Marble butts, fig leaves, and a subway fistfight–our first full day in Rome

We got up relatively early and took the train (Metro) to Vatican City. Along the way, I re-learned what I’d already known from other trips–there is no such thing as “personal space” in Europe. Especially on public transit. If you’re not willing to mash and smash your way unapologetically into an 8″ x 8″ space to ride the Metro, you’ll be left standing at the platform all day.

Vatican City was still in the same condition it was in the last time we were here, except for two things: the aforementioned military presence – EVERYWHERE – and the abundance of people selling kitsch, also everywhere. It reminded me greatly of the people who accosted us on the streets of Istanbul. (Hmmm…they even LOOKED the same.) As the hours and days went by, they became increasingly irksome. (The peddlers, not the militia. Those guys did their jobs and stayed out of the way.) It seems you can’t go five yards without someone shoving junk in your face to get you to buy it. No wonder the good citizens of Rome are starting to fight back. (We witnessed a couple of marches/demonstrations. One of them, at least, centered around the issue of those escaping the devastation of their homelands. This one was actually in their defense.)

There were already a lot of people waiting to get in when we got there, but since we’d purchased tickets in advance we were able to bypass most of the crowd. Once in, however, we were on our own.

First order of business – the “Breakfast at the Vatican” option we’d bought.

Not what I had expected, really. Here I thought it would be some sort of restaurant experience at least near the papal quarters.

Not…really.

There was a covered area in a courtyard of the Vatican Museum, where there was a buffet set up.

 

The food choices were sausage (quite decent), bacon (greasy and tasteless), scrambled eggs (cold), and an assortment of pastries (unspectacular). The coffee tasted like very thick instant, and needed a lot of doctoring to get to a drinkable level. And the cups were tiny–I had four of them just to get to half of my usual caffeine intake.

The Vatican Museum itself was just incredible in its scope and grandeur. We spent most of the day there, wandering the many areas–from Egyptian

to early Roman

to Byzantine

to Etruscan

to all points in between and beyond.

We took so many pictures–I’m surprised I haven’t run out of room on my phone.

We also saw the Sistine Chapel. It was a lot smaller than I’d imagined. The pictures we were able to take of the rooms preceding it were pretty much what was in the Chapel, so I didn’t feel like I was missing out on the picture-taking.

Crowds? Oh yes. And the languages! And we were all getting along just fine. Why can’t we all do that on a global scale?

Once we’d seen all that the Museum had to offer, we headed toward St. Peter’s Basilica.

The line to get in was tremendous., so we gave it a pass (saw it last time, except for down below–the “Popes On Ice”, as Paul calls it), and made our way to the Tiber River.

(I can supply pics from our tour of the Basilica, if anyone is interested.)

We took a lot of pictures and strolled along tree-shaded sidewalks. It was wonderful to be away from the madding crowds for a bit.

Our next place of interest was the Hard Rock Cafe, so it was back onto the Metro. And this is where I could have gotten into trouble.

When the train arrived, the car looked like what would happen if a bunch of people had been put into a blender and poured into that small space. Only a few passengers tumbled out when the doors opened, so Paul and I had to push through.

Some brazen broad pushed me pretty hard in order to barge her way through. I was just tired enough that my temper was extremely short. I pushed back – HARD! I mean, she’d have been on the ground if there had been room. Poor gal was the one chosen in my day to dance on my last nerve.

Well, she pushed back hard. No question about it. And I pushed back and gave her my patented “You are in deep sh*t” glare. She backed off with a wounded-sounding “Excuse me!” I just sorta growled.

(…”Bless me, Father, for I have sinned…”)

We found the Hard Rock Cafe without trouble. It wasn’t too far from the Spanish Steps

which we passed without paying too much attention. Last time we were here, they’d been closed off for renovation. Now they were stuffed with humanity. Yikes!

The Cafe was as noisy as anywhere else. And crowded! But we were able to get seats at the bar.

Guess what? I ordered a non-alcoholic drink! Scary, right?

I appreciate the fact that English seems to be the second language of choice among Italians. I just wish I could speak some of their language. U.S. people are spoiled in that they don’t have to learn fluency in another language. But it seems every other county has to learn ours. Doesn’t seem fair.

I don’t even try to pronounce Italian. Like I told the waiter the previous night, I have too much respect for the Italian language to mess it up with my ignorant attempts at pronunciation.

