London would be the last stop on my 2018 wanderings, and it was wonderful for it to be a visit with a friend. Sarah and I were roommates in DC before we both headed to Europe. Over the past year Sarah has gotten her Masters and I'm excited to say has just accepted a job in London.
I stayed with her in her West Kensington flat for 10 days, and thrilled in getting a little window into being a local. It included a lot of time on the London Underground, which I love and totally enjoyed. My sister, Kristine, had given me a hit list of things to do, and that combined with the feeling of not being in a rush made for a very laid-back visit. I didn't have to think much, just look at my list of possibilities and choose what would work that day.
With that system in place I visited Camden Market, Chinatown, walked by the Royal Albert Hall and the Albert Memorial, spent an afternoon in Victoria Park, visited the Wallace Collection, the Banqueting House, the V&A Museum and the Natural History Museum, went out for Indian food on Brick Lane, saw the haunting torches of the WWI Armistice 100th Anniversary Memorial outside of the Tower of London, had several pints at different pubs throughout the city with Sarah. It was a wonderful time, in a beautiful city, with a good friend, and the perfect end to nearly a year of travel.
It was both very normal feeling, and simultaneously strange to be heading back to the states. The great thing was that it felt like time. I had a bit of travel fatigue, and was looking forward to being in the same place for a while. Months of travel really make you appreciate what you have back home, and one of the best things about travel is that feeling of going home. It is one of the best sensations, and gives you a nice warm glow in the center of your stomach. I know I'll never loose my travel bug, but for the time being I was happy to be going home.
While on the last solo leg of my trip I slowly ticked off things I had wanted to do in Prague. I treated myself to desert at the restaurant in the Cubist building, The House of the Black Madonna. The interiors were simply stunning. I visited the John Lennon Wall, where tourists and street artists pay their respects to the former Beatle. I visited museums and many, many photography exhibits. I ate a lot of tasty Czech food, and many delicious Czech beers. But best of all I spent hours and hours wandering the streets, soaking it all in and taking pictures. It was a lovely way to spend the end of my solo travels. Next I would be off to London to visit a friend before finally heading back to the states.
Mom and Dad headed back home and I stayed on in Prague. The city is enchanting and I got to call it home for 3 weeks. It meant that I got to catch up on photography work, give myself some downtime, and explore the city at my own pace. One of my favorite things that I did while there was wake up at 5AM, a good 2 hours before the sunrise, and walk to the Charles Bridge. There, I sat down right in the middle and watched the sun rise over the ancient city. It was breathtaking.
My family genealogy project continued on my Mom's side to the Czech Republic and Slovakia. Seeing the birth certificate of Steven Koces, my 2nd great grandfather, at my Aunt's house 2 years ago had set me off on this research. Finally I would be visiting his birthplace and so many other villages connected to other ancestors. It was quite the experience, and I got to share it with my Mom and Dad.
May 23, 1883 - Steven Koces - žehra, Slovakia
Joannes Kocsis Jr. and Maria Misicko, my 3rd great grandparents had their son Steven Koces, my 2nd great grandfather, baptized in Žehra when he was born in 1883. Joannes Jr. was also born here on June 5, 1850. When we drove into the tiny town we immediately saw that the only business there was a lumber company run by the Kočiš family that still lives there. The cemetery was also full of Kočiš's. It was amazing and so exciting. Both Mom and I loved the stunning church that overlooked the village. The nave had been built in 1433, and the onion-shaped dome was completed in 1769, over a century before Joannes, Maria and Steven. There was even a castle ruin in the distance.
About 1825 - Joannes Kocsis Sr - Tulčik, Slovakia
My 4th great grandfather, Joannes Kocsis Sr. was born in Tulčik around 1825 and eventually moved to Žehra where his son Joannes Jr was born. The grave markers here were stunning, but almost all were entirely un-readable.
About 1885 - Katherine Ridela - Šambron, Slovakia
Katherine Ridela, my 2nd great grandmother and future wife of Steven Koces was born in Šambron to parents Joannes Ridilla and Maria Hriczko around 1885. We found several recent Ridillas in the cemetery in town.
December 8, 1856 - Joannes Ridilla - Roškoviany, Slovakia
Katherine's father, Joannes Ridilla, and my 3rd great grandfather, was born in the neighboring village of Roskoviany.
February 27, 1859 - Maria Hriczko - Krivany, Slovakia
My 3rd great grandmother, Maria Hriczko, was baptized in Krivany, possibly in this church, which had a service going on while we were there.
1862 - Elizabeth Divoky - Suchdol nad lužnicí, Czech Republic
My 2nd great grandmother, Elizabeth Divoky, was born in Suchdol on November 19, 1862. This small town and the next tiny village, Hrdlorezy, are the seat of generations of Elizabeth's ancestors. Her mother, Katerina Binova, my 3rd great grandmother was born in Suchdol, on April 7, 1819. Katerina's grandfather, my 5th great grandfather, Jacob Bina, was also born in Suchdol on July 25, 1767. We found some family names in the cemetery between Suchdol and Hrdlorezy.
July 10, 1817 - Jakub Divoky Jr - Hrdlorezy, Czech Republic
My 3rd great grandfather, Jakub Divoky Jr. was the last in a very long line of ancestors born in the village of Hrdlorezy. Including him, we can count 6 generations back to Leopold Krejci Koranda, my 8th great grandfather, who died here in 1715. Here is a list of ancestors who lived here.
