Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Scotland Fall 2016 #2: A Rant, A Story, and....

Who knew pigeons were so colorful.

Coastal Red Poppy

How I’ve Become So Dependent on the Internet

Evaluate your own use of the net, but for me it is rather frightening how hard it is to live without the internet.  I recently saw (on the web) an interesting proposition.  Would you be willing, it asked, to live without phone, tv, or the internet for one month, if at the end of the month you would be given $100,000?  My answer was immediate, “Of course I would and could.” Now I’m not so sure.
We arrived at our timeshare, Scandinavian Village in Aviemore (Highlands), on Saturday evening.  We were told that the free internet system was down, but that it’d be up in the morning.  It wasn’t.  In fact, we didn’t have internet in our unit for a full week.  Not only that, but the system was poor all over town because BT was putting in a new fiber-optics system.  So even in the usual “internet cafes” service was poor at best.
Suddenly we found we were cut off from our normal world.  Weather forecasts weren’t available except the 20% accurate TV forecasting.  Route planning that we’d left to the last minute wasn’t available—we had to rely on the five year old A-Z Map.  Just try adding up those mileage numbers without a magnifying glass.  I found that I relied greatly on the net for my entertainment and games.  More important still was the fact that on-line banking wasn’t accessible.  Paying bills would have to wait as would checking on our accounts.  Most important, though, we felt out of touch with friends and family.  We could still get and receive emails and texts on our iPhone, but gone were the face-to-face (sort of) contacts through Facebook.  The one good aspect of our net draught was that we didn’t have to follow the news daily, but even then by the end of the week I was feeling a little news deprived.
Would I, could I…for a month…even for the Big Money?  It’s a tougher question than I thought.   
Pittenweem Village


A Stay at a Castle (Sort Of)

We booked in for a week at Kilconquhar (as close as we can come, it’s pronounced kil-con-ker) Castle in the Kingdom of Fife about 12 miles from St Andrews.  We traded our Worldmark credit through RCI for our week—rules say we can only do this once every four years.  
Kilconquhar Castle

The castle resort has hotel units in the castle proper, a couple of garden units connected to the castle (we stayed in one once), and small (2 bedroom) and large (four bedroom) villa units around the grounds.  There’s a bar and two restaurants in the castle.  On the grounds is an equestrian centre, a pool and games complex, exercise room, and tennis courts.  

Our villa—Ginger Beer Villa 4— was a four bedroom, three bath, sauna, full kitchen, living room, dining room, loft play room, and patio unit.  

Anne enjoys her patio time and her gin.

All Five Star.  Yes, we have to admit that our life is great much of the time. 
Kilconquhar Castle and its walled estate was the fortified great house of the local laird from about 1200 onwards.  In 1266 the then laird Adam of Kilconquhar, Earl of Carrick, went on the Crusades in the train of Prince Edward of England.  He died with his friend King Robert the Bruce of Scotland in Palestine in 1270.  The castle and estate stayed with the family for several hundred years and finally was purchased by the Carstairs family in 1640.  From there the estate eventually ended up being owned by Lord Lindsay and today the castle’s tartan is the Lindsay tartan and the Lindsay Room in the castle honours the family.
The village of Kilconquhar about a half mile from the castle is very much like a village in the Cotswolds of England, except it lacks the thatched roofs of England—quaint well-decorated houses along a narrow main street with a Norman-style church and one pub.  
Kilconquhar Parish Church

In the parish churchyard we found graves of Earls and Barons as well a famous golfer's family.

We ate twice at the Kinnneuchar Inn.  The food at the inn is quite good and locals are friendly.  It’s a kind of small village Cheers.  And while the castle resort is Five Star, the bistro in the castle could use some help.  We booked in for steak night in the bistro and wondered why the crowd was rather sparse. It didn’t take long to find out.  
The Castle Bistro

I ordered steak and tiger prawns (you know the big guys).  When my dinner came the steak was there (and was tasty) but there were no prawns, just a sort of cream sauce.  I asked the manager about the prawns and he said, “They’re in the sauce.”  In the cream sauce were three hard, over-cooked baby cocktail shrimps—those were my King Prawns.  

We found out from a waitress that the chef had run out of prawns so they substituted shrimps in a sauce.  Whether it was the manager’s decision or the chef’s, somebody ought to learn the difference between shrimps and prawn and when to tell the customer the truth.
Other than that dinner foul-up, our stay at Kilconquhar Castle was lovely.  We look forward to being able to return.
Pittenweem Harbour

His eyes were bigger than his stomach.

A windmill at St Monans used for drying salt.

St Monans Church and the Village

The Ferry to Isle Arran

We came over to the Isle of Arran on a Caledonian MacBrayne ferry from Ardrossan on the Ayrshire (west) coast.  At the beginning of the crossing they made a safety announcement and this is what we think we heard over the garbled speaker system:
Sailing to the Isle of Arran

“In the event of an emergency you will be instructed to swim.  Do not attempt to take your luggage or your cars.  Above all, stay calm and stroke firmly.
“Parents with children should keep them under control.  Those out of control will be tossed overboard.

“Passengers traveling with pets should keep animals away from drink serving areas. Nobody likes a drunk dog.  Have a good voyage.”

