Friday, December 30, 2016

A Victoria Christmas Holiday, Part 1

We’d spent time twice before in Victoria, BC, Canada, but it had been several years since our last visit. With fond memories of the city decorated for Christmas, we decided to book into our timeshare, Worldmark Victoria, for five days and invite Anne’s sister Charleen and her husband Dave to spend a couple of days with us. 
Anne and I drove to Sequim, WA, on Saturday, December 17, so we could catch the early ferry from Port Angeles to Victoria the next morning. On Sunday, after forty minutes queueing to get onto the ferry, we boarded at 8:20. 

I took photos of the Port Angeles harbor and a few coming into Victoria, but most of the time we spent watching the other people on the ferry. 
Selfie asleep on the ferry

We started disembarking at 10:30 and had cleared Canadian Customs (“We are staying for five days…at the Worldmark…just vacationing…No, we have no fresh fruits or vegetables with seeds…Thank you.”) by 11:00.
Our Worldmark 2-bedroom apartment was ready early, about twenty minutes after we arrived. The unit was excellent—two bedrooms, two baths, full kitchen, dining room, living room with gas fireplace, washer and drier, and patio. 

Our view was of a marina of decorated boats, the bay, and part of Fisherman’s Wharf’s houseboats. Lovely.
We walked to downtown Victoria along the bay—a cold, windy walk of about 20 minutes. We learned our lesson on that first walk and most of the rest of the time walked inland from the shore—shorter and more wind protected. 
Anne viewing a Robert Bateman original on one of her favorite subjects.

Buy a new Irish cap at the Out of Ireland shop.

Victoria has a pleasant downtown shopping district with interesting shops (Irish, travel, bookstores, specialty chocolates, etc.) and its share of tourist shops (t-shirts, fridge magnets, moose droppings candy, maple syrup, etc.). We lucked into a great lunch spot, Pagliacci’s

—loud, crowded, serving delicious brunch and pasta fare. I hadn’t noted the restaurant in my searches, but locals say it’s just about the best in town.
Dinner was in our unit—martinis, BBQ chicken and bagels from a local upscale market. The availability of the full kitchen certainly helps keep costs reasonable.
Our first full day in Victoria started with breakfast in and a plan to drive around the bottom of Vancouver Island (still in Victoria). We walked the half-mile out Ogden Point Breakwater which gave us nice views of the bay. 

On the walk we met a local lady (she’s the one who took our photo by the harbor light) 

and had a wonderful chat with Wendy as we walked back to our car. 
The birds at Glover Point loved our car.

We made several stops for photos along the route, but the most interesting stop was at the Chinese Cemetery at Harling Point. 
The path to the Chinese Cemetery.

Designated a Nat’l Historical Site in 1996, the Harling Point setting was selected in accord to the ancient concept of feng shui (harmony with the environment). Older graves were moved from the Old Cemetery and Ross Bay Cemeteries in 1903, and burials continued until the early 1950s. The  cemetery has several information plaques and is very peaceful.
We visited one of the many villages of Victoria, Oak Bay Village, 
Street sculpture in Oak Bay Village.

with its interesting shops and nice Irish pub, 

The Penny Farthing. After sharing a couple of tasty burgers and a Guinness in the Farthing, we discovered [I’m sure others had “discovered” it before, but it was new to us.] Roger’s Chocolates—sinfully delicious and almost as good as See’s. 
The drive back to WM was through another of Victoria’s neighborhood villages, Cook Street Village. Once at our digs, Anne stayed in to rest while I walked down to Fisherman’s Wharf (five minutes from our apartment) for photos. I first stopped at Moka House Coffee and Bistro for a latte—to keep me warm, of course. 

I wandered among the houseboats and shops on the wharf for a half hour or so. 
This harbor sealant Fisherman's Wharf floated just beneath the surface until someone would hold out food.

On the way back I picked up a couple of fish tacos at Finest at Sea 

(food cart and seafood market) to be appetizers for dinner which was left over tortellini and toast. Then it was time to work on photos with Christmas music playing in the background.
Tuesday, the fourth day of our trip, started with another relaxing morning with breakfast of sausage, eggs, bagels, and fruit. We tried to book in for a Christmas High Tea on Thursday, but all the bookings were taken—must book sooner next time.  

