Moods of Scotland

Scotland has some of the most photogenic landscapes I have ever seen. With a constant change of weather conditions, the lights changes constantly making it quite a photographer’s paradise.

Here is a selection of my favourite photos and moments from last June. Most of those shots were taken in the gorgeous atmospheric Highlands.

 

Just keep going!

I left the lovely Sandysike house this morning after a huge English breakfast which was greatly needed.

After a few miles I stopped for coffee (yes already!) as I wasn’t too sure which road to choose. It’s amazing the effect you have when you get to a village with a fully loaded bike. People are already super friendly in the UK but when you’re a woman travelling alone and on a bike it get to another level! Kids ask me questions and people are curious about why and where. I had forgotten how social solo travelling actually is. Anyway I talked to a rather old men on his way to Glasgow by foot and two other cyclists who had come up from Cornwall.

Not long after was the border to Scotland.

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The first miles were rather flat and the road not too busy. I put some music on and felt great. It quickly became steadily uphill but not as bad as yesterday. I didn’t push my bike once today!

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There wasn’t much around apart from green hills, sheep, horses and beautiful stone houses.

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Crossing the river near Langholm

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Slow travel is the best

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And after 50 miles (80km), I reached Hawick where I’m staying  tonight before reaching Edinburgh tomorrow (hopefully). I feel great even though my butt hurts, I should maybe get another saddle at some point…

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Hawick

I’ve learnt 2 things again today:

1/ that it’s good to start early so I take more time to have breaks and take photos

2/ that it’s wise to close my mouth while cycling so no insect get it (I wonder where the one getting in my nose end up?)

And last but not least, today’s soundtrack: “A moon shaped pool” by Radiohead, The National, Calexico, Nicolas Just and various Nova Tunes compilation.

May tomorrow be as awesome as today 🙂

From hiking to cycling

I know nothing about bikes. Well, I know how to ride one of course. Although to be completely honest I’m not sure I’m very good at using all those gears properly yet. So when I left Penrith station today with my new old bike fully loaded, I felt a mix of excitement and “what on earth are you doing now” kind of feeling.

I’m use to riding a bike around or to work. But one day, while I was at work day dreaming about the coming 4 months trip to Europe, it came as a evidence. I needed more and I would ride a bike around bits and pieces of Europe while visiting my friends and family.

So I started reading about bikes. A lot. And I talked to my friends who’d done touring before (thank you so much for your  patience and tips). And I read books and blogs. A lot.

I won’t bore you with more details about which bike to choose and why but I ended up going for a second hand Long haul trucker Surly bike that I pimped a bit.

So there I am at Penrith station this afternoon, heading towards the hills. It is nice and hot in northern England at the moment which makes the English countryside even more gorgeous.

25 miles later I made it to my first destination, Brampton (Cumbria). I have no idea where I’ll end up tomorrow but today I’ve learned 2 things:

1/ Do not underestimate British hills

2/ Do not underestimate yourself

Edinburgh here I come!

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Waiting for the train at Manchester station

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Trying not to rely on GPS and phone too much

 

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Freedom!!

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Lovely Sandysike farm

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Riding through Cumbria

 

Stories from New Zealand #4 – Arthur’s Pass via Lake Pearson

What comes into your mind when you think about New Zealand?

Lord of the Rings? Yes ok fair enough.

Sheep? Yep, that too, they are absolutely everywhere.

Funny ‘acceent’? Yes, that’s pretty cute.

Mountains? Yes! Nature which as you already know is pretty unbelievable here.

I spent a lot of time day dreaming about New Zealand mountains before coming down here. It is when I first drive from Christchurch towards the West coast on my way to Arthur’s Pass that I really experience those jaw dropping kind of landscape.

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Railway linking the west to the east coast

Arthur’s Pass became the first national park of the south island in 1929 but has been a key route a long time before Europeans got there. Maori used to travel west that way in search of the valued pounamu (green stone used for many things such as weapons or jewellery).  In 1864, Europeans discovered gold hidden around there so it suddenly became an emergency to build a road for coaches to cross over (one of those old coach can be seen at the DOC office there). the First European to go through the pass with his brother was called Arthur, thus the name of the village.

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Arthur’s Pass from above

Camping around or just stopping for coffee, you will eventually meet an inquisitive visitor.

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kea, a native parrot

Keas are one the ten endemic parrot species in the south island and are not to be found anywhere else in the world. They are considered very smart and their curiosity will encourage them to approach people which ironically represent a threat. What do people do when an animal comes to them? They look for things to feed then, which is pretty much the worst you could do. As a matter of fact, baby keas are taught to look for food by older experienced keas. Obviously that is very important for them to know where and how to find food in their rough alpine home otherwise they will die.

