Friday’s Weekly Travel Photo – Scottish Waterfalls

Scottish Highlands

Scotland is famous for its waterfalls with good reason. They dot the Scottish countryside and enrich it making it one of my favorite places in the world. The clouds often blend with the rivers and waterfalls in beautiful and unusual ways out along the highland’s bald mountaintops. However, within Scotland’s rich and lush forest zones there are other, equally wonderful waterfalls. The falls featured in today’s Friday Photo were made that much more special by large salmon which were in the process of making their voyage up stream to spawn during my visit. The fish, often several pounds and more than 2 feet long, would launch themselves blindly up the falls in impressive shows of physicality and instinctually driven impulse.

To view previous posts in the Friday Week Travel Photo Series click here.

Bergen, A Scenic Seafood Picnic and Local Fjords

The Old Warehouse District - Bergen, Norway

Still a bit giddy (silly but true) after the previous day’s spectacular adventure on the Flam Railway and through the Nærøyfjord I opted to spend my final day in Bergen and the nearby fjords. After a relatively late start Anna and I once again set out together to aimlessly wander the city.  As usual the first stop was back down along the harbor and the warehouse district, but that didn’t last long. We were eager to get into parts of the city we’d yet to explore.

Comedy and Tragedy - Bergen, Norway

The first stop was just off of the central square. Up a green boulevard and around a few statues we found the city’s opera house/theater. A fun building with a series of beautifully cast and carved figures. Some, like the flowing bronze in the image above, captured the classic imagery of theater. While others had a more unique/Scandinavian feel.

National Theater - Bergen, Norway

The building was decorated with a series of masks which took on the shape and appearance of animals, but done in an art-deco sort of powerful, but rudimentary form. The lamp posts each had extra metalwork which wrapped around them showcasing viking ships and marauders.  The whole venue had an air of character to it, which made me wish that I had time to catch a show.

A Cathedral - Bergen, Norway

From the theater we wound our way through back streets and quiet alleyways before eventually marching up a large flight of stairs. The stairs dumped us out in front of one of Bergen’s main cathedrals. A large, beautiful building that showcased a beautiful wooden roof, set with subtle but elegant wooden highlights and fine artwork.

Cathedral - Bergen, Norway

As we wound our way through the city we could not help but enjoy the skyline. Norwegian cities offer an interesting mixture of styles and a beautiful combination of greenery and ancient architecture.

An Old Lamp Post - Bergen, Norway

From the Cathedral we wound our way down the other side of the hill and over towards what we later found out was the local University.  There we paused briefly for a quick snack before winding back down towards the main lake – a large man-made rectangle which rests right in the heart of Bergen just off the central square.

Odd Art - Bergen, Norway

The  square featured a series of interesting sculptures. However, the one that I found most interesting was a large aluminum (or stainless steel) cube which looked as though its surface was cast out of water caught in the midst of a rainstorm.  It was odd, stood out, and ordinarily would have clashed with its setting.  For whatever reason though, perhaps the nature of the northern weather, it seemed to fit and in an odd way reflected and captured the region’s moody weather.

Child With Balloon - Bergen, Norway

The day was a gorgeous one.  Flowers in bloom, a few clouds in the sky, a slight northern crispness to the air, and the warmth of the sun all set to the backdrop of rich blue skies. As we wandered through the city’s streets and parks, I paused briefly and chuckled. I can’t fathom where the balloon came from, but the little girl pictured above was at play in the park with her younger brother, both with floating balloons in tow.  For some reason, set against the gazebo and blooming flowers they seemed to embody the spirit of late spring and early summer.  In truth, they embodied life, youthful energy and the essence of positive spirit.