After some nice rainbow photos from our patio, we walked to town (about 11;00) for more shopping before Dave and Charleen walk off the ferry at 3:30.
A rainy downtown Victoria.

More chocolates from Roger’s was the first order of the day, followed by T-shirts for Anne and a browse in a specialty hat shop.  

We took a latte break at Starbucks after a wander through the two blocks of Victoria’s Chinatown—small, but has some picturesque shops.The find of the morning was a pen shop, Simply the Best, where Anne and I each bought a Lamy rollerball pen. In the shop we had a very nice visit with the owner and his friend. 

And what does the upside-down face on the totem mean?
On the way back to WM we walked through Totem Park next to BC Museum and shopped in the museum’s gift shop—it was nice to have the exchange rate in our favor. It was another cold, windy walk from the museum to WM.

NEXT: Part 2

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Projects, Stories, and Photos

Isle of Harris GC--story about small golf courses.

Andrew at J L Gill in Crieff--story about the whisky that got away.

Two New Projects and More

  I have two winter projects that are drawing my attention, both new books…sort of. The first project is Sixteen Years of Travel in Scotland, England, Ireland, and Wales. It’s a book that combines the best stories from my first book of travel stories,Ten Years of Travel…, and my second book of stories, The Rambling Adventures of a Traveler and Golfer. The book also includes dozens of new stories not in either book as well as many more pictures.  The first two books will then go out of print—if you’ve got one or both they could become collector’s items—and they are still available at Amazon until the new one comes out in the spring. Speaking of collector’s items, I once saw a copy of Scotland’s Hidden Gems: Golf Courses and Pubs (our first golf book) on an Amazon seller’s store for $95 as a “signed, limited edition.” This was while the book was still available on Amazon for $12.95.
The Amulree Church

Bridge over the Keltie Water in Callander

Cairn Holy in Southern Scotland

Burleigh Castle, the Castle on a Corner

The second project is much more challenging for me. I’m working on a photo book tentatively titled Scotland in Black and White. The book will contain sixty black and white photos (or eighty since I’m having trouble narrowing it down to sixty) with commentary on each one (stories, description, history, etc.). The book will probably be available on Amazon, but will be mostly available from me and at shows where I sell. I’m excited about this new venture.  
Edinburgh Castle

A Gargling Gargoyle

Is this Mary's?

The Simple Life on an Island

Besides the book writing we are planning more travel adventures over winter into spring: Victoria, BC for Christmas, Las Vegas in early February, Phoenix/Tucson in early March, and Scotland in April and May.  Until I have new material to write about, I’m putting up some stories and photos from past trips. We hope you all have a joyous Holiday Season and a Safe and Prosperous New Year!

English Motorway Trauma or the M6 Exacts Its Toll

It was going to be a long hard drive from near Lancaster to Cirencester at the north edge of the Cotswolds. Though, it didn’t have to be as hard as we made it.
Winchcombe Village in the Cotswolds

The route we wanted to take was to get on the M6 and stay on it all the way to near Cirencester. The M6 is a difficult drive anytime—lots of lorry traffic since most goods are shipped by lorry rather than rail—but with heavy rains for the first hundred miles it was much trickier. We didn’t realize that the M6 splits into the regular motorway and a toll road south of Birmingham—a reason to always have an up to date map. Before Anne could figure out which way we should go, I had to choose. Of course, I chose wrong. I went left onto the toll M6 when I needed to go right onto the regular M6. To add to the trauma, the toll road had very few exits—we didn’t know how to get off or where we’d be when we got off.
Typical Cotswold scene

To calm down and try to find some help we pulled into what my old college speech coach called a GOP service area—gas, oil, and pee. I thought we could ask for directions at the hotel in the service area, but Anne (the brilliant navigator that she is) had a better idea. She noticed numerous tour buses parked in the rest area and sought out one of the drivers figuring he’d surely know the route we needed. The driver Anne talked to gave us great directions for getting off the toll road and into the Cotswolds to Cirencester.
Cirencester main street

Navigator Anne led me onto, and then off the motorway, and into the quaint English villages called The Cotswolds. The new route actually ended up more interesting than staying on the regular M6 of our original plan. We drove through colorful, thatched roofed English villages, had lunch in Morton-in-Marsh at Mrs. Potts Tearoom, and still made it to Cirencester in plenty of time to wander about town before dinner. I guess a little motorway trauma didn’t hurt us after all.

