Thursday, August 30, 2007

Logbook: Isle of Skye

Skye0We were up and moving early Tuesday morning to catch the ferry from Mallaig over to the Isle of Skye. Again, it is a 45 minute crossing that seems to take you to another world. On first impression, Skye is more rugged than Mull (or the mainland) and seems to have more exposed rock and barren moors. The weather was pretty nice and we immediately set off on a pretty good two lane road then continued on a smaller, single-lane track toward the southwest coast. By now I have become quite comfortable with the whole "driving on the left" situation, but I'm not sure one ever feels completely at ease with the single-track roads. Not only are they narrow and require some attention -- plus a lot of stopping and starting -- to synchronize passing other cars at the slightly wider "passing places" but the tracks wind sharply around blind curves and over blind summits. You just never know when another car is going to appear only a few meters ahead of you with neither of you having any place to pull over. It is fun driving, actually, but it is also a little stressful and tiring.

Skye1Upon reaching the coast, we parked the car and changed into our hiking boots to take a walk on a well defined trail up into the hills. We had no information about exactly where the trail would take us, but we were keen to walk after our lengthy drive and to take advantage of the beautiful weather. After working our way pretty steadily up hill for about an hour, Mom suggested we take a break to eat our sack lunch. About that time a hiker came from the other direction and said that a lovely view was "just up ahead." We've learned that there is no universal standard for "just up ahead" so I volunteered to walk ahead and check it out then wave to Mom if it was really pretty close and worthwhile. Sure enough, about ten minutes later I crested the hill and had a spectacular view of the Cuillin Mountains across a stunning bay with a white sandy beach along the coast. I waved to Mom who joined me for a delightful picnic in a truly astonishing setting then we headed back down and continued our drive.

Skye2_2We arrived in the town of Portree and checked into a charming little inn with enough time for me to scout out an internet connection at a local hostel. The guy at the desk said I was welcome to buy an hour of time online, but he couldn't let me sit inside due to a rule about "registered guests only" being allowed on the premises. So, I sat outside on a bench and caught up with myself for a about an hour before it started to rain and I had to head back to the inn. Drams, dinner and sleep finished another successful day of exploration! Yesterday morning was just lovely, with clear blue skies and a bright sun bathing the little harbor of Portree. We had breakfast and got in the car, heading toward the extreme northwest of the island on a series of ever diminishing roads. Sadly, the weather started closing in on our way and was sufficiently bleak by the time we reached the coast that we didn't have much of a view anywhere.

Skye3Intrepid walkers that we are, however, we did "boot up" and take a decent walk in the wind and light rain out onto a bluff point then down onto a coral beach. You may have noticed that I've now mentioned "beaches" -- both sand and coral -- a few times. Much to our surprise we have found many beaches out here on the Isles, and since I don't understand enough about beach geology to be able to explain their presence I will just say it seems strange to find them here at such high latitudes amidst such rugged surroundings. Satisfied that we had made the most we could of the day at hand, we headed back to Portree along the circuit route we had planned out. In just two days of part-time driving we have already covered practically every road on the Isle and since Mom has picked up on my practice of highlighting roads as we travel them, our map is looking quite colorful! I had another brief session online when we got back to town -- this time I was smart enough to drive and was able to sit in the car! -- then it was drams, dinner and sleep to finish the day.

Skye4We had a few hours this morning before our ferry, so we used our time to explore our last parts of Skye. Heading north out of Portree we stopped to check out the Old Man of Storr and Kilt Rock then worked our way through the Quiraing Mountains and down to the ferry port at Uig. If nothing else, the morning confirmed that Skye is indeed a stunning island with truly remarkable scenery. Although I feel like we've seen much of the island in the two days we've spent here, I think one would have to spend a long time here to really comprehend all that it is. I don't think I would ever choose to live on Skye, but it sure would be nice to have it handy for extensive exploration over time. From here we will take a ferry across to the Outer Hebrides island of North Uist. As we approach the half-way point of our Scotland exploration, we are also approaching the most distant point.

