I saw Kristen driving down from the top in search of me among the hundreds of others. The greatest reward for such an ascent was the most amazing descent I have ever ridden in my life. This was certainly a high point for me in my athletic endeavors.”

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After Quinn’s big ride, we had lunch on a nice patio where we could still see some nice mountain views. The town was really cute and had some fun narrow streets.

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The next day we did a little drive and stopped along the way at a waterfall hike.

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We moseyed south, making a few stops along the way including the magnificent town of Tourtour. This was the surprise gem of the trip. It was a medieval artisan hilltop town rich in charm and drenched in sunshine with 360 degree panoramic vistas. We also purchased our first oil painting after much deliberation because we wanted them all, but our budget would not allow. Whoever comes to visit must be sure to oooh and aaaah over it appropriately. Of course the subject matter is a lavender field.

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Graffitti

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Our bed and breakfast for the next 3 nights was in Callas. Our host Patricia, pronounced Pa”treat”zia warmly welcomed us to her adorable B&B and insisted upon feeding Ethan mountains of treats. So many in fact he did not eat his dog food for 3 days. We spent the afternoon just lounging by the pool, believe it or not. France is hot in July, and this was a welcome rest for us. We finished off our day with yet another delicious Provencial fish dinner, which included a Café Gourmand. I’m not sure if I have ever explained this term, but it loosely translates to greedy coffee, and includes a shmorgasboard of miniature desserts, including a small coffee. This is Quinn’s favorite and could normally serve as an entire meal, or one dessert for Quinn, but lucky for me he is willing to share.

We spent the next two days cycling around the countryside and visiting small towns in the area. We didn’t bring the camera along on our rides so no pictures to share from those. One was through the mountains and had a really tough hill and the other was around our village area and along the vineyards. I do have some pics of meals though.

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We headed south yet again for the next two days to a beach town called Le Lavandou. Unfortunately, this was the only day that we had rain on the entire trip! So, no beach day for us. We sat at a beachside café and watched the crazy waves and wind while we enjoyed a glass of wine. Suddenly, a large gust came just as I was bringing my wine glass to my mouth and BAM! I had red wine spots all over my white shirt, face, and the entire table. It was pretty hilarious. The town was pretty even with the windy and rainy weather and we had some delicious meals and chatted up the locals. All in all a good time but maybe not worth adding the extra two hours of driving south. We learned that the area around Saint Tropez is CRAZY busy and we were happy to be about 40 miles south of that area. We were able to sneak in one little bike ride along the coast in the morning before it started raining and one seaside/seacliff hike along the water. We walked to the next beach town over and a little girl was rattling on in French about boats and Ethan and a paraglider. She was a very good little communicator and started using hand gestures and acting things out when she realized that we spoke English and not French. It amazes me how kids so young (maybe 7 years?) are so willing to just communicate with anyone regardless of language. Whether or not someone speaks that same language as you appears to be an afterthought and they have no problems trying out their English and not feeling self conscious. If I was able to do that, maybe my German would be better.

It was another successful trip to France with a 10 hour drive home. Ugh. That was the only long part of the trip. The long ride home. I am so proud of Quinn and his big accomplishment and it was really fun to have another opportunity to check out more of Southern France.

I leave you with two last pictures. Quinn on top of the world! And some wild boar in a lavender field

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Posted by trackers 11:05 Comments (0)

Quinn's graduation celebration extravaganza

Kristen and I flew to Seattle in June so that I could participate in my graduation ceremony from the University of Washington. I just finished up my Master's of Sustainable Transportation degree that I have been working on for 3 years. We then turned our trip into a multi-state tour to see friends and fit in an Alaskan Cruise. There is something really special about having so many fantastic family and friends who are willing to celebrate your accomplishments. Thank you first and foremost to Kristen who really outdid herself with the planning and coordination. It is impossible to appreciate how much thought and effort she puts into planning a trip unless you are there to see her do it. Also, thank you to everyone who made this event feel so special for me. It really was an honor.

