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

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?

 

Spirituality in the Heart of Harlem New York

February 22, 2015 by  

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Harlem New York church

I remember holding the big red hymnal as a child in church, trying to follow along with the somber song. I was horrible at singing and therefore mainly just murmured the words and followed along the best I could equivalent to shuffling my feet and letting my mother pull me along when I didn’t want to go to the Doctor. As a congregation, we’d stand, we’d sit. We’d repeat our ‘lines’ in the hymnals in a well-orchestrated mass. In fact, the word that best describes my memories of church is “follow” – Lutherans are good followers. Above, Legal double parking in Harlem – a special perk from God himself.

Have you ever been in church and had the urge to scream out, then I may have the place for you – Harlem. There seems to be a church on every corner in Harlem and on Sundays you are allowed to actually double park in the city due to the number of church services and lack of parking. I’m not sure what I’m more astonished about – the fact that God is calling the parking shots instead of NYC police or that people actually have cars in Manhattan.

The Holy Ghost is in the House

One of my favorite things about traveling the world is being introduced to new cultures that are different than my American upbringing. One thing I consistently notice is how outgoing and happy people are in other cultures, they often let it all hang out where Americans are sort of reserved. At least that’s what I thought before walking through the doors of Thessalonia Baptist Church. At Thessalonia no soul was reserved. In fact every soul was engaged and enthusiastically praising the Holy Ghost. People held hands, touched each other’s shoulders, they raised their hands skyward, and shook their heads in agreement as if someone was talking directly to them. And unlike my childhood church, there seemed to be no rules around sitting or standing – or time limits to gospel reading apparently. You simply let the Holy Spirit move you in whatever way you want. I loved this version of church. In fact, had I had this version of church when I was a kid I might still be attending services, driving a car, and legally double parking in Manhattan.

As part of this Harlem Gospel Tour, I walked into the service last December as they were singing a rousing rendition of Hark the Harold Angles Sing. Thessalonia gladly welcomed visitors, however the visitors seemed to immediately stand out because of their color – they were the only ones not wearing red in the congregation. Apparently the congregation wears red during the holiday season. In fact the fashion was the first thing I noticed, women dressed up in red dresses and elegant hats. Can I just say – we need more hats in our everyday lives…can I get an Amen for hats?

The gospel tour was more than just gospel, it covered all of Harlem showing off it’s many churches, history, music, and it even included a soul food brunch.  It was passionate, expressive, and a beautiful side of New York and religion to see – all right here on my home country’s soil double parked in Harlem.

More Info:
Harlem New York Gospel Tours via Viator – includes a tour of Harlem, church service, gospel music, and a soul food brunch.  Then spend the rest of the day walking around Harlem on your own!

Harlem New York gospel tour

The congregation dressed in red

Harlem gospel tour

In the shadow of the holy ghost. It seems like every blog in Harlem has a church.

Harlem tour

Strivers Row in Harlem at 138th St. Where many Harlem professionals got their start living in brown stones.

Harlem New York Tour

Store owner opens his shop on 125th St.

Harlem Gospel tour

Church on the corner

Harlem gospel tour

Thessalonia Baptist Church

Morris Jumel Mansion New York

Morris Jumel Mansion still stands in Harlem – architecture from eons ago in NYC.

Harlem Gospel tour

City University of New York Building in Harlem near Sugar Hill

Harlem friend chicken

Fried chicken for brunch. Served with collard greens, corn bread and rice – delish!

Harlem Tour

The Apollo theatre in Harlem

Harlem gospel tour

Harlem Church

Harlem gospel tour

The singing congregation

Harlem tour

An old cobblestone street with wooden row houses near Morris Jumel Mansion

Disclosure:  I was a guest of Viator Travel for this tour.  However all opinions expresses here are my own.

 

Marveling in a New Dusting of Snow Over Canmore

February 17, 2015 by  

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As a new dusting of snow fell on Canmore I strapped up my boots, put on my crampons and started my week of conquering my fear of heights in the Canadian Rockies.  This week I found myself higher than I felt comfortable with most of the time.  Yet it seemed that when I was at my breaking point, there was a voice – a voice of a stranger urging me on and providing encouragement from below.   Canmore is full of athletic people, and it’s also full of really supportive people.