Lost In Translation: Isle of Skye, Scotland

RoadsubsidenceRoad Sign

Isle of Skye, Scotland

August 2007

I almost drove off the road trying to figure out what the sign said!

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Dram: Highland Cow

While driving on the Isle of Skye, we passed a beautiful Scottish Highland Cow standing by the roadside. Here's a little Dram to share the experience!

Monday, August 27, 2007

Logbook: Mull Iona Staffa

Mullionastaffa1Friday morning we tracked down the "Trouser Bridge Inn" legend (See Dram below) then filled up with petrol, picked up some food and got on line for the ferry to Mull. The crossing takes only about 45 minutes, but when you pull off the ferry onto the island you feel like you've entered another world. The terrain ranges from stark, rugged moors to lush fertile fields and from rocky cliffs to sandy beaches. There are few buildings to be seen, and even fewer people. The sheep and cattle can be spotted up in the hills, scattered across the fields and often in the road, a single lane track that's in generally poor shape and has only occasional "passing places" barely wide enough for two small cars to get by. As different as Mull is, it seems somehow ordinary when one reaches the end of the island at Fionnphort and views the tiny island of Iona across the narrow channel. I had been to Iona once before -- about twenty years ago -- and I was still awestruck when it came into view.

Mullionastaffa2_2We caught a tiny ferry for the very short ride across the channel and enjoyed a few hours of wandering around, touring through the old nunnery (where a wedding was taking place!) and visiting the famous abbey before taking a short walk through the fields and up to the hills. There is something truly remarkable about Iona, a kind of "feeling" that is hard to describe. Perhaps because at 2.9 billion years old it is one of the oldest pieces of rock on Earth. Perhaps because there are so few people, buildings and vehicles set in the wide open pastoral setting. Perhaps because of the remains of ancient religious structures. I'm not sure. What I do know is that Iona has a tranquility about it that makes one want to just hang out there. By sunset we were on the little ferry back to Mull, then checked into our little B&B before having dinner at the only little pub/restaurant in town and calling it a day.

Mullionastaffa3Saturday morning we drove to the south coast of Mull to take a look at a beach/cliff walk, but the weather was sufficiently cold, rainy and windy that we decided it wouldn't be very fun. So, we headed back to Fionnphort and had a bowl of soup then boarded a small boat for an hour long trip to Staffa, a small rock island with spectacular basaltic geology, huge natural caves and great views. We were very fortunate to have the weather clear up dramatically when we arrived and were thrilled to explore the tiny island for an hour or so until it was time to make the boat trip back. I'll put a few pictures in the current Photo Log and let them do a better job of describing Staffa. For now, I'll just say that once again I wish I had studied more geology!

Mullionastaffa4Yesterday we drove from the south side of Mull to the north via a very narrow single track road that passed through and over just about every kind of terrain you can imagine. We stopped at various places to enjoy the views and spent some time on an improbable white sand beach before taking a pleasant little hike through woods and out to the rocky coast. As evening approached we arrived in Tobermory, a truly lovely, colorful little seaside town. We didn't have much time there, but I would definitely put it on my list of places to visit again. This morning we caught a little ferry from Tobermory across a modest channel to return to the mainland and drive north through even more spectacular scenery on an even more challenging single track roads. We arrived here in Mallaig in time to grab some lunch then spent some time making arrangements going forward for our exploration of the "outer" islands. We've been going pretty fast for the past week, so it's been a good afternoon to relax a little bit, catch up with ourselves and get ready for another high energy week ahead.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Dram: Doggie Dinnertime

While my Mom and I were hiking on Iona, a hard working sheep dog ran past us and up the highest hill on the island to annoy, er, herd some sheep. A few moments later I caught the dog on video as it came speeding down the hill, headed -- we imagined -- for dinner. Here's a quick little Dram for dog lovers!

