On my way back to DC, I did another quick stop in Stockholm. I still have my old apparent there, which I got right after university, and it’s so small so it has barely had a functional kitchen. And what room in a home is more important, especially for someone working in the food sector?? So I decided, long overdue, to put in a new kitchen and I passed by Stockholm to make the last arrangements. Admittedly, there will still not be a room for the kitchen as the apartment is a studio, but at least I will have a place with proper room for cooking and baking and somewhere to keep my pots and pans, which until now have been stored in my closet when not in use. Or the entire apartment will be transformed into a kitchen depending on how you see it…
Stockholm was lovely, as always, although I got sick before leaving Almaty on my way back from Dushanbe (probably the result of eight flights and five cities in less than a week), so I didn’t do much else than fixing with my apartment. But I still had time to see a dew friends and neighbors, which was nice!
In my apartment (I got a rose on the flight from Almaty) and at our courtyard, with my neighbor on his new balcony.
My next trip was to Malawi. It’s one of my favorite countries but this time, I was just there to present our findings from our agriculture risk management work, so I just stayed in Lilongwe. But it was nice to see my colleagues and I had some good discussions with different institutions and organizations. Other than my presentations, I had a lot of work to finish by end-May so it was one of those weeks when my work day stretched from eight in the morning to past midnight. But I managed to pick up my favorite tea (Chombe) and have nsima (a maize dish like mamaliga, or like polenta but less watery, but made of white maize) before I got on the flight over to Central Asia.
Sobo soda – a favorite among Malawians! I think it’s grape but not sure… But lots of sugar!
I may have written about this earlier but my business trips are normally quite far from the general perception of business travels. Yes, I do stay in comfy hotels when in capitals – never the in fanciest ones but at least in those where internet is supposed to work. (It often doesn’t, of course!) But my business travels often also include trips into the rural areas with overnight stays at small guesthouses that normally attend to local tourists or backpackers, and most importantly, these trips include meetings with farmers, researchers at branch institutes, and public servants in local offices. In addition, my trips often mean spending hours and hours with colleagues from the country I’m in, a driver, and/or an interpreter, which in turn means ample of time for conversation. So I normally go a lot more “off the beaten track” and talk a lot more with locals when I travel for work than when I am on vacation. Which I think is the opposite of what many people picture when they hear the term business travels. But this time in Johannesburg, my trips was really the typical business trip. I didn’t stay at an airport hotel, but not far from it: at the Radisson Blu Gautrain, which is located just across from the Sandton train station where the airport train stops. And I barely got out of the hotel in the six days that I was there.
I came with a team to hold a training for African policy practitioners on how to conduct agricultural risk assessments (more info here). We had a great group of participants (many of them in countries where we work) and I delivered the training together with my closest colleagues, which was nice for a change as we normally lead our own tasks and work with specialized consultants. So I enjoyed this work tremendously! And the last evening, before the rest of my team headed back to Washington and I on to Malawi, we had dinner at The Butcher Shop and Grill, where I had the best meat ever (aged steak!) So just like last time, my stay in Johannesburg was great – it’s such a pleasant place and people are so nice – and I hope I will get to go back in not too long and also at some point see more of South Africa!
I have to say something more about the food in this post, because it wasn’t just the meat at the restaurant that last evening that was good; I actually don’t think I’ve ever been other than excited about the food I’ve had in Johannesburg. The cuisine reflects South Africa’s mixed culture and everything is freshly made and with good quality ingredients. Portions are in nice (read healthy) sizes, and even at our training event, the snacks in the breaks included lots of fruits, small sandwiches, etc (see pics). Even bar food and café food have been very good, and the breakfasts have been divine at the two hotels where I’ve stayed! And in addition to this fantastic cuisine, there is of course the local wine that goes with! So just the culinary experience makes Johannesburg worth a visit!