The Good and the Bad of a Travel Dinner

On a Saturday night in September we ate in the Brasserie at the Townhouse Hotel in Melrose in the Scottish Borders. Supposedly, the restaurant is rated the #1 restaurant in the area by Trip Advisor. The food was excellent—we shared a fish cake starter and I had pan fried duck breast as a main. The service, though, didn’t match the food.
Our waitress was not local (Polish or Romanian most likely by her accent) and was probably fairly new to her job, so we could forgive some things. We had a difficult time making ourselves understood and she didn’t do things that she was supposed to—give us bread, check that our meal was right, see if we needed anything. The girl basically took our order, disappeared, brought our food, and disappeared again, bring a bill. 

At the end I had to get the manager to get our bill.  When the manager brought the bill I asked her about the lack of service. She said all those things should have been done automatically, but then the manager blew it, too. She didn’t apologize for the poor service, she made no effort to make up for or correct the problems—a free coffee or dessert or adjustment of the bill would have been nice. We didn’t even get a “sorry about that.” She said she’d speak to the girl, but that’s no consolation for us.
Oh, well, so far more than 6000 people have read my Trip Advisor review of the good (the food) and the bad (the service) of our Townhouse Hotel dinner. 

Language Problems

Most of our travels are in the British Isles (England, Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland, and the Republic of Ireland) and aside from a few run-ins with Gaelic or Welsh or un-under-standqble Londoners there haven’t been too many language problems. But when we took a two-week train tour of Germany, Austria, and Hungary, we did have some language difficulties. 
It was interesting that after more than 35 years a bit of my college German (one year and an audit of year two) came back and was useful. It didn’t help us change our train reservations in Salzburg, though. We wanted to take a later train to Munich than originally scheduled. We got the baunhof (train station) phone number and called from our hotel. Every time we got a live person on the line they would hang up as soon as they heard my English. We finally went to the train station by cab (€7.50) and talked to the Austrian train authorities and finally the German train authorities. We confirmed what we thought—our first class tickets allowed us any seats which weren’t reserved on any train. We could have saved euros and time if someone would have talked to us over the phone, or if we had spoken Austrian or German.
In Budapest, Hungary, we had an example of how the locals solved some of the language problems we expected to encounter. At a small grocery store Anne bought a small snack item and some bottled water and had me pay for it. The clerk, who didn’t speak English, asked for an amount in Hungarian. I stared blankly at her and apologized for not speaking Hungarian. She understood and quickly put her hand in her pocket, took it out, and opened her palm. It took me only a couple of seconds to get it. I reached into my pocket, pulled out a hand full of coins, and showed it to her. She picked through the coins and took what seemed to be an appropriate amount and said, “Igen (‘yes’ in Hungarian).” I said, “Koszonom (‘thank you’).” I’m sure my pronunciation was poor, but I knew what she had said and she knew what I meant.
Sunny day in the park in Budapest.

There was one instance in Scotland where the language left me baffled. Our good friend, John Clifford, offered to take me to a Scottish football game (soccer) between his team, the Celtics, and the team from Aberdeen. He drove us from Crieff to the house of his   friend in Glasgow near the stadium. He told me that several Celtic supporters would all meet at this one house and leave their cars to be watched by their friend—the stadium is in a fairly rough neighborhood. All together eight supporters showed up to the house. They were all good friends and most spoke with heavy Glaswegian accents. As they chatted before the game, even though they tried to include me in the conversation, the rate of their speech got faster, the brogues thicker, and the slang terms more numerous. By the time we headed to the game I was understanding about three of every ten words, and one of them repeated quite often began with “F” and ended with “ing.” I was amazed because I had never before not been able to understand John. 

Stonehenge is impressive!

Anne getting slightly tipsy drinking my share--story about the Whisky Train.

Monday, November 7, 2016

A Photo Essay: Northern Oregon Coast Trip

A two day photo safari of the Northern Oregon Coast, November 1-3:

     With our friends, Nick and Kathryn Delany, we planned a two day trip to the northern Oregon coast for a photography exercise. We met in the afternoon at our timeshare in Seaside, the Worldmark Resort, spent the evening together, took some photo excursions the next day, and here are my results, with some help from Nick. Since a picture is worth a thousand words, here is a small book of thirty-six word-pictures of our beautiful coast.
The Cedar Creek between Grand Ronde and Hebo. 
In Tillamook Anne and I stopped for a cheese orgy, first at Blue Heron French Cheese Company and then at the Tillamook Cheese Factory.