Jakub Divoky Sr. - 1785-1872, 4th great grandfather
Anna Vochozka - 1792-1854, 4th great grandmother
Matej Korandova Vulgo Vochozka - born 1765, 5th great grandfather
Mikolas Koranda - born 1732, 6th great grandfather
Barbora Lejsek - born 1727, 6th great grandmother
Matej Krejci Koranda - 1695-1762, 7th great grandfather
Maria Anna Kamba - died 1738, 7th great grandmother
Lucas Lejsek - died 1769, 7th great grandfather
Barbora Sladek Kolar Lejsek - died 1752, 7th great grandmother
I met my parents in Berlin on October first. Mom and I were, of course, instantly crying happy tears. The hugs were big and long, as were the smiles. It was so comforting and relaxing to be in the easy and familiar company of loved ones.
We spent the first couple days sightseeing in Berlin, and then traveling to Hannover to visit our old exchange student Julian. I had visited both Berlin and Julian in January, and loved getting to see my parents experience the same thing. In Berlin we took a Segway tour, which was fun, informative, and a great way to see an overview of the city center. It also just made my Mom want a Segway to zip around on regularly, much to my Dad’s amused exasperation. The whole Germany leg of the trip was essentially a great break for me, mentally, emotionally, and photographically. I didn’t take any pictures on my camera.
Next we headed via train to the real heart of our trip: Prague. When I first visited this city ten years ago I was just enchanted by it, and couldn’t wait to experience it again with Mom and Dad. It did not disappoint. We got there on a clear sunny day at golden hour. It took us a little longer than it could have to walk to our hotel because Mom kept stopping to take pictures as we stared starry-eyed at the beautiful city. Our hotel was converted from an old convent and was situated down a little alley of a street. It had so much character and constantly made Mom and me remark at how cool it was that we got to stay there.
The following days were spent walking the city, taking tours, seeing the sights and eating so much good food. The floodgates opened again, and I took copious amounts of photos. Luckily Mom was right alongside me doing the exact same thing and Dad was a good sport for putting up with us. One morning Mom and I got up at dawn to go take pictures along the Charles Bridge and in Old Town, returning to join Dad for breakfast. All around, it was a wonderful time in Prague.
At the end of our stay in Prague we rented a car and drove to Slovakia. This leg of the trip was visiting locations that Mom’s family has immigrated from. We stayed in the town of Spišská Nová Ves, where our delightful and welcoming Airbnb host couldn’t speak any English, nor could anyone else we encountered. Google translate helped us immensely during this time. After failing to be seated at one restaurant the night we arrived, we thankfully found a pizza place that allowed us to order via pointing and miming after we translated the menu on our phones. We spent the whole next day in the car, Dad bravely driving us around to several towns in the area where our family came from. During this day the shutter broke on my camera, imposing a break from shooting. (Don’t worry, the camera is now fixed, but I did keep Mom’s camera to use for the rest of my trip.)
Continuing on, we took a fun pitstop in Vienna. The city totally captivated us. It is grand and beautiful and begged us to come back. I particularly loved the crosswalks that had same-sex and opposite-sex couples on them. I also realized that Vienna was home to one of my favorite artist and has his work in many collections, so I will be making a pilgrimage back there to see as many Klimpt painting as I can.
We crossed back into the Czech Republic to visit more villages were Mom’s ancestors used to live. We actually had supposed addresses to try to locate. However, there doesn’t seem to be any method to the street numbers. They jump around in no apparent order, and seem to be able to be changed depending on the occupant. It did make for some interesting Google translate interactions with mildly confused locals, though.
Finally we made our way back to Prague, where I would be spending the next 3 weeks, and where Mom and Dad would catch their train back to Berlin to fly home. It was a weird thing to wave goodbye to them as their train pulled away. But I would see them again in a months time, and I got to spend more time in this city that I love.
I was sad to leave Ireland behind me, but next on my list was Poznan, Poland. It would be my first time in Poland and the first time in months that I would be in a non-English speaking country. Honestly, I was rather nervous about having a language barrier again. But I ended up having no real problems interacting at restaurants and museums with just the basic pleasantries in Polish.
I flew in and then took a bus to the main train station in town. Not knowing what to really expect, I was surprised to find that most of the greater city is relatively modern. My hostel was towards the heart of Poznan though, in the older part of the city which I loved.
The old town square is absolutely stunning and seemed to be pulled right from the pages of a fairytale. Simply walking around it was my favorite part. On the free walking tour I took, I learned about the local lore of a feast celebrating the construction of the town hall around 1560. After the original meal burned, two goats were chosen and brought to the kitchens. Somehow the goats escaped and began fighting in front of all of the guests. Apparently this was very amusing, and warranted the mayor to commission a commemorative clock with two goats that fight every day at noon. The clock and its goats are still there, and I got to see them head-butting at high noon.
One morning I tried the classic local St. Martin’s Croissant; a pastry filled with an almond and poppy seed paste, and topped with icing and nuts. It is filling and delicious. I visited the town hall museum, which had beautiful interiors and exhibits on the history of the city, like medieval guilds, and Nazi occupation. I wandered into beautiful church interiors, and through lovely little streets. One afternoon I treated myself to a meal outside in the old town square. The mulled wine was cozy and the traditional duck blood soup was actually really tasty. My last night there I went out with a group of travelers from my hostel. We ended up at a karaoke bar, where we were very obviously the only non-locals. It was a very fun time, and a unique entertaining end to my stay in Poznan.