Sunken Pink Boat - Bergen, Norway

From the park it was back to the harbor where Anna and I had decided we’d pick up some local seafood for lunch, then hop on the local fjord cruise which left twice a day, lasted 3 or so hours, and was fairly affordable. To our surprise there was a fair amount of commotion in the harbor.  Somehow, the cute pink fishing ship I’d observed and commented on the previous day had sprung a leak.  As the ship sat, partially submerged and resting on the harbor floor a large barge was brought in with a sizable winch.  The plan appeared to involve divers in dry-suits, the barge, and a large cargo winch.  From the general approach the locals were taking it must have been a somewhat common occurrence.

Seafood Lunch - Bergen, Norway

Hungry, Anna and I decided to splurge a bit and both went on a small buying spree, planning to pool what we picked up in a two-person potluck once we got on the boat.  The region is famous for its seafood, especially for its smoked salmon, fresh arctic shrimp and dare I say it – whale.  Anna went for the healthy route and picked up a carton of fresh strawberries and raspberries. It’s worth noting that I was surprised how many small fruit stands were selling strawberries and cherries in Stavanger and Bergen. They were everywhere, dirt cheap, and absolutely fantastic.  They were fresh, sweet, and a deep rich color with a strong strawberry scent.  The type of strawberries you only find in the US at local farmers markets.

Seafood Lunch - Bergen, Norway

In addition to the strawberries and raspberries, Anna picked up a lightly seasoned piece of smoked salmon and freshly cooked combo plate which had a few skewers of shrimp and a piece of whale meat.  I opted for a pound of fresh crawfish, cup of fresh cherries and a more heavily spiced/slightly dryer piece of Salmon.

Local Foods - Bergen, Norway

The meal was absolutely spectacular.  The salmon was delicious – well spiced, perfectly smoked and a great mixture of flavors. Mine was more like traditional smoked salmon while Anna’s rode the middle and was far closer to lox. The crawfish and shrimp were both extremely flavorful while the strawberries and raspberries were perfectly ripened and some of the most flavorful I’ve had in a long, long time.  I have no doubt I’ll take some flack for it, but I also opted to try whale.  While opposed to their hunting, curiosity and hunger for new culinary experiences won out.   It sounds silly, but i was quite surprised by the taste.  I was expecting something fishy, which given that whale is a mammal is a bit daft.  Instead the flavor was extremely gamy and almost had a liverish taste to it.  The liver taste was more pronounced in the smoked version I tried, while the thinly cut BBQ’d piece was fairly good, but nothing special.  Truth be told it was like a gamy carne asada.

Fjords Near Bergen, Norway

The cruise left Bergen Harbor and wound its way out towards the main bay/fjord. There we passed near a series of beautiful suspension bridges and motored past a number of sailboats out enjoying the nice weather.

Fjords Near Bergen, Norway

About an hour or so into the trip we started to leave the more densely populated coastline behind.  It was replaced by small lighthouses, boathouses, and the occasional home and small village.

Fjord Tour Near Bergen, Norway

The whole area is incredibly picturesque.  From the architecture, to the rich mixture of colors used on their buildings the small towns each have their own unique character. All set against a rich green backdrop.

Fjord Tour Near Bergen, Norway

The coast/fjord is also home to a series of small waterfalls and impressive cliffs.  However, in comparison to my previous day’s adventure, most seemed fairly small and plain.  Which is not to say that they were not gorgeous and incredibly beautiful.  Rather, the cruise from Bergen gave me the opportunity to enjoy architecture and human’s footprint set against a majestic backdrop.

Fjord Tour Near Bergen, Norway

Eventually the day wound to a close as we slowly completed our long loop and headed back towards Bergen.  Just in time, I might add, as the weather had slowly begun to change.  The clouds had thickened and spread and the temperature slowly dropped.  As a fresh sprinkle cleared the dust from the air, I took one final, deep breath, enjoyed the beauty of the fjords and prepared for my last night in Bergen.  The following day promised grand adventures and my first taste of Denmark.

Leeds Update – Edinburgh and the City of Leeds

Hello all! I’m currently winding up and preparing for my second evening in Leeds. Here’s a quick update.

