Long Weekend Escapade in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan

I heart Bishkek sign in a city park
I love Bishkek!

Back in May, I needed a break from living in Dubai. I had done the odd expedition to some of the other emirates, but I needed some time away from the city, and a few days to myself. When I received my work schedule for the month, I saw that I had 4 days off in a row, so that made my decision super easy. I was going somewhere on holiday!

Deciding to go to Kyrgyzstan for a few days holiday was definitely not the usual destination people go for, but it was perfect for me. I didn’t know what to expect, but I knew I needed something different. I’ve never been one to like beach holidays so I looked into alternate destinations. I had never been to any of the ‘stan, and since it was only a short flight away, I thought it was interesting. FlyDubai also happens to have a lot of cheap flights to that area, an obvious plus.

I didn’t know where to pick between Bishkek, Almaty or even Georgia or Albania. Since it was May, I knew that most mountainous regions would still be very much in winter like weather, so it quickly became a choice between Bishkek and Almaty. In the end, what made my decision was the flight times since they were pretty much the same price. Bishkek was a bit shorter flight, and it suited my schedule better.

As I wrote in my journal before booking: I’m not sure I’m in good enough shape to actually go on hikes but I’m sure I’ll love being in the nature. Seeing trees and grass. It will most likely be a shock after 6 months in Dubai.

Finally flying out of Dubai!

I was quite worried once again that I wouldn’t remember how to travel, just as it had happened last time I decided to go explore somewhere new. And once again, as soon as I left for the airport, I knew I would be fine, my travel reflexes all coming back slowly.

When I was ready to disembark, I looked behind me and saw Alexandra, an Austrian girl I had met at the Skydive Dubai Desert Campus. She was here to go paragliding with 3 other guys. Their guide was picking them up at the airport and she asked if they could give me a ride. I was going to get the minibus to the city, but since it was very early and I hadn’t been traveling on my own for such a long time, I was quite happy to have the opportunity to be dropped off and not have to worry too much about finding my way to the hostel.

We met up with their German driver, and he said he was happy to take me but on certain conditions. First of all, he could not guarantee there would be any room to squeeze me in since they had all their paragliding gear. Secondly, there wouldn’t be a seat belt for me, so Alexandra and I would have to share the front seat. Of course, that’s not legal in Kyrgyzstan, as in most countries, however the possible fine if we got arrested by the police would be less than a taxi ride. We agreed that should we get stopped by the police, I would pay the fine. We packed everything and everybody up, and set off towards the city.

We saw a few police cars on the way, but every time Alexandra slid down on the seat, and I hid her behind the bag that was on my knees. Nobody saw us or cared. We had to do this a few times getting in the city, but thankfully never go stopped!

Manas International Airport, Bishkek

The roads reminded me of Transnistria, the separatist region of Moldova, all lined with tress with the bottom painted white. It was very similar except for the fact that they have massive mountains in the background. I was already getting excited to see nature and something else than endless deserts!

I arrived at the Apple Hostel at around 6:30 am and luckily, I could check in right away in my female dorm.

First impressions

I was already in love with the country and I had not even been there for 2 hours! It reminded me of Moldova and I felt right at home. I’m not sure what it is with those post-soviet countries, but I always feel very good there. It’s a rather simple living, everything is written in Cyrillic, yet it feels more natural to me then going back to Canada.

Creative reuse of the well-know yellow M for a shawarma place

The cafeteria next to the hostel was very typical and packed with locals grabbing their food either before their bus rides or on their way to work. I knew being vegan was going to be very difficult in Kyrgyzstan, most likely next to impossible, as even vegetarian food can be hard to get in one of the countries that eats the most meat per person!

I had picked a pastry that looked sweet but the cashier put the fork in and since it was too dry for her liking so she had me pick something else. All of this using gestures only since her English was about as good as my Russian. I used my very handy translating app to ask which other pastry wouldn’t have any meat in it, and surprisingly the potato pastry she gave me was fresh, filling and actually quite tasty.

