Goat sitting in gorgeous Switzerland

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I must admit, lately, I’m loving my life. I’ve been opened to opportunities and they sure have been coming my way. I’ve lived so many different experiences already, I feel like I won’t run out of stories to share or relive when I’ll be old and bored. One of these new lives was short-lived, unfortunately, but I can still add goat sitter to my list of different life experiences!

How it all started

I’ve always been interested in staying somewhere for longer in order to have the time to get a feel for a place. But it’s not always easy to find ways to be able to afford to live in a place for a while, especially pricey places like Switzerland. One of the ways I’ve found to explore a place more in detail is to temporary move there. Just like I did in Scotland, or when I did a workaway gig in Jordan. This time, though, I was looking into housesitting when I found this seemingly incredible opportunity to become a goat sitter in Switzerland for a few months!

Misha the cat and her bunny friends

Daily tasks

When I left Scotland for Switzerland I was very excited. I didn’t know what to expect but I knew goat sitting would involve collecting poop. 

The goats are called Florian and Bruno and they are what one could call house goats. They are treated as part of the family, very much like a dog or a cat. And even though they are not allowed inside, in theory, they know how to work their charm to get special permissions.

The first goat related task in the morning was to boil water. Florian has a special diet, so while the water was boiling, I would prepare his stuff. Once it was all mixed, I would fill the water bowl with cold water. But because they are quite spoiled goats, I needed to add some of the boiled water to make it not too hot and not too cold but just the right temperature.

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Bruno giving me kisses

It was now time to go outside to get the food ready. I would fill up two feeding areas, as Florian didn’t like to share anything with poor Bruno. It was now time to go get the sleepy heads. I would walk around to the stables, unlock the door, and say hello to both goats and their many other furry friends in the other stables. Misha the cat was usually sleeping with the bunnies and she was blending in quite well.

Florian and Bruno would then make their way outside to the front yard. They knew the drill and walked straight to their food. I would feed Florian his special food and then walk back to the stable as they were now busy.

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Playing with Florian

 

Once back in the stable, I cleaned the poop, brushed the floor and made sure everything was ready for the night. Once this was done, I would come back inside and indulge in good coffee and breakfast.

At lunch time, it was time to go outside again. This time, all that was needed was to clean the poop in the front yard and basically spend time with the goats. I would spend a few hours petting, playing and pretending to fight with them. Playing with goats did involve a lot of bruising on my thighs. Florian was enjoying playing so much he would barely give me time to get my balance back before charging towards me again. I managed to play with Bruno too, but he liked it better when I would hold a branch next to him so he could scratch that hard-to-reach spot in between the horns. If I had anything special to give them like branches or mistletoe (they go crazy for mistletoe), now was the time. Once they were content I would come back inside and get on with my day.

The end of the afternoon signaled when the goats needed to be moved back into the stables. Or if it was raining, when Florian got too whiny. This time around, I would pick up fresh hay, bring it to the stables, change the cold water in the bucket for some lukewarm water and made sure everything was generally silly goat proof. I walked back to the yard and passed a rope around the goats’ heads, just to make sure they didn’t get distracted during the very short walk to the stables or try to escape into town. One day the rope slipped and Bruno though it was oh so funny to play catch-me-if-you-can. I quickly learned my lesson! Once they were all tucked in, it was once again time to clean more poop and get the yard ready, locking all doors and bringing the cushions inside. At last, my goat duties were done for the day!

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Just adorable!

Challenges

There are a few small differences about living in a farmhouse compared to a flat. One of them being that if I forgot to turn the pellet stove or the wood stove on in the morning, I would freeze my ass. It only takes a second to remember to turn it on, but it takes a lot longer for it to actually get warm!

There was also the always present goat smell on my clothes. Goats don’t actually smell too much so it’s not that bad, as long as one remembers to keep the goat clothes for the goats! I did tend to forget, and would be wearing my nice jeans, or had my nice sweater on when I got outside. And when I did, it was always the day Florian decided to be extra cuddly, especially when he was muddy, or he would decide to lick all my stuff. The house in itself didn’t smell of stables as the goats were not allowed in, usually anyway!

The owner and I did a few expeditions and walks in the forest with the goats, and although the scenery was gorgeous I just couldn’t shake that uncomfortable feeling. Something didn’t feel right.

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Moving on

The first week, it was all new and exciting, and I wondered if the feeling of excitement was going to last. Little did I know it wouldn’t. The thing about house sitting is that usually you take care of pets while the owners are away. But this time, it was slightly different, the owner was there. And we didn’t get along. I usually do manage to get along with most people, but in this case, it was just not working. So I left earlier than originally planned, as there was no point in staying and making life more difficult for everyone involved.

At the time, deciding to leave early felt like a failure, especially because I did love the goats.

It is quite unfortunate that this experience did not end how I was expecting it to but it was still a good learning experience. I did learn that I didn’t have to stay in a place if I was very uncomfortable. Walking away from a difficult situation is not something I thought I would be able to do so I was glad I respected myself enough to leave early. Even if this meant that it was an abrupt end of the short chapter of my life as a goat sitter. I walked away with a new found love for goats, improved level in self-respect and gorgeous pictures of Switzerland!

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Why am I vegan?

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I have always been a very compassionate person. Even as a kid, I would always make sure that all kids were part of the games we were playing. If someone was by himself or herself, I would walk over and invite them to join the rest of the group.

I also always loved watching and playing with animals. Either my dogs, cats or even the adventurous squirrel that came to feast on the bird feeder. Even after being bitten by a huge dog while collecting money for sick kids, I still liked dogs. I would even rescue spiders and bugs. Well, once I manage to get over my very irrational fear of spiders that is. I would gently escort them outside. Or ask someone else to do it for me. I’ve always been very interested in living things and people and to try to understand how they feel.

For the longest time, I wasn’t able to see anything else than the whole animal when I would eat meat. I didn’t really enjoy it, but I didn’t know any better. I did eat meat for most of my life, not having the courage to say no and mostly not realizing that not eating meat was even an option. I even developed a taste for steak for a while, but just like anything else, the more you eat some the more your body seems to crave it. (It’s the same with chocolate, or broccoli, believe it or not!) Being surrounded by meat eater, I found it difficult to be true to myself, so I followed suit. After what felt like a very long time, I started to adapt my favourite recipes using faux meat. It was my first step towards vegetarianism and veganism.

I always end up making new furry friends everywhere

Defining moment

I’ll always remember the last time I cooked meat. It was Thanksgiving, and I was getting a turkey ready. The moment when you wash the turkey and have to get the neck and the insides out grossed me out to a point where I thought I would throw up right there. That’s when it became obvious to me; I couldn’t do this any longer. No matter what my then-boyfriend thought, I was not going to cook or eat any more meat.

Of course, it wasn’t his decision to stop eating meat, so we agreed that we would not have meat in the house anymore, but if he wanted to have some he was welcome to eat meat in restaurants. As much as I no longer wanted to eat meat, I could understand he was not there yet.

Last year, after being vegetarian for a few years, I heard about the vegan challenge. It’s a three-week challenge usually happening in January. I had been slowly transitioning towards veganism but I needed an extra push. So being my challenge-obsessed self, I joined. I liked the convenience of receiving a menu for the three weeks including tasty recipes to try. I didn’t follow it to the dot because I can be quite stubborn, but it did inspire me in my cooking by experiencing new tastes and ingredients. I also started looking into vegan-friendly restaurants in the city I was in. Once the challenge was over, I didn’t feel the need to stop. So I kept going. I do admit I might have cheated a few times over the year, not reading all the ingredients carefully enough and realizing afterwards that some animal products had been added to the food I had eaten. At one point I had to remind myself that it is a process, and just like exercising, if you skip one day or make a mistake, you have to get back to it instead of quitting altogether!

When people learn that I am vegan, they are usually quite curious as to why I decided to stop eating meat and all animal products. It was a long operation, over many years. Filled with challenging moments. Like going to a Christmas dinner with my extended family and the only option for me to eat was bread and salad. I had thought this might happen so I had brought my own hummus. I was okay with that, but I hadn’t anticipated all the questions and judging comments. Which leads me to a very important issue for me.

No judging.

