About Sherry Ott

Sherry Ott

Sherry Ott is a refugee from corporate IT who is now a long term traveler, blogger, and photographer. She’s a co-founder of http://www.briefcasetobackpack.com, a website offering career break travel inspiration and advice. She posts over on https://plus.google.com/103115118174711820529/posts as well.

Additionally, she runs an around the world travel blog writing about her travel and expat adventures at http://www.ottsworld.com.com.


Latest Posts by Sherry Ott

Unique Travel Excursions & Lodging Beyond Belfast

March 30, 2015 by  

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Northern Ireland attractions Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge

Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge – a fun Northern Ireland attraction

Belfast is one of the up and coming destinations that seems to be gracing many ‘must visit’ lists . Yet as great and gritty as Belfast is, don’t stop there, keep going North! There are many reasons to go beyond the city and see the other Northern Ireland attractions along the coast and in villages.

When I ventured out of Belfast, I found myself experiencing and enjoying Gin, Gusts, Giants, and Gastronomy.

Will Travel For Gin

My favorite travel moments are the ones that are unplanned and spontaneous. And that’s exactly how I ended up in the little village of Bushmills in Northern Ireland. I pulled into Bushmills thanks to a simple tweet about gin – Shortcross Gin – Northern Ireland’s craft gin. As I was traveling through Ireland someone at Shortcross Gin took notice and suggested on Twitter that I go to Bushmills in Northern Ireland. I had a car and time, and I love Gin, so why not?

As I researched it further I learned that Bushmills Inn was an iconic accommodation that was an important part of Northern Ireland’s history. It was established in 1608 as an old Coaching Inn and Mill House, but evolved into the 21st century as a 4 star hotel.

In addition to being an amazing Inn full of history and charm, it had a secret hidden library, a flag room, and a real gaslight bar, roaring peat fires, and of course Short Cross Gin. Oh yes, and it was a great homebase to see the Northern Ireland Coastal Sites.

Gusts and Guts at the Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge

“The bridge is 100 feet high. Be careful with the selfies, it may be your last,” the guide yelled at us as he took our tickets to cross the old rope bridge. What did I do after hearing this…I got out my camera to record my trip across the wobbly bridge of course. I’m scared of heights and by recording my walk over the bridge – it kept me from thinking about dangling above the rocky cliffs and sudden wind gusts.

The views on the other side of the bridge were worth it. Yet the fishermen who used to utilize this bridge probably never cared much about the views – as the bridge was simply their way to get their salmon catch back to the mainland. In fact, their original bridge had big gaps in the slats and only one little rope for a ‘handrail’. Today’s bridge is quite different, but it is still made of rope and provides a good stomach-churning sway in the middle.

Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge

Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge – tread lightly…and no selfies…

Northern Ireland attractions coast

The walk out to Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge

After exploring the island views on the other side, I got back in line to cross back over the bridge. This time I put my camera safely away – which made the whole walk across much harder. About midway over the bridge I notice it started swinging more, I tightened my grip on the ropes and slowed down watching my every step.

More swinging and even bouncing was occurring, and I was panicked. Had the wind gusts suddenly picked up? I heard footsteps behind me. I stopped, turned around and looked directly at the young boy behind me who was oblivious bouncing up and down on the bridge as if it’s an amusement park ride. My eyes were like daggers staring into his and as he made eye contact with me. I gave him a look that said, “You should die little boy,” without uttering a word. He looked at me, stopped bouncing and said “Sorry”. Satisfied with my witchy attitude and scaring young children, I continued gingerly across the bridge. I guess this is just one more reason why I would make a terrible mother.

Giant Stories at Giant’s Causeway

This UNESCO world heritage sight gets the big billing in Northern Ireland and for good reason. It’s 40,000 interlocking basalt columns, the result of an ancient volcanic eruption are definitely unique. It was said that Giant Finn McCool built the causeway as a roadway to Scotland. However, you can decide for yourself if science/nature caused these rock formations, or Giant Finn McCool. My guide who seemed to be part comedian and part guide, entertained me with stories of giants, fairies, and sheep. But he also gave some solid advice for how to tackle this big tourist attraction, which sees thousands of visitors a day.

Upon arriving in the parking lot, take the Giants Causeway cliff route and view the formations from above atop the cliffs, and then walk down the steep stairs to the crashing waves and view them the formations up close. Avoid the stairs on the way back and come back on the road with a gentle uphill. He also advised to not go into the overpirced visitor center and instead go to the Nook bar and restaurant on the corner of the parking lot where a warm fire and beer waits.

northern ireland attractions giants causeway

Giants Causeway at sunset

Once at the bottom by the basalt columns, you can climb all over them making you feel like you are a pawn in a giant chess game. I do wonder how long they will continue to let people walk around on the columns. You can tell the stones are getting worn down, which is concerning. Wind and water also do their damage – but the wear is certainly sped up with humans climbing all over them too.