Next I would be heading back to Berlin!
My time in Ireland was planned to make sure I visited the locations I could directly connect with my family tree. It's quite a challenge to trace ancestors in Ireland as records were not always consistently kept, and those that were have suffered from losses due to fires and poor conditions. When I did find information it was so exciting, and then getting to visit those places my ancestors were from was an amazing experience. Here are images from these places.
1821 - The McShane's - Shore Road, Dundalk, County Louth
My 4th great grandparents John McShane and Mary Quin were living on Shore Road when their daughter Jane McShane, my 3rd great grandmother, was baptized on May 10th, 1821. The road still exists and I walked it all the way until in dead-ends into the coastline.
1821 - Bridget Burnes - County Louth
On October 10th, 1821, my 3rd great grandmother Bridget Burnes was born somewhere in County Louth.
1855 - The Markey's - 77 Dublin St, Dundalk, County Louth
My 3rd great grandparents, Hugh Markey and Jane McShane, were renting a house and yard on this property in 1855 when Griffith's Valuation of Irish properties was taken. There is now an interior design shop on the location, next to a curry house and across the street from a Ford dealership.
Current castelwellan walshes
My family has been in contact with this family for years. I think these Walshes are related to us through the father of Patrick Walsh, my 3rd great grandfather, and the last Walsh of my line to be born in Ireland. Thomas Walsh Sr, and his son and grandchildren all live in and around Castelwellan where Patrick was born.
1816 - Patrick Walsh - Castelwellan, County Down
Patrick Walsh, my 3rd great grandfather was born in Castelwellan in 1816. Thomas Walsh Sr. drove me around the countryside and pointed out homes that had Walsh roots back generations. Thomas lives next to St. Patrick's Church, which has the graves of many Walshes, but was built after the time of my 3rd great grandfather.
1830 - The Murphy's - Belfast, County Antrim
My 4th great grandparents Owen Murphy and Catherine Renehan were living in Belfast when they had Bridget Murphy, my 3rd great grandmother, in 1830. She and her family were Catholic, and she did not feel safe living under English rule. I couldn't find any address for them, but I spent time taking pictures in the historically Catholic neighborhood in Belfast.
1821 - Thomas Quigley - County Mayo
Thomas Quigley, my 3rd great grandfather, was born somewhere in County Mayo in 1821. Not knowing more specifics I spent a night in Westport, and took pictures there as well as in the countryside.
After leaving Galway I had just over 3 weeks left in Ireland. I was based outside the city of Cork and took little trips to different towns in southwest Ireland.
The first stop en route to Cork was Killarney. I chose this town entirely because of the Bing Crosby song Christmas in Killarney. We listen to it every holiday season and I just love it. There was no way I was passing up a chance to visit. It was a lovely little town, were I had delicious food and enjoyed the street performance of some young boys dancing and playing music.
Top of my list from Cork was to visit Blarney, and like any good Irish-American, kiss the Blarney Stone. The castle itself was really interesting and set on beautiful grounds. After an hour long wait I finally got to kiss the stone, and hopefully I have now obtained it’s gift of eloquence.
Another day trip I took was to the coastal town of Kinsale. It’s a quaint and colorful harbor town. When my parents visited Ireland 2 years ago this was my mom’s favorite town, so I had to visit. I loved the winding little roads with brightly colored buildings. At the entrance of the harbor is an old English fort which I took a tour of and enjoyed very much. I would happily go back and spend more time here, as there seem to an impressively high number of bookstores and delicious looking restaurants.
A little bit of time was spent in Cork city as well. There was more bustle here, with a lively city center. I loved The English Market and the pedestrian roads around there. What I liked most was finding all the interesting little details that can sometimes be easy to overlook.
Lastly I headed back to Dublin to catch my flight out of Ireland. It was sad to leave, but I was excited for the next leg of my trip!
I took a day trip from Galway to the Cliffs of Moher. Along the way I got to see a lot of really cool sights. One of my favorite little things was spotting thatched cottages along the way. They are so charming. We stopped at Dunguaire Castle for a quick and stunning view. Then we drove through the Burren National Park, which is a strange rocky landscape. I ended up being more interested in the dry-stone walls that divide up the countryside. They’re fascinating to me. There’s no mortar to hold them together, it’s just gravity and perfectly fitted stones with enough space in between them for the wind to whip through. Another stop was to see the Celtic crosses in Kilfenora, which were lovely. Last, but certainly not least, were the Cliffs of Moher. I walked all along them, watching the different waves of rain make their way in off the water. The height of the cliffs is so impressive, and the scale is hard to fathom. I loved sitting by the edge and taking it all in. The day was perfectly wrapped up when a rainbow appeared on the drive back to Galway.
After leaving Dorothy’s I headed down the west coast of Ireland. I spent a night in the town of Westport in County Mayo and got back in the swing of traveling solo again. The town was lovely and I simply took pictures and enjoyed a meal at a pub.
Then I headed to Galway. I completely loved this city. There are street performers everywhere and most of the pubs have live performers or local jam sessions nightly. My stay was filled with music and it was amazing. I took a free walking tour and learned about the history of the city. We went to see parts of the old medieval walls, which are strangely preserved in a modern shopping center. I walked through the Claddagh, now a neighborhood of Galway. It was once a separate town across the river where the local population of Irish lived, while the ruling English lived in the walled city, and it is where the Claddagh ring originated. I wear a Claddagh ring that my parents got for me, so it was wonderful to get to see it’s historical roots. I had fish and chips, and one night I went out dancing; everything was a blast. Mostly though, I spent my time in Galway wandering and doing street photography. In such a vibrant, bustling town it was the perfect place for it.
