Spring 2018 Travels: Denmark and the Faroe Islands

Posted on June 12, 2018 under Life

I don’t really remember how this trip was shaped into its final form. Initially, the whole point was for my parents to visit me and show me the Scottish Highlands, since it seemed ridiculous for me to get my Master’s in Scotland and miss out on that breathtaking beauty. Then Ireland seemed like a good idea because of its proximity to the UK and the fact that me and my mom had been wanting my dad to see it for years. Denmark was just a bit of indulgence, really. I’d been to Copenhagen back in April 2015 and knew instantly that my Nordic-loving mom would love it, so it’s natural that we wanted to go. How exactly we decided to tack it onto the itinerary I’m not entirely sure. As for the Faroes, my mom has wanted to visit for most of her life, and it seemed criminal not to go if we were already going to be in Denmark.

My dad was not interested in this leg of our journey (or from being away from home for so long), so when we finished up in Ireland he flew back to Toronto and my mom and I were on to Denmark. We flew into Aalborg, a charming city in the north of the country. My impression of Aalborg is based on a very short time there during which all we really did was go out for dinner to Dalle Valle, an incredible buffet-style restaurant that I heartily recommend. That’s because we were in Aalborg overnight simply so we could get up to Skagen, which is a two hour train ride away.

Skagen is incredibly quaint. The town is lovely, filled with cute yellow buildings. However, we were not visiting for the town. No, we wanted to go to Grenen, the northernmost point in Denmark, where the Baltic Sea and North Sea meet. The quality of light at Grenen is unlike anything I’ve ever seen, the colours of the beach almost otherworldly. Pictures really don’t capture its incredible, bizarre beauty, nor what it looks like when the two seas meet. I realized at many moments throughout this trip that there are some places which are so special that they can only truly be appreciated in person, in the moment. You have your time in these incredible places, and you leave, and that’s all you get. Grenen is perhaps the most extreme example of this phenomenon that I personally have experienced. In photographs, it looks like a nice beach. In person, you can see the waves coming in from different angles, perpendicular, and you feel that this place has a quality that is entirely its own. There are some places in the world where you feel very small, and Grenen is one of them.

I first found out about Skagen and Grenen back in 2014, so this trip was four years in the making. It was an incredibly blustery day and a lovely ten degrees Celsius – but after years of wanting to be here, I had to take my hiking boots off and stand with my feet in both seas at once. The water was painfully cold, but I don’t regret it for a moment.

I think this photo best captures what I mean about Grenen being almost otherworldly, its colour palette just extraordinary.

After walking about 8km out to Grenen and back to our hotel, we had a lovely sushi dinner at Genki. The next morning, we were up early to catch a train to Copenhagen. We only had one full day there, which we spent wandering around city center. We did pop into the National Museum of Denmark to see some more bog bodies as well as some wonderful archaeological artifacts. We also had the most amazing Danish brunch at Café Europa. If you’re ever in Copenhagen I highly recommend trying this out. It’s entirely different from North American brunch and incredibly delicious.

Me and my mom were just talking about this meal the other day, and we both agreed that it was the culinary highlight of our trip. Be warned, though – it’s not cheap, coming out to about $60 CAD per person.

I was not moved to cart my DSLR around with me in Copenhagen, but here are a few shots I took with my phone:

Taken at King’s Garden, which houses Rosenborg Palace. The expression on the lion’s face cracks me up.

Christiansborg Palace and its cool rectangular hedges.

On Sunday morning we were off to the airport to fly the Faroe Islands! The airport in Vágar is the smallest one I’ve ever seen, with only two gates. (There are only two airlines that fly in and out of the Faroes.) It also has the most beautifully-situated parking lot in the world:

For those who don’t know, the Faroe Islands are an autonomous country owned by the Kingdom of Denmark. They have their own language, Faroese, which to a North American outsider resembles Icelandic, though Faroese people all seem to speak Danish and English as well. The entire country has a population of just 50,000. The climate hovers between about 6 and 15 Celsius year-round. The highest temperature ever measured there was 26.3 degrees Celsius, which is just 79 degrees Fahrenheit. I mean, 26 Celsius would be quite a mild day during the peak of summer here in Toronto, so for that to be the basically unheard of extreme in the Faroes is shocking to me!