Small Town Gastronomy

After visiting all of the coastal sights, treat yourself at Bushmills Restaurant. In addition to the unique and welcoming gaslight bar, Bushmills is also known for it’s gastronomy in it’s award winning restaurant. Gordan McGladery head chef for 7 yrs, recently won the ‘Yes Chef’ award. All products are locally sourced from small farmers who Chef McGladery maintains long term relationships with.

The restaurant had an old charm to it with little nooks/snugs and wooden booths for privacy with small windows to peer on your neighbor discreetly. It was perfect for solo dining in privacy! I started with a Duo of Quail – a pan seared breast and ballotine of leg with textures of pear and cashel blue cheese. It was a great mix of flavors – salty sweet and a variety of texture – crunchy, puréed pear, creamy pungent blue cheese, and crunchy crouton. I had a main dish of fillet of beef medallions with a fondant potato lentil casserole, mushroom trartlet, and red wine jus. And I couldn’t pass up finishing with sticky date pudding with fresh cream. This was quality fine dining in a tiny little town – I was impressed!

Sticky pudding Bushmills northern ireland

Warm sticky pudding at Bushmills Inn and Restaurant

Finally, It’s worth it to stay over in the area at Bushmills Inn as you’ll beat all of the tour bus crowds coming from Dublin and Belfast!

So make sure you go beyond Belfast during your time in Northern Ireland, and don’t forget your camera!

Northern Ireland attractions giants causeway

Giants Causeway from above. You can barely make out the thousand of columns, and the people look like ants!

Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge Northern Ireland

Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge sways 100 ft above the crashing sea below

Northern Ireland attractions

The hike down from the cliffs to Giants Causeway – the less traveled route

Northern Ireland attractions gastronomy

Duo of Quail – a pan seared breast and ballotine of leg with textures of pear and cashel blue cheese.

Northern Ireland attractions Giants Causeway

Basalt columns of Giants Causeway

Northern Ireland attractions

Exploring the island on the other side of the bridge

Bushmills Inn Flag room where they have a flag from every country. They fly the country flag of the guest who came the greatest distance to Bushmills each day – and today it was me!

Northern Ireland attractions giants causeway

Visitors climb on the columns of Giants Causeway

Northern Ireland attractions Bushmills

Warm up by the roaring peat fires at Bushmills Inn

Northern Ireland attractions

In this perspective you can really see that they are indeed columns.

Disclosure:  I was a guest of the Bushmills Inn for a night.  However all opinions here are my own.

 

Ireland’s Wild Atlantic Way Can Be Magical in the Rain Too…

March 26, 2015 by  

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rainy day  ireland wild atlantic way

Don’t let the rain stop you – there’s plenty to do and stay dry at the same time in Ireland’s Wild Atlantic Way.

I wake up slowly feeling rested and relaxed after a deep sleep. I turn and curl up in a fetal position soaking in all of the warmth under the covers as the light of day starts to illuminate the curtains of my hotel room. Then I hear it – pitter patter, pitter patter on the glass window. My brain slowly flickers on and makes sense of the sounds. Damn…it’s raining, now what I am going to do?

Ireland will throw all sorts of weather at you so it’s pretty likely that during your holiday time in Ireland it will rain, blow, and downpour at some point – probably many times. So it’s great to have a few ideas in your itinerary for what to do on a rainy day along Ireland’s Wild Atlantic Way.

Tour Old Homes

While it rained sideways outside I went inside the Bantry House and Gardens in County Cork and was greeted with a warm crackling fire. The Bantry House established around 1765 has a complex family tree attached to it, but through the centuries has been preserved as one of the few old family homes surviving the Civil War in Ireland (1922 – 23). In fact, the main reason it did survive the battles was because it was used as a hospital during the Civil War and for years after.

While the weather was wild outside, my imagination ran wild inside. If you are a daydreamer like myself, the moment you step into the house you’ll be transported into another era of clinking fine china in dining halls, waltzing in ball gowns, and secret business being done in the library. The Bantry House artifacts were a result of extensive family travel in Europe and Russia in the 1820’s.

And when the rain lets up don’t miss the beautiful Bantry House Gardens surrounding the property!

rainy day Bantry House Ireland

Elegant Bantry House is a trip back in time

Rainy day bantry house ireland

Fantasize about big dinner parties and balls at the Bantry House.