Except for our dinner Sunday night, there wasn’t a moment on this trip to Scotland that wasn’t perfect. What struck us the most was how easy it was to get around, even when our plans had to be altered because of the weather. But considering how far our Jura is and how many connections we had on the way there and back, it’s incredible that we barely had to wait more than 10 minutes anywhere. What I can recommend is to plan properly though. Many of the ferries and buses only run a few times per day, so it’s important that make sure they have connections to the next part of the journey. My other recommendation would be to have a little extra budget for taxi rides. We ended up having to take taxis three times because there were no buses, with the rides being £14 Talbet-Kennacraig, £30 Feolin-Craighouse on Jura, and £25 from the ferry at Tayvallach to the Glasgow bus on Lochgilphead Lochnell Street since the buses didn’t run on weekends. Buses and ferries were quite cheap, ranging from £5-20 depending on the distance. The hotels in Tarbert and on Jura were about £100 per nights including breakfast, but we also met some campers so budget traveling with a tent is definitely possible. Regardless, I can definitely recommend a visit to Scotland and the Hebrides – it was one of the most stunning and at the same time most peaceful places I have ever been to! From a stop with the bus on the way back to Glasgow
I am now on my way back to Washington after two and a half day in Edinburgh. Or barely two and a half day. Although the way back from Jura went super smoothly, we didn’t arrive in Edinburgh until Saturday afternoon. So after cleaning up a bit (we got a deal at the Sheraton through some site, so the room was very comfy), we went for a walk around the new town and sat down for dinner at an outdoor terrace of a pub on Rose Street. The weather had cleared up compared to previous days and it finally felt like spring was in the air. (Some of the trees in Princes Street Gardens actually started blossoming while we were there.)
The next day, we did what I normally do when I have little time in a city, namely took a sightseeing bus around town and picked one must-see attraction. The hotel concierge recommended Edinburgh tours (green buses) because they have live guides instead of audio guides, and although I don’t have anything to compare with in Edinburgh, it’s definitely the best guided tour I have had in years. As for the must-see attraction, we decided to visit Edinburgh Castle, where we also got a guided tour. After a late lunch on the Grassmarket, we decided to split up for a while and I headed down the Royal Mile to the Queen’s Palace, where, more interestingly, Mary Queen of Scots had spent her short reign, but I ended up not going inside as the tour included so much more than just her apartments. (Admittedly, my history intake quote was kind of filled for the day.) Instead, I ended up walking around the city and picked up a Scottish wool shawl. Our dinner that night was our only disappointing meal and ambiance during the entire trip, but we compensated it this morning by having breakfast at the Red Squirrel close to our hotel. Fantastically cosy environment, friendly and welcoming staff, and great food. A perfect ending of a perfect trip!
The cemetary is where Adam Smith is buried – couldn’t pass by without going in. The restaurant pics are from The Red Squirrel.
Earlier this morning, we took the Jura passenger ferry back to the mainland. Alex told us that they ran it since seven years with the Island Trust that they had set up some years back to support local services, but he thought that this year might be the last for the direct ferry. (The other one we took runs from Feolin on the southern end of Jura, via Port Askaig to Kennacraig, while this goes directly from Jura’s main village Craighouse to Tayvallach on the mainland) Nicol was the captain and he also gave us a bit of a guided tour during the 40-minute journey, and among other things we saw the remains of Castle Sween, one of the oldest stone castles in Scotland (from the 1100s). He also gave me a postcard and helped us call a taxi to pick us up in Tavallich and take us to the Glasgow bus at Lochgilphead Lochnell Street about 20 minutes way Immensely helpful!
I was actually really sad to leave Jura – we had such tranquil time there.everything just felt silent and peaceful and pure in some way. I can’t see now when I would go back, but I do hope I do get to see Jura again some day!