I can’t and I won’t judge people who eat meat because I was a meat-eater not that long ago. What I can do, though, is answer questions truthfully when people ask. Anybody who is interested in learning about how the animal gets turned into food can easily find movies, articles and videos about it. I do not find it to be my place to tell people what they should or shouldn’t be doing. The main reason being that I know how I react when I’m being told what I should be doing. I instantly close off and stop listening to the arguments. Everybody is on their own path. But sometimes I wish people would have the same conscience when they learn that I’m a vegan. I don’t judge meat-eaters, and I do not want to be judged for my choices.

But what do you eat?

That’s my favourite question which comes up every time without fail. People are so curious about this whole vegan thing they seem to forget that not every single thing they eat has meat or animal products in it. The number of times I was told: But what do you eat?! It’s like they think that because I don’t eat animal flesh and other products, I can’t possibly be feeding myself appropriately… They don’t seem to realize that I eat a lot more varied than anybody I know. I love cooking and discovering new flavours so I never eat the same thing.

That being said, one thing people seem to assume is that being vegan means eating healthy. It definitely can be healthier, but it’s very easy to live on cookies, ice cream, crisps, candies, chocolate, etc. As easy as it is for a meat-eater! There’s always vegan options to everything you could possibly want. The vegan chocolate ice cream being, of course, one of my favourite discoveries!

Another comment I always hear is: But I could never live without cheese! Well, I didn’t think I could either when I started, but it’s a lot easier than it looks like. You just skip the aisle when grocery shopping and before you know it you’ll have even forgotten you used to eat it. One thing I admit I do miss sometimes is the convenience of buying a quiche or a pizza and not having to cook, but I don’t miss this enough to actually go and buy one! It’s usually the laziness talking, but once I start cooking and smell the spices and know that it will be so tasty, I forget all about the fatty tasteless pizzas and burgers of this world.

On my way to Callander, Scotland

Food for thoughts

One thing I realized one day while standing in a field in Callander, Scotland, surrounded by adorable cows is this: I don’t think one can claim to love animals and yet kill, torture, and encourage abuse in the name of getting proteins. If you truly love animals, you can’t really eat them. It’s not logical. Just like it’s not logical to say that eating dog meat is not okay while eating fish, chicken, pork or cow. Animals raised for consumption, whether they are dogs, cats, cows, pigs, etc. are kept and killed in a similar fashion. So why would it be acceptable for one animal and not for the other?

I went walking in the forest with a friend one day and we walked past the remains of a dead deer. My friend said something about the vegan me not going to like this. Not liking to see a decomposing animal body had absolutely nothing to do with being vegan. It was just disgusting and sad. She seemed to think I couldn’t see or think about dead animals, where in fact I probably think more about how they die than most of my meat-eating friends. Ignorance is bliss to a certain extent. Because once you know it makes it very difficult to justify your choices.

Looking back, I wish I would have become a vegan or vegetarian earlier, but I can’t change the past, only today. And today I don’t eat meat or animal products. And now that I’ve been talking and thinking about food, it’s lunch time!

What food do you think you could never live without? Would you give vegetarianism or veganism a try for a week? What’s your favourite meat-free dish?

Changing your Attitude

Sitting at the helm of a sailboat, getting lost in the ocean
Breathing and being patient

Do you sometimes not want to go to work because of that one person you work with? Yeah, I know. Me too.

Working with Heather* this morning. I’m not excited about this at all. In order to enjoy my day, I have to change how I see things. She gets on my nerves because she’s very similar to how I used to be (and sometimes still am). Trying, too hard, to be perfect. Recipe for disaster. I know that now. Do you have people you work with you can’t stand? Do you wish sometimes they would just go away? I know I do. I’ll admit, sometimes I almost hope for something terrible to happen to them. Like, you know, dying, disappearing, something permanent.

But I don’t like when I’m that person. You can’t change who you work with, well sometimes you do, but for this particular scenario let’s pretend you can’t. Even though you can’t change them, you can change your attitude towards the Heathers of this world. The ones that make you cringe when you hear their voices. Or when you know they will be at that meeting, monopolizing everyone’s attention.

First step: Breathing

Back on track here. Your attitude is what you can change. But how on earth are you supposed to do that? Especially when they trigger such visceral reactions? First of all, breathe. It sounds silly, I know. But I tell you: it works. Try it. Now is a perfect time to do it. Deep breath in… hold… let go. And try again, for real this time!

See? You are still alive! If you can do that now, start with that next time you see your Heather.

Second step: Listening to them

This one is difficult. I’m not going to lie. When they speak, try to listen. Put your feelings and unease away. Store it in a corner of your head for now and truly listen. Try to hear what they are saying but mostly what they are not saying. I find that being truly there and listening to what someone that gets on my nerves has to say usually shifts the annoyance away. And you learn stuff. About them. Not that you care. But who are you kidding! You do care because they make your life miserable. So suck it up. Listen and try to understand where they are coming from. Listen to what makes you tick. Find the trigger. Once you know the trigger, you can either move away from it or, if you are lucky, it might actually move away from you.

Third step: Work on your patience

This will not improve magically over one day. Being patient is hard. It takes work to improve any area of your life. So be good to yourself. It might not work immediately, but the more aware you become of what triggers your reactions, the better you’ll become at moving past it. And one day, you might even find that Heather is not that annoying anymore. Not that you’ll become friends or anything, but at least you will have learned not to care anymore, and not let her affect you.

Once you try one, or all of the steps, let me know in the comments how that made you feel. And feel free to share any other tips you have, as I’m sure we will meet other Heathers in our lives, and get many other opportunities to practice these steps.

*Of course, it’s not her real name! Do you really think I’m that silly?

Moving to the UK- A how-to guide

Are you sick of being in Canada? Looking to improve your English? Sample great whiskies on a weekly basis? Or maybe meet a lovely Englishman or Scotswoman? If you are between the ages of 18 to 30, this is for you!

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Visa Application 

Canadians are usually granted 6 months visa-free in the UK on arrival, but as this is a tourist visa, you are not allowed to work. If you want to stay longer and work, it’s worth looking into the different options. If you are between 18 and 30 and would like to work and live there for up to 2 years, this is how to do it. (If you are over 30 but not quite 35, there’s still some places you can move to under a working holiday visa so don’t rule it out!)

First you need to check if you need to apply for a Tier-5 visa (working holiday visa) on https://www.gov.uk/check-uk-visa (Keep in mind that these can change without any notice, so always check with the competent authority). Being from Canada, the procedure was very straight forward. There is a lengthy online form to fill; you can save your progress as you go, which means you can do this in multiple sittings. And if you are anything like me, you will need to go chase down your old passport to remember when you entered the country previously. You will also need your past addresses and a lot of information you might not remember right away, hence the convenience of being able to save your application and return to it!)

After the form is all filled in, you pay the visa fee and book an appointment to have your identity verified and biometrics taken. This, unfortunately, is available only in major cities, so make sure to budget in the money and time to either get to Toronto, Ottawa, Vancouver, Edmonton, Halifax or St.John’s. One more thing to know is that the visa fee is non-refundable whether you get it or not, so make sure to have all your paperwork in order before submitting!

Once your appointment is booked, you need to make sure you bring in all the relevant documents (including the appointment confirmation). You will be sending your passport to New York, so be aware that you will not be able to travel out of the country until you get it back. Sad, right? As part of the documents, you may need to provide a proof of sufficient funds (bring a copy of your bank statement, or have your bank write a letter confirming you do indeed have the required funds). The passport picture needs to be UK size, which is not the same as the regular passport pictures you can get anywhere in Canada. If you bring the wrong picture size, you will have to book another appointment and go back. So plan ahead! In Ottawa, there is a very handy little shop in the Westgate Shopping Centre not too far from the Visa Application Center that can take passport pictures in the required format. I would recommend getting the picture beforehand, as they might not be as nice to you as they were to me in allowing me to come back later.

When you arrive at your appointment (make sure to be there 10-15 minutes before), you will have some more paperwork to fill, so bring a pen with you. You should just bring your paperwork and said pen with you as you have to go through a security check. Not bringing a bag simply makes the process quicker. You will have to leave all your electronics at the reception. An agent will bring you the papers to fill in, and when there are ready for you, someone will come and escort you to a small office, where they will double check all in the information, take another picture of you as well as your fingerprints, before putting all your application paperwork in an envelope and courier it to New York.