Westport, County Mayo
The best part about my stay in Ballymena was forming lasting connections with the people I met there. I cannot say enough how much this place came to feel like home because of the wonderful group of supportive people that became a part of my life.
Dorothy is a force of nature, sharp as a tack, and so much fun. She can do anything, from felling trees with her several chainsaws, to whipping up a batch of jammy dodger cookies in 10 minutes flat, to analyzing interpersonal communication skills. The day trips she took both Lea and I on were spent talking for hours, and often extended to more conversation over dinner and wine. We became very close and I will always consider her family and friend. I loved getting to know her daughters Cora and Neve, and getting the chance to see Neve play for the Ulster Women’s Rugby team.
Just down the street from Dorothy lives her father, John. He is such a good natured man, always with a smile on his face. He would join us for dinner or afternoon tea on occasion, and was eager to lend a hand around the house or garden any way he could. I loved hearing is stories of growing up in Wales during World War II, or about how his mother was a great painter and his father was a published mathematician. John himself is a painter, and he uses it as a sort of meditation. When he paints everything else recedes into the background. He also keeps bees, and Dorothy lovingly says that he looks like an astronaut Winnie the Pooh in his bee suit.
There were some of Dorothy’s friends that became my own as well. I never got a picture of Alex, but she is a spunky Northern Irish woman who I enjoyed very much. Then there was Jo and her whole family. Jo is a kind, smart and welcoming person. She persistently asked after my photography and ended up coordinated me doing a little presentation of my different photo projects to their friend group in Ballymena. She let me document her beekeeping, which is so cool. I learned so much. My day of shadowing Jo and her bees also included lunch with, and made by, her mother Judy, who I got to know at several of the friend gatherings and who is a delight. She recently moved to Ballymena from the Lake District in England, and is loving living in Northern Ireland. We bonded over both being left handed.
I also become close with Jo’s son, Gus, who is a documentary filmmaker. We had a lot to bond over with movies and documentary subjects, not to mention that he is a funny guy and just great human. He showed me around Belfast and we also caught a couple of movies in Ballymena, followed of course, by analyzing them like the good film geeks we are.
Dorothy hosted another traveler while I was there, Lea from Switzerland who is so sweet. We made a good team, and made also sorts of tasty dinners and treats. Lea was the instigator of the glamor shoot and the rugby lesson that I went to, and my time there would not have been the same without her. We left Ballymena on the same day, and there were more than a few tears shed.
The whole gang was just the greatest and I am so thankful to have found my adopted Northern Irish family.
Back at Dorothy’s we decided to have a photoshoot. Another traveler, Lea from Switzerland, was staying with Dorothy as well and she suggested that we take advantage of Dorothy’s beautiful house and gardens, and the fact that I’m a photographer. We pulled dresses from the collections of Dorothy and her two daughters Neve and Cora, both of who joined us throughout the day. Then we played dress up all day and took pictures. It was just the best time.
My good friend and former DC roommate, Sarah, has been getting her Masters in London, so we planned a weekend together in Belfast while I was staying with Dorothy. It was so wonderful to be able to see Sarah and hang out in a fantastic city together. Our first stop was one of my favorite places in the city, the Crown, a gorgeous Victorian pub. Dark rich wood, intricate ceiling designs, and booths with doors. It feels straight out of a movie and I absolutely love it. What’s great is that if you’re lucky enough to snag a seat in a booth you are likely going to be sharing it with at least one other group of strangers. We made friends with the group of women that were in ours and it was great fun.
Both Sarah and I love Game of Thrones, and since so much of it was shot in Northern Ireland we couldn’t pass up the chance to take a tour to different filming locations. So one day we spent on a tour bus geeking out over the show and taking in the stunning landscapes of the country. The tour also included a stop a Giant’s Causeway, because why not, so I got to see that again. I absolutely loved the Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge. It is suspended high above the rocky coast and leads you to an island. Workers alternate allowing people to cross one way and then the other, which means a bit of a wait going either direction. And also meant that we did not allow enough time for the wait going back and nearly missed our bus! We waved it down just as it was getting to the end of the parking lot. Much too close for comfort, haha, but we were happy to get back to Belfast without any other excitement.
During our time in Belfast we walked through different neighborhoods, both Protestant and Catholic, and sought out the murals the city is known for. I always love street art and Belfast did not disappoint. We spent the evening in the Cathedral District bar hopping and having the best time. Then Sarah headed back to London. I will visit her again in London right before going back to the states, and I am really looking forward to getting to hang out with her more in her adopted city.
Dorothy took me to visit several towns around Northern Ireland. First on the list was Derry, known for its intact medieval city walls and as the location of the start of the Troubles. The city walls were so cool to see and walk along, but I was most interested in the street art in the Catholic neighborhood of Bogside. The history of the Troubles was never something we learned in school. I only started learning modern Irish history after college when I picked up books on historical topics I was personally curious about. Spending time in Northern Ireland let me learn even more, and see where history happened. I heard from people who had actually been there during the Troubles, and how, like any country, Northern Ireland is so much more than a single part of their history.
