Archive for February 2016

isle of skye

We leave for the Isle of Skye hours before the sun is awake. Hell, I’m barely awake. I almost immediately curl up in the backseat, nestled among the boys’ coats, a loaf of warm sourdough clutched to my body. Thomas and Quentin rouse me from my slumber often, forcing me into the cold to see the majesty of the Highlands. Thomas has detailed itinerary for our long drive up north and the Highlands have many more surprises in store for us. No time for sleep. 

We stop at loch after spectacular loch as the sun rises, the first illuminated with soft predawn pink, the next gilded with the first golden rays, then the bright blue of midmorning. The boys skip rocks on the frozen surfaces and I'm laughing and shivering. 

There’s a bridge where a scene from Harry Potter was filmed and we stand underneath the great arches yelling at our echoes. Quentin clambers up the bare limbs of a tree. Snowy mountains mirrored in a perfectly still lake. Eilean Donan castle floating, as if by magic, on murky water.

Finally, we arrive in the Isle of Skye, Glen Brittle rising up majestically in the distance.

We stop for lunch in an empty restaurant. It's February and not quite tourist season yet, so restaurants are mostly empty or just closed until the season starts.

"Ca va, toi? T'as l'air rêveuse," Quentin asks me. You okay? You look distracted. We had just finished lunch and were sipping on coffee. Thomas was in the bathroom, leaving Quentin and I in the comfortable silence fills much of our time together.

"Yeah, I'm fine. It's just—sometimes I realize how surreal everything seems," I start to explain in French. "Do you ever stop to think about what your current life would look like to your childhood self? Like if you were to tell five-year-old Victoria, or even high school Victoria, growing up in suburban New Jersey, that at 22, she would be in Scotland, taking a road trip to the Isle of Skye with these two random Frenchmen from Strasbourg, I would've never believed you." A dread-locked, pigeon-obsessed bread baker and Berlin-obsessed graphic designer that goes by Sonic sometimes, I think to myself wryly. 

Both men are so familiar to me now. I remember when I first met them two years ago in Gentilly and the uncertainty that I felt during that entire experience. I can't imagine my life without either of them now.

"Yeah, even if you had told me six months ago that this is where I would be, I don’t think I would’ve believed you," he agrees. Six months ago, before the wedding, the letters, my visit to Strasbourg, everything. 

Before I could ponder any more about the impossibility of it all, Thomas returns from the bathroom and we set off again further into Skye. 

At my request, we drive to the Fairy Pools, magical pockets of crystal clear glacial run-off flowing into each other, tucked into the Cuilen mountain range. We pick our way carefully across rivers and climb on top of huge rocks. Quentin effortlessly jumps across a small waterfall and convinces me to follow. So I leap across to join him. Or, at least, I try to. 

All of a sudden, gravity pulls me forward and I'm falling and enveloped in a fast moving chute of glacial wet and everything is water and cold. I’m only aware of my body being forced under by the force of the falling water and water water water. I push towards the surface, uncontrollable giggles bubbling forth between gasps for air. I’m screaming in laughter as Quentin yells in panic, trying to pull me back up as I slip and fall back into the water again. Thomas is completely unfazed by it all and takes pictures of the chaos unfolding. He knows me too well by this point to not expect this to happen. 

I strip in the cold air and slip on Quentin's warm jacket as we make our way back to the car for me to change into dry clothes. And to continue onwards to our next stop. There was no way we were going to let some tumble into the water cut our day short.

We go further into the Quiraing, in the northern fringes of Skye, where the landscape becomes increasingly dramatic with every kilometer. We pull up at beach covered in dark pebbles and we hike up up and away to see the bay glistening from up high. Further on, jagged spires rise sharply up out of rolling green hills, piercing through the bottoms of clouds. In the fading light, we climb down the most astonishing cliffs that drop down to a black beach.

We have an incredible dinner in Portree before settling into our Airbnb in Staffin, tucked away at the end of a road in the Quiraing, grassy hills rising up on either side. Thomas lights the fireplace and we share beers and shortbread in front of the crackling fire until late. Shaun of the Dead is on but we’re all exhausted and no one is really watching. Quentin and I dissolve into each other’s sleep filled limbs. 

We wake up late the following morning and hurry to the Old Man of Storr before the rain hit. It’s lightly misting when we get there and the iconic craggy peaks are completely hidden in the fog, but we climb anyway. It’s unending mist and green moss and rugged rockscapes and snow and freezing winds. The adjectives that I have to describe the rocky landscapes feel lazy and insubstantial: beautiful, surreal, ethereal, unbelievable. 

