Last New Year’s, I was freezing in a cold Irish hostel. This year, I am enjoying the tropical heat of Sri Lanka. It has been an astounding year of experiences. It was really hard to pick just ten things cool things, but here are the ones I chose.
A Note about Hamish, the Traveling Scarf: Some of the links below take you to Cathleen’s Odyssey blog posts and some will go to Hamish’s posts. Hamish, the Traveling Scarf, was my traveling companion for half the year. The scarf is real, but Hamish was the persona I bestowed on him because he became such a special part of my travels. (More about Hamish at the end of this post.)
The evening of January 2 found me on Inis Mor in the Aran Islands. Ninety-mile-per-hour winds were blowing outside, but I spent the evening in the wee little pub next door knitting with the bartender and enjoying a Guinness by a fireplace still decorated for Christmas and radiating warmth and good cheer. “Cozy” is an understatement! The next day, the storm was still blowing strong and I captured the angry sea on video.
A highlight of my return to Scotland was to revisit the Haddington Knitters and Spinners near Edinburgh. Every year on International Women’s Day, they demonstrate in front of the Scottish Parliament and I was invited to join them and bring Hamish along.
Traditionally in Scotland, when a bolt of wool fabric was woven, it would be lightly felted to make it warmer, as well as wind- and water resistant. A group of women would sit around a long table and pound the cloth and pass it to the person next to her, over and over and over. This would have been a pretty boring job, but the women used it as a social and gossiping session and over the years special waulking songs were composed to make the time go by faster and synchronize the pounding. I was honored to be invited to help in a waulking demonstration in Castlebay on Barra Island.
April: Staying in a Traditional “Blackhouse” Hostel in the Outer Hebrides
Low season travel to these remote islands means that you often have a whole hostel to yourself. And look at what impressive buildings they are…two-foot-thick stone walls and thatched roofs with cozy beds inside. Since the caretakers lived down the road, I was completely alone. The silence at night was palpable. I planned to stay two nights and could not make myself leave for five days!
April: Discovering “Ocean Art” on Berneray Beach
This hike on the Hebridean Island of Berneray, started out kind of boring. Then I walked down to the beach to discover what a talented artist the ocean can be.
June: Taking My First Vodka Shots with Millennials in San Sebastian, Spain
Yes, I was 64-years old before I took my first shot of liquor! (I’m not a teetotaler, but I have always just sipped and savored alcohol.) But how could I resist the coaxing from Miquela, Shania, and Max, three young Americans, in this San Sebastian hostel? When they learned I had never had a shot of alcohol, they became relentless and pulled out their phones to get a video. They even taught me a Spanish toast. I am not sure if you can call this peer pressure!
When first considering this journey, I had only planned to visit two European countries and then return to the States. Spain was one and Estonia was the other. Now at the end of my 13-month European odyssey, I finally made it to this former Soviet state. I love knitted lace and the women of Haapsalu make some of the finest lace shawls in the world. I was so lucky to be accompanied by another lace knitter, Conny Wolthius from the Netherlands. We had to keep pinching each other to believe we were there!
August: Learning about Ala Kiyiz Carpets at the World Nomad Games
For me, the highlight of the World Nomad Games in Chopan Ata, Kyrgyzstan was spending an afternoon with this group of traditional Als Kayiz carpet felters as they engaged in a competition—taking the process from fleece to carpet in only a few hours.
November and December: Hikkaduwa Temptations!
I take a little walk almost every day to visit my friend Antony Raj Walker at Hikkaduwa Temptations café here in Sri Lanka. We got to be friends after I walked in on my first day here in Hikkaduwa and asked to see his menu. If you ask about how something on Raj’s menu is prepared, he is very likely to invite you back to his little kitchen and let you help! Well, that is right down my alley!
For the last two months, Raj has become my surrogate son and we have cooked, feasted, laughed, drank tea, shopped, learned, celebrated, and worked together.
Here are links to some of my favorite episodes at Temptations. (You don’t have to have a Facebook account to follow the links.)
My mother always said, “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know.” And when that someone is a chef….well…’nuff said!
When I came up with the idea of a Traveling Scarf before I left the States, I had no idea he would be such a hit and such a special part of my trip to Europe. Because of Hamish, I had some truly amazing encounters.
In February I finally christened him with a name—Hamish—because he spent so much time in Scotland and was handled by so many Scottish knitters.
We saw the summer solstice in Iceland and knitted cozily in a tiny pub on Inish Mor, Ireland while a 90-mile-an-hour January storm raged outside. We met knitters in the Outer Hebrides, funky hostels in Ireland, on English trains, and on ferries to remote islands. Some knitters added their own handspun yarn. We even occasionally allowed some crocheters to contribute—including a blind lady with her guide dog in Belfast.
In July, I sent Hamish home to the safekeeping of my good friend, Emily MacRae. I plan to take him on a road trip through the United States in 2019. Again, he will become an ambassador—one that will help people learn to use Thematic Traveling Techniques to deepen their own travel experiences.
It was so hard to choose only 10 “cool” experiences. If I even just gave a one-liner for all the other memorable happenings from 2018, this post would become way too long! I will have to save them for the book I will be publishing this coming year.
Happy New Year to All!