Saturday, September 26, 2009

Arran-ing Amok!

After a looooong night in "moderate to severe turbulance" we arrived once again in bonny Scotland! Jan and Jessie got our luggage to the hotel while I went in search of our rental car. It happened to be a shuttle ride away, so the three of us went over together. They gave us a much nicer car than any of us were expecting, but we didn't complain.

I was the designated driver and with only a few false starts we were on our way, heading out of Glasgow to Ardrossan where we boarded the ferry to Arran. We weren't sure if we were going to make it, since we kept running into minor delays, but they were situating a car ahead of us so we slipped in after. I'd never driven a car onto a ferry before, so yay for new experiences!

They closed the door right behind us and we pulled out before we were even up to the passenger decks. It brought back visions of Iona and the mad dash to that ferry. On board we were served a full Scottish breakfast and I was reacquainted with an old love - Potato Scones! They are triangle shaped, pancakey bits of Heaven! I looked deeply into where its eyes would have been if they hadn't been mashed up and cooked to perfection, murmuring "Oh potato scone, how I have missed you!" Needless to say, it was a happy reunion.

They didn't serve Haggis, which was a bit disappointing to me because I really do enjoy it. Instead, they offered Black Pudding, which is another name for Blood Pudding... which is another name for pigs blood cooked up with some oats and spices. Not at all pudding-like. The guy dishing it up argued that it was the best part of the meal. I begged to differ. We agreed to disagree.

(Aside: I'm eating a bit of raspberry oatmeal shortbread as I write this and I am in alt. Just thought I'd share. :) It's 2am, cut me some slack! haha)

We de-ferried and zoomed away from the docks in search of what the Isle of Arran had to offer. Not 10 minutes down the road we found such an offering - a brewery!

And a new friend. After giving a taste of his blonde beer (saying I couldn't have one because I wasn't blonde) he turned to Jan and said, "Oh, your glass is empty. Let me help." He was a right jolly fellow and a welcome beginning to our day.

After a few other tastings one of us stumbled out the door and ran into another of Arran's offerings. A castle! Complete with garden! Believe it or not, this picture was completely candid. Not even an "Alright ladies! One! Two! Three!" We are just -that- good. The grounds of the castle are quite extensive and had a very tropical feel to them. We walked along the path snapping photos right and left, too many to put here, of course, but you are all welcome to view them when I return home.

The Isle of Arran sits in the Firth of Clyde which runs along the West coast of Scotland, and is sometimes called "Scotland in Miniature" as you get a bit of the Highlands as well as the Lowlands. Brodick Castle gets its name from the Scandinavian for Broad Bay. In the early 5th century some of the isles surrounding Scotland were under the King of Norway's rule, Arran being one of them. There are many Scandinavian names across the island as it wasn't until the mid-thirteenth century that the isle shifted to Scottish rule. Between then and 1503 there was much back and forthing of "ownership" of the isle. In 1503 the title Earl of Arran was created and given to James Hamilton, 2nd Lord Hamilton. The first Lord Hamilton was also named James and had been given the castle by his brother-in-law, James III. It is now the property of the National Trust for Scotland having been gifted it by the Lady Jean Fforde in 1958.

It seems there were not many names to chose from in those days and so most Scots, Highlanders in particular, were known by nicknames. Generally, the nicknames were chosen based on a distinguishing feature of one's appearance or personality. Robert the Bloody, Black Jack Randall, Big Ears Stewart... any one of those were likely used back in the day.

The history of this castle is as fascinating and vast as any other I have visited. I marvel continually at the thought of so many lives, so many deaths, so much violence and beauty that is Scotland. Not just Scotland, of course, humanity in general, but I am in Scotland and so I will bask in all that is Scotland and speak of little else.

