Scotland

Melissa Moffet and I spent a whirlwind four nights in Scotland. Here are some notes and thoughts and itinerary about our trip. I was a little concerned about traveling with a vegan (since I am not) because I thought all she’d have to eat were potatoes. But Scotland has ample options for vegans, and I actually wound up eating more vegetables because I was with a vegan! Unexpected bonus!

Friday Sept 28/Saturday Sept 29: We flew out on a direct red eye from Stewart, which is this tiny airport in upstate NY.  We couldn't find a (reasonably priced) direct flight from JFK, so we took a chance on this flight from an airport I’d never heard of before haha. We had to take a 2 hour shuttle ride from Penn, but it turned out to be worth it.  We arrived at 8pm, boarded 830pm as "last call" and left the gate at 910pm for a 925pm flight.  Landed in EDI 1.25 hrs early at 745am.  Our airbnb wasn't ready yet so we settled in for some breakfast and coffee at Brew Lab coffee.  This turned out to be my favorite breakfast place in EDI.  
There was a key issue with our airbnb, so we couldn't leave our bags as we thought we could be able to.  That was a bit annoying, and a downside to airbnb vs hotel.  However, walking around town, I remembered that museums always have a bag check.  And sure enough, EDI was no exception.  We checked our suitcases at the National Museum, which was a huge help, and set out with only backpacks.  We walked down Candlemaker Row, Victoria Street (inspiration for Diagon Alley), Boy Wonder (v helpful staff in everything Harry Potter), Greyfriars Kirkyard (the cemetery that allegedly provided JK Rowling with HP character names, though we didn't see the named tombstones mcgonagall, tom riddell, etc).  We came across a farmers market where I had amazing paella and Melissa had a vegan pita thing.  Afterwards we walked up Calton Hill and then crashed for a couple hours at the airbnb.   We had dinner at Maki & Ramen (yum), did some road trip snack shopping at Tesco, grabbed some night time shots and then *finally* called it a day.

Sunday Sept 30:  This was a very long road trip day.  We did a 6 hour stretch of driving the first day which I would not recommend unless you start super early.  We got to Enterprise at 11am but didn't actually leave until noon.  Driving on the opposite of the road is weird AF.  Your proprioception of where the car is in its lane is completely foreign.  Not to mention doing tight left turns instead of left turns across traffic, and let’s not forget about going counter clockwise in roundabouts.  It threw my brain off. 

 Not a recommended first day drive

Not a recommended first day drive


So getting used to driving on the opposite side, plus stopping for photos in Glencoe/Fort Williams and to eat/bathroom breaks - we didn't arrive in our destination of Staffin (Isle of Skye) until 9:30pm and it had been pitch black for a couple hours at that point.  I still give Melissa major props for driving all that. 

 We had to stop and chase this rainbow!

We had to stop and chase this rainbow!

Monday, Oct 1:  The next morning we hit Staffin Slipway beach for sunrise, had breakfast, and then headed to Old Man Storr, this craggy rock formation high on the mountain. 

Honestly, I'm not a hiker and I have random knee issues.  There are 4 gates you have to pass through to make it to the top, and I made it to 3 of the 4 gates.  But after a point after huffing and puffing in the rain and wind, me and my knees were like, UGH NO MORE. 

 The intrepid hiker sets off solo!

The intrepid hiker sets off solo!

Melissa made it to the top and then ran down like a mountain goat as I ate beef jerky in the car.  We grabbed chai and sandwiches in Portree, then drove to the fairy pools in Glenbrittle.  It was beautiful, but honestly, I'd love to revisit when it's warmer with sunshine and rainbows.  It was a little miserable in the cold and wind, and the only place our photos didn't turn out due to weather, squishy mud, and cold.  We finished the drive in Inverness, where we had a tasty Indian food dinner.

Tuesday, Oct 2:  This was our favorite airbnb.  The host was lovely, and her house was from the 1880s and looked like a castle.  We explored Inverness in the morning and then headed out to Pattack Falls and nature trail. 

