Travel Diary: Random Selection and US Border Control

13 hours later with Kiev in our airline rear-view mirror…

we arrive at JFK, and begin the slow-mo shuffle down to passport control. For some reason, people in New York thought it was too cold outside (It was 45 degrees…) so the heat was on in the airport. Heat on. Five planes arrived at the same time and emptied hundreds of people into the same border control. One by one, the passport control booths empty of the control agents, until it’s just one person at each end of the border control.

When it’s finally our turn, Mark and I give each other a look and had decided earlier that we would be “randomly selected.” Mark hasn’t trimmed his beard in about 3 months – it’s a week away from having its own zip code and town hall.

The border agent is a portly, pale balding man in his 50s and we’re giving him the run down of the places we’ve been when the agent scans Mark’s passport. He turns to Mark and tells him that he’s been selected for interrogation.

We called it. I look at the agent and say, “OK, it will tell you the same thing for me, then.”

But it didn’t, Isn’t that interesting? Portly man stamps my passport. You’re good to go! Welcome home! he says.

Our passports have the exact same stamps, dates overseas, and “questionable” countries visited, yet I wasn’t selected for interrogation.

Portly man steps out of his border control booth and walks us to the interrogation room, where a dozen other people could not be more excited about their interrogations, too.

/There really isn’t anything quite like sitting in an aluminum tube for 13 hours and taking your first steps in America after 5 months abroad to an interrogation room./

I could tell you a bunch of other waiting games and things in that interrogation room, but the thing is I wasn’t allowed to speak to the agent. Only Mark was. And about 2 hours later we were free to move about our home. And wow, nothing could have prepared us for how we felt coming back to America.

Travel Diary: Thanksgiving in Kosovo

It is a big deal in America for families to get together for Thanksgiving. If people don’t have or don’t like their families, they do a “friendsgiving.” Since our hosts in Kosovo had never experienced this, we decided to cook a full Thanksgiving dinner in friendsgiving fashion and tell our holiday story. Typically the dinner is centered around a turkey, but neither Mark nor I like turkey so we decided to go with ham.

We searched the markets and stores in Prishtina for a ham, and found a lonely ham at the bottom of a cooler in a grocery store. We brought it back home, to our hostel, all proud until someone saw it and politely said “I don’t eat ham.” Unfortunately, we had completely forgotten that we were in Muslim-majority country, and many people don’t eat pork products.

Nonetheless, our hosts were very fun about it. They chalked it up to a cultural exchange and said there’s no better way to understand a people than to devour their food. I couldn’t agree more. So in good faith, Mark woke up early in the day and began dinner preparations.

thanksgiving mark

Mark made a rosemary ham with cinnamon. The spices available were considerably more limited than either of us had experienced until this point, so it was a very simple recipe, but we got lucky with rosemary and that is really what made this ham absolutely fantastic. (Mark’s made it three times since we’ve been home!)

We had originally planned for 7 people as that was about as much as we thought the ham could feed. But because the aroma of the cooking had filled the entire hostel, other people wanted to hang out and eat food with us instead of going out. And I can’t blame them, the food was irresistible.

thanksgiving ham

 I felt like Jesus feeding the 5,000.  Miraculously, we had food for everyone! Hand-mashed potatoes, vegetables, ham, and handmade cinnamon apples. Mark organized it all and it is definitely one of the more memorable Thanksgiving dinners I have had.

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Left to right: Ardi, Mark, me, Arben (owner), Asdren (owner) and his girlfriend, Yll, and Vernon

Everyone pretty much laughed at the story how our forefathers ate “peacefully” with the Native Americans, but the 80c 2L of beer in the center of the table really washed everything down swimmingly.

A big shout out to our friends at Hostel Han in Pristina for keeping us entertained for over a month! And if you ever need a home base in Kosovo, we recommend this hostel as the only place to stay in the city center. You will come as a traveler and leave as a friend.

Mark and Melody

Travel Diary: Getting from Skopje to Pristina

It’s 90 minutes by car, but up to three hours by bus. The Balkans’ definition of bus and our definition were clearly misaligned during this trip. When I think bus, I think of a temperature-controlled bus with WiFi, toilets, and comfortable seats.

