Climbing Arthur’s Seat

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It’s hard to pick a favorite day in Scotland, but this day was one of the best. Everyone we talked to said we needed to go to Arthur’s Seat in Holyrood Park–an extinct volcano, it rises up next to the city like a protecting wing. “Climb it.” Everyone said. “You won’t regret it.”

Though our Netherlands-legs almost didn’t make it (biking uses different muscles than hiking, apparently), we discovered that they were all telling the truth. It was spectacular. Gorgeous. Wild and impressive. And it had some great views.

At the top! Success!

There are several paths up, and a few different destinations, ranging from relaxed strolling to vigorous hiking. We aimed all the way to the top, so it was a bit vigorous! But seriously–that countryside, that bright green dotted with duksy brown and golden yellow, those magnificent views of the city surrounded by water, the fresh wind in my face… it was gorgeous.

 

We went up one side and down the other, ending the hike in Duddingston, an old village nestled between the mountain and a loch. The Sheeps’ Heid Inn slaked our thirst and let our legs rest, and the sun peeked out as we left. What a lovely day.

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Finding Scottish Tweed, or, Birthday Event #1

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Jesse’s 30th birthday was at the end of May, so for the big celebration he got to choose a place to travel to, what he wanted to do there, and what kind of present he got. You already know he chose Scotland! He had two goals there, and one was to find himself a fine Scottish tweed suit (so he can look the part of an English professor). He did some research before we left, and we spent most of the first day looking in different tweed shops (there were a lot.)

We finally wandered into Walker Slater, which turned out to be the winner! The assistants there were extremely helpful as Jesse perused and tried on jacket after jacket. When he decided on one they even marked it for some alterations, which were finished in time for our departure.

Tweed is a traditional Scottish material woven from rough wool, often having an herringbone and heathered effect. Harris tweed is the most well-known brand, but the fabric is a little bit thicker, and Jesse ended up choosing a lighter style with a more modern fit. Ta-da!

He was wooed into getting the pants, too, so as to have the full suit effect. Because what’s the sense in only have a tweed jacket? (He’d like me to point out that these shoes will not be worn with the suit, normally.)

I’d call our suit-hunt a smashing success! Does he remind anyone else of Dr. Who? Sonic Screwdriver not included.

Scottish Treats

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I just love the way that a location’s food is tied into the entire culture. There’s no better way to get a true sense of a place than to eat up! We were on a tight budget in Scotland, but we did manage to indulge in several delicious items. Of course there were the fish’n’chips!

And a traditional hog roast sandwich:

After days of walking, we refreshed ourselves with lots of fine Scottish ale. Pints and pints of it! Imperial pints, too, which are an entire 20 oz. A whole meal, right there in a glass. British/Scottish ales are drastically different from the Belgian ones we find in Amsterdam, so it was treat to try all of these.

But the most memorable thing we ate was haggis. You’ve heard of haggis, right? It’s usually the food that’s used to describe something a normal person would never eat, along the lines of monkey brain. The funny thing in Edinburgh, though, was that every restaurant offered it! It wasn’t some crazy specialty, it was actually a normal staple. It’s made with a sheep’s offal (heart, liver, lungs), minced with onions, oatmeal, spices, salt, and simmered in broth. (I had to look that up afterwards, because while we were there I refused to know!) It’s served with traditional ‘neeps and tatties,’ mashed turnips and potatoes.

The middle one is haggis, and the sides are ‘neeps and tatties.’

Jesse was brave enough to order haggis and I was brave enough to try a tiny bite. Then another. And another. And before I knew it, I was saying, “Hey, don’t eat all of it, I want another bite.”

Friends, it was good. Really tasty. Savory, perfectly seasoned with a pleasant texture, it was a delicious surprise. I could have eaten more! In fact, we did, when we went back later and ordered the haggis nachos! (Because when else in your life do you get to eat haggis nachos? Seriously.)

The things you learn traveling. What an eye-opening, tastebud-pleasing world it is!

Edinburgh, Scotland

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The minute we started walking around Edinburgh, we realized what we had been missing in the Netherlands all these months: hills.