If there are any issues they may call you. Otherwise, if all the papers are accurate and included, it is very straight forward. Usually, a decision is made within 10 days. There might be delays obviously depending on the amount of people that apply at the same time as you. Once it is either accepted or rejected, you will receive an email. If accepted, it’s time to get excited and start packing!

Airport chairs in a waiting room

Booking your flight

If you haven’t booked your flight yet, now would be the time to look into it! There are many companies that fly between Canada and the UK so it’s good to shop around. When looking for flights, always keep in mind that in Europe, all the cities are much closer than Canada. For example; if you are looking to go to Scotland, compare the prices to fly into Glasgow, Edinburgh, London or any of the many international airports. You can easily find cheap buses and trains (if you book them ahead of time). Sometimes the price difference is worth it. Researching for flights can sound like a boring part, but if you choose right, when you get there it’s going to be easier. If you are flexible with your departure date, tick the “+/- 3 days” or “flexible date” box. While I do suggest booking a place to sleep for your first night, keep in mind that flexibility when travelling is key to finding great deals, meeting interesting people and having amazing experiences you would not have had if everything was planned to the dot.

Most Europeans airport have buses that go from the airport to the city centre, so it’s worth checking it out. It may take slightly longer than a taxi, but you will more likely save a lot as well. (This doesn’t always apply if you travel with a few friends, so do your homework!)

I rarely have currency before I arrive in a new city because truth be told, ATMs are everywhere. Make sure to tell your bank before you go so your card doesn’t get declined! Most ATMs are part of either PLUS, NYCE, Cirrus or Maestro network, but always check before using the machine that the logo on the back of your bank card is posted somewhere on the ATM. If you can’t see the logo, you will probably be able to get money out but you’ll just get another fee added to your bank’s transaction fees.

Travel insurance

Travel insurance is a must. This also needs some shopping around to find the right insurance provider and the right coverage for you. Make sure to include emergency medical. You may be ok with not taking insurance on your luggage, and just buying everything should your suitcase not make it with you. But do not take any chances with emergency medical as fees vary greatly from country to country, and should you need to have emergency surgery or any other treatment, it will make a huge dent in your travel budget! Depending on the province or territory you are from, you may be eligible to keep your provincial health insurance. In that instance, you just need to buy additional medical insurance. Once again, this requires research and reading the fine print. A lot of the insurance policies will not cover extreme sports, or what they consider to be extreme so make sure to ask about the exclusions.

Backpack on, ready to enter the departure area at the airport

Packing your bags

The only piece of advice worth mentioning is Pack Light!!! You are very likely to be carrying your stuff on your back, so packing light will make everything easier. From getting in a crowded underground, walking a few kilometers to the hostel, or even just fitting the bags next to your bed will be a lot easier with a smaller bag.

Most first time travellers and even some seasoned travellers (Guilty!) pack a lot of just-in-case stuff. Remember, you will be travelling to cities, where people live, work, wash their clothes and buy stuff. While it may not be the same brand you are used to, shampoo, toothpaste, over the counter medications will be widely available. Don’t bring two years worth of supplies!

One other thing to keep in mind: you will very likely be walking in shops at some point and want to buy the latest fashion or some item of clothing you will fall in love with. Keep some room in your luggage for these; they make the best of souvenirs, because every time you wear them, it’s going to remind you of the city, place, of even friends you were with when you bought it.

It’s funny how you might think that you carry so little compared to some other travellers with huge backpacks and then you meet someone carrying only a day pack. All is a question of perspective, but you can usually tell if this is the first time abroad or if they have been on the roads for years just looking at the luggage size.

Enough with the rambling; here are my essentials for travels in ever changing climates. Feel free to bring less and make it your own of course!

Clothing

3-4 t-shirts

1 nicer shirt (for possible job interviews)

1 pair of jeans

1 nicer black pants (useful for job interviews or to go out)

1 pair of shorts or a skirt

1-2 cute bra, 1 sports bra

5-7 panties

3-4 pairs of socks including 1 warmer set

1 warm sweater

1 raincoat (You may want to consider rain pants if you are going to be hiking in the wilderness of Scotland)

1 cap (to protect from the sun)

1 beanie

1 pair of day walking shoes (easily can be replaced with hiking shoes if that’s what you plan to do)

1 pair of flip-flop (great for walking around hostels, or for the odd warm enough day!)

1 pair of ballerina shoes or something small you can wear when you don’t feel like wearing hiking shoes

Electronics

camera, spare battery, charger

computer and/or phone with charger(s)

travel adapter

Pharmacy

pain medicine like ibuprofen and anything else you use regularly (Anything else you can buy once you are there if needed)

tiny first aid kit including some dressings (band-aid or plaster depending on where you are from), cleansing wipes. You don’t need to carry out a huge first aid kit, as they are widely available should you need something more. And again, there are pharmacies where you can buy anything needed when actually needed!)

condoms, always useful to avoid unplanned surprises!

shampoo, conditioner, soap (bring small size containers as you will be able to buy more as you go. Lush solid shampoos are great as they don’t leak in your bags and they smell so great!)

sunblock

tooth brush, tooth paste, floss

feminine hygiene products (I love my DivaCup and don’t think I will go back to anything else)

make-up, bring the basics only: mascara, eyeliner, lip gloss (or whatever you need to feel comfortable)

jewellery- just 2 sets of earrings are enough. If you are anything like me again, you will want to buy some as you go as souvenirs.

Other stuff

pack towel or pareo

1 washcloth

sunglasses

glasses, contacts (if you wear them of course!) and the liquid that goes with them

small flashlight (great when you need some light to see where you are going in a dorm without waking everybody up)

reusable water bottle, I like the platypus kind or one you can clip on your bag

a small notebook to write down bus schedule, or any relevant information as you go plus a pen

a diary to keep track of what you do, what you feel and who you meet

sleeping bag liner (I like the silk looking ones as they don’t take much room, and can make you feel more comfortable, in less than average hostels)

travel spork (all-in-one travel spoon fork knife) and foldable bowl (perfect for lunch on the go or to keep leftovers when cooking)

Deciding on where to go and what to see

This is the fun part, even though it can quickly become overwhelming. My advice is this: make a list of all your must-see, ideally in your small notebook. Then pick one place to start with and forget the rest!

After a while on the road, it’s very funny to see how your travel taste change, and how some of your must-sees now became, nice-to-go-if-I-get-around-to-it.

Don’t put too much pressure on yourself trying to find all the information beforehand. One thing worth checking out is if there are any holidays or special events happening when you will be arriving in a city, because sometimes everything will be booked months prior, and you’ll end up stressing out, or forced to change your plans. Once again, being flexible is the way to go in order to appreciate your travels. Delays, overbooking, tiredness are all part of the experience, and learning how to be flexible and adapt quickly is the best gift you can give yourself in order to appreciate your upcoming challenges.

As you travel, you will meet fellow travellers and they will tell you about secret gems in the country you are in. In my experience, those are the best places and experiences. Of course, if you find amazing things to do and places to go, share your insights!

The world is a very big place, and you can’t see everything. And that’s ok! Try not to rush to see all the must-see, a walk around a neighborhood you feel comfortable in can make your day a lot better. It may allow you to meet locals, and have great conversation. Or maybe you’ll discover this little gem of a coffee shop or pub. Allowing the unknown in your life, this is what travelling is about. Learning to live with constant change, exchanging with people from different backgrounds and discovering all the things you have in common, to me, that’s the best part.

Opening a UK bank account

One would think that opening a bank account would be fairly easy, I mean I want to give a bank my money. But because of all the money-laundering, it’s getting more difficult nowadays to open a simple bank account. First of all, you need to book an appointment. Then, you need IDs and proof of address. Quite simple really.

If you’ve lived somewhere for a while, you obviously have bills, a place you call home and can easily prove your address. But when you just moved somewhere and are renting a room, all the utility bills will most likely be under someone else’s name. So how can you prove you live where you say you do without bills? That’s the question I was facing when trying to open a bank account. There used to be some banks that were more opened to providing bank accounts to foreigners, but in the city I moved to, they don’t have a branch.