Back to the matter at hand:

After Hard Rock, we decided to go back to our hotel. When we descended into the bowels of the Metro, we heard raised voices–and they weren’t singing for joy.

We were just in time to see a scuffle between two people outside the train and a couple inside. Outside Man punched Inside Man (actually they were teenagers, I’m sure), and pulled him out of the train. The doors were closing, and Inside Man was pulled back in while Outside Woman was ready to go at him. Inside Woman risked getting beheaded as she stuck her head out the door to yell at Outside Woman. There were others involved, but they were mostly trying to keep these four apart.

Outside Woman was ranting and raving long after the train left.

These young people were not Italian. Their looks and language were of the Asian variety–which one, I have no idea.

The next train provided no such entertainment, so the ride back to our stop was uneventful.

We got into our room, plugged various devices into chargers, and unplugged ourselves for a couple of hours.

The march/demonstration and the woman’s voice on the loudspeaker in the street below woke us up. We were five floors up from the street, so it was difficult to make out just what was going on. But she sure didn’t sound happy.

After a bit, we went down and had dinner at a restaurant about 20 feet away in another direction from the previous evening’s choice.

Another bottle of chianti, more nice food, and it was the end of another adventurous day.

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Beer at breakfast, wine at dinner: on our way to Italy

Okay–so flying transatlantic is better than swimming it–but only just.

I love traveling, but I never look forward to long flights; my tailbone (and now my legs) gets put out by the long sitting time. I swear, the airlines should set some space aside for at least a treadmill.

We actually set out at a relatively decent time for once–we’re usually on the road to the airport at stupid o’clock. Since we had no one to take us to the airport, we caught a local bus, which took us to our city transit center. From there, we went northwest, and caught a commuter train through Portland to the airport. Pretty much the usual commuter people–nothing out of the ordinary. (The un-ordinary would come later, in the underground Roman Metro line.) Good thing–I’ve been particularly ornery lately–this, too, will prove itself later.

Got through TSA unscathed, except that they took exception to something in one of my bags. Sure–give me a coronary. I thought I’d left my brass knuckles at home. (Just kidding–I don’t have any. I believe that one’s regular knuckles and a penchant for self-defense more than makes up for such things.)

They seemed to have taken exception to the bottle of hair conditioner I’d brought. It went through okay though. What a dumb thing to stop someone for. It was travel size, for the cry-eye…

I decided I needed a puzzle book to get me through that sleepless flight, so I started looking for one as we made our way to the gate.

Plenty of time to browse. Because all of our bus connections were on time (!!!) and we had no problem at the ticket counter (we were trying an airline new to us–Condor–so we arrived early in case there were glitches), we were there about three hours ahead of time. But–no luck on the puzzle book. I may have to have words with the PDX airport about this…

We ate at the Laurelwood pub close to our gate and, even though it was barely 10am, I had a beer with my…brunch?

Treehugger Stout. Good stuff.

I thought I should get a good beer while I could, since I had no idea what Italy thought was good beer. Turned out to be a wise choice.

Afterward, we took up residence near our gate, and from there I scoured a couple of terminals for the type of puzzle book I wanted. No luck whatsoever. There were crossword, word searches, and Sudoku. No variety books. I was, well, puzzled.  I’d always found them here before.

We count that as Matchstick #1 on Crabby the Camel’s back. More to come.

The flight to Seattle was short and without incident. However, we ended up spending a lot more time there than we were scheduled, since the flight to Frankfurt was delayed by two hours. This meant that our layover in Frankfurt was NOT going to be five hours, which suited me fine. It also meant more beer.

We did find the type of puzzle book I wanted–hooray. I got started on that right away.

We left on the re-scheduled departure pretty close to on time. Now to settle in for the 9-hour flight…

How I wish I could have slept!

The airline, Condor, has all the amenities one would expect in cargo class. But there is almost no leg room. I felt it a lot during this trip because of the problems I’ve been having with my legs.

The (pre-ordered) meals were okay. About what one would expect–except they trusted us with REAL DISHES and REAL UTENSILS!! However, ain’t no way I was going to eat the slice of green cheese on my plate. Fuggetaboutit.

There were 60 choices in the premium movie line-up. Nice variety–but only two interested me. I watched “Beauty and the Beast” and the latest “Pirates of the Caribbean” movie. Other than that, I tried to sleep, but it was not going to happen. I read a lot, worked my puzzle book, whatever–might as well keep busy.

