Thursday, June 30, 2016

Christmas in San Diego, 2015

Spotted the Maritime Museum on the short bus ride from the airport and walked back to take in later that afternoon.  Also checked out the San Diego Athletic Club's rooftop pool and weight machines.  It's just about six blocks from the hotel and $50 for the week.  Ended up there almost every morning before breakfast.

Outing to one of the first Spanish missions to the north of city central.  It was interesting to hear more about Spanish history in California, which is much more extensive than Anglo's know (or admit),  Our guide is a lovely, enthusiastic Mexican-American woman.  She gave up almost all of the Christmas week to this trip, but her family will join her at the hotel on Christmas eve.

Balboa Park was originally built for a world's fair.  It contains too many beautiful buildings with extensive exhibits for one day.  I spent most of my free time at the Japanese Gardens before lunch and a visit to the zoo.

Botanic Gardens

Japanese gardens

A visit to La Jolla to the aquarium and a downtown park on the coast.

A drive and walking at Point Loma.

We had a most interesting typical Christmas Mexican lunch at an elderly center prepared by a local group of women.  After lunch we walked under the freeways to photograph the interesting graphic art.

Christmas day was spent at the historic hotel on Coronado at an exorbitantly priced buffet. 

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

The Best of Scotland



First two weeks of June 2016


Left home at 17:30 June 1 and arrived in Iceland 6:30 June 2.  Other than at least a three hour wait between planes, the flights went well.  Icelandair normally has only one hour between flights, but either expanded service or the airport redo or both has them messed up.  But I must have slept enough on the flight to Keflavik, as I felt good in Glasgow, especially after being met by a nice driver and whisked to the Millennium Hotel right off St. George Square.

City Hall, on St. George Square

Queen Victoria with Millennium Hotel in background

The next day we had a group trip to Glasgow Cathedral.

Lower level

After a drive around the University of Glasgow, listened to the end of an organ concert at Kelvingrove Museum where we lunched.
Tower on University building

Organ from far away
Kelvingrove Museum

The rest of the day was on our own.  From the museum it was about a mile to the botanic gardens, through a lovely neighborhood.  So many people were enjoying the unseasonably hot day lounging in large grassy areas.  It was much too hot in the greenhouses.  Below is a sampling of the way too many pictures I always take in gardens.
Tree of the year, 2015

Rhododendrons were beautiful all over Scotland, often growing wild along the road.

That evening I shot some more Glasgow images out walking after dinner.

Bubbles on the mall

Duke of Wellington with deliberately added hat

A field trip outside of Glasgow the next day took us to Culzean Castle and Robert Burns's birthplace cottage. I enjoyed fabulous fresh fish and chips on the village lawn right off the water by the Firth of Clyde.

Poem on father's grave by Burns

Here are pictures of a lovely castle/home on the Firth of Clyde.  (Forgot the name and sequence. Too many castles!) Too much time in the fabulous interior was a bit much for me, and I spent most of the time walking around the extensive grounds.


On the drive to Oban we stopped at a fabulous early 1900s home designed for a publisher.  The time period and modern interior was reminiscent of the house important to the plot  in "The Forsythe Saga" or Frank Lloyd Wright homes, even down to most of the interior design and furnishings.  Photographs were not permitted inside but here are a few of the wonderful gardens and lawns.  This home must have been perfect for the large family.

Lovely shade garden, where I imagine the children hiding

The tree with yellow flowers is laburnum, which is very popular here and in Sweden.
Next we also toured a "green" power plant before arriving in Oban.  It was originally built to use a high water fall, like many in Norway.  Eventually a large underground lake just below the top of high hills was built to store the water before it is released to run the turbines.  Most ingenious.

Oban is right on the west coast where a ferry took us to the Isle of Mull.  After a longish bus ride to the other side of the island another boat took us to Iona, to take in an ancient Irish monastery remains.

present day church on  Iona

Typical Isle of Mull landscape, so many ferns!

