islay, scotland: a travelogue.

ahhhhh, islay.  if there was one very faraway place in europe i would pick up and move all my stuff to, islay would be the place.  we were there a little less than a month before the election, and i kept saying to philip [half-jokingly] that if trump wins, islay is where we should re-settle the family.  it had everything: mountains, beach, miles of green grass, the friendliest people we encountered anywhere in europe, all of the best single malt scotch you could hope for, and almost no tourists.

seriously. hardly a tourist anywhere. we saw the same dozen [or maybe less] tourists at our hotel, on the ferry, and at the various distilleries.  i'm not sure if it was the season or just that islay isn't exactly the easiest place to get to, but that was ok with us.  we were richly rewarded with scotch and an island all to ourselves when we finally got there.  

so, i should mention.  the reason we went to islay at all is because islay is home to some of the world's finest single malt scotch distilleries.  all of philip's favorite scotches come from islay.  when we decided to go to scotland, it seemed only natural that we would go to islay.  it's a little hard to get to -- it's a 21/2 hour drive from glasgow to the ferry, and then the ferry is another two hours.  islay has a population of less than 4000 on the entire island.  i'm actually pretty sure we saw more cows and sheep there than people.  the population density is something like 0.06%.  really.   but those few people there produce the world's best scotches.  on that 240 square miles, you can visit laphroaig, lagavulin, kilchoman, bruichladdich, caol ila, bowmore, bunnahabhain, and ardbeg

we flew into glasgow from london and rented a car at the airport.  you know that scene in the secret life of walter mitty where he's renting a car in iceland and the clerk asks him which one he wants, red or blue? it was kind of like that.  from glasgow, it was a 2 1/2 hour drive to kennacraig, where the ferry to islay departs from.  it was one of the most beautiful drives i've ever taken, totally on par with our drive along the amalfi coast.  we missed our original flight out of london, so unfortunately we had to drive straight through to kennacraig without stopping.  it would have been so easy to turn that 2 1/2 hour drive into 4-5 hours with stops along the way to walk, take in the scenery, and enjoy some lunch.  we took the ferry on caledonian macbrayne to port ellen, which was a little over two hours.  our hotel was in port ellen, and most of the distilleries we wished to visit were very near there.  of course this is all relative, as the island is very small and easily drivable [as long as someone in your party isn't sampling scotch!].  we stayed at the most adorable little hotel [one of my favorite places we stayed on our trip!], the islay hotel.  one of the reasons we [actually, philip] picked the hotel because of it's extensive whiskey bar.  they serve scotch from every distillery on the island, including lots of rare and exclusive bottles.  it also had a fantastic restaurant where we had an incredible seafood dinner before turning in for the evening.  we wanted to be well rested for all that whiskey drinking the next day.

the next morning, we had breakfast at the hotel before heading out to our first distillery.  two that philip was most interested in, lagavulin and laphroaig, were very near our hotel.  we opted for those first, since we also knew they would take the most time.  

first stop was lagavulin, where we timed our arrival just right to take part in a guided tasting.  this year is lagavulin's 200th anniversary year, and they had quite a few special things they were offering visitors.  the guided tasting was the best tasting we had, hands down.  we were able to sample five different whiskeys, most of which were exclusive to the distillery -- so you could only taste them if you went all the way to islay [you bet your ass we took some of that home].  our guide, sarah, encouraged us to try each dram alone and then with something to compliment the flavor profile -- vanilla sugar, peat, lapsong souchong tea, candied figs.  it made a huge difference in the flavors of each dram, as even an unexperienced whiskey taster such as myself could notice.

after we packed up our souvenir bottles, we headed down the road just a little to laphroaig.  philip [and me too, honestly] was most looking forward to laphroaig was finding his plot of land.  through the friends of laphroaig program, when you purchase a bottle of laphroaig, you can register on their website for certain perks -- including a square foot of land on their distillery property.  you're then able to go visit the plot, collect your 'rent' [a dram of laphroaig], hike to your plot and plant your flag.  it was, by far, the best experience of all of the distilleries.  they encouraged us to hike around their property, and even gave wellies to those who didn't have them [cough philip cough].  they encourage not just for you to come and visit your plot, but a sense of community; they have hosted a wedding on the plots and had ashes scattered.  we spent a good chunk of time finding the plot first, and wandering around the hills and taking in the views, before we went into the tasting room so philip could have a few samples.  