We got into Frankfurt with an hour between flights. This was where I had had enough. I really had to downgear the fit I wanted to throw.

The reasons that I was at this level were many. For one, I’d been up for over 24 hours. For another, the cramped quarters and the resulting leg aches had made me extremely uncomfortable.

The ramps and stairs in the airport made things even worse. Trying to move quickly with cramped, aching legs is almost impossible.

Also–have you ever noticed that you always fall all over things until you need them, and then they suddenly disappear? Like, um, passports?

By the time I got to Customs and had to find that passport from wherever it was hiding, I was in a mood most foul. The Customs guy had to get my attention so he could match my face to my passport picture!

And then the whole TSA thing again. I had to practically unload one of my bags to satisfy the agent.

Then my bag was stopped–again! This time it was the bottle of water I never drank during the flight. I’d completely forgotten it was there.

From the looks I was getting from Security, I’m pretty sure they were ready to take me in for questioning–or kick me out of the country outright.

But we finally got out of there unscathed, and I didn’t cause any more problems. I’m pretty sure Paul was happy about that.

From Frankfurt to Rome–nothing to note there. Very short. Very German. Very…indecipherable for someone without the correct background.

Then it was off to the train that would take us to Rome.

…Oh look–stairs…

This trip is either going to kill me or cure me.

It was a nice train, really. It passed through rolling countryside and into Rome proper in very short time. As we passed trees and fields, I couldn’t help but think of the eons that these lands have been cultured, and how many hundreds of generations have looked upon them.

The train station was very close to our hotel, which was wonderful. My legs hadn’t recovered from the flight yet, so it was difficult going even that distance.

Our hotel room was comfortable–bed, drawers, shelves, a desk and TV. We had to insert our room key card into a slot next to the door in order for the lights to work, but we’re no strangers to that. Our lights in the hotel room in Brazil worked the same way.

The plumbing had a really weird set-up though. The commode (and bidet!) had its own room, but one wall was frosted glass which separated that room from the shower. No, it was not a door…

And the shower itself had a light switch that allowed alternating colors to shine on you as you washed. Gotta wonder what they were thinking when they put that in…

Okay…yeah…just–stop…

And the shelf–across the mirror–was exactly the right height so that I couldn’t see my face. Not that I really cared, but other short people might be put out.

One of the most wonderful things about where we were staying was the wealth of restaurants on (and in) the street below us. Every establishment has its tables on the (very wide) sidewalks, and there is no end to the variety.

   

We had dinner no more than twenty feet from the front door of our hotel! Nice bottle of chianti, a bit of dinner, and we were off exploring again.

We went to the other end of the street, where we were able to take pictures of the lit exterior of Santa Maria Maggiore. Looks like it’s being renovated, so we didn’t get to see the inside. The outside itself was fantastic in and of itself though.

What surprised, and somewhat scared me, was the presence of the militia in full uniform, weapons at the ready.

Sorry to see that. The military presence is everywhere–something we didn’t see two years ago.

This was the extent of our exploration for the day. We were really tired, and sleep came easily that night.

Tomorrow–the Vatican Museum, and some very un-Christian behavior on the Metro underground.

 

 

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Our last day in Scotland–farewell, but not forever

EDINBURGH

We left our “castle” early, because we had a lot to see in very little time.

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Our plan was to get as close to Edinburgh Castle as we could, then drop the car in a NCP (National Car Park). Ditzo the Wonder GPS could only get us to the castle, so we had to find our own way to the parking structure. Good thing we had a paper map.

The parking charges were horrific, by the way. Some £5 per hour, or something close to that. Yikes!

We got up to the Royal Mile, which goes from the Castle down to Holyrood Palace (the latter was not on our list of places to visit), and explored the Castle first. Last time I was here, we didn’t go inside—so I was really eager to see it.

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That took a good number of hours—well, we were taking pictures every two feet or so.

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Lots of history, lots of great info—of course, without book/website info, I won’t remember any of it.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Edinburgh_Castle

Once we got all the tourist value out of the Castle, we walked about halfway down the Royal Mile,

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where we signed up for an Underground History tour. I would have preferred the Haunted Underground Tour, but no matter. We ended up in the same place. Just a different slant.