Oban from ferry, hotel right there, almost on the water

Fort William Area

From Oban we travelled through "Kidnapped" country, and over two days had many modes of transportation.  The bus ride was through beautiful, lush green country, eventually reaching imposing mountains.  The closest comparison to an USA area is Appalachia, but Scottish mountains reach above timberline. A prominent similarity is the plentiful rhododendrons, many pink growing wild along roadsides.(They are an invasive species, of.course.) Several colors, some I have never seen before, are cultivated in yards.

That morning our hot weather was replaced by the more typical Scottish climate--cloudy, misty, a bit of rain from time to time.  I loved it!!!  The private boat ride on Loch Shiel was a bit chilly, easily overcome with a fleece vest under the waterproof, but breathable raincoat.  However, tea and cakes served by the captain's wife were most welcome.  The boat docked next to a country hotel where we lunched before walking back to the visitors' center at the head of the loch.

Note railroad bridge with train.

The next day we had a gondola ride up the ski area on Ben Nevis, the highest mountain in Britain.  The clouds were lifting on the way down.

View on top of Ben Nevis

After a stop at a memorial for Scottish soldiers of an outfit similar to the 10th Mountain Division, a train ride took us across moor country.  Evidently this is what much of northern Scotland is like.

Today we enjoyed another ferry ride to visit the Isle of Skye.  Our bus takes the ferry too, so we could drive over about half of the island and have a break at a charming town and walking area.

Inverness area

After lunch in a hotel at the end of the relatively new bridge connecting Skye to the mainland, which many did not want on grounds that Skye would no longer be an island, the bus drove into central Scotland.  A long part of the ride was a beautiful traverse along Loch Ness. The Lochs through central Scotland are connected with a series of locks enabling water craft to cross the country.  The third picture was taken at the top of a series of locks and dams.

Castle ruin

Our group enjoyed two nights at Tulloch Castle, which was a more comfortable hotel conversion than expected.  The "limey" manager entertained us with evening ghost stories, complete with a trip to the dungeon!  Another proud story was a recent stay by Prince William, who was on helicopter training.  The couple in our group celebrating their 50th was assigned HRH's room, and they graciously allowed the rest of us peons to visit.  The room was much more spacious than others with a sitting area near a fireplace in addition to a lush four-poster bed.  An advance person had come to Tulloch making sure the Prince's presence would not be made public.  But while there, the Prince was said to be graciously chatting with other diners.  Sadly, since most of them were Americans, they really didn't seem to know or were unsure about exactly who he was.

Cawdor Castle had the most extensive and lovely grounds yet, even more amazing than others we had seen.  In addition to a formal garden with a hedge maze in the center, off another garden in a different area, a wild large forest complete with giant trees, a creek, and the start of a five mile trail amazed.  

border along formal gardens

Minotaur at the center of the maze

Later we stopped at Clava Cairns, a 4000 year old site of burial cairns.  These stone structures contain burials inside the walls and are large enough for groups to enter.

Gorse, in the background, grows all around, mostly a pest.

From there we visited the famous battlefield of Culloden, where Bonny Prince Charlie ran out of luck (although he did escape to live a life of decadence in Italy). The story of this battle reminded me of Pickett's
charge at Gettysburg about 50 years later, but Lee was apparently using a somewhat similar strategy learned studying Napoleon years earlier at West Point.  Both involved senseless slaughter of men crossing an empty field to confront a protected foe. On most bus rides our historian gave lectures related to where we were, which I greatly appreciated.  Incidentally, Outlander fans would recognize this area of Scotland.


After a tour of a whiskey distillery (not the best smelling place, but industrially clean), a highlight of the trip was to a sheep farm and a display of herding.  Our arrival was greeted by seven or eight highly excited border collies.  Later the children brought out the puppies the farmer was training for others and keeping the best of each litter.  This method might be to avoid in-breeding in his own stock of dogs, which he does not breed.  He reminded me of my late father-in-law, Jesse Radcliffe, a southern Indiana farmer.  The Scottish countryside was even similar.  But the resemblance was mostly the farmer's completely independent attitude toward government agriculture programs and "a pox on the lot of them", which he was not shy to share.  

Dunkeld, a well-preserved historic town has a 1400 year old cathedral, set along the confluence of two rivers by Celtic monks.

Another day, another castle, this time a visit to Scone Castle and eventually lunch in the old servants' quarters.  Lunch was quite good, even though the room was overcrowded due to rain and an antique flea market on the grounds. Scone Castle is the site of enthronement of Scottish kings.  The stone guarded by the peacock was taken to England and stolen back by Scottish students several years ago.  It now resides in Edinburgh, but local representatives have started an effort to return it to its original place.

A replica of the original, now in Edinburgh

Our last stop of the day was to an osprey and other animals preserve, called the Loch of the Lowes.  There I found the trip remembrance t-shirt, bought for a worthy cause and every day attire when back home.

On the road to Edinburgh

We spent the morning at the small town of Culross, first touring the Merchant's Palace and enjoying a sack lunch by the Firth of Forth.  
Merchant's Palace several hundred years old

Lots of top brand cars on the streets by ultra-expensive homes

Close to Edinburgh we stopped at Rosslyn Chapel (Da Vinci Code) and just before crossing into Edinburgh stopped to view the three bridges over the Firth of Forth.

The next day in Edinburgh we toured Edinburgh Castle on the high end of the Royal Mile and looked at the castle the queen uses now on the lower end.  Edinburgh is built on the site of an extinct volcano that blew itself out leaving this hill.  Long high hills loom behind the queen's castle and the Scottish Parliament,  The bus drove up those hills to give us a wonderful view of the city.

Castle now used by Queen Elizabeth II when in Edinburgh

Fuzzy parliament building, actually quite nice inside

One of a series of panel at the entrance to Edinburgh Castle

Just one building in Edinburgh Castle

 On our own another participant and I had lunch in the basement of St. Giles Cathedral (thanks to Rick Steves for the tip).  On going upstairs we found an incredible quilt show, with fourteen panels depicting the book of Revelations.

Then it was on to the Scottish Museum, where a lovely Scottish gentleman gave us a tour of Scotland's history through union with England.  Alas there was only enough time to see this little bit.

Ancient burial stone

Typical street in Edinburgh--museum like

Note crown above cathedral

More of Edinburgh Castle
The group tour was over the next morning.  I had a delightful train ride to Glasgow, which stopped at almost every town between the two cities, for my flight the next day on Icelandair.  In Glasgow that evening I wandered into an excellent department store where I found a dress for Lily and a shirt set for Emory.  I had only found little souvenirs for them at gift shops selling either junk or exorbitantly priced good stuff.  Happily the clothes were a big success.


I stayed at an excellent guesthouse right in the main part of Keflavik and enjoyed another fresh seafood meal that evening.  The next day I drove to Grindavik planning to start the day with a swim, but June 17 is Iceland's national day.  The pools were closed.  But the next plan was to drive along the coast stopping at scenic areas.  (Iceland's route 1 circumvents the island along the coast--very tempting.)  I walked up a giant hill where bird watchers had some serious equipment set up.  I stopped back in Keflavik for lunch at a promising looking restaurant (Thai and seafood) and realized I had been there three years ago and even sat at the same table!  More driving and sight seeing took up the time before the car was dropped off at the airport.   Tired as I was after a flight delayed at least an hour and then 7 1/2 more to Denver, I was grateful the stopover in Iceland broke the entire trip from Glasgow.  Last year returning from Oslo without a break was totally exhausting.


This and the one above are in a Keflavik park by the sea

Note person on cliff on the left and nesting birds on center cliff