More information:
Bantry House Website
Hours: Closed in Winter Months – check hours on website
Cost: €11 includes House and Garden access
Stay: Treat yourself to an overnight at the Bantry House Bed & Breakfast

Visit a Studio

Wind was swirling outside, and the pottery wheel was swirling inside. Take a rainy day along the Wild Atlantic Way and use it to visit artist studios. I stopped at Dunbeacon Pottery on Sheepshead Peninsula and was excited to find Potter, Helen Ennis, hard at work in her studio. Drawing inspiration from the County Cork & the Wild Atlantic Way, Helen designs pieces that capture the essence of her surrounding landscape. In fact, her pottery takes on the color palette of the surrounding sea in subtle blues, greens, and cream making my day feel brighter the moment I walked in.

I talked to Helen about how she got her start as an apprentice and landed this beautiful studio right along the coast. She bought the studio and pottery business in 2000 from an old potter who wanted to see the legacy continue when he retired. She has built up her own line focusing on functional items for the home such as teapots, mugs, vases, pitchers and bowls.

rainy day pottery studio ireland wild atlantic way

Dunbeacon pottery studio – a perfect rainy day thing to do!

More Information:
Dunbeacon Pottery Website
Location: West Country Cork, 3 miles from the village of Durrus in the direction of Goleen. Visitors are welcome to come and browse the showroom and watch the making process.
Phone: 027 61036

Explore Abandoned Grounds

If it’s pouring rain, then head to the Muckross House in Killarney National Park and do an indoor tour of this stunning Nineteenth Century Victorian Mansion. However if the rain lets up a little and you have some proper rain gear, then head on over to the Abandoned Muckross Abbey and explore the spiritual side of Killarney National Park.

The abbey was founded in 1448 by Donal McCarthy Mor. The ruins of the church, cloister, and courtyard tell the story of the 15th century home to the Observatine Franciscan Monks and their century long struggle. Wander around the cemetery outside the abbey (which is still in use today) and then go inside to see the various tombs and climb up to the upper levels to explore this beautiful old structure from above. The centerpiece of the ruins is the yew tree which stands in the center of the cloisters; weathered, twisted, and majestic.

The abbey is still well preserved, so there are areas that are covered yet if the rain starts to become troublesome.

Rainy day muckross abbey ireland

Yew tree in the cloisters of Muckross Abbey

rainy day things to do Ireland muckross abbey

Wander the halls of abandoned Muckross Abbey on a rainy day.

rainy day muckross abbey cemetery

Muckross Abbey Cemetery

More Information:
Muckross Abbey Website
Location: Muckross Abbey is open to the public and is just a short walk from the car park on the N71
For the Brave – there night ghost tours of the abbey

Pubs and Music

Escape the rain in a pub!

This probably goes without saying – but one of the best places to weather the storm in Ireland is inside any pub along the Wild Atlantic Way. Places like Harry’s Bar in Inishowen County Donegal will offer you a warm fire, local craft beer, toe tapping music, and a seat at the bar where you can talk to locals all afternoon until the storm passes. I spent one of my favorite afternoons there listening to music and talking to locals!

Don’t let the weather get you down, there’s plenty of things to do on a rainy day in Ireland along the Wild Atlantic Way!

 

The Beauty of Canmore Alberta’s Ice and Snow

March 21, 2015 by  

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I am stuck to Canmore like Flick was stuck to the flag pole in the movie a Christmas Story.  After three weeks in Alberta, it will be hard to pry me away. No ‘triple dog dares’ necessary – I’m staying in these gorgeous mountains!  I continued to be amazed at everything you can do (besides skiing) in Alberta in the winter – it really is packed with adventures.

This last week I celebrated my birthday with the arrival of friends from NYC and we thoroughly explored every high and low of Alberta.  We took Rockies Heli for a spin up, up, up around the Canadian Rockies’ peaks and then landed for a little snowshoeing and picnic with the ultimate view.  The next day we plummeted down to the depths of Alberta and tried caving in Canmore for the very first time.  After all of the slithering through small spaces, we ended up with a few battle wounds and bruises to show off our feats of caving bravery.

In between we hit the ice – both in carving and curling.  Last week was the start of the Canmore Winter Carnival so we participated in some ice carving and participated in some beer drinking.  We also found our inner Canadian -eh and  learned the art of ice curling.  So far out of all of the ‘firsts’ that I’ve done this month, learning how to curl with our instructor Hugh was my favorite.  I may look like I know what I’m doing in the picture below – but I have to admit, the first time I tried to push off, I went 2 feet and fell over.  Good thing I learn fast.

sunrise Canadian Rockies

Is there anything more beautiful than morning light on the Canadian Rockies? Taken from my balcony this morning. God I love this view.

Rockies Helicopter

A new way to see the Canadian Rockies. Take me to the snow! #SeeSnowDifferently

Ice Carving Alberta

Ever seen anyone iron ice before? The #Canmore winter festival is in full swing starting w ice carving competitions! #explorealberta

Three Sisters Canmore Alberta

The peaks of the Three Sisters looking over #Canmore

Learning to throw stones in houses. Another ‘first’ for me – learning to curl at the #Canmore curling club and this has been my favorite new winter activity so far! This is the moment where all of this yoga I’ve been doing came in handy!