Cullen and Heather were the first ones to meet us in Seattle. We landed close together, picked up our Dodge Caravan and rolled to the apartment. We booked a place for 8 because my mother Mitzie, her friend Deb, Darlene and Bob joined us in Seattle, and we needed a place to host a celebration dinner. Seattle was a great start to the trip. Our first Friday night in town also included being joined by our friend Greg and turned into a 3 a.m. event. Saturday morning one of my classmates organized a tour of Seattle utilizing bikeshare bikes, in spirit of our degree program and I was able to meet most of my classmates in person for the first time. Awesome job Brian. It was a great time.

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Saturday afternoon when Mitzie and Deb arrived, the party really started. We did a pub crawl around the Ballard district hitting up 4 breweries all located within a few block radius. Mitzie was really leading the charge early on. The night didn't go so late for Kristen and I as the jet lag finally caught up with us, but some others pressed on. Our friend Jochen and his girlfriend Sandy join Cullen and Greg for some pool.

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Sunday morning everyone luckily was in good form, and we spent some time in Green Lake Park taking family photos and enjoying the sunshine. Whoever said Seattle is rainy? Zach had joined us on Saturday night and was kind enough to serve as family photographer. He even created an awkward family photo for us.

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Graduation finally arrived in the afternoon and I must have had the biggest entourage at the entire ceremony.

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Our celebration moved from the University to the apartment, where we had 20 people by my count and gorged ourselves on Thai food and micro-brewed beer. Friends we have met in Arizona, Japan, Hawaii, and Germany traveled in from California, Wisconsin, Florida and quite a few locally. It is really amazing to have friends all over the world.

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My niece Jessica made this beautiful wrapping paper for my graduation gift. Thank you Jessie.

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I was having a really good time celebrating, and I loved having all the attention for my accomplishment, but we had to leave Seattle. We left Seattle on Monday morning and drove to Vancouver to board our Alaskan Cruise. I will admit right up front that we only proposed a cruise to entice our families into a longer joint vacation, and in the end, we ended up having a great time. Judge all you want, but an Alaskan Cruise is amazing. As soon as we boarded our ship, there was a nice surprise for Kristen and I that Darlene had planned.

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There are too many things that we saw and did to detail each one, and the pictures should do more justice than I can do anyway. What I didn't capture in photos was our kayaking day in Ketchikan when we saw whales surfacing 60 meters away, harbor seals playfully watching us and bald eagles diving for fish. During the remainder of our time and our stops in port, we cycled to a glacier and a brewery in Juneau, rode a gold-rush era train to a trail head for a hike to a glacier in Skagway and glided through Glacier Bay as if our cruise ship were a 16 foot fishing boat.

Our first day started out with a clear sky, a fantastic sunset, and a creepy fog that rolled in and engulfed the ship.

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Juneau...

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Skagway...

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Shots from the ship and glacier bay...

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Each day the stewards would fold the towels into animals, and it was a great thing to look forward to.

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The food on the ship was quite good as well, but I didn't spend much time taking photos of it. However, the entire pig being roasted was a surprise.

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Upon arriving at our final destination in Seward, we were greeted by our Friend Casey and his girlfriend Lisa. From this point of the trip onward, we had to do very little planning of our own. Casey and Lisa had prepared quite the itinerary. We were in Alaska for 3 days, and spent some time in Anchorage at Casey's house, and in Talkeetna at a cabin they had rented. Along the way we visited an aquarium, a spectacular animal sanctuary with all of the large animals one would expect to see in Alaska, a mud flat where the tide varies by as much as 23 feet per day and people have gotten stuck when the tide is out, and we even saw surfers riding the boar tide as it was coming into the bay. An act of humanity that must also be mentioned is the free coffee stand that we happened upon in Anchorage. Jim was a really incredible person who started this stand because he wanted to offer coffee to the neighbors who picked up litter in the mornings. That was 6 years ago.

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Here are the guys on standup paddleboards riding the boar tide

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Alaska fashion...

