Wrap Up: May 2018

Traveling Iceland in May - One Week Itinerary | The Atlas Heart

It’s hard to believe that it was just the beginning of May that I was still stateside. It feels like I’ve been away much longer, mostly because I’ve done a lot in the past few weeks, adventuring to Iceland, Scotland, and England. 

The month started with a round of goodbyes in California. I had a night out for my going away drinks in San Francisco, and saw some of my closest California-based friends before I took off for expat life again. 

Before the second week of May, I was on a plane with my friend Urvi to explore Iceland for a week. The country was even more awe-inspiring and understated than I thought it would be. It’s a place I could see myself coming back to regularly. 

The rest of the month was spent in the UK, in England and Scotland.

This is of course a generalization, but there’s something about the laidback and humorous nature of Scottish people that I love, the scenery is stunning with its deep greens and blues, the accent endearing, and it’s also where a big chunk of my family ancestry is from, so there’s that. 

Wrap Up: May 2018 | The Atlas Heart | Scotland

That’s not to say that I haven’t enjoyed England in many ways as well.

I started in the historic city of York for a few days, and then came down to London to create a mini-base here for a couple of weeks. London has been interesting. It’s one of those places that is talked up a lot.

Without a doubt, it’s a cool city and I’ve enjoyed my time here, but to me it feels like any other big city. I could just as easily be in New York.

There’s not a distinct personality to London that I’ve come across yet (it doesn’t feel particularly English), but maybe that is its draw – that you can make it anything you want it to be. It’s too much of a melting pot to fit into one category or personality. Then again, maybe it’s just one of those places that takes time to get to know better.   

I will say that I’m glad I finally made it here, and that I gave myself a decent chunk of time (2.5 weeks) to see all my friends who are living in the city now, celebrate my birthday, and tick off numerous touristy and local experiences. 

Wrap Up: May 2018 | The Atlas Heart | Scotland

Wrap Up: May 2018 | The Atlas Heart | Scotland

When I arrived in London, it felt so good to stop moving for a bit after my few weeks of non-stop travel. It has been a good city for me to be based in for a short amount of time, and it’s about the same as San Francisco in terms of cost (aka crazy expensive).

This trip has only reinforced the fact that I don’t like to be in constant motion anymore. I much prefer to be based in places for months, as opposed to changing cities every few days. I think my limit for that kind of whirlwind travel is about 2 or 3 weeks tops now.

Without further ado, let’s dig into my May! 

PLACES & MEMORIES  

San Francisco | My last few days in San Francisco were filled with friends, laughter, and bittersweet goodbyes. I hosted my going away drinks in the Mission, starting at one of my favorite dive bars, the Elbo Room, and extending to a couple of other bars throughout the night. 

Wrap Up: May 2018 | The Atlas Heart | San Francisco

My last few hours before leaving for the airport were spent with my bestie Carrie and my friend Chris, grabbing coffee and brunch on a sunny San Francisco afternoon. It was an ideal way to wrap up my time in the city, and only solidified the feeling that I’ll be back soon.    

Iceland | Iceland was a whirlwind week of experiencing all types of weather (except snow), visiting waterfalls and geothermal wonders, and spotting puffins. Oh, and the drop-dead gorgeous scenery helped to make it a trip I won’t forget anytime soon. 

My friend Urvi came with me for the first 5 days of the trip. We rented a car, stocked up on food from Costco, and hit the road from Reykjavik, to Vik, and, eventually, all the way down to the Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon. 

Wrap Up: May 2018 | The Atlas Heart

Wrap Up: May 2018 | The Atlas Heart

Wrap Up: May 2018 | The Atlas Heart

Iceland is ridiculously photogenic, and with a blogger and photographer traveling together, it was hard for us to put our cameras down sometimes. We chased the light, the promise of unique shots (Sólheimasandur plane crash), and interesting experiences (snorkeling between two tectonic plates at Silfra). 

You could say that we pulled over on the side of the road an alarming amount of times to take pictures, but I wouldn’t have had it any other way. And Urvi was the perfect partner in crime with which to take in the beauty of the country, through our lenses, our eyes, and our commentary. 

I still have so much to say about this country, but that will be coming out in a few upcoming posts, when I can gush about Iceland in many more words. This was definitely one of those places that is completely worth the hype. 

Edinburgh | I arrived in Edinburgh just as the sun was setting, and the beauty of the landscape below shocked me with its reddish-green hues. I was impressed before I even landed in the city, a fact that would set the mood for the rest of my week there. 