at this point it was lunch, so we opted to drive about five minutes back to our hotel and have some fish and chips.  our hotel was the only place we at on the island and i do not regret it a bit.  everything was wonderful, from softshell crab to fish and chips to desserts and soups.  it was just perfect.

after lunch, we headed towards port charlotte, where bruichladdich is.  it was about a 45 minute drive, diagonally across the island and then along the water.  the views were just breathtaking.  bruichladdich definitely had the most distinct look of all the distilleries we visited.  almost all of the buildings on islay are whitewashed, or they are made of stone.  all of the buildings at the different distilleries looked identical, which was pretty cool.  but at bruichladdich, they had the trim and windows on their buildings painted their trademark teal blue, which made everything pop vividly.  the tasting wasn't anything special, though they did have a selection of drams only available at the distillery.  and since they are located right on the water, we were able to take a nice walk along the beach after we finished our samples.  bruichladdich also sells a gin distilled on islay, which we bought for me to have when we got back home. 

from bruichladdich, we drove inland on a tiny one-lane road, over rolling hills and so many sheep i couldn't count to kilchoman, our last stop of the day.  kilchoman had a private back room for their tasting, and we were the only ones there for the daily tasting so it was a pretty small group.  philip sampled a few and then we wandered around their shop and hung around in their cafe for a while.  kilchoman is one of the few breweries that serves food and drinks [little sandwiches and teas, mostly], in case you need something in your belly besides scotch.

most distillers wrap up for the day around 5, so we called it quits after kilchoman and slowly made our way back to the inn.  we made a few stops for the views and photo ops, and about two hours later we were enjoying another fantastic meal at our hotel restaurant, sipping a few more local scotches.  the bar at the hotel has live music on saturday nights, but we decided we'd get up early the next day before the ferry.

there were a few different ferry options to get back to kennacraig.  we decided to drive across the island to take the ferry from port askaig since we had the whole day before our flight to dublin left glasgow.  we could have left from port ellen, where we were staying, but there was one last distillery we thought we might be able to stop by before we got on the ferry.  it was another 45 minute drive to port askaig, but we had breakfast delivered up to our room while we packed up.   

we headed on the winding, one-lane-both-direction roads, enjoying our last views of islay before our ferry.  we had a little less than an hour to kill when we arrived at port askaig, and thought we could walk around there for a bit.  wrong.  there was literally nothing there but a dock where the ferry would arrive, and it hadn't arrived yet.  luckily, bunnahaibhain wasn't too far behind us, so we backtracked about ten minutes and drove over the hills.  it was definitely the most difficult distillery to get to.  we drove about twenty minutes on a windy, bumpy, not-at-all paved road, convinced we'd past it somehow or taken a wrong turn [as if there was actually a turn anywhere].  but since there was nowhere safe to turn around, we just kept going.  and finally, we arrived at bunnahaibhain.  it looked totally deserted, and we wondered if it was actually closed for a minute since it was sunday.  we parked the car and wandered onto the grounds.  

of all the distilleries we visited, bunnahaibhain was the most awe-inspiring.  located on a cliff perched over the oceanside, barrels upon barrels stacked up everywhere around us, aging the barrels with the salty sea breeze.  we wandered in and out of old out buildings, grain houses, and warehouses until we found stairs leading up to a tiny door a story up, with the word office etched onto the glass.  figuring we had nothing to lose, we climbed the stairs up to the office and found a little office and shop [it was all one room] inside, with a kind man willing to talk about the distillery and pour us a few samples.  it was unbelievable.  though hard to get to, i can't recommend bunnahaibhain enough if only for the views and experience alone.  we picked up a few bottles that you can only get at the distillery [and, really, who goes there?!] and got back into our rental to head to the ferry.  

we took the caledonian macbrayne ferry back to kennacraig, and once again made the two-and-a-half hour drive back to glasgow.  this time we were able to drive a little slower and make a few stops along the way.  one memorable pitstop was in inveraray, where we saw the gorgeous inveraray lake and took lunch at brambles bistro.  if we only had more time we would have stopped at the inveraray castle -- i only saw it from the outside but it was absolutely jaw-dropping.  maybe next time?