Dram: Trousers Bridge Inn

Trouserbridge1 Trouserbridge2 Trouserbridge3
Just south of Oban there is an old stone bridge called "The Bridge Over The Atlantic" and next to it is a place knows as "Trousers Inn." The story goes that after the Jacobite Rising of 1745, Scots were forbidden to wear kilts on the mainland and had to wear trousers instead. When they would return to their home island -- across the small stone bridge which, technically, crosses the Atlantic from the mainland -- they would stop at the Inn to change out of their trousers and back into their beloved kilts. Yet another example from the "You can't make this stuff up" category!

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Logbook: Oban

Oban1On Tuesday morning I caught a ride on the Inn's shuttle van to the airport to meet my Mom. Unlike her last trip over, her flight was on time and she'd had good connections, so she was in much better shape to begin our exploration together. After a quick stop back at the Inn so she could sort herself out, we threw our gear in the car and took off. I hadn't really thought much about it, but my Mom commented on how adeptly I navigated the congestion getting out of the airport area and on my facility with driving on the left in general. It's funny how your brain adjusts to things, I guess, because after driving over here for a couple (few?) weeks now, it all seems quite normal to me. We zoomed down the M8 to Glasgow then worked our way through some traffic until we were able to continue with relative speed to the northwest. A few minutes later we were cruising along the shores of Loch Lomond, getting our first exposure to the beauty that makes this area of Scotland so unforgettable. We found a nice little place along the way to have some lunch then continued through the Trossach mountain passes and on out to the coast.

Oban2Oban is visually stunning, a graceful little city surrounding a peaceful harbor with beautiful views across to the islands. It is also very charming, with its stone buildings, winding streets and ever-present Scottish flavor. Along our drive up, we had been delighted to see signs advertising that the "Oban Highland Games" would be held during our time here -- a very happy coincidence of something we were keen to experience -- but it gave us a little concern about whether or not we would have trouble finding a place to stay. Not to worry, a little scouting around found us a perfectly good, slightly funky little hotel that could give us a room for the next three nights. By the time we checked in, jet lag had finally caught up with Mom -- aided, perhaps, by our celebratory dram -- and a short nap was in order. In the evening we wandered around town, found a decent place to eat then called it a day.

Oban3Yesterday morning we awoke to a fabulous blue sky and decided to go find a walk. Just south of Oban we boarded a tiny, twelve passenger ferry that runs a few hundred meters to the small island of Kerrera which is highly recommended for its walkability. True to its reputation, the six mile loop trail around the southern end of the island is excellent. Along the shore, around the crags, over the moors and through the farms we had a really excellent walk. The weather was absolutely perfect and we could see for miles across the water to the islands and well inland to the higher peaks. We stopped to have a sack lunch in sight of some old castle ruins then completed the walk and caught the ferry back to our car. We were back in Oban by dram-time, celebrated a fine day then got cleaned up and went out to dinner.

Oban4Today was the day of the Oban Games and we had a great time. Starting with a parade from downtown out to the athletic fields, the action never stopped. On first impression, the scene on the field seems to be chaotic. After a while, a sense of order somehow emerges: Four small platforms are set at the corners of the field where individual bagpipe competition goes on all the time; inside that perimeter, a normal size grass track hosts all manner of running events throughout the day; inside that ring, a fairly large stage in one corner hosts an endless stream of highland dancing competition; in the corner next to that, a vaulting area hosts other field events; and in the other half of the infield, the "heavy" contests like hammer and stone throwing take place. All around the outside of that complex is a broad array of food vendors, crafts, etc. All around the whole thing is a fairly large bleacher on one side and a nice hill for viewing on the other. Thousands of people -- including us -- spent a nice day enjoying a constant stream of activity, sports, highland culture, food, babies, puppies and fun! (Be sure to take a look at the Photos for more highlights.)

It's been a great first few days of our road trip. Tomorrow morning we take a ferry across to Mull and begin our exploration of the Hebrides. Stay tuned!

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Dram: Bagpipe Fingers

There was a lot going on at the Oban Highland Games, but one little thing in particular caught my eye: As the young bagpipers performed, the judge's fingers seemed to match them note for note. Here's a little Dram that shows you can't fight instinct!