After we were finished with the magestic and vast grounds of Brodick Castle, we made our way back to the car and set off once more around the island. There is one main road that circles the island and then a small path that some seem to think is suitable for driving that runs across the middle called "String Road". Believe me, it's no exaggeration. It doesn't say it is one way, but the two way roads are already too small for all that goes on on them (i.e. cars, people strolling their babies, high school kids walking down the middle, cyclists out for a bit of exercise, tractors, sheep... the list goes on, not to mention it is all hairpin turns!). We did not venture out onto the String Road, but I did get a look at it. I felt brave enough driving through all the mayhem of the "big road".

Things were going along just swimmingly, when all the sudden it sounded like someone took two shots at us. An odd hissing sound followed and the car became a bit unwieldy, so I pulled over and we got out to take a look. It seems on that particular turn there is a hidden tire puncture in the guise of an innocent looking rock. I have my suspicions about its purpose, especially since the lovely people (Ian and his wife and their next door neighbor John) who came out of their homes to assess the carnage (it was -that- loud) stated that cars get caught on that nearly every day. The tow-truck man, Angus, further confirmed this by saying we were the 13th car that week he'd picked up there. Sounds like a conspiracy to me.

Everyone was so kind and helpful, giving us rides back to the dock, reserving another car for us to continue our journey. Angus even spoke with the car rental people when they were giving me the run around. Word of advice, if you go to the Isle of Arran, fly into Glasgow, take the train to Ardrossan, ferry to Arran and rent a car there. We didn't realize there was a car rental on the island or we would have done that to begin with. The drive to the dock was lovely, but I will definitely do it the other way next time I go.

I wanted to get a picture of the craziness of the roads, but we were too busy trying not to kill something during those times, you get a picture of the nicest stretch of road. Hardly a hint of a curve! One of the main reasons we chose Arran was for the standing stones, we decided to go with the theme of the Outlander Tour and perhaps get sucked back in time to find our own Jamie. Sadly, there was no time sucking. There was, however, -of course- beautiful scenery. This is just a wee taste, you know there will be plenty more when I get home.

The main stone offering on the isle is Machrie Moor. The turn off for it is hidden amongst the twisting Z and N roads and we missed it the first time around. I managed to turn the car around without mishap and we were soon parked and making our way over fences and through farms and sheep pastures. Yes, there was a trail :P No, we weren't trespassing... we don't think. There were a couple of circles with small stones as is pictured, but there were also three very large thin stones standing out farther in the middle of the final field we came across. All of this truly was amazing, and so peaceful standing out there in the breeze with all the sheep.

The Northern coast is home to Lochranza Castle, which fell into disuse and disrepair during the 18th century. It had had a good life up until then though, so don't feel too badly for it. Many owners, many uses; it had fulfilled its purpose and beyond. Our day ended with a cup of tea and scones in a cozy inn with a view of Lochranza Castle. After that, we drove the rest of the way back to the port, turned in our car and waited for the ferry. The same crew was still slaving away as was on our outbound tour. A lovely plate of fish and chips later we were docking back on the mainland. We took a train back to the airport and tucked ourselves away in our hotel rooms. I had my own for the night.

It was lovely to have a bit of time to relax and organize myself. We meet up with the rest of the group in the morning and head out to Glencoe. Stay tuned!

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Deadliest Catch!

The morning broke much cooler than the day before had been. I'm beginning to wonder if I really do have a stalker in the form of the sun. I avoid it at all costs at home and when I choose cloudy, rainy climates for my vacations invariably I bring draughts and heat. Certainly not my choice! But I digress...

Jan and I were in Jessie and Kevin's room helping her decide which bulky sweaters to leave at home so she could conform to the strict luggage sizing Judy (tour director) had imposed on us. We were innocently minding our own business, laughing uproariously at times, when Kevin entered the scene.

He stood there calm and quiet listening to our goings on, waiting for his chance to tap in with his bombshell. K and J have a boat being used in the boat shows around the area by the company they bought it from as a show model. I'd never been to a boat show before, but we had no plans of attending the one today as it was in Connecticut. Besides, Jessie still had packing to do.