This bus did not fit any of this criteria. It was a mini-bus that seats 16, with limited luggage storage, no WiFi, and definitely not any toilets (not that I would use them, anyway).

We shlepped our bags on board and made our way to the back rows, hoping no one would expect us to put our bags in the luggage hold. We found ourselves across the row from an American expat working for the World Bank (called Mark Deux), and a UK train employee named Mike. Too many M’s. Mark, Mike and Mark Deux set the world right talking about finance, startups and international affairs. I attempted to drift in and out of sleep but the roads in the Balkans are not known for their newness or smoothness so sleep became impossible.

A clipboard made its way around the bus where each person has to write down their name and passport/ ID card number. This, in theory, is supposed to make the border crossing much quicker. What actually happens at the border is a Macedonian border official collects the clipboard and takes it back to his little post. Then he comes back and has to collect each passenger’s passport/ ID card and return those to his post. After about ten minutes of hem-hawing, the passports are returned to us. Sometimes we get a stamp; sometimes we are disappointed. The odds are 50/50. Then the exact same process is repeated at the Kosovo border.

The border control is unremarkable, and the bus driver behaves normally by stopping at places that are most assuredly NOT typical bus stops to pick up random people. His homies, I’m guessing. These people pay when they get on, an indiscriminate amount, sometimes 1 euro and sometimes 3 euro. There’s definitely not a system.

We’re about an hour away from Pristina when we pull into a petrol station. I assume it’s to pick up fuel, but then Mark Deux investigates and the Batman driver and his Robin are taking a smoke break! We’re an hour away; honestly, you couldn’t wait? Mark and I run into the “convenience store” and pick up a crisps and chocolate breakfast. Someone runs in and asks us, in very broken English, if we’re with the bus. We say yes and run out to see everyone moving their luggage from our little bus to a large, cushy coach.

What is going on? We grab our bags and head to the coach. Turns out, our bus BROKE DOWN, and this coach has come to rescue us. Stellar. We are waiting in the stairwell of the coach to get onto it and I get frustrated. I snap at the person in front of me to move.

That’s when it becomes abundantly clear that the bus is full. There are no seats. So the 15 or so of us that were on our rinky dink bus are now standing in the aisle of the coach, hovering awkwardly over sitting passengers.  I move my way straight to the front and dig in to my breakfast: a Milke Oreo chocolate bar and tomato pesto crisps.

It’s probably only ten minutes later when people begin disembarking, but it being so awkward for me it felt like 20 hours. Someone moves and I gesture for the person behind me to take a seat, which she refuses. I don’t offer twice so I take the empty seat. One by one, people slowly begin filing out of the coach and the standing room passengers begin finding seats.

The coach enters Pristina and nearly the entire bus empties into the middle of a random intersection. That’s when it occurs to us that there’s a decent chance this coach’s final destination is not Pristina Bus Station. It could be going to Serbia. The coach driver could have had Rakija with his breakfast and forgotten his destination. When we turn away from Pristina city center and toward Mitrovice, my anxiety swells.

Just when I think we’re headed into a different country, the coach veers sharply to the left and off, on the side of the road, is the underwhelming Pristina Bus Station.

Whew. Mark Deux and Train Mike file off of the coach. There’s a running joke that whenever we board the bus to somewhere, it is always raining in our final destination. Pristina is no different. It was raining. A cold, piercing, hair-frizzing rain.

We part ways with Mark Deux and UK Mike, drag our sopping selves and our damp packs into a completely unmarked cab and arrive back to the hostel twenty minutes later for less than $4.

 

Travel Diary: Getting to Barcelona

After a month’s foray in the French Midi-Pyrenees region, we decided to take a coach down to Barcelona. We arrived at the train/ bus station in Toulouse, France way before our 5:30 bus was scheduled to depart. We killed time doing what normal Americans do: eating.

The sun began sinking around 5 and the temperature sank with it. When we left for Europe in July, we had mild autumn temperatures in mind; single degree Celsius was not on the agenda, but that’s what we were experiencing in Toulouse. Minutes passed; 5:30 came and went. I was cold. We had no idea where our bus was. About a dozen people were waiting at the same bus platform, so we knew our location was right.