“That view right there is more beautiful than the entirety of the Netherlands,” Jesse joked when we saw the castle on it’s craggy perch. (Okay, he might not have been joking. But I find Holland quite beautiful in it’s own right!)

Medieval Edinburgh is built on a spiny stretch of rock that starts at the castle and runs gradually down the Royal Mile to Holyrood Palace. The rest of the city falls to either side, the small windy streets giving way to well-spaced Georgian New Town. With lots of upscale boutiques and cafes, New Town is the place to be seen. Older, twistier, and a bit more touristy is the Old Town and the Royal Mile.

Snaking out from the Royal Mile are dozens of hidden alleyways and squares called ‘closes.’ Originally small streets or entryways, the buildings around them were eventually built up so much that the closes became enclosed. They are now dark, eerie places where ghost stories and urban legends abound. Lots of companies offer tours, and I partly wish we had taken one since I feel like that’s such a huge part of Edinburgh. But our budget dictated other things, so we went without. (Probably best, since I don’t do well with ghost stories!)

I learned all sorts of things, like how Edinburgh is pronounced “Edin-burra,” and how the Flodden wall was built around the city to keep the English out. I also developed a huge love of the Scottish accent, and have since demanded Jesse to practice. Constantly.

Scotland history is a bit fascinating to me, and I indulged in completely. Audio tours in the castle told stories of Mary, Queen of Scots, of Bonnie Prince Charlie, of Robert the Bruce and yes, William Wallace. We gazed out from the castle walls to the hills and waters surrounding the city, fascinated by the long, bloody road that led to this sunny day.

Oh, and we also saw this cafe, which claims to be the place J.K. Rowling (who lives in Edinburgh) wrote the first books of Harry Potter. So, if you’re not into history, there’s another claim to fame for you!

Back Home

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We’re back from Edinburgh! It was such a lovely trip, and I can’t wait to share photos and stories from all the things we did and tried.

Amsterdam welcomed us back with gray skies and rain…sigh. But after the twisty streets of medieval Edinburgh, the regal houses and placid canals of this city were a calming sight. And after a long day of travel it’s always nice to be home.


I threw out old flowers and bought new this morning–it’s a habit I’ve given up fighting. The buds were closed at the store, but once I got them in water at home they immediately relaxed and spread out. Just like all of us, I think. Traveling is so stimulating and exciting, but there’s nothing like your own little corner of home to let you truly relax.

I’m spending a day doing just that (while admiring my blooms) before going through all our photos! Can’t wait to share them!

A Stitchy Trip to Pirmasens, Germany

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I’ve really enjoyed stitching maps for the shop as a way to combine travel and handmade. I usually concentrate on places I’ve been but a few weeks ago I was contacted for a custom order of somewhere I’d never even heard of: Pirmasens, Germany. The customer wanted a map of the little German town for her mother-in-law, who grew up there. What a sweet gift!

I did some research to familiarize myself with the town before stitching, and ended up falling for it. The next time I’m in southern Germany with time to kill, I’m heading to Pirmasens! Near the border of France in Rhineland, Germany, it’s a small city with a population of 40,000. Their claim to fame is the manufacturing of shoes: they even have a shoe museum!Besides that, it looks like a thoroughly liveable city, with cute old buildings, street markets, lots of events, plenty of parks. That dotted yellow line on the map is a pedestrian-only zone passing shops, cafes, squares, and historic buildings. What a nice place to stroll on a sunny day! (All images below are from Pirmasens city website.)

The map ended up being 8×10″ in nice dusky colors: maroon, mustard, and forest green. I love how it turned out–what a great virtual trip to Germany!

Have you ever been to Pirmasens?

Amsterdam Love: Latei Cafe

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One of my favorite bustling cafes in Amsterdam is the funky Latei, located just off the Nieuwmarkt in Chinatown.

It’s kind of a crazy mish-mash of a cafe, selling fresh olive oil from Italy, vegetarian Ethiopian meals on some weeknights, and a delicious apple tart. Oh, and everything is for sale. Everything–the art on the walls, the chair you sit on, everything. It’s a small, crowded place, but it’s warm and cozy in the winter and fresh and breezy in the summer. Plus, there’s a nice balcony above that gives great views.