Discovering Bishkek

It was sunny, fresh and green. Making all of it amazingly different from Dubai. A lot more down to earth and not solely focused on appearances. It took me a while to feel ready to get started and go explore. I was quite tired from my sleepless night flight and a bit anxious to see if I would be okay to travel on my own again after what felt like so long.

After a few hours, however, I felt so happy to be traveling again. It made me realize I had missed this more than I ever thought possible. It was a more than welcome break from Dubai.

The White House, presidential office building in Bishkek

I walked aimlessly in the city, following my instinct and what appealed to me, going from busy streets to green parks. I stumbled upon on an artistic performance, including some dancing and a guy rapping to what looked like a university crowd. I’m not sure what it was about, but everybody seemed to be having a great time and so did I.

Watching people driving felt a bit chaotic, but then I remembered Alex’s guide mentioning how the cars here were all imported a while back from all over the world before the ban on import which means that they have cars that have the steering wheel on either side. It must be quite the challenge to drive here, and I have to admit even though I wanted to go explore the countryside a bit, I didn’t feel brave enough to go renting a car and setting off on my own!

Side street near the East bus station in Bishkek

Bishkek reminded me a lot of Chisinau in Moldova or Tiraspol in Transnistria. Old Soviet cities with not much to do but with green parks, monuments and trees everywhere. I found it truly incredible to see that much green everywhere. I did however felt like I was standing out a lot more than I did in Chisinau since I was clearly one of the very few people who didn’t have an Asian look.

The Kyrgyz women are beautiful and like in most place the younger generations are much more thinner than older people. The women are also quite well-dressed and I was hoping I would find a dress or something to bring back, just like I did in Chisinau. I do not buy many souvenirs anymore, but I do like to buy clothes as it always reminds me of the travel when I wear the piece of clothing again. And usually the chances of meeting someone wearing the same thing are quite slim!

Going out of the city

My second day in Kyrgyzstan was simply a perfect travel day although it didn’t quite start up this way! The plan was simple. Leave the city and go for a hike in the mountains.

I got up early and went to Osh Bazaar to find the marsutka 265. I wasn’t sure where I was supposed to find the minibus and was looking for a station. The only information I could find online said it was leaving from the Bazaar. I couldn’t see anything that resembled a station, so I went to the other end of the market. People were bringing in their stuff which meant I ran into dead animal bodies, some with fur still attached. I thought I would throw up but I kept moving quickly between cars and through the small aisle of the market. Once I reached the other end of the bazaar, it was obvious I was no longer in the right place to find a minibus.

I went back to where I had first seen some minibuses earlier and asked a lady using my new translating app. She pointed down the street so I headed that way. At the junction with another slightly busy road, I asked a lady selling the fermented milk drink and chai and she literally pointed in front of us. I had finally found the ”station”. For those of you who would like to go, the bus stop is on Токтогула улица at the corner of ъейшеналиевой улица and since the bus only leaves every 3 hours or so, I would recommend getting the 8:15 one.

People standing in a packed minibus
Bumpy minibus ride to Ala-Archa Canyon

A few seconds later, after finally seeing a minibus with the right number written on it, I tried to see if it was going to Ala-Archa Canyon, but a guy stepped in, explaining in Russian this specific bus was not going all the way to the Canyon, so I would have to wait for the next one. He grabbed his very old Motorola type phone, typed something in and then showed me. It said 8:15. That’s when I understood what he had been trying to tell me for the last few minutes…

Shortly after, a blond girl wearing hiking boots arrived. I asked if she was going to the canyon and she said yes. It was pretty obvious we were both tourist, and I was rather reassured that at least I would have someone to either follow or get lost with!


Towards Ala-Archa and the Tian Shan mountains

The right minibus arrived shortly after so we got on, paid our 40 som (0.77 CAD) and went on our way. At one point, the driver stopped and went into a shop by the side of the road. Another guy came in and we left. Only to stop again a few seconds later. This new driver went into what looked like either a house or a shop, stayed there for a while and eventually came back out and drove us to the 1st gate. The bus doesn’t drive all the way to the start of the trail, but only to the first gate of the park.