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Our time in Alaska seemed much too short when we hopped a redeye to Denver. Thanks again Lisa for the comfort touches along the way.

Right from the landing in Denver, we were on the go. Megan picked us up at the airport and took us to their beautiful new home where Ian was taking a small nap, but rallied like a champ after working an all nighter. They have done a great job turning their new house into a place I greatly envy. We did a tour of Denver on bicycles after we fueled up for the day with the biggest biscuit sandwich I've ever had. I also had a sweet roll that I carried around with me and snacked on all day. I love hearty breakfast food. Denver is full of breweries and distilleries, and is making real progress on being bike friendly. We had a really good day exploring. Denver has some great graffiti art as well.

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Megan's mom Susan really made our day by treating us to some sushi when we stopped in to say hello after our ride.

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We continued our night out with drinks and dinner on the town. Luckily we didn't go too hard, because Andrea arranged bikes for us to go mountain biking. After a flat tire and an innertube search, we got down the trail and had a fantastic day. The sunshine in Denver certainly helps with enjoying the outdoors. The best thing about Denver is that all rides end with a good brew.

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Our Denver friends really went out of their way to keep us busy. We had group dinners, cocktails at an awesome speakeasy, a backyard barbecue at Megan and Ian's and a night out with all the speechies that Kristen knows in Denver. One of the other husbands, Ray, and I were lucky to have each other, because even though I love SLP's, they really love to talk about speech. To cap off the outdoor adventures, we took part in our first 14er as well. It was not as physically demanding as I thought it might be, but it was really beautiful.

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Can you spot the marmot guarding the mound from his post on the roof?

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Of course all good trips have to end, and we spent our last morning at the botanical gardens with Megan and Ian. What a great way to end our trip. Thank you everyone.

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Posted by trackers 13:32 Archived in USA Comments (0)

Sylvester and GoatyMcGoatface - the characters of Crete

It was time for a redo of the Crete trip. Since we didn't really get to see much the first time around (except of course the inside of a hospital) we booked tickets to Crete for May. This time we traveled with two doctors, just to be safe. Oh yeah, they also happen to be our friends. We have known Kyle and Julie since our time in Japan and we were super happy that they wanted to make the trip across the pond to come adventuring with us.

We arrived one day before them and spent some time hanging around the harbor in Chania until our apartment was ready.

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In the morning we took a drive out to the monastery Agia Triada. It was so picturesque we may have taken about 100 too many pictures.

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As all the best monasteries do, this one made wine. It was fantastic.

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Then we went down the road a little more to Gouverneto Monastery which is the starting point for a scenic hike down to the ocean.

Here is a close up of a cave and then the same picture zoomed out. See if you can spot the cave.

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The hike included a really large old bridge, and it even included some billy goats. They weren't so gruff.

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We still had some time before we picked up Kyle and Julie so we enjoyed time for a Greek Frappe and garlic dip while looking at the harbor and military base in Souda bay. We just stumbled upon this most picturesque restaurant with tables, well manicured lawn, sand, and an incredible view.

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Friends!

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We enjoyed a stroll along the harbor along with some microbrewed Greek beers.

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We drove to Vamos to do a little walking and see about some cooking classes. Turns out no cooking classes that day but we did go on a really nice walk and see some beautiful flowers followed by yet another delicious Greek meal.

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Impromptu fruit picking.

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Interesting roof. I wonder if the rock was weighing it down?

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More fruit picking. I really love picking fruit.

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It's just so ridiculously gorgeous in Greece.

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Back in town we enjoyed an adult beverage and the city wildlife.

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Our apartment was located in a 300-500 year old building. There was some disagreement among the locals on the age of the building. It was a traditional hamam, a bath house, originally. The toilet was very entertaining to walk into when it was dark.

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The next day we set out for an olive oil tasting at a mill called Biolea. They make olive oil in the traditional method by crushing the olives by millstones. The mill was located in a valley up on a hill with 360 degree views. This would be the perfect location for a wedding or party. The pictures do not even begin to do it justice.