Lost In Translation: Oban, Scotland

HoickBank Window Advertisement

Oban, Scotland

August 2007

It turns out that "hoick" is a word after all, but this struck me as too funny not to share.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Logbook: An Almost Perfect Day

Almostperfectday1Having arrived back in Edinburgh last night -- a day earlier earlier than I had "planned" -- I had all of today with nothing to do until my Mom arrives tomorrow morning. Since she and I will be "on the go" for the next two weeks, I decided to use the day to take care of "chores" and inquired at the front desk about the possibility of doing some laundry. I was informed that the Inn has no laundry facilities and the only laundromat they could think of was the one back in downtown Edinburgh that I had used when I stayed there before. I wasn't about to go back into the city and deal with the traffic, etc., just to do laundry, so I went online to search for alternatives. Believe it or not, you can find laundromats online, and I found one in Falkirk, a small city some twenty miles west of Edinburgh. I figured this was a perfect opportunity to combine chores with exploration, so I grabbed my day pack and my laundry bag and headed out the door.

Navigating to Falkirk on the M9 was easy and shortly after entering the town I spotted a sign for Camelon, the "suburb" where the laundromat was located. A few arbitrary turns later, I stumbled across Union Street, spotted the laundromat, parked the car and went in. Rachel, the laundress, informed me that I was welcome to do my laundry or, for two pounds more, she would do it for me. I was in a new place on a nice day, so I handed over my bag and was told to come back in a couple of hours. I asked her where I could get some lunch and she sent me down the street to a little deli where I picked up a chicken sandwich and a bottle of juice. I asked the ladies behind the counter where I might find a nice place to sit and eat, and they suggested I walk to a park about twenty minutes away. A guy in overalls who was also picking up his lunch said, "Nae! Go to the corner and turn left. There's a little cemetery just down the block. It's a nice, quiet place to sit. My mates and I eat there all the time." The ladies were horrified at the notion of eating lunch in a cemetery, but the guy and I exchanged looks that said "It's a guy thing" and I thanked them all, grabbed my lunch and headed out.

I never actually made it to the cemetery because I found a quiet spot along the way to sit on a bench overlooking a nice recreational field. Good enough for me. On my way back toward my car I happened to walk past a barber shop and decided to stop in to get a trim so that I'd look tidy for my Mom. Unfortunately, my specific, repeated request for a "wee trim" was mostly unheeded so I ended up with a really, really short cut that you can see in the Haircut Chronicles. (Note: I'm not really bummed about it -- it's just part of the deal when you get your hair cut in a different place every time -- but it was the thing that made the day "almost" perfect.)

Almostperfectday2I still had some time to kill before Rachel would have my laundry ready, so I wandered into town and stumbled onto a lock belonging to the Forth & Clyde Canal. I struck up a conversation with a couple of guys who were working the lock and they asked if I had seen "The Wheel" yet. I hadn't, of course, so they pointed me down the canal path and said, "It's about a mile that way... You can't miss it!" So, off I went down the path and pretty soon came upon "The Falkirk Wheel." In a nutshell, Falkirk is where two canals come together to continue their way east on the Forth & Clyde. One of the canals arrives at a much higher level than the other, so its boats have to be raised/lowered quite a bit. Instead of using a series of closely spaced locks, the Wheel takes on boats at the top/bottom and spins to release them at the other level. The basic concept is pretty simple, but it is interesting and fun to watch so I hung out for a bit, seeing something entirely new to me.

From the Wheel, I walked back into town, picked up my laundry and drove back to the Inn at the airport. The point of the story, I guess, is that even "chore day" can be "explore day" if you choose the path of the unknown, let things unfold however they may, engage strangers in spontaneous co-creation and follow your instincts. This is really what The Voyage is all about, and it helped make today an almost perfect day!

(Note: When my Mom arrives in the morning, we will be heading west on our two week road trip. Internet facilities along the way are unknown, but I will -- as always -- strive to keep you up to date!)

Dram: Falkirk Wheel

During my "almost perfect" day of exploration in Falkirk, Scotland I recorded this video of "The Falkirk Wheel." I pretty well explain what it is in the video soundtrack, so here's your Dram!

Lost In Translation: Falkirk, Scotland

LuckyhoRestaurant Sign

Falkirk, Scotland

August 2007

How lucky can you get?

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Haircut Chronicle: #9 - Falkirk, Scotland

Haircus91 Haircut92 Haircut93

#9 - August 20, 2007, Falkirk, Scotland. Although my last cut was really short, it was done six weeks ago and I needed a little cleaning up around the edges in order to look presentable for my Mom's arrival. I found Susan in Falkirk, explained I just wanted "a wee trim" and she set to work. Within seconds the clippers had gone into overdrive and my repeated requests for a "wee" trim were answered by her saying "I'm only making it even!" Now my hair is really, really short. Cost: 7 Pounds ($14)

Logbook: Back To Edinburgh

I packed up yesterday morning and walked a block back to the car rental agency where I'd dropped off my last car less than a week ago. I chuckled to myself as I walked, partly because my week in Newcastle had turned out to be completely pointless due to the demise of my cruise on Polar Star, but also because I wondered if I might wind up renting the same car I'd brought down and if maybe I could get a discount for returning it to where I originally picked it up. Mostly, though, I was happy just to be heading back up to Scotland. The check-out process went smoothly until the clerk asked me where I was going to return the car and I said, "Well, I don't know." He gave me a wee smile and said, "Well, just make sure you drive it only in the UK and return it somewhere near one of our offices." I smiled back at his obvious good humor, grabbed the keys, loaded up my stuff and headed out of town.

Serious competition. Check out the judge on the left!
Because I had driven south from Edinburgh on a pretty straight, inland route, I decided to take the less direct, coastal route back north. It was a grand idea, except for the fact that the weather was pretty bad and it was all I could do to see where I was driving and had no chance to really enjoy the coastal scenery. I stopped for a bowl of soup in a little cafe, then stopped a little bit later on in a town where there happened to be an all-day pipe band competition in progress. I checked it out for a while, shot some video that is in the Dram below, then continued on my way.

By late afternoon I had worked my way back inland a bit and covered about half the distance to Edinburgh, so I started looking for a place to stay. A nice looking little inn was full, but the host called a local B&B and hooked me up with a room in a delightful place called "The Old Manse." The young couple and their baby greeted me, along with a fine Golden Retriever who was happy to get some attention (instead of it all going to the baby, I'm sure!) I had dinner back at the little inn then called it a really early night and was asleep by nine o'clock!

The weather on my drive up the coast was miserable.
This morning after breakfast I headed back to the coast with the intention of finding a nice seaside town somewhere along the way to spend the night, but the weather was still miserable so I found myself just continuing along the coast. Before I knew it, I was only about twenty miles from Edinburgh and decided to push on into town. Not wanting to deal with the crazy city traffic -- and wanting to be "in position" to meet my Mom when she arrives Tuesday morning -- I headed on out to the airport where I have found a Quality Inn literally right next to the airfield. Good enough.
I'm pretty tired, so I'm going to have dinner and call it a night. I think my fatigue is partly due to driving in lousy weather for two days, but also due to the cumulative uncertainty of the past week. All in all, though, I'm in pretty good shape and looking forward to what's next on The Voyage of Macgellan!

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Dram: Pipe Band Competition

On my way north from Newcastle back to Edinburgh, I happened to stop in a little town that was in the middle of an all-day Pipe Band Competition. You may have already had enough of bagpipes, but here's a little video that will show you what a pipe band competition is all about. The Scots take their pipe bands very seriously, as you can tell by the expressions on the judges' faces and by the fact that people are out in a pretty heavy rain to take it all in. With no further ado, here's your dram:

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Logbook: No Green Lines

MapnogreenlinesFor those of you who haven't checked the map today, here it is. Most days, the map tells a pretty good story by what it shows. Today, it tells a great story by what it doesn't show: For the first time on The Voyage, there are no green lines on the map. There's nothing to indicate "where I'm headed next." That is because, you see, for the first time ever on The Voyage I don't have any idea where I'm headed next. Since I don't want the map to have to do all the work on its own, here's my version of the story:

I got the call last night that my beloved little Polar Star is still sick and remains in the ship hospital. My Arctic cruise has been cancelled. I am disappointed, of course, because I was looking forward to the journey, to seeing some of my seafaring friends again and to having another memorable time with my Mom. I will miss -- at least for now -- the opportunity to get above the Arctic Circle, the chance to see Polar Bears, visiting the coast of Greenland, meeting Greenland dogs and being in Iceland. It would have been a great time of exploration on The Voyage, and I'm sorry it has been cancelled.

