The Isle of Skye – Scotland

It doesn’t always look like this. I was constantly being told that on my trip to the Isle of Skye. My travels through the island was accompanied by sunshine and a cooling breeze wherever I went. We were also able to come out in April before the crazy summer rush of tourists invaded this idyllic setting. I couldn’t have asked for better conditions to check out this part of the world that I wanted to get to for a long time, and it exceeded all of my expectations.

The Isle of Skye is an idyllic island a short ferry right in the northwestern part of Scotland. It only has a couple of towns, and the rest of it is pastureland, old whiskey distilleries, even older ruins, and a few one lane roads to take you to these places. During the summer months, it becomes overrun with tourists, and not enough places to support the people who would come out to go on long hikes, take pictures, and enjoy a night out on the town.

One of the bigger towns that attract people is Portree. It is the perfect jumping off point to see a lot of the sights, and get to the long hikes that take people to stunning scenery. I am told that in August it reaches the height of the tourist season as people flock out here to watch the Highland Games. I was also told that it doesn’t always look like this. In April, the people are just starting to come in, and there are still sidewalks that are navigable, restaurant tables available, and pictures still looking like I was the only one there.

I guess that is the joy of being able to come to a place like this during the offseason. Yes, I did run into tourists at the sights, but for the most part, I had them to myself to explore. I went to the old fort one morning, and the parking lot to the sight was basically empty. A couple of people were wandering down the grassy slope back to their car, and a couple of people were up exploring the fort. But if I took my time, and waited a minute, I would be able to get that picture that I wanted where it looked as if nobody has been there for ages.

The tourists were still out there. We were turned away from a restaurant once because they were fully booked and we did not have a reservation. I had to step off a path every once in awhile to allow a person to pass on through. And they were at the distilleries, but that just added to the experience when we went on a tour of the Talisker distillery and tasting room. The funny thing that we heard from our tour guide though was “It doesn’t always look like this.”

I did not need them to tell me this though. When I came to Scotland, I had a certain image in my, and when I got there, I was not treated to what I thought I would see. I was expecting gloomy skies with clouds hugging the tip of mountains, foggy hikes where I could barely see in front of me, and rain, lots and lots of rain. What we got instead were cool days without any stormy weather. We were extremely lucky to have this experience of Scotland that I don’t think many other people get to have.

So I do not know if I am the person that you should talk to if you are considering visiting Scotland. I will tell you that the hikes were fun, the people were friendly, the sights were amazing with their historical perspective, and, out of the norm, the skies were always blue.

Scotland is an amazing place with a new treat waiting around the corner, and the Isle of Skye was my favorite place that I visited on this trip. The scenery was beautiful, the people were friendly, and the experience is not one that will fade from my memory soon, or ever.

But remember it is not usually like this. My experience might not be the typical Isle of Skye experience. Not everybody who travels out to this small Northern island gets to enjoy the weather that I enjoyed. I don’t think that if it was the typical weather it would be any less dramatic. It might be something I would enjoy even more giving the land a completely different character. Still, I will just have to live with the experience I have and think of the Isle of Skye as this sunny and amazing place to visit. I hope if you choose to go there that you have a similar experience, whatever the weather may be like while you are out there.

Thanks for reading, and until next time, get out there and enjoy those opportunities when they are given to you.

The Hogwarts Express – Glenfinnan, Scotland

Sometimes we think that when Hollywood makes it movies, it builds these elaborate sets in order to make the worlds they are creating come alive. We are amazed at these elaborate set pieces, and wish that if it were possible, we would go visit them. What we do not realize is that these set pieces have sometimes been around much longer than the stories that they inhabit. One of these places was used in the Harry Potter series, the Hogwarts Express, and it has become quite the tourist destination sight.

Every morning on the hillside outside of Glenfinnan in Scotland, a group of people will gather to watch this steam-powered train take a ride over the Glenfinnan Viaduct, a bridge that spans across a valley and over a river. The train, whose real name is the West Highland Railway Mallaig Connection, is actually a passenger train that will take people from Fort William to Mallaig, the port city for the ferry that will take people over to Isle of Skye. Of course, this train has been running for a lot longer than the Harry Potter series has been around, and has always been a tourists attraction, but since it has been featured in the movies, it has gained in popularity.

If this is something that you wish to do, you will need to be there in plenty of time before the train arrives. Not only does it take about fifteen minutes to hike up to the hillside, and find a good viewpoint away from all of the other tourists, there is also the problem of parking nearby. There is a pay to park lot which costs four pounds, and there are limited spots, so it can be hard to find one.