and oh, islay, there will definitely be a next time.  definitely. 

travelogue // the amalfi coast

so it dawned on me the other day that i haven't shared my photos and recommendations from the amalfi coast.  our trip was nearly a year ago, but now that our days are once more drenched in sunshine, i was thinking back to our sunny days in italy, dreaming of our photographs.

stopping in italy was the last leg of our trip last summer.  we first flew into split, then drove down the coast to dubrovnik, and then headed over to italy.  we knew when we booked the tickets [in to split, out from rome] we were going to go to italy somewhere, but even when we flew to croatia we weren't yet sure where we wanted to go in italy.  we've both been multiple times before and knew we wanted to try and explore a new area of the country for us.  our first thought was the rent a car and drive [our original plan for a trip back in 2013 before we decided on thailand] and were going to stay on the eastern shore.  but while we were in croatia and i saw on instagram a favorite internet friend of mine was spending her spring holiday along the amalfi coast.  when i floated the idea to philp, he was totally on board.  so before long, he was looking into hotels and i was jotting down every restaurant recommendation liz had to offer.

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it was beautiful and warm when we woke up on our little prison-cell-like room on the ferry.  we took the jadrolinija ferry line from dubrovnik to bari.  it was an overnight ferry that took around 10 hours, leaving at about 10pm and arriving around 8am.  if this is something you do, prepare for the ferry.  we booked the nicest room they have, which was a room with two single beds and a private bathroom.  you still would not want to use the shower.  it was a bathroom on a ferry... it's about as nice as you'd think it would be.

we were able to rent a car from hertz at the bari airport.  this was about as organized and took as long as you would think it would to rent a car in italy [read: multiple hours].  it was a bit of a hassle to get a car that wasn't a manual, but we got it all to work out.  it also took us quite a few tries to leave the airport -- we kind of did a few laps thanks to confusing signs, no GPS, and the many, many roundabouts.  we finally stopped at the airport terminal out of frustration, hunger, and my pregnant need for a bathroom twice an hour.  while philip talked to someone about how the hell we could leave the apparent gravitational pull of the bari airport roads, i grabbed us some coffee and focaccia from a cafe.  i can still remember the taste of that focaccia and i swear it was one of the best things i've ever tasted in that moment.

finally, coffee in hand and focaccia in belly, we drove across the entire country of italy.

which took about three and a half hours.

italy is long and narrow, obviously.  so it wasn't exactly a problem to make our way from the east coast to the west.  not to mention the gorgeous scenery we encountered along the way, and the fantastic italian radio we got to jam to.  i monitored my liquid intake to ensure we didn't have to stop at all, and before we knew it we were in salerno.

we did encounter miserable traffic once we reached salerno and before we made it up the mountain to ravello.  the roads were winding, with views you can't even imagine.  in places the road was so narrow they would let cars travel in one direction only at a time.  we pulled over on the side of the road with other travelers making their way up to ravello and waited our turn.  but oh my gosh was the pain-in-the-ass drive worth it.  

on elizabeth's recommendation, we went to cumpa cosima for lunch.  we split the caprese appetizer and each got fettuccine bolognese.  it's my hands-down favorite italian dish and if it's on the menu i can very rarely skip over it for something else.  cumpa cosima was well worth the drive... even if the windy road and my pregnant hormones did finally catch up to me while we were there.  after lunch we wandered around ravello for a little bit in the drizzling rain.  i found it to be a lovely little village and was happy it was our first stop in italy.

after stretching our legs, we made our way back to the water after once again waiting for the road to open in our direction.  philip had found a hotel for us sort of last minute [since we hadn't even decided where we were going until we were already in croatia].  luckily we weren't really particular about where we stayed along the amalfi coast.  we only had to book for one night, and we knew we wanted to go to amalfi but since we had the car, it didn't matter where we stayed.  we were going to drive it all either way.  so we picked the loveliest little hotel -- the hotel belvedere in conca dei marini.  our room included breakfast [take on the terrace overlooking the water, of course], a parking.  if you are going to drive along the coast -- i can not stress this enough -- get a hotel that has parking!