I had asked my employers to provide me with a letter confirming I would be working there, but because at the time I did not have an address yet, they did not include it on the letter. When I went to the bank with my contract and the letter, I was told both my current address and previous Canadian address needed to be on the letter. So basically, the letter needs to be on letterhead, include the contact numbers, being signed by my employer, include my full name, and complete addresses and the date of my employment. It also needs to be dated less than 3 months old.

Once I got the letter and went back to the bank, it was simple to open the account. If you are like me, though, you might face another challenge. When you open your bank account they send you your bank card and your PIN in two different envelopes. Somehow, my PIN was sent in Scotland and my actual bank card at my dad’s place in Canada. I had to go back into the bank and ask them to resend the card. Overall it was quite a lengthy process and I was very happy once I received my bank card and could finally have access to local currency!

Subscribing to National Insurance Number

It’s called National Insurance Number, but it actually is your personal number used to collect taxes, and eventually to allow you into the Health Care System.

On their website, it says that you need to phone, and they will send you the documents to fill out and return to them. Make sure to double check the spelling on your paperwork once you receive it as my name had changed quite a bit. Once you fill the paper, you mail it back and wait to hear back. It usually takes about 8 weeks, so there is no need to phone them before that. Your employer might be impatiently waiting for your National Insurance Number by then, so as soon as you have it make sure to provide it to them!

Finding a place to live

This could be the hardest thing to do, and it should come fairly quickly after deciding where you want to work. If you are like me, though, you might be very lucky and the guy who hosted you on Couchsurfing might have an extra room available in the flat, next door to your work. If you don’t have such luck, make sure to browse the local classifieds both online and in the paper. Also telling everybody you meet that you are looking for a room or an apartment will also increase your chances of finding something as a lot of the flats or rooms are not advertised.

Finding a job

There are many ways to do this. I was quite lucky with my first job assignment, as I sent my resume before moving to the UK, and was called in for an interview, which led to me being offered the job. I was looking for temporary work and this was what was on the offer. It was mostly a question of skills and timing.

The best way to find a job is probably to talk to people, use the jobs centers and job boards. The process is the same as in Canada. You send your resume, get called in for an interview, wow them with your skills and personality, and get the job. Or not.

Meeting new friends

Go out! Don’t stay indoor in your apartment because your future friends won’t be able to find you! There might be CouchSurfing groups, meetups, etc. Look into that. Talk to your colleagues. If they invite you out, go! Now is not the time to be shy, or picky!

Keep an open mind, take a deep breath when things are not going the way you want them to and be flexible! Enjoy every minute of your experience, both the good and the difficult as you will remember your experience of living abroad for the rest of your life.

Are you ready to take the next step in your life?

Perth, former capital of Scotland, and my new home for a while

As scary as it sounds for me, I can say that I settled for a while. After my job interview, I went travelling in Northern Scotland for about a month, before coming back to Perth to start working at VisitScotland as a Seasonal Visitor Services Advisor. I moved in with my nice Polish flatmate.

There’s obviously a few things to visit around Perth, and working at the Information Centre, it was my duty to discover them all (unfortunate I know!) One of my first days out was to Scone Palace.

Scone Palace and the couple who gave me a ride
Scone Palace and the couple who gave me a ride

Scone Palace

Scone Palace, pronounced Scoone, was the crowning place of the Scottish Kings. We decided to walk to Scone Palace as it’s only two miles from the centre and it was a nice day.

We took different ways to come in, I used the VisitScotland pass and he went through the gardens while I visited the Palace. On my way to the gate, an elderly couple was driving past and offered me a lift to the gate. I visited the palace, learning about the history of the illegitimate Belle. It sounds like something of a Disney or Pixar movie really. After learning about the place, I joined my flatmate outside of the palace. We could hear peacocks in the trees so we spent a little bit of time watching them moving from one branch to the other. They are massive and yet they somehow manage to stay up in the trees. Impressive.

DSC02761
Peacock at Scone Palace

We had a look at the chapel and, of course, at the replica of the stone of Destiny, on which the kings were crowned. The original stone is now in Edinburgh Castle, after having been moved around a lot over time.

The park is quite extensive and we spent the afternoon walking around, meeting a white peacock and some horses. When we passed the kid’s playground and I saw the small zip line, I couldn’t resist and got on it. Let’s just say I’m not child size anymore and I think I went a bit faster than one is supposed to go!

Entrance to the maze
Entrance to the maze

Later on, we walked past the old cemetery and entered the Murray Star Maze. We might have cheated slightly to get out as we noticed a small shortcut leading to the stairs and the platform. Once on the platform, it’s a lot easier to find your way out! On our way back to the city, someone offered us a ride back, which was very nice.

Perth Museum and Ferguson Gallery

A few days later I decided to have a look at the Ferguson Gallery and the Perth Museum. They are both free entry so it’s worth having a look, especially on a rainy day! The Ferguson Gallery is located in the old water tower, next to South Inch park. The museum shows the work of John Duncan Ferguson and his wife on the first level and on the second level, there is some artwork from local artists. It was interesting to see, but I’m not really the gallery type so it was a quick visit.

Perth Museum and Gallery
Perth Museum and Gallery

Afterwards, I went to the Perth Museum and Gallery. The museum has different exhibitions on display and when I visited they had an interesting exhibit about the history of the city. I learned a few things, but as I wasn’t really in the mood to read much that day., I moved on to the other rooms. They have a pretty big collection of taxidermied animals on display which I wasn’t very comfortable around. They creep me out. So I decided I had had enough museums for one day and went for a stroll in the park instead.

Black Watch Castle and Museum

On my next day off, I managed to build enough motivation to go visit the Black Watch Castle and Museum. It is a museum dedicated to the Black Watch Regiment. It covers the history from 1725 to pretty much now. I really don’t understand the appeal of war. The domination of other humans to claim territories… Fighting with people simply to convince them your way of life is the only valid one, instead of joining each other in peace and seeing the culture differences as a plus. I don’t know that I’ll ever understand the propaganda, but regardless it was interesting to read about the history of the regiment and see the many items on display.

The river Tay becomes a playground in the summer
The river Tay becomes a playground in the summer

Highland Games

One thing not to be missed by anybody coming to Scotland between May and mid-September is the Highland Games. The games are held in various places throughout the summer and in Perth, it was on August 9th. The Highland Games were pretty fun to watch. There was a competition of pipe bands, dancers, individual pipers, bicycle race, running, tug of war, and my favourite: the heavy weight!

Perth Highland Games, man in kilt throwing something heavy
Perth Highland Games

They sure like to throw stuff around! They started with the 16 and 22 lb shot putt followed by the 28lb for distance. Throwing two different hammers as far as possible, throwing a 56lb kettle bell for height and my ultimate favourite, tossing the caber! Caber tossing is basically picking up a tree trunk. Running with it to create momentum, stopping quickly and throwing it in front of you. The caber needs to flip and land on the bigger end before falling to the ground as close as possible to the twelve o’clock position. The caber is about 18ft long and weighs about 150lbs. All of that wearing a kilt, of course! So entertaining!

Scotsman ready to toss the caber
Caber tossing, Perth Highland Games

The day of the games, I was joined with an international girls team. My two couchsurfers, Ziska and Anne from Germany, Aurélie, my French friend and Sara, my new Polish friend. We had a great time walking around from one event to the other. The weather was also great, not very warm but sunny for part of the day. Enough to come back with a red face. It’s so easy to forget to put sunscreen on in Scotland. The sun (when present) is often hiding behind clouds and it’s never really warm enough to feel like summer, so it’s quite easy to get a sunburn in Scotland. Not what one would expect giving that the local tan shade is mostly paper white. But it does allow me to blend right in!

Highland Games bands
Perth Highland Games

Kinnoull Hill

I went to Kinnoull Hill a few times during my stay in Perth. Kinnoull Hill is a Woodland Park located just a few minutes walk or drive from the center and it boasts great views especially next to the tower. On one of those few glorious summer day where it was even warm, I went up Kinnoull Hill after work. On my way up there I somehow got lost, well not lost but I didn’t take the road I had meant to take. But I did find raspberries on my way up so it made up for the wrong path. The views from the viewpoint and the tower are truly gorgeous. It so relaxing to get up there and just sit still for a while. There are many paths one can choose and even some wooden sculptures scattered along the paths. Apparently there are 10 different sculptures, but I have yet to find them all.