Nearing 6pm, a portly French man in a neon green vest told no one in particular that there’d been a terrorist threat on the train station down the road from where we were; the police closed the street so the coach couldn’t enter the bus station. Then he left. At this point, I began to get exceptionally impatient. What’s the point of standing somewhere if the coach cannot come and get us?

Another half of an hour passes and this same portly man comes rushing back to us and tells us to follow him. This sounds like the beginning to a horror movie, blindly following someone like this. We leapfrog through the congestion and find the bus literally parked in the middle of a road, letting its British passengers off, a bagman simultaneously unloading the weary travelers’ luggage and loading us impatient travelers’ luggage onto the coach. We file in with great haste and take off.

The British driver announced to us that since the main road had been closed, he has to travel north out of Toulouse (exactly opposite of the direction we should be headed) and circle back around south. Fingers crossed that the traffic will abate by that time. Before we even left the traffic circle, the sun was gone and we were covered in darkness.

Despite multiple coach experiences where there was a complete absence of WiFi or power outlets, we remain foolishly optimistic that coach = WiFi. Color me surprised, this was not the case. We spent two hours on and off connecting to the network only for silly Mac to say the internet was unavailable and all kinds of “you shall not pass” excuses. Final result? Sporadic internet for a five hour journey.

So I read on my Kindle and slept.

Somewhere between Toulouse and the border (which doesn’t exist because, Schengen), it began to rain. When we finally arrived to Barcelona five hours later, our saucy British driver says over the speaker: “Here we are in Barcelona. Enjoy the rain!” Which had actually turned monsoon causing us to become thoroughly soaked the minute we left the coach. We grabbed our bags and ran inside the bus station. Our hostel was booked yet we had no idea how to get there. Taxis waited with bated breath to take us anywhere at extortionate prices. Taxis aren’t really our thing, so we decided to walk.

In the cold.
In the rain.
To the hostel.

Thankfully, the rain let up a bit so we were walking in a kind of heavy drizzle. We reached the hostel, like a pair of wet dogs, like a shivering Mary and Joseph, looking for our cozy beds. The receptionist was a bit surprised to see us so drenched, but we promptly dried off and checked in. We splurged for the private room, which to me is perfect because it’s an excuse to unpack everything and throw things everywhere. Claiming territory.

About 1am, we finally let ourselves succumb to the throes of the sheets and fell into a deep, dry slumber.

Travel Diary: Copenhagen’s Disappointing Walking Tour

View from the SkyIt all started when we took a train to Copenhagen city center to do one thing: a free walking tour at 3pm.
We found the main square and waited for 20 minutes. It’s an oddly warm day in Denmark, so we’re sitting and sweating. I’m admiring the 2-story Burger King on the corner, and Mark is observing this guy as part of some kind of stag party doing really socially awkward things to embarrass him.

We’re looking for a guide that, per reviews, is wearing a green shirt with a green umbrella. 3pm comes and goes with no mass tour assembling and no green t-shirt tour guide. According to Google Maps, the pickup point for the walking tour was at the entrance of a hotel. We go to the hotel and ask the lovely gent at the desk where the meet point actually is. He tells us to go out of the hotel and turn left, then we would see the meeting point behind the hotel.

We follow his instructions into a narrow pedestrian way that’s filled with the sweet aroma of hookah. Our eyes scan both sides of this walkway, and we don’t see any signage pointing to a walking tour. I’m well past frustrated and teetering on embroiled.

Mark checks the reservation and it says to meet at the steps of town hall. We go to town hall and wait for over 15 minutes. The original tour has long departed. We decide to wait for the next one, at 4. We go get overpriced froyo, sit on town hall steps and wait.

4pm comes and goes. No gathering of tourists. No guy in a green shirt. I go so far as to approach strangers in green shirts and ask them if they’re tour guides. We wander around a narrow street and into a shop with blue and white tourist info sign and ask about the tour. She lets us know that there wasn’t a walking tour today. Color me surprised.

We decide to take the high road and instead of chew this woman’s ear off, to go to Malmö, Sweden instead, since we’re in the business of collecting countries and all.

She shows us the schedule of the coach times to Malmö and transit times. It’s an hour to Sweden and an hour back to Denmark. While we can get to Sweden before day turns to night, the last coach back from Malmö departs 2 hours later, at 6pm. That didn’t work because we had an early am flight from Denmark the next day.

