Friday, 24 September 2010

Paris 9/24/10

The weekend in Paris flew by.  I thought we'd never get there though.  We decided to take the train instead of fly.  They were both around the same price, but we thought we'd avoid the airport hassle and see some of the country.  In hindsight there was plenty of hassle with changing trains and riding the tubes too. I don't know which would be worse.  But it all worked out in the end.

We drove to the nearest train station (20 minutes away) Friday morning and caught the 8:00 AM train to London.  Once in London we had to walk to the International train station (our original train wouldn't take us there).  It was about a 15 minute walk although we had bags to carry.  Mine was on wheels, but Joe had a duffel type bag so he had to carry it.  Once we got to the International train we eventually boarded another train to take us straight to Paris (two hour train ride).  The ride was  uneventful and the scenery didn't look much different than that of England.  At least what we saw out of the windows on the way.

We arrived in Paris at 12:30 (though we had lost an hour along the way).  Wow, it was weird being in a country that doesn't speak the same language.  The train station was huge and we had to find where to go to catch the tube (subway).  So signs and tube routes were basically no help.  We stood in a long line for information and were able to buy tube passes, then we were sort of pointed in a general direction (the guy spoke little English) but we found our way.  That still didn't get us to our hotel.  We had to switch lines and take another tube to our destination.

We could have taken a taxi but that would have been expensive and heck, we may as well ride along with the rest of humanity.  Besides, we like to live dangerously!  At one point it did kind of get weird.  The doors of the tube were opening and people are rushing on and off the tube at the same time.  Joe is ahead of me and goes on in and I jump up and get on the tube, but there is a young girl (maybe 16-18)  right in front of me coming out.  I move one direction to get by her (and to let her by me), but every time I move one direction she follows me and blocks me.  We are literally face to face.  At first I thought it was an accident, but she continued doing it!  Her face had a stubborn look to it.  For the life of me I couldn't figure out what her problem was!  I kept saying "excuse me" which even if she didn't speak English, you usually know those simple terms in other people's languages.  Besides it was obvious what I was doing.  This went on and on, me dodging her and her blocking me!  I could not believe it.  Finally I gave her a shove and pushed past her.  Joe said that after I did that she got stuck in between the doors closing!  He saw the whole thing and couldn't figure it out either.  I hated to resort to physical means, but I swear I didn't think she was EVER going to let me by. 

The tube in Paris was more crowded than the London tube.  Instead of seats along the outer walls of the train they had seats similar to a bus except some would be turned to face each other. They had that in the train ride too, but in the train there was a table between you and plenty of room.  These were VERY close together!  So when we sat down our knees were literally touching the knees of the person sitting across from us!  One person had to open their knees and the other close their knees to fit comfortably!  Really up close and personal.  No one seemed friendly so that you were forced to look off to one side so that you wouldn't be sitting there staring at the person in front of you. Uncomfortable to say the least.

All of the directions for the above, walking to the train stations, tube stations and the walk to the hotel I had written down in minute detail in my trusty notebook that goes everywhere with me.  Thank goodness.  The only hard part was finding the right places to go once we were in the stations.  But with virtually no mishaps the tube dropped us off near our hotel so we managed to walk there and arrived at our hotel that afternoon in one piece.

Our hotel was very nice, but look at this OLD elevator!  You had to open the cage door
to step in!
As I stated above, the people were not particularly friendly.  I shouldn't judge France by the Paris people, just as people shouldn't judge England by the Londoners or New York by the New Yorkers.  The big city people are just a different breed, I think.  The hotel staff and the restaurant servers were friendly though and thankfully most of them spoke English as well as French.

In Paris you can bring your dog with you onto buses, tubes, stores and restaurants!  We were in a very nice cafe.  I considered it upscale.  It had a fancy bakery in it that offered all kinds of pastries that people walked in off the street to come in to buy.  They would leave with their pastries wrapped beautifully in pink bags with 
handle carriers.  (YES I tried them and YES they were delicious, amazing in fact.) The food was just as fantastic.  The French Onion Soup was the best we've ever had and to die for.  How did I go from dogs to food so fast?  Geez, there's no hope for me.

Anyway, I was amazed when a couple of well dressed women came in with a dog!  They sat right down at a table and ate there.  Soon after that another person came in to eat with their dog.  When that dog walked by the one who was already there
they started barking at each other which caused a kind of a commotion for a few minutes.  I looked around and no one seemed to notice.  So I asked the waitress about it and she said that dogs are welcome anywhere with one exception...they can't go into grocery stores.  I was VERY surprised,especially in Paris as it seems to be such a chi chi city.  I liked the idea though.  Wish it pertained to other cities.

Our hotel was near the Eiffel Tower so we walked over to it and around that evening and then made it an early night at the hotel.  I felt like I had walked miles that day.  Naturally Joe says it wasn't that far.  We always disagree when it comes to the physical aspects of things.  

Eiffel Tower

Palais de Chaillot
Houses naval museum, ethnology (a branch of anthropology) museum and a theater.


Jardins du Trocadero
Warsaw Fountains
Created for the International Exposition held in Paris in 1937.

Statues near the entrance to the above.

The next morning I had planned for us to take a bike tour of Paris.  We had been told about a bike tour company called Fat Tire Bikes.  They have tours in a lot of major cities in Europe and the US.  Actually the company is based in the US.  The Americans that we met in Scotland told us about the Paris tour and highly recommended it.  The tour met at the south leg of the Eiffel Tower on Friday morning at 11:00.  We were there and ready to go.

It was a beautiful sunny day,temperature around 70 degrees.  It couldn't have been more perfect.  There were about 25 riders.  The bikes were kind of heavy and had only three speeds.  But Paris is flat as a pancake so there was no worry that one keep up on the tour.  It was a four hour tour with a stop for lunch.  After tooling around getting used to our bikes we set off.  We had a mixture of different age people on the tour.  They even had tandem bikes for adults who had kids that could sit on the bike behind the adult and help pedal.  There were a couple who each had one and rode their two daughters behind them.  It looked like great fun for the kids, and made us think of our five year old granddaughter Caroline.  How she would have loved it!  Our fellow tourists were from America, Amsterdam, Australia, Canada and Switzerland.  The tour guide was American, as most of the young people who worked for the company.  What a great opportunity for them, huh?  They get to live in a foreign country, ride bikes for a living while experiencing all kinds of fun. 

We rode in a big group through narrow streets, parks, bike paths and on major roads.  Our guide (Brian) told us as long as we stayed together (especially through intersections) that no cars could divide us.  Kind of nerve wracking at times!  It was such a pretty day and so much fun though.  We stopped at all the landmarks and listened to our guide tell us about the places, the history and so forth.  It was really informative and entertaining.  We didn't have time to go into any sights but that wasn't the purpose of the tour.  It was more of an overview.  A great way to get a feel for the city, especially if you are there for a short time like we were.   I only wish I would have had more time to get better pictures of this stuff!  It was all so interesting.

Les Invalides built in 1679 on order by King Louis XIV
It was built as a home for aged and unwell French soldiers.
It houses Napoleon's tomb, his family and soldiers who served under him along with other military heroes,
There are also vaults of military personnel, interestingly some vaults only hold the HEARTS of men, the
bodies buried elsewhere!
King Louis XIV who was extremely vain, had the gold (all real) tower built as a private chapel for only him.
Ecole Militaire (Military School)
Founded by Louis XV in 1750

Our tour guide, Brian on a bridge overlooking the River Seine

Musee du Louvre (The Louvre Museum)
The second largest museum in the world.  The pyramid in
the front is made of glass and metal and is the main entrance.
It hosts over 7,000,000 visitors a year.  One of its major attractions
is the Mona Lisa.  It is so big you cannot possibly get it all in one picture.
Would love to go visit for several days one year!

Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel
Built by Napoleon in 1806 to commemorate his military victories.
It is topped with eight soldiers of the empire and covered with
intricate carvings of the many battles.

Courtyard near the Louvre

House boats along the River Seine.  Notice the tomato plants in the planter!
The spaces that the houseboats are in are extremely cheap and hard to get!
The waiting list is 40 years long as they usually get handed down from family to family.

I actually snapped this picture while riding.  This is some of the nice
paths we got to ride along.  See the tandem bike on the left?

A neat decoration actually UNDER the bridge.  This bridge is right
around the corner from Ponte de l'Alma Road tunnel where
Princess Diana was killed in 1997.
The Eiffel tower was built when the designer Gustave Eiffel won a contest between
700 other architecture designs submitted to build the centerpiece for the World's Fair that Paris was hosting in 1889.
It was only supposed to stand for 20 years when ownership of the land would revert back to city of Paris.
Eiffel had to come up with a reason for them NOT to tear down his masterpiece.  He designed an antenna
(see picture below) which was used for telegraphy at the time, thus making it too valuable to destroy.

Here we are in Paris!

Brian, doing some of his tricks for us.

You didn't think that we'd be able to do a bike ride like that without a mishap did you?  Aha!  You know me well.  We were sailing along at a pretty good clip.  Joe had been behind me the whole way.  He always like to keep me ahead of him when we are walking, riding or whatever. I guess he thinks he can watch and make sure I don't make any wrong moves.  So anyway, we
are riding along and all of a sudden something comes flying out of nowhere across the street and in front of the bike in front of me.  I thought it was someone's camera.  The guy in front of me swerved to miss it and then I swerved.  Except when I swerved I hit his back tire and went down like a ton of bricks!  It was a nasty fall but also embarrassing.  I was kind of shaky and shocked so the embarrassing part didn't really kick in at first.  I heard a couple of women exclaiming, "oh no" and "oh my gosh".  All of a sudden there were all these people crowded around trying to help me and asking me if I was OK.  Joe would have been right behind me on his bike but now that I think of it he was the THIRD person to reach me.  I need to ask him what was that all about!

Brian, the tour guide was there immediately, sat me down on the curb and ran to get his first aid kit.  I had hit bad on my right knee, but had jeans on so it didn't get scraped too much.  I
had a huge scrape down my forearm.  That was pretty much it.  Brian started taping up my arm as others were standing around offering me water and advice.  That's when it started to get embarrassing.  I wanted to get up as fast as possible and get on with the tour.  Which after about ten minutes we did.  My right leg hurt pretty bad, but it was fine to ride.  Turns out it was a reflector that had broken off of one of the bikes that had skirted across our paths.

We finished the tour that afternoon and still, even with my fall, I am so glad we did it.  I'd like to do one in London.  The have them here also.  So if anyone who is planning to visit us is interested, let me know!  They also have them in Barcelona, Spain, which is another place Joe I would like to visit.  Maybe I can make a spectacle of myself in every country!

We spent the rest of the afternoon walking around the area and taking in all the sights.  There were people everywhere and all kinds of stuff going on in the parks and public venues.  People dancing, bands playing, human statues, all kinds of crazy stuff.  One of our favorite things to do is to people watch.  We did a lot of that with me resting my poor leg.

The River Seine
 In the area right around the Eiffel Tower (a large are with tons of tourists) there were always men selling trinkets.  They had what looked like a pillow case laid flat on the ground.  They
would lay out their wares on that and continually ask people to buy from them.  On the last day we were there, we were sitting on a bench between where the sellers were and a busy street.  All of a sudden about six or eight cops show up and I see the guys that were selling stuff yanking up their wares and running across the street, right through the traffic!  The cops half heartedly gave chase, but hung around for a while and eventually walked away.  Apparently it is illegal for them to be selling there.  Something we were shocked by because there were so many of them and we saw them there all the time!  We hung around to see what would happen.  The guys all congregated across the busy street and as soon as the coast was clear them all came back carrying their bags of loot!  Of course I was rooting for a big showdown!  I wanted some entertainment!

The women in Paris seem to all be sized zero or two!  It's not just me saying that.  One of the American women on the bike ride mentioned it to me at lunch.  She was an average size person, not overweight and she felt huge compared to these women!  I swear you could point out the Americans everywhere.  If they are even a little overweight and /or wearing tennis shoes (trainers they call them) they might as well hang a sign over their head that says "American".  I am not kidding either.  Same goes for the American men.  They are dead ringers if they have on khaki trousers and tennis shoes or sensible brown shoes, whether they are overweight or not.  Naturally we stick out like soar thumbs just like the rest of them though!

The people of Paris are much more stylish too.  Both women and mean wear scarves around their necks.  It is practically a fashion faux pas if you don't!  The women have stylish skirts 
or slacks with expensive shoes (usually a heel) and nice coats.  Hair perfectly coiffed and matching purse.  The men wear skinny black pants or jeans (usually black) with black leather shoes that are very flat and long toed (looking).  They have hair down to their collars, long on top, hanging rakishly over their forehead and down over one eye.  They sweep it back occasionally with a flick of their wrist.  I tried to get some pictures but it was very hard to get those hairstyles without getting noticed.  Two young lads walking along caught me and stopped to pose!

At the end of the day, my leg was bothering me and swelling badly so we didn't venture out too far.  We found a nice cafe for dinner and called it a day.  The next morning we had to leave to catch the train home.  This time we called a cab!  There's only so much "riding with humanity" that we can take!

Now that I am home I have a leg that is turned completely purple with bruises from above my knee to my ankle.  The bruising goes all around my leg front and back (weird) and just today has gone down and covered my foot too.  I don't get that, my foot doesn't even hurt!  Bruises popped up on my calf on the other leg too.  Probably from the bike pedal.  Since I am able to walk on it I don't think there's any real damage.  But man it looks like someone took a baseball bat too it!  Joe checks it out daily when he gets home from work.  Today it is turning lovely colors of yellow/green.  Ugh.

I had to call my mom when we got home from Paris for a little sympathy...I have squeezed out about as much as I can from Joe!

I must add at the end here that I am getting SO frustrated with this blogger site!  It continually changes my font size, moves words around and makes paragraphs when I don't want them.  My captions under pictures and some of my left margins are out of line and messy.  It just really bugs me.

Thursday, 16 September 2010

Home September 16, 2010

Just a quick blog for now...

Joe is out of town for the second week in a row.  I didn't even know about this one!  He had to go visit all the southern stores (London, Bristol, Kent, and Birmingham).  They were having special open houses for the customers and he felt like he should be there.  So he headed out Monday morning, spent the whole day in one branch, then drove two and a half hours to the next town, got a hotel, next morning same thing and so on and so on.  He will be home Thursday evening.

Friday we are going to Paris for a long weekend.  I never thought I'd be that excited to go to France, but actually I am.  We are going on the train so that we can see relax and see the countryside on the way and will spend Friday and Saturday night right in the middle of the city.  We are taking a bicycle tour in the city (highly recommended) so that we can see more since our time is short.  I am also looking forward to the sidewalk cafes and bakeries!  As always, you will be the first to hear about the trip.

I think that I have mentioned the yard sales they have here in a previous blog.  Except they call them boot sales and they aren't in their yards.  The "boot" is what they call their trunk of their car.  So a boot sale is where people get together in one location and sell their items out of their boot.  In reality they usually set up a table next to their car.  Not to far from our house I see a big sign advertising the "A-47 (a local road) boot sale, every Sunday".  I have been wanting to go check it out, just haven't done it.  Joe doesn't like yard sales at all and usually we are together when I see it and am reminded of it.

This past Sunday I decided to go check it out.  Whenever I take his car out I still feel like teenager who gets his parent's car for the day.  I miss driving and feel like just cruisin around when I get behind the wheel.  Of course it was a beautiful day so that helped.  Anyway, I get over to the A-47 and am amazed as I see!  There is a line of cars going in and two people taking money (it costs 50 pence a person - 75 cents) to get in.  When I pulled up to the lady I was so excited.  I told her this was my first BIG boot sale and I couldn't believe how many people were there.  She said they've only been doing it for a year and a half and by next year it should double.  I told her I even brought my camera to take pictures.  She thought that was funny and said, "bless our heart, have fun".

They had camper type vehicles serving different kinds of food, huge moon bounces and slides for kids, a loud speaker announcing various things.  It was like a carnival.  Once you parked and walked down to the where all the stuff was there were aisles and aisles of people with their cars next to them and all set up selling their junk.  Yes, it was a lot of junk, just like any yard sale.  I walked and walked up and down every aisle, but didn't spend much time actually looking at stuff.  I was just amazed at all the people who were there, buying and selling.  Tons of people brought dogs with them, it was like a day out for the family.   Although I didn't take any pictures of the food area (I don't know why), I did get some pictures of the sales and will post them here for you.

There was one thing I left off in my Scotland blog.  We were at a souvenir shop and Joe came over to me carrying something and looking as if there was a big joke going on.  He showed me a coaster.  It was clear that he thought it was funny.  I looked at it and read:

blether (ble-thir)  Dialect, chiefly Scot. ~n. 1.  person who chatters incessantly; one who babbles on and on ("That wee yin o'yours is an awfy blether gettin'").  ~v.  to engage in conversation, long-winded or idle talk (as in "Ah met yer granny doon the toun, we hud a richt guid blether the gither")  [See also sweetie-wife]

Well!  I need not read more!  I get jokes!  I promptly put it in my pile of things to buy and told him that I was going to buy it and use it proudly! It sits here next to me as I write this.  I tried to take a picture for you but the lettering is light lavender and wouldn't show up in the camera.  

You can blame Joe for the brevity of this post!

Thursday, 9 September 2010

Scotland! 9/8/2010

"The Scottish spend all their time in wars, and when there is no war, 

  they fight one another".
                          ~Description of the Scots written about 1500~

Scotland lies to the north of England and takes up 1/3 of the entire area of the United Kingdom.  The population is around 5 million.  Amazing considering how much land that covers.  Like I said, it is 1/3 the size of the UK, but England's population is 62 million!  

Scotland is broken down to three areas.  The Highlands and the Islands lie to the north.  (There are 787 major islands that are off the northern and north western coast of Scotland.)  The Highlands area is less populated and generally mountainous with high elevations.  There are also many rivers and freshwater bodies of water including Loch Ness. We REALLY wanted to get up to see Loch Ness, but it was another hour and half north and we just ran out of time.

Next lies central Scotland.  This is a low lying valley area that separates the mountains of the Highlands and the hills of the lowlands.  The area is covered with very fertile fields for farming and pine forests. This is the most populated area of Scotland.  In fact the only large city in the whole of Scotland that is not located in the central area is Aberdeen in the northeast area of the Highlands.  Even though the area is a low lying area, the hills in the distance are rarely from view.

Then come the lowlands.  They comprise of grass covered hills, broad valleys, with lochs and rivers scattered all around.  I can't begin to describe the beauty of all three of these areas.  We purposely planned our visit to include a lot of car travel as we wanted to see as much of the country as possible.  We were not disappointed!

Friday was a gorgeous sunny day (you learn to appreciate these). After six hours on the road our first stop was a little town called Guildtown, up in the Highlands.  That is where Neil, Joe's vendor who invited us up to Scotland for the games, lives.  We stopped at his house for lunch on the way to our hotel. We had a lovely lunch of smoked salmon, shrimp, salad and bread.  They were packing to head up to an old house in the village that the games are held.  This was about an hour from Guildtown.  Their extended family has rented the house for 25 years for the weekend of the games.  So we headed to our hotel with plans to meet them at the games the next day.

Our hotel was a large stone house that was formerly an old Victorian shooting lodge.  I don't know exactly how old it was.  Perfectly comfortable, friendly people as we seem to have lucked out to find everywhere.  When we were greeted by a woman, I was shocked that she sounded just like Susan Boyle.  I should have asked her to sing! They had cabins on the water and even a bunkhouse for single travelers.  Nice set up.  I was surprised to see how many hikers and bikers (bicycles) were around. But I guess I shouldn't have been.  The area is just beautiful for that kind of thing.  Although Scotland really gets the rain, much worse than England.
                        I forgot to take a picture of our first hotel so had to take it from a brochure.

Saturday morning we were headed to the games!  Neil had drawn us a map to take the scenic route.  It was so beautiful.  Two lane roads that meandered through the mountains filled with heather (wild purple flower) moorland, grazing sheep (sometimes in the road), with the occasional castle or manor house seen off in the distance.  Every once in a while you'd see a little stone house tucked in the hills.  But tons of sheep all over the country, whether it be dots on the hills in the distance or a huge field of them.  Many times they were not fenced in. We couldn't figure out who owned them and how in the heck they could keep track of them all, especially when they basically roamed free.

                                                            FIELDS OF HEATHER

By the time we got to Strathdon, where the games were being held it was raining!  We were told that it is the first time it has rained for these particular games in over 20 years!  It rains a lot up there, so they've been pretty lucky for 20 years.  We were disappointed in the rain.  We had gotten there early so we just sat in the car.  Finally it stopped raining, just as we heard the pipers parading up the street to the fields. With my camera in one hand and my Flip Video camera in the other I ran up to photograph the parade.

We really didn't know what to expect at the games.  We had heard about all the events and of course knew it was a Scottish tradition.  It's hard to say exactly when it started.  There are reports that going all the way back to the 11th century, when King Malcolm III of Scotland summoned contestants to a foot race at the summit of Craig Choinnich (overlooking Braemar).  The King created this footrace in order to find the fastest runner in the land to be his royal messenger.  Some say that was the start of the games.  There is proof that early Celts viewed such events as "war games" including real weapons and armor where the strongest and bravest soldiers would win the games.  But the modern Highland Games with set annual dates began in the 1800's.  They are called clan (a group of family members) gatherings where each clan challenges the others in friendly rivalry.

Just a note about clans.  The plaid designs of each kilt is called the tartan.  (I called it a plaid design and Neil about had a coronary).  Each clan has their own special designed tartan, going back centuries.  There are a total of about 200 registered tartans.  Yes!  They are REAL and registered.  So you wear the tartan of your clan or family.  Along that line, I was amazed at how few last names we would run into there.  I don't know if the Scots have stayed together over the years and not moved around or what but you hear the same surnames over and over again.  Neil's last name is Stewart, his tartan goes way back to the early days of his ancestors.  Of course there are more than one family of Stewarts, hence many Stewart tartans.  These are some common surnames: MacGregor, MacDonald, Gordon, Burns, Macleod, Bruce, Kennedy, Campbell, to name a few.  We also found the first names very interesting.  Neil's wife's name was Eufin, his daughter's names were Keira and Morvan.  Eufin's sister and mother's name was Elsbeth and another sister's name was Pia.

                                           KILTS, KILTS AND MORE KILTS!


                                               OH MY GOSH I LOVED THIS SIGN!

Back to the games.  When we got there we saw that the field was a big round coral, about the size of a football field, if it were squared down.  The stands were surrounding the whole circle.  There were all kinds of tents set up of people selling stuff on the outer sides of the stands.  Besides food tents there were Scottish kilts, blankets, hats (I bought one!), just lots and lots of souvenir stuff.  Shortly after we got to our seats, Neil's family arrived.  This included his wife's family (sisters, husbands, kids, mother) and several friends.  Knowing the drill after all these years they arrived with blankets, umbrellas, bags of food, alcohol (most importantly to Neil, his whiskey) etc.  They were a great bunch and we had such a good time with them.  It rained off and on all day but we just kept our umbrellas handy and basically it didn't take much away from the festivities.  The Scottish just adapt.

                                                    SCENES FROM THE GAMES

                                          THAT'S OUR HOST NEIL IN THE MIDDLE

As far as the games themselves, I have to say Joe and I were a little disappointed.  They had all the games that we've heard about plus dancing and bag pipes and pillow fighting (two people straddling a log that turns, trying to  knock each other off with pillows).  The hard part was that several games were going on at once so that you couldn't see everything. The stands were quite a way back from the field so you really couldn't get close (for pictures etc.)  I had envisioned being able to be right on top of each game to see the sweaty grimacing faces of the participants!  So it wasn't very good for pictures.  But you could see that the crowds loved it.  They were there with their groups cheering on their clans and socializing with all their friends, we just didn't really have a "horse in the race", to coin a phrase.  Joe spent plenty of time in the beer tent and we were "encouraged" to try some of the whiskey they are all so proud of.  (YUCK)!  We got up close and personal with many many kilts (see pictures).  They are a proud people, proud of their legacies, proud of their history and their country and proud to wear their kilts!  Joe and I liked them immensely.

After the games we went up to see the OLD house that Neil and all his relatives had rented for the weekend.  It was a little tiny cottage (I still don't know how they slept all those people) with no electricity and no hot water.  The little living room had a big fireplace with the old black kettle hanging above it for heating water.  On the opposite side of the room from the fireplace there was what looked like a closet.  When you opened it, it had a bed in it!  Back in the day I suppose the family slept in the bed where the fire was.  There was an upstairs with several twin beds around and a couple of rooms in the back of the house and another fireplace back there too.  But let me tell you that house would have been COLD in the winter.  It sat on top of a hill too!  I thought we were going to get stuck going up that steep drive in Joe's car.  They all loved it and felt like they owned a little piece of it after going there all these years.  We stayed a couple of hours and had a real good time with them.  They were such good people.  But I have to say that I'd like a wee bit more modern comforts than that!

                                                                THE RENTED HOUSE


We REALLY didn't want to leave the fun company and roaring fire but hated to drive back to our hotel after dark with sheep in the road and deer crossings everywhere on unfamiliar roads.  (No street lights out in the middle of nowhere!)  They were in the process of making their dinner of potato jackets with tuna fish salad on top.  Weird combination but it actually sounded kind of good to me.  They tried to get us to stay but we declined.  By the way, I thought the English accent was hard to understand!  The Scottish one is harder.  Their long a sound is a long i, so the word take sounds like tike, the word home sounds like him.  I really had to concentrate and sometimes ask on some of their words.  Joe and I bought a Scottish CD of songs and listened to it a lot.  The song we both new, Loch Lomond's words are "You tike the high road and I'll tike the low road, and I'll get to Scotland afore ye".  Love it!  My sister used to sing me that song, don't know how she knew it, but I forgot all about it until we bought the CD.  Coincidentally, we bought it in a town on the Loch Lomond!  (More on that later.)

The next morning we got up and ate our "full English breakfast", which is offered in all the B&B's and hotels.  This consists of 2 eggs, fried tomatoes, bacon, sausage, fried potato patty (tastes more like bread), black pudding (made from cooking pig or cattle blood mixed with fillers such as meat, bread, onion, oatmeal, etc. until thick enough to congeal), button mushrooms, toast and baked beans. This is the ONLY breakfast that the hotels serve (besides having yogurt, fruit and cereal available).  So you either have the whole English breakfast or just a part of it.  Joe has braved the black pudding when out of town with the guys (they get him to try stuff so easily).  I haven't (and probably won't).

On our way to our next hotel, Neil had advised us we should stop in a little village called Pitlochry which was on our way.  This is the home of the smallest distillery in Scotland.  The distillery is called Edradour and has been functioning since 1825.  Of course the Highland folk had been making whiskey for thousands of years before that probably starting in the middle east.  But wherever and however distilling started, the Scots and whiskey are inextricably linked.

"The Scots believe that it was only when distillation came to Scotland that it was perfected.  Some believe that Scotland was created for distillation with its climate and geology providing the perfect conditions for maturing whiskey.  Others believe that it was God himself who gave the Scots whiskey and only when realizing that he had been too generous in the number of beautiful things he had bestowed upon the country, gave them the English as neighbors to balance the books."

The distillery sits tucked in a mountainside with old buildings, refurbished and freshly and neatly painted and a babbling stream running through the property.  This clean mountain water source is very important for the distillery.  It is strong enough to drive several water wheels.  The whole place is neat as a pin and runs like a well oiled machine.  Their motto is quality, not quantity and they only make 12 casks a week.  The whiskey is completely hand made, we were able to tour the whole place and see these processes.  We were also given a wee dram of their 10 year product.  The Edradour whiskey has just five ingredients:
     A good quality cask

There of course is a strict process to making the whiskey that includes grinding the barley, adding water of different temperatures several times.  After all the barley and water processes are finished the leftover grist (barley once the liquid is sieved off) is picked by a local farmer daily and fed to his prize winning cows!  People there say they can't remember a time when the farmer didn't come.  Then yeast is added and the whole lot fermented.  Then it is heated and cooled and heated again.  It takes just a few days for these processes but then it takes 10 years of waiting for it to mature.

One fact we learned that was interesting was how prohibition in the United States affected the whiskey making business.  In an attempt to make a more sober Christian country, the irony is that the Americans were actually responsible for the great expansion of organized crime in the United States.

At the time of prohibition the owner of Edradour happened to be of a character that didn't shy away from a little illegal business.  He realized that there were many Americans who would not stop drinking alcohol and managed to sell his whiskey to them anyway.  This is well known in the historical records of Edradour.  The fact that the coast guard and police in America were as eager as the next person for a drink and so bribes were fairly easy to to come by.  A young man named Frank Costello (yes, THE Frank Costello, mob guy) visited the tiny island of St. Pierre just off the coast of Newfoundland and made a deal with the mayor there.  Within days a warehouse was built, the pier strengthened and shipments of whiskey were arriving from Scotland.  So although it may be a negative association, Edradour was linked to the mafia for many years after that.

The distillery is still going strong and hosts 100,000 visitors a year.

From there we headed to Callander, our stop for the next two nights.  Callander is in The Trossachs area of Scotland.  The Trossachs are a beautiful range of hills straddling the border between the Highlands and the Lowlands.  There are MANY lochs and rivers in this area.  The drive was just gorgeous the whole way.  From the tall mountains on one side to the rolling fields of farmland on the other.  Much of the farmland was separated by short stone walls throughout the fields.  There were what seemed miles of them throughout the country, even going straight up the hills and across the tops.  They were so pretty and from a distance made it look like the countryside was a patchwork quilt.  I was curious about these stone walls so did some research on them.  They are called dry-stone dykes.  Many thousands miles of them exist throughout all of the UK, (we just happened to see so many in Scotland that I was intrigued).  [I'm sorry, but yes, that means I'm going off on another tangent!]

There are some stone walls that go back to medieval times, but for the most part the walls emerged from the 17th and 18th century Enclosure Act. Up until this time there were few rules and regulations put to land owners.  Many land owners had laborers and servants who were given a small tract of land to work or graze a few animals.  There were also common  pastures that squatters were able to use freely.  Once the Enclosure Act was passed, the Lord of the Manor and his friends (who usually owned 3/4 of the land) just had to prove to Parliament that they were the land owners and the land was decreed theirs.  The tenant farmers then rented land from the land owners.  The tenant farmers did OK because once the land was divided and fenced off, the new fields were more efficient so they actually made more money.  The laborers also did well as now they had plenty of work building the stone walls to fence all the dividing areas.  The people it hurt the most were the small landholders who could not prove that they owned the land and also the squatters who had no common land to use now.  But once the laws were passed the demarcation of the land began.  Most of the boundaries were made from stone. There was tons of stone right there in the mountains so the farmers didn't have to buy materials or haul them.  And here they are over two hundred years later still standing and still separating the fields and looking extraordinary.

Once in a while we'd see piles of stones that looked like a rock tepee.  These stone constructions didn't seem to have any obvious purpose.  I tried looking up what they could be but the best explanation I could come of with was they were used possibly to mark a particular mountain or a boundary of some kind.


Throughout our time in Scotland Joe would gaze wonderingly at the hills in the distance and say "they are calling me to climb them".  He never gave up on the idea and swears we are going back to do it one day.

We made it to Callander and after checking into our B&B we headed out to find the Rob Roy visitors center.  We were lucky to get in right before they closed and found a very helpful lad who gave us ideas of places to go in the area along with maps and information booklets.  So back to our place to plan our day.  In a B&B the rooms are usually small (like a regular bedroom) so don't have comfortable easy chairs.  So we planted ourselves in the living room of the house for the evening (Joe with his novel and me with all the maps and tourist info).

                                            OUR BED & BREAKFAST IN CALLANDER

Later in the evening a family of Americans came in.  A husband and wife and three small children.  We didn't try to talk to them.  They were in the entryway of the house being greeted by the woman owner and showed to their rooms.  But it was nice to hear the familiar accents from home.

When we came down to breakfast the next morning the happy family was already sitting down eating.  I sat down at the table next to them hoping to meet them and chat.  We ended up REALLY liking them and had two mornings of great fun while we ate our breakfasts.  They were from Charlestown, SC but living in Germany for three years.  Their time is up this May. They had three little kids, Becca 7, Seth 5 and Liam 3.  Becca was sitting closest to us and we so enjoyed her.  She is smart as a whip, already learning to speak German.  Her mother home schooled her last year (mainly to teach her some German) but this year she will go into the German schools where she will be surrounded by only the German language.  She said she is starting a year behind what she really should because of the language issue.  But she said, "I'll be able to fly through this year lickety-split!"

Becca got the idea in her head that she wanted us to come visit them at their house in Germany and she never let up the whole two mornings that we spent eating with them.  She started by just plain inviting us saying, "Ya'll can come to our house and we'll show you around Germany".  Joe responded with, "the best part of that statement is hearing you say 'ya'll'.  It was refreshing to hear the little voice with the southern drawl.   Then she would get more desperate.  The adults would be talking about something, for instance, Joe was telling them how he loved the mountains and wanted to climb them.  She would jump in and say, "If you want mountains, come to our house"!  It was really cute.  She was such a little organizer that she got a pen and paper and wanted our email address and phone number.  We were talking about books for kids etc. and somehow Horton Hatches the Egg came up (one of my favorites).  They had never read that so I entertained them with my version of the story.  The kids were all sitting quietly listening intently.  They were such a nice family.

Are you wondering what brought them to Scotland?  For one, they were just trying to see more things while they are in Europe.  But mostly it was because their last name is MacGregor and they are descendent's from THE Rob Roy MacGregor!  In fact Scott's father, grandfather and brother are named Rob Roy MacGregor!  We told them that we had no ties with him, but because of seeing the movie and all the hype, we were going to head up to his grave also.  Of course Becca immediately wanted to make it a group activity, but her parents calmly told her to let the adults handle it.

That day, Monday was our last full day in Scotland.  We decided to take a drive heading north a few miles to the grave of Rob Roy and circling around the whole Trossachs area driving along the length of Lock Loman.  The whole area is part of the Trossachs National Park also.  It is such a beautiful area.

Standing at the grave of Robert MacGregor (1671-1734) was such an unreal feeling .  There next to him lie his wife and two of his sons.  Really hard to fathom that you were standing on such history!

I guess I should give you a little background on Rob Roy.  The following paragraph is a cumulation of several different sources.

"Robert MacGregor, known as Rob Roy, grew up as a herdsman near Loch Arklet.  He was also the leader of his clan.  After a series of harsh winters, and worried about the clan's livelihood, he borrowed a large sum of money to enhance his cattle herd.  After his chief herdsman disappeared with the money, Rob Roy lost all his money and cattle and defaulted on the loan. He was declared an outlaw by the Duke of Montrose who burned his house to the ground.  After this, Rob Roy's Jacobite sympathies became inflamed by his desire to avenge the crime.  Plundering the duke's lands and repeatedly escaping from prison earned him a reputation similar to Robin Hood.  He was pardoned in 1725 and spent his last years freely in Balquhidder, where he is buried.

                                     THE OLD CHURCH WHERE THE GRAVES ARE

We headed from there onward around Loch Loman down to the little village of Luss.  I had read that this village was a particular pretty one and I was not disappointed.  It had a beach on the water and the whole village was made up of tiny little cottages in a row on several streets.  The cottages were built about 150 years ago by the laird (who before that was the chief of the clan) to house the workers in the nearby mills and slate quarries.  It was clean and neat and amazingly a very touristy area.  People milled through the village right by all the cottages looking at the pretty gardens etc.  It's a wonder that the people who live there don't get tired of people taking pictures and walking right by their front doors all the time!  We ate a a wonderful little cafe that had the best home made food!

                                        BEAUTIFUL SIGHTS ON THE WAY TO LUSS

                                                         THE VILLAGE OF LUSS


                                        PICTURE TAKEN FROM THE DOCK AT LUSS

I found out something about my husband during this trip.  He hates to shop and never goes unless he absolutely HAS to (like Christmas).  BUT, he is a different person when we are traveling.  He loves shopping in touristy areas.  We used to do it all the time in Mexico but I thought it was just because the stuff was dirt cheap!  We passed all kinds of Wool shops as we went by different villages and towns.  We went into a lot of them.  They sell their hand made wool items like blankets, sweaters, scarves etc.  I don't know if its the souvenir type places that Joe likes or what, but I can tell you that I was happy!

As we continued on our way back to Callander we made one more stop.  We had read about an old priory  that sits on an island in Lake Monteith, which was barely off the beaten path home.  It is called Inchmahome Priory and is an old Augustinian monastery dating from 1238.  It once housed Mary Queen of Scots as she was hiding from the armies of King Henry VIII, before fleeing to France.  It is the only thing on the whole island and we had to be taken there by a little motor boat.  Amazingly a lot of the stone structure is still there as you will see in the pictures.  Of course there were descriptions of what you were seeing, so that you could figure out what each room was, back in ye old days!   There was also a trail around the coast of the island that we were able to walk.  A beautiful peaceful setting, perfect for ending our day.


                               PICTURES FROM OUR WALK AROUND THE ISLAND

After returning to our home away from home we went out for dinner and then ended up at the Visitor's center again for a concert put on by a small group of Scots.  There was an older man who told stories, sang and played guitar, a woman singer (with a wonderful voice), an accordion player and a fiddler.  It was a nice ending for our stay in Scotland.

The next morning after our breakfast with 'the fam' again, we were on our way home.  It was a long ride back, but we listened to our Scottish CD and dreamed about the next time we get to go to Scotland.