I started the 2nd week in Alberta with more ‘firsts’  I learned how to climb on ice and climb on a wall for the first time.  I felt as if I had a lot of new things to try to absorb at once when it came to ice climbing – rope skills, verbal commands, knot tying, and climbing technique – oh yes, and it was really cold!  For the indoor wall portion I had the joy of meeting and learning from Sharon Wood, the first North American female to summit Everest in 1986.  She told me that climbing is more mental than physical; we can always get stronger – but it’s our mind that holds us back.  A good thing to consider as I was 75% of the way up  the wall and feeling like the world was spinning and my arms were about to give out.  While I could hear the words of encouragement wafting up from below, I gave myself a little mental pep talk and  somehow made it to the top – and it felt fabulous!

However, while doing all of these new things, it didn’t take me long to get injured.  I’ll be sacrificing my big toenail to the climbing Gods thanks to kicking a little too vigorously while ice climbing.  Some people get the screaming barfies, and some people get hammer toe and lose toe nails…I’m in the latter group.  Yup – in about a month or so I’ll be saying goodbye to a close friend, my right big toenail – I’ll be sure to Instagram that when it happens!

Besides new adventures I continued to get settled in to my new home for the month.  This means trips to the grocery store, cooking dinner in my kitchen, and super exciting things like taking out trash.  Life with a home – I forgot what it was like!  I’ve also been continuing my hot yoga trying my best to do a one legged downward dog until my big toe swelling subsides.

Overall I am loving my new home base surrounded by mountains in Canmore –  the people, the walking/running trails, the athleticism, the maple flavored everything – it’s definitely worth sacrificing a toenail for!

canmore canada bridge

Out for a run in Canmore. I have been exploring the trails & bridges around town in this wk of gorgeous weather. But tomorrow snow is on the way! #SeeSnowDifferently

climbing canmore canada

On the ice today for the first time! It was tough to get the hang of ice climbing but even tougher to regulate temperature. My feet were strangely cold even in these massive boots.. Note to self – next time get foot and hand warmers!

Canmore canada

The city of Canmore has great little trails that weave through the town center reminding you that Mother Nature is the mayor if this town!

canmore yoga elevation place

Standing strong. Hopefully all of this yoga will help me w my upcoming snowy adventures in #Alberta ! And no – I’m just the photographer – that was my instructor posing for me after I spent the class staring at the beautiful Rocky Mountain backdrop!

canadian rockies

I love waking up with that morning glow! #SeeSnowDifferently

maple tea canada

I’m in love with all things maple. #explorecanada @nourishbistro in Banff.

Elevation Place Canmore Canada

Elevation Place in Canmore is the town’s indoor playground. It has everything – gym, fitness classes, pool, coffee shop, and a climbing wall. I’ll be perching myself on that climbing wall (for the first time) w the help/instruction from Sharon Wood – the 1st woman from N. America to summit Mt. Everest. Umm – yes- I’m super excited!

canmore climbing elevation place

Climb on! Took climbing lessons today at Elelvation Place in Canmore. What an incredible facility & super place to learn a new adventure activity! #explorealberta

Banff Alberta

Now we’re talkin’ – snow baby! In Banff for the weekend and the snow arrived just in time! Heading out in a night ice canyon walk – should be gorgeous tonight! #SeeSnowDifferently

 

 

The Very Wet But Very Beautiful Connemara Island

February 11, 2015 by  

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Connemara Ireland

Amanda adjusted the bike seat and explained the gears on the electric bike. As I got ready to peddle off out of Clifden, she looked ahead at the dark clouds and asked, “Do you have rainpaints?”
“No…not really,” I replied looking at my water resistant pants knowing darn well that resistant and waterproof were two very different things. I envisioned me biking out on skyline drive soaking wet and cold. Without saying a word she quickly ran off and came back with a pair of hers. “You’ll need these,” she said as she handed them over to me. Once again I was surprised and delighted by the kindness of strangers in Ireland. I put on her rain pants, my helmet, and took off with Amanda waving goodbye. I was ready once again to take on the Wild Atlantic Way Weather.

I learned pretty quickly that rain pants are a must for Ireland – more important than underwear in my opinion. But I also learned that the Irish do not let weather slow them down. I saw them out running, biking, hiking, and surfing in horrible weather during my 3 weeks on the Wild Atlantic Way – nothing stopped them – so why would I let it stop me.

I had arrived in the little picturesque town of Clifden which I was excited to call my ‘home’ for a few days while I did some adventure activities around the area – despite the rainy weather. Clifden is located in the Connemara area which sits in the northwest part of Galway County in Ireland.  I came to Clifden by way of Mongolia. I met Fearghus in 2011 and after traveling in a caravan with him and drinking plenty of vodka together, I found out his family ran a bed and breakfast in Connemara Ireland near Clifden.