On the other hand, this is also a remarkable moment on The Voyage. Because I scheduled the Arctic cruise well before I began The Voyage -- before, in fact, I really had a clear idea of making The Voyage at all -- it has always been something I have been heading towards. The truth is that everything I have done and everywhere I have gone on The Voyage has been influenced by -- at least to some degree -- by the fact that I had a schedule to be in Oslo, Norway on August 21st, 2007 to sail on the Polar Star. That may not seem like a big deal, but it really is.

You see, my original "design" for The Voyage was for it to be a spontaneous and free-form exploration, with my only guiding principle to be an eventual circumnavigation of the surface of the Earth. Since I have always had the Arctic cruise on the calendar, I have never been able to be completely spontaneious. To be sure, I have had a year of pretty unscheduled and unstructured exploration, but I've always had a certain place to be on a certain date in the forseeable future. Trust me, one thing I've learned very well on The Voyage is that "once you have one thing on your schedule, you have a schedule."

So, for the first time I am without any kind of a schedule and certainly without any kind of a "plan." I am now completely unstructured and, in a sense, The Voyage really starts now. Of all the firsts and starts I've had on The Voyage, this is a pretty remarkable one.

What, you may be wondering, has been my first act in this new unscheduled and unplanned milieu? Well, of course, I've made a plan! In talking with my Mom, we decided not to lose the opportunity to do some exploration together. For one thing, she has a very busy schedule and had already carved out the coming few weeks for travel. For another, well, we just have fun together and it would be too bad to let the chance pass by. So, we did some pretty quick thinking and have come up with a really good plan.

As you know, I love Scotland. I love everything about it. Although I was just "on hold" in Scotland for a couple of weeks, I didn't really get to do that much exploration. For one thing, the weather was pretty bad. For another, changing over my website took a lot of time indoors, on my Mac. So, upon hearing that the Polar Star cruise was cancelled, my first thought was: "Okay, I'm going back up to Scotland!"

The only part of Scotland that my Mom has seen is the city of Edinburgh, plus a very little bit of the southeast countryside from the train on the way down here to Newcastle to begin the Hadrian's Wall Walk. I'm convinced she would love the rest of the country as much as I do, so I suggested she fly back over to Edinburgh where I will pick her up and we'll head out on a road trip together.

Our plan -- insofar as we have one! -- is to head west to Oban and the Argyll area, then further west to the Isles of Mull and Iona. From there we intend to head north through the Highlands, over to the Isle of Skye and on out to the Outer Hebrides of Lewis and Harris. Another ferry ride will bring us back to the mainland at Ullapool and give us the opportunity to cruise some of the fabulous northwest coast to Lochinver and surroundings before heading southeast -- through my beloved little Pitlochry, I hope! -- and on down to her return flight out of Edinburgh. It should be a fabulous 17 days and I am very much looking forward to sharing "my" Scotland with Mom.

So, there you have it. One exploration is cancelled and another materializes out of thin air! Stay tuned for details from The Voyage of Macgellan!

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Dram: Like Sending Flowers To Newcastle

Flowerstonewcastle1 Flowerstonewcastle2

I'm not usually a "Look at the pretty flowers!" kind of guy, but I am one today. All around Newcastle -- which has a mostly grey and tan kind of urban palette -- there is an amazing presence and assortment of bright, vivid, well cared for flower pots, baskets and planters. They really maike a difference in the look and feel of the city and I thought they were worth a little Dram!