We paid our entry fee, 80 som ( about 1.50 CAD) per person, and started walking. We wanted to hitch a ride since there is about 12km between the two gates and were rather lucky as a few meters in, a car drove in and picked us up. He was a local with his young son sleeping in the back seat. He drove us all the way to the second gate, even though that was not even where he was going. Since Monica spoke some Russian, they had a conversation, while I enjoyed the scenery from the back seat.

Start of the trail

Once we reached the second gate, there were signs and the path was clearly visible. We thanked our driver and started our walk. Shortly after we started I was getting thirsty so I grabbed my water bottle only for it to explode everywhere. I didn’t realize I had brought carbonated water and not still water! That’s when I realized the meaning of the word газдалган.

Ala-Archa National Park

The scenery was amazing for the entire trek, going from forest looking just like the city in grew up in Canada to mountains overseeing riverbeds with white rocks and glacial turquoise water like Nepal. It was super quiet and getting to hear the birds and the wind coming down the mountains felt unreal after busy Bishkek. It was also quite nice to have someone to talk to, joke with and to share what I was seeing with.


I found snow on the way down from the mountan, and I don’t think I’ve ever been this excited to see snow!!

Eventually, we arrived at the waterfall point. According to our GPS anyway. We had seen the waterfall from the car but we got confused with the trail, and simply ended up going towards Ratsek instead. We walked for 13km and went up to about 3000m. From the start of the trail, Alplager at 2100m, it was only a 1000m climb but since I was no longer used to hiking, I was truly exhausted that night!

Ala-Archa National Park

We were going to keep walking up the mountain for a bit but as we sat down to take a break, enjoy the view and eat our snacks we could see dark clouds forming. We decided it would be smarted to head back down if we wanted to make sure to have enough time to catch a minibus back to the city, especially if we had to walk all the way back to the 1st gate in the rain.

As we arrived back to the town, it started raining. We decided to try to hitch a ride back down to the 1st gate at least and thankfully a Belgian couple picked us up rather quickly, which was very lucky as it started raining quite heavily as soon as we got to the second gate.

Perfect lunch spot

The couple was also returning to Bishkek however they had not booked anywhere to spend the night yet. So being the clever person I can sometimes be, I told them there were private rooms at the Apple Hostel I was staying at and it was actually quite okay. That convinced them and they drove us all the way back to my hostel’s door.

We all had dinner together at the cafeteria. I ate a weird looking meal. It was a massive dumpling shaped into a crown and filled with veggies. It turned out to be rather tasty, but I have to admit I wasn’t too sure about it to start with!

Third day, Burana Tower and Konorchek Canyon

The next morning I was struggling. I didn’t know what I wanted to do and where I could go. Communication with the hostel staff wasn’t really flowing. I wanted some information and felt like I had to be really precise in my questions, otherwise, I was not getting complete answers. Sometimes the language barrier can be quite challenging, especially on days where you already feel a bit more fragile and unsettled than usual.

Part of the reasons why I felt so out of it that morning was because I had lovely conversations with a bunch of people at the hostel the night before. They were all going through the ‘stans, exploring and hiking and I knew that this was just a very short break before I had to return to Dubai. I was already questioning my decision to move to Dubai in the first place, and being faced with people living the kind of life I was aspiring to, made it hard.

I was also remembering how hard it can be to travel alone. It’s great at times because you have all the freedom to do exactly what you want, but you also have nobody to share the little things with. Or have nobody to step in and take over when things get difficult.

Kazakh mountains in the distance

As I was having breakfast and writing my journal processing all of the above, Eva and PJ, the Belgian couple, came in and sat with me. I asked them what their plans were and if I could hop in the car with them. I would get a minibus or find another way back. I didn’t really care where I was going but I wanted to go somewhre. Anywhere!