Spray Lakes Alberta

Spray Lakes in #Kananaskis – where I’ll be spending my day today fishing!

Mount Engadine Lodge Alberta

Taking in the view on a mild winter day at Mount Engadine Lodge in #Kananaskis . Stopped here for a hot toddy adter a challenging day of snowshoeing to Chester Lake.

Lake Louise Alberta

I sort of felt like Santa’s elves were going to come out of this little hut at Lake Louise and greet me!

alberta landscape wildlife

A little wildlife sighting. Goats roaming around Spray Lakes in #Kananaskis

Caving Canmore Alberta

How do you feel about small spaces? This was the first time I had ever went caving and found I’m not claustrophobic. Phew! We were inside slithering around caving for 4 hrs! Yet I am still scared of heights and the 60 ft repel into the cave had me shaking. You can cave year around in #Alberta. And yet another fun thing to do here in the winter!

Alberta winter landscape

This snowshoeing trail in Lake Louise feels like I’ve been transported to Narnia !

Disclosure:  I am a guest of Travel Alberta during my stay in Canmore, however all opinions are my own!

 

Where to Taste the Best Chocolate in Paris

March 17, 2015 by  

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best chocolate in paris

You’ve heard of all of the famous fashion houses in Paris – Chanel, Pierre Cardin, Dior, Givenchy, Jean Paul Gaultier, Hermès, Vuitton, Yves Saint Laurent to name a few. But have you heard of the great chocolate houses in Paris? My love for fashion may be about equal to my love of chocolate – but chocolate tastes better.

Hugo et Victor

It’s new and sleek – established in 2010. They were very innovative in their products and design giving classical pastries and chocolates a modern twist. They focus on 2 or 3 flavors each season and only feature these. It was grapefruit and citrus when I visited in the fall. We tried the covered chocolates filled with ganache (chocolate and cream mixture).

The molded chocolate concoctions were nearly too cute to eat…nearly. They make the molds first and then inject with the creamy liquid filling – meant to be eaten in one bite. Each piece has a different flavors of filling. This was certainly a high end place – and had a slightly uncomfortable atmosphere due to it.

best chocoloate in paris

Learning about the chocolate flavors at Hugo et Victor

La Maison du Chocolat

Started in 1977 and known worldwide for their ganache. This is chocolate for adults. Even their macarons are made with ganache and a butter cream mixture – a signature recipe for them. They use 3 main fillings for their chocolates – ganache, praline, and mousse – plus some specialty alcohols. I tried a cinnamon ganache which was delicious and a crepe praline. The crepe praline reminded me of an inside out crepe with nutella – the crispy crepe pieces that made it taste like nuts and gave it a great texture and crunch.

paris chocolate tour

Choices, choices at La Maison du Chocolat

Pierre Herme

The chocolate house of Pierre Herme is definitely in fashion – as evidenced by the big line of people outside waiting to get into the impeccable and tiny show room. I felt a bit claustrophobic, as a few minutes inside as not only was there a long line of customers – but behind the tiny counter there were 8 employees trying to serve the customers. They all looked like Robert Palmer’s backup band if you ask me – a mix of chocolate, fashion, and rock and roll. Pierre is known for his large pastry cake that looks sort of like a giant macaron. And yes – his macarons are to die for. He definitely gets the award for being the most avante guard of the houses we visited. He was a master of flavors putting together flavors of his macarons that no normal person would typically consider such as foie gras and chocolate – the one I tried. It was surprisingly delicious. It had just a hint of foie gras taste to it, but it was mainly light and creamy – practically like a mousse. He was also showcasing seasonal flavors such as truffle in his macarons. Each flavorful masterpiece was 2Euro each – a high end price tag for high end pastry.

best paris chocolate

The Robert Palmer chocolate girls at Pierre Herme in Paris

best paris macarons

Foie gras and chocolate macaron at Pierre Herme

Gerard Mulot

The traditional powerhouse and elder of the group. As soon as we came to his corner store and peered in the windows I immediately knew I was in Paris – his store was exactly what I would have expected from a Paris pastry shop. Beautifully showcased items in the windows, welcoming neighborhood vibe and a crowd of people inside. Gerard is an older pastry chef – Caroline thought he was nearing 60 years old and trying to get ready for retirement. However he’s been baking his traditional loved recipes now since the early 80’s and hadn’t really named a successor according to Caroline. He still mixes his macaron batter by hand each morning. It’s a precision process and apparently by the looks of the crowd inside he has the right precision. I had a salted caramel macaron as I oogled the beautiful fig and berry cakes which were like works of art.