Upon letting him know I was coming to Ireland this last fall, he not only offered up staying in his family’s B&B, but he also introduced me to a few key Clifden locals so I could get the full Connemara travel experience. Fearghus and his sister Clodagh were super ambassadors of their hometown, making sure I had plenty to do in and around Galway County – no matter what the weather dealt me. And that’s how I ended up riding off on an electric bike wearing Amanda’s rain pants.

Things To Do in Connemara

Electric Biking

Consider giving yourself a break and see the Connemara landscape at a slower pace with an electric bike. There were a number of routes to choose from around Clifden, and I decided to bike out on Sky Road to the end of the peninsula to see the Connemara beaches that I had heard so much about. I love driving the Wild Atlantic Way, but biking it at a slightly slower pace is ever better! I found myself seeing things that I didn’t in the car; buildings, fences, castles, signs, sheep – they all looked new to me at this pace. I stopped constantly – not only to put on the raingear, but also to take pictures of course.

I rode in and out of pouring rain and tumultuous cloudy skies happy I had my Exofficio raincoat with me. The road became narrower with grass growing in the middle. The sheep scurried when I road by and when I got to the end of the peninsula and could go no further I looked out at the Atlantic . The weather was starting to clear and it was just me and the crashing waves on this beautiful beach.

Connemara isn’t exactly flat so the electric boost on the bike was like cocaine…just a little bump to make life easier for a while going uphill. I always loved it when I felt it kick in and my peddling got immediately easier. The weather had cleared and I was treated to a spectacular afternoon and sunset as I continued to explore castles and cliffs riding back towards Clifden.

Connemara electric bike

Stopping to take in the views with my electric bike

Connemara adventures

Biking Sky Drive – a beautiful way to see Connemara

Connemara is Smokin’

Visit Connemara smokehouse to get a real feel for tradition and pride. Graham had been smoking fish since he was a kid with his father and he knows the art and science of turning out a beautiful, velvety tasting smoked salmon. “I want to make a living, not a killing,” he tells me. Graham’s philosophy – pride, passion, perfection – are his guiding principles in everything he does. I was seriously impressed with this man -so go out and meet him.  He offers smokehouse tours on Wednesday at 3PM in the summer that include demos of the smoking process. Else you can do tastings and walk-in any time to purchase some to take home. It’s the best smoked fish in Galway County and maybe Ireland!

Connemara smokehouse

Graham showing off his smoking ovens. You can’t believe how good this smelled!

Connemara smokehouse

Smoked fish samples!

Take a Real Adventure on the Water

Meet Clare – she is one bad ass chick with nerves of steel – and she is the owner of Real Adventures Connemara. Instead of looking at the crashing waves on the Wild Atlantic Way – I was on them – with her – paddling like crazy! I never would have had the guts (or ability) to do this myself, but with the help of Clare it was possible. This little, spunky woman who started her own adventure business in Connemara was just the type of woman you want with you in a crisis. In fact I’d want her more than most men. We took a two-person kayak out to see the cliffs and caves of Connemara from another angle – the sea. She was an expert kayaker maneuvering us close to caves as the waves sucked us in and pushed us out. She would tell me when to backpaddle and we’d quickly reverse out narrowly escaping crashing into the cliffs.

To add to the kayaking adventure, I looked out on the horizon and saw the storms lined up in the distance like planes waiting to land at O’Hare. They were headed directly for us. She decided we should get across the bay now when we could and then we’d have the wind at our back when we decided to come in. About half way through this big paddle across the ‘bay’ to the other side the winds picked up and the rain pelted me like little stinging bullets. The front of the kayak would rise up with the oncoming wave and then crash down the other side. I won’t lie – I was a bit scared. Bigger waves scare me, but couple that with wind and rain and the situation seemed even more ominous. But Clare had it all in control as we slowly worked our way across the bay. She would shriek in delight while big waves jostled us while I swallowed my fear and just kept paddling. Eventually I was able to ride the wave of her enthusiasm realizing what an amazing opportunity this was to be out on the water with someone with her skills.

My favorite and most surprising part was when she served me tea while the waves jostled us up and down and around in the unsheltered and unpredictable Atlantic. This was real adventure travel.

Kayaking Wild Atlantic Way

Kayaking on the Wild Atlantic

Connemara kayaking

Clare maneuvering us around the Connemara cliffs

Shop Local

Be sure to stop at All Things Connemara – you can’t miss the bright yellow façade on Market Street. There you’ll find Jonathan and Amanda who seem to serve as Connemara ambassadors! Their shop is full of products made locally – music, tea, jewelry, souvenirs, and even postcards. They also serve as a makeshift tourist office; with stacks of brochures that will satisfy your every whim. But even better than the brochures – just ask them anything and they will keep you busy with so many things to do and see that you’ll never leave Connemara!