Becky, another girl from the hostel, joined us for breakfast and we all agreed to leave shortly after. Sometimes all you need to change your mood is to have the balls to ask people what they are up to and if you can join them!

Interesting side-road shops

The couple were heading East towards Karakol and wanted to have a look at a few sites along the way. We drove to the Burana Tower, and saw rural Kyrgyzstan along the way with various stands, including some to buy brooms and water containers. Also a lot of vehicles carrying cows, horses, etc. The big minaret is located about 80km from Bishkek, not too far from the town of Tokmok.

When we arrived close to Burana, we parked the car and walked across the very yellow gate. We paid our entry fee (60 som per person, which is about 1.15 CAD) and went straight to the tower. The Burana site is quite interesting. It has the tower of course, but also some mausoleums, castle foundations, grave markers, pteroglyphs, and a small museum.

Lovely dark staircase in the Burana Tower

The stairs to go up the minaret were quite narrow and dark but I did very much enjoy going up. We had to take turns going up or down, as you could only fit one person… given you didn’t have shoulders too broad! The view from the top was truly stunning. The tower used to be about 45m high, but over time and because of earthquakes, parts fell down and it’s now only about 25m.

We explored the surroundings, having a look at the rocks with pteroglyphs on it and other artifacts before getting back in the car.

Burana Tower

We had lunch while driving to Konorchek Canyon. The road is right by the border of Kazakhstan and you can see the Kazakh mountains while driving in the valley. It was gorgeous.

The trail wasn’t too obvious to start on. I had read that you had to go on the other side of the train tracks, but it didn’t really say anything else. There are no signs, but once you have crossed the tracks, it becomes a lot more obvious. It’s a canyon and there’s no other option than to go forward! The canyon carves its way into the mountains, including some easy scrambling. We ended up arriving in a gorgeous area which looked very much like Utah.

The train track, and start of the Konorchek Canyon trail

By then the day was already well into late afternoon, we could see rain clouds forming, and since Becky and I still had to make our way back to Bishkek, we decided to turn around and come back to the car. I would have liked to keep going, but safety first, I preferred to come back to the city before it was dark, just in case we would not make it to the Western bus station and had to walk to the hostel.

Konorchek Canyon

Becky and I wanted to get a minibus back but when the couple dropped us off we crossed the street and a guy offered to drive us to the town before Bishkek. We tried to communicate but I couldn’t understand anything he was saying. We were communicating using google translate. We finally agreed on the price for him to drive us all the way to the bus station.

At some point during the drive, he was saying something, which seemed to mean he would not bring us all the way back to Bishkek, although that was what we had first agreed upon. I pretended not to understand and reply yes, we are going to the west bus station.

Eventually, he got a minibus to stop and pick us up to finish the road. I wasn’t happy but it’s quite hard to fight or argue when you don’t speak the same language. The guy still wanted the entire amount we had agreed on, and the bus driver wanted his share of the money. I managed to explain that we had agreed to a price to bring us all the way to the station, the fact that the guy changed his mind meant that I was not going to pay the entire amount without going the whole way. In the end, we got 100 som back, which in hindsight doesn’t seem worth arguing over, but it was more for the principle of it than the actual money.

We sat on the bus and tried to recover from our adventure. The only seat that was available was rather wet, and even though it was raining a bit, it sure wasn’t raining enough for it to be this wet. So not only was I now sitting in a minibus instead of a car, but I was also sitting in piss. Lovely.

When we finally made it back to the hostel, we decided we deserved wine so we used part of the 100 SOM we argued back for a bottle of red local wine. It was quite the experience, and once again very typical of a backpacking adventure. We ended up laughing it off.. we now had a funny story to tell!

Last day in Kyrgyzstan

After living in Dubai and always seeing blue skies, I must have been the only person in Bishkek truly happy to get to enjoy a wet and grey day. Seeing clouds and rain actually felt more normal. So did having to wear long jeans and a long-sleeve t-shirt or jacket. I was definitely not really looking forward to going back to sandstorm and heat.