best chocolate in paris

Gerard Mulot’s chocolate and pastry filled windows

Pierre Marcoline

Pierre appeared to be more of a scientist than a baker. He is all about where the chocolate comes from – starting with the cocoa farms. He works very closely with the plantations and seems to approach his business from the scientific side. It was the first chocolate house we entered that had a vast variety of chocolate bars for sale. And the packaging on each bar was amazing to read. It read more like a wine label than chocolate label; talking about aromas and tasting notes in addition to where the beans came from. It was really refreshing to see this side of the chocolate industry. He also sold little filled chocolates – small bite sized pieces that looked practically like trays of makeup rather than chocolates! I tried the pink peppercorn with dark chocolate – one of my favorite combinations.

paris chocolate

The science of chocolate at Pierre Marcoline

Henri Le Roux

Chocolatier et Caramelier – A French name, but a Japanese twist. The Henri Le Roux brand was bought a few years ago by Mr. Ishii from Japan. We had the pleasure of actually meeting Mr. Ishii while in the store. I was surprised to find out that he didn’t come from a pastry or chocolate background – but instead he came from a fashion background. However clearly he had put years of research into his products. He took the traditional French styles and gave them an Asian twist which I loved. I tried the sesame filled chocolate as well as the green tea chocolate and loved the uniqueness of them. He also had a great variety of colorful caramels, which was a really nice change from chocolate. I had never seen so many flavored caramels – I tried the cherry cardamom one and was pleasantly surprised with the tartness after the excessive chocolate we had all afternoon. Mr. Ishii also served Japanese tea and had turned his showroom into part chocolate shop and part teahouse.

Paris chocolate Henri Le Roux

Paris chocolate with an Asian twist

flavored caramel henri le roux paris

Flavored caramels at Henri Le Roux

Un Dimanche a Paris

Focused on the gastronomy of chocolate. They not only had a little show room, but also a café. The café kitchen was enclosed in glass so you could see the chefs at work preparing pastries and chocolate. This shop had some different chocolate products that I had never seen before as well as thick hot chocolate that might just put you into a chocolate coma. I was most impressed with the little chocolate spice beads. Spices such as rosemary, pepper, or basil were coated in chocolate and then could be eaten for a blast of spicy flavor or used for adding to your cooking. I was really intrigued by this new way to cook with chocolate and pleasantly surprised by the flavor of these little chocolate pellets.

Cooking with chocolate in paris

Cook and flavor with chocolate!

Patrick Rodger

The sculpture. A life-size tiger devouring chocolate lie in the front window of Patrick Rodger chocolate house. The tiger was made of milk chocolate by hand and gave the whole store an amazing chocolate aroma. The store design was very minimal with a bright turquoise coloring. There were no labels on anything requiring you to strike up a conversation with the women who worked there to learn more about the flavors. I asked the woman what her favorite was and she handed me the citron basil chocolate. Probably the most surprising and intense flavor I had all day! It was so zesty with an aftertaste of light basil – delicious! It was the perfect ending to this chocolate afternoon as it sort of served as a pallet cleanser.

paris chocolate art

A practically life size chocolate tiger. Roar!

I never knew there were so many Paris chocolate houses in the small area of Saint Germain des Pres – one would think that it was too many – but then again each were so distinctly different from the other. Plus – can there ever be too much chocolate?

Tour Information:
Paris Chocolate and Pastry Food Tour
Come with a sweet tooth – stops at 9 places and have samples at each one!

Disclosure: I was a guest of Viator Travel on this Paris Chocolate Tour, however all opinions here are my own.

 

Come See Snow Differently in Alberta Canada

March 13, 2015 by  

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Things really heated up in Canmore, Alberta for me this last week – both in temperature and in activities!  I’ve been living the best of both worlds lately – warm spring like weather in Canmore, and fluffy snow a short drive away.

This week, I practically did a snowshoeing/hiking marathon, including a night hike with crampons to Johnson Canyon to see the frozen waterfall and awake my other sense besides sight.  It’s amazing what you can hear in the canyon at night.  I snowshoed through freshly fallen snow in Lake Louise with the most awesome informative guide Nadine and learned more than I ever imagined about the intricacies of a snowflake.  Then I did a long snowshoe hike in Banff to a remote ‘Laura Ingles’ log cabin called Sundance Lodge.  And finally I snowshoed up, up, up to Chester Lake in Kananaskis.  It was approximately 20 miles in those snow shoes – my quads, hamstrings, and calves burned and the all of the winter activity left me sweating like crazy – what a great active adventure snowshoeing is!  After all of that, my aching muscles deserved a spa break – so I made sure to replenish in Banff at Cedar & Sage Spa.

