Scotland 2017: Loch Ness

Upon landing and waiting for the rental car, the weather changed multiple times… sunny, pouring rain, cloudy, back to sun, etc. So, welcome to Scotland! We were waiting behind a couple who were having a few prepayment issues but once we got to the front it was smooth sailing and we were on our way in a brand new car.

Hungry, we made our first stop in Drumnadrochit, home of the Loch Ness Monster. Fiddler’s Restaurant is a laid back, typical Scottish pub but the food was even better than expected.  I had forgotten that the Scots cook their hamburgers to death so I opted for the cured meats instead. Everything was tasty, but the venison terrine was outstanding. Eric went with a cheddar burger and a bottled Black Isle Scottish wee heavy aged in an Ardbeg barrel. It was two years old and funky with a hint of sour, yum. I got a half pint of the local stout, also good. We might have had a dram after lunch as well…

absolutely tasty meat plate @ Fiddler's  a dram with Nessie

Drumnadrochit

Although we really wanted to see Dog Falls, I vetoed the hike due to time constraints and my energy level. Plodda Falls wound up being a good choice, it was a short and easy hike to several cascades and viewpoints and once a French family cleared out we had the place to ourselves.

falls on Abhainn Deabhag

Plodda Falls  Plodda Falls

On the drive back we stopped to photograph a roadside falls for a creek that feeds the larger Abhainn Deabhag.

falls on Abhainn Deabhag

We also passed through the village of Tomich, which we learned is the area Lord Tweedmouth created the golden retriever dog breed. So there you go.

Continuing to retrace our path back toward Loch Ness, we tried to get a look at Urquart Castle but due to trees and a carefully placed parking lot, there wasn’t much to see from road, so we continued on. Our next stop was Invermoriston when we both spotted a small ‘waterfall’ sign near a parking area. A quick u-turn lead to Invermoriston Falls (lovely, but really a set of cascades…)

falls in Invermoriston

We rounded the south end of Loch Ness and started heading north again, stopping at the Suidhe Viewpoint. And, well, wow. The top of the hill gives you 360 degree views and it is stunning.

Suidhe Viewpoint

Suidhe Viewpoint

Suidhe Viewpoint

We had one more waterfall to see before we headed back to Inverness to check in and grab dinner, and the Falls of Foyer did not disappoint.

Falls of Foyers

Parking and check in at the B&B went smoothly and we decided on the nearby Rocpools for dinner. Really, any restaurant in town was within walking distance as the Eskdale Guest House was in a great location.

Greig St Bridge, Inverness
Greig St Bridge, Inverness

We split a pork belly appetizer (nuttier and more meaty than NC pork belly), then Eric had the pumpkin sage gnocchi and I had the beef cheek. Both were great and paired nicely with a Provence rose wine. At least four staff members stopped by the table to refill our wine glasses and chat – definitely my kind of place! :)

Not quite tired yet, we strolled across the river to Black Isle for a beer and a whisky. I had the Ardbeg barrel oatmeal stout with a dram of the Dalmore 12. Loved both! Eric went for the Rauschan marzen and the Old Pulteney 21 – nice smokiness to the beer and a complex orange and honey on the whisky. Reminded him of a Bruichladdich. Lovely way to end our first evening in Scotland.

Inverness @ night

Leandra’s 40th: Columbia River Gorge

Our original plan for our last day in Oregon was to drive to the coast, but I vetoed four hours of driving in favor of returning to the Columbia River Valley and visiting some waterfalls we hadn’t visited back on our 2008 trip (Latourell to Wahkeena and Multnomah to Elowah).

But first – breakfast!

Eric found this location of Cameo Cafe (known for a Korean influence) close to our hotel, so I had to get the kimchi omelet with bulgogi. My giant omelet also came with a four-person portion of hashbrowns. The table next to us wisely decided to split this dish between two people when they saw it delivered to my table… Needless to say, I did not finish all of this and also didn’t eat anything else until dinner.

my ginormous breakfast @ Cameo Cafe East  

Our first stop, after driving past a whole bunch of waterfalls we’ve photographed already, was Wahclella Falls. It’s a pretty two mile RT hike on a well-established trail to this falls. It was fairly busy with families and the small parking lot was totally full but there is street parking just a ways up the road and public toilets at the trailhead.

Wahclella Falls

We needed to check into our Southwest flight at 12:25pm so we stopped in at Thunder Island Brewing for wifi and a half pint. Unfortunately they were out of their Sour and Scotch Porter so we opted for the Hood Valley cherry cider which was refreshing and tasty. Our bartender was very chatty and even gave us a local guidebook to look over while we sipped our beer. On our way out we walked along the river park for some views downstream.