Driving in Bishkek

The scenery in Kyrgyzstan is so varied. I didn’t go far and I saw gorgeous alpine scenery with glaciers, green rolling hills and a flat valley as well as red rock formations that look a lot like Utah, all of this within a few hours drive from the capital city. The country seems to have a lot to offer and according to all the backpackers I’ve met, so does Uzbekistan and Tajikistan.

I wasn’t sure what to do for my last day. I would technically have had plenty of time to get on a minibus to somewhere but all the interesting places seemed too far for a day trip. And I didn’t want to be stressing out about making it back on time to catch my flight.

After taking it very slow all morning, reading about Bishkek and trying to find something new to see, I went to the Osh Bazaar. I stepped in a few shops but soon realized I didn’t actually want to be surrounded by people so I walked towards Tsum centre which once again reminded me of Moldova and its ”shopping centre”. I had hoped to maybe find clothes but my attempt at trying some skirts didn’t work at all. I was failing at explaining what I wanted (a larger size or a different color) so eventually I gave up and kept walking.

Coffee and menu in Ecodemia café

I decided to treat myself to a vegetarian restaurant called Ecodemia, a restaurant in the Dostuk hotel. And just like most things in those lovely labyrinthic Soviet buildings, it was not easy to find. It was quiet and relaxing and the food was great. Unfortunately, it now looks like the restaurant is permanently closed, which is rather sad, but quite understandable since it was extremely pricey for locals. A meal which costs about 20 CAD (1000 som) is nothing when you get paid in CAD, but when the average monthly salary is 15 000 som (not even 300 CAD) it sure looks like a lot.

The closing of the restaurant might also have to do with the cutest little mouse I saw just poking her head from underneath the stairs before changing her mind and going back into hiding while I was eating!

Other random note about Kyrgyzstan, they never have knives in restaurants (or at least in the places I went to), only forks and spoon to be used to cut things and eat. This can make eating rather messy and challenging!

State History Museum

I spent my last few hours in the country before my flight back to Dubai at the hostel, chatting with other guests. It kept me busy until quite late then the girl working at the front desk started asked me rather personal questions. She was in her early 20s and was very curious to know how life and relationships worked in other countries. She wanted to know if it was really like the American teen movies, where everyone sleeps with each other and parties a lot.

She told me how traditional it still was for most Kyrgyz girls. They were still expected to bleed on their wedding night. Some marriages are arranged and some are love weddings depending on the family background (it tends to be a bot more modern in the city than in villages). And once they are married, the first son of the family and his new wife will move out to their own house, but the second son had to live with his parents, meaning that his wife would now have to move in with a family she doesn’t really know.

We talked for a long time about boyfriends and first time. She was obviously very curious and quite nervous and I was happy to share what would have normally been discussed in a sex ed class, should those still exist. It was a very interesting conversation although rather unexpected! And a really funny end of my long weekend trip in Bishkek!


Eternal fire in Victory Square, apparently a popular place for wedding photos

Surprise birthday party in the Pyrenees

Gorgeous setting, Aucun, France
Gorgeous setting in Aucun, France

About two months ago, I receive a message from one of my friend from the Antarctica trip. He was organising a surprise birthday party for his now wife for her 30th anniversary in the Pyrenees. This sounded like the perfect opportunity to catch up and get some fresh air and hiking. I made sure to count my days left in my Schengen zone visa so I wouldn’t run out before the birthday. Being Canadian, I’m allowed 90 days in 180. While I’m often tempted to complain this is not long enough for my liking, I’m acutely aware now that at least I am legally allowed in the country for 90 days at a time, which is actually pretty good. In order to get enough days, I took a week off from volunteering in Calais and went back to the UK. But of course I miscalculated my days and it turns out I had to leave France one day earlier than I would have liked, but nevertheless, I had just enough days to be there for the weekend.

