070. Photo Essay: Applecross, Scotland

The answer is yes.

Yes, you should visit Scotland. And you should go to Applecross.

If you enjoy beautiful, rugged scenery, and if you enjoy camping, either in a tent or in an adorable wooden hut, or even a B&B or hotel, you will find a comfy place to lie your head in Applecross.

It's one of the most beautiful places to explore, and the switchback road that leads you there travels over the Bealach na Ba (Pass of the Cattle), one of the highest roads in the UK. (It's also part of the Northcoast 500 route)

Like most of Scotland, the diversity in landscape is astounding. You can enjoy a mossy woodland hike next to a babbling brook, and moments later, listen to the ocean waves crashing into the rocks below your feet. There is something for everyone there. I have now visited Applecross twice, and each time was a new experience.

Here are some photos from autumn 2016, and towards the end of the post, I'll share some photos from this weekend (April 2017).

As you can see, Autumn was incredible gorgeous, and offers a variety of colors and textures within the scenery. So when I headed back there this weekend, I was very excited to see what Spring time would hold!
I wasn't disappointed, and in fact, the moody weather gave the trip a very dramatic tone. We experienced everything from stormy, foggy weather to beautiful sunshine!

In terms of wildlife, you will find herds of red deer, sheep, "Highland Cows" and many other critters. As for weather, wear layers!! Since weather changes so quickly, you have to be prepared for anything. 

I also recommend booking your campsite far in advance. Since space is limited, you want to make sure you have a place to sleep!

If you enjoy art, I highly recommend the gallery/cafe at the "bottom of the hill" - it's called the Bealach Cafe & Gallery. Stop here on your way in or out of Applecross. Enjoy a delicious cuppa and fresh scone with jam/butter, and peruse the beautiful fine art selection. I was actually shocked the first time I walked in. It's full of Scotland artists, and the work is absolutely breathtaking.

Applecross has gained quite a reputation, so in the summer (high tourist season) be prepared for a lot of traffic and busy campsites. I can HIGHLY recommend late autumn and spring time if you have the option to visit then! It's much less crowded.

If you're looking for things to do in Applecross, your main activity will be camping/hill walking and site-seeing. Let's face it, you go there to get away and you want to enjoy nature!
My favorite hikes are easy to get to from the Applecross campsite. 
The first one is a woodland walk, that follows the River Applecross. From the Applecross Campsite, go north on Shore Street towards the "Applecross Walled Garden & Restaurant," (but don't turn into there) and before you get to the bridge that crosses the river, there's a small area to park on the left side of the road near the water. Park the car and walk towards the bridge. At the bridge you will see a small gate and a sign for "River Walk" (Roes Walk). Many of the woodland photos above are from this trail. The trail hangs by the right side of the river most of the way.

I also love the Coral beaches trail (near Culduie), which is more remote. Follow the road south to Ard-dhubh from Culdie. On your way here, keep an eye out for seals when it's sunny. They like to lay on the rocks! There's roadside parking near a small sign and trailhead that says "Coral Beaches." The trail crosses the moors and curves around the peninsula, following a trail through some beautiful birch trees. Stay on the path towards Ard Ban when you see the sign. It leads to a beautiful small beach near three old cottages (one is in ruins). There's a beautiful view towards Raasay and beyond.

At the end of the day, enjoy a pint on the water at the Applecross Inn, and try their AMAZING homemade sticky toffee pudding and ice-cream. 

Happy camping!

056. Photo Essay: Isle of Skye, Scotland Part 2

The following images were from my second trip to Skye in the fall of 2016. 

As I mentioned yesterday in Part 1, my love for this island is boundless. The incredible diversity of Skye incites curiosity and adventure.

During this trip, we had a couple nights of camping, and we also stayed at a friend's self-catering home while they visited (perfect timing). It was so much fun to share this beautiful island with good friends.

It couldn't have been better - staring out over the Loch as the sun set, curled up with a glass of wine and some sticky toffee pudding (the national desert of Scotland). Waking up to a beautiful sunny morning, sitting in the observatory and painting the coast.

Photo courtesy of my friend Rich.

That is my heaven.

Since I have discovered my love for watercolors, I've had so much fun going on hikes and painting the scenery! You'll see lots of my paintings mixed in below.

Most of these images were captured on my Canon 7D, some of them are from my LG G4.

055. Photo Essay: Isle of Skye, Scotland Part 1

Today I'm headed to the my favorite place in Scotland: The Isle of Skye!