 

Disappointed by the lie that was the free walking tour and the unusable coach to Sweden, we schlepped back to the AC Bella Sky and enjoyed two Scandinavian priced (read: unreasonably expensive) appetizers.

Summary: If you want the walking tour, find the tourist office first and ask if they’re even doing a tour. And if you want to do a day trip to Sweden, leave Copenhagen before 9am. It’s $10 each way.

August 29, 2015

Travel Diary: Prettiest Airplane Ride from Kosovo to Slovenia

We don’t mean the airplane and we’re definitely not talking about the flight crew. What was most breathtaking is everything we saw outside of that tiny prison window as we flew from Pristina, Kosovo to Ljubljana, Slovenia.

We’re flying on this tiny Adria plane, which might as well have been a prop plane considering the size of it – two seats on each side, and all of the luggage had to go into the hold. No charge, naturally, and no issues with the plane, boarding or passport control.

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It’s an hour flight, and that’s reassuring despite the winter turbulence. We closed the window blinds after takeoff because the sun was coming in full force into our tired faces. What I saw below when I finally opened the window covering took me totally by surprise. Delicious snow-capped scenery, exactly like the candies. And I became like a kid in a candy store. Little did I know the Slovenian mountains rival the Alps in beauty, majesty and pure wow factor.

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Adore that black and white contrast. Wow. The snow-caps were just too much beauty, and I felt tears in my eyes from sheer joy. Combined with the 3:30pm sunset, the colors of the sky and the rugged mountain peaks were a fantastic treat that only winter affords.

I wanted to turn around to the rest of the plane and say, Look out your window!  You don’t know what you’re missing!

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We got about 10 minutes of this before we finally made our descent, and a decision to return to Slovenia before we ever touched down in Ljubljana.

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November 30, 2015

Travel Diary: Milking a Goat

As someone who was raised in the city, I found it incredibly novel to be on a farm in rural Bulgaria. This experience put an entirely new definition onto the word rural. It happened to be mentioned in conversation with our lovely hosts, Joe and Julie, that I had never been on a farm or done any farm-like things. This includes milking a goat. They offered the experience to me, and I promptly added it to my list of must-dos.

One balmy evening, at around 8:00pm, Mark, Joe and I set off in the car to meet their friend with the goats. I shall call him Tony because I forgot his name. We arrive to Tony’s house and he meets us and we start walking up a rocky, dirt road. Joe leaves. Up and up the three of us climb. We have to go pick the goats up from their little goat daycare. All the people in this village in Bulgaria drop their goats off in the morning and then pick them up in the evening. Absolutely adorable.

We arrive to the goat daycare just as they are dismissed for the day. Tony has two goats – a black one and a white one. He quickly locates them and then we begin our walk back down to Tony’s house. It’s not just us and Tony. Children, their parents, and their babas* come to pick up their goats. There’s a dozen people and many more goats all sauntering down this hill. All of the goats have bells wrapped around their neck, creating a symphony of bell tolls and goat noises and baba chatter. I find it hilarious.

Goats are rather stubborn. You probably knew this. I had no idea. So every now and again your goat will decide to just stop to take a pee or it will stop to kick someone or it will stray away and try to nibble some grass. Or it will try to run away from you. So you have to kind of thump them on the noggin to keep them walking the direction you want to walk.

My beloved goat. Not sure if she knows what's up, but I'm about to show her.
My beloved goat. Not sure if she knows what’s up, but I’m about to show her.

I’m growing severely attached to Tony’s white goat that’s loyally walking next to me on this sojourn back to the house. I give it a pet name. We get to Tony’s house and he takes the goats and leads them into their little goat area. I watch him as he takes the goat and he ties the goat’s lead around a post and he secures it. He distracts the goat from what we are about to do – confiscate its milk – by giving it a wholesome snack to munch on.

I squat down in front of the goat and Tony is right behind me. He makes an O with his thumb and his forefinger and, using it as a tourniquet,  wraps it about halfway up the goats “tit.” I say in quotes because I couldn’t help but snicker every time he said “tit.” It was with an English accent and positively delightful.

I digress. So you make an O with your thumb and forefinger, wrap it halfway up the tit, and then close your remaining three fingers around the rest of the tit. And you squeeze. Not a  pansy squeeze. You work every single muscle in your hands to get out just a second’s worth of goat milk.