Where to Stay in Connemara

Dolphin Beach House is perched out on the Sky Drive along the Wild Atlantic Way. As I followed the signs to Dolphin Beach House on lower sky drive I realized why Fearghus and his Mongol Rally team didn’t seem phased by the driving – they grew up driving on harrowing roads. Let me just warn you, the road to Dolphin Beach house was one of the most exhilarating, fun drives I did on the Wild Atlantic Way. Grass grew between the tire tracks –indicating this road was the smallest of small – the kind that requires you to back up if you meet a car.

The guesthouse was cozy and comfortable – It felt like a home. You could tell it was a family run business through and through. My room was large, beautifully designed and had a lovely patio that had a path leading to the gardens and water. Clodagh set a little table for my morning breakfast that looked out over the cliffs. I loved my little table set for one; it sort of made me feel special – like when my mother used to buy cereal that was just for me and told me I didn’t have to share it with my brother or sister – going so far as to let me hide it in my closet so they couldn’t eat it.

Dolphin Beach House Connemara

Dolphin Beach House Guest Room

Dolphin beach house connemara

Breakfast for one…yes – that’s smoked salmon on my plate!

Clifden in Connemara is a must stop along the Galway County’s section of the Wild Atlantic Way. I had a hard time leaving the Connemara area as I had made a bunch of new friends and had some wonderful experiences – even if it did rain on me. It just made me feel more local to be out in the rough weather wearing my rain pants!

Ireland’s Absolutely Stunning Cliffs of Moher

February 9, 2015 by  

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Cliffs of Moher Walk O'Briens Tower

Truth be told, I really hate crowds sites. This makes being a ‘professional traveler’ a bit difficult at times. When my Ireland itinerary took me to the uber touristed Cliffs of Moher in County Clare, I wondered if I would really like it or if all of the people would annoy me. Above, O’Brien’s Tower on the Cliffs of Moher Walk.

Instead of just going to the Cliffs of Moher visitor Center area to take the same photos everyone takes and fight the crowd, I walked along the Cliffs of Moher to explore more remote areas.

Cliffs of Moher Walk

This portion of Ireland’s Burren Way Trail links the villages of Liscannor and Doolin. And right in the middle of the two villages along the Burren Way is the Cliffs of Moher visitor center. The total distance is 8 miles but due to time constraints I chose to drive out to the visitor center, park my rental car and walk the 4.5 miles back into town along the Burren Way. Then my B&B owner agreed to drive me the short distance back out to my car in the visitor parking lot to pick it back up. If you can’t organize a ride then you can get a taxi to take you back out from Doolin to the visitor center easily. So with a little coordination, you can find yourself on a solo hike in some of the most picturesque landscapes in Ireland!

The visitor center area was crowded, however once I got out of that vicinity, everyone seemed to disappear and soon I found myself walking along some of the most spectacular cliff trails in my life – all alone. It was just me, some cows, the occasional rainstorms, and gusts of wind. I kept thinking to myself – why aren’t more people on this trail? And then remembered that I actually loved this trail because there was no one on it.

The trail led you right along the coastline through fields of livestock, and sea spray. Even though I had to weather a number of storms during the walk, the best thing about a storm was it would blow through, the sun came out, and everything appeared so green and fresh it about hurt my eyes. I’ve never seen such a vibrant green like that before, it made me want to cry tears of happiness as I took it all in.

Before I knew it the sound of the crashing waves disappeared and the sounds of Irish music started wafting through the air. The trail took me right in to the village of Doolin past the pubs – which is the perfect way to end this walk.

I was overjoyed with the Cliffs of Moher walk and really found it was a great way to connect to the landscape. And of course, I took so many pictures and video I didn’t know what to do with it all, so I’ve put together a little video recap of my walk.

Cliffs of Moher Walk Video

More Info on how you can do the Cliffs of Moher walk in Ireland:

Cliffs of Moher Walk Map

Cliffs of Moher Map

  • Cliffs of Moher Coastal Walk – plan your visit
    Difficulty – easy (most is downhill or flat)
    Coastal Walk Map (on your left) –  The trail is well marked – no map is really necessary – just keep the coast on your left and you’ll end up in Doolin.
    My B&B I stayed in – Suantrai B&B
    Taxi Service from Doolin
    For more hiking help – Ireland Walk Hike Bike will organize the whole thing for you including accommodation and transportation!
    Burren Way website – Remember the Cliffs of Moher walk is only a small section of this overall trail.