conca dei marini is tiny, and there wasn't much by our hotel that was walking distance, and we were not getting back into the car.  after wandering down the road a ways, we found a little path with some stairs with signs for restaurants.  we ventured down.  

and oh my gosh were we happy we did.  not only did we see some of the most gorgeous scenery of our trip -- hidden little doorways, overgrowing flowers and the most amazing views of the tyrrhenian sea.  we ended up dining at a small, family owned restaurant called l'ippocampo.  and when i say 'family owned,' i mean literally the woman that was cooking and waiting on us was also sitting a ta large table in the back that was overflowing with laughing family and children.  our table was less than a hundred feet from the water, and a small garden with fresh basil and tomatoes was within reach.  i ordered the gnocchi alla sorrentina and watched the basil get plucked from the garden and placed atop my bowl.

with full bellies and happy to be out of the car, we fell asleep to the sound of crashing waves outside our balcony door.

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we woke up just in time to take advantage of the breakfast included with our room.  hot coffee, chocolate croissants, fruit salad, and fresh meats and cheeses were served outside on the terrace overlooking the water.  it didn't suck.

once we checked out, we loaded up our little car and drove along the coast ahead to positano.  there were lots of little towns where we could have stopped, but we chose positano for a few reasons.  it was on our way north to naples and rome, and it was where some of the dreamiest beach scenes in the talented mr. ripley were filmed.

if you're driving to positano... good luck finding parking.  it's nearly impossible.  we found a little parking lot where we felt trusting enough to toss our keys to a stranger and hand him an ungodly amount of euros to make sure our rental wasn't stolen.  it was quite a walk down to the beach but it was our only option... and the scenery wasn't all that bad.

after slowly making our way down to the water [and stopping nearly every cute little shop we passed], we checked out the beach scene.  we decided to pay €10 per person for a beach chair and umbrella.  it seemed a little annoying at first, but once i saw that it included a place to change, and that the black sand was so hot it was burning my feet, i decided it was well worth it.

the water was warm and clean and clear, picture perfect and everything i'd hoped it would be.  i am not the kind of person who can just go to the beach and get some sun.  no way.  i gotta get IN that water.  and once i got in and could see the view from the water, splashing around in the soft waves, the weight of pregnancy lifted off me, there was no way i was getting out until it was time to eat.

there was a wealth of restaurants near the water, and even more back in the main village of positano.  we saw some lovely shaded outdoor seating at la pergola ristorante, right near our beach chairs.  i had more bolognese -- which did not disappoint -- and we had the local specialty of grilled lemon leaves with caprese salad.  it was amazing, and this little beachy pasta shop ended up being one of my favorite meals of the trip.

after we ate, i dragged philp back to our beach chairs for a little while longer.  i wasn't going to leave that water one moment before i absolutely had to.  we didn't have too long of a drive ahead of us to sorrento, but we knew we didn't want to get in too late.  along with the afternoon sun, we packed up, used the changing stalls to peel off our wet and sandy suits and hiked back up to our car.

before too long we were in sorrento.  but once we got there, it took us just as long to find our hotel and park as it did to actually drive from positano to sorrento.  it was a mess.  and we got into a huge mishap with our rental car.  no bueno.  let's just say we returned it short a side mirror and with a couple love-dings in the door.  not so bad.  our hotel, the palazzo guardati, turned out to only be accessible by foot and had no parking, despite what the website we booked on said.  and it's not as if italy is ripe with parking lots and garages.  but other than that, the hotel wasn't bad.  it had a lovely bathroom and a decent enough breakfast [so philip said, my morning sickness didn't really care for any of it]. 

for dinner that night we stumbled on pizzeria aurora, mostly for their lack of a wait time and outdoor seating.  a friend of mine had recommended a restaurant next door to it [can't remember the name] but the menu didn't appeal much to us, so we stopped in aurora instead.  it was ok.  i had ravioli, which was a change of pace.  it wasn't the best meal i had in italy, but still better than nearly all the italian restaurants back home :)  afterwards we wandered to gelateria primavera for gelato.  the inside is plastered with pictures of the pope with the chef, which i kind of got a kick out of.  then it was back to our hotel for some rest before our long drive north the next morning.  i have to say, i wasn't a huge fan of sorrento.  we were there less than 24 hours, so it's not a fair judgment to make.  but it was bigger and more industrial than the small towns we'd been through before, and i missed them.  the quaintness, the water.  the crashing of the waves.  but that was the last we'd see of the water for a while before we went north to rome.