The tit is warm. The milk is warm. My hands are warm and sweaty and I’m nervous this goat is about to kick me in the face.

Repeat this process for about ten minutes. And you’re in the clear so long as the goat is eating something and is apathetic to your groping and milk stealing. It’s much harder, as a first timer, than it really looks.

We fill up a pail that’s maybe a liter of milk, maybe more. It’s hard to tell. To me it felt like a gallon. Afterward Tony asks me if I want to milk the other one, too.

I can’t. My hand is cramping and I begin to worry I’m going to have a super muscular right hand and a bony left hand.

And now I can officially say, with pleasure, I have tickled a goat’s tit and milked it for all it has.

Travel Diary: The Adventures of Mailing a Postcard in Dublin

This short story is proof that mundane tasks can turn into an adventure with the proper person. Mailing a postcard is not as easy as it sounds. Dublin is the only place where we found a sign that said post, much like the one below, that directed us into a supermarket.

Courtesy of Breaking News, Ireland. Ever so small and kind of easy to miss.
Courtesy of Breaking News, Ireland. Ever so small and kind of easy to miss.

We pass a sign that looks like this and peer in. This is a supermarket; that can’t be right. So we’re walking around South Dublin looking for a post office. A real post office, one that would be green with ample harps and lots of other Irish things. We keep seeing oval green mail drops in the street anxious to receive our mail, but as our postcards do not yet have stamps affixed to them, we can not send them on their merry overseas journey.

Though the post office signs are small, the mail drops are really hard to miss. Daily collection varies from 4:00 to 5:30pm.
Though the post office signs are small, the mail drops are really hard to miss. Daily collection varies from 4:00 to 5:30pm.

After about twenty minutes, we turn around and search again for this tiny sign and go into the supermarket. Everything about this feels odd. We’re in the Donnybrook market, and I see what looks like the beginnings of the warehouse. There are people milling about, so I follow the path all the way to the back of the store. There are those long clear plastic flaps right in front of me, and to the right, I see a two-person queue (that’s a line for my American audiences). Right in this tiny L-shaped, dimly lit area is a post office. There’s two tellers behind bulletproof glass. I go up and ask them for five international stamps, please, which they have to print. She comes back and tells us it’s six euros.

Not a problem, a bargain I think, for such a long journey, and Mark swipes our credit card, which promptly gets declined. The employee sees the error and tells us, debit or cash only. At this point, Mark uses the debit card, and that also gets declined. At this point we didn’t have any cash – so I start to worry. The employee clarifies: “Irish bank cards or cash only.”

Weeeelll, that kind of changes things a bit! We ask where the nearest ATM is, across the street, and walk over only to find out it’s Out of Order. The next ATM is a good ten minutes away, and we have twelve minutes to get our postcards in the mail for the 5:30pm pickup. What a maddening deadline. The next twelve minutes is us running to the ATM, waiting eons to withdraw cash, running back to the post office disguised as a supermarket, waiting in a now very-long queue to pick up our postage stamps that we quickly affix to the postcards and bid them adieu as we drop them promptly at 5:29pm.

Mission. Totally. Accomplished.

Travel Diary: An Adventurous Self-Drive into the Scottish Highlands

Exploring the Highlands, if only for a day, is a must for any itinerary to Scotland. Deceivingly, they look much closer than they actually are. This is because in order for the Highlands to be Highlands, they have to be mountainous, rugged terrain, that’s what makes them Highlands. Navigating a road on this terrain is no small matter, and neither is driving on it.

Most people opt for the road-more-traveled: a day trip in a coach where you are comfortable and a driver takes you right to the scenic area, you take a dozen snapshots and return to your home, satisfied.

That’s not how we travel. We like to do things on our own.

I would have loved to do this drive by myself except manual transmissions and I don’t always get along. In some cars, like Hondas, it’s pretty easy to figure out how to drive. But the car we had wasn’t a Honda. It was a manual transmission car on the opposite side of the road with the driver’s seat where the passenger seat usually is. So Mark had to do the driving. All six hours of it.