Bridge of the Gods
Bridge of the Gods; a toll will allow you into Washington

The next waterfall was a bit tricky as the directions described a 4-5 mile hike which I was not keen on doing. Instead, we decided to chance the semi-paved road to the trailhead and made it most of the way until I got nervous about the size of the rocks in the road compared to our little compact rental car. It wound up being a little less than three miles RT to the base of Dry Creek Falls and it was a lovely, quiet hike. We only saw two other groups the whole time!

Eric on his photo spot  Dry River Falls
Eric on his photo perch; picturesque Dry Creek Falls

We had some time left so we did a quick stop at Starvation Creek Falls. There are several waterfalls in this area but parts of the trail were under construction, so we just saw the one closest to the parking lot. We will definitely come back and do the longer hike on a future visit.

Starvation Creek Falls  view from base of Starvation Creek Falls
Starvation Creek Falls; looking downstream from the base of the falls

At this point we were thirsty so we drove into Hood Creek and stopped at Pfriem for a Belgian Golden and a sour Saison. We also walked along the river watching the many kite-boarders take advantage of the windy day.

beers @ Pfriem in Hood RiverColumbia River

Though a full day we only spent about 2 hours of driving!

Leandra’s 40th: Mt. Hood

On this trip to Oregon we originally intended to spend Friday wine tasting in Willamette Valley. However, with an expected temperature of 95F, we decided to escape to a higher elevation in search of cooler temperatures.

After a 1h drive, plus a bit of camp traffic, we parked at the Little Zigzag Falls trailhead and made the short half mile round-trip hike to a beautifully shady falls with very cool water, quite refreshing on a warm day.

Little Zigzag Falls

Our next stop was Mirror Lake, a moderately strenuous 1.5 mile uphill (o/w) hike. Most of the trail takes you through forest, but eventually loops around the small Mirror Lake. As the name indicates, there are nice views of Mt. Hood, plus lots of flowers (and bugs!) too.

Mirror Lake living up to its name

in bloom   wildlife

Now mid afternoon, were ready for a bit of shade, so we stopped at Glacier Haus Bistro in Government Camp for a snack of croquettes for me and house-smoked salmon for Leandra. After the Mirror Lake hike and the dry conditions the free water outside was quite welcome!

Refreshed, we headed to the trail-head for Umbrella and Sahalie falls. Both can be accessed via a 4.7 mile hike, or as we found out, you can drive much closer! From the main parking area we did the one mile roundtrip hike to Sahale Falls, where I clambered down the cliffside to a rocky overlook while Leandra stayed on the trail and swatted flies.

Sahale Falls

Alternatively, you can continue driving along the Elk Meadows trail road to the Mt. Hood Meadows Ski Resort, and as you drive over a small stone bridge you will see Sahale Falls on your right.

If you continue up that same road there is a small pull-out just before the resort parking area with a small trail through the meadow. The trail to the beautifully bendy Umbrella Falls is maybe .2 miles, and winds through a meadow that was in full bloom in mid-August.

wildflower meadow

Umbrella Falls

And the view of Mt. Hood is quite excellent too.

Mt Hood

By now it was late afternoon, so we began driving back to Newberg. On the way we stopped to try the beers at Bunsenbrewer. I enjoyed the Wit (cinnamon and coriander) and Leandra sampled the tasty sour stout.

Beeriodic Table menu @ Bunsenbrewer

On the way we fortuitously saw a sign for the Jonsrud View Point, and it was quite picturesque.

Mt Hood from the Jonsrud View Point

Knowing we wouldn’t get to Newberg until after dark, and fearing most of the restaurants would be closed, we decided to stop at Oregon City Brewing for some pretzels and and apricot sour for me, plus a porter for Leandra.

beers @ Oregon City Brewing

All told, a pleasant day trip to escape the unexpected heat.

Eric’s 40th: Iceland Day 1 – Golden Circle and Þingvellir National Park

After some debate on time and routes, we decided to head north to Hraunfoss & Barnafoss waterfalls. They were far away from the Golden Circle but we are glad we made the detour because it turned out to be our favorite spot of the day. The drive up had us traversing both paved and gravel roads but nothing our little car couldn’t handle. Along the way we drove through a beautiful pass on Route 50 that provided some bonus waterfall views.

Iceland

Iceland waterfall  waterfall

On the way, we stopped at Sjavarfoss, a small roadside falls with a field of blooming lupine in front of it. You can walk to the base of the falls but Eric thought the better photo was near the road.

Sjavarfoss

Hraunfoss, or the “Lava Field Waterfall” is only about 10m high but very wide, with streams of water coming out of lava field. It is hard to capture in one shot!

Hraunfossar

Hraunfossar

We took a few photos then went back to the car to eat our pre-purchased sandwiches form our trip the grocery store the night before. I had a smoked salmon and cucumber pita and Eric enjoyed his ham and cheese sub.