Today and tomorrow I'll be sharing some of my favorite images from this island. I traveled here in the late winter of 2016, and once more in the fall. Regardless of what time of year you visit, there is so much beauty to take in.

This rural island on the west side of Scotland has one of the most diverse landscapes I've ever seen. Everything from lush forests to rocky coasts.
It's home to approx 10,000 people, and this low population means that nature rules. 

These images were captured with my Contax 645 on medium format film (a couple of the dusk shots were on my iPhone).

049. Photo Essay: Berlin

Today I'm going to share images of my trip to Berlin! 
The one thing that stood out to me the most in Berlin was the stark contrast between "new and old." The city is filled with relics of the past, in architecture and monuments, yet there is a contemporary city sprouting up. There was a lot of construction when I was there (March 2016), many new skyscrapers being built.
A friend of mine lives there and took me on a walking tour of downtown Berlin, offering local insights. 
Unfortunately I was sick with Bronchitis while I was there so I had to take it a little easy.

Out of all the European cities I've visited, Berlin was the cleanest, most well organized and labeled. It wasn't overly crowded (in fact, it kind of felt empty at times, probably because it was winter).

There's so much history to discover there, and I felt very introspective while walking around.

Cool fact: the Berlin Wall is obviously gone, but they kept a few "pieces" in tact. They also left the original brick foundations in tact, which cut through the new roads and sidewalks like a vein. 

041. Photo Essay: Stockholm, Sweden Part Two - 24 Hours in Gamla Stan

24 hours in Gamla Stan

Welcome to Part Two of my Stockholm post! As I mentioned, I stayed at my friend's house for a couple days outside the city, but I wanted to have at least one full 24 hours IN the city to explore. So I booked a room at the STF Hotel Gamla Stan. Very affordable, clean, and quiet. I also booked a Swedish Massage at the Luxury Spa at First Hotel Reisen, which was an amazing experience (cliche, I know).

Here's how I recommend spending 24 hours in Gamla Stan.

The wonderful part about traveling during winter is that most places are cheaper and way less crowded. It's honestly the only way I could afford traveling through Europe for 2 months. The downside is, while out exploring, you are often freezing! 
Thankfully, there are plenty of cute little coffee and pastry shops to pop into to warm up (and have a treat... what better excuse!)

The city has such a good energy about it. It's clean, well organized, and once you get into "old town" also known as Gamla Stan, you are transported back to medieval Europe. It's on a little island in the middle of Stockholm (accessed by bridges).

This eclectic mix of new and old, makes Stockholm so much fun to explore (especially for photographers!)
I spent most of my time in Gamla Stan, as there is so much visual and cultural interest there.
Tons of little shops (most of it is pedestrian-only), restaurants, art galleries, and museums.
But even just the people watching is ace, and the old architecture is alluring.

Spend a few hours wandering around the old city. The narrow cobblestone streets and alleys wind between old stucco'd buildings. There's so much to see and you can get a good sense of the place by wandering without itinerary. Stop into any of the coffee or pastry shops for a morning snack/early lunch.

Eventually you'll want to check into your hotel. I enjoyed the STF Hotel Gamla Stan, and it was about $60 including breakfast. Located right on the end of Gamla Stan and easy to access. Even at night I felt safe walking alone in the area.

My friend knew about a really cool place called the Aifur Krog & Bar, which was basically a Viking-style restaurant. It's pricey, but if you have the chance, you MUST have dinner here!!
(NOTE: It's extremely popular so you will need to make reservations!! Even in the dead of winter.)

Seating is family style (large tables) among roaring fireplaces, candle light, live musicians perched on cushions, and the food...oh man the food... 

As a vegetarian eating in a viking restaurant, I was a little nervous. I ordered one of the few options without meat, the stew.

Hands down, it was one of the best things I've ever eaten. I practically licked my steel bowl.

After a rousing dinner, make your way to the Ice Bar. (https://www.icebarstockholm.com/book-icebar/)
It's not in Gamla Stan, but you can get there with a 20 minute walk or by bus.

Located under Hotel C, you walk in, pay the entry fee ($22), and you are escorted through to the very cool (literally freezing) Ice Bar! A very unique (and strong) cocktail is included in your entry fee, but you can buy more as needed/desired. They provide the warm gear for you to wear, which you definitely want, because even the seats are made of ice!