Our cab ride to our Airbnb in Tórshavn was absolutely incredible. The Faroese landscape is like nothing I’ve ever seen. It’s endlessly mountainous but without trees, and everything is a strange yellowy green. Tórshavn, one of the smallest capital cities in the world, is filled with the cutest houses on planet Earth. We spent our first day there wandering around the historical district of Tinganes, and I was captivated by the architecture. There were daffodils everywhere, and I noticed a lot of windowsills were crammed with plants and trinkets. And I absolutely loved the use of colour, especially against the dark grey and black that many houses are painted.

We also stumbled upon the lovely Tórshavn Cathedral as we wandered:

Tórshavn is such a wonderfully picturesque place – we wandered all around the town and it was never anything less than adorable. I mean, really:

The next day we took a boat ride from the town of Vestmanna, dipping into little enclaves surrounded by incredibly high cliffs. The scenery was stunning beyond belief, and in the shallower parts the water was a vibrant turquoise unlike anything I’ve seen before.

Elephant rock.

I mean, really, this water was insane.

On Wednesday we took a bus to Klaksvík, second only to Tórshavn in population. It was a horrible rainy, grey day, and we walked along the water with the wind whipping at us. The fog made for some nice pictures, though.

In the end, the inhospitable weather was totally worth it, because after our walk we got on a 12-minute helicopter ride back to Tóshavn. I’ve never been in a helicopter before, and it was one of the coolest experiences of my life. Flying above the stunning, unique Faroese landscape is something I’ll never forget. When we landed, new passengers boarded the helicopter and we watched it take off. The force of the propellors was way stronger than I’d imagined – it almost whipped my mom’s phone out of her hand!

On Thursday we were meant to take another day trip, but unfortunately it was cancelled at the last minute. It also happened to be a holiday in the Faroe Islands, so everything was closed. We walked around a little bit and took pictures of the unique Vesturkirkjan (which you may have noticed in some of the pictures above). Ultimately we took it easy since we’d already seen most of the small town and there was nothing else to do.

Bet you’ve never seen a church quite like this…

It wasn’t a complete wash – we took the money from the trip refund and had delicious sushi at Etika. We actually had Japanese food three times in Denmark and the Faroes – it might seem like a strange area to eat this particular cuisine, but they are huge fishing cultures and the food is always wonderful and fresh. I’ve had sushi several times in the UK and it’s always pretty underwhelming, whereas it’s been consistently fantastic in Nordic countries.

On Friday we had another beautiful drive, this time to the airport. We were back in Copenhagen for the weekend, our trip winding to a close. Again, we only had one full day, which we spent walking around and enjoying the beautiful, sunny weather. We checked out Christiania, the so-called hippie quarter of Copenhagen, and had Danish hot dogs for lunch. (Everyone hypes up the famous hot dog place in Reyjkavik, but I’m telling you to go to Denmark and get a hot dog wrapped in bacon. It is way better.) We also did a bit of shopping – our entire trip had been focused on experiences rather than acquisition, so we did a bit of damage on our last day, spending a lot of time in Cos as well as Sephora. We went for our third dinner at Dalle Valle (our second being the night before…) and then went to bed early.

On Sunday morning we flew into Edinburgh, where we took a bus to Glasgow. My mom went off to the Glasgow airport hotel in preparation for her flight back to Toronto the next morning, and I went back to my flat. And thus five weeks of travel were concluded!

Spring 2018 Travels: Ireland and Northern Ireland

Posted on May 21, 2018 under Life

Prior to this trip, I’d been to Ireland twice, once in late 2014 and once in early 2015, and my mom had visited as a teenager in the 70s. But my dad had never been, and we both knew he would absolutely love it, so we pressured him until he relented. My dad is often a reluctant traveller, but always enthusiastic once we arrive. (See also our family trip to Italy in 2012.) We planned our Irish trip loosely, knowing where we would end up in the evening for the first eight days and then flying by the seat of our pants for the last two. All three of us had things we wanted to do, as well, but for the most part we went where our whims took us. Personally the thing I wanted to do the most was hop on over to Dingle Town to see Fungie the dolphin, and you will see how that turned out!

We started with a hilariously short flight from Glasgow to Dublin, a city I first visited in December of 2014. We repeated a bit of what I’d already done, including the National Museum of Archaeology (to visit my favourite bog body, Old Croghan Man, who made me have an existential crisis in 2014), Kilmainham Gaol (which neither of my parents had done but which I insisted they experience), and Trinity College Library. We found it slightly annoying that you have to pay €14 to see the Book of Kells just to enter the old library – you can basically see the Book for a nanosecond if you’re lucky since there’s such a crowd. Me and my mom had already “seen” it before and my dad didn’t really care about it, but we attempted to get a glance since we’d paid for it. In the end it was worth the ticket price because my dad adored the library, which was basically the only thing he actually wanted to do in Ireland prior to the trip.

We saw two other libraries while in Dublin, too. At the suggestion of a characteristically chatty taxi driver, we headed to Marsh’s Library next to St. Patrick’s Cathedral. It’s a small library dating back to 1707, and they had on an exhibition of books that had been stolen from the library and either replaced or returned. Some of them had crazy stories attached – booksellers who would find 200-year-old books and return them to their rightful home, things like that. Plus, who can say no to perusing beautiful old books?

Kilmainham Gaol and Marsh’s Library

We also went to Chester Beatty Library and checked out their exhibition on the Coëtivy Hours, which consisted of a lot of tiny, intricate illuminated pages. Though the whole library seems wonderful, we were getting pretty tired so we ended up ducking out after we’d seen the book of hours. However, the library is completely free, so it’s worth putting on your list if you’re in Dublin!

Finally, we stumbled upon the Douglas Hyde Gallery on the Trinity College campus, which was having a free exhibition of artist Tamara Henderson’s textile work. Her creations are so special and interesting – some are purely beautiful, some are bewilderingly lovely. She’s also Canadian, and from the abundance of Maritime paraphernalia tucked into her work I would assume an East Coaster.

At this point I don’t feel the need to return to Dublin. There are a lot of really amazing things there, but it’s also very touristy and I think Ireland has a lot more to offer. However, if you are in Dublin, it’s a great city with beautiful architecture and a fascinating history. Everything I mentioned in this post is worth doing, but if I could recommend one thing it would be Kilmainham Gaol. I’ve done it twice and it was incredible both times! It illuminates so much about Irish history, from the famine to the cruelty the Irish people have experienced at the hands of the English to the Easter Uprising of 1916 which eventually led to Irish independence. It’s a bit out of the way from other tourist destinations, but it’s totally worth it.

After our day in Dublin we headed up to Northern Ireland to see the Giant’s Causeway, which was on my mom’s bucket list. Obviously, words really don’t do it justice, so here are some pictures:

We also stopped at the Dark Hedges on our way back into the Republic. I haven’t watched Game of Thrones in years so I 100% did not care about them for that reason – they’re just a really cool thing to see!

We moved on to the northwest of the Republic, ending up on the Inishowen peninsula in County Donegal. This is where my mom’s ancestors are originally from, although we don’t know exactly where they lived. This is probably the corniest North American Irish person thing to say, but being there was really nice because it made me think of my extremely well-travelled grandpa, who loved Ireland and who was the one who discovered where our ancestors came from. The last time I travelled a lot I kept a dedicated travel blog and he always commented on my posts to share his experiences in the places he’d been to or funny quips about the places he hadn’t. I thought of him a lot while in Ireland, and though it’s been over a year and a half since he died I truly feel his presence when I’m travelling. He’d love to know that we were up in the OG homeland.

County Donegal was beautiful and rugged and full of sheep (and lambs). I probably saw at least a thousand lambs over the course of the trip and every single time we drove past one I’d yell as if it was my first time ever encountering one. We drove past many on our drive up to Malin Head, the northernmost point in Ireland. At Malin Head, me and my mom hiked out to Hell’s Hole, a chasm in the cliffs. What a beautiful place! Again, pictures are better than words here:

From Malin Head we headed to Doagh Famine Village, a remarkable place. Ireland has quite a few famine villages that you can experience, but I’m willing to bet that none are as incredible as this place. It’s a true labour of love, run and guided by a man who lived in one of the small houses there until the mid-80s. He’s dedicated his life to teaching people about poverty around the world, and he is so passionate and well-read. I got to drink a shot of Irish moonshine (called poteen, or poitín in Irish), which was not necessarily enjoyable but which was cool nonetheless. (Unsurprisingly, it’s made of potatoes, so it’s quite similar to vodka.) It’s really hard to describe what the famine village is like – it’s not polished, it’s a large-scale DIY project, and it’s so compassionate. Another thing I’d highly recommend that’s off the beaten track!

Here’s a window from one of the houses in the village. Each house was white with a different bright colour used to brighten up the trim.

And a beautiful vista from the adjacent café:

In Sligo we saw a double rainbow, and then I went to bed early because I had to be up at 6 the next morning to go back to Glasgow for under 24 hours to do a three-minute dissertation proposal presentation. (Crushed it, by the way!) When I got back to Ireland, I met my parents in Galway. Hilariously, I have now stayed in Galway twice without ever actually exploring the city at all – it’s just such a great place to stay for access to day trips in the stunning County Clare. I would also like to point out that our hotel had a cat named Wayne, who I bonded with very quickly. One morning I opened the door to find him lying on his back waiting for someone to rub his belly. Obviously, I was more than happy to oblige.

From Galway we went over to Inisheer, the smallest of the Aran Islands. Back in February of 2015, I went to Inishmore, the largest, and loved it. However, everyone who says Inisheer is more beautiful is correct. It’s a lot more wild and less touristy, though I imagine it’s pretty busy in high season. On Inisheer I bought a lovely hand-knit Aran sweater for €90. Having knit my own sweater I can confidently say that’s a steal!

Here are some pictures I took on Inisheer – I didn’t get too many because the sun made for less than ideal photography conditions. (I know, bummer – it was sunny literally the entire time we were in Ireland!)

A pair of calves who followed us but became immediately shy when we acknowledged their presence.

As we were waiting for our ferry back to the mainland, Inisheer’s own dolphin started swimming around in the harbour with a guy in a wetsuit. (She’s a wild dolphin – he wasn’t her handler or any type of professional dolphin wrangler, just a dude.) I have never seen a dolphin in the wild before, much less in Ireland, much less so close, so it was a very cool experience and definitely rendered my years-long desire to see Fungie moot. (No offense to Fungie. I just probably would not have seen him so close, and the unplanned serendipity of this encounter was much nicer than chasing after Fungie in a boat.)

We did, however, head to the Dingle Peninsula the next day, stopping at the Grange Stone Circle on the way. We found a stone with some offerings to the fairies, and a local woman told us that it was actually one of the biggest days of the year for fairies. My mom and I left a 50 cent piece I found on the beach on Inisheer as well as a loonie in honour of my brother’s friend, who died two years ago.

On Dingle, our first stop was the Gallarus Oratory, which is over a thousand years old and still fully intact.

Then we went to our Airbnb, where our host informed us that there was a place in a nearby town where you could HOLD LAMBS!!!! Of course I told my parents that we would definitely be doing this the next day.

You guys. Oh my god. This is the best thing I have ever done in my life. No joke, every single day since then I have thought “I wish I were holding a lamb.” They were so cute, and so chill. They have been held a million times and they truly do not care. Well, except for this one tiny boy, who I fell in love with but who would not let me pick him up. He kept running away and yelling at me in his tiny, high-pitched voice. I still think of him as the one who got away…

BUT SERIOUSLY LOOK AT HOW CUTE HE IS.

We then checked out the Beehive Huts:

Of course, we stopped to admire more of the scenery on the peninsula:

We also made it to the Western edge of Europe, which is extraordinarily beautiful. I mean, hey, I guess if you’re going to be the last part of Europe before you reach endless ocean you might as well be gorgeous, right?

Now that I’ve seen a lot of Ireland, I’m pretty confident in saying that Dingle is absolutely unreal. The whole country is beautiful and I have enjoyed all of my time in Ireland (even the trips I took in December and February, when the weather is awful), but Dingle is something else, man.

Reluctantly, we headed off Dingle and through Killarney National Park, itself a gorgeous place:

And then we were up the next day to drive to Dublin so that we could catch our respective flights – my dad back home, me and my mom off to Denmark!

As I’ve said, I have truly fallen in love with Ireland each time I’ve visited. For such a small country, there is so much to do and see there. The people are unfailingly friendly, the landscape is beautiful, the history is rich and fascinating (if also heartbreaking). I genuinely think it’s a foolproof trip to take at any time of year, but I have to say that mid-to-late-April is possibly the ideal. The weather was gorgeous the entire time we were there, but the country wasn’t completely overrun with peak season tourists. And, well, there were baby animals everywhere. Who can even argue with the facts? I can’t recommend Ireland in general enough, but if you want the best experience possible spring is the perfect time.

Next time I will share you with you my adventures in Denmark and the Faroe Islands, which are very different from Ireland to say the least!

Spring 2018 Travels: England and Scotland

Posted on May 14, 2018 under Life

Well, I’m finally back from five weeks on the road! I must admit I’m happy to be back to my relatively chill existence – though travel is obviously incredibly rewarding, rarely staying in the same place for more than one night is exhausting.

Starting in mid-April, I was in London and Brighton for a few days, then my parents flew in (delayed 25 hours thanks to an unseasonal ice storm in Toronto) and we hit up the Scottish highlands, Ireland, Northern Ireland. Then me and my mom went on to Denmark and the Faroe Islands. If you are quite generous with your definition of “country”, that’s six in a month. It was a lot!

I thought I’d share a bit of my travels here since I had such an amazing time. A picture is worth a thousand words, so this will be pretty image-heavy. Today I’ll cover England and Scotland, a section of the trip that feels like a lifetime ago. We were in Ireland for eleven days, so that’ll be its own post, and then Denmark and the Faroes will be the final post in this series.

England

My trip to England was casual and not particularly touristy. I went down to see Arcade Fire and Harry Styles and to go to Aisling‘s thirtieth birthday party. (And to watch TV with her and her girlfriend Katy, and to sleep on their sofa for several days because they are angelic and generous beings.) I’ve been to London a few times now, and while there’s always more to do this was not that trip. As for Brighton, I’ve definitely seen all the main touristy stuff there, so I mostly just hung out with Aisling and Katy.

Oh, and I got to meet Poppy:

I woke up before 4am on April 11 to catch my early-morning flight, which was fun! I managed to survive Arcade Fire that night (and we got really close to the barrier), but we missed our last train to Brighton and didn’t get in until 3am, so it was a VERY tiring day. However, it was entirely worth it because Arcade Fire is truly the best live band in the world. I saw their hometown, tour-closing show in Montreal in 2014 and was blown away, and I have to say this was even better. It’s not just that the music is amazing and the onstage energy is strong – it’s that they think through every aspect of their performances, from accompanying visuals to lighting design. And the decision to play in a boxing ring, so that the GA audience could be on all four sides, was genius. The crowd was pretty loosely-packed and not at all overwhelming, and even though we arrived literally five minutes before show time by the end of the night we were only a few rows back from the barrier. My eight-year love for my favourite band is holding strong!

Here are a few pictures taken by Aisling, ft. me being EXTREMELY excited when they started playing Rebellion (Lies) even though obviously they were going to, it has never not been on their setlist.

My ONLY complaint is that they didn’t play Crown of Love, which is sometimes on their setlist but has eluded me twice.

The next day, we went back into London to see Harry Styles. I saw him play a small show in October (which was honestly not a great experience because the audience was garbage), and I’ve also seen One Direction six times (I know), so this was not my first time at the rodeo. It was Aisling’s first time being in his presence, and I’m pretty sure she had a great time judging from how often she said she loved him. Though our seats were very far away, he put on a great show and remains one of the most charming people in the world. I kept joking to Aisling that if he wore a boring suit I would demand a refund, but he wore leopard print McQueen so my £100 is still in his pocket.