Day 5 Cont. – Luckily the weather was a bit more welcoming for the third and final leg of our trip. We left our hostel at about 9:30 and began the trip back towards Edinburgh, however, while it was the final leg it was far from the last part of the trip. The night before upon our return, cold, drenched, and energized from a magical day we cooked a communal stir-fry and then headed down to the two local pubs in the little town we were staying in where we met a few of the locals, celebrated one of the guys on the trip’s birthday, and relaxed.

From our hostel we wound our way to Loch Ness, where we stopped briefly – long enough to see it and for Scott and Ariel to jump into it’s icy waters. Given the temperature outside, how cold the water was, and the fact that i wasn’t very impressed with Loch Ness I contented myself instead with eating fresh blackberries I’d found growing next to the lake. I was really impressed again with wild in Scotland, because unlike other tours we didn’t waste time or money with the castle, a boat ride, etc. – rather we just went down a rural dirt road to the loch…jumped in…saw it…moved on. It was perfect.

From there we wound through the highlands – the farms, towns, etc. were all gorgeous. As we drove the rain come and went but was never super heavy. The wind also had died down considerably from the day before. While the entirety of the drive was beautiful, the only other major stop during day 3 was at an incredible glen. The glen had served as some baron/duke/lord or whomever’s private garden where he’d planted trees from all over the world. The whole thing was built along a beautiful stream about the size of the river that flows through oak creak canyon. There was a beautiful stone bridge built right before one of the more major water falls, as well as a stone watching room built above and across from the main falls which offered and incredible view. In addition to ferns, moss covered rocks and green grass everywhere some of the smaller bushes had started to turn a rich yellow/gold. When we reached the overlook/waterfall we stumbled upon another total surprise. There were salmon running! We stood up at the overlook for a good 15 minutes watching as the salmon made a mad leap toward the waterfall and worked their way up it. It was incredible. One tried I’d say every 30 seconds or so and they ranged in size from a good foot and a half to about a foot long.

From there we headed back to town and passed by the Forth? Fourth? Rail bridge. An incredible creation made out of steel that apparently may have been the motivation for the Eiffel tower. Looking at it, it wouldn’t be a stretch of the imagination that it was.

We got back into Edinburgh about 6:30 that evening. I said my goodbyes and made my way back to the hostel where I checked in for 2 nights and then set out again. After scrounging up some food I spent most of the night around the hostel relaxing and recovering. Met some interesting people, posted my last update and called it an evening.

Day 6 – I started the day by walking down hill and around the eastern face of the castle (previously I’d always gone up and over the royal mile). My path took my in a lazy loop around the front and eventually dumped me into the princess st. gardens. While beautiful, the garden’s were fairly sparse. The most interesting part however, was a floral clock. The clock operates and is created completely out of flowers (arms, digits, everything) the only exception is an underlying mechanical framework.

From the Gardens I headed over to the train station where I made an important discovery – tickets the day before are 1/3 the price. I booked my ticket for Leeds for the following day and then continued my exploration. I wandered up and down princess street and all of the streets beyond eventually making my way to the Botanical Garden, which while beautiful was fairly plain. The real interesting part would have been the greenhouses – a large indoor area full of exotic plants and flowers – BUT they charged and I didn’t want to mess with it. So, contented I began my long trip by foot back toward the castel. Eventually I stumbled upon a large Tesco (think Frys/Safeway) and picked up some food for dinner before continuing back to the castle/hostel.

After cooking, relaxing in the common area and socializing, and reading a bit. I bumped into Jonathan – a Canadian I’d gone out with the first night and we caught up a bit. I’d heard about a local salsa club – and despite it being Monday – a holiday for them I decided to check it out. I strapped on my shoes once again and made the trip back off the mile to a little basement bar a bit past princess street. When I arrived the place was mostly empty – as the night unfolded it turned out that because of the holiday the crowd was weird. Mostly late shows and more interested in drinking and dancing club style than dancing Latin. I did meet a friendly bar tender who after a neat conversation offered a few travel tricks she had picked up during her adventures. After a few hours I got tired of the scene and headed back to the hostel. There I bumped into Jonathan, a friend/co-worker of his, and an American girl over for a night. After talking a bit the 4 of us struck out for some late night food – it was about 1:30AM so we made a quick job of it at the local fried goods joint and then went back to relax a bit longer before turning in. People say McDonalds is bad, but the British fried goods places are 10 times worse. Everything is battered and fried. From mars bars to hot dogs. You name it. While I can’t say that it’s delicious…there are definitely times when it hits the spot.

Day 7 – Leeds. I woke up around 10:00 packed everything up and headed to the train station. After a little confusion I found the right train, found my place and was off. The countryside was beautiful, green rolling hills, ocean, sheep and the occasional city. The ride itself was about 2 and a half hours long. Not bad at all! Upon arriving in Leeds I hit up the tourist information center looking for a map and a place to stay. Much to my surprise and frustration it turns out that Leeds doesn’t have a hostel. The next best thing was a row of reasonably priced B & B’s located up by Leeds University, which luckily is just outside the old city and turned out to be where my friend I came to visit is attending. Unable to contact her until I got web access, I was able to find a B&B that wasn’t too outrageously priced and then set off into the city proper to find food, an internet cafe, and explore a little. The food and exploration was easy, an internet cafe took a bit longer. Apparently – as is the case with hostels-Internet cafe’s aren’t overly popular in Leeds. Eventually I did find one and was able to get Meagan on the phone. We coordinated and I headed toward her dorm…after a fashion. Getting lost, backtracking, asking for directions and wandering. About 20 minutes later, I actually ended up bumping into her on the street having made better time than she expected-she was still on her way back. We headed back to her dorm where we caught up, relaxed, and I met a bunch of her flat mates. We all took a break to tidy up, then went out to explore the local pub. Then we headed to the student union which had several other pubs and a welcome/first week dance. We found a nice area to the side and the 4 of us discussed, debated, and mused. Around 12:30 things closed down and I called it a night.

Day 8 (Today) – Woke up early, left the B&B and headed over to the dorms. Dropped my stuff off at Meagan’s room (I’ll be crashing on her floor tonight) and caught up for a bit before heading into the city. The city itself has a great feeling. It’s fresh, booming, vibrant, and modern. It’s a neat mix between modern architecture and old Victorian. The people are also a lot different. It’s a very attractive populace here – in many ways it reminds me of Scottsdale. I headed straight away to the rail station where I picked my next destination – York! Why? Who knows – it’s a major historical local town, has a castle (I think), and everyone says it is a great destination. I’m currently planning on doing York, then London, then leaving England. I may go to Wales though briefly depending on how things pan out. After booking my ticket I made my way across the old quarter to the old corn market and city market.

The Corn Market was a neat circular building, but fairly boring as it was under renovation. The city market however was fantastic. In an old Victorian building the market was full of booths that sold everything…there were butchers to fish mongers to shoe merchants to locksmiths. After wandering around a bit, and eating a great Gyro I left the market and walked to the Royal Armory. The RA was fantastic, full of arms and armor it has well laid out exhibits, an incredible mix of arms and armor and included a fun show. The show was a 30 minute event, that was a lot like the jousting events at the Renaissance Festival. Only instead of armor and fake lances there were dressed in padded garb that looked the part of a renaissance hunt or court. They performed various tricks to show skill with the sword, spear, javelin and lance. The event was fun and also even a bit informative.

From the Armory I wandered back across the city and made my way back to the dorms where I am now. What tonight has in store? Only time will tell!

Miss you all! BTW – I’ve put a VERY limited number of photos on Facebook – currently I can only upload them 2 at a time due to what I think is a university network bandwidth limit. Doh!