"Bad news," Kevin began, "Andy and Johnathan from Deadliest Catch are down in Norwalk where our boat is being showed." The silence was broken by Jessie's drunken sailor mouth. Andy and Jonathan are her favorites and what kind of luck put them at the show we weren't going to be able to attend?! Oh cruel fate!

Just then Jessie slammed her suitcase shut, "I can pack tomorrow." Kevin blinked as he looked at her. A determined glint sparked in her eye as she said, "Oh we're doing this." Some quick travel calculations put us arriving at the boat show just after Andy and Jonathan were supposed to begin their photo opp.

"But first we need to get our manicures!" So we piled out into her car and sped over to the mall to get our nails done. I hadn't tied my shoes in the dash out the door, so I leaned over before the guy started applying the color and Jessie calls over from her seat, "We don't have time for that, Heidi!" I tied them anyway. I wasn't going to trip over myself when it came time to meet the Time Bandit boys!

Thinking on it now, maybe it wouldn't have been so bad to trip and fall on Johnathan... ahem... Yes, well, anyway...

The nail people were quick and we were back home within 35 mins. Jessie walked in and yelled up the stairs, "We're back, let's go!" Poor Kevin had actually thought some sale or another would seduce us away from thoughts of our Deadliest Catches. Jessie is one determined lady, the sales did their best, the little sirens, but they were no match for the thought of an Andy-Johnathan sandwi... erm... photo opp! *cough*

To his credit, Kevin got us there in record time and the line was just forming. The seminar tent where they had the boys stationed was muggy and the air was stagnant. Jessie turned to me and said, "Is it just me or is it hot in here?" We both looked up at the stage where Jonathan and Andy were talking with a few people and her question was answered.

I was a little worried; I didn't want to get up close and personal and be a wilted, stinking flower. One lady kept offering to take other people's pictures. I'm sure she thought people would think she was nice. We were on to her, she obviously just wanted more face time with the crabbing duo. We dubbed her the Attention Whore.

Finally it was our turn! Jessie and Kevin went first and Jan and I manned the cameras.

I stood in the middle in front of them and Jan was off to the side.

This ended up causing a bit of confusion as to which camera they were supposed to look toward.

We got it sorted eventually.

Next it was my turn! The experience was a little too private for this blog. If you'd like to hear it, email me :P *grins* Oh alright, twist my arm... After this round of pictures was taken, Kevin moved behind Jan and said, "You could just take a picture over her shoulder." Which would have solved all the confusion about which camera to focus on.

Johnathan put his arm around my waist and said, "How about another picture?" Andy was busy signing Anna(who sadly could not be there)'s present. Anna said it looks like Jonathan's about to sneak off with me. Ha! Yes, it was very magical. I'm sure it was for him as well. Life altering, in fact. Haha

And at last Jan got her hands on the boys. (Though you see how Johnathan is still smiling at me... Yes, me - not the camera, no sir! :P)

We visited Kevin and Jessie's boat and looked around at the other offerings until closing time. Their boat is named "Binary Star". Kevin is a software engineer and has actually written an app for iPhone and iPod touches called "Rogue Touch". He's working on a couple of other projects, and perhaps soon to be one more. Rob from the boat company has a great idea for an iPod/Phone game/app. When it becomes available I'll spread the word.

The drive back was not as harrowing as we hit a bit of rush hour traffic and many spots of construction. Road weary, but happy, we folded out of the car and plopped down to the table for left over Chinese.

The house is quiet now as all the rest have been sleeping for quite some time. I know my role, however, The Documentor, and sleep will just have to wait. I changed the date on the post to keep things in order. It is sadly now just two and a half hours before my alarm will go off.

We are hopping the pond tomorrow and if we aren't able to upgrade out of coach, I'm going to need some exhaustion to help me survive the ride. Once we land Saturday another adventure begins. We'll be renting a car, taking a ferry to Arron and I'll be driving us around sightseeing. You may begin to look forward to the pictures from that post now.