I don’t know why, but I wasn’t expecting Edinburgh to be as pretty as it turned out to be. The city is built on a volcanic crater, and the rolling green hills that surround it, covered with the bright yellow flowers that are in bloom right now, were stunning to say the least. I also had great weather the whole time I was there – it was the same temperature as California!

My days were spent working in cafes, walking around the cobblestone streets that make up Old Town, drinking BrewDog, going on Harry Potter walking tours (as you do in Scotland), and finding hidden streams and small villages that looked like they were from a fairytale. 

Wrap Up: May 2018 | The Atlas Heart | Scotland

Wrap Up: May 2018 | The Atlas Heart | Scotland

Wrap Up: May 2018 | The Atlas Heart | Scotland

I liked the fact that there were so many walks to do around the city, from Arthur’s Seat, to Water of Leith Walkway and Calton Hill. There was a draw to Edinburgh that made me reluctant to leave, but I’m sure it’s a city I’ll be coming back to time and again.

I also met up with my friend Claire who is doing her second masters in the city, and who I hadn’t seen in years. It was the 4th country we’ve met up in, and it was wonderful to see her and catch up while I was in town.

Glasgow | I traveled to Glasgow for a few days to check out the ‘alternative’ city to the often more popular Edinburgh, and loved it.

Glasgow is seen as less polished than Edinburgh, but I found it charming in its own right. I met up with my blogger friend Kathi who is doing her PhD there, and who has lived in the city for years. 

She has a wealth of knowledge about what to do and where to eat in Glasgow (check out here Glasgow walking tour here), and I happily took her recommendations and crafted an itinerary around the city that kept me busy for a few days. 

Scotland has this weird thing with cemeteries, they’re tourist attractions or simply places people regularly go to find some peace (or to even go on dates). 

Wrap Up: May 2018 | The Atlas Heart | Scotland

Wrap Up: May 2018 | The Atlas Heart | Scotland

I get it, I’ve always loved cemeteries for that reason (well, maybe not where I usually take my dates, but for the peace aspect), and Glasgow has arguably one of the most interesting historical cemeteries in the country – the Glasgow Necropolis. 

The Necropolis is a good representation of Victorian Scotland, and it’s where a lot of the powerful and important merchants from that time are buried. These were the people who really built Glasgow into the city it is today. And, the Necropolis provides sweeping views of the city and the gothic cathedral. So, you get beauty, peace, and history all in one go. 

Besides cemeteries, Glasgow is known as the artsy capital of Scotland. They have a fantastic music and art scene, a street art walk, and plenty of culinary delights around the city.  

Oban/Isle of Mull | My last stop in Scotland was a more personal one. The McFaddens were part of the Clan Maclaine of Lochbuie on the Isle of Mull way back when, and I’ve wanted to see the land of my ancestors for years. I’m happy I finally got the chance to do just that. 

Granted, I would’ve loved to have more time, and I probably should’ve rented a car to explore the island at my leisure instead of doing a tour, but, regardless, it was a wonderful experience getting a glimpse into my family history. 

It inspired me to to put together a proper family trip someday, to go with my brother, sister, and dad and dive more into our heritage, especially since all of us are history buffs and a tad obsessed with our ancestry (my brother even as a tattoo of our family coat of arms). 

Wrap Up: May 2018 | The Atlas Heart | Scotland

Wrap Up: May 2018 | The Atlas Heart | Scotland

Oban was the perfect place to base myself for access to the island, while still having the luxury of staying in a small city with inexpensive accommodation. 

There’s not a ton to do in Oban, but it is a good jumping off point for exploring some of the western islands in Scotland. I mainly got a lot of work done, walked around the small downtown area, drank Oban whisky, and tried haggis while I was there. 

It was also nice to end in a super small city that was very Scottish after the more cosmopolitan cities of Edinburgh and Glasgow, which are both huge in comparison.  

York | York was my first stop in England, and I quickly fell for its charms as a historic pretty little city on the River Ouse. 

In the walled city, I tried to take in as much history as I could. I visited the JORVIK Viking Centre, since York used to be the location of one of the largest Viking settlements on the island, and ate dinner at one of the most haunted pubs in the UK. 

Wrap Up: May 2018 | The Atlas Heart | York, England

Wrap Up: May 2018 | The Atlas Heart | York, England

York is one of those cities that is walkable, but still has plenty on offer for visitors, aka my kind of city. I also enjoyed the fact that there are plenty of green spaces around the city (something that I love about the UK as a whole), and historic facades that have stayed intact for hundreds of years. 

London | The last place I visited in May was London. I made it down to the city just in time for my birthday, and I’ve barely caught my breath since I arrived – a fact that probably has to do with the intoxicating pace of a city that is always nonstop. 