If you’re in Glasgow and you want to get a taste of the Highlands, go to Glencoe. You don’t need to drive to Inverness or even Cairngorns National Park, though both of those are beautiful beyond belief and you could spend a week in either location.

Glencoe is a good introduction to the Highlands that will leave you salivating for more.

Getting through and out of Glasgow is a pretty boring, but once you leave the area, the road starts winding and taking sharp turns, twisting and the roads are narrow. Not just American narrow, but barely enough to fit two cars around the corner. There’s no room for error. It’s difficult to shift, keep your eyes on the road, and take a sip of water, so for the driver, it’s generally a stressful drive. About 40 minutes north of Glasgow, we lost cell phone service and entered Loch Lomond.

One of the things we look for is a waterfall. Whenever we land in a new place, we immediately go on a waterfall hunt. We heard that a waterfall existed in Loch Lomond National Park (Which you have to drive through to get to Glencoe) but we weren’t really optimistic about spotting it since there were no exits off of the road. However, a lovely, poorly marked sign indicated a parking area for us to pulll off. We did, if for nothing else than to take a quick hike down to the river and take in some of the gorgeous scenery. What we found was Falls of Falloch, a lovely waterfall hidden nested back at the end of a moderate hike.

Falloch Falls
Falls of Falloch

Once we got out Loch Lomond, the scenery becomes much more dramatic and more beautiful.

Entering Glencoe
Entering Glencoe

The problem with doing a self-drive in Scotland is there is virtually no where to stop for a picture. Miles and miles of breathtaking, jaw-dropping lush green and towering waterfalls and there is nothing to travel on but this narrow two-lane road.

So when we finally saw a parking lot to stop, we slammed on our brakes for it. We missed it and decided to pull off on the side of the road, as it appeared to have a shoulder. We do not recommend doing this. Once we pulled over, the rocky terrain grabbed the tires and cut them to the left. The car sank into the mud. The entire left side of the car was in the mud. Tires spinning, clutch burning. I was definitely convinced we were stuck. We were hungry. Gas was nearly empty. It seemed like the beginning to a Stephen King novel. I tried to lift the car out of the mud (most European cars can be lifted by a person of moderate strength), but I couldn’t get a grip on what needed to be lifted up. So Mark trusts me to operate a left-hand drive car while he lifts the car up and out of the goo and…well, forty minutes later, we were back on the road.

Hellooo, Glencoe!
Hellooo, Glencoe!

Extraordinary right? I couldn’t get enough of it.

Another couple of hours later, we arrived into Fort William. I expected more of a town than It actually is, but on one side of the road is a row of bed and breakfasts, and on the other is a beautiful lake and mountains.

Fort William, where you want to stay if you're to explore all of Glen Nevis
Fort William, where you want to stay if you’re to explore all of Glen Nevis

We are looking for a place to stay, or get information, but things aren’t very well marked out. Apple Maps finally makes a comeback, as we haven’t had map service since Glasgow. What a relief. I find the tourist information center and the woman there recommends a park called Glen Nevis. Says it has some waterfalls and a few nice hikes, best part of everything? It’s free! Off we go to Glen Nevis.

Glen Nevis really is like walking into the wilderness of the Highlands. It’s one-way dirt roads with pullouts to let the other cars pass by. We drive 7 miles on this narrow, gritty dirty road all the way to the end and get out. There’s one waterfall at the end of the trail so we follow it. The trail starts out pretty easy but gets pretty dramatic. Water trickles over exposed rocks and the air begins to thin. Elevation gains are made quickly but the scenery is breathtaking. Strongly recommend hiking boots or strong sturdy hiking shoes.

Hidden waterfalls like these are beautiful yet hazardous on the trail. Nike frees won't do you any good on this trail.
Hidden waterfalls like these are beautiful yet hazardous on the trail. Nike frees won’t do you much good here.
Pretty hard to contain my delight when there are little aquadrops everywhere!
Pretty hard to contain my delight when there are little aquadrops everywhere!

The trail opens up into a field, where you’re in the valley of the Highlands and you can see the waterfall. It’s possible at the end, to get closer to it, and you can climb over the rocks, I recommend you bring food, at least a few snacks, to sit on the rocks and enjoy the picnic time and the view.

A little impromptu rock climbing!
A little impromptu rock climbing!