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we had over a three hour drive north to rome, a bit shorter than our drive across the width of italy just a few days prior.  we passed mount vesuvius and pompeii, which would have been awesome stops if we had more time.  i'd been to both before and didn't have a strong desire to stop again.  instead, we opted to stop off quickly in naples for some pizza [it was lunch time, after all], which was right on our way.

naples isn't too far from sorrento, so it was an easy stop to make.  except for the nightmare-ish traffic in the city itself, it was a great stop.  we stopped off at piazza dante, and walked down via port'alba for a bit.  there were lots of book shops, and i had to stop every couple feet for photo opportunities. 

 there were so many places to eat down via lombardi, including gino sorbillo -- supposedly the best pizza in italy, and where it was first created, so the story goes.  we took one look at the line and rolled our eyes as my pregnant belly did a backflip.  i mean, we were in naples.  how good could that one pizza place possibly be over anywhere else?  we stopped instead at pizzeria attanasio where i ate an entire pizze siciliana [with eggplant] and could have licked the plate clean.  it was fantastic.

then we hopped back into our little rental for the drive to rome.  though we didn't fly out until the next morning, we opted to return our rental car at the airport.  the reason for this was twofold: [1] we were staying at the airport hilton, and [2] you can't drive in the city of rome unless you are a taxi or a local as designated on your license plate.  the hilton, which we were able to walk to after ditching what was left of our rental car, also had a hotel shuttle leaves every 2 hours and goes right into the center of rome.  but being the impatient people we are, we decided to take a direct train from the airport for €11 per person.  easy and cheap.

eager to stretch our legs from the long car ride, we decided to take our time wandering from the termini to osteria romana di simmi.  this, again, was liz's recommendation and i could not agree more.  it was a phenomenal meal and the service was perfect.  i, of course, had more bolognese [i'm not sorry] and we split a few appetizers, a well as dessert.  our server was quite the charmer, and between courses gave us a tour of the private museum underground.  just ask jean pierro about it when you visit.  tell him i sent you! [kidding.]

rome is my favorite place in italy.  i don't know what it is, but it is the place i'd live if i could.  it's a big city, and what a history.  the people have a fire in them i feel like you don't find anywhere else. i've been three times now and i can't wait for my fourth visit.   i think i could just slip into a crowd there and be lost forever, in a good romantic sense, not in the weird, sad way that sounded.  
since it was after midnight when we finally were ready to head back to call it a night, we had to take a taxi.  the train to the airport stops running at midnight.  for the record, i do not recommend doing this.  it was obscenely expensive and it was sheer luck we got a cab that would take a credit card, but, what can i say?  it was our last night in europe and we weren't done with rome when the trains were.

the italy portion of our trip was my favorite.  it's one of those places we will keep returning to, again and again, no matter how many times we've been.  it holds a certain special magic for us, and i know it always will.  if you haven't been, please, make this your next trip.  

travelogue // dubrovnik.

i interrupt your stream of colors i want to paint my new house posts to bring you your travel guide for august.  or july.  did i skip a month?  let's pretend like i didn't, with the whole pregnancy thing and all.  and without further delay, your travel guide to dubrovnik, should you find yourself there.

and i hope you do.

f r i d a y  / /  t r a v e l  d a y 
since we had done the airbnb in split, we decided to splurge on our hotel in dubrovnik.  we scheduled more time there than anywhere else -- three nights and three full days and an extra evening, since we didn't have to board our ferry on monday until 9pm.  after looking at what felt like a zillion hotels, we decided on the valamar president hotel.  the hotel looked and felt in every capacity like a five star hotel should, and we were not disappointed one bit.

our hotel was on the lapad peninsula, and luckily our rental car drop off was within walking distance for us.   we knew ahead of time that lapad was not too near old town and most of the tourist attractions, but the number six bus picked up across the street from our hotel and stopped right in front of the pile gate.  for dinner we opted not to take the bus and wandered over to a local restaurant, komin, for dinner.   the fish was fresh and delicious -- since our experience in thailand two years ago, we really have a hard time trusting the food at restaurants.  after dinner we enjoyed the view from our hotel and enjoyed a cocktail outside.  bitter lemon for me, haha!

yup, that was the view from our hotel from the pool.  my heaven.