View of the tower overlooking the river
Kinnoull Hill

On that gorgeous summer day, when I was ready to come back down to the city, I followed a different path, going through a very dark forest, a perfect setting for a horror movie! It was still very sunny out, but that forest was so dense it was almost pitch black. I was glad to be there during day time and I tried to focus on something else than the Blair Witch Project and other movies of the kind until I got back on the streets.

Perth Sculpture Trail

One of my favourite walks to do in the city was to go across the river on the railway bridge and come back through the park. There’s a lot of sculptures and gardens and it is a lovely walk. I did bring all my couchsurfing guests and friends on that walk. The views of the city make up for a great picture opportunity, and you get to feel like you are in nature. At least, away from the cars. Until you come back over the bridge that is!

Railway bridge and river Tay
Railway bridge and river Tay

Perth has a lot to offer and it was a good place to be for a few months, especially with a great flatmate and nice coworkers. I had settled back down into a routine, which I oddly found nice for a short while. At the end of my contract, as I had obviously done a decent job, I was offered an extension in Pitlochry. I took the job and decided to move a few miles North for another couple of months.

Perth Bridge at dusk
Perth Bridge

Climbing Ben MacDui and rediscovering myself after ending a long time relationship

After ending an 11-year relationship, I find myself struggling sometimes. Not because of the end of the relationship per se, but mostly because I forgot how to think only for myself.

When going through any major changes in life, you need to figure out if the thoughts in your mind are your own, or still tainted by what you used to think or who you used to be. Even simple things as deciding where to stay when travelling. Should it be a hostel in the center, outside the center, AirBnB, couchsurfing etc? There are tons of options out there and it’s not easy to know what the single me enjoys now. This is one the example of the small but constant challenges I’ve been facing in the last month.

stony pathway and snowy mountain
Before reaching the plateau

Another example of when I had to decide for myself, was when I took the bus from Aviemore to the Cairngorm Mountain Railway. I had planned to walk up Cairngorm, but I had also found information about a path to climb Ben MacDui, the second highest mountain in Britain. I opted for this one as there were already people ahead of me on the trail, and I always love a physical challenge.

Beginning of the trail, looking back on the valley
Beginning of the trail, looking back on the valley

According to the map and directions I had found online, approaching it from Speyside involves crossing the exposed Cairngorms plateau, a rolling arctic wilderness. It is a popular route but it requires excellent navigation skills. It all turned out to be true.

As I started my ascent, I was following a path made of rocks. The trail was well marked, easy to follow especially because there were still a few people ahead of me. There were some patches of snow but they were still manageable.

After a while, I arrived at the plateau and the weather changed drastically: it was raining and it quickly turned to hail. The visibility was greatly reduced, and as there was a couple in front of me, I was following their footsteps. Little did I know they were not actually following the right trail, but thanks to my GPS system on my phone, I could see I was slightly off, so I corrected my trajectory and found the trail again. There was more and more snow on the ground.

Mountain party covered in snow, with a path no longer visible
”There’s got to be a path in there somewhere…”

The thoughts of turning back down came to me, and I had to make a decision. Did I think it was worth going up there even if the weather was difficult? Being by myself, I had to make my own decision and live with it. I decided to keep going, knowing that I could always turn around later if needed.

The stormy weather quickly passed, and I kept following the path. There was more and more fresh snow on the ground, and I was not sure I could even do this. (I tend to fall into thinking that I can’t do something, and wanting to quit as soon as it gets somewhat difficult.) I remembered the SEALFIT Hell Week challenge I did a while back during which I truly did not believe I would be able to make it to the end, but obviously managed to in the end. Looking back at that time, I decided to push through, go for it and enjoy every minute and every misstep while I was there.

Footprint in the snow leading to the top of the mountain
Not always easy to find my way.

By then I had passed the couple and was just following the steps I could see in the snow, which now felt like walking on a beach. Minus the warm weather of course! Eventually, there was some cairns, which made it a lot easier to see where I was going.

Last stretch before the very top!
Last stretch before the very top!

I kept going up and finally arrived at the top. I was awarded with a great view and the skies clearing up. I was quite proud of myself, and I finally allowed myself to go ‘crazy’ or at least not worry about what people would think for once, and do exactly what I felt like doing in this precise moment. I started running from one end to the other of the small plateau, laughing like a kid, and enjoying every second of it. I even sang out loud, something I would never dare to do when there are people around. And you know what? It was liberating. And because I was able to push through the first challenges, I finally enjoyed exactly what I wanted to do and appreciated every feeling at that very moment.

Lovely view from Ben MacDui. 1309m
Lovely view from Ben MacDui. 1309m

I enjoyed the view for a while longer, but as the wind was picking up I was getting cold, so I started to make my way back, running in the snow and having child-like fun. Every single time my feet would go down to my knees in the snow I would smile and laugh my way out.

I met another couple on the way down, chatted with them for a few minutes before each resuming our walks. Going down was quite easy, even though it was getting very slippery. The snow had already started melting, and puddles started to form on the path. I got back to the confusing part, once again slightly off, but knowing where I was trying to head out I could easily find my way back. I arrived back in the parking lot at 4:30 pm after a great day!

The plateau on my way back. I didn't think of taking a picture in the stormy weather.
The plateau on my way back. I didn’t think of taking a picture in the stormy weather.

I’m not saying that it’s a done deal now and that I am never scared of making a decision on my own but I do know now that I can do it! I can push through the discomfort. I can make mistakes as I go and maybe make decisions that turn out not to be the best, but as least they are my own.

Being with somebody is great, and being able to share everything when we experience it is even better. But the ability to be able to be comfortable with your own company is a great skill to develop. Not an easy one, but worth all the efforts.

Made it to the top!
Made it to the top!

Inverness and Aviemore

Time to leave Aberdeen. This morning I walked to the train station and as it sometimes happens, I had trouble figuring out which platform to wait for the bus. I must not have been quite awake yet, but being used to travel now, it didn’t bother me too much and did not stress me at all. I just had a look around and finally figured out where to go.

The bus from Aberdeen to Inverness, was uneventful like they should be. The scenery consisted of a lot of trees, which was very different than the scenery I admired for the last couple of weeks. I was expecting to see the sea, but unfortunately, the bus took the inside road.

River Ness and walking path next to it
Ness River, Inverness

When I arrived in Inverness, it was overwhelming. The city didn’t look that big, but after the quietness of the northern islands, everything, and everyone was in the way, moving fast, being loud etc. And because I was tired, it made everything worst. I asked the bus station attendant to learn where I could find a left luggage area and was told it was £4 per bag, which I thought was too much. I decided to try my luck next door, at the train station to see if they had lockers. The small lockers there were £3 and the large ones £5 for 24 hours. It was a much better deal than the bus station, plus it needed the paper with the code to actually open the locker instead of just leaving bags unattended in the bus station office.

Inside the Cathedral
Inverness Cathedral

I wasn’t feeling too great, but decided to find the visitor information center and see if I could get advice on what I could do for a couple of hours. I must have looked like someone who would not be interested in shopping, history or anything including noise and people because the girl from the information desk suggested I went for a walk along the Ness river, crossing over the Ness Islands and walking in front of the Cathedral. It was the perfect option for my mood. Seb called while I was walking and we talked for a while. I got very emotional, and expressed feelings I hadn’t truly realized yet; I am worried about not having enough cash to survive knowing that it will be really tight until I get my first paycheck… and probably after as well…

Great view of the city and the river from Inverness Castle
Great view from Inverness Castle

The walk got me thinking and stressing out even more. When I walked by the Cathedral, I wasn’t feeling like visiting, but decided to go in anyway. It was a wise decision, because Iit made me feel instantly better. It forced me to think about something else, and when I walked out, I felt a lot calmer, in control and more positive. I kept walking and decided to have a look at the view from the Castle. It was great and as soon as the wind truly picked up, I felt like I could breathe again. In the last two days in Aberdeen, I had been missing the nature and the wind. The islands seemed to have changed something in me. I’m curious to see where it will bring me.