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Enjoyed the tour immensely—no sign of Mr. Boots or any of the other paranormal denizens of the area. Probably for the best. Although…I did see a shadow flit across a space lit up by candlelight—and it didn’t seem to belong to anyone. But I could be wrong…

Then a somewhat long walk to the Hard Rock Café,

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where I got another shirt. I think I have eleven now. What a great way to make a collection – world travel. Next year I hope to pick up one in Rome.

After that, we battled rush-hour traffic to Glasgow, dropped the car off at the rental place (yay!), and checked into the same hotel we started with. A quick dinner, a last shopping trip to buy stuff for the folks back home, and now we’re awaiting bedtime. We leave tomorrow afternoon.

I loved this trip, but I’ll be glad to get home again.

A few parting thoughts:

  • Roundabouts with signal lights—so that whole idea isn’t working out so great. I prefer cloverleafs and signal lights at intersections.
  • Driving on the opposite side of the road is kind of like wearing your shoes on the wrong feet. It’s something you can get used to, but it just doesn’t feel right…ever.
  • Paper towel in bathrooms—they don’t exist. It’s the dryers or your pant legs. I used the latter. My skin is dry enough as it is.
  • The Scots are some of the nicest people in the world, hands-down. And not just in the hospitality/retail/tourist trades either. Just nice everywhere. If it wasn’t for the driving thing, I would be 100% comfortable here.

Next year–Italy! Or Brazil…undecided right now.

I hope you enjoyed my travel blog–I would love to hear from you.

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Day 6: Around the Inverness Area

INVERNESS – STIRLING CASTLE/FALKIRK WHEEL/THE KELPIES

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Interesting—the cigarette stink was gone by morning. The de-humidifiers probably helped.

Our host here was probably the most gregarious of the three we had encountered. He got a big kick out of the fact that Paul and I sat side-by-side at the breakfast table instead of across from each other. (“First couple in 4 ½ months to do that,” says he.) It was a particularly good day for him—it was the last time this season that he would be doing the breakfast-cooking thing. He was pretty happy about that.

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Yep, we were visiting probably very close to the end of the season. How to tell: much lower costs at the B&Bs, and a little bit of ice on the car that morning. The weather had definitely taken a turn for the colder.

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We found a church not too far from the B&B – St. Ninnian’s. There was a small circle of flowers and plants near the church’s entry, and I recognized almost all of them as being part of Oregon’s flora too. Geraniums, lobelia, fuchsias, azaleas, and a lot more. Since we were there much earlier than the start time of Mass, we wandered around the neighborhood a bit. Very cold—it was nice to get back in when the doors finally opened.

After church, we headed toward Stirling Castle. Our new GPS friend gave us mostly flawless directions (she had us go down a road that was blocked off at the end, just the once), and we soon ended up at our destination.

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And this is where I ran out of battery juice for my camera—right as we got into the castle grounds. The other battery, fully charged, was still in the car. Oh well—my phone camera works great. Gotta love modern technology!

Warning: history lesson coming up…

From www.stirlingcastle.gov.uk: Stirling Castle was the key to the kingdom of Scotland, dominating a vast volcanic rock above the river Forth at the meeting point between Lowlands and Highlands.

Its origins are ancient and over the centuries it grew into a great royal residence and a powerful stronghold.

During the Wars of Independence, which were civil wars among the Scots as well as a struggle between Scotland and England, the castle changed hands eight times in 50 years.

And it is no accident that famous battles such as Stirling Bridge and Bannockburn took place within sight of its walls.

In times of peace Scottish royalty came to Stirling to enjoy its comforts, the superb hunting and to hold court – the castle was often the centre of government.

Royal building projects like the Great Hall, the Chapel Royal and the Palace of James V, marked it out as one of the most important places in all Scotland.

Infamous deeds took place here, like the murder of the earl of Douglas by James II.

It was also a childhood home of some of the most famous people in Scottish and British history, such as Mary Queen of Scots and James VI and I.

Later it became an important military base and eventually home to the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders.

Since the last of the soldiers marched away it has seen major projects to return the main buildings to their original magnificence.

Nowadays Stirling Castle is famous internationally as one of Scotland’s must-see visitor attractions.

So now ya know.

The outside had some really good photo ops, and there weren’t a ton of people there, which also helped us to get tourist-free pictures. I was hoping that some of the rooms inside would be furnished to look like Back Then, but there was very little of that.

p1070528Stirling Monument,, which I explored last time I was here. At that time, I was standing THERE, staring over to HERE.