With that, I will bid you a fond farewell and I'll catch you on the flip side!

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

A New Beginning

Here I am at the beginning of another adventure! As is tradition, I will open with talk of luggage. My poor suitcase had a rough go of it on my last grand adventure, so I am using part of Hailey's set. She (and Anna, yay!) is meeting me in London at the end of this trip and needed new luggage, so it all worked out. As you can see it is very loverly.

I am headed back to Scotland and England for three weeks. The beginning of the trip I will be in the company of a couple of hilarious ladies Anna and I met on our last tour of the UK. You will be hearing more about them very soon. I'm spending a couple of days in New Hampshire with them and we are all flying out of Boston together. My flights from Vegas to Manchester, NH were without much incident.

I did witness a love burgeoning between a couple of passengers on the commuter flight from Newark to Manchester. The woman was in full Impressive Mode, complete with a loud, almost caustic voice. The man was soft spoken, but appeared to be completely taken with the brash thing across the aisle from him. It was a short flight, but I was highly entertained. Good luck to them, I say!

I collected my bags and noticed a slender blonde woman with short, flippy hair sitting on a bench engrossed in her book. She looked familiar, though the Jessie in my memory had long hair. Deciding that since we were now the only people in the baggage claim that did not work there it was safe to assume she was who I was looking for, I approached. After a tentative, "Jessie?" brought her out of her alternate reality, we were off.

It is beautiful here! The leaves are starting to change, bright reds, oranges and yellows have begun to outnumber the green. I've never really seen the changing leaves before I don't think. Jessie had to go back to work for the afternoon, but Jan arrived just in time to take over Heidi-sitting duties. I felt very safe in her care; obviously, she has a black belt in something.

Jan took me on a drive around the area and up into Maine, where she lives. We had lunch at a little restaurant that sits in the marshes. Wonderful views! The lack of sleep over the last week started to hit me hard and I had to cry off the hike she wanted to take me on in favor of a nap.

In the evening we picked up Jessie's three boys and ate at a delicious chinese restaurant. A sort of Last Supper for her and her family. We returned home to relax for a bit and then headed to bed. I slept about 8 hours total! Amazing, I know. We have a leisurely day of manicures and roaming about the town planned for tomorrow.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

one, two, freedom!

That, my friends, is how you count to three in Scotland. And how appropriate I should find a statue of William Wallace outside the entrance to the Edinburgh castle (As my maternal grandmother is a Wallace. And the whole "Freedom!" thing. yeah). According to our guide he was 7 feet tall and could shoot lightning out his bum. So any tall genes from the Wallace blood I might have totally bypassed me, though I think my brother got the lightning bit. At least figuratively :P

We climbed to the top of the Sir Walter Scott monument (all 287 steps) and as we climbed the stairs got narrower and narrower, as demonstrated by Heidi (shortly after selling her soul to the devil. you can tell by her glowing red eyes).

Coming out the top was almost like being birthed. Very windy, oh yes. I had everything i was holding in a death grip, and still felt like it was gonna get ripped away by the wind.

Sorry for posting another pic of me, but this is the only pic I had of Alec (on the Left), our driver. He's awesome. I had a dream I married his son, Fergus. I don't even know if he has a son, but i'd be willing to marry him so we'd be related. heh. I love him! This was taken after the final dinner. We went to a Highland dinner and dance where I took lots of pics that didn't turn out very well. It was very sad though, cause the next day we ended the tour and had to say goodbye to all the wonderful new friends we'd made.

We had a few days free between tours (thanks a freakin lot Gabby!!! You better not meet me in a dark alley...) so we spent some time in Edinburgh. I just wish I had know the Wallace memorial was in Stirling! I totally could have gone! We took a walk and saw this sign. Glad to know i'm not the only one who likes my meat well hung and tender. It was also time to buy a new bag to fit all the things we had bought. We had to take a bus back to london for the start of our next tour and the wonderful, not rude at all, bus people were not very happy about all our luggage. Actually, pretty much everything about that bus ride was pure hell. Totally set the tone for our attitudes towards the english :P I'll elaborate later..