The night before my birthday, I found myself in Soho, drinking with and an assortment of friends I’ve met from around the world, and ended it with my friend Laura dancing into the wee hours at a hilarious London club. 

I spent my actual birthday at All Points East Festival in Victoria Park, dancing to some of my favorite bands, from Lykke Li, to Lorde, and The xx. It was actually a phenomenal birthday weekend, and much different from my birthday in a tiny village in Laos last year.

Both great birthdays, just obviously in very different ways. 

Wrap Up: May 2018 | The Atlas Heart | London, England

Wrap Up: May 2018 | The Atlas Heart | London, England

Wrap Up: May 2018 | The Atlas Heart | Scotland

Since my birthday, my days have been booked with friend meet-ups, taking advantage of the free museums, events around the city, and testing out some of the recommended coffee shops, markets, and restaurants. Believe me, there are plenty in London. 

I also moved from Elephant & Castle to a sublet in Fulham, and I’ve been enjoying this area of west London a lot more than where I was in the south.    

READS 

In May I got through three books – You Are a Badass at Making Money, Men Explain Things to Me, and Big Little Lies. All women authors, all powerful in their own way, and all covering a wide range of topics that made me think.

You Are a Badass at Making Money by Jen Sincero is an interesting take on finances and how to make the money you want to. Most people would put this book into the ‘new age’ realm, as opposed to actionable tips on financial health – she talks a lot about positive thinking and putting energy out into the universe – but there were still some key takeaways from the book. 

I still think her first book, You Are a Badass, resonated with me more, but I’m all for the idea of what you put out into the universe you get back. In some ways, it felt like she wrote the same book, but made it about money instead of about being a general badass at life.

With the idea of wanting to read more feminist-focused books this year, I picked up Men Explain Things to Me by Rebecca Solnit. With that kind of title (oh so relatable), my expectations were high, but I was left a bit disappointed by the time I finished the book. 

Wrap Up: May 2018 | The Atlas Heart | Reads

It consists of a series of essays that Solnit has written over the years, and not all of them seemed to flow well, or even be about feminism at times. She hooked me with her title essay, but the rest of the book floundered and didn’t keep me enthralled. 

I also found her brand of feminism to be lacking intersectional thinking, and narrowed to the straight white female perspective, which was disappointing, especially for a book that came out in the last decade. 

My last book of the month was a quick and enticing fiction read. Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty, is the second book I’ve read by this author, and I found the story to be just as well spun as The Husband’s Secret (the book of hers I read earlier this year).  

Big Little Lies traces the lives of a group of middle to upper class kindergarten mothers on the Sydney peninsula, and all of the secrets and drama that lies just below the surface of their community. 

It’s not a premise that would normally appeal to me, but this author has a way of writing seemingly mundane story lines into something intricate, engaging, and relatable. I loved the ending to this one as well. 

Now, I want to watch the HBO mini series based off this book that came out last year, especially since the TV version is based in Monterey, California, right next to where I grew up! 

SHOWS 

In May, I was hooked on the show Dear White People. I found it to be an insightful look at the subtle (and not so subtle) racism that still very much exists in the US. 

The show revolves around a group of minority black students at an Ivy League school that is mostly white, and my god, I don’t think I’ve had a show equally make me laugh out loud and burst out sobbing to such extreme degrees in a very long time. 

Not everyone loves it, and some claim that it’s more for ‘faux-woke’ white people, but I’d like to think it’s a step in the right direction to have more shows starring POC, and I love how the writers craft character stories for each episode.  

I binge watched the first two seasons this month, and now I seriously can’t wait until the next season comes out.  

PLANS  

I’m finishing up the first half of June in London, and then I’ll be leaving for Portugal next Tuesday. I can’t wait! I’ll be based in Porto for a week and a half before my friend from San Francisco comes to visit me in Lisbon. We’ll be tackling the south and exploring Portugal’s best beaches, food, and nightlife together for a good week.   

This summer, I plan to set-up a nice little base in Lisbon, get into boxing, and take Portuguese classes in addition to my usual work load for this blog and my clients. We’ll see where summer leads me this year, and where I find myself by the end of it! 

Until next month! x 

Wrap Up: May 2018 | The Atlas Heart | London, England

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Mimi McFadden
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Mimi McFadden

Travel Writer/Blogger at The Atlas Heart
Mimi founded The Atlas Heart to create a community of travelers inspired to see the world. The Atlas Heart is a space where you'll find anecdotes on slow travel, craft beer, outdoor adventures, and all the eccentric bits in between that this world has to offer.
Mimi McFadden
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