And perhaps the best thing is the resident cat, Elvis (who does not leave the building, according to the sign on the door). Any cafe that comes with a sweet kitty is ok by me!

http://www.latei.net, Zeedijk 143, Amsterdam

Onward to Edinburgh!

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Whew! It’s been busy here lately! And with a trip planned and a few more friends visiting (one is suddenly very popular when one lives in a foreign city), it doesn’t promise to let up anytime soon.

But I have so many things to post about! Our trip to Belgium, our visit to a Dutch theme park, small towns in Holland, and more. Tomorrow I add even more to that list, as we’re flying off to Edinburgh, Scotland!

-Edinburgh Skyline Screenprint by Kate McLelland on Etsy.

-Edinburgh, Scotland, by Confettielove on Etsy

-Edinburgh Towers by Cheism Shop on Etsy

Jesse turns the big 3-0 (today!), and picked Edinburgh as the perfect birthday present. I’ve heard only great things, and since our wonderful time in London I’ve been excited to explore another corner of the UK. We leave tomorrow for five full days of whiskey-tasting and city-exploring. I do have a few posts scheduled while we’re gone, and then I’m going to do my best to post all my stories and pictures of the places we’ve been!

For now, I’m off to celebrate a birthday. Wish us luck in Edinburgh–any great tips?

The Idyllic Island of Marken

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While my parents were here we took a day trip to Marken, a small island just a short bus ride away from Amsterdam. It’s a bit of a tourist destination along with nearby Volendam and Edam (which we also visited).

Marken is now connected to the mainland by a dike, so we were able to take the bus directly there. Before 1957, however, the only way for the local “Markers” to get to Holland was by boat. The island is known as a bit of folkoric history, as traditional houses, costumes, speech and habits have historically thrived here. Since the dike was built and modernity continues pressing, the traditions are slowly dying. In the Marker Museum we saw re-creations of the elaborate costumes people wore.

The day we went was pretty windy, cold and a bit rainy, but it gave us the island almost to ourselves, so we wandered the empty streets happily. The houses are all wooden, and many of them by the harbor are actually on stilts to keep them off the water. The little town was full of the sweetest views: those dark painted houses with white trim, lace curtains, wooden clogs full of flowers, cats in windows and bikes in alleyways; everywhere I looked prompted an “aww…”

See what I mean? These idyllic views make me want to throw my cell phone in the water and go frolic in a bonnet with some fluffy lambs. I’d have to learn how to frolic in clogs, but I think I’m up to the challenge.

The small island only took up a few hours (I’d like to go back on a sunnier day!), and afterward we caught a ferry through the sea to Volendam. Another cute little town, and another post!

Summer Sunlight

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Summer has arrived here, in full swing for the past two days. I’ve dug my flip flops out of hiding and remembered to slather on sunscreen, and Jesse and I have been doing our best to be outside a lot. Because really, it’s been a rotten spring. My poor parents had horrible weather for their visit, and even our friends last week had to wear jackets and carry umbrellas!

But summer is here (for now), and I’m enjoying it completely. I’ve made iced tea, we’ve eaten salads for dinner, and I already cut off a pair of pants into shorts. Because that’s what you do in summer.

It’s been fun watching Amsterdammers embrace the sunny weather. This city, though it be covered in rain and mist most of the year, is made for nice weather. It’s awash with cafe terraces, canal sides, benches, and green spots, all inviting you to sit…relax for awhile. As soon as the sun pops out everyone does their best to be outside. The number of boats on the canals has tripled, and the cafes have unfurled their outdoor tables and umbrellas. The same thing happens in Portland on a sunny day, but somehow Amsterdam embraces it in a different way. It’s all just a bit more…gezellig.

On our evening walks I’ve gotten a kick out of seeing people on every balcony, sitting on their front stoop, hanging out a window, or pulling a table outside for the family dinner. Beers are enjoyed on a canalside terrace while the sun slowly drops behind a building. The light lingers for a long time lately–it’s already past 10, and the sun is just now setting. The sky is lit with pink and orange, and it reflects off the canals as the smell of something grilled wafts by.

It’s summer in Amsterdam.

(These pictures are both from last summer, as I’ve been too enraptured by the sun the past few days to bother carrying my camera anywhere.)