As a whiskey lover I couldn’t miss Ireland’s oldest licensed distillery, so one day we visited the Bushmills. We took a tour, which included a delicious tasting in a beautiful setting. Other days we passed through lovely little towns like Glenarm and Killyleagh. I loved the charm of these places, and their timelessness.
On several occasions I went in to Belfast. I did some genealogy research there, which didn’t turn anything up but I was glad I had the opportunity to do. Dorothy’s daughter Neve plays rugby, and one day I took an intro to rugby class through one of her teams. It was really fun, and I even made a try. Other times I just got to wander the city and take it all in. By the end I really felt like I knew a bit of the city.
During my stay with Dorothy we took many day trips around Northern Ireland, and even some into Ireland as well. She was a wonderful host and I got to see so much of the country thanks to her. Because we did so much I’m splitting up my sightseeing posts into countryside and towns.
First off is the countryside. The rolling hills with a hundred shades of green, and stunning rocky coastlines. Many of the places that we visited had been used as Game of Thrones filming locations, which as a fan, was fun for me to see. It’s such a beautiful country, and I hope you enjoy the photos!
Next I moved on to Ballymena, Northern Ireland, where I would be staying with host Dorothy. I helped out around her house and garden, and in return got to live like one of the family. Turns out that Dorothy is one of the best people I’ve ever met and we became as close as family. This was my home away from home. I stayed there for 7 weeks, and will definitely be back at some point to visit.
Dorothy lives in a big old farmhouse with extensive gardens. It is the house that she grew up in, and her father, John, now lives just down the road. She works amazingly hard in her garden, having sculpted them out of the woodlands that John planted. They are wild and playful with a hint of Alice in Wonderland. People can pay to have events on the grounds or in the Potting Shed, which has been turned into a lovely tea room. The whole place is magical, and I miss it.
John, who became like my Northern Irish/Welsh grandfather, is a genial man, and a collector. At his house he has a shed that he keeps with all his treasures, accumulated over the years. He says they’re bits and pieces that people might overlook, but that he finds interesting. Everything was once, if not still is, practical and functional, and he puts everything out on display. John is also a painter, and so you can see where he has added flowers or bees right onto the wall or items themselves. His artwork also hangs framed among the other pieces. It’s such a cool space, and it’s wonderful to see how much John loves it.
I arrived in Dublin on July first, and was so thrilled to just be back in a city. To celebrate on the first night I got Thai takeout from around the corner and watched Netflix in bed. It was everything I needed.
In the following days I soaked up the city. At the encouragement of my Mom I went to the Trinity College Library, because she thought I would love it. She, of course, was right. Tall ceilings, rich wooden shelves, ladders, stacks of books. It’s like a little slice of Harry Potter heaven. There was a visit to the Irish Whiskey Museum, which included a delicious tasting flight. I walked through the General Post Office where you can still see bullet marks on the facade from the 1916 Easter Rising. The exhibit on the Rising in the basement of the GPO was excellent and gave a lot of context leading up to and following the Rising. I spent one morning in the National Library of Ireland seeing if I could add to any of my genealogy research. In the evening I took a dance class, the first one since I had started traveling in January. It felt so good! My last night in Dublin I went out for a decadent meal at an Indonesian restaurant named Chameleon thanks to a send-off gift card from my client in DC, Scout Bags. It was so much food and all so delicious. The following day I had lunch at the Shelbourne, the hotel on St Stephen’s Green where the English established a strategic position to assault rebels during the Rising.
Then it was time to head north. I spent a couple nights in the town of Dundalk, where some of my family had been from in the mid 1800s. It’s a nice sleepy little town right on the coast. My accommodation was a Bed and Breakfast, the only one I did on my trip, and I totally loved it. My room had a skylight and beautiful wallpaper. After lots of staying in hostels it felt wonderfully indulgent to have a room and bathroom all to myself. Last stop on this little leg was just over the boarder into Northern Ireland at the coastal town of Newcastle, where I spent a few nights and took walks in the countryside.
The month of June I spent on the west coast of the Scottish Highlands, just across from the Isle of Skye. I stayed with two musicians, Sandra and Lorna, and Sandra’s mom Mary, on the family croft 5 miles outside the tiny village of Glenelg. It is far and away the most remote place I’ve ever (temporarily) called home. After a half hour bike ride into town I would hang out at the local pub for their internet and the company of the resident dog.
The scenery in the area is beautiful. Along the road to town there are two ancient brochs; Iron Age circular stone structures. They are open to the public and you can climb around in them, which I did on several occasions. In town there is a ruin of an English military barracks, built in 1725 and used during the Jacobite Rising of 1745. The Outlander lover in me found this sight fascinating.
Sandra and Lorna played at the pub a few times while I was there which was great fun. They were wonderful hosts, and we had a great time together.
While spending more time in the Highlands I got to know a family that runs a croft outside of Inverness in Knockfarrel, with organic produce and pork. Crofts are small land holdings for farming that were created as a response to the population upheaval after the Highland Clearances. Jo and Lorna bought their croft, Ian Mhor, 8 years ago from a family that had owned it for 7 generations, since the creation of the crofting system in 1886. Lorna works for the Scottish Environmental Protection Agency but loves the croft and hopes to see it become productive enough to work there full time. Jo was originally an economist who studied the viability of community supported agriculture and decided to put his money where his mouth was. He said that he couldn’t just sit there and watch everyone else have all the fun. Together the two of them are implementing sustainable practices in their farming. They sell their produce and pork products through their own subscription box service and at farmers markets.