Their sometimes intrusive behaviors have led to a certain unpopularity as people happened to get their keys stolen, unattended backpack or tent inspected or even their car a tiny bit  damaged. Nothing ever happened to me except for a tent lightly shaken one morning. I like knowing they are around and listening to their peculiar sound while hiking.

There are numerous day trips directly from the village and even more in the area. There are also a few really nice DOC campsites (standard and basic). My favorite was about half an hour from Arthur’s pass, a free campsite on lake Pearson, gorgeous little spot.

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Admiring the scenery and enjoying the hot weather

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Lake Pearson on a fine day

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A rather fine campsite!

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Reflection on lake Pearson

Here are a few photos of my favorite day hikes before a longer story about the one that should not be missed.

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Hut at the end of the Temple Basin track

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Amazing views over Mount Rolleston (2275m) from the hut

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Beautiful Devils punchbowl 131m high waterfall

Stories from New Zealand #3 – The best of North of the South island

Here is a list of my 5 favorite things I got to experience in the north of the south island…Kahurangi national park is not part of it as I didn’t get to explore but will do, one day!

1 -Wander around the Marlborough Sound

If you are crossing over by boat from Wellington, chances are you will arrive at Picton. From there, you can drive to Havelock (the capital of the green lip mussel!) via the beautiful Queen Charlotte drive. Then you can follow the road up to Okiwi Bay and the French Pass.

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Okiwi Bay

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Geraldine on the pier at Elaine bay

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Beautiful jellyfishes around

And look who showed up swimming around…

2 – Walk or kayak in Abel Tasman park

Ok ok, everybody knows that but it is truly beautiful, even though yes, I can’t lie, it was heavily raining pretty much all day when I was there with my dear friend Geraldine. Also it’s one of the cheapest spot in the country to hire kayaks and probably one of the most beautiful as well. Even under pouring rain, you could see the bottom of the water that was crystal clear.

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Hello look at us having fun

3 – Go spend hours observing the life of a seal colony at Ohau Point, Kaikoura

Kaikoura is a little town between Picton and Christchurch. It doesn’t really have much but a nice 2 hours walk around the Peninsula…

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Kaikoura peninsula walk

…BUT! if you drive about 15 minutes north, there is a place you should absolutely not miss. It is called Ohau Point and it truly amazing because this is what you get to see:

Check out those baby seals!

4 – Get inspired by fascinating Christchurch

You will be surprised by the biggest city of the south island. First because even years after the bad earthquakes, it is still being rebuilt. Second because it feels like a real effort has been made to distract people from the damages by being overly creative with street art at each corner.

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Wizard walking around

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Trompe l’oeil

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Keeping what is still standing

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Cute fences

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Remains of the cathedral

5 – Do visit the old French settlement of Akaroa

Not because it’s fun to read French everywhere but because it’s a pretty cool drive over the hills and the Peninsula has a very special atmosphere.

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Random street in Akaroa

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Onuku farm, a pretty amazing cosy place to stay. High on a hill, you can stay in a room, camp or even better stay in those little huts called stargazers.

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And what do you do in a stargazer…

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A Sheep in a very kiwi kind of weather

That is all for today, any more tips? Leave a comment!

enough!

Couldn’t resist not putting that one on 🙂

The apology of slowlitude

I once read on a t-shirt somewhere « the best ideas come while walking ». I just spent 3 days on my own, walking through Costa Rican mountains, I had time to think. A lot of time.

I have been travelling around for four months now and one of the first thing people ask me, even before asking me where I am from or what my name is, is “are you on your own?” It seems to trigger many people’s curiosity to see a woman travelling alone, whether It is in Europe, in the United States or in Costa Rica. When the answer is “yes, I am”, I observe two kinds of reaction. Some people treat me like some sort of super hero, other like a poor lonely thing. That surprises me since I don’t consider myself as one or the other and it gets me thinking.

There are two things that I highly appreciate when travelling alone. One thing is the solitude. I find this word very interesting in English. The notion of time seems crucial to define it, a short-term solitude being a positive thing, while a long-term solitude leads to loneliness. We don’t have that differentiation in French, and “solitude” is used for both solitude and loneliness, and as far as I know, bears negative connotations. So when I went back to my hotel, I googled it. The first hits are about personal development and learning how to love yourself, then comes dating website and forums. Interesting, isn’t it?