In addition to all of this winter hiking, I also was able to go for a few rides where someone else did all the work and this included a dog sledding adventure on the Great Divide.  It’s incredible to see how much the dogs love to run – and I was happy they were doing the work!  I also took a ride up on the Banff Gondola to Sulphur Mountain.  There motto is “You’ll see more mountains in a moment than in your lifetime.” – and it’s absolutely true.  Come and See Snow Differently – as flakes of amazing, endless fun and activities.

Spray Lakes alberta

Its a great day to reflect here on the Spray Lakes near Canmore. Remember to breathe. #explorealberta

snowshoeing canmore

A little Where’s Waldo challenge for you! Can you find me snowshoeing in the pic? A great uphill 4 mi. trail to Chester Lake in Kananaskis Alberta with @jessharcombe today – kicked my butt! #SeeSnowDifferently

Dogsledding lake louise

After a 10 mile hike yesterday I’m happy these guys are doing the work today! #SeeSnowDifferently

Log cabin in the woods canada

My night in a log cabin in the woods made me feel a bit like Laura Ingles last night. After hiking 10 miles into the remote Sundance Lodge w @leeabbamonte we were treated with a roaring fire and hot chocolate. So happy we made it! #SeeSnowDifferently

I'm on top of the world canada

My ‘I’m on top of the world’ moment in the Canadian Rockies. Leo has nothin’ on me!

Bow River Valley photo

The Bow River from above as seen from the top of the gondola station in Banff. It looks like a snake winding around the valley below! #explorealberta

Canmore Kananaskis Alberta photo

A blanket of fog rolls over #Canmore down in the valley below. #explorealberta

Sulphur Mountain Banff Gondola

Want to see mountains? You’ll get your fill on top of Sulphur Mtn. Take the Banff Gondola up to the top and walk the ridge to the Cosmic Ray Station. We had a stunning day viewing the Canadian Rockies & Now Valley from this viewpoint – I didn’t want to leave!

Spa day Banff

Relaxing way to start the weekend in #myBanff – massage & fresh juice at Cedar & Sage Spa

Snowshoeing Lake Louise

Snow showing in freshly fallen snow around Lake Louise. Tree tops filled w snow would get too heavy and then snow bomb usas we walked by. #SeeSnowDifferently

Night Snow Johnson Canyon

Viewing the newly fallen snow at night on the Johnston Canyon night walk w @BanffTours . It was great to engage the other senses and hear the water flowing below the ice!

 

Hiking Solo in the Rainy & Misty Ireland Landscape

March 3, 2015 by  

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I found myself alone in a strange landscape as the taxi drove off in the rain. I looked around at my foreign landscape and could see for miles – and for miles there was nothing or no one. Not even a tree. I felt like Katniss at the beginning of the Hunger Games – but instead of mutant dogs there were cows staring at me wondering, “who the hell is this invading our land.”

burren walking trail cows

Moments before in the taxi, the driver – an old Irish guy who smelled like smoke and reminded me of my grandfather – asked me in a somewhat worrisome tone, “Do you know where you are going?”
“Not exactly,” I replied as I started to unfold my piece of paper, “I have some instructions that I’m going to follow.”
He continued driving up the hill, turned on the windshield wipers as it started to rain a bit and then asked, “You have a phone right?”
“Yes I do. However, I don’t know if I’ll have a connection up here,” I nervously laughed.
We arrived at the drop off point – an old, muddy farm road. Before I got out of the taxi the driver gave me his card and looked me in the eyes and said, call me if you have any problems. I couldn’t shake the feeling that he seemed a bit uneasy just dropping me off in the rain and leaving me there.

I was perched high up on Black Head a local name given to this Northwest section of the Burren in County Clare Ireland. The Burren (meaning Great Rock) is one of the most alien-like places I’ve been in the world. The landscape is made up of limestone pavements with criss-crossing cracks known as “grikes”, leaving isolated rocks called “clints”. This is a fascinating part of the world with more than 90 megalithic tombs in the area, portal dolmens, a Celtic high cross, and a number of ring forts. However at the moment I didn’t even notice the landscape beneath my feet as I stared out in the distance over the Atlantic where I could see the next storm approaching. I pulled my raincoat hood up and tightened it, looked at my instructions again, and started walking.

The burren ireland photo

This is exactly what I wanted – when planning this trip the whole idea was to be able to travel solo but still do adventurous things. Just because I was alone didn’t mean I couldn’t hike and that’s where Ireland Walk Hike Bike came in. Once I found out they offered self guided walks I was all set. Granted – I hadn’t wanted the rain, but it’s Ireland – and you just learn to live with it.  There’s something I absolutely love about being in adverse situations on my own – it makes me stronger. And it seemed fitting that I was in the rain on this barren landscape filled with cows and endless rock fences.