Wednesday, September 19, 2007


You ever hear anyone joke about getting drunk off the fumes of alcohol? It's not a joke. Walking on the grounds of the Royal Lochnagar distillery made my head start spinning. We couldn't take photos in some of the rooms inside. The tour guide assured us using cameras would blow up the building. Or maybe it would damage the equipment... I can't remember. I was feeling pretty high at the time.

The barrels were cool. They had a few we could sniff to see the difference between the really smokey, and not so smokey. The Royal Lochnagar was the latter, and i have to admit it smelled pretty good. For whiskey, that is.

Castle Glamis. Pronounced "glams". Absolutely beautiful grounds. The inside wasn't too shabby, either. Again, no photos during the tour inside. I could've spent a lot of hours here *sighs*.

Awww... graffitti. At least it says something nice. And written with chalk. So considerate.

St. Andrews. Home of Scotlands first University. Cool. Home of Golf. Yippee. I really don't care much about golf so I contented myself to taking pics of the beach and collecting seashells.

The tide was out, so we got to walk out a bit. This is way better scenery than any golf course, eh?

There were a lot of things to look at on the beach. I collected a few seashells for Donna. My new friend Paula even found the remains of a very old bottle.

Monday, September 17, 2007

my bonny lies over the ocean..

The coastline of Scotland rocks. Literally. Even the Shetland coast. We had tea with this lovely view, and was tempted to buy a lovely hand knitted hat at the shop. Sadly I didn't even take a picture of it, though I did get a lovely pic of an odd toilet seat. I'll spare you, though :)

Apparently this is the most photographed spot on Shetland (I have 5, myself). They say on a clear, calm day you can sail through the space in the rock. I'll take their word for it :P

Here's Michael (our tour guide) being very careful to follow the "rules" of not falling over the cliff. I thought this was a good pic to show how easy that would be.

Every day we would rotate where we sat on the bus. This day I got to sit behind Alec, our driver :) I kept teasing that I was gonna put my hands over his eyes while he's driving, saying "guess who?!?". He seemed to think it mildly amusing. At least i got a smile out of him. I love him :) Lovely green, eh?

A lovely photo of water. If, however, you see a miniature longboat, it means you believe in Trows (the Shetland Troll). Do you see it?

This vicious creature almost cost us our lives. shortly after taking its picture it reared up, its long fangs gleaming and screamed like a banshee. Actually we wanted to make fun of Larry(a nurse we work with). He freaked out Heidi before we left about land leeches, and how they were everywhere and out to get us. I don't think they really exist, so we took this photo of the closest thing we could find. Looks quite juicy, eh?

This is in one of the "wheel houses". I was trying to get a good pic of Bob and Joan. They are so cute! She turned 81 toward the end of the trip. You can also see Jesse smiling and Jan's head hid behind Bob's hat.

Here's evidence of a real Trows cave. Exlusive footage, here. Only anyone who goes to the museum can see it. I really was a lot more impressed with Shetland that I thought I would be. I wouldn't mind coming back for Up Helly Aa, a festival where they spend 8 months building a viking longboat, then on the last day of January they have a huge celebration and burn it down. Then I can run around screaming "fire! fire!" with my shirt over my head like Beavis. yeah.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Daddy, I Want a Pony!!

We boarded the overnight ferry from Orkney to Shetland around 10pm and after such a stormy day, most of us just went right to sleep. The crossing was much calmer than our first ferry had been, so Anna and I slept very well. I woke up early and decided to take a bit of a walk around the deck. The sun was just rising and it was beautiful and peaceful, it got me hoping we wouldn't have a repeat of yesterday's weather.