Inverness Castle
Inverness Castle

I went back to the bus station to buy my ticket to Aviemore, back to the train station to pick up my stuff and waited for 5:30 to arrive to get on the bus. The bus was great, very clean, and I was very surprised to learn it was a bus with service to Glasgow, stopping in Aviemore. There was a bus attendant handing out muffins and drinks. I now understood what the difference was between the different bus types!

When I arrived in Aviemore I had to wait for Zoe, my Couchsurfing host to be done work. I followed her suggestion and waited for her at the Old Bridge pub. It’s always interesting to hear barking when entering a pub or entering a pub, choosing a table, and almost stepping into a bowl of water… I liked the idea and I think it should be like this everywhere. But it is definitely not something you come across often (or at all) in Canada.

Zoe and I spent a nice evening, chatting and trading travel stories. It’s was a great couchsurfing experience.

Ruins of the Loch an Eilein Castle
Loch an Eilein Castle

The next morning, when Zoe was ready to leave for work, she dropped me off at the beginning of the trail to Loch an Eilein. The first part of the trail was in a forest that looked very much like Canada. A small part was on the road, and after a short while, I arrived at the loch. A lot of people were in the parking lot, but lucky enough, because there is a trail all around the loch, it was not too crowded. I started walking along the lake, passing in front of the remains of a castle on an island in the middle of the loch. The castle ruins are now home to many birds and ospreys.

walking path and mountain in the background

I kept walking and I eventually arrived at a crossing point. There was a sign pointing to Gleann Einich. And further down, Loch Einich. I had a great time following the jeep track, going through some lush forest before the scenery changed drastically and it looked more like Orkney. I was following the trail on my phone’s GPS and the loch didn’t seem too far so I kept going. As there was also a smaller loch on the map, I thought that worst case scenario, I would only see that one. I had to cross the river a couple time, much easier to do in a jeep, but I still managed to stay dry! (yeah me!) After a while, though, I didn’t seem to get any closer to the larger Loch, and I realized that the smaller loch was in fact on the other side of a hill, so I wouldn’t be able to see it.

One of the many river crossings
One of the many river crossings

I stopped to eat a snack and have another look at the map on my phone. As I was definitely not getting any closer to the loch, I decided to turned around. On my way in, I had seen what looked like a very skinny cow far away, but this time, it was much closer and I could see it was not a cow but a very adorable skinny reindeer. I stopped walking and looked at him. It didn’t seem too scared of me to start with, but was still moving away slowly as I was trying to get closer. After doing a short reindeer photoshoot, I headed back to the Loch an Eilein.

Adorable reindeer
Adorable reindeer

I finished the tour of the lake and was hoping to find people to give me a ride back to Aviemore, but unfortunately, the parking lot was pretty much empty at the time so I had to walk all the way back to Zoe’s flat in Aviemore.

Meall a' Bruhachaille path
Meall a’ Bruhachaille path

I spent a few days in the Aviemore area. Zoe and I shared some great moments, involving lots of laughter, a great walk in the Glenmore Forest Park and up Meall a’ Bruhachaille , a few bottles of wine and some very interesting conversation.

Zoe and I sitting at the top of the mountain
Zoe and I

I like what I have seen of Aviemore so far, and it makes me think it would probably be a great place to settle for a little while, as there are plenty of places to walk around and explore. People are also quite nice; it reminded me a lot of Meribel in France, a mountain village targeting active visitors where I went to work for a summer season during my student years.

Meall a' Bruhachaille path
Meall a’ Bruhachaille path

Aberdeen and Stonehaven

Dunnottar Castle
Dunnottar Castle

Arriving in Aberdeen on the overnight ferry from the Shetland Islands, I was very early showing up at my childhood friend’s place. During the short walk to Vero’s place, I made a new drunk friend on the sidewalk. He absolutely wanted to show me pictures he took on the top of the building next door… Véro opened the door a few minutes later and after saying my goodbyes to my new ”friend” she let me in. It was so nice to see each other once again after so many years apart. Knowing that Véro had lots to do with her wedding planning as well as organizing the Alaska dig (she’s an archaeologist), I had made plans with Lilian, my new French friend, to meet up later. We had planned to spend the day in Aberdeen, exploring the city, but Véro told me about a nearby castle so we changed our day plan over coffee.

Green hills and cliffs
Nice walk to get to the castle

After our breakfasts, we headed to the station to catch the bus. While in line to buy our bus tickets, there was an older couple asking the cashier how to get to Dunnottar Castle and then they ran off towards the platforms. The bus being scheduled to leave at 10:20 and seeing it was already past that, we assumed we would have to take the next one, so we walked slowly towards the right gate. As we were approaching we could see people still getting in, so we joined the queue, and were the last ones to get on the bus before it left.

Ruins overlooking water
Dunnottar Castle

It took about 30 minutes to get to Stonehaven, the village located next to the castle. The bus almost emptied in the village so we decide to follow them being, once again, quite lucky into finding the coastal path right away. The walk to the castle was stunning, and with the beautiful sunny weather, we enjoyed every minute of it.

Family dressed in kilt posing for a wedding photographer
Spying on a wedding celebration

We arrived at the castle, paid our £6 entry fee, and started wandering around the castle ruins, looking through all the windows and fireplaces. We took the views in, and once we arrived in a different area of the castle, we stumbled on a wedding celebration including lots of nice dresses and kilts.

toes with a beach and cliffs in the background
Beach break!

After exploring the castle ruins, we walked down to a pebble beach we had seen from the top and decided to have lunch there, sharing all the food we had brought with us. We even put our feet in the cold water for a few minutes. It was all very relaxing and a much better way to spend the day than walking around in Aberdeen. The transition between peaceful Unst, relatively busy Lerwick and Saturday morning Aberdeen, was good even though it made me realize I don’t really care for cities anymore, and I would rather be lost in the wilderness, surrounded with amazing views, wildlife and nature then concrete, traffic, and people.

Stonehaven marina
Stonehaven

Once we were done eating, we walked back to Stonehaven, discovering a very adorable town, with a port looking a lot like Croatia. We kept seeing locals and tourists alike eating ice cream cones, so Lilian decided to treat himself with one of the biggest cones I’ve ever seen, but definitely the most beautifully presented, with candies, chocolates, cookies and marshmallows decorating the cone.

Marina of Stonehaven
Sunny Stonehaven

We took the bus back to Aberdeen and went our separate ways; Lilian trying to find another book to read during his night bus to London and me walking up to Vero’s place to met with her and Paul for a few drinks in her favourite pub. After the pub, we went back to her place and had dinner. We ended up talking all night, catching up on the last 10 years of our lives.

Polaroid of my friend and I
Catching up with an old friend

The next day we went dress shopping. I hadn’t been in a shopping mall in a very long time and somehow did not miss the  feeling of looking inadequate that usually creeps on when I see people who obviously follow fashion trends.

That part of living in the city always gets to me, even though most of the time I am ok not wearing the latest fashion. Sometimes, though, I do feel like everybody is judging me, when they are most probably not even seeing me, and most definitely not caring about me and what I look like. I keep telling myself that I don’t have to care about that, but it’s much easier said than done.

beach with Stonehaven castle in the background
Great view for a lunch break

Exploring Shetland – Unst

Bus-ferry-bus-ferry-bus to the Northernmost island of the UK

After leaving the hostel to get to the Viking Bus Station, I met a few fellow tourists waiting for the bus to the other end if the island. It took about 1.5 hours to get to the first ferry. Luckily, one of the guys on the bus (who had a Sea Shepherd backpack!) was a local going back home after 2 weeks of work, so we were able to follow him and know where to go. The first ferry was pretty quick, and once on Yell, we hoped on the bus. This time it was not a city bus but a big comfortable coach. The driver was really friendly and he pointed out things to see along the way. When we arrived at the other end of Yell, we had to wait for a few minutes because the original ferry had troubles. While we waited for the second ferry to come pick us up, the local guy and us tourists, were wondering if there was still going to be a bus on the other side as we were now very late. But somebody had called the driver and he was waiting for us. The quiet driver of the minibus dropped us off to our different destinations.

One of the two ferries to Unst
One of the two ferries to Unst

I checked-in at Saxa Vord Resort and as I was going towards the restaurant to use the little internet available, I met Jim,the Irish guy from the reception. He was driving down to Baltasound and he offered me a ride.