Before we saw Harry we had a very early dinner at La Choza, which is definitely the best Mexican food I’ve had in the UK. Not that that’s saying much, but it was good and very cost-effective – I had a burrito and a generous serving of nachos for a tenner.

Then on the Saturday we were in London once again to celebrate Aisling’s thirtieth birthday at Leggero, a gluten-free Italian restaurant in Soho. The food was delicious and the company was great! I would recommend Leggero to the gluten-intolerant and -tolerant alike – the food is fantastic and doesn’t suffer at all from the lack of gluten. Here is an action shot of me photographing my food, taken by Katy, who is not the Katy I already mentioned or the other Katy who attended the lunch. (All three are lovely!)

It was the most beautiful day in London, which put me in a great mood – I got to shed my jean jacket and walk around bare-armed for the first time this year! I capitalized on the good weather by ordering a pitcher of sangria at a random bar we wandered into, which was yummy if… possibly containing approximately 1-3 drops of wine?

Here is a picture of me posing next to a mop we found in the bar. (It was not a very good bar.) As a rush of barely-legal girls piled in for happy hour, I discovered that the new thing is apparently wearing clubwear with athletic shoes, which I think is a very practical and healthy compromise for the sake of feet around the world.

We topped off the day with with ice cream at Chin Chin (I had burnt caramel with hazelnut sand). All in all it was a very successful celebration indeed. (At least, I think so, but it wasn’t my birthday.)

A few pictures taken at Liberty, where I fell in love with a gorgeous floral patch but didn’t buy it because it was £25. For an iron-on patch. I mean, I know it’s Liberty, but still…

Wow you guys have probably never seen this exact picture of Brighton before. I am the first one to ever capture this startlingly unique image.

Oh my last day in Brighton we had a Sunday roast at The Farm Tavern, which was so good. Then we took a walk along the water, which coincided with the Brighton Marathon, and went and exchanged all my 2p coins for a single piece of candy in one of the arcade games on the pier. A very Brighton experience, I’d say!

Scotland

I got back to Glasgow the evening of April 15, with my parents due to arrive the morning of the 16th. Originally we had planned to spend the 16th and 17th in Glasgow, but since they were delayed a full day we ended up setting off for the highlands the day after they touched down. The 17th was a very chill day in the city – we went out for lunch at my perennial staple Hillhead Bookclub and I took my mom to the Tim Horton’s on Argyle Street (because we are Canadian), but otherwise we hung out at their Airbnb so they could try to get over their jetlag. (They both actually stayed up until their normal bedtimes, which totally puts me to shame since in September I spent nineteen hours sleeping off jetlag and then in January I went to bed at 11am the morning I arrived in Glasgow.)

Our first day of driving, the 18th, was a big one, and we ended up in Clachtoll, on a croft with a gorgeous beach and the cutest animals.

I also found a pig and her four babies in some ruins:

(By the way, I have wanted a potbelly pig since I can remember, and I watched this Buzzfeed video yesterday and truly could not handle it.)

Most of our time in Scotland was spent driving and stopping frequently to marvel at the amazing scenery.

My parents have both done quite a bit of travel through the UK, including the Scottish highlands. I was insistent that we go to the Isle of Skye, which I have been dreaming of for years now, and they were not too cranky about going back…

I mean, who would be? Especially when you get a picture of a sheep looking particularly beautiful at golden hour.

We really didn’t do all that much in the Highlands, because, well… all you need to do is look at them. So I will spare you my usual wordiness (she says, of a post that is already 1300 words long) and leave you with these pictures. Oh, and a recommendation for The Old School if you are ever on the Isle of Skye and fancy some seafood. Because, you know, I am all about sharing restaurant recommendations because food is the best.

On the 21st, we ended up back in Glasgow, where we checked out the Charles Rennie Mackintosh exhibition at the wonderful and underrated Kelvingrove Museum. We were pretty tired so we didn’t bother to wander around the museum, but I can say from prior experience that it’s an eclectic and fascinating place. If you happen to be in Glasgow between now and August 14, I highly recommend the Mackintosh exhibition, which is £7 for adults. The rest of the museum is free and you should totally do it even if you miss the exhibition!

Next time I will have many pictures of Ireland, and also lambs.