 

 

 

 

 

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There were some cool interior shots though:

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We spent most of the afternoon there, then headed for our next destinations: the Falkirk Wheel, and then The Kelpies. Paul programmed both destinations into the GPS, and off we went.

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That wheel was something! We were too late to actually ride on the thing, but we did see it in action.

There’s a park of sorts around it now, and I also saw kids playing in giant hamster balls—both in the water and on the lawns. Saw a few swans too—not a common sight in Oregon, so I was almost more interested in them than I was in the Wheel. The grass in the park was mowed in circles of various sizes—very Druidic in style. It fit in well with the layout of the place.

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I’m glad Paul got to see the only thing that he had specifically wanted to see on this trip. And we did get to see it in action, which was cool.

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Back to the car, where we put on the GPS and the directions to the Kelpies…and ended up back at Stirling Castle. So now the GPS has a new name—Dashboard Ditz.

Well, we did pass Bannockburn in this direction—that was a boon. We didn’t stop though—no time. It looks as if they’ve added more buildings and such since last time I saw it.

OK—pull over, re-do the GPS…

No mistaking where the Kelpies were from the highway—they loomed over it. Very startling to see as you come around a bend in the road. Now to get to the surface roads and reach it before sunset…

Which we did—only just.

I was out of the car and moving before Paul even had the car in park—I wasn’t about to miss the last of the daylight as it hit these beasties. Moving as fast as I could (which isn’t terribly quick, since my feet hate me), I rounded a grassy hill and was able to catch almost the last fire of sunset on the Kelpies.

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Paul came charging up behind me, and clambered up a steepish berm to a path higher up, and got in some good pictures also.

What’s cool about these huge metal sculptures (they stand 30 meters, or just a shade over 98 feet tall), is that they have lights inside of them. The colors switch from blue to green to yellow to orange to red, and back again. Absolutely beautiful!

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See that tiny person at the right? That’s Paul. Shows you the size of these things.

 

 

 

 

So, many pictures later, we went back to the car and programmed the address for our overnight accommodation into Dashboard Ditz—the Melville Castle Hotel.

Here’s where Ditzy could have made our lives a little easier…

Night was falling fast, so we really hoped that it would be simple to find the address and get there. Ha! Not so…

The GPS gave us two different locations for the same address. We chose the first, figuring that it would be the correct one. When will we learn to never assume…?

It got us past Edinburgh just fine—we figured that the hotel wasn’t going to be in the middle of town anyway. Up and up we went, the area getting less and less populated. I was feeling a little creeped out—especially when the two-way road became a one-way because of road construction.

We stopped at the temporary traffic light, which was showing red. Thing is, we were the only car around. The only ANYTHING around. Just us, with a drop-off to the left and a stone wall to the right…and no street lights. I was expecting bats to show up…or wolves even.

Dashboard Ditz plopped us in the middle of nowhere—“your destination is on the left”—where we saw a closed gate, no signage, and no lights whatsoever.

Um…no.

We kept going, and found ourselves back in civilization at the foot of the hill we’d been on. After a session of do-si-dos with a couple of roundabouts, we made our way back up the same road, figuring we must have missed it somewhere.

Nope—looked the same.

About now you’re probably asking, “Well, what about the other location for the address?” Well, truth is, we’d forgotten about that.

By now, Paul was spitting nails. We went back to those roundabouts, and I suggested we ask for directions. So we stopped off at a place called the Melville Inn. This was also a building surrounded by dark, and a challenge to get into…

Well, it all ended well. The bartender knew exactly where it was, and was kind enough to draw me a map.

When we hit the second roundabout, a sign we hadn’t seen before practically shone at us. Go figure.

So yay, we finally found it! But what a long, dark, creepy driveway to get to it! Nothing but forest on either side until we pulled into the parking lot in front of it.

And…it seemed we had walked right into a Stephen King novel…yikes! It was lit up in its best Haunted Castle looks. Delightfully spooky-looking.

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However, inside it was fantastic. Awe-inspiring. Opulent. I couldn’t goggle enough; I’m sure I dragged my jaw along the floor for some ten minutes.

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The history of the place is fascinating. Mary Queen of Scots was a frequent visitor. Check out the info here: https://melvillecastle.com/history/. (I had no idea until I started writing this blog.)

Our room was gorgeous, and dinner was fantastic. And no ghosts annoyed us during the night.

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Day 5: A day on Lewis

STORNOWAY

STANDING STONES/WAR MEMORIAL TOWER/LEWS CASTLE/INVERNESS

I’m happy to report that I slept quite well, given the circumstances. Meaning—doesn’t anyone use just blankets and bedspreads anymore? These duvets—it’s either sweat or freeze. Last night was workable though, because Paul had opened a window a little, and that let in enough cool air to keep me from overheating.

We got up fairly early—kind of surprised our hosts, who were still working on the breakfast. We’d inadvertently done that to the previous hosts too. “Early” seemed to be consistent on this trip.

Every B&B has its own distinct flavor—the first one was very informal, and the breakfast choices were either hot or cold. This place had a menu—plus, the coffee was the best I’d had since we’d arrived in Scotland.

By the way, you can’t spit without hitting a B&B in Scotland. They are everywhere, one right next to another.

Once breakfast was done, we packed up and got on the road again. Our objective: the Calanais Standing Stones.

Our route was a somewhat circuitous one, which took us in a counter-clockwise path. It wasn’t difficult finding them, and we found other cool things to look at along the way.

First serendipitous thing: sheep in the road. Fat white sheep with black faces, that stared at us as if we were about to ruin their day. Well, if they didn’t get out of the road, that could come true…

Second—a Norse mill and kiln. I believe that the foundations are original—of course, the roofs have been redone. Plus, the orange netting to keep the roof together is probably not original—ha!

There was just a small sign pointing to it, and we would have missed it if we’d been driving any faster. There was a tiny car park, and a gate with a pedestrian entrance to it. So many of these points of interest are ones a person just stumbles upon.

There were several sheep around the car park but they took off once we got out of the car.

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It was a bit of a trek to get to the site—up a gravelly path and over a hill.

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Well worth the walk. At one point, I could swear there was a long-dead flattened deer on the path, but I think it was more like some sort of material the builders of the site had put down to keep the weeds from growing. Who knows? Maybe they used deer hide.

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p1070417 A note about the mist at the top of the doorway: There was no such thing when I snapped the picture. Draw your own conclusions…

 

 

 

 

 

We journeyed on, meeting very little opposing traffic. Guess they like to sleep in of a Saturday. Except for the sheep farmers, who were gathered in places beside pens of their sheep. I don’t know what they were planning to do with them, but the word “haggis” comes to mind.

We crested a ridge—and there they were, up on the next hillside—the Standing Stones.

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The visitors’ center wasn’t open yet, so we waited and took pictures of the surrounding area.

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I picked up a couple of souvenirs in the gift shop, then we went up to the Stones.

Kinda cool—but I was into the scenery more. And to see just how artsy-fartsy I could get with my pictures.

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About then, I ran out of room on my memory card…

We were ready to head on again anyway. But as we were leaving, we found a reason to put on the brakes.

We spotted what we thought was a cow, but it turned out to be a huge pig! Paul got his camera and gave Wilbur his fifteen minutes of photo fame. (Actually it was a sow…Wilburine??)

Back to Stornoway—along the route we could see where peat turf had been recently cut out, and the turves left to dry. Unfortunately, we could never find a place to pull over and take pictures. Scottish roads are notorious for being narrow and without easements—even in the middle of nowhere!

Got back to Stornoway, where we stopped at a couple of shops for more souvenirs. I had a number of people to buy for, and these items may be part of their Christmas gifts.

Our next stop was the War Memorial, a behemoth of a tower on a hill overlooking the town. There were sheep all over the land there too, but at least they were behind a fence. This is probably the closest I’ve ever come to free-range sheep. I think I want one…

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We prowled around the grounds and took probably too many pictures yet again, but hey…at least we don’t have to develop film like in the old days. We couldn’t get inside the tower—years of leaks have rendered it unfit for inside touring. But the views from that hill—breathtaking!

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Our next destination turned out to be our shortest visit—Lews Castle. Kind of disappointing; I was looking forward to seeing the inside rooms, but no such luck.

There was a really ugly museum attached to that grand old edifice, and while that clung to one side of the castle like a sci-fi metal slug, there was scaffolding all over the other side. Poor old dame—I felt somewhat sorry for her.

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So we really didn’t get to see much of the inside. We instead took a somewhat half-hearted walk around the outside of the place and went back to the car. I got some pretty good pictures though.

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It wouldn’t be long before we were going to be boarding the ferry, so we parked the car in line and rtook a short walk through a bit of Stornoway that we hadn’t seen yet. Many pictures were taken, of course.

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We also stopped for a cup of coffee, and entertained the locals with our lack of knowledge as to which English coin was which (I have the pound coin down, and the 5p and 20p, but the rest, not so much). I think I may have brought out some US coinage at one time too—nope, that won’t work.

Eventually we made it back to the car, after checking on the plumbing in the terminal—if you get my drift. It wasn’t long before we were back on the ferry and headed back to Ullapool.

We sat aft, and as Stornoway got smaller and smaller, I could see where we’d been. It was so odd to think that, not two hours earlier, I was standing THERE, looking THIS way. What an odd sensation.

Once off the ferry, we got on the road again, and had no trouble getting to Inverness. Pretty much just followed the truck ahead of us, and used the GPS that was part of the car. (We really hadn’t noticed it the first couple of days—too busy working out the streets and just getting a handle on driving.)

For the most part, we liked the GPS lady in the dashoard better—not only did she give us directions, but she knew the street names. Major help there.

At this writing, we are in our B&B, after a trip to a nearby, very crowded pub. We also stopped off at a grocery store so I could get something to eat as well. Too busy in the pub to get food—we could barely get their attention enough to get drinks.

In truth, I’ll be glad to leave this B&B—it reeks of cigarette smoke. Tomorrow we’ll be driving down to Edinburgh by way of Stirling Castle, the Kelpies, and the Falkirk Wheel.

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Day 4: Finally, off to the main reason for this trip

LEWIS/DUN EISTEAN

So here we are in Stornoway, on the Isle of Lewis.

BEST. DAY. EVER!!

Earlier in the day, we got up early to ensure our place in the car line for the ferry.

But first—breakfast. Traditional Scottish one—OJ, coffee (big, BIG yay!), sausage, toast, bacon, egg, and my first-ever black pudding. Interesting taste, but I’m pretty sure I won’t knowingly eat it again. Not my thing. Paul liked it though.

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We spent an hour or so taking pictures around town while waiting for the ferry. I could hardly believe I was doing this! Finally, after so many years, I was getting to go to the Isle of Lewis. It was still a crapshoot as to whether we’d actually find Dun Eistean itself. But we were going to do our best to do so.

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The ferry was a little late, but not all that much. We drove on with no problems and found a seat in one of the Passenger Lounges.

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After we got out of the bay and were making the crossing, the scenery got pretty mundane. Islands that looked like someone had taken the east hills of my old home area, San Jose, and had dumped them in the water. Not all that interesting.

We had some coffee,

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then went up to the (outside) top deck for a bit.

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Not a lot to check out (“What? No shuffleboard?”), so we went back in fairly quickly. I read and Paul sort of dozed until Lewis came into sight.

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Finally we were docked and back in the car. We tried to find Port Nis on the GPS, but it had no idea what we were talking about (what a surprise…). So Paul entered the next town, Sgiogarstaigh (no idea how to pronounce it), and it knew where that was. Go figure.

Okay, seriously, nice Scottish people…Those roads—they really need work. The skateboard thing again. At least there were no rock walls to bounce against.

The wider, 60mph roads though—I could tell Paul was enjoying that.

We had no trouble finding Sgiogarstaigh, but were at a loss after that. Fortunately we spotted a man working in his yard, and were able to ask directions. He spoke the language in a dialect close enough to our understanding to make us realize that we were too far east.

With his help, we found Port Nis with no more problems.

And we drove along until…okay…there’s a sign that says Dun Eistean on it…

Wait! We turn…there??

Up a steep, narrow, unpaved stone road, which seemed at first glance to be someone’s idea of a joke.

Came to a closed gate.

Really? All this way, all those years of wishing…

Oh—that tower over there. Looks sort of like the one on the family crest. But…

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Well, there’s no lock on the gate, and the sign points this way.

I got out of the car, opened the gate (with some difficulty), and we drove through. (Yes, I closed it after us.) More rocky road, but thankfully it had leveled out by now.

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Just around a turn, and – there’s the lighthouse in the distance! Offshore, some very familiar rock formations.

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And best of all—the footbridge, just peeking over a hill in the near distance.

And another gate. This time I didn’t think twice.