I left Calais and stopped in Paris for a couple nights. At first, I thought I would go see if Paris had changed since the last time I was there years ago, but that was silly thinking of me. I was so exhausted I ended up sleeping, only getting out the hotel to get some food at the nearby supermarket before coming crashing down in my very comfy bed. I guess I’ll now have to go back to Paris to have a proper look at the city of love!

Lovely evening with my childhood friend.Both she and her husband love polaroid.
Lovely evening with my childhood friend. Both she and her husband love polaroids.

Quick catch up with a childhood friend

When I decided to go visit Audrey and Pascal in the Pyrenees, I realised I could hit two birds with one stone and also catch up with a childhood friend of mine who just happened to have moved to Bordeaux.

I always love it when you meet up with friends you rarely see, yet every time it feels like to time has passed at all. That’s how it is with Vero, and I love it! We had a lovely time, dinner, drink and walk by the river at night. Bordeaux seems to be a nice city and I’ll definitely have to add it to the ever-growing list of places to return to.

Surprise birthday party

I have to admit, by the time I arrived in Aucun, the small Pyrenees village we were spending the weekend in, I thought that for sure my friend would know by then that about 60 people were gathering to celebrate her birthday. Surely someone would have dropped a hint or something. But when she came back from a hike to have dinner with what she thought was going to be only her father, the look on her face said it all. She had no clue! She looked in shock for the whole evening, which included many challenges: eating insects, a geography challenge of some countries they had not visited in their three-year round the world trip, and a dance challenge. To say that she succeeded at all the challenges would be lying but she really gave it her all!

Met lovely, inspiring people

I met some of Audrey and Pascal’s families and they are so nice. I mean genuinely nice and interested in others. Something I definitely needed in order to land back smoothly into the normal world after Calais. I was not the only one having made changes in my travel plans to make sure I was there, there was a sweet woman from Colombia and another one from Singapore. It surely reflects on how much we love Audrey and Pascal, that we would all be ready to move our plans around to make sure to be there to celebrate with them. They are some of the nicest and most amazing humans I know.

Simply beautiful Pyrenees
The Pyrenees, simply beautiful

Hiking in the Pyrenees, simply beautiful

We couldn’t have asked for better weather. It was sunny and warm. Warm enough to be wearing only a t-shirt instead of 2 jumpers, a jacket and a scarf! I had never been to the Pyrenees and I must say, it is stunning.

The rugged mountains in the background, the colourful autumn leaves and the great company made for our first short hike a great moment. Plus I really needed to walk off some of the many, many calories ingested during the weekend! At one point it felt like all we did was eat. We had breakfast, lounged in our amazing lodge, joined everyone for lunch, went for a very short walk and it was already time to come back for dinner. Don’t get me wrong, I love eating, but this was a lot of food!!

Shepherds shelter under a rock
Shepherd’s shelter under a rock

Finally back into the nature

I was not the only one needed to walk off some of the food, so much so, a group of 15 of us went for a walk. The sun was shining and the turquoise water sparkling. It was splendid. We made our way to a little cabin used in the past by shepherds. They would find shelter under massive rocks, and at one point they probably thought, why not build actual walls and call this a home.

Pyrenean Chamois
Pyrenean Chamois

After our lunch break, we kept going up the mountain and when entering a little valley we encountered a group of pretty cute chamois. I really don’t understand how agile they can be to climb up the mountain, but that’s definitely a skill I need to work on. There’s no way I could ever be as graceful as they were but I’m sure I could be slightly less inelegant!

After a few days, it was already time to head back to the UK and leave the Schengen area. This whole weekend, with all its gorgeous scenery, welcoming people, and the summery weather was definitely what I needed, even if I didn’t know it at the time!

Merci Vero and  Paul, Audrey and Pascal and all your friends and relatives, I had an amazing time!

Have you ever to organise a big surprise birthday celebration and managed to keep it a secret until the very moment the person walks in the room? If so kudos to you!

What are your favourite spots for a rejuvenating outdoorsy few days?