Taking on the Canadian Rockies to See Snow Differently

February 4, 2015 by  

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Canadian Rocky Mountains

I’m not a huge fan of winter. Maybe that’s because I grew up in the middle of Illinois where it was cold all winter but we only got a big snowstorm a few times a season. It was just blah – gray, drab, and cold.

It’s the kind of winter where you really can’t do anything but be annoyed. Sure, there were some great snow days where the landscape would be blanketed as our personal white fluffy playground and my brother and I would spend every second outside sledding, building igloo tunnel systems in the drifts, make snow angles, and pelt each other with snow balls. My mother would even get out her cross-country skis and do laps around our big garden.

But these days didn’t last long and soon our igloos collapsed, our sledding tracks started revealing mud and grass, and the snow turned into a brown puddle that remained for the next few months. Winters in Peoria were sort of torture as a kid – like Cinderella’s ball that you had to wait and wait for but was over far too soon.

Real winter – the kind where you get to frolic around in the snow, participate in the myriad of winter sports and activities, have big beautiful views of snow capped mountains, and have a legit reason to drink hot toddy’s – now that’s the kind of winter I’ve always yearned for. And on Monday, I’m grabbing my passport and hopping on a plane to where the beating heart of winter resides. Altitude, snow, avalanches, ice rinks, dog sleds, woolie socks, fireplaces, outdoor hot tubs, poutine, and maple syrup fun will be had by me in Alberta Canada this February.

I’ll be in Canmore/Banff area in Alberta for an entire month – meaning the Canadian Rockies, which will be my snowy winter playground that I yearned for as a kid!

Canmore Alberta Map

Why the Canadian Rockies?

Being in one place that’s my own for a month is ridiculously exciting for me – I’m actually giddy about it. I get to unpack, hang up my clothes, leave stuff lying around my apartment, cook for myself, become a part of a local community, find a yoga studio, and have friends come visit me.

These are things that are rarities in my nomadic life. I’ll be staying in a two bedroom apartment at the Grand Rockies in Canmore Alberta. I will have a car and lots of room for friends – so consider this your invitation if you feel like coming to play in the snow this winter! It’s so fun to think that I get to turn the tables of being an eternal guest in other people’s homes and now I get to host people. Plus – this will allow me to travel deeper and meet locals; I’ll really get to know the area.

Grand Rockies Resort Canmore Alberta
I was at dinner the other night with a twenty something who was gossiping on and on about some person she worked for.  She said, “He’s old…like 45 or something,” and I fought back the urge to unleash some old curmudgeon anger on her for fear that she wouldn’t even understand the word curmudgeon.

While I’m in Alberta, I’ll be turning 45 years old and even though  that number looks old to a twenty-something, I don’t really feel old. According to the Mayo Clinic, we need to get in the habit of trying new things and one of the best ways to stay ‘young’ and healthy is to continue to push yourself to try new things. In fact I personally come alive when I test the limits of my comfort zone and overcome my fears.

“Whenever a thing is done for the first time, it releases a little demon.” –Emily Dickinson

So with this in mind, I’m going to spend an entire month releasing demons doing things for the first time. I’m working with Travel Alberta, Canmore and Banff Tourism groups to organize a series of ‘firsts’ for my time in the Canadian Rockies – because in my opinion there’s no better way to turn 45 than to push yourself out of your comfort zone.

What Will I be Doing in the Snow?
I am not a ski nut  because it scares me to death.  So in this winter wonderland where skiing is the main attraction, my goal is to explore all the other non-skiing things to do in the snow. Since I love the ‘underdogs’ in life and hate to go with the flow, I want to introduce you to all the other great snow activities you can do.

I want you to See Snow Differently

For my lineup of ‘firsts’ here’s a few of the things I’ll be taking on:

    • Heli-snowshoeing – the ultimate in back country snow shoeing and aerial photography!
    • Caving (the Canmore area has a huge underground caving system!)
    • Ice Climbing
    • Biathalon / Cross County Skiing
    • Dog Sledding
    • Curling
    • Ice Fishing
    • Fat Biking
    • Snow Boarding

Every one of these things are new to me. Some of the things on this list completely intimidate me, but I’m super excited to at least try them – some may be keepers and some may be epic fails. But regardless, hopefully you’ll start to see snow differently.

 

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