Since I was hiking solo, I did take extra precautions. I had marked the waypoints on my Google maps on my phone and I had my Telecom Square mobile device so I did have a cell/data signal and a way to see where I was going, and I could contact people if I needed to get help. My B&B owner knew when to expect me back as the hike had me walking directly back to the B&B I was staying at in Ballyvaughan. And occasionally Linda, from Walk Hike Bike, called me or texted me to make sure I was ok. It was nice to know that I even though I was hiking solo, people were watching out for me.

Soon I was climbing over fences, sloshing around in the puddles, talking to cows and I even got to witness a Rumble in the Burren with two goats relentlessly fighting.

Burren walking trail

During the whole 5 hour 13km walk I never saw another person which made me feel even more remote and badass. The Burren trail was varied, moving from grazing fields, to little farms, to forest areas, and river beds. I found my way pretty easily until the end when I was practically in town and seemed to get lost a bit in the woods. But I was able to find my way and decided to reward myself for another solomission accomplished. I didn’t take me long to find a warm, welcoming pub and pint of Guinness in Ballyvaughan.

It was a great day of being off the grid and on my own overcoming adverse weather and proving to myself that I could do self guided hiking in Ireland.

abandoned bath tub burren

burren ireland walking trails

stone walls the burren ireland

the burren ireland walk

fauna the burren ireland

The Burren Ireland sheep

Ballyvaughan ireland signpost

How you can do the Burren Walking Trails Solo:

Ireland Walk Hike Bike:  self guided hikes. This walk isn’t actually listed on the website as a standard walk – but simply contact them (info@irelandwalkhikebike.com) and tell them you’d like to organize the Black Head walk. They will arrange the B&B, taxi to the drop off point, and arm you with all the info you need.  They’ll even text you to check up on you during the hike!

Gear:  Make sure you have a cell phone that has coverage, rain gear, sturdy shoes, and of course a camera!

 

 

Abandoned Sites: Remember, Ugly Can Be Beautiful Too

March 2, 2015 by  

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I love the dirty, broken down and forgotten.  I’m not exactly sure why I adore finding beauty in things that are left behind, but I think it has something to do with the fact that it ignites my imagination.  I start to daydream about why it was abandoned, what the circumstances were, and who was involved.  I create stories in my mind about what was the fateful turning point for the property – a slow degradation process or a disaster that made someone leave the space behind quickly?

Abandoned sites are one of my favorite things to photograph. Below are a collection of some of the ugly, abandoned, destroyed, run-down, and forgotten elements around the world – each complete with a story of why it represents the element for me.

Earth

  • Definition:  Represents the hard, solid objects of the earth.  Associated with stubbornness, collectiveness , physicality and gravity.

abandoned whaling village antarctica

An abandoned whaling station on Deception Island Antarctica fills with snow over the decades. To me Antarctica represents the earth element because in order to survive there as a human or animal you had to have a hardness and stubbornness more so than any other place in the world.   It is the last piece of earth that is really uninhabited where humans are not in charge – the earth itself and elements are the real ones in charge in this icy landscape.

All that remains of the whaling station at Whalers Bay in Deception Island are some rusted out buildings, and whale skeletons. It’s strange to walk around the buildings and imagine what the area was like in it’s height of operation. Big boiling vats have since sunken into the ground, machinery has rusted, buildings are buckling, and a ‘memorial’ cemetery was erected to honor the cemetery that was destroyed in a 1969 volcanic eruption.

Fire

  • Definition:  Represents the energetic, forceful, moving things in the world.  Associated with security, motivation, desire, intention, and an outgoing spirit.

Abandoned office in Berlin

An abandoned office in a old meat factory in Berlin brings me strong feelings of fire.  Not only did the whole abandoned building smell of smoke from the old smoking ovens in the factory, this office in particular reminded me of fire.  I remember gasping as I turned the corner and peering into the office.  After pursuing my corporate career for years, an office to me represents security, motivation, and desire.  This Berlin office in particular reminded me of all of the intense energy I mustered up to leave my security behind and start moving around the world.  It was an emotional explosion at the time.  When I left – this was my picture of what was going to happen to my career – I was abandoning it in a smoldering mess – all to follow this new force and desire in my life – travel.

Situated in old East Berlin, the Alte Fleischfabrik (Old Meat Factory) was owned by the Konsumgenossenschaft (KGB), a consumer association, and was established in 1899. The KGB office buildings, meat factory, bakery, and power plant were built in 1909. These hearty brick buildings survived two world wars, but it appears that after the wall fell, so did the KGB. The buildings were abandoned, sold to private investors, and today remnants and odors of the old KGB business remains as if it were hit by a nuclear war.

Water

  • Definition:  Represents the fluid, flowing, formless things in the world.  Associated with emotion, defensiveness, adaptability, flexibility, suppleness, and magnetism.