The Wikipedia definition of solitude in English says that as far as health is concerned, complete isolation leads to distortions of time and perception. My case is not that bad, but travelling does affect your notion of time. Everybody has experienced loosing tracks of the days of the week while on holiday. That brings me to the second thing I enjoy while travelling, which is taking my time, not jumping from one city/country to another. Many tourists like me go on a Central America tour in a couple of weeks, sometimes a month or more. I considered doing that myself, but quickly forgot about it. I wanted to take it slowly, I like to slow travel (sometimes to the extreme, like living in Norway for four years, still don’t know how that happened!). This is somehow a luxury, since most people don’t have the freedom to take months off to travel (then again, I can argue with that), but as far as I am concerned, I find it extremely frustrating to not have/take the time to get to know a place and its people. You can’t sum up a country and even less a culture in a week time. To me, travelling isn’t about “doing” a country, but actually trying to learn and understand in order to put things in perspective.

That’s how I came up with the idea of slowlitude. What is nicer than taking the time? Taking the time to walk slowly on your own through unknown places and listen to whatever is going on around you, whether it is people chatting in a café or birds flying around you in a forest?  “Freedom is considered to be one of the benefits of solitude” says Wikipedia again, I would say freedom is one of the benefits of slowlitude! Have you experienced that before?

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Do you know what Braulio Carrillo is?

A few kilometers north of San José, the capital city of Costa Rica, there is a big national park called Braulio Carrillo, from the name of a former president, not a very romantic story I concur. Every year  people get lost in those mountains covered by a dense primary forest. There are several volcanoes there that haven’t been awake for thousands of years. The more accessible one is called Barva, and offers nice hikes from a crater lake to another at about 3000 meters above sea level. I first went hiking through an area close to San Isidro de Heredia (1500m high), and went back to hike to the Barva volcano.

What really strikes me anywhere I go in Costa Rica is how fast the climate and thus the landscape vary. I am unfortunately not a forest specialist but from what I understood, when hiking at lower altitude like, you walk through a rainforest, so thick that sometimes you can’t see much through the dense foliage. You see all sorts of plants; kind of like those you buy at ikea to fill in the living room corners but which die after a few months for “some reasons”. Here in their natural habitat they are several meters high. Most animals are nocturnal so you don’t meet them very often but you do hear sounds of life and I always feel that even though I don’t see them, they are watching me penetrating their home.

At higher altitude though, it’s a different story. You go from steep trails through the cloudforest to flatter areas covered by grass, cedar and pine trees. You might as well be hiking in the Alps! Even the houses look different and the cows are fatter and look happier to chew high quality grass (it’s very wet there). Just the journey to the ranger station is worth the trip. If you’re lucky enough, the whole Central Valley is at your feet, you can even have glimpses at the Pacific Ocean. I was there at 6.30am (yes I was!) and the weather was very nice. (By the way, another thing that surprised me here is that all year round, the sun set around 5.30pm and rise around 5.30am, so weird when you’re used to French or, even worse, Norwegian seasons!). But as expected in this area, it didn’t last very long and clouds quickly surrounded the summit of the volcano.  Despite his high level of biodiversity, it is one of the least visited park in the country, which makes it even nicer to visit!

What you see while hiking through the rainforest :

Those leaves are much bigger than it seems

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Trail in the rainforest

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Leaves developping

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View over the mountain range

What you see while hiking through the cloudforest :

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Cloudforest!

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Crooked trees in the cloudforest

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Beautiful tree fern

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Leaf developping in the cloudforest

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More crooked trees in the cloudforest

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And a bit higher, it’s all flat and green, with cedar and pine trees.

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Hummingbird

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View over the Central Valley

C’est quoi ça Braulio Carrillo?

A quelques kilomètres au nord de San José, capitale du Costa Rica, se trouve l’un des nombreux parcs nationaux du pays. Chaque année, un certain nombre de randonneurs se perdent dans les montagnes du vaste parc Braulio Carrillo (du nom d’un ancien président). C’est donc avec raison que j’ai décidé d’écouter les locaux qui me conseillaient de ne pas m’y aventurer seule (soupir de soulagement de ma mère à la lecture de cette information, me trompe-je ?). Recouverte de forêt tropicale, la chaîne de montagnes abrite également quelques volcans endormis dont Barva,  le plus accessible, qui offre des chemins de randonnée d’un cratère à l’autre à environ 3000 mètres d’altitude. Il y a quelques semaines, j’allais me promener dans une partie du parc près de San Isidro de Heredia, moins haute (1500m) pour découvrir l’autre partie il y a quelques jours, celle du volcan Barva.

Ce qui m’étonne un peu partout au Costa Rica c’est la variété de microclimats et donc la variété de paysages que cela engendre sans forcément avoir à parcourir de longues distances. Malheureusement je ne m’y connais pas super bien en sortes de forêts mais j’ai appris ici qu’il en existe un paquet. D’après ce que j’ai compris, les forêts à basses altitudes sont les forêts tropicales. Elles sont denses et souvent on ne distingue pas grand chose entre les feuillages. On y trouve toutes sortes de plantes du type « plante exotique » qu’on achète chez Ikea pour décorer le salon mais qui meurent au bout de quelques mois pour d’ « obscures raisons », sauf qu’ici elles font plusieurs mètres de haut. La plupart des animaux vivent la nuit, donc on ne croise pas grand monde mais les bruits alentours nous rappellent constamment que non, nous ne sommes pas seuls, bien au contraire. J’ai toujours l’impression d’être observée de tous les côtés quand je me promène dans ce type de forêt et je ne pense pas que ça soit une forme de paranoïa, quoique…

Un peu plus haut, c’est autre chose. On rencontre un autre type de forêt, appelé forêt de nuages (sorte de forêt tropicale à plus haute altitude donc, puisque dans les nuages) et encore un peu plus haut, les surfaces s’aplanissent, on y voit des cèdres ou des sapins, il y a de l’herbe partout, des vaches apparemment bien heureuses de leurs conditions de vie, on se croirait presque dans les Alpes ! Rien que le voyage pour accéder à l’entrée du parc vaut le détour puisque la route qui s’apparente d’ailleurs plus à un chemin, serpente le long de la montagne offrant une vue imprenable, lorsque dégagée, sur la Vallée Centrale (toute une région du pays) et même l’océan pacifique. J’y étais à 6h30 (du matin, oui oui !) et j’ai eu cette chance, bien que cela ne dura point car les nuages recouvrent traditionnellement les sommets dans la matinée. Je m’étonne aussi souvent de la durée des journées qui est quasiment toujours la même tout au long de l’année, c’est-à-dire que le soleil se lève tous les jours vers 5h30 pour se coucher vers 17h30, assez surprenant quand on est habitué aux saisons françaises ou pire, norvégiennes ! Malgré une biodiversité des plus élevées, le parc reste l’un des moins visités du pays, rendant l’expérience d’autant plus appréciable !

Ce qu’on voit dans le parc national Braulio Carrillo à 1500m d’altitude :

Vue sur les montagnes du parc

Exemple feuille

Exemple de feuille, on ne voit pas bien sur la photo mais elles sont énormes en vrai

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Autre exemple de feuilles

Rainforest

Un aperçu de la forêt tropicale

… et à 3000m d’altitude :

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Arbre fougère, typique des forêts tropicales

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Toujours intéressant d’observer la formation des feuilles

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Forêt de nuages

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Forêt de nuages

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Forêt de nuages, arbres tordus

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Sapins et cèdres

Cloudforest

Colibri

vue sur la vallée centrale

maison et vue sur la vallée centrale

Langscape?

Among the far too many books I am carrying around there is one I particularly love. Like, you know, when you enjoy reading a book so much that you don’t read it very often because you don’t want it to end. This book is written by an English woman, Jay Griffiths and is called Wild, A Elemental Journey. As you can expect from the title, she writes about her diverse experiences while travelling, always linking nature to people to linguistic and many other subjects. At some point, she mentions a Danish philologist called Otto Jespersen who came out with the concept of langscape to compare two languages that are very dear to me, English and French. She writes :

« The desire to tame what was wild (…) included a desire to tame the wildness of all languages, even the languages of empire. Philologist Otto Jespersen, in 1905, used land images to contrast French and English. French, he said, was like the formal, regulated gardens of Louis XIV, in contrast to the wild and open commons of the English langscape, “laid out seemingly without any definite plan, and in which you are allowed to walk everywhere according to your own fancy without having to fear a stern keeper inforcing rigorous regulations”.

Languages are fun. You get to think in a different way when you speak another language because you can rarely express yourself with the same words and expressions you would use in your mother tongue (more about the schizophrenia it involves later). English is a wild language. Minds are wild too, thoughts are expressions of your inner self to yourself. You can’t really plan your thoughts yet you can somehow tame them by choosing the language you want to think in, very often depending on what you think about. My thoughts are alternatively in French, English, sometimes Norwegian and more recently Spanish . Blogs are expressions of thoughts. Welcome to my langscape!