Category: travel

The between hours

The sun was a gold disc, blurred by salt patterned windows; the horizon a bleary somewhere else. We drive the way of tackle shops, motor stores and cheap motels. The roads lined with general stores and diners that belong to people like Frank and Al and Nana. I listen to a melancholy playlist and that song comes on. The song that fits like a second skin. The song I carry with me always.

We drive until the sun disappears, until the lights of the city appear in its place. After five stale hours, the children two seats ahead get antsy. We adults wish that we, too, could whine are we there yet? We’ve places to be, but mostly we’re tired of between.

Twenty six hours in another city. The heaviest hours I’ve felt in a long time, passing both slowly and too fast: burdened by the weight of sadness and carried by love. I pass on the songs that carried me here and hope they will offer some strength.

My memories are full of Greyhound buses. Of looking at my face in window reflections on buses, trains and planes. Tired eyes and bedraggled hair look better in the forgiving dark glass. I watch one city disappear and another appear in the fog before dawn, and I think of a quote I heard years ago:

Coming home from very lonely places, all of us go a little mad: whether from great personal success, or just an all-night drive, we are the sole survivors of a world no one else has ever seen.
- John le Carre

Some things you can’t keep

I want to see mountains again.

In my beautiful hotel, nestled in the enchanting mountains of Delphi, I wrote about shades of blues. I never knew that such a cool, subtle colour had so many hues until I saw the mountains. I never knew that there was a place you could watch the sun set over seemingly infinite shades of blue. A sweeping spectrum that took my breath away, that I failed repeatedly to capture perfectly on camera. Some things are just for looking. Some things you can’t keep.

On a train from Venice to Rome, I was struck by the beauty of the sky. Low wispy clouds, I wrote, running into mountains. Some dark grey-blue, others cracked with the yellow of the setting sun. A double rainbow from the train window, olive tree lined lazy roads in the sun. Rushing by the window.

I sat on a hill below a castle in Edinburgh, and I thought about stories. Of the stories we tell and the ones we keep and the ones, both kept and shared, that haunt us forever. I wrote about castles and fairytales and the dreams that I had to tell these stories, too.

Last year, I never had to be bored, because the next adventure was a week or a month away. There was a new place around each corner and a picture to take out of each window, from each park bench. There were seemingly endless possibilities. There was a dark and stormy sea, there was a hot and sandy beach. When I blinked, the world was a photograph. When I spoke, it was the pages of a history book.

How’s that for a pedestal? Gilded, gleaming and seven feet tall.

Suitcases

My room is full of postcards, ticket stubs and brochures. A suitcase stuffed with travelling shoes and souvenirs.

I’m not really sure where I’m going from here.

And I feel like in just a few weeks I’ll be looking at these fragments of one of the best years of my life and trying to piece together a time when I was free.

When I saw my life packed into a suitcase again, I sat down and cried.

I don’t think it’s because I’m sad to leave. It’s because I’m sad that it’s over. I need to leave because by the end of the week there will be nothing here for me anymore. But I wish it were January again and all of that possibility and adventure still lay ahead.

Because that was good possibility.

The possibility I have now is also called uncertainty and I am not good at uncertainty.

Wall walking

I’m still a ways behind on the day trips of the last month or so.

When Jes and Tariq came to visit, they decided they wanted to see Hadrian’s Wall. They wanted to see Vindolanda, where I did my excavation in April and some other wallish things.

You can get to all the forts and landmarks on the wall on a bus from Newcastle, the AD122. But it only leaves once a day, at 9am. I wasn’t sure we’d be able to catch it on time, but with lots of coffee and a little luck, we boarded the bus and drove along the wall (literally, the road sometimes follows on top of the wall).

We started out at Vindolanda, where I gave them a tour from what I remembered of my orientation, told them what I’d found and showed them where I’d dug.

The original plan was to take the bus to Housesteads Roman Fort and look around. Housesteads is usually used as an example of the typical Roman fort plan and I hadn’t been yet.

We were waiting for the bus in front of Vindolanda. It was cold and windy and we were bored.

So we decided to walk to Housesteads instead.

I’m still not sure how far it was, but it wasn’t an easy walk by any means (though we were definitely the youngest and the most exhausted of the wall walkers that day - clearly the old people were in better shape!)

But it was beautiful.

What goes up must come down, photo by me

It looks nice until you realize that once you get to the top you have to go down again. And then up again. For at least 3 miles.

Climb me! photo by me

And sometimes the path would go over an old farmer’s wall and you have to climb over it on an Official Hadrian’s Wall Path Ladder (UNESCO approved!)

Jes and Tariq being a cute couple, photo by me

But the views from the top are spectacular. I think you can see Scotland back there. That’s Jes and Tariq, being cute.

Lake, photo by me

This was my second favourite view.

Milecastle 39, photo by me

The Romans had a Milecastle on every Roman mile of the wall. This is Milecastle 39, one of the best preserved on the wall.

Robin Hood tree, photo by me

Recognize this? This was my favourite part of the walk. This is none other than the iconic tree from the beginning of the Robin Hood movie with Kevin Costner. It’s somewhere between Once Brewed and Housesteads. Isn’t it a great tree?!

The three of us, photo by me

So we had to take a self portrait, obviously. My hair was escaping from its braids by this point. It was so windy!

Me and Jes walking the wall, photo by Tariq

All in all, it was a great day adventure and a good workout. My legs really hurt the next day.

A weekend in the Highlands

My last few posts have been sadly without photos. So, I decided that it was about time to post something more visual!

The first time I went to Scotland was three years ago, when I was living in Ireland. My friend Alaina and I went to Edinburgh for the weekend, and managed to squeeze in a Highlands tour while we were at it.

I adored Scotland, from the first. It’s just a beautiful place. Scottish people are so nice, even if they’re difficult to understand sometimes. The Highlands are breathtaking. I’d really like to run away from life someday and rent a cottage in the Highlands and write my first novel. Though maybe it will have to be my second novel, so that I can afford it.

Technically, my heritage can be traced back to Scotland. My name’s quite Scottish. And they love the heather flower there. So, you know, if you believe any of that stuff about having a subconscious cultural connection, then I could have one to Scotland.

Of course, my grandmother was from Newcastle and I definitely don’t feel a connection to it.

Anyway. So, my friends Jes and Tariq came to visit me a couple of weeks ago. I’ve known Jes since I was about five, and Tariq’s her boyfriend of five years, who I’ve become friends with too, over the years.

We decided to head up to Inverness for the first weekend they were here. Actually, I sort of decided. I told them I’d always wanted to go and we should. Luckily they agreed, and ended up loving it as much as I did!

Inverness, photo by me

That’s the city of Inverness, on the river Ness.

River Ness photo by me

There are some beautiful walks you can do from the city centre, along the river. This one takes you by two little islands in the river.

The coast photo by me

This walk went along the Caledonian Canal and out to where the Ness meets the sea. Sometimes you can see dolphins, according to the owner of our B&B. We didn’t have that much luck though.

Loch Ness photo by me

And, of course, Inverness is right next to the famous Loch Ness. So we took a little boat tour and looked for Nessie. No such luck, unfortunately.

Urquhart Castle, photo by me

But the tour finished up at Urquhart Castle, which I’ve always wanted to visit.

View from Urquhart Castle, photo by me

Even though we were technically in the Highlands, most of what we saw of the quintessential hills was from the window of our train. But for good measure, I’ll throw in a photo I took the first time I visited:

The Highlands, photo by me