Northernmost UK post office
Northernmost UK post office

I got dropped over at the Baltasound Hotel and started to walk in the village. The views were amazing and it was very quiet. I saw the northernmost UK post office and the adorable Unst bus shelter, decorated with a regularly changing theme. This time, the theme was puffins. I walked back to Haroldswick enjoying the very sunny day.

Bus shelter decorated with puffins
Loveliest bus shelter

On my way, I stopped at the reconstructed Viking ship. Later on, as I was taking a picture of an abandoned house with lots of flower in front of it, a small cat came out. At first, I wasn’t sure if he was going to be friendly, but it turns out, he was very friendly and cuddly and I ended up petting him for a while.

Petting a cat, blue flowers in the background
New furry friend

I came back to the hostel, relaxed for a few minutes and because it was still sunny, I decided to go to Norwick Beach. It was amazing. And so relaxing. The whole day was actually very relaxing, and I do understand now why in one of the booklets it said that it was good to get away from the bustle of the city of Lerwick. Lerwick is not that big of a city, but when you arrive on an island where you can very easily not see anybody all day, it puts things into perspective! All the islanders were very friendly and waved hello to everybody.

Norwick Beach
Norwick Beach

Haroldswick, Unst

I woke up this morning to a rainy day but when I was done preparing my breakfast and sandwiches, it was sunny again, the joy and unpredictability of Scotland’s weather! I left the hostel and started walking towards Hermaness National Nature Reserve.

small road leading to the visitor centre
Hermaness Visitor Centre

It rained on the way there and I was hoping somebody would pity me, but nobody drove by except for a minibus already full. I must have been too late for locals (or more likely going in the wrong direction) and too early for visitors. It took me about one hour to get to Hermaness Visitor Centre.

Bonxie protecting her nest
Cozy Bonxie

I took a few minutes to read about the birds I could see in the Reserve, and started my ascent to the cliff. It was fairly easy, and I got to see a lot of Great Skuas, or Bonxies, as they call them here.

puffin flying off the cliff
Flying puffin

The views from the cliffs were amazing. As I was heading north it was very windy and so cold; I had to add a layer of clothing. I saw lots of gannets and fulmars. I also saw one lone puffin flying around. He must have had other friends but because they nest in old rabbit warrens and fly by fast, they are especially hard to see from the top of the cliffs.

Rolling green hills and cliffs
Beautiful cliffs

I found myself an almost dry area to sit and have lunch while enjoying the never-ending flying ballet of the gannets. The soil on the island is made of bog with deep peat. In the old days, the peat was collected, dried and burned to heat houses. Peat is mostly water with just a little bit of partially decayed vegetation, so when you step in it, you can lose your footing easily, while getting your shoes wet of course. I had read about it, but my feet decided to try it anyway when I lost my balance and almost fell right in. It was indeed very wet and soggy!

selfie with cliffs and gannets
Sweet smell of bird poo and very strong wind!

I walked for a while and eventually I smelled what reminded me of Antarctica, the ‘sweet’ smell of bird poo! I knew I was onto something. Little did I know I had just walked in on a huge gannetrie, with the odd fulmar and another puffin. It was amazing to watch the gannets fly by, at great speed, using the wind to their advantage. Their wingspan can be up to 6 feet, making this a fairly big bird! The adult gannets are very stylish and it looks like they wear makeup. Their chicks are dark grey and can take up to five years to get the white plumage!

Gannets hanging on to the side of the cliff
Gorgeous Gannets

Haroldswick, Unst

It was a rainy morning again, but I decided to go for a walk anyway. I ventured towards Burwick, but this time, I decided I was going to walk until I reached Skaw, as recommended by the guy at the hostel reception. Skaw was a radar station during World War II. On my way there, I stopped in the last bus shelter. I thought it might be a good idea to wear my rain pants for once… What a great idea it turned out to be! They are great against the rain but also very good against the wind and made my walk much more enjoyable.

small road, fence with Danger Road Closed sign
Road Closed

The road to Skaw was marked as closed, but I decided to go over the fence and see if it was really that dangerous. A few minutes later, I understood why it was closed for vehicles, as there is a good chunk of the road that had fallen down.

small road with holes and grass poking through
Understanding why the road is now closed to vehicles!

On foot, it was great and a very nice shortcut. I followed the cliff, looking at the birds and accidentally herding some sheep as I walked along. I kept telling them not to be scared of me, but they didn’t seem to trust me!

sheep walking ahead of me on a small flat road
Herding sheep

I entered one of the buildings that had been used during the war, and because I didn’t have my flashlight, I was slightly scared. The first building had boats, table and lots of tires in it. I kept walking along the cliff and entered the second building on my way back. I was nervous to walk in the dark, not knowing what I could walk on when I heard a noise. It startled me, to say the least. I waited to see what it was, heart thumping. It turns out, I had scared a bird by coming in, and in return it scared the hell out of me, by swiftly moving around in the dark! I quickly went back outside, preferring the safety of the open space and light to the dark and wet unknown building.

Some of the buildings used in World War II
Some of the buildings used in World War II

I had a quick bite to eat before heading back onto the closed road. When I arrived at the bottom of the hill, a tiny Shetland pony came rushing towards me, hoping I would give him something to eat. I let him smell my hand and he quickly realized I had nothing to offer, so he, unfortunately, went back to where he came from no even waiting long enough for a selfie!

Little black and white poney. walking away after he realized I was not going to feed him
Little pony. after he realized I was not going to feed him

Bus-ferry-bus-ferry-bus back to Lerwick

I woke up the next morning after a very exhausting night. For some reason, when I know I have to wake up in the morning, and I have put my alarm on, I get so scared of not waking up on time, that I barely get any sleep at all. It’s not logical whatsoever but happens every time. And it pisses me off, and I can’t sleep because I’m mad at myself… A never ending circle!

So after my almost sleepless night, I went in the hostel kitchen and met a family. I had talked to them a little bit before, and it was interesting to learn that they had lived on Unst when it was a military station. The kids (my age now) had actually grown up there, so it was very interesting to hear about how life on the island was back then, what had changed and what hadn’t.

little lake with a small boat
Lovely view waiting for the ferry

A good thing to know before getting to Unst is that the combined bus-ferry is actually much cheaper than the individual ticket. When the bus, or any vehicle, gets on the ferry, the price is only for the vehicle regardless of the number of people actually on board. And when you walk on the ferry, you have to pay for the crossing by itself. Odd, but once you know it ends up being half price.

Village view, cliffs in the background
So gorgeous and peaceful

I was very sad leaving Unst. I have liked it so much there and relaxed like I hardly ever do. I really wanted to stay there for much longer. I also did realize it was the last stop before the mainland, and it meant that I will start working very soon. I’m far from being sure that I’ll know how to readjust to the working life and the routine that comes with it. A lot of things were going through my mind as I sat on the bus this morning, which probably explain why I was feeling so sad and out of it for most of the day.

entrance to the main chambre of the Broch of Clickimin
Broch of Clickimin

After getting back to the hostel in Lerwick, I used the internet for a while as I was in no rush to get back outside. Later on, I went to see the Broch of Clikimin, conveniently located between the older part of the city and the newer part, and also right next to Tesco, where I was planning on buying some food. The broch is well preserved, but it lacks a little bit in interpretation, which makes the walk around quite quick.

sail boats in the marina
Can you spot the Canadian flag?

Later in the day, I decided to go for a short walk in the city as it was sunny and ‘warm’. When I arrived on the pier, the sailing boat with the Canadian flag I had noticed the day before was there, so not thinking any further, I went ahead and talked to the two Norwegian men (one of which is married to a French-Canadian, hence the flag). They had to leave for a few hours but they told me to come back later for a chat.

I came back to the hostel and about one hour later went back out there, and sure enough the nice Norwegian guys were waiting for me. I had expected to spend an hour or two on the boat, but I ended up spending the whole evening with them talking about sailing and the long term travelling life.

quiet sea with clouds reflecting in the water
Far from the hustle and bustle of the city

I had laughed at the ‘bustling’ city comment I had read, but after a few day on Unst, I can say, it was true and I felt like I was coming back to the hustle and bustle of a big city. And I did not like it. I was craving more silence, birds, overall quietness. Looking back, it was a wise choice to stay for one night in Lerwick instead of taking the ferry the same night, as Aberdeen would have definitely been a bigger shock right after Unst!