Full Moon and the Elie Lighthouse

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Fall 2016 Scotland #1

Mt St Helens and Adams

Anne beside our upgraded Ford Mondeo

Evening in Crieff

This post has been delayed by a lack of time before we got to timeshare (too busy doing things to write about) and by a lack of internet in our timeshare in the Highlands (difficult to do anything more than the basics in an internet cafe).  I’ve finally got the first post of our trip done and ready to publish.  The trip has been a great one so far with party’s in Crieff (John’s birthday), 

visiting with old friends and making new ones, golf at our club and others, distillery tours, ferry trips and train trips, and more.  Out of all that I do have some stories to tell and some photos to share. 
On the street in Crieff

Lone Fisherperson on Lochearn

The Bizarre Server

At the Moorings Hotel Restaurant in Banavie near Fort William (facing Neptune’s Staircase, a series of locks) we had a nice dinner and some special service. 
One of Neptune's Staircase (locks)

We had menus, but were waiting for a server to take our order when a nicely dressed worker (looked like a manager) came to our table to take our menus.  We stopped him saying, “We haven’t ordered yet.”  He asked what we wanted and Anne said, “I’ll have the salmon with mashed potatoes.”  He looked at the menu where it listed mashed as an option and said something like, “I don’t know if you can have that, I’ll ask one of the girls. What would you like to drink?” Anne replied that she’d like a “glass of white wine; what do you have by the glass.” He showed Anne the list of bottled wine and said, “White [turned the page] and red.”  “I want white, but which is by the glass?” questioned Anne, a little more frustrated.  “I don’t know; I’ll ask a girl.”  And he left.  
A waitress did finally take our order and we got drinks and food, but after the starter the same guy came back and took our starter plates and asked us what we wanted for dessert.  We worked very hard to not breaking out in hysterics. We saw him several times doing things at tables and leaving guests with perplexed looks. Our guess is that he was either an overseas owner or he was from Barcelona and “knew nuthing.”  [British sit-com “Fawlty Towers”, check it out.]
Hairy Coo

Red Kite

Butcher's sign in Pitlochry

Two Special Rounds of Golf

The first of two special rounds of golf on this trip was at Harburn GC in West Calder, West Lothians (south of Edinburgh). We were entered in a Mixed Greensomes Open, meaning as a couple we each teed off, chose our best shot, and played alternate shot from there until we holed out—not an easy game when we’re not used to it.  We were paired with Billie and Jillian, a father-daughter team from a nearby village.  
Harburn GC

Both were very good golfers, and we started very well, but then the sand got us.  First Anne got us in the sand and I didn’t get us out.  Then she didn’t get us out.  And I didn’t get us out.  Finally, Anne got us out of the sand and a mile away from the flag.  We did that a couple more times.  The upshot of this is that we were in last place when we left the clubhouse (more golfers were still out on the course, so there was some hope) and Billie and Jillian were in first place.  
Jillian, Anne, and Billie

It was our worst performance in competition ever, but we’d had a lovely time on a nice course and made new friends.  It would be nice to think someone might have had a worse day than did we, or is that not an appropriate thought?
Our second special round was at the nine-hole Traigh GC (pronounced “try”) near Airsaig and Mallaig (the terminus of the Harry Potter Train).  
Anne gets ready for a wet round at Traigh

This little course is set upon ancient sand dunes next to beautiful white sand beaches on the west coast of Scotland (I believe it is the most westerly golf course on the Scottish mainland).  
Traigh clubhouse and beach

Fifth hole at Traigh

We had played before and brought the club a copy of our book in exchange for another round.  The day was windy (20-30 mph) and squally, so we got our rain gear ready in case.  The course is short, but tricky and great fun.  Even when the weather turned to driving rain—holes seven and eight—it was still fun.  
The Scots are resourceful

The weather cleared a bit as we put our wet gear into the car.  The one other guy on the course was still playing the ninth when pulled out and headed to Fort William.
Old croft building in Glencoe village

Loch Linnhe

The Harry Potter Train

We are actively seeking photos of the sites used in Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander TV series—people were constantly asking for photos of the sites when we were selling at the Highland Games.  We couldn’t, though, pass up an opportunity to get a little bit of Harry Potter fix by taking the Harry Potter Train (aka The Jacobite) from Fort William to Mallaig.  Recognized as one of the most beautiful steam train trip in the world, 

the train (pulled by a 1945-era coal-fired locomotive) the 50+ mile round trip is through spectacular Highland and coastal scenery with stops at historic Glenfinnan (where Bonnie Prince Charlie gather the clans in 1745 to make a bid at regaining the Scottish/English throne for the Stuarts) and a lunch-stop in Mallaig where the Caledonian ferries sail to the Isle of Skye and the Inner Hebrides islands.
Our seats faced backwards on the outward trip.  We were seated with a nice young couple from Switzerland on a two-week tour of Scotland.  

The lunch stop, for us it was a shared sandwich at The Garden Tea Room, gave us time for a bite and a wander about the harbour.  

The Garden Tea Room in Mallaig

One the way back to Fort William we were seated near the back of the train and facing forward—much better for photos.  
View from the train

The photo of the day was my shot of the train crossing over the Glenfinnan viaduct (which is now known as the Harry Potter viaduct).  
The Glenfinnan (Harry Potter) Viaduct

We’d driven the Road to the Isles (from Fort William to Mallaig) before, but the train ride gave us a different perspective on things we’d seen before.  That’s always exciting.
The path less traveled