I struggle to keep up with the boys as we climb higher and higher into the clouds, a damp cold chilling me to the bone. I can’t tell if it ever ends. There are more rocks and ice everywhere. Finally, we reach the top where there’s just the faintest shadow of the peaks looming above us, barely perceptible through the thick cloud cover. 

We climb back down through the dreamlike mist, reluctantly getting back into the car for the long journey back to Woodlea. I silently promise the Old Man of Storr that I would return one day to Skye see him properly, perhaps with these men, perhaps with another set of unexpected traveling companions. But for now, dinner at a pub and a full night of sleep. Next stop, Edinburgh. 

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fife and aberdeenshire

The boys would fetch me from the bakery sometime in the late morning to take me on adventures in the Highlands. Hikes along the coast of Fife, drives deep into the Highlands, plenty of pubs.

One morning, with my head still bearing a halo of flour, we set off to Cairngorms National Park and Aberdeenshire on the northeast coast. I had been working since five that morning and fell asleep quickly on the car. I awoke to the sound of giggles and opened my eyes to Quentin trying to take a picture of me asleep. Before I was even able to protest, he pointed outside and I just gasped. Giant hills of pure white snow surrounded us. Blindingly bright. Paris is always temperate; snow only every dusts the city once a season, at most. I hadn't seen snow since Hamilton, nearly a year ago.

I practically ran to the snow when I got off the car at Glenshee. We're climbing up great big hills of hardened snow, falling thigh deep into the giant snow drifts when the surface breaks. I shriek in surprise. Ice cold wet in my socks. From the top, a valley of pure snow spread out below us like clouds. Racing back down the hill to the car, running, slipping, falling, laughing as Quentin catches up to me and kisses me, both of us breathless and freezing. Thomas rolls his eyes at all of it.

Stonehaven, walking along the bay and exploring the small town. Low hanging clouds lined with a brilliant gold. A deep fried Mars Bar shared between us. liquid chocolate and caramel scorching the roof of my mouth.

Rushing to get to Dunnottar Castle to catch the sunset. When we show up, the castle ruins are absolutely aflame, glowing orange and gold, perched on top of a rocky headland. There's a steep path down towards the water that we take that leads us to the shore. We're surrounded by these great Scottish cliffs. Craggly, steep things, softened by a yellow-green dusting of dry winter grass. They drop right into the North Sea, impossibly wild and blue.

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woodlea stables : real bread

4:30 am. My phone rang and buzzed lightly by my head. Merde. It's early. But I hardly cared. I was already so excited. As I turned off the alarm, I saw Hillary in the darkness, already awake and getting dressed. I carefully extracted myself from Quentin's arms, pressed a kiss to his cheek, and sat up. Thermal leggings, skirt, shirt, one shoe on, then another. I felt around in the dark for my jacket and slipped out the door, trying my best not to wake up the other three people in the room.

Ignoring the cold, I hurried to the other side of the rocky driveway where the bakery lights were already on and I could smell bread baking. I walked into the bakery, converted from an old barn by Jock a couple years back.

"Morning," I said. Jock and Hillary greeted me back with a brief hello; they were already busy, taking out freshly baked loaves of rosemary ciabatta from the massive ovens. I had to smile at the smell of rosemary and olive oil emanating from the ovens and enveloping me like an old friend—the Challah for Hunger kitchen always smelled like this. This was going to be fun.

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london : february

My London isn't the London you're imagining. 

I've never been to the Tower of London or the London Eye. I think I might have walked past St. Paul's Cathedral or Buckingham palace once. It doesn't really matter. Not really. 

Some of my best friends in the world live in London, so my trips there are spent either in a house at St John's Wood, cuddled up with a little dog named Gaucho, or in an apartment in Camden with a couple of UCL students. It's just another town where my friends live and I love it endlessly for that. 

I showed up to London this time around deathly ill. I barely survived a harrowing overnight bus experience that involved a pretty traumatic bathroom incident (this is a reoccurring pattern in my life), a delirious ferry ride across the Channel, and slight intoxication. Not to mention I had a fever and hacking up a lung the entire time. And my voice had faded out of existence mere hours before my bus ride. My poor British seatmate clearly had no idea what the hell to do with the absolute disaster of a human sitting next to her. 

Fortunately, when I got to Camden, I found that Baya was also sick and sounding almost more phlegmy than I was. Misery loves company, they always say. We spent much of my visit curled up together on her couch, drinking massive amounts of  tea and Slovak soup while marathoning an entire season of How to Get Away with Murder. Exactly what I needed before Scotland. 

These photos are from the few times I ventured out of the apartment to follow Baya to class or to meet up with other friends that live in London.

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