We brought cheerios and we wish we had brought more. Keep in mind this is a national park of sorts, so there’s no trash or rubbish bins. There’s a rope bridge, which looks a lot like a tightrope, you can cross, if you dare. It’s a bit scary, the first few steps, but as long as no one else is on it, shaking it or moving it about wildly, it’s an exhilarating experience. It’s also a lot higher up than it looks from the underside of it.

Mark turned acrobat on the rope swing I crossed with great trepidation.
Mark turned acrobat on the rope bridge I crossed with great trepidation. How about that view though?

However, once you get to the other side, there isn’t much to see, there’s a house, but not much after it. We thought we could get closer to the waterfall and wound up stepping into a bog and getting covered in mud up to our knees.

The hiking back as or seemed faster than it actually was to get to the waterfall. Maybe it was because I was tired or maybe it was easier after the hike there. There are plenty more things in the park to explore. It’s worth at least two full days, as there are waterfalls in nearly every corner and dramatic drop-offs everywhere you look.

That’s the beauty of the Highlands.

Waterfall spotting on our way back up the mountain
Happy hiking!

Travel Diary: Battling Sickness in the United Kingdom

You don’t always need to catch a virus or get invaded by bacteria to get sick. Sometimes you try to do so much, so quickly, with such vigor, that your body literally breaks down and forces you to stop.

That’s what happened. After walking about 30 kilometers (18 miles) over 2 days, our bodies said, “Enough.” Naturally, we went on a hunt for some pain relief. In the UK, the equivalent of a CVS/ Rite Aid is Boots. Boots has a bunch of cosmetics as well as a pharmacy and some minor first aid items. We picked up some throat losenges we thought would do the trick.

No dice. Earlier today I went to an establishment that said simply ‘Pharmacy’ on it. I went in and that’s exactly what it was. Two pint-sized aisles of what seemed like space-filling items, and a whole wall after wall of drugs behind a pharmacy counter that a young pharmacy student was manning. After a bit of browsing items that had absolutely nothing to do with my pain, I walked up to this pharmacy student and said simply, “I have sinus pain and a fever. What should I get for that?” He simply nodded and turned to the pharmacist, who scanned the myriad of shelves for an item and handed me some intense looking sinus/ fever reducing SudaFed (4 pounds).

The main purpose of this is to illustrate that you cannot buy any pain relieving/ fever reducing/ cold or cough suppressants without first speaking to a pharmacist. You go up to them, or queue up (wait in a line) to talk to them. No charge. You tell them your ailments, and they fix you.

Note: Please tell your pharmacist what you’re taking or if you’ve had any alcohol or aspirin in the previous 48 hours. They don’t always prompt you for this. Anything, even contraception pills, can have adverse reactions when taken with certain medication.

Travel Diary: Waterfalling in Tennessee

Oh goodness, I love a waterfall. I will stay up for hours on end to get to a waterfall I can hike to.
Lucky for Mark, he likes them too.

On our way back to Miami, he asks what waterfalls are on the way back. Thanks to Pinterest, I found a pin for Cummins Falls. It’s part of a free state park where hikers can swim at the base of the falls, in the falls or hike behind them.

Needless to say, Cummins Falls fit the bill. It’s about midway between Knoxville and Nashville, a little over an hour from each city. The falls are off a very nondescript road: you have to be looking for them.

The hike down is scenic and nice. You are best off in some type of open toed hiking shoe but if you don’t mind getting sneakers wet then you will be fine.

It is free to enter and free to park your car. Relaxing hike down the mountain and in the river.

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We trekked along the river capturing all kinds of cliff shots. I had to ditch the shoes walking in the water and the water felt so good in the sun.

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Mark and I spent some moments hiking up the sides of cliffs.

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The falls get really packed in the afternoon, so try to arrive at 11am or earlier.
The falls are big and beautiful.

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You can climb as high as you want. Sit behind waterfalls. Swim up to them. The water is refreshing and clear! This experience is one of my life’s best moments. Bliss is what I experienced.

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Mark had a great time hiding behind the levels of waterfalls and showing me how a backflip is done.

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By the time we were done traipsing around the falls, we were pretty spent. It was a perfect way to spend a few hours in the summer.
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Beautiful place. Will visit again!

#MarkandMelody