 Pattack Falls

Pattack Falls

We stopped in Pitlochry for lunch, and just as I was saying Melissa wouldn't be able to find vegan dessert, we walked into Hettie's Tea Rooms and found...vegan dessert.  Our end city for the day was Stirling.  Dinner that night was at Brea, this restaurant known for its locally sourced food and vegan options.  Melissa had this risotto and it was so tasty.  She also found vegan fudge at Mint Patisserie.

Wednesday, Oct 3:  Drove back to EDI to return rental car, hitting up this vegan place on the way called Fork and Mustard in Falkirk that Melissa found in her Happy Cow app.  She was super happy with her grand, 11 item vegan brekkie that included homemade vegan sausage, bacon and haggis.  I had avo toast on tomato pesto that was also tasty.    

We had no issues getting our flight to London, except all my bags got pulled over for not putting my toiletries in a single baggy, not pulling my laptop out, and forgetting I had some water in my water bottle. Ooops.

Melissa and I had a great time, and I’d like to go back because I think Scotland has so much to offer that we just didn’t have time to see!

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Moving with nature!

Travel tips

I did a lot of thinking during the trip that Melissa Moffet and I took to Scotland, and here are my thoughts wrapped up in a few paragraphs.

I think no one would dispute that international traveling can be stressful.  Starting with jet lag, to getting where you need to go, different currency, phone service (or lack of), to oftentimes a different primary language - it can all be a bit overwhelming.  However, there are a few things you can do in advance to help mitigate some of the stress.  This is what I do every time when I travel for myself:

  • Download an offline map of destination.  I do this in Google maps, not sure if Apple maps has the same functionality.  But it allows you to have a map even if you have no phone service.

  • See if your mobile carrier has an international plan and if it will be worth it to you to have data for your trip.  I have Sprint and they have a free international plan add-on where 2G data and texting is free.  2G is really not sufficient for video streaming but it works fine for messaging.

  • Pack your ATM card.  Cash advances through credit cards are expensive. 

  • Make sure your passport has over 6 months before expiration. 

  • First night accommodation planned out:  I find this to be a huge stress reliever.  Even if the rest of your trip is unplanned, coming off a red eye and knowing where you will be sleeping the first night is a mental relief.  If it's an airbnb, I ask the host the best way to get there.

  • Figure out how you will get around.  Taxi, Uber, walking, public transport, rental car?  For public transport, how does ticketing work?  I read that the easiest payment method for the London Tube is cashless contact using Google/Apple Pay, so I set that up before leaving the US.  If you get a rental car, who will drive?  Would a tour bus be better?  Consider and discuss these questions with your travel buddy.

With logistics out of the way, the next thing is to consider your travel buddy.  With the stresses of travel and the number of things that can go wrong, it's really important you and your friend(s) can balance each other out.  It does no good to have everyone freaking out if/when plans go awry.  Here are some traits that I find make a smoother trip:

  • Somewhat same sleep schedule.  If you are driving a full day and you need help navigating but your friend is passed out in the passenger seat because they have been partying all night, that makes for a grumpy scenario.  Melissa and I both are early risers and early to bed, so that worked out well.

  • Similar interests and energy levels.  The only time I left Melissa was on the hike up Old Man Storr.  I am not a hiker, especially a hiker in the cold drizzle and wind.  But if one person is outdoorsy and the other is a museum goer, you may have to balance expectations on what to do together.  Or if one person likes to run around for 12 hours and the other needs more rest time, this will also need to be accounted for.

  • Be respectful of space.  If you needs morning quiet, meditation, journaling before starting the day, then set that requirement early on so it's not an issue.

  • Be able to have a normal conversation with them.  Long car rides equal conversations.  Make sure you can talk to this friend about tons of different things, including pooping.  Because, you know, that always comes up.

Aruba

Every June is Wellness Month at the Hilton Aruba, but this year they piloted a Wellness Week in September with activities specifically focused on all aspects of wellness including diet, exercise, and mental health.  After a smooth flight, Melini and I landed in beautiful and humid Aruba - my first time on this beautiful island!