During my stay in Knockfarrel I did some little trips around the area. I visited the town of Cromarty right on the coast, which is lovely. The old stone houses have such wonderful charm and the views of the water are relaxing. I spent time walking in the countryside. The rolling hills are stunning, and there are ruins of an Iron Age fort on the hill overlooking the croft. There was a local wool festival that I attended, complete with a bagpipe band, of course.
More from the Croft
After a few days in Edinburgh, Lex, Andrea and I rented a car and headed north into the Highlands. We stopped in the village of Kirkcaldy where some of Andrea’s ancestors were born. It was fun getting to see another place tied to someone’s history. Being the bookworms that we are, we of course stopped in the only bookstore in town where Lex bought herself a book. The ride continued, as did the conversations. We passed an adorable little town and decided to stop. It ended up being Birnam, where Beatrix Potter used to spend summer holidays. There was a small museum dedicated to her and her books, which we enjoyed very much. Eventually we made it to Inverness where we would be staying for a few nights.
The next day was my birthday! We spent the day driving through the Highlands, playing a mix of the Harry Potter and Outlander soundtracks. First we made our way down the beautiful Loch Ness and on to Loch Claunie, stopping on occasion to take in the views. At one such stop on Loch Claunie we found an amazing collection of cairns, stacks of stones, left by other travelers. It was magical, and we decided to build our own to leave behind. Next was a stop at a castle! This lovely structure named Eilean Donan, was built in the 13th century on an island situated where three lochs meet, making it a strategic stronghold. We took a self guided tour. No photography is allowed inside the building, so I couldn’t capture the amazing dinning hall with it’s high stone walls, wood beam ceiling, imposing fire place and mounted deer heads. It was so cool, we all loved getting to walk through the beautiful castle rooms. After leaving the castle we continued on to the Isle of Skye, where the mountains got higher and more wild. We went as far as the Fairy Pools, where we got out and hiked for a bit. During that time a cloud front moved in swiftly, let loose a hail storm on us for about 5 minutes, and then cleared up. We laughed and continued on, talking non-stop as usual. Then it was time to head back to Inverness. We stopped at a little restaurant for a nice birthday dinner, where I also had the local whisky: smokey and delicious.
We stayed around Inverness the next day. First visiting the standing stone circles of Clava Cairn. There are three circular structures there dating from the Bronze Age. With our love of the Outlander series we were completely enthralled with the ancient stones. The wind was particularly eerie in the trees over the circles and created a mystical atmosphere. We couldn’t help ourselves, and we of course took Outlander-esque photos of each other. Sticking with the Outlander theme, we visited the Culloden Battlefield next. This is the location of the bloody final battle of the 1745 Jacobite Rising, which ended the rebellion and saw the English impose an end to the Highland clan structure. We spent the night eating incredibly good Indian food and then drinking some Scotch at a local pub.
Another day trip was up next. First we drove down Loch Ness again and continued all the way to Fort William. From there we went to see the Glenfinnan Viaduct, a beautiful railway viaduct that runs through the wild countryside, and also happens to be a filming location for the Hogwarts Express in Harry Potter. We were equally enchanted with the surrounding wilderness and hiked up the hills beside the viaduct. As we were coming back down we realized that there were a lot of people just standing looking out over the viaduct, as if they were waiting for something. We joined in and to our delight not too long after the Highland Express came by, complete with steam pouring out of the engine. Lex, Andrea and I hummed Hedwig’s theme the whole time, it was super geeky and wonderful. Moving on we drove through Glencoe, another wilderness area south of Fort William. The mountains were so high and the clouds were ever moving through their peaks. We kept pulling over to get out and take photos and soak in the stunning views. Dinner was in Fort William at a local pub where a group of elderly men befriended us.
The last day and a half was spent in the Cairngorms National Park. We did more hiking, and even more talking. Perhaps the two best meals were then as well. There was the dinner at an amazing savory pie place with wonderful Scotch whiskies. Then the last day we had breakfast at the amazing Mountain Cafe, with decadent scones, clotted cream, pancakes and fruit. After that the time came to part ways and say goodbye. Lex and Andrea headed back to Edinburgh to make their way back to the states, and I stayed behind in the Highlands. I’m so happy that they were able to visit, it was a magical vacation.
Finally I got to Scotland! Here I would be spending the next 2 months and, most importantly, celebrating my 30th birthday with two of my closest friends, Lex and Andrea.
I was the first to arrive in Edinburgh and got to settle into our beautiful Airbnb. Lex and Andrea arrived together in the evening on a train from London and it was just the best to see them. They are the kind of friends where it doesn’t matter how long it’s been, we pick up right where we left off. We went out for dinner at the pub across the street and to talk the night away. Until their jet lag kicked in a little and we headed to bed.
Both Lex and Andrea had been to Edinburgh before, but it was my first time. This city is just enchanting. I was completely in love with it from the time I stepped off the bus. The feel of the old climbing streets and the castle sitting on top of the hill. We took our time with the city. Enjoying it as much as each other’s company. Our meandering pace let us take everything in and share the experience even more. We relished our food and delighted in all the little details.
The first morning we started with scones and hot chocolate for me, coffee for the other two. We made our way toward the old town stopping at a craft and food market on the way. Lex went to the art museum while Andrea and I met up with my friend Dan. He was at the end of his trip, having visited London, Amsterdam, Berlin (again), Spain, and Scotland since we last saw each other in Norway. It was nice to get to catch up with him. We had some amazing cocktails at a speakeasy, who’s entrance was hidden behind a bookcase at the bottom of some stairs. My delicious whiskey cocktail arrived surrounded by wood smoke under a glass hood, which then had a very dramatic reveal by the waiter.