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right away we wanted to get out and see the sights.  we slept in a little, since it was a saturday and all, before enjoying breakfast at our hotel [outside! on the balcony! overlooking the water! did i mention this hotel was a splurge and totally worth it?] and hopping on the bus to the pile gate.

we wandered through the old city, getting lost every chance we could, twisting and turning through ancient alleyways.  each turn was more enchanting than the last.  old bricks with fresh flowers.  so picturesque.  finally it was time for me to eat again [perk of being pregnant on vacation], so we wandered into pizzera oliva.  and holy cow was i glad we did.

hands down, the best pizza we had while we were in croatia.  we didn't eat a lot of pizza there -- we mostly stuck to freshly grilled fish -- but if you find yourself in dubrovnik, stop for pizza at oliva.  tucked in the cutest alley you'll see, shaded all of the tine, with brightly colored chairs and the yummiest pizza you'll have.

after fueling up on pizza, we thought we would walk the city walls.  though it wasn't quite the hottest part of the day, it was pretty close.  there is no shade up there, so be prepared with water bottles and hats and maybe even a little personal fan if you find yourself really sweaty and pregnant like i was.  it's a little daunting to climb up all those stairs in the summer [again, remember, out of shape and pregnant], but ohhhhh my goshhhhh were the views worth it.  you don't have to walk the full walls but can get down at any of the exit points along the way.

but we just couldn't stop with those views.

after working up quite a sweat along the walls, we caught the bus back to our hotel to take a dip in the water.  in retrospect it would have been great to have our swimming clothes with us and a couple of towels -- there were swimming spots all along the city's walls to dip in.

it was dinner time after our dip in the water, so we cleaned up and asked the concierge to help us secure a dinner reservation.  we didn't feel like wandering through the city and not wanting to find a table on a saturday night.  a table was secured for us at konoba posat, right outside the city's walls.  we had quite the view of the walls and the water.  it was a pretty fancy place that served up a mean gilled fish filet.

we walked off our dinner while looking for an ice cream spot, and found just what we were looking for at dolce vita.  walking through the stradun at night, enjoying ice cream... it just didn't get much better than that.

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a day of rest.  on the beach.  we needed a day to decompress after running from spending so much time traveling, walking walls and sightseeing.

it was just what we needed.  the whole day relaxing, swimming and reading.

for dinner, we caught the bus back into the old town and grabbed dinner at mea culpa since we didn't want to do anything fancy.  it wasn't bad... but oliva was much better.  i'd skip it if i were going again.  we walked around the city a little, checking out some parts we didn't see the day before, like the polce gate and the old harbour.  lovely.  we discovered if you walk past the old harbour and follow the path, even when you think it ends [climb over the little wall!] you'll find a secluded little swimming hole.  i wish we had brought our bathing suits yet again.

so the lesson is, anytime you're walking around dubrovnik, bring your bathing suit and towel.

m o n d a y  / /  d a y  3
the great thing about vacations is that you can do whatever you want and change up plans as you see fit.  on monday we had big plans to take a ferry to korcula and spend the day.  we'd be crazy not to go to croatia and not visit any of the islands, people said!  but the thing is, being pregnant makes you not want to do that much.  and sometimes, being on vacation means you don't want to do anything.

so we scratched those plans and sat on the beach again, all day, again.  it was fantastic.

our ferry to bari was scheduled to depart at 10pm on monday night, and we had to be on board by 8pm.  we used the locker rooms at our hotel to rinse off after our day at the beach, grabbed our bags from the concierge and made our way over to yet another new part of dubrovnik, where the cruise ships and ferries dock -- gruz.

we grabbed a quick dinner at amfora, which was walking dinner to the harbor where we boarded our ferry.  our last taste of croatian food -- cuttlefish risotto and cheesy polenta -- did not disappoint.

and with that, we boarded our ferry to italy.

more on the ferry and that... experience.. in the italy travel guide, up next!