The first two things I like to do when arriving in a new location is:  find food and location scout.  So after a quick lunch, we wandered around the premises.  Of course for island photography, I like to try and assess best spots for sunrise and sunset but sometimes it's hard to ascertain until those actual times.  Based on how the sun was moving, I was sure we would get a beautiful sunset but I wasn't sure about sunrise since we were on the west side of the island.

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We were rewarded with a beautiful pastel sunset the first night.

We met Jessica Gonzalez, our Hilton representative, the first morning.  She turned out to be the hostess with the mostest!  

Every morning for Wellness Week, there were physical activities such as meditation, yoga, HIIT or Stand Up Paddleboard.  Melini tried SUP and then we headed to the Bird Interaction.

The Hilton Aruba has a small menagerie of birds, cared for by the past 18 years by this amazing bird keeper Victor.  Victor not only handles the birds, he will also art direct your shoot by giving angles and pose ideas, and will fix hair and just clothing.  He was the best, and the birds love him.  I love animals, so I was happy to see that the care of these birds is important to the Hilton.

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 Me with One, an African Gray

Me with One, an African Gray

Our second full day was such a fun full day!  Since we were not on the sunrise side of the island, we didn't get a glorious sunrise but instead witnessed the quickly changing colors of the sky, sort of the sunrise runoff. 

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After our shoot, we headed out on a morning bicycle tour, riding along the beachfront.  We saw the divi-divi tree, which is the Aruban national tree and grows by the ocean and is shaped by the wind.  I love watching landscape change - we went from beach and palm trees to palm trees and cacti!  Our cycling guides also made sure everyone in the group was looked after.

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After the bike tour, we ran into "Cooking with Chef" where Chef Matt taught us how to cook rich food healthily - home baked pita chips and crab-spinach-artichoke dip using non fat yogurt as a base!  I have posted the recipe below. Hilton Aruba offers a few of these cooking type classes, including health(ier) options for alcoholic drinks.  Side note:  there is a drink called the Aruba Arriba and it was created by a mixologist who worked at the Hilton in the 1960s.  

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The sunset highlight of our last day was Dog Yoga with puppies from the Luna Foundation!  The Luna Foundation rescues dogs from around the island and re-homes them.  One of the volunteers I spoke with told me that a lot of their dogs are adopted in the US.  I have so much respect for people who work in animal rescue; I feel like we as humans have put animals in their states of domestication but then we have turned around and abused that, instead of acting responsibly and kindly.  This was a trial run for Dog Yoga, and I hope that the Hilton Aruba continues this because it brings awareness to the Luna Foundation, and people on vacation really enjoy playing with puppies!

 Melini with a puppy

Melini with a puppy

 Janice with a puppy

Janice with a puppy

 Emily with a puppy

Emily with a puppy

Thank you Hilton Aruba for your hospitality and welcoming staff.  Cant wait to return!

*I was invited as a guest of the Hilton Aruba. All opinions are my own.

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Low-Fat Spinach Artichoke Dip & Toasted Dill Pita Chips

INGREDIENTS for the Dip*
2 8oz packs low fat or fat free Cream Cheese
2 8oz packs frozen chopped Spinach
2 cans 12-14oz Artichoke Hearts
2oz fat free Mayonnaise
2oz fat free Sour Cream
4oz Greek Yogurt
2oz Parmesan Cheese

*The version we had at “Cooking with the Chef” also had cooked crab in it.

DIRECTIONS
Mix ingredients in a large bowl and serve chilled.

Toasted Dill Pita Chips

INGREDIENTS for the chips
1 tbsp Dill Weed, minced
1 pack Whole Wheat Pita Bread
2 tbsp Olive Oil
Salt and Pepper to taste

DIRECTIONS
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.
Cut each pita bread in quarters and each quarter in half to make 8 triangles. Place them in a single layer on a sheet pan and sprinkle lightly with olive oil, dill, salt and pepper.
Bake for about 10 minutes, until crisp, turning once.