There was a short path to a neighboring waterfall, Barnafoss (meaning Child’s Falls), named because two children had drowned there according to local lore. Hard to photograph in the midday light, but quite powerful and scenic, the water surges between rocks into a canyon.

Barnafoss

On the return south we retraced our path, and the next waterfall on the list was Thorufoss. Located just off Route 48 (passable 2WD gravel road) on the left when traveling south. We met a bicyclist from the Netherlands who stopped at the same time we did. I could not believe the amount of people biking around Iceland – they have more energy than me to be sure.

Thorufoss

From here we continued to Þingvellir National Park. A quick trip to the visitor’s center yielded a detailed map and circled points of interest. We choose the second parking lot and started exploring. The main site we wanted to see was Öxarárfoss, a powerful falls that you can walk right up to thanks to a boardwalk over stones. We had plenty of daylight left (ha ha) so we continued down the path to Lögberg or “Law Rock” (the country’s first parliaments were convened here) and the Hakid viewpoint. We enjoyed the beautiful views of the Almannagja Fault but skipped going in the historic wooden church.

ÖxarárfossÞingvellir National Park

Ready for dinner, we headed into town, checked in to the hotel and walked to Kaffi Krus for dinner in Selfoss. One of the top ranked places in town, it was crowded and the kitchen seemed to have trouble getting orders out in a timely manner. We waited over thirty minutes for our meal but at least we got the correct order. The table next to us received a salad instead of the nachos they wanted, but the waitress told them they could just have it since it would be tossed otherwise. The guy was nearly done with his salad when, surprise(!), the nachos arrived.

My Kaffi burger was fine but the fried were room temperature and not crispy. Eric’s pasta carbonara was tasty and we could have split it – the portion size was huge. Our draft beers were good – Einstock white ale – white pepper and flowery (Eric) and the Viking classic amber – traditional and malty (me).

guess who has the bigger beer?  Kafe Krus
Thankfully, we had beer while waiting for our food to arrive

After a very full day we were ready to relax in our room and finalize our plan for day 2.

Middle East 2016: Wadi Shab

We knew that Wadi Shab tends to become more crowded as the day progresses, so we decided to leave Muscat by 7am. After about 30 minutes of driving through the various suburbs of Muscat we enjoyed the views of the rugged coastal hills for the next 1.5 hours. Our timing was fortuitous, as we stopped for breakfast at Bimmah Sinkhole just after they opened the gates at 9am. We had the park to ourselves, and so we enjoyed the calls of the desert birds with a view of the sinkhole as we ate our breakfast.

Bimmah Sinkhole

After another 30 minutes we reached Wadi Shab and parked under the highway overpass. There are several boats that take you on the 30 second trip to other side of the pond for 1 rial each. At least you only have to pay once!

boat ride across the wadi
You could swim but why bother?

From the drop off point we started the hike into the canyon along the waterway. Near the entrance are small walled gardens, followed by some rock hopping and a more explicit trail that took us along the cliffside.

I am still mostly covered even for a hike on a hot day!
Leandra still mostly covered even on a hot hike!

Wadi Shab

Wadi Shab

Even in the morning we were thankful for SPF and pockets of shade (as were these donkeys).

two donkeys... just wandering around...

After about 45 minutes we reached a wider part of the canyon with a water spilling over a rock face.

Wadi Shab

Leandra hiked up the shaded side, and I hiked up the sunny side. Wow, it was hot! The trail continued up the canyon for some time, but well above the creek without an easy path down. Eventually I turned back around  having earned a dip under the waterfall.

Eric cooling off under a waterfall

There is a third option from the waterfall area where you could wade/swim up the creek to a small cavern, but we weren’t too interested. Instead, we turned around, and the hike back was uneventful.

Just a few miles up the road is Wadi Tiwi, which has a paved road. We drove partway in and noticed lots of red pillars that are used as warnings for water depth measurements – this road must be fun after it rains!

On the way back to Muscat we took a detour near Fins to check out White Beach. Leandra was a little suspicious of the two mile dirt road, but our little rental car did just fine. Only a few other cars were there, including one that appeared to have set up a tent site and was diving off the beach. Lots of rocks and interesting shells lined the beach and we enjoyed looking for fun colors.

Fins Beach (great for shells)

We also managed to capture this nearby scene of a few goats attempting to reach the tastiest part of the desert bushes.

the best nibbles are at the top

We stopped one more time on the way back to get some photos of the amazing hills south of Muscat. I may have climbed one of those hills for a better view too…

Oman landscape

mountains

Tired and dusty, we continued the drive back, eventually rewarding ourselves with a chocolate (me) and a banana (Leandra) milkshake by the beach. I don’t think they lasted more than 5 minutes! A dip in the hotel hot tub was our second reward for a nice day of exploring.