The scenery out there is spectacular, and there is a gift and coffee shop connected to the parking lot. It is worth seeing, but the train is a little bit of a disappointment. The train does not go over the viaduct fast enough to make it as exciting as it is in the movie. It will stop for pictures, and to allow the passengers to wave at the people on the hill. It will blow the smoke once, and it was only a little plume, so it didn’t make that great of a picture. But that does not mean you should skip the sight. The viaduct is cool, and worth the time out there, but if you go when the train does not come by, it is not as touristy.

There is another historic sight right across the street from the parking lot as well which does not attract as many tourists, the Glenfinnan Monument. This is the spot where Prince Charles Edward Stuart started his campaign to take the crown of England and where he gained support from 1,200 Highlanders. The significance of this place is just as great to visit as the viaduct, but most people skip coming here when all they would have to do is cross the street.

Both sights are worth your time if you are in the area, and should be made a part of your itinerary before going off to other places in Scotland, and I hope that you get the chance to make the voyage.

Arthur’s Seat – Edinburgh, Scotland

In the middle of Edinburgh sits a volcano that overlooks the city. It has been a historic part of the city for centuries, and in 1541, King James V made sure that it would always be a feature by building a wall around it. Tourists still flock to this sight, and on any given day you can find many people taking the forty-five minute hike to its summit. I am not sure if they would all make the trek if it wasn’t for the name, Arthur’s Seat, invoking the name of the famous king who has captured the imagination of the people of Great Britain and the world.

Despite the perfect marketing name, on a nice day in Edinburgh, it is worth taking the hike to the top of the mountain. The hills are beautiful, and there are plenty of places along the way where you will want to stop and take a picture. It starts off at a pretty leisurely pace, but as soon as you get off the paved Holyrood Park’s path, it does get pretty steep, and rocky.

Despite this difficulty, it is not that hard, and the view of the city, and the Highlands of Scotland to the North are worth taking the trek to the top. I was lucky enough to get a beautiful day in the middle of April to take the hike, and though it got a little cool with the wind, it wasn’t the bad. There were also not that many other tourists on the path, but I imagine that this gets pretty bad during the summer months during the height of tourist season. I can also imagine that on May 1st, the trek becomes overrun with people, especially early in the morning.

There is a local legend about the seat on the first of May, where young maidens should hike the trail before the sunrise. If they are on the top when the sun reaches over the peak, they are supposed to take the morning dew from the grass and wash their face with it. If they do this, then they were be graced with eternal youthfulness. Even though this is a story filled with superstition, it is still one that attracts many young women every year to make sure that they partake in the ritual.

Even if you are not a young maiden, it is still worth the time to spend an afternoon or early morning on this mountain. The photo opportunities are everywhere, and it is fun to look at the various viewpoints that Arthur’s Seat has to offer. It does make you wonder why it is named after the famous king. There is nothing that makes it look like a seat for a king, and some people suspect that it was the location for the famous castle, Camelot. The more likely explanation is that King James V liked the legend so much that he decided to name the mountain in the middle of the city after him.

Whatever the reason you make it to the top, the legends, the myths, or the exercise, it is a must do if you are in Edinburgh. You will join the other people who make the hike, and spend some time looking over the vast landscape that the vantage point has to offer. Make sure that you make it there if you ever find yourself here.

Until next, thanks for reading.

The Lounge Life

It is a little later than usual, but I have finally reached the moment of Spring Break. That means leaving those books and papers behind, and spending time exploring the world. A typical conversation that is had among teachers at international schools is where they will be traveling during the break, and of course that always leads to conversations about airports and the pains of commuting. It used to be one of the things I dreaded the most during the travel seasons, but since I have gained access to the lounges in airports, it has made the layover part of traveling less burdensome. While I wait for my plane to arrive at the gate, I can enjoy a comfortable chair, a buffet featuring the cuisine of whatever country I find myself in, and a couple of free drinks. It has made life so much better, and I will always get on that plane feeling a load lifted off of me as I make my way to my final destination.

I have recently found out that this privilege is not given to people of all countries. Colleagues of mine from Ireland, Australia, and Canada are not able to obtain those credit cards that give them access to these oases. It made me feel a little bad that I brought up these locations to my friends. While I was departing from Amman and sitting in the comfortable lounge there, they were only granted access to a few restaurants, most of them slapping together a quick meal that they still had to pay for. It is not like they do not deserve this luxury, and I do hope that things can work out for them so in the future they can. It still seems a little absurd that these places only give access to people from certain countries. I would hop that in this day and age that we would no longer see this kind of restriction, and hopefully we can work to making this less of a problem in the future.

