Sunday, June 26, 2011

A Beginning Blogger's Lessons

Any new endeavor has a learning curve to it and starting a blog is no different.  I hadn’t been much of a blog reader before I started “Have Pen and Camera, Will Travel.”  Even now there are only three or four blogs that I seriously follow. With help and advice from Dave Carlson and Grady Morgan I’m beginning progress along my learning curve.  My first two lessons involve length and style.  First, I need to learn to keep the entries shorter.  It’s just so much fun writing about our travels that it’s been easy to say too much--what is exciting to me can become tedious to a reader. Second, I need to have a more specific focus in each blog entry.  For instance, my last entry about tearooms and coffee shops wasn’t about a current trip. It should have been referenced as recommendations for tearooms we’ve visited in our travels.  Having a specific focus for that entry would have helped also to cut down the length of the entry--the last two tearooms I mentioned wouldn’t have fit with a tighter focus.  It’s interesting to me that both being aware of length and following a specific purpose are lessons that when I was teaching I tried to drill into my beginning and advanced speech students.  Thus another lesson learned: Pay attention to your own advice.
To add a touch of the travel element to this entry I include a couple of photos taken on recent excursions when we got back from Scotland.  The first picture is of Upper Butte Creek Falls in the Cascade foothills above Scotts Mill.  

The next shot is of a flower in the Oregon Gardens in Silverton--I think I should pay more attention to the names of flowers I photograph.  If you haven’t been to the Gardens or haven’t been recently, I suggest a visit.  The Gardens are ten years old and are in fine condition.  By the way, the tearoom at the Gardens had a very tasty broccoli and cheese soup when I visited.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

June 18, 2011: Tearooms and Coffee Shops

When Anne and I started our travels to the British Isles it was the pubs that attracted most of our attention.  We’d stop after golf for a dram or a pint at the local pub.  A light lunch on a touring day would be in an interesting pub.  Dinner was usually pub grub in the most recommended place we could find.  Especially in Ireland our evenings were spent in pubs listening to traditional session music and having a pint, usually of Guiness, like the session at Matt Molloy’s in Westport.  

Now, after twenty trips to Europe in the past eleven years, we still enjoy a pub visit during our travel days, but we are gravitating more and more to local tearooms and specialty coffee shops.  Perhaps it’s because we drink less and less alcohol--a half of Guiness is enough to fill me up, after all, Guiness is food.  I think it is more likely that we have become imbued with the Starbucks’ culture.  At home I spend at least an hour a day writing in my office, my Canby Starbucks store.  All three of our golf/pub travel guides were written and edited in Starbucks, and I’m currently proofing my latest book, Ten Years of Travel in Scotland, Ireland, England, and Wales, in my Starbucks office one latte at a time.  So, it’s easy to blame our Starbucks experience for the affinity we have for tearooms and specialty coffee shops as we travel.  That’s not a bad thing.  We are having fun discovering interesting tearooms and enjoying some delicious sweet and savory treats.
Besides the lattes to which I’m addicted (vente, vanilla, nonfat, no foam) and the sweets   we treat ourselves to (Anne particularly likes one called Millionaire’s Shortbread) we find much to like in tearooms.  For instance, in Bachory along the River Dee west of Aberdeen the Falls of Feugh Tearoom is a place we return to whenever we’re in the area.

The tearoom is a lovely, flowerful, dainty place sited along the Water of Feugh (small river) famous for its raspberry jam and scones.  Before or after our tearoom visit we always stop by for photos of the rapids off the Bridge of Feugh.  Another tearoom that could be described as dainty is The Sampler Coffee Shop in St David’s City in southwestern Wales.  

This small shop fills its walls with a fine collection of Victorian needlework samplers.  They will also fill your glass with the best homemade lemonade I’ve ever had--so good that I had two glasses with my sandwich.  Interesting decor and quality fare.  In Ireland we discovered quality sweets and fascinating decor near the Burren in County Clare.  In Ballyvaughan is An Fear Gorta, a tearoom and garden in a 1790 built stone house across from the harbour.  Along with a great location comes wonderful homemade cakes and scones.

It was a delight to eat our treats with passion flowers hanging above us and still be inside.  The day we stopped was sunny but quite cool, but it was warm and inviting inside.  Warm and inviting also works for the Acorn Bank Gardens Tearoom outside of Penrith, England.  Cold and wet outside when we stopped in May, the gardens’ tearoom in the main manor house was a pleasant refuge from the weather.  

In an earlier entry I described the “Hotbed Soup” (fresh lettuce soup) we enjoyed that day, but I would certainly go back to sample some sweets from the tray near the register.  Sometimes, though, there is something other than the location or ambience that attracts to a tearoom.  For example, although the location of the Old Bakery Coffee Shop in Carrbridge across the street from the old Packhorse Bridge is attractive, it is the local feel to the place we found so enticing.  The sweets had all been made locally and one wall was decorated with a quilted wall hanging of the history of the village.  

It was here, too, that we learned about and bought tickets to a young person’s traditional music concert.  While the Old Bakery may be quaint, it’s the funk that attracted us to Mountain Coffee and Hillbilly Books in Gairloch on Scotland’s west coast.   The half shop that was books was filled with an eclectic collection of tomes which was fun to browse.  

