We had just sipped our first dram at a private tasting conducted by a young and impressive whisky expert, Lindsey, at the Quaich Bar in the Craigellachie Hotel. The room was decorated with plush green velvet seating, antique chess boards, and library-style shelves stocked with the local and further-flung whiskies of Scotland and abroad. Over 700 of them, so they say. We were seemingly in the middle of nowhere – an hour and half from Aberdeen, three and a half from Edinburgh, surrounded by mountains, tall and bushy evergreens, and over fifty distilleries in something like a fifteen mile radius — and a whole lot of character. We had the distinct pleasure of meeting two of them when a hotel manager pushed through the door, breaking our concentration on the local flavors of a Speyside whisky.
“Lindsey, there are two gentlemen here to see you.”
Two sweet-looking, snowy-haired men with the most mischievous smiles you can imagine – a specialty of those sorts born to the Celtic regions – walked in.
For several hours a day over the course of two months, S could be found locked-in on the screen of his phone, zooming in, out and around a grouping of islands just off the western coast of Sweden. After braving the placid waters of the Chesapeake Bay on one of our first trips together in 2011, we had become obsessed with the idea of kayaking abroad. After a few summer trips where the timing just didn’t work out to fit in some kayaking, our entire trip to Sweden was planned around the goal of getting out on the water. We picked a great little hotel right on the North Sea in a town with several rental companies and stocked up on waterproof cold-weather gear. We pictured ourselves zigging and zagging around the beautiful light-house bearing islands dotting the coast, smiling, laughing, snapping photos. For two months this was our dream. For two months, S studied these islands and plotted our course, dreaming about the great adventure we would have.
We landed in Dublin on Good Friday. In other words, we landed in a place known for its stout and whiskey on a day when no one would/could sell us any stout or whiskey. Even the gas station beer selection was covered in bed sheets. Great planning on our part. Undeterred, we hopped in a car and drove west toward Connemara, hoping to find some sort of wild-west-we-do what-we-want spirit. We pulled into a convenience store/bar (because most establishments in Ireland are a something slash bar) outside of Clifden, hoping to charm the proprietor into selling us a welcoming brew. The little Irish man behind the counter seemed physically pained that he couldn’t send us off with a Guinness. Really, we could tell that it hurt his soul. And we’re also pretty sure, based on his pointing and winking (something that the Irish confusingly do a lot), that he would have sold us some if his wife weren’t working the register next to him.
“Le dessert?,” the waitress asked.
I looked at S with eyebrows hopefully raised, thinking about the French treats we were just drooling over on the restaurant’s chalkboard wall.
“Oui!”, he said.
I turned to the waitress, “Oui! Les profiteroles, s’il vous plait!”
“What just happened? I thought we were getting the check?,” S said. “L’addition.”
“No…she said dessert. I thought you said yes to le dessert not l’addition….”
And so began our first trip of the new year…with a mistaken dessert that we didn’t regret and the subsequent order of another bottle of wine. About two hours from home, we were exploring the beautiful French city of Metz, with it’s gorgeous cathedral, excellent restaurants (I especially recommend L’Escalier, which specializes in steak and frites…and profiteroles), and fun bars (I especially recommend Les BerThom, part of a chain of bars serving excellent IPAs and Belgian beers). We’ve already vowed to go back.
2014 has been a big year for me: about 26 cities, 10 countries, 3 continents, 24 flights (8 of them trans-Atlantic), 10 road trips, five long train rides, and a bus. Add to that learning a new language, learning to cook, learning to live with S, navigating the German visa system, and a little bit of wedding planning, and it’s easy to say this ranks as one my biggest years yet. Throughout all of the traveling and the lovely little bits in between, it was a year full of growth, rest, excitement, food, and love. I can only imagine what 2015 has in store.
“We shape our buildings; thereafter they shape us.” Winston Churchill
A look back at my favorite buildings of 2014:
It may take me a few thousand hours to comb through the photos from the week that S and I traveled around Southern Spain with his wonderful parents, R and P. While in the early stages of that combing, I couldn’t wait to share a few of my favorite photos with you. As I write this, I’m sitting in my apartment, hiding from what is November in Germany and feeling its gray skies and dry frigid air sucking what little tan I had from my skin. Wow, that is sad. Luckily, I have the promise of a trip home for Thanksgiving to see family and friends and the fantasy-come-reality that is the German Christmas Market when we return. I also have my memories from an unforgettable trip south and I’ve been trying to determine my favorite. Was it dining on tapas in Ronda with the restaurant patio to ourselves and a view of the Puente Nuevo lit up at night? Was it the bartender in Nerja singing along to “Material Girl” while S and I sipped Rioja and snacked on freshly cut ham and Manchego? Was it the guitar player at El Molino? Seriously, is there anything cooler than Spanish guitar? My favorite moment could easily be our morning touring, admiring, and gawking at the beauty of the Alhambra. It could also easily be the flamenco show that we saw in the old gypsy caves of the Albayzin area, or the second flamenco show that we saw in Grenada’s city center, or our three pans of paella, or our five bowls of gazpacho, or our ten plates of Iberico ham, or our countless pitchers of sangria. We ate a lot. Overall, and as sappy as it sounds, I have to say that my favorite part of the trip was the time spent with S, P, and R (with the Alhambra in second place and all of the foods a close third)!