Though I do like the fact that I am able to enjoy my time at the airport in a comfortable space that is free from the masses, I do believe that it should not be so exclusive so certain people from certain countries can never gain access to them. I am told that it is because there is not the competition among banks and credit card companies in certain countries, therefore, there is no reason for them to offer these kinds of benefits to their customers. In a way, it does make sense, but still, if a person flies on a regular basis, they should be allowed to have these privileges. It makes me feels a little bad that I am relaxing in a comfortable place; whereas, a friend of mine, who travels just as much as I do, who happens to be Irish, can’t come up because their bank won’t allow them to. Maybe, these privileges should not come from banks, but through the airline instead. They are the ones who would know the frequency of travel from some people and offer them that option. It would make more sense to me then what bank someone belongs to, but the world runs through banks, and until we figure out a way to work around them, we will always be under their rules.

Until then, I will continue to enjoy these spots. They are great, and I hope to one day see you and everyone that travels a lot there, so we can enjoy the space together.


This institution is about learning,
So kindly leave your wasta at the door.
Please quit pretending that you are a king;
You cannot know what you didn’t before.
Being able to say that you know who
Does not demonstrate what you do not know.
I would rather see that your learning grew
Than hearing about your people in tow.
What you can do should take priority
Rather than your latest self-centered need.
Can you show to me your ability,
And put in check you pedigree’s greed.
The world does not need a nanny culture,
Maintaining people’s life of indenture.

Wasta – a practice in Arab society where people use their personal relationships to gain favor.

The Neighborhood’s Haunt

A little further down the cobblestones
Is a place where the tourists fear to roam.
Here you will find the city’s older bones
Where the people who live here will call home.
You will not here the foreign languages
Come out of the unassuming front,
But the community that it bridges
Is one that is found on a homeward hunt.
Here, they will find the wine flowing freely
As they unwind from a rough day of work.
The company, they enjoy greedily,
While waiting outside, the visitors lurk.
This restaurant has been claimed by the hood,
Keeping its old spirit just as it should.

St. Patrick’s Day in Italy

Will there be complaints if my drink is red,
Instead of being traditional green?
It is not what the ceremony bled,
But it is the drink of my current scene.
There is still a fair amount I will imbibe,
So I can find the proper state of mind.
I do not want to hear your diatribe
Of how the island is not so refined,
But I find myself a lot further south,
And they still celebrate this holiday.
Something different goes into their mouth,
Toasting the saint in their own special way.
The bottle of red wine will do the trick
On the Venetian’s day of St. Patrick.

San Marco Square – Venice, Italy

When you travel to a famous place, there are always must see sights, especially if it is your first time there. Sometimes these places are so important that when you travel back to these certain places, you find that you want to make it there again to see if it is the same as you remembered it the first time you were there. When traveling the Venice, there are two such places, the Rialto Bridge, and San Marco Square. These places are even better if you can make it out to them during the off season, when the crowds are not as large.

It is also interesting to see how much the place has changed over the years. Of course, the same stores and sites are still in place, but the last time I was out here, the square was covered in pigeons. Back then, you could buy bird feed and wait with it in your hands as the birds would crawl all over you to get a bite. The city of Venice was okay with this, because back then, they would add birth control to the bird feed to keep the population of the pigeons down. I found out later, that they stopped doing this shortly after I was there last time, but apparently the plan had worked. These birds were no longer all over the place, and the square was open for people to walk on through.

The pigeons are not the reason that people come to this place though. There are plenty of other great sites lined up on the square that make it worth visiting. The Doge’s palace is one of these sites. It was where the leader of Venice used to live during the height of its economic power. It is a fancy building filled with ancient art from before and up to the Renaissance. It also has the spot where people can peer out the Bridge of Sighs. People being imprisoned in Venice would cross over this bridge when they were being led to jail for the rest of their lives, and the small window would offer their last view of Venice as they made their way to this final spot. It is pretty expensive to get in to see these things, starting at 30 Euro a person, but if you walk behind the building, you can still see the Bridge of Sighs and people peering out of it in a much better mood than the people who gave the bridge its original name.

And of course, there is the Basillica di San Marco which attracts an even larger crowd. Most of this is because it is a lot less expensive to enter being only three Euro a person. This will take you inside the cathedral whose inside is covered in mosaic that is worth a fortune just in stones used for it alone. Add together the intricate patterns that are created with these stones, it makes for a place worth your time to walk around.

For a little extra, you can go up to the top floor and tour the museum. It is filled with precious pieces of art, which the one being the most impressive is the four horses. Replicas of these horses can be seen on top of the basillica, and it used to be the resting place that housed these horses. This is not the end of the story though. The horses are actually older than the cathedral itself. They were found originally in Constantinople and were stolen by the Venetians to be brought to this cathedral and placed there. Nobody is sure how old they are, but they think that they date all the way back to the third century AD.

All in all, it is a great place to visit twice, and both of the times I have come here, I have enjoyed it. San Marco Piazza is a must see place, and I hope that someday you can make it out there to enjoy it as well.

Is Murano Worth It?

Don’t be fooled. You are not looking at a picture of Venice. This is an island very close to Venice and usually associated with a visit to this historic site. If you ever walk down the streets of Venice, you will find many shops selling the very expensive blown glass sculptures. These small pieces of art come from this other island where artisans come to show their hands at this craft, and if you want, you can take a short vaporetto, water bus, ride out there to see how it is done. You just need to find one of the buses that will take you out to the island of Murano, and you can see where all of this blown glass comes from.

The big question is whether the trip is worth it. It is not that far of a ride, and when you get there, you will be able to see more shops selling more intricate pieces. It is fun to look at the art, but the island has the same kind of feel that Venice does, only on a smaller scale. If this is a type of art form that you are interested in, there are displays that you can witness to watch how they create it. If you get tired of looking at art, there are places where you can grab a gelato, or a nice Italian meal, and when I went out there, the crowds were a little smaller than the ones I experienced on Venice. So for these reasons, it is a nice day trip to take if you find yourself staying in Venice for an extended stay.

But this comes with a warning. The way you got out there is the way you have to get back. The vaporettos only come every twenty minutes, and that is if they are running on time. There are a lot of stops along the way, and at a certain time in the afternoon, they start to get packed. I was there during the off season in March, and I had to wait for four different boats before I was able to squeeze onto one. I also left at 2:30 in the afternoon thinking that it would be before the crowds got there. I could not imagine what it would be like during a rush hour, or during the height of the tourist season. The point being if you go out there, you might find yourself stuck in line for a long time trying to get back to the main island.

To be clear, I really enjoyed the afternoon I spent on Murano. It was fun looking at the glass sculptures, and I had a great lunch. My frustration came when I tried to leave the island. The feeling I got from the island could have easily been found on Venice without the frustration of having to travel both ways to get there. Murano is not a must see, but for a certain select group of people, I could see why they would want to go there. If you are one of those people, please make your way out there, but try to plan it to avoid the frustration of trying to get back. Make sure you are on the stop that picks up passengers first, or leave later in the evening where there is not a mad rush to get back to Venice. It is the one thing that can make the time there not worth it, but otherwise, it can be a lot of fun to experience what all the noise about the Murano glass is all about.

Thanks for listening, and until next time, enjoy your time traveling.

Getting Lost – Venice, Italy

When I was just starting off in my teaching career, I had saved up enough money to fly over to Europe to spend fifty days traveling around the various countries. I was working on a shoestring budget and spent a lot of time in various hostels, eating meals of bread and cheese to make sure that we were able to enjoy ourselves the best our budget would allow. There were many cities on that trip that I really enjoyed and I always told myself that when I could afford them more, I would come back to see them again.

Venice, Italy was one of these places. Some of the others disappeared from my mind as I continued to travel around the world, but Venice never did. It has always been one of my favorite places to have visited, and I tell people all the time that if they ever get a chance to make it out there, they should.

There is not another place in the world like it. The city has taken over this tiny island on the eastern edge of Italy. Because of all the water and canals, no motored vehicles are allowed to make their way across the cobblestone streets. This means that the roads are free for people to walk up and down at their leisure, and it also makes Venice the best walking town in the world.

One of my favorite memories from the last trip was wandering around Venice for a day. It is the perfect place to get lost in. You can’t get so lost that you will never be able to find your way out because you are on an island, and you cannot leave it. At the same time you can get lost enough where you find yourself strolling down back alleys and seeing sights that you would never suspect seeing. You will always be able to make it back to some place where you know where you are, such as San Marco Piazza, or the Rialto Bridge, and from there, you can catch a water bus back to a place close to where you are staying. It makes for a fun and cheap day of exploring one of the best cities in the world.

I am glad that I have been able to make my way back here, so I can explore more of this city. Coming back before the tourist season, in March, has been another treat. The crowds I had to fight sometimes, the last time I was here, are nowhere to be seen which allows me the freedom to get completely lost in the medieval maze and sometime feel like the whole city is here for me and me alone. It is great to know that the memories I made the last time I was out here did not steer me wrong, and it is still a great place to visit. I hope you get the chance to do it yourself some time, so you can share the corners of this city that you have discovered on your own day of wandering the city.