We somehow didn’t manage to book our guided tours until our last day, so we did both the Jura Whisky Distillery tour this morning, and then “Alex the bus” drove us around the island and told us about its history, nature, and everyday life. I personally found Alex tour more interesting than that of the distillery, but I’m not really a whisky drinker. Alex stories about the life on Jura were fascinating – it wasn’t an easy life for the inhabitants, and the landlords, the Campbell family, didn’t exactly make it easier. (But with a curse thrown at them, justice was allegedly served in the end.) Many people also left for the U.S. In the 1800s, some of them with a resettlement grant from the British Government. Today, life is different of course. While Alex told us that when his wife grew up there, people shopped clothes and other things when the traveling salesman came by, and then the day after everyone were wearing the same clothes, today with internet, everything can be ordered and reach the island within a few days. It takes maybe 5 hours to get to Glasgow by ferry and bus, but there are also flights there from the mainland so people can go for a day if needed. So in a way, it’s possible to have all conveniences. But finding work still seems to be a challenge, and also keeping many of the necessary services alive such as certain ferry routes, food services, and a little convenience store. Jura attracts about 20,000 visitors a year, but the permanent population is no more than 200 people and it’s difficult to get permits to build on the island as there are a lot of restrictions in place to protect the landscape. A challenge to find a balance as the population also needs a sustainable size to keep the island inhabited. Three fascinating and informative hours on the as you can see! I recommend anyone who visits the island to give Alex a call and book a tour
The tour ended with a visit to the little church where they had a fantastic photo exhibition of the life and the people of Jura from the late 1800s and onwards.
After a Scottish breakfast at the Anchor Hotel this morning, we booked a taxi to the Ferry Terminal in Kennacraig as no busses connected until much later in the day. Well on the ferry, we bumped into a woman that had been on the bus yesterday, and who was on her way out to this part of the country for the first time. It turned out that she was on het way to her first day of work in the cafeteria on the ferry. She was a bit nervous and it was quite sweet. But what a fantastic job to be on that ferry! The ride took about two hours hours and the view was spectacular, even though it rained a lot. Andreas and I drank coffee and caught up on everything that had happened since last time we met.
The stop in Port Askaig was quick and all we had time to do was to walk the 30 meters or so between the ferries. The little hotel where we were supposed to have stayed was right there in the harbor by the ferries, and both Andreas and I thought when we saw it that our involuntary overnight in Tarbert might not have been a bad thing after all, since the little town where we had stayed seemed a little more happening than Port Askaig.
Once we reached Jura, the bus schedule seemed to have a lunch break and wouldn’t leave until about 2 hours later, so we called the hotel who called “Alex the bus”, who picked us up 20 minutes later and gave us a tour on the way up to Craighouse and the hotel. He offered a guided tour during our stay, which I think we will take him up on before we leave.
We are now back at the hotel (The Jura Hotel, which is lovely by the way) after walk up to the little cemetery in an abandoned croft village a bit up the hill. It’s raining a bit, but it’s not too cold and the fog and the mist somehow adds to the beauty of the landscape. A little tired after our walk, and with a book and a small glass of Jura Whisky at the hotel pub (which is seemingly the only pub in village), and with the rain tapping on the windows, we both feel like this trip is already everything we expected!
So I just turned forty in country number forty for me. Well, at least if I stretch it a bit (and not count Sweden where I was born and grew up). Not my age, that is, but the numbers of countries I’ve been to. A colleague and I recently discussed how one should count the number of countries visited. A stop at an airport is of course a no no. (I have eight of those.) We also agreed that really tiny states such as the principalities and the Vatican don’t really count either, although we made an exception for Monaco. (I have two of these, the Vatican and San Marino, plus Transnistria, Moldova’s break-away region since 20+ years, which isn’t a recognized state although you do need a passport to cross the border.) We also agreed that going by bus or train through a country doesn’t really count unless you stop for coffee or a meal somewhere. And this is where I really bend the rule, because I did have a coffee break at a roadside restaurant some years ago when driving through Kosovo between Macedonia and Montenegro. So technically, I’ve been to more countries than the forty that I count, but I hope that some flexibility can be allowed here to make it even for my birthday!
Where I am? In the Dominican Republic. I always wanted to go to the Caribbean ever since I was a little girl and read adventure books about explorers and pirates, but I’ve never gotten around to go. So what better than to visit the first island that Christopher Columbus set foot on in the Americas? I’m staying in Santo Domingo, which was conquered by the Spanish over 500 years ago, and there is so much history and culture here! Over the next couple of days, I’ll head to the beach and a boat tour to one of the islands. So more pics to come!