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Rental car photo shoot.

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The millstones

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The Biolea folks recommended a nearby gorge for a hike before lunch.

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I cannot believe we don't have pictures from lunch but it was a little family owned place sitting under the pergolas with grape vines growing everywhere. We had one of everything and loved every dish. All of the customers sitting there were repeat customers from years past and the server remembered each one of them. I would like to go back sometime and test his memory.

Next up 500 year old olive tree.

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We had a beach day next that included a hike down into a canyon to get there. Balos beach is one of the most famous beaches of Crete and I can see why. Can you find all the sheep?

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The name of this blog comes from this beach experience. The beach had many goats on it and it turns out that they try to eat everything you have. One got a hold of an orange peel and from that moment on we were stalked prey. Goaty McGoatface and Sylvester worked together to flank us while the other served as a distractor. Luckily we fought them off with a few claps and hand waves.

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This was another pit stop on our drive. We had a frappe, a view, and a relaxing moment here. Also, we paid homage to the wooden goat in honor of our new goat friends.

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Beach day round two. This time we went to Elafonissi which is known for its pink sand made by pink shells. It was beautiful and packed. Everyone went for a swim except for me. I was a chicken because the water was still quite cold.

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Yummy lunch outside of town. This was a giant piece of cruton like bread with cheese, tomato, and balsamic on top.

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For our final group day together we went to the Chania botanical gardens. This place lures you in with signs in town but it turns out that it is a 20 or so mile drive up into the mountains. Ultimately it was worth the drive but Julie and I weren't so sure as we snaked up the switchbacks and felt our stomachs in our throats.

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This botanical gardens is privately owned and was formally farm land for olives and oranges. After a devastating fire, the family reinvented their farmland as a botanical garden to share with visitors of Crete. It is a gorgeous property and they serve a great lunch too.

We went back to our original cafe on Souda bay to kill some time before dropping Kyle and Julie off at the airport. Kyle went for a short swim and Julie and I walked along the beach to an American memorial nearby. We also enjoyed some frappes, as all Cretan visitors should.

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They have a playground there too complete with a dinosaur rocking horse.

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We took Kyle and Julie to the airport and said, "see you later." We are happy to report that they are moving only one hour away from us this summer! We are so excited to have such good friends close by.

We then made our way down to the southern end of the island to Agia Galini. This is a former little fishing village turned tourist mecca but I have to say, it has retained its charm. Here is the beach area.

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Our inn in Agia Galini.

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The next day we took a little hike in the morning and spent the afternoon lounging at a cafe/restaurant that overlooked the beach. Parts of the hike reminded me of Arizona.

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Goats and goat shadows

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We made a trip out to Preveli beach with a stop along the way for more hiking.

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Preveli beach was a little tricky to find and involved driving along a tiny road with a steep drop off with no guard rail. I don't think we ever would have made it to this beach without the help of a local Greek man who stopped us from going down some crazy ungraded dirt road where we probably would have ended up pushing our little Fiat Panda!

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The beach before the beach.

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The hike to the beach.
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The funny thing about Greece is, that no matter how far you drive on whatever crazy kind of road and no matter how far you walk or hike, there will ALWAYS be a taverna at the end of your adventure! You can see the two tavernas in the previous pictures.

Finally, Prevelli beach.

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This beach is known for its Palm Forest and river leading down into the sea.

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Our last day we went for a walk along another dirt path over two hills. On the other side turned out to be a local beach. This was the first spot we went to that wasn't predominately tourists. I finally was brave enough to make it into the water and after the initial shock, it wasn't quite that cold. This little beach, Agios Giorgios had the BEST taverna and BEST food of the entire trip. I loved the whole vibe with hippie/surf bum/beach servers, cover bands playing reggae and oldies on the radio, and yet another gorgeous view. I hope one day we can come back to this spot.

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Quinn told me that this was one of his favorite trips and I have to agree. The welcoming people, delicious food, and unbeatable scenery of Greece are magical.