New Zealand – Clay Cliffs and return to Christchurch

On our drive from Christchurch to Wanaka we passed a sign pointing toward the Clay Cliffs near the town of Omarama. We wrote a note to ourselves to remember them as a possible stopping point on our return drive. A week later the weather was overcast but not raining, so we decided to stop and stretch our legs here, and it turned out to be a fun hike.

The cliffs are on private land, and on the way in we had to open (and close) two livestock fences.

entering the clay cliffs area
one of two fences

Through the pasture area we enjoyed some nice views of the river including the early fall color of yellow leaves and bright red wild rose hips.

river tree

Shortly after the second fence we got our first views of the cliffs, then a parking area for all but the most intrepid 4-wheel drive vehicles.

Clay Cliffs

A 10 minute walk up the hill lead us to the base of the cliffs, and from there trails that lead into the canyons. The cliffs are quite crumbly, with lots of texture and colors between the clay and stone. It was great that you can walk in them and explore.

Clay Cliffs

Clay Cliffs

Clay Cliffs

Clay Cliffs

posing @ the Clay Cliffs   posing @ the Clay Cliffs

On the way back we also stopped in Twizel which was bigger than expected and might be a good launching point for exploring around Mt. Cook on future trips with supermarkets, gas, lodgings, etc.

I asked Leandra to stop at the Mt Cook visitor’s center so I could get a few shots and she took advantage by buying herself some salmon sashimi for lunch.

YUM!   salmon sashimi

Fresh salmon with a gorgeous view…

Mt Cook

Another pit-stop on the way back, the insanely blue-green Tekapo Canal.

Tekapo Canal

We also stopped in Geraldine, this time at the The Plum Cafe for pastries. Leandra choose a port wine truffle, while I went for the nut and fruit chocolate bar (which was a little heavy on the orange zest for me). A few hours later we made it through Christchurch rush hour traffic to our hotel and our last night on the South Island.

New Mexico 2014: Albuquerque to Santa Fe

Our main destination for Saturday night was Santa Fe. By interstate it would take about an hour; but taking scenic backroads and making stops at several spots turned it into an all day exploration.

After checking out of our hotel we took I-40 (which felt strange since we drive the same highway everyday back home, nearly  1700 miles east) a few miles to the Turquoise Trail. More scenic than the interstate, but it took a few miles before we shook off the sprawl of Albuquerque. After about 20 minutes we started seeing the views we were expecting in New Mexico:

on the way to Sante Fe...

New Mexico

wide-open

Part way up the route we took Hwy 57A – don’t be fooled by the name, it’s really a dirt road. However, it was a nice detour as the driving was necessarily slower which lead to some interesting sights, including a tarantula(!) crossing the road.

tarantula!

not bothered by us in the slightest

b&w landscape

we saw lots of this along the road

As we approached I-25 we returned to pavement and continued up 57A past Cochiti Lake to Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument. The $5 entrance fee per car gets you views of the following:

tent rock view

drama

We hiked into the canyon which had a gradual incline and became progressively more narrow.

Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument

view from the canyon

Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument    me on the trail

 narrowing down

Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument

serpentine canyon

At the end of the canyon the trail turned sharply up, leading to some beautiful views of the hoodoos and the larger landscape.

Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument

tent rocks

b&w from the top of the trail

view from top

Kasha-Katuwe panorama

click to see the full panorama

After enjoying the view from the top we made our way back through the canyon, then took the short cave spur through some beautiful countryside.

New Mexico

earth tones 

We really enjoyed the views at Kasha-Katuwe and would definitely return.

casaabrilwineFrom here we returned to I-25 and visited Casa Abril Vineyards, located about halfway between Albuquerque and Santa Fe. Tasting was $9 (and included marcona almonds and chocolate covered raisins), so we decided to split one. We’ve visited vineyards all over the world, and this was one of the strangest tastings we’ve ever experienced.

The owner was pouring tastes at 15-20 minute intervals, and seemed rather put out that we asked to go faster. He also chided Leandra right away on how she was holding her glass (from the bowl rather than the stem)… bad move. Also strange, he insisted on starting with the reds and ending with the whites, definitely a first.

They seem to be putting a lot of money into the barrels and other components, but the wines themselves just weren’t that interesting.There were two reds that had good flavor, but their price points made them a mediocre value, so we left without buying any wine, a rarity for us.

After our tasting we headed up I-25 to the Alameda Inn in Santa Fe for the evening. The front desk suggested Rooftop Pizzeria for dinner, so we walked around old town Santa Fe before getting an outdoor table and enjoying a well-earned pizza.

Sante Fe

Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi