Winnipeg

Today was mostly a rainy day. Good day for non-stop driving. Around lunchtime the sun did come out and we looked for a pulloff at a scenic spot. We struck out. For the last 2000 km I think we have counted 7 signed scenic stops. Yesterday our stop was an impromptu turn across traffic to an unmarked stretch of gravel. Today no such luck. We passed many lakes but never a place to stop beside one. USA-1, Canada-0.

Our GPS is also acting up. It gives you the time of arrival and includes traffic delays. Yesterday those predicted delays ranged from 30 minutes to five hours, but they never materialized. Today the range was up to an hour, but again no problems. Something about Canadian traffic sensors is crashing its programming. USA-1, Canada-1, GPS-0.

Because today was so wet, the only photos are from dinner at Maxime’s in Winnipeg. This is a family restaurant and serves chain-cuisine. In other words, if you know what you want (steak, fish, pizza, whatever) find a chain restaurant that specializes. Maxime tries to do everything, and is just OK.

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Cute building, and the parking lot was full. The blue-hair crowd was out in force.

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Helpful waiter.

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Sunday special – roast beef. It was actually pretty good.

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Alice ordered fish again, but en brochette. Don’t do this. You always get shorted on the headline ingredient with a brochette. I have marked the four bites of miso-honey pickerel with an “X”. There was more green pepper than fish.

Dessert was a Winnipeg specialty, the waiter said. It was angel food cake infused with lots of pecan bits that turned it brown, layered and frosted with whipped cream. It was very good and might be worth trying at home.

Tomorrow it’s off to Moose (Møøse?) Jaw, a place I have wanted to visit ever since I heard the name. Our route also takes us, two days from now, through Medicine Hat. As far as I know, the town names are the only unusual thing about them, but they have been on my bucket list for 60 years.

A Blustery Day

This morning was cloudy, unlike yesterday. After breakfast we drove southeast to find waterfalls and whatever else was on offer. The first hour was in a steady rain but when we reached the Seljalandfoss (the Seljaland waterfall) the sun came out.

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Many more people were here than in this picture. The parking lot was full. One shudders to think of the crowd when summer comes.

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It’s a very large fall and you can walk behind it. We had to choose between the falls in the Golden Circle and this one, and walking behind was the clincher.

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And this is what it looks like when you do. As if there wasn’t enough wind already, the falling water creates its own turbulence and everyone who went behind got wet.

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The entire cliff face had 4 major waterfalls and lots of little ones.

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Northern Fulmars were nesting on the cliff.

We enjoyed this area for an hour or so, and good thing we lingered. As we drove farther south the clouds came down and soon we were in continuous rain. There was a black sand beach we wanted to see, along with the nesting birds nearby, but the wind was ferocious and the rain never stopped.

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I’m guessing the wind was a steady 30 mph plus, with gusts that shook the car and kept me in the parking lot.

We decided to go on to Vik before turning around. We had lunch there, nothing special but typically expensive, and started home. The weather did not let up. We found out later that an “Adventure Tour” our dinner neighbors had booked to this area was canceled on account of high winds. Good call.

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We did grab a few snaps on the way. The roadside flowers were lupine and the national flower of Iceland, the dandelion. Well, they are everywhere, just like the waterfalls.

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A sod house, still being used for hay storage. Our guide from yesterday said all his grandparents were born in sod houses.

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Iceland ponies, but not the wild ones. There were numerous signs offering horses for rent.

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Little House on the Prairie.

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Cloudy and rainy as it was, there were occasional holes in the clouds and the far distant scenery would light up. You could not easily stop on the highway, but this brief illumination took place near a side road so we stopped.

Birdwatching was not easy and except for the fulmars we saw most of them from the car. Identified birds were: Common Raven, Common Eider, Arctic Tern (lots of ‘em), Northern Fulmar, Whooper Swan, Gadwall, Mallard, Tufted Duck, Greater Scaup, Eurasian Oystercatcher, Whimbrel, Black-headed Gull, Lesser Black-backed Gull, Herring Gull, some kind of swallow (they are all rare or accidental, so whatever), White Wagtail, Eurasian Wren, Fieldfare.

We drove over 400km in search of sunlight and found mostly rain today, but the one big sunny spot made up for it. Now we have the task of getting some sleep because we have a 3:30 a.m. wakeup call to make a 7:00 a.m. flight to Hamburg.

A Blustery Day

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Overnight we had the promised rain and by 10 a.m. there was nothing left but puffy white clouds and a 20-25 mph breeze. Also the temperature dropped down to 55, which made the sea ‘breeze’ even colder.

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Falmouth is reputed to be the 3rd-largest natural harbor in the world, and the deepest in Western Europe. We wondered why such a prestigious place would tolerate yet another Oregon logo, but I guess Phil Knight has his agents everywhere. Bad luck last Thursday guys. I don’t suppose it means anything, but this ship, the Calamity Jane, is a dredger. Bottom feeder. Mud-sucker.

Yesterday I wondered if there was any building left in the UK that remained pretty much as it was built, 500 or more years ago. Lots of them look original, but they have been repaired, stones replaced, restoration done, and so on. Well, Eureka!

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This is Pendennis Castle here in Falmouth. The central round tower was built by Henry VIII to defend the strategic port from the vile French Catholics who (he thought) were going to invade England. Something about his setting up a heretical Church of England just to get a divorce.

The tower is spic and span and original, stone-wise. The wooden parts have been replaced and the guns are not original. Whatever.

The outer ring was built only a few years later and the tower became living space and storage. It survived a 5-month siege as a Royalist holdout against the Parliamentarians in the English civil war before surrendering. The damage was minimal because the siege was to starve them out, and the fortress guns were able to keep the warships far enough away.

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Keen observers will say this is a naval gun and obviously not historically accurate. Yes and no. Fortresses frequently used naval guns, what with ships lasting only 20 years or so and guns much longer.

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Pendennis was fortified right up to the end of WWII. This is a fast-firing gun that was to defend against torpedo boats and submarines. There were remote-controlled mines laid in the harbor in both great wars.

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The large building is a Royal Artillery garrison put up in 1901 and occupied until 1956. Mainly, though, this photo is for the Pythonesque white puffy clouds.

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The big event of the day, even bigger than the firing of the noonday gun, was yet another wedding. That’s three weddings we came across on our trip. Here are the bridesmaids, arriving in a VW Van Deluxe Sunroof with split windscreen, known in the US as the 23 window bus. Her name was Lily and she came from California. Age about 60.

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And here is bride, escorted by her father who drove them up in his Morgan Plus 4 (age undetermined because they have had pretty much the same exterior design since the 1940’s). Very classy.

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A marriage made in heaven.

We had lunch at Rick Stein’s Fish, rolled back to the B&B and eventually found a streaming website where we were able to watch Stanford beat Notre Dame for all but the last minute of the game. Actually, on stats we lost big time, but still we had the lead. Drat.

Donegal Goes Down

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Today was the All-Ireland Football match in Dublin. We wanted to be in a pub to watch the game so we started quickly for Cobh and the Titanic Experience.

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It was a beautiful day – the first one where you could see a sunrise. We drove for an hour or so to Cobh, formerly Queenstown, which was the last port of call for the Titanic before it, well, you know.

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Down at the harbor you could look back and see not only Kelly’s Bar and the Bank of Ireland, but also the Cathedral of St. Colman, patron saint of spicy food. We did not visit the cathedral as it was (1) Sunday and crowded and (2) it’s only 150 years old.

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Try to isolate the cathedral and you still see advertising. The Irish are great promoters.

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Well, to business. The “Titanic Experience” is, with modifications, the White Star ticket office and embarkation point for passengers. 173 boarded the Titanic. We bought “boarding passes” in the name of a random passenger that day, and were shown to our quarters.

A 3rd class cabin, which all but seven of the boarding party had, was supplied with a washbasin, electricity and bunk beds, between 2 and 8 to a room. Still, this was probably better than any of them had at home. The ticket price was a bit more than half a year’s wages for a laborer so it was quite expensive. (1st class was 500 times that price.) The food was good and plentiful, if not spelled in French as in 1st class.

The most interesting factoid was that there were only two baths for all of 3rd class: one for the women and one for the men.

The “Experience” was not bad. It wasn’t an E-ticket ride, but we enjoyed it.

At the end you found out whether you survived the voyage. None of us did. Jon’s character had the most interesting back story – he won the ticket in a bar the night before, leading us to believe he was the character that was played by Leonardo di Caprio in the movie. In the gifte shoppe we passed on the chance to buy a replica of the giant brooch from the movie, a Guinness bar mat and Guinness golf balls.

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On to Midleton and the Jameson Whiskey Distillery. This tribute to I’m a Little Teapot stands outside the reception area.

The tour takes about 80 minutes and is reputed to be the best distillery tour in Ireland. We enjoyed it. We were able to compare notes with the mill tour we took earlier. As with grinding oats for people, Jameson used anthracite to dry the grains so as to keep the grain flavor unblemished. The Scots, our guide told us, use peat and thus Scotch whiskey has a peaty taste to it.

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A couple of years ago we toured the Buffalo Trace bourbon distillery in Kentucky and they were very proud to tell us that they used new oak barrels and when they were done they sold them to the unsuspecting Irish. Jameson was proud to tell us that they never used new barrels, but bought used ones cheap from American whiskey makers as well as Spanish sherry makers. The whiskeys were then blended to make the best of these additional flavors. Silly Americans.

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We were told this is the largest copper pot in the world: 31,000 gallons. It was the last of the three pots used to triple-distill Jameson’s before they opened their new facility. I believe Johnny Walker and Jack Daniels use a one and two-step process respectively. Silly Americans.

At the end of the tour you are offered a shot, or a cocktail of ginger ale, lime, and Jameson’s (making all this triple distillation and anthracite heating moot points). Then you drive away.

When we got back to our B&B/pub the game was in the second half. With about 10 minutes to play Donegal made a terrible mistake, a botched pass to a Kerry player in front of goal and Kerry scored. Donegal could not recover, and at the end of the game knocked one off the goalpost for a near miss and lost the game by 3 points. Kerry being the Yankees of Gaelic football, the pub crowd was annoyed. As were we, proud possessors of a Donegal banner.

Glamour, Sun, Charcoal

Sunday, September 7, 2014

We seem to have recovered from yesterday’s rainfest well enough. Our first stop was at Glamis Castle.

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There has been a castle here since the 14th century, but the present building dates from the 17th. Obviously this one was not built for defense. That’s Charles I on the right, and Jon on the left.

It is still the home of the Count of Strathmore and Kinghorne, the family which welcomed the Lady Elizabeth Bowes Lyon into the family in 1900. She was a pretty girl who married the Duke of York, who became king of England when his brother ran off with That Woman in 1936. When their daughter Elizabeth became Queen, [former] Lady Elizabeth became the Queen Mum.

No photos inside again. We had a guided tour (the only way in) and among other rooms, found the one the Shakespeare used for the setting of the murder of King Malcolm II by Macbeth. Since the castle was built many years after Malcom’s death, it seems to be a bit of literary license.

If one has the time, this is worth visiting, but I would take the tour twice or more. There is so much in the rooms you can’t possibly take it in on one tour.

Next up was Huntingtower Castle, not lived in for quite a while.

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The main glory of this castle is a ceiling(!).

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This is a genuine, original, 15th century painted ceiling. It was apparently covered over because it was old fashioned, and was only discovered 100 years ago.

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The crossbeams have various fanciful animals; this is a griffon.

Finally, we came to Elcho Castle and the sun came out.

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There is nothing important here in history. The Wemyss family built it in about 1560 as a fortified mansion, but nobody ever attacked. They kept it in good shape even though unoccupied for 200 years, so it was one of the first to be restored. The roof and windows were replaced in 1830, otherwise it is mostly original.

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Very large stone stairs up to the Great Hall.

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A Very Large table in the Great Hall (Lord and Lady Colquhoun present).

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The view. The small house below was built from stones taken from the outer wall in 1830.

 

We found our B&B near Edinburgh, and on the advice of our host went to dinner at Champany Steak and Chop House. Jon said his steak might have been the worst he has ever had – thin, overcooked, tough, charcoal all over the place. My hamburger was without taste, other than the char marks, and had at least six layers of iceberg lettuce (the Oakland of lettuces). And this place has been acclaimed as one of the best steak houses in the UK. The horrifying idea occurs that this might even be true.

Great Expectations

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

IMG_3510-1We left the King’s Arms intent on a day of car-cruise sightseeing on a road promised to make PCH south of Monterey look like wet socks.

On the way in to Skye the weather had been overcast with glare from the setting sun – not the best photo op for Eilean Donan, the most photographed castle in Scotland. There was a building on the site as early as the 600s, but the current building is a restoration finished in 1932 from ruins left during the Jacobite uprising in 1719.

The setting is what makes the picture. The castle is cute but not overwhelming. With the heavy overcast it took a lot of post-processing to come up with a decent shot.

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The scenic route looked like this:

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The road was marked as “normal” – not a motorway and not a country road, but much of the time it was a single lane for two-way traffic with pullouts to accommodate cars coming at each other. You had to Pay Attention!

In Torridon was a National Trust Country site with some red deer and highland cattle. The cattle stayed a goodly distance away; I hope we get better looks.

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When we arrived at Loch Ewe we had a chance to visit Inverewe Garden and Estate but were discouraged by the number of tour buses, our schedule, and that we had seen a good garden at Dunvegan. Also, the Really Scenic part of the day was promised to be next.

We found an unadvertised Victoria Waterfall in the middle of a clearcut. Lots of logging going on in the highlands. We walked up the path to above the fall.

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When we got to the advertised Falls of Mesach it turned out to be part of a National Trust site with an admittance charge of 2 pounds each, coins only. We didn’t have the coins.

At this point we decided to head straight for our B&B. The scenery is pretty, no doubt. We enjoyed the ride. Maybe in the sun it would be more striking. For sure it did not erase memories of Coast 1 and Big Sur. 

Tomorrow: Loch Ness. Nessie is said to appear only when the weather is nasty. We can’t lose!

Rosslyn Chapel

Friday, August 29, 2014

Another taker for trout for breakfast: a whole fish! The breakfasts at Yellow House are bountiful.

Rain fell overnight and most of the day, sometimes with strong wind. Luckily today was mostly a transport day, going all the way to Stirling. After an hour and a half we reached our planned stop, Rosslyn Chapel.

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As you can see, rain was falling and skies foreboding. Unfortunately we were not allowed to photograph inside the chapel – a first time. This was too bad because statuary and other carving is a major feature. With the rain, outdoor photos were a bit difficult. I did manage to find a gargoyle:

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The chapel was begun in 1456. It was never fully completed, due to the death of its first owner, various wars, and the Reformation. It was abandoned in 1592 (altars smashed) and no major restoration was attempted until Queen Victoria visited it and expressed her desire to save it. Several restorations, some well-meaning but destructive, have since taken place. The current one was completed in 2011.

Rosslyn’s major claim to fame these days is as the last scenes of both book and movie of The Da Vinci Code, although there are many alternative histories that revolve around what’s hidden underneath the chapel. And, as our guide remarked, when Tom Hanks and Audrey Tatou go into the room off the crypt (a real room that we visited) they step into a set at Pinewood Studios near London.

The rain intensified but we decided to go to Bothwell Castle on our way to Stirling. The very kind host at the ticket booth gave us a history of the castle – it turns out that Bothwell was a ping-pong ball in the border wars, being taken and then taken back numerous times.

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This one is, for me, a “real” ruin. There is some restoration going on, but most of the walls are broken, the roofs are gone, and there are grasses and flowers growing on the inside walls of the towers. The latrine chimneys are still open and the prisoner quarters are very discouraging. In spite of the wind blowing out one of our umbrellas, this was a worthwhile stop.

Skies cleared by the time we reached the Castlecroft B&B just below Stirling Castle. Our dinner was at Brea Restaurant: tries hard, falls short.