A short visit to Fort William and Glasgow before leaving Scotland

I was in Edinburgh when I decided to leave Scotland to head South to England. I knew I would have to go see some of my friends before leaving. So I went back to Perth, my first home in Scotland, and Dundee.

A few days later, while sitting on the Megabus from Dundee to Glasgow, it felt like I was closing a loop. Unknowingly, I had picked the longer bus run, the one that stops in Perth and in Stirling on its way. Seeing Perth and Stirling castle with blooming flowers made me think maybe it was time for a new beginning. Although I was excited to discover new areas before heading South, I was a bit sad to be closing this chapter of my life.

Highland cows with mountains lost in clouds of rain
It doesn’t really get any more Scottish than this

Glasgow

My first night in Glasgow I met up with a friend I had worked with in Calais while volunteering for Help Refugees. We had planned a quiet night, meeting for a drink after she was done working, but, of course, it didn’t go as planned! We ended up touring a few vegan places in Glasgow, including the Flying Duck and Stereo. I had a great time and it felt so good to be able to talk to someone about what we had experienced in Calais and how it had changed us. Something we both felt most people in our lives could not quite grasp.

View of the city
Glasgow from The Necropolis

Fort William

The next morning, slightly hungover, I took the train to Fort William. I had trouble staying awake so I alternated between sleeping and waking up to great scenery.

I arrived at the hostel late in the afternoon. While waiting for the receptionist to do the check-in, I met Farah and Benny, a Canadian-German couple. We got along so well, everybody else thought we had been travelling together for a while. They had a rough idea of what they wanted to do for their Scottish holiday but were flexible. We ended up spending four days together day and night, hiking and sharing the same dorm.

Snow covered rolling hills surrounding a plain
Gorgeous view from the train

Being back in a backpackers was quite funny. It did feel like I was back in Pitlochry (the hostel is part of the same group) and when I woke up the next morning, I was very confused for a few minutes as I had that weird feeling of deja-vu.

The Fort William Backpackers is bright and colourful, with lovely staff, just like all of the backpackers run by the same owner. The best part of the Fort William hostel is its common room. With a fireplace and great views of the mountains, it’s the obvious place for travellers to gather and chat. When I travel, I always pick smaller hostel as I find they tend to still have that ”hostel” vibe I like so much whereas, in larger  cities, I find it to be more impersonal.

DSC04989
Highland cows on well-named Cow Hill

Cow Hill

On my first day in Fort William, the weather was typically Scottish. The clouds and the light drizzle made me look for a shorter walk. Following the recommendations from the hostel’s staff, we decided to have a look at Cow Hill. Farah, Benny and I enjoyed lovely chats about a great range of subjects, distracting us from the rain. When we arrived at the top of the hill, we met a group of highland cows. It’s always a bit unsettling when they look straight at you with their big horns, so I admit I went off the path to give them a bit more room and to feel more comfortable. Just in case they decided I was not friendly enough.

Highland cow staring back
Not quite sure yet what to think of me

The weather wasn’t that great but nobody cared anymore. Another thing I really appreciated in hiking with that couple was that we were all in the same mood, going off the path when we wanted to see more of something and taking our time to admire the nature. After our walk, we had dinner, and later on, everybody from the hostel decided to go to the Maryburgh Inn. It is a very small pub with a well inside. There is a plexiglass cover on top of it with a small slot and a thin beam crossing the well. The goal is for people to drop coins in the slit and have them land on the beam. If someone manages to do it, they get a free beer. It was hilarious to watch people convinced they could do it. They ended up spending a lot more money that they would have if they would have gone to the bar and buy a pint on their own, but it was a lot more entertaining this way.

Benny crossing a small river on rocks and fallen trees
Benny using one of the ”shortcuts”

More walking in Fort William

The next day we went for another short walk. We went up the beginning of the trail to Ben Nevis and then down in the valley and along the river. The scenery was gorgeous and as it had been raining for a few days, it was quite wet. We met numbers of highland cows and just enjoyed our day in the wilderness before heading back to the hostel for some reading and relaxing in the warm and cozy common room. It was a lovely day with great conversations, superb scenery, and nice people.

path with mountain views
Path to Ben Nevis

Ben Nevis

On my third day in Fort William, Farah, Benny and I decided to go up Ben Nevis. The weather was nicer so we started going up. We used yet another ”shortcut” which turned out to be longer and more challenging, making sure we were keeping in touch with our recent traditions. Every day, we would find shortcuts, only to realize they were not shortcuts at all! We had been told the day before that people going up Ben Nevis still needed crampons and because we didn’t have any we decided we would still go, make it as far as we could safely and go from there.

Mountain view
Lovely view

When we reached the snow, we kept going for a while, but eventually, the thick melting snow was getting too slippery and challenging to walk on. And with a large cliff on one side, we didn’t feel like taking chances. We took a short break to enjoy the views and started our descent. A few minutes after we started descending, the clouds came in. They came in right behind us, and I was quite happy we had decided to turn around when we did as we could no longer see the path. As always, the weather was very unpredictable in the mountains.

Path covered in snow with two people ahead
When it started to be covered in snow

At night, we decided to return to the pub. It was Karaoke night, which I am definitely not a big fan of. But with lovely people, it was still a great evening overall.

I’ve met really cool people in my short stay and I really enjoy the kind of people that end up in Fort William. It is called the outdoor capital of Scotland with good reasons. There’s so much to do and people that come here are very fit, active and handsome…

bridge leading to the Necropolis
Bridge to the Necropolis, Glasgow

Returning to the city

People sometimes ask me how I meet so many cool people. And I always answer that it’s easy… I go talk to them! A good example of this is when I was on the train back from Fort William. Someone was sitting in my seat and because the train was far from full, I chose to sit at one of the seats with a table. I could have easily decided to sit on my own but I wanted to use the table so I sat with a seemingly nice guy. Sure enough, he was actually quite lovely. He was from Hungary and had just walked the West Highland Way from Milngavie to Fort William. We chatted for part of the way and it was nice.

Now this happened because I decided to sit where there was already someone. Should I have decided to act more like ”normal” people, I would probably have picked another seat. And the reason why we chatted is because I struck up a conversation. It’s not always easy. It actually takes some effort to go and talk to someone, yet it’s always worth it. By that, I’m not saying that I always become good friends with people I meet or that I even want to get past the first few exchanges. Half the time I’m okay with small talk or short conversations. It does however always make me feel better to interact with people, and sometimes you end up making great new friends.

Organist performing
Organ recital in Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum

In Glasgow, after many of my friends had recommended it, I decided to spend part of the day at the Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum. It was very interesting to see all the different exhibitions. I was getting ready to leave when I noticed that an organ recital was starting 15 minutes later. It’s an interesting sound and quite the technique to use hands and feet. I was glad I didn’t rush through the museum and I got to see the recital.

Afterwards, I was hungry and undecided on what I should do next. The 78, another vegetarian/vegan restaurant in Glasgow is located just a few minutes walk from the museum, so it made my choice very easy! This was one of my favourite things about Glasgow, there are so many options to eat either very crappy food or very healthy. A good balance, and something for everyone! I spent the remaining of my day in Glasgow wandering about in the city, people watching and generally just having a good time.

Artwork on a building. A man with a small bird perched on his finger
Great artwork, Glasgow

It was a great conclusion to my Scottish adventures. I didn’t know then that my English adventures would come to an end much quicker than anticipated, and that it would force me to change my plans once again and hop on a plane to Moldova and have a really cool cycling trip.

While I was happy to move on to somewhere new, Scotland was still one of the places I liked the most during my travels. It’s small enough to be able to easily get around, yet the scenery is very varied, with everything from mountains to beaches. And with lovely outdoor activities, lovely people, and great whiskies, it’s a good place to call home. I will go back eventually, but until then, new adventures await me!

selfie in front of the Glasgow Cathedral
Glasgow Cathedral