The ferry was again, much like a mini cruise ship and I believe you saw our cabin in Anna's post. It was quite comfortable all in all, and I'm looking forward to going on an actual cruise now. The crew on this ferry was much better than the first. Very kind and helpful, so that was nice.

I love the wind and rain and storms, but I didn't want to miss out on another day's sights. Luckily, the day proved very fine. We were met at the dock by our local guide, Mike, a very tall, very Northern Scot. "Ladies and Gentleman" was one of his favorite phrases and I believe he said it without even realizing it most of the time. Our items of interest were on the "left-hand side" or the "right-hand side", which all of our guides have said, but I noticed it most with Mike for some reason. Maybe it was his particular accent.

The scenery of the Shetland Islands surprised me. I didn't know what to expect, but obviously I wasn't expecting much. It is beautiful! The weather is very temperate for being so far north. It straddles latitude 60 degrees, about 600 miles north of London and 400 miles south of the Arctic Circle. It is as far north as Cape Farewell, Greenland; Anchorage, Alaska; and St. Petersburg, Russia; to give you an idea.

As I'm sure you have guessed, this is the home of the Shetland ponies. They are adorable and I did take more pictures than this so you can see them up close when we get home. I just wanted to illustrate how small they are. Mike is a tall man, but he is still a man, just look at that little guy! I wanted to bring one home as a puppy. They wanted to come as well; when we started to get back on the bus that little brown one came trotting after Mike. He told us one time one actually got on the bus before they could stop it. They seem more like dogs in temperament than horses. Can I have one, Daddy? Please! Sadly, they would probably die in the desert I'm living in, but one day... One day I shall have one!

The coastline is magnificent! I need to get out a thesaurus; I'm sure I'm sounding very redundant. The pictures are my proof though, you can't argue with me. Scotland has got to be the most beautiful place on the planet. I don't have my map right in front of me and so I'm not sure if we stopped at Stenness or Sandness for these pictures. I'm bad about that, I know. If you are that curious, however, we can just go back and I'm sure I'll be able to find them again.

We got out and walked around the cliffs here, though we were careful to follow the "rules". There turned out to be just one rule: Don't fall over the edge. I don't know if you can see from the pictures (click on them to make them bigger), but the edge is very fragile and standing on it would certainly send you down to the bottom. I took a couple of videos of the waves crashing to give people a better idea of how it looked to be there, but I'll save them for when I get back. (Don't worry, family, they are only a few seconds long. ;))

After the exhilarating cliff walk we stopped at a little museum that had much information about the Shetland woolen trade and practice. It was a quaint little spot and worth the stop. Anna and I stopped at a yarn shop later on in Lerwick and will be bringing home many new projects. Mike was full of fascinating information about the Shetlands and his love of the islands was evident in the extent of his knowledge and in his enthusiastic delivery.

These signs are everywhere up here, "Dunna Chuck Bruck". To me, it seemed like it was saying "Don't throw your stuff away", but that's how they say "Don't litter!" I loved it, so I snuck a photo of it from the window of the bus as we were driving by. Mike introduced us to the Trowies, Shetland's version of a troll. Believe me, it is much better than the trolls you are thinking of, I am sure. These are more like wildlife sprites than the hairy, scary trolls that live in dank, dark places. These little guys are generally harmless and in some cases helpful, but if you come across one, don't look it in the eye.

The sky has been nearly as beautiful as the land on this trip. I've taken many pictures of it as well as the flora and fauna. Who knows what I'll think of everything once we get home. Its starting to feel like a dream already. Our last stop of the day was to the Shetland Jewelry store to get a little lesson on how they make their wares. There was also an opportunity to make a few purchases.

We came back to our hotel after a very lovely day of sightseeing and enjoyed another excellent meal with our tourmates. Anna and I spent a couple of hours in the sitting area catching up with email and blogging. Way up here in the Shetlands they have internet! No one else has an excuse now, I've decided. Cheers!