Scalloway and Ferry Lerwick-Aberdeen

I took my time in the morning and decided that because it was yet another mostly sunny day, it would be worth going to Scalloway and see the ruins of the castle. I went to the bus stop right in front of the hostel and met one of the Australian ladies with whom I was sharing the dorm. When I got on the bus, I saw Lilian, a French guy I had talked to earlier that morning so I sat next to him and we chatted on our way to Scalloway.

small marina with sail boats in Scalloway
Scalloway

All three of us ended up visiting the village together and having great conversations. The castle was already open so we did not have to go and fetch the key in one of the local businesses. The ruins of the castle were very similar to the ones I had visited in Birsay, on Orkney, which made sense as they were all built by the same Earls.

houses on a uphill street with a bench on the street corner
Scalloway

In the afternoon, after picking up my backpack from the hostel left-luggage room, I walked to the Shetland museum. I had liked the Orkney museum, because of all the artifacts, but this one was much better, with a more finished look. At around 4:15, I walked toward the ferry where I met again with Lilian. We watched the islands slowly disappear as the ferry left, and it was once again truly beautiful. Seeing the length of the island of Bressay, it made me realized why it took me so long and why I was so tired after my walk a few days back!

view of the island from the ferry
Sad to be leaving. One day I will return

We came back inside and settled into our seats on different sides of the ferry. There was a very loud snorer for the first half of the trip, but luckily enough, he moved to the other side of the ferry later on, so I got to get some sleep, regularly changing positions in order to try to find a suitable one. I had a much better night then my first time on the ferry, even though the sea was quite rough from Lerwick to Kirkwall. Many people looked like they were going to be sick but lucky for me my body seemed to be readjusting very well to rougher conditions, which is great giving that I do dream to buy myself a sailboat eventually!

three sheep staring
Curious little fellows

Exploring the Shetlands – Lerwick and the main island

Cinema room on board the ferry
My bed and ‘private’ room for the night

On the ferry from Kirkwall we were joining the people that had left from Aberdeen a few hours earlier so there were already many people on board. I found the cinema and settled in one of the seats, expecting other people to enter. Nobody did so I ended up having the whole cinema to myself! The seats were somewhat reclinable, but I still had a hard time finding a comfortable position.

Lerwick, Jarlshof and Sumburgh Head

The night ferry arrived in Shetland at around 7 in the morning. After cleaning up in the bathroom, I made my way out of the boat, waited for my bag to arrive on the trolley, and headed for the Islesburgh Hostel. It was a 15 minutes walk with just a little bit of rain, so it was actually pretty good. I hadn’t really looked at the directions, but I found it easily.

Islesburgh Hostel
Islesburgh Hostel

I entered the building at the same time as a couple from New Zealand. Some people were already waiting to check in, so the reception guy decided to take us on a tour of the building, showing us everything we needed to know. After the 2-3 check-ins that had arrived before me and what felt like forever, I got my key and went to my room. I was exhausted and barely coherent but managed to talk with one of the girls in my dorm. I took a shower, had breakfast, and once I felt like a human being again, set up for a walk to VisitScotland offices to gather information on where I wanted to go and the ways to get there. The guy was very useful and he knew exactly the answers to my questions.

Archaeological site of Jarlshof
Jarlshof

I walked in the older part of the city, going from shop to shop trying to find a raincover for my daypack, but oddly enough, nobody seemed to keep them in store. I went to the Viking bus station to catch the bus to Jarlshof. Jarlshof is another area of the northern islands that had been inhabited for over 4500 years.

view from the top of the tower, overlooking the ruins of the different areas of the site
Jarlshof and some of the different ruins

Over the years, the different arrivals shaped different building, sometimes stacking them onto what had been previously built. Even nowadays, there is still a village of farmers nearby. These ruins were discovered when they were exposed after a great gale. The site provides a very interesting audio tour and takes visitors around, from the first settlements to the 16th century Laird’s house (now in ruins). During the audio tour, we actually get to go inside the buildings, and it felt like a much more complete experience than Skara Brae. I was lucky, it was sunny during my tour, very windy but quite sunny.

inside one of the houses
Jarlshof

After visiting the archeological site, I decided to walk to the lighthouse. Instead of walking on the road, I followed the advice of the guy working at the reception of Jarlshof, and did the coastal walk.

Fenced bull area to go through in order to get to the lighthouse
Bull area to go through in order to get to the lighthouse

The beginning of the walk involved going over some fences and in a bull area. Fortunately, there was no bull in sight in the fenced area at the moment I was there, but I was still quite nervous going through the field. The fact that I couldn’t see a bull didn’t mean he was not there somewhere!

shags on a rock
Shags

The wind was becoming much stronger and the rain started. I saw a lot of shags, cormorants and other water birds nesting on the cliffs. The wind was so strong that I would hide behind the stone wall, standing up only to take some pictures of the many birds. When I arrived at the Sumburgh Lighthouse the sun came back and while I was enjoying the sea views, I looked down and was pleasantly surprised to see my first puffins!! There were right on the other side of the rock fence, and I spent a good amount of time taking pictures and struggling to restrain myself from picking one up, cuddling and bringing it back as a pet! They are simply so adorable! And they sure know how to fly. For such clumsy looking creatures, they are really well adapted to the area.

puffin posing for the camera
Simply adorable!

After a short break from walking, I decided to head back with a little detour on the hill overlooking Jarlshof and the lighthouse. I followed an older man as he went up. I had never experienced so much wind!! I understood the guy’s earlier advice not to stand too close to the edge when it’s that windy because it would be easy to fall off into the ocean. It was so hard to walk straight that I had no problem believing him.

View from the top of the hill, rolling hills and water
The windiest place so far, the top of the hill!

After a while, I had enough and cut through the land in between the sheep and back to the main road, towards the hotel and bus stop. I went to the bathroom in the hotel and as I was getting ready to head back to the bus and wait for 45 minutes, the older men arrived and offered me a ride back to Lerwick. I gladly accepted once again. He had gone for another walk in the morning and had learned about a very scenic little detour, where he took me. It was absolutely stunning and totally worth it. We chatted the whole way back to the city and he dropped me off next to my hostel.

People dressed as Vikings getting out of a car
Strange sighting

The next day I walked to the port. There was a huge sailing vessel, which looked more like a cruise ship. I encountered a strange sight: some Vikings getting their stuff out of the car! While waiting for the ferry to return from Bressay I enjoyed the stillness and quietness of the place. At 10 am, I got on the very short ferry ride to Bressay and headed north. I was thinking I would run into the standing stone according to the map, but they turned out to be fairly far out of the way. I did, however, see Old Haa of Cruster, or at least I think that’s what I saw!

Ferry arriving in Bressay
Ferry arriving in Bressay

I turned around and decided to head back south. I walked all the way to Bressay Lighthouse and was looking for the Natural Arch next to it (according to the map once again). I couldn’t see it from the lighthouse so I decided to climb a small cliff, instead of going over some wired fence, and walked on the cliff for a while, looking for the arch. When I was ready to give up, I turned around and obviously the arch was right behind me… next to the lighthouse.

The lighthouse... and the arch!
The lighthouse… and the arch!

I enjoyed watching the seabirds fly around their nests for a while, before heading back to the ferry. When I was almost there, reaching the main ‘road’, a guy going in that direction asked me if I wanted a ride to the ferry, which I said yes. It wasn’t that far but it did save me a lot of steps.

Bench overlooking the sea
Nice spot to have lunch

A day later, after doing travel research on my laptop for most of the morning. I met Astrid, a Norwegian girl who had just arrived from Bergen on the amazing huge sailboat I had seen the day before. We walked around Lerwick for most of the afternoon, going to the ferry terminal to book our upcoming ferries. We arrived there at 2pm only to see that the office was open from 7:30 to 9:30 and 3 to 5pm. After walking around some more we went back to the ferry and booked our places. It was a quieter day, which felt pretty good.

Baby Shetland pony
Doesn’t really get any cuter than a baby Shetland pony!