I’m a Morrison, and these are my roots. Outta my way, gate!

At the end of the road was a nice little car park and a couple of informational signs. We took pictures of all that…

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…then I walked across the footbridge and stepped onto the land of my ancestors.

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Incredible. That’s all.

My sister had been here quite a few years ago, and it was windy and raining then. This day it was warm, sunny, and the wind was reasonable. We were so blessed.

I got up to the top of the tower foundations and sat down. And I could have stayed there forever.

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(An overturned couch and a few empty bottles – seemed appropriate…ha!)

But—time waits for no one, and we still had to check in to our lodgings for the night.

No problem finding it—we got our stuff inside, then went to find drinks and dinner.

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No beer for me tonight. I had a wee dram of Capt. Morgan’s rum at the pub we stopped at, then a Long island iced tea at dinner.

Oh, you know that Jack and Coke in a can? Found it in a store. Got it. Drank it. Pretty darn good.

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Scotland, Day 3

LOCH LOMOND/BALLACHULISH/ULLAPOOL

Up early—I might have gotten a little bit of sleep, but not much—and over to the airport for coffee. We then had breakfast in another area of the airport. This is where we discovered that Jack Daniels sells Jack & Coke in cans here. Well, we just knew that at some point we’d have to get some and try it out.

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Checked out of the hotel, stashed stuff in the car, and it was off to Ullapool.

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Helluva drive—both lovely and terrifying at the same time. We went past Loch Lomond, and stopped for a spell in a viewing area called Firken Point.

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Our next stop was in a village called Ballachulish.

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It was originally just a name Paul had put into the GPS to give us directions—once we’d reached that point,  we were going to input Ullapool from there. However, we saw something that made us stop here.

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It turns out there used to be a slate quarry here, and what we had seen was the entry to an informational walk around the old quarry grounds. Beautiful, sere, haunting—it was well worth the half-hour or so that we spent there.

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From Wiki: Slate from the East Laroch quarries, established just two years after the infamous Glencoe Massacre of 1692, was used to provide the roofing slate for much of Edinburgh and Glasgow‘s skyline in the succeeding centuries. It is of good quality but one weakness is the presence of Iron Pyrite in the rock. These crystals quickly rust away when exposed to the weather, leaving clean square holes and a brown rusty streak. Over 75% of the slate cut from the quarries was unusable as roof covering for this and other reasons. The quarries closed in 1955. Optimistically, tests have recently (2008/9) been carried out to see if it is feasible to extract slate from them again.

On our way to Ullapool, we figured that we’d also go to Inverness, since we were heading in that direction (east, then north). The further north we went, the more evident the Highlands became. Such overarching, huge mountains! Desolate though—they reminded me of the area below the Oregon border, where the trees have given up and there is nothing but wind and grass. Beautiful.

Oh boy—those roads! Some of them I think you’d have a hard time getting two opposing skateboards past each other, never mind cars. Paul was terrified—by his own admission. The narrow roads were bad enough, but the rock walls and lack of easement made it even worse. Especially when a truck or RV was coming at us. We were so glad to get past those!

Some of this area was familiar, as we were on the same roads that Gayle and I and the girls had been on during our bus tour a number of years ago. It all became crystal clear when we saw the Scottish Commando Memorial along our route. We had seen that back then.

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Paul, of course, hadn’t seen it. We stopped to check it out and to take pictures—and we were certainly not alone. Quite a few tourist for this time of year. I could see why—the weather was glorious at a time when cold and damp were the norm.

Well, the cold was definitely with us—that wind went right through my coat!

We also walked over to the memorial garden. Quite a few markers have been added since the last time I’d been there.

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We decided to skip Inverness after all, and head straight to Ullapool, since Inverness was an overnight stay on the way back, and it was getting late.

There was no trouble in finding our B&B.

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Our hostess, Kathleen, was a real sweetie. We had a gorgeous room, and the bathroom had a claw-foot bathtub. No shower—that made Paul’s morning ablutions a bit of a challenge.

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We got settled in and walked through the town. It was closing up, as it was around 6pm. We scoped out the ferry area, then had dinner in a pub recommended to us by our hostess.

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Beer and dinner. Getting to be a habit.

Back to the B&B. We sat in the common room in front of a small fire for a bit, then I went to bed.

Hard time getting to sleep, but it was adequate.

Tomorrow: Best. Day. Ever!!!

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