Posted by trackers 12:32 Archived in Greece Comments (0)

Aaron and Lisa

Quinn's kindergarten friend, Aaron, made the long trip across the pond with his fantabulous girlfriend Lisa to come tour Europe with us. We started them off showing them around some of our local haunts including an open cellar weinfest event in Punderich. This town has a bunch of old timber buildings and is a very quintessential Mosel river town.

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Open cellar events are fun because each winery in the town open up their cellars and gardens for viewing and make food. There was even some live music and some guy walking around telling jokes and singing. You can see his historical get-up. Not sure what he was all about.

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Some of the joys of traveling are receiving mystery food. We were told we were getting some roasted wild boar meat. These look like deli meat slices to me! They were delicious though so can't complain.

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On day two Aaron and Lisa were game for a bike ride so we took them on the Maar Mosel Radweg. This is an old train route that they turned into a bike path. It passes by a couple of monasteries, a brewery, and also a renovated castle. The weather cooperated and we even got to stop for a drink along the way. (Quinn doesn't often allow breaks!!!)

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These pictures are taken from a scenic viewpoint in Piesport. There is a road called Panoramastrasse that provides the most amazing view of a bend in the river. I love this spot. We got the obligatory photo and then found a winery that has the most amazing patio and view. I cannot believe we had never been to this spot before.
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Piesport was also having an open cellar day and they had soup in a bread bowl!

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We also went on a little walk through our town and then hiked up the side of one of the vineyards for a view. Man! Those hills are no joke. I could not imagine harvesting the grapes on these hills. This is the first time Quinn and I have ever actually hiked straight up one.

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Our town center. Photo credit goes to Lisa. It is neat to see your own town through someone else's view point. It is pretty cute here as long as you are ok with storm clouds.
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Lisa and Aaron went to France and Switzerland while Quinn and I worked during the week. Then we all piled in the car to go to the Netherlands. I had found a town called Giethoorn on a buzzfeed list and I really wanted to check it out. It is famous for being a town with no roads. There are only canals and pedestrian paths. This was a very rural area of the Netherlands and our hotel was also right on a canal. The Netherlands never disappoints.

Walking to Blokzijl and checking out the town center. Ethan was hunting sheep. We also met a Dutch/American couple on bikes from Amsterdam who were towing a blow up kayak on their bike trailer. Sounds like a fun adventure.

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Giethoorn. The town with no roads.

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Our fearless boat captain and his first mate.

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This is maybe too many pictures of Giethoorn but it was just so adorable.

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We spotted someone wearing wooden clogs. This is a first for me.

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We saw quite a few storks and nests along the way.

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Lisa found a nest swing. What better way to end a day than a little playtime on the playground.

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We spent the next couple of days bumming around Utrecht which is a college town and of course, as is Dutch style, full of canals, amazing architecture, and windmills.

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And people wearing costumes while racing row boats.

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And people doing the conga out of bars to celebrate

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Wait....we know that girl at the end, LISA!!!

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Qunn also took us on a pub crawl. It had a little of everything. An old renovated church turned bar, a dive bar with an airplane wing as the liquor stand, and a fancy pants cocktail bar complete with full sprigs of mint and whole slices of cucumber.

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We topped it off with a castle drive by.

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One last fun quirky tidbit about Utrecht. This was a rainbow crosswalk and take a look at the red stop light. It is a little bunny.

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On our last night with Aaron and Lisa we met up with my friend Jochen and his girlfriend Sandy and we all went to dinner at an Abbey near our house. It has quite the picturesque location. We couldn't let them leave without a traditional German meal and Lisa ordered the best dish which was a dumpling with cream sauce and bacon on it. Yum!

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We had so much fun with these two and we hope that they enjoyed their European tour. We jammed a lot of activities into their trip and the weather didn't always cooperate but overall it was a fantastic time.

Posted by trackers 10:48 Archived in Netherlands Comments (0)

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