After saying goodbye to Dan Andrea and I met back up with Lex and wandered through old town, making our way down the street thought to have inspired Diagon Alley in Harry Potter. All three of us love Harry Potter and we really enjoyed geeking out, which we would continue to do the whole trip. That night I tried haggis, which I really enjoyed. I even got both Lex and Andrea to give it a try, and everyone agreed it was a nice surprise.
Our second full day we continued on our Harry Potter pilgrimage. First stop was Edinburgh Cathedral, most likely the inspiration for the Great Hall, which had a ceiling that was “bewitched to look like the night sky.” The cathedral’s ceiling is painted a beautiful bold blue, with stars in the corners. It was easy to imagine JK Rowling walking through the church and dropping a little bit of magic into her view of it. We spent time playing in the light falling through the stained glass windows. Around the corner from the cathedral we found our afternoon snack, at the Elephant House. It is none other than the cafe where JK Rowling finished writing the first Harry Potter book after moving to Edinburgh with the first three chapters. It was totally worth the wait. I had an amazing boozy milkshake and we shared some Scottish shortbread. Then I had to visit the bathroom, with my camera, of course. Because every inch of the bathroom walls in the Elephant House are covered with Harry Potter graffiti. Potterheads from all over the world have come to pay their respects to the birthplace of our beloved world. The last Potter stop was the cemetery where you can see the graves of a McGonagall, and Thomas Riddle. From there we spent the evening climbing to the top of King Arthur’s seat for a stunning view of the city before ending the night with fish and chips.
The next day we would continue our trip leaving Edinburgh and going into the Highlands.
Each of the English cities I chose to visit on my way up to Scotland had a familial connection. With my genealogy research I have been seeking out locations where my ancestors have lived. I was able to track down and visit a whole bunch of spots. It has been quite the experience to see where my family has come from, and stand in their footsteps. Here is an overview of what I’ve been able to trace so far in England.
1851 - Patrick and Bridget Walsh - Islington, Liverpool
Patrick and Bridget were my 3rd great grandparents, both of whom were born in Ireland and moved to England sometime in the 1840s. The street they lived on in Liverpool is now a park.
1861 - The Markeys - 18 St albans Road, Liscard
In 1861 my 3rd great grandparents Hugh and Jane Markey, and their daughter (my 2nd great grandma) Anna Markey lived at 18 St. Alban's Road in Liscard, England right across the river from Liverpool. I'm pretty certain the buildings that are currently there are more recent, but the address still exists. I also believe that the church at the end of the road was likely their parish.
1861 - The Walshes - High St, Crewe, England
By 1861 Patrick and Bridget Walsh had moved to Crewe, England and had John Walsh, my 2nd great grandfather. Both Patrick and Bridget would live the rest of their lives here, and I was able to find their headstone in the local cemetery.
1849 - Richard Peach - 3 Violet St, Hulme, Manchester
At the time of his marriage in 1849, Richard Peach my 3rd great grandfather, was living in the Hulme neighborhood of Manchester. The location of his old street is now a highway and part of the Manchester Metropolitan University.
April 9, 1849 - Richard Peach and Alice DeRome
My 3rd great grandparents Richard and Alice were married at the Manchester Cathedral, also known as the Church of St Mary, St Denys and St George.
Oct 16, 1826 - Alice Derome - Kendal, England
Alice DeRome, my 3rd great grandmother, was born in Kendal on October, 16, 1826, and baptized in the Catholic chapel in town on October 20.
June 22, 1817 - Thomas & Mary Derome - Kendal, England
My 4th great grandparents were married in the Catholic chapel in Kendal, England. The Catholic Church that stands in that same location today was opened in 1837.
Sept 22, 1768 - Thomas Derome Sr - Stramongate, Kendal
When my 6th great grandparents Mathai and Elenor DeRome had my 5th great grandfather, Thomas DeRome Sr in 1768 they were living in the Catholic community on Stramongate.
After visiting Bristol I spent a long weekend in Cardiff, Wales at the city’s first animation film festival. My close friend Alexis and her husband Scott had their first collaborative stop motion short accepted to the festival. I was in the country, so I just had to go! I got a pass to the festival and spent 3 solid days watching animation. I met some amazing people and got inspired by some amazing art. I didn’t take a single photo and it was great.
I traveled back to England after my weekend in Wales. My end goal was Edinburgh, Scotland, to meet up with two friends for my birthday, but on the way I was stopping in a few cities to explore more of England.
First stop was Liverpool and my Beatles pilgrimage. My hostel was down the street from the Cavern Club. This is where the Beatles played 292 gigs from 1961 up until August 1963 when they were pulling bigger crowds than the club could manage. I didn’t go into the Cavern Club, which is now just a reconstruction of the original, but I liked walking up and down the street knowing this is where the band had so often walked. I took a bus to the neighborhood where John Lennon grew up, and to my delight and surprise went down Penny Lane on the way. We also passed “the shelter in the middle of the roundabout.” I hadn’t realized we were going to pass it, so I didn’t snap a photo, but I recognized it immediately. So I had Penny Lane playing in my head as I got off the bus and walked up to Strawberry Field gate. The orphanage the gate used to lead to is no longer there, but the distinctive red gate has been left for it’s role in music history. It made me so happy to stand there and take it in. Next was John Lennon’s childhood home where he lived with his Aunt Mimi. No one lives there now and you can take tours of it, though I did not. It stands pretty unassuming in the middle of a suburban neighborhood on a mildly busy road. Lastly I walked to the church of St Peter, the grounds of which is where John and Paul first met and where the grave of Elinor Rigby stands. So concluded my little Beatles pilgrimage. I left with a huge smile on my face and lots of music in my heart.