Bay of Fundy dock

This dock in New Brunswick Canada appears abandoned approximately twice a day thanks to the force of the Bay of Fundy and it’s massively changing tides.  I drove by this dock at low tide and fishing and row boats appeared abandoned resting on the bottom of the bay.  I don’t think anything is more fluid than the Bay of Fundy which has the highest tidal changes in the world of 50 feet or more.  A whole fishing industry and Atlantic Maritime culture has to be flexible and adaptable in order to deal with the fluidity of the Bay of Fundy tides.

The Bay of Fundy tides are a unique and destination worthy phenomenon – it’s claim to fame is having the highest tidal range in the world. The tides in this bay which lies between Nova Scotia and New Brunswick rise and fall upwards of 53 feet a day. Think about it – that’s equal to a 5-story building – a lot of water change in a matter of 6+ hours.

Air

  • Definition:  Represents things that grow, expand, and enjoy freedom of movement.  Associated with will, elusiveness, evasiveness, benevolence, compassion, and wisdom.

Destroyed abandoned school piger nebraska tornado

This is what remains of my parent’s old high school in the tiny town of Pilger Nebraska.  It was destroyed this summer by the greatest most powerful air of all – a tornado.  As I walked around this town that had been destroyed by twin tornadoes I felt like I had been punched in the stomach and all of the air forced out of me.  Tornadoes are the ultimate freedom in movement, it’s air all compacted into one powerful funnel of destruction.

Yet once it blew through Pilger, it created something else – a community with a forceful will to survive, cleanup, and rebuild.  I watched from afar as the world came to the Pilger’s rescue with compassion and benevolence providing supplies, volunteers, and hope to those whose lives had been blown away by air.

A wide swath of nothingness threw my brain into a confused state. It was familiar, but it wasn’t. It felt real, or was it a dream? There were no trees, no homes, no cars, no electrical poles, no life – except for a few corn stalks. We stopped the car at where my aunt’s brick home used to stand. Nothing. I looked around – nothing. It was like a airport runway as I turned and looked clear through to the Main St. area which used to be hidden by houses and trees. All of the debris had been cleared away and put in large piles on the corner of town, but I could only imagine what it looked like right after the twin tornadoes rumbled through town.

And remember – ugly can be beautiful too!

What’s your favorite element?  Share it in the comments below!

Beautiful Irish Landscapes in Galway County

February 25, 2015 by  

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I imagined giant trolls roaming this treeless Ireland landscape. Big round boulders dot the bog land like a giant rock garden for the trolls. The sky was gray, and the fields were brown, and I was feeling an overwhelming amount of blah as I looked out my car window.

connemara ireland

This area in Galway County was so different than the flat Burren walking trails I had just come from. Fittingly a village named Roundstone was at the heart of this rock garden landscape.I rounded the corner along the Wild Atlantic Way and drove into the village of Roundstone – all of a sudden my blah color palette came alive – pinks, blues, yellows, greens appeared as if my ‘movie’ had just been colorized. I immediately stopped as I felt as I was aching for a little color in my life after a few rainy days. As I walked around Roundstone with my camera shooting the radiating colors of the town a guy stopped me and introduced himself on the street. He told me he retired around Roundstone and he went on to explain why.

“This is the most beautiful place I’ve ever seen,” he said as he gazed out at the horizon

His comment made made me stop and pause – I loved the uniqueness of the landscape but not sure I would call it the most beautiful I had ever seen. It made me wonder about this man, what would make him love such a really barren, brown area? An area where I imagined trolls to live.  I have often thought that the love of a barren landscape had something to do with what you are used to and where you grew up. My parents retired in Eastern South Dakota because it has a similar landscape and culture as where they grew up in northeast Nebraska. It brings them comfort. I wonder if this means that one day I’ll retire to a flat landlocked Midwestern town. After all, I am strangely drawn to ‘nowhere places’.

The guy invited me to coffee and as much as I wanted to go learn more about him and why he felt Roundstone Ireland was the most beautiful landscape he had seen – I had to decline and keep on driving. During my stay in the Roundstone area, I did really learn to appreciate and love the landscape – you can see why through these pictures.

What’s the most beautiful place you’ve ever seen and would you retire there? Let me know in the comments!

roundstone ireland

A boat tied up with a colorful blue rope at the Roundstone docks

roundstone ireland

A blue door sticks out among the blah colors.

Roundstone ireland

A fishing boat in the Roundstone harbor

abandoned home roundstone ireland

An abandoned home outside of Roundstone. Maybe a future retirement home someday?!

roundstone ireland

The Roundstone waterfront

connemara pictures

The Connemara landscape – is it the most beautiful place you’ve ever seen?

 

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