Stormy Skye (Week 14-15 recap, Dec 31, 3018 and Jan 7, 2019)
We have chosen our destinations on this trip in a lot of different ways. Rome to start because I had the teaching gig at the American University there. Emilia-Romagna to follow because we wanted to keep practicing our Italian and we love to eat (the Fat episode of Salt Fat Acid Heat was what ultimately tipped the scales in its favor), Genoa for the relatively mild climate in early December and more food. We chose Amsterdam because it seemed to be very kid-friendly in winter, Belgium for the Christmas spirit, Paris at an invitation for Christmas lunch with family friends. When we totaled all this up we reached 88 days of travel.
This, it turns out is very significant. As Americans traveling with American passports, we get 90 days out of every 180 in the Schengen visa zone on our tourist visas - which is to say, just by showing our passports and without any extra paperwork or reason for being in the region. The Schengen zone matches mostly up with the EU, though not entirely. The UK, Ireland, and a few other EU countries (Croatia, Albania…) are excluded. Actually when we first envisioned this year abroad, we discussed an itinerary that would have gotten us deported. Not ideal. So after Christmas we new we had to leave Schengen, stat.
Luckily we got a great invitation from my college roommate Alisha and her family to come join them at their country home in Skye, Scotland for New Year’s and to stay as long as we wished afterwards. While it seemed strange to head north, north, north for the winter, good friends, a dramatic landscape, and a Schengen respite sealed the deal.
Which is how we ended up on the sleeper train from London to Inverness three days after Christmas. (And two days after Willa got norovirus and one day after I got it from her throwing up on me on the Eurostar from Paris to London. Mike had it just before Christmas. I think I need a separate post about illness abroad…)
Arriving in Skye was amazing. I was thrilled to be off the sleeper train, though it actually went fine -- no Norovirus induced vomiting, no blow outs, we slept most of the ride -- and we arrived on a windy, clear day so we could see the mountains and the lochs and the endless grazing sheep on our drive to Skye. It was sort of shockingly beautiful, particularly after having spent most of the past few months in cities (with a few days in the Italian countryside being the exception, but that’s more rolling hills and vineyards).
Alisha’s house is the exact open, modern, giant windowed look Mike and I tend to love with the added bonus of being really comfy to hang around in. Alisha and Carlos cooked and their seven year old twins vied to “babysit” WP, who spent much of her time trying to hug the dog. I was utterly exhausted from being sick and we were all a bit run down from our last travel sprint and it felt like we arrived at a must needed respite at exactly the right time.
New Year’s Eve itself was equally perfect. Delicious food, gin and tonics and red wine, two desserts, and it was all at home (with their Scottish neighbors and their two kids over) so when I couldn’t keep my eyes open anymore I was 10 feet from bed.
A few days later our hosts left and left us to our own devices at the house. I will admit that I ended up sinking into a bit of a malaise. The island’s beauty remained, but WP was rebelling against the car seat and the carrier, which made hikes and thus outdoor time an ordeal. She was cranky from being sick (what I got over in 24-48h took her a full week) and from her playmates leaving. The cafe walkable from us was closed for a week.
And while I didn’t mind the short days from a sort of philosophical standpoint (use the dark mornings to sleep in, use the dark in the early evening for an early cocktail hour -- very restful all around), in retrospect I think I did suffer from some sunlight withdrawal. Even when it wasn’t raining it was often clouded over. I remember distinctly two days when the sun broke through the clouds and streamed unimpeded into the living room. I stood up off the couch and stood by the window with my eyes closed exclaiming “The sun! It’s the sun!” until a few minutes later it was gone again, not to return for several days.
I can be prone to brooding and outright depression, and Mike pointed out that my last Instagram post, after days of almost no sun, was melancholy at best. I can’t say I’ll ever doubt the existence of seasonal affective disorder again.
So by the time it was time to leave Skye behind, I was ready. I think we’ll be back (we’ve been told we’re re-invited!) but I think we’ll wait until summer.