One of the nights I was in Liverpool there was a Champions League semi-final match on home turf against Roma. My brother-in-law Matt has supported Liverpool since he was a kid, and I always enjoy watching sporting events where people are really invested in them. So naturally I scoped out a pub and went to watch the home Liverpool match. I was befriended by a group of middle-aged Irishmen, and English supporters, who were all mildly befuddled and impressed that an American girl would come to watch the game by herself and drink a Guinness. They explained some of the playoff rules and were really good fun. As it turns out that was definitely the game to watch, as Liverpool won 5-2, and there was much excitement and celebration.
I made a quick stop in Crewe, England for an afternoon before moving on to Manchester, where I was just there for a day. I spent the evening finishing up editing some images for a company back in the states, and the next day just walking around the city. I would have happily spent more time there, but I was really looking forward to what came next.
Last stop was Kendal, the gateway to the Lake District. It’s a lovely little English market town with castle ruins on a hill overlooking it. I got a ride to my hostel from a kind woman I had been talking to on the train. She said she had daughters around my age and she hoped that someone would do the same for them. The hostel was right on the main road, Highgate, and I could easily walk the entire town from there. I ate at an old pub, complete with locals and a dog, where I had a really delicious curry, and finished every last drop. I spent my time in Kendal wandering the streets and taking pictures. I visited the castle ruins, and the beautiful old cathedral. It was a nice little break from city bustle, and got me ready to meet up with my friends next in Edinburgh.
During my freshman year of high school my family hosted a foreign exchange student from Spain. Her name was Patri. We were only a year apart, but at the time we were very different. I was a geeky bookworm, and Patri was bit of a wild child. It may not have always been easy living together, but after she left Patri and my family have never lost touch. Ten years ago when I studied abroad I went to visit Patri and her family in Valencia, Spain. Since then she has lived in New Zealand, and a couple years ago moved to Bristol, England. I knew I had to try to see her again on this trip, and she welcomed me to stay with her for a week.
As adults we have a lot more in common now and we had the best time reconnecting and hanging out on my visit. We are both yoga-lovers. Patri did her teacher training in India a few years ago and currently teaches at a few studios around Bristol. We have both become more in to politics and we enjoyed debating current topics. While on my trip I have loved getting to talk to people and hear international views on different topics. Patri and I bonded over food as well, with each of us being interested in more sustainable and responsible food production and consumer choices. We both also enjoy street art, and Bristol was a perfect place to be to appreciate some great pieces.
One day Patri lead me on a walking tour of Bristol and it’s different neighborhoods, with a specific eye out for street art and good food. It was great getting to see a different English city. I have visited London on several different occasions but up until then had never been to other points in England. Bristol is vastly smaller city which is very walkable. With two universities in town there is a large student and young professional population. It has an alternative vibe, with a lot of arts and activism. The animation studio Aardman, where Wallace and Gromit is made is in the city, which was neat to know as I have friends who work in stop motion.
The street art scene is huge, and Bristol plays host to several Banksy’s. The city has a yearly street art festival, with artists from all over the world converging on Bristol for a week of creativity. Together Patri and I had a great time seeking out some wonderful works of art. I also got the chance to take 2 yoga classes from Patri while I was there. It was the first time I'd taken a class since starting my trip and it was ever so nice. We also took some photos of Patri for her yoga website, and had a lot of fun doing it. I’m very happy to have visited Bristol, see the city, and most importantly, get to reconnect with Patri.
After London I was going to visit an old exchange student who now lives in Bristol. I realized that Stonehenge was roughly en route and therefore could not pass up the opportunity to go and see it.
On the bus out of London I listened to all my London related music: There She Goes, which was what played in The Parent Trap when she arrives in London, and the soundtrack from Bend It Like Beckham. Urban sprawl slowly turned into the English countryside, and eventually I made it the Stonehenge visitor’s center.
Since I was in transit I had all of my stuff with me: a camera equipment backpack, and a small carry-on sized wheeled bag. Easy to manage, but still a bit of a strange sight. Luckily there was no prohibition on bags on the grounds, but there was no place to store them and I had to have them with me at all times. So I was the slightly hilarious person who walked with her luggage around Stonehenge.
There is a historical exhibit at the visitor’s center which gives you context and a good base of what we know about Stonehenge and the surrounding earthworks. The site had many phases of construction which ranged from about 3000 BCE to 2000 BCE. It's believed to be a ritual or ceremonial site, and is surrounded by different burial mounds and earthworks. The stones also line up with the summer solstice sunrise, and the winter solstice sunset.
I had heard so often from people that the stones weren't really that big and you couldn't get that close, and that really it was often a let down experience. So I went in with pretty low expectations and the mindset of getting to see some really interesting history. I was really pleasantly surprised then, because I found the stones pretty impressive, and at the end of the loop around the circle I felt like I still got to be quite close to the stones. It was really cool, and I was quite happy I had made the trek, even with all my stuff in tow.
kaitlin k walsh
Adventurer armed with a camera.