In the coffee shop half we enjoyed a huge, scrumptious cheese scone; in fact, it was good enough that we stopped back the next day for scones to go.  A spot where location has made all the difference for us is the Rannoch Station Tearoom at the small train depot on the edge of Rannoch Moor in central Scotland.  At the very end of the road west from Pitlochry, the rustic tearoom serves nice homemade soups, simple toasties, and a small variety of sweets.  Nothing fancy, but after a long drive on narrow roads it’s a welcome respite.  

For us another welcome respite is a local spot in Crieff which has become our Scotland Starbucks, now known to our Scottish family as the Office.  The Red Squirrel opened last year is only a ten minute walk from Merlindale B&B, our Scottish home. 

We’ve been there enough that the owners, Paul and Jackie, know what we like and greet us with, “The usual today, Bob?”  The Red Squirrel has become a comfortable office away from the office.  Not all the coffee shops or tearooms we’ve been to are so comfortable.  There have been a couple of times where we’ve missed the mark.  On a rainy day in Wales we looked for a place to stop for a cup of coffee and some writing time since the weather wasn’t much good for anything else.  We spotted a cafe sign as we drove through the village of Penclawdd and since Anne is a good sport she agreed to try what we’d call a greasy spoon.  JJs Cafe was quite an experience.  We had our coffee, but wouldn’t have ordered anything else--”clean” was not a word JJ had ever heard of.  We dusted off the plastic table cloth so we could write, but it was hard to concentrate with the several locals laughing at the rerun of a 70s American sitcom.  

Then there was the time last fall when we were desperate for coffee and a sandwich late in the afternoon of a busy day of touring on the Isle of Skye.  The Orasay Tea Room in Uig was our hope since it was the only place open.  

We should have been warned by the “For Sale” sign in front of the place, but hunger won out.  Too bad.  The coffee was instant and the cheese toastie we shared was a slice of processed cheese between two pieces of white bread that had thrown into a fry pan for a few seconds.  In this case we would have been better off at the pub across the street. 

Friday, June 3, 2011

June 3, 2011: Games and Results

Highland Games in the Rain
Anne went with Jacky to Ailsa’s Speech Day at Strathallen School, the awards day at a high academic private school.  I chose to go to the Highland Games in Blackford village near Auchterarder.  Highland Games are held all over Scotland starting in May and going through September or October.  The biggest games are those held in Braemar which are usually attended by the Queen who spends much of the summer nearby at Balmormal Castle.  The games consist of .... well, games.  Running games, bicycle races, piping contests, Highland dancing competitions, and the heavy events, like tossing the caber, shot put, or hammer.

What I found most interesting at this year’s Blackford Games was how everyone reacted to the strong rain shower that came over.  Races were being run and dancing was being done until a black cloud passed over, the wind picked up, and the rain started sheeting.  Without haste the games just sort of folded into themselves--people gathered into tents, under trees, in the lea of stone walls.  When the shower was over, the games unfolded almost as smoothly and slowly as they had folded up.  It was almost as if the runners had just slowed down and stopped until the rain stopped and then started again in the next stride.  

Obviously, the Scots have learned to live with the rain.  
Spring 2011 Scotland Trip Summary
In the first two days home from Scotland, besides waking up at 3 a.m., what is most noticeable is how dark it is at night.  Even though we were in central Scotland and not the far north, it stayed light enough to play golf even at 10:00 p.m. or later and the birds started singing at about 3:30 a.m. as it was starting to get light.  Here in Oregon it’s dark by nine and not getting light until 4:30.  Daylight, though, isn’t our summation of the trip;  the following lists serve that purpose.

We drove our rented Vauxhall Astra automatic 2540 miles getting about 25 miles to the gallon which costs (factoring in the exchange rate) an average of a little over $9.00 per gallon--do the math!  We played 16 rounds of golf (we didn’t play more because Anne is recovering from shoulder replacement at the end of January), played 270 holes (a few of them well), and walked 75 miles on the courses.  Six of the courses were new to us.  We visited 15 coffee shops or tearooms, 6 new to us, four pubs, and 12 restaurants (7 new).  We visited 5 shopping areas, 6 museums or galleries, 7 gardens, 4 castles, 5 other historic sites, 10 standing stones or stone circles, 8 waterfalls, 6 churches or kirks, and 2 distilleries--I’m sure we saw a partridge in a pear tree (or it might have been a pigeon in an apple tree).  

Some of our favorites of the trip are: Peterculter Golf Club near Aberdeen, the Acorn Bank Gardens Tearoom where we had Hotbed (lettuce) Soup, The Log House in Ambleside for dinner (Anne had the best Herdwick lamb shank), the Seafood Chowder at Mussel Inn in Edinburgh or the Crab Soup at Creel Inn in Catterline, 

either Kailzie Garden in Peebles or Branklyn Gardens in Perth, Dunnottar Castle (setting for Zeffirilli’s Hamlet), 

Rosslyn Chapel (setting for part of Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code), The Grey Mare’s Tale (waterfall) near Moffat, 

a visit to Balmoral Castle (the Queen’s Highland residence), Mountain Cocoa in Auchterarder, and our most favorite, the people we met on the trip in the B&B and on the golf courses.   

The End (for now)