A Highland Coo is one of the menagerie at Blue Heron Cheese.

This small gauge engine and rail car is on exhibit at Blue Heron.

Also at Blue Heron were several Guinea fowls. I've eaten them in Scotland, but had never seen one close up.

The Tillamook Cheese Factory is much larger than Blue Heron.

One of the features of the Tillamook Factory is the viewing platform where you can watch cheese being processed.
Along the coast between Tillamook and Seaside Anne and I made several stops--one for lunch, but mostly for photo opportunities.

By Bay City we saw several rocks loaded with cormorants and gulls.

At Hug Point State Park, a short hike got us down to the rocky beach and this lovely scene.

Only a couple of miles past Hug Point is Arcadia Beach with its broad sand beach.

Anne and I were still early for our check-in time at Seaside and our meeting with the Delanys, so we took a walk in one of Oregon's quaintest tourist towns, Cannon Beach.

The interesting mural decorates the walk to an entertaining attraction in Cannon Beach.

The Cannon Beach Distillery offered up tastings of their several gins and rums--Anne did the tasting since I'm the driver.
At the Worldmark Resort in Seaside we met up with our good long-time friends Nick and Kathryn Delany who now live in Vancouver, WA.  Kathryn is a working artist ( and Nick, recently retired, is just getting started in fine art photography.

Anne, Kathryn, and Nick walking back towards Worldmark on the Seaside Prom.
After a good breakfast in one of the local beach-side restaurants, Maggie's, we headed out of Seaside to find subjects for Nick and I to shoot, digitally of course.  The ladies hiked along--Anne and Kathryn took their own photos and gave the guys creative encouragement. Even though the weather was not the best (but it was typical Oregon), I managed to get some showable images.

The first stop was Ecola State Park just north of Cannon Beach--this view is to the south from the park.

It would have helped to have clear weather, but I was still able to get this image of Tillamook Rock Lighthouse about a mile and a half off shore.

Next we visited Ft. Stevens State Park on the most northwesterly tip of Oregon. On Columbia Beach we tried to catch beach reflections of the Peter Iredale shipwreck.

Nick caught me walking back from taking the picture below.
Columbia Beach

A seaweed bulb on the beach.

While photographing the shipwreck we were approached by a KPTV Portland cameraman on assignment to get reactions of locals of a small earthquake that occurred offshore that morning. Since the biggest reaction he got was one lady who said the quake felt like the cat jumping on her bed, he came down to the Peter Iredale to do background photos.

Up from the beach, we explored one of the batteries at Fort Stevens which had been built originally in the Civil War era and then reinforced in both World Wars. This is the Commander's Quarters.

In World War II this battery housed two large gun emplacements.

A couple of interior shots of the battery.

Before we left the fort, we stopped at the south jetty of the Columbia River where waves were crashing and pelicans were flying--this shot is from a long way off.

Isn't technology wonderful! As were driving Kathryn found details about this cafe for lunch in Warrenton.

And at Arnie's Cafe I discovered a huge, sinful treat--a fresh, hot cinnamon roll. I justified the sweet treat by saying I was braving the elements for my art.

Across the Columbia River into Washington state we hiked out to the decommissioned North Head Lighthouse.

That evening we ate at one of our favorite beach restaurants, Dooger's in Seaside.

Seaside on a rainy evening.
The next morning it was again breakfast at Maggie's on the Prom in Seaside before we headed back home--Delanys to Vancouver and we to Canby.

The Seaside beach with Tillamook Head in the background.

Anne at one of the lookouts near Oswald West State Park.

The view south on a brighter day. Of course, it's expected that the weather turns nicer just as you leave the beach.

One of our finds on the way home was this little shop, Bear Creek Artichokes, 11 miles south of Tillamook on Hwy 101. Homemade pestos, scones, and jams all made it into our shopping bag.

The weather wasn't great, but it wasn't terrible either. The company was terrific, and I look forward to seeing what photos will come from Nick's work.