After about an hour, I was frozen to my core, so we decided to head out.
You can enjoy exploring the city a little more, or head to Sjätte Tunnan, and amazing underground "pub" who serves some of the best mead I've ever tried! It's located back in Gamla Stan. It has a very old world feel, and very delicious beverages. (They also serve viking style food but I missed the cut-off.

Excuse the creepy lighting!

Excuse the creepy lighting!

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You'll never run out of things to do, see and taste in Stockholm, especially in Gamla Stan.
A 2 day trip would still leave you wanting more. 

Happy traveling!

040. Photo Essay: Stockholm, Sweden Part One: The New City and Surrounding Area

There's so much to share about Stockholm and the nearby areas that I need to split this post into two parts. Today, I'll share photos and experiences about the "newer" part of Stockholm (which is still really old) and the countryside. Tomorrow: Part Two, 24 Hours in Gamla Stan, the "old city!"

Even in winter the countryside is gorgeous. There's a stark, quiet beauty to it (I love black and white film, and those things go hand in hand!)

Stockholm was one of those places that I had always dreamed of visiting. Any photos I saw of the city were so enchanting and inviting. Last March I had the chance to pass through during my travels, and I was not disappointed. 
I got to meet up with a good friend, who was gracious enough to give me a tour of the city (new and old) and even let me borrow his jacket when it randomly started to snow on us! 

I was staying at his house, just outside the city, so we also had a chance to explore the countryside.

Here are some of my favorite images from the trip that I think capture its personality.

I'm not much of a museum lover, but there is one experience you CAN'T miss in Stockholm. That's the Vasa Museum.

It contains the oldest preserved Viking ship in the world. It's worth the $15 entry fee.
You can't understand the scale of this ship until you're standing next to it!

Bottom left: tiny people ants for scale.

A "miniature" replica of the ship (actual ship shown behind it).

A "miniature" replica of the ship (actual ship shown behind it).

The detailing and craftsmanship is stunning.

The countryside around Stockholm is dotted with ancient Rune Stones. They were originally used as Viking memorial markers (not burial sites though). They've since been preserved and "labelled" - usually there's a little sign next to them (in Swedish).

There's so much incredibly rich culture to explore in Sweden. Having only a few days there is difficult, especially in winter. But even then, you can see a ton just by driving or walking around!

Tomorrow: Party Two, 24 hours in Gamla Stan!

037. Hike Recap: Steall Falls, Scotland

Steall Falls (formerly An Steall Bàn) is a must-see for anyone who likes mountains and waterfalls, and honestly, it's a super easy hike.

Even the drive TO the carpark is gorgeous, as you pass Ben Nevis mountain.

After arriving at the car park, it's about an hour long hike to get to the falls themselves (depending on your speed and how often you stop to take in the view). The trail is not difficult, and most of it is well cared for. I hear in the summer it's an extremely busy hike. I was there in the winter, and only ran into a couple people along the way.

The trail follows a beautiful river, "Water of Nevis," which cascades through the gorge (to your right) among giant moss covered boulders. It's not uncommon to see rock climbers (at any time of year), scaling the steep cliff face on the opposite side of the river.

Eventually the trail opens up into a huge valley, and you finally catch a glimpse of the roaring waterfall in the distance. 

When you finally get closer to the waterfall, the immense height becomes apparent (after all, it is Scotland's second highest waterfall!)

The river snakes in front of you, blocking your path. You can stay here and get a nice view of the falls, and have a nice picnic. But if you want to make the most of the hike, you'll want to cross the river.

The only way to get to the base of the waterfall is a wire bridge over the river. 
I am terrified of heights, and after endless prodding from my friends, decided to try it anyway.

The wire bridge sits about 15 feet above the water - not terrible, but when it's freezing cold and you have your photo gear, you do NOT want to fall in!
 

My friend crossing the bridge first.

Halfway across, I became paralyzed with fear, and begged my friends to allow me to turn back, but they correctly pointed out that there's no way to turn around once you start, so I HAD to finish. With tiny baby steps and white knuckles, I finally made it.

Once across, you are rewarded with an amazing experience. A short hike leads to the base of the falls, which roar down onto mossy rocks and beautiful crystal clear pools.

A photographer's playground!

Even in winter, the area is lush! I'd love to visit again in the spring or summer!

Here's an amazing view looking back towards the trail (showing a self-catering hut for rent). It was the perfect inspiration for one of my paintings.

15x22" watercolor on cold press paper.

Happy hiking!