Monday, August 13, 2007

Logbook: In Position For The Unknown

Inposition1As you may recall, Saturday was supposed to be the day that we -- my Mom and I -- were to receive the "final verdict" from the travel company about whether or not our Arctic cruise on Polar Star would take place starting on the 22nd. As you may also recall, my plan had been to hang out in the Highlands awaiting the word, then either head to Newcastle to catch one of three ferries that would get me to Norway in time or set something else in motion. When I Skyped my Mom on Friday, she told me that she had already heard from the company and that the word was "We'll tell you on Wednesday the 15th." Besides being a disappointment from a "being on hold" perspective, the delay made my situation even more difficult: By Wednesday, one of the three ferries would already have sailed, leaving me only a good connection on Friday or a really tight one on Sunday. I checked the ferry company's webite and found that passage was still available on Friday then took a walk and thought it all through. The dicision I came up with -- really the only reliable course of action -- was to head to Newcastle anyway, return my car and be "in position" for the unknown. So, I had another nice "mixed-use" day in Pitlochry on Saturday then packed up and hit the road on Sunday morning, headed for Newcastle again (I was here just a few weeks ago to begin the Hadrian's Wall walk!)

Inposition2The drive out of the Highlands was pretty good, with nice scenery in between rain squalls. I made my way through Edinburgh then continuted south through miles of farmland and moors, strikingly similar to what my Mom and I had recently walked through. By early afternoon I entered Newcastle and found it to be one of the most confusing cities I have ever driven in. Its mix of one-way streets (none of which are straight), "Bus Only" lanes and crazy roundabouts was a bit maddening, but I didn't let it get to me and finally -- after about an hour circling the same vicinity -- found my way to the local Holiday Inn Express. I was pretty tired from the drive and confusion, but decided to at least stretch my legs by taking a little walk. Pretty quickly I discover the main reason for Newcastle's street chaos: It is a very, very old city so it was never "planned" or "laid out". Accordingly, the streets still run approximately as they have for almost a thousand years. Add to that a number of ancient relics that have to be maneuvered around -- like the old city wall you see in the photo -- and you have the recipe for the chaos you've got. To my surprise, I also found a fairly substantial "Chinatown" which -- besides feeling out of place -- looks like a place I might get some "different" food for a change. After my walk, I headed back to my room and watched a movie before hitting the rack.

Inposition3This morning I checked the ferry company's website again -- just wanting to make sure my option for Friday was still open -- but received the message that information was not available, either because of a system problem or because no passage was available. Oh, great. I have learned from experience that on-line booking is usually just fine if you are in a "normal" situation: Sufficient advanced planning, a clear decision that you are ready to buy (versus just "reserve") and a straightforward travel objective. I have none of these, so I decided the best thing was to go to the ferry terminal and see about addressing the situation in person. So, I got on the Metro and rode out of town to the station nearest the ferry and walked about a mile to the docks. Upon entering the terminal I broke into my usual chuckle when I saw that not a single ticket desk was open for business. With a foreboding sense that I had made the trek for nothing, I went outside and looked around, happily finding a "corporate office" for the ferry company. Inside, I was directed to the third floor where I met Janice, a delightful reservation agent who mostly works on the phone. I told her my situation in some detail -- enough for her to get a sense of my "unknowns" -- and asked her advice. She said, "Relax, it's not a problem. I'll hold passage for you on the Friday sailing just in case it fills up, and you can let me know on Thursday whether you want to use it or not. If you still don't know on Thursday, you can always take the Sunday ferry because it never totally books up." So, there we have it! Janice solved my problem -- I think -- and I am pretty much set with a new, revised, tentative, possible plan... and a backup! The moral of the story is: "There's nothing like going there in person when things aren't simple."

I left the ferry dock with a sense of relief and realized I was pretty hungry, so I stopped at a decent pub for lunch and had a delicious chicken salad. As of this moment I am truly in position for the unknown, looking forward to having a couple of days to explore this crazy city and wait for the final, final verdict on my Polar Star cruise. Stay tuned for more scheduling melodrama from The Voyage of Macgellan!

Friday, August 10, 2007

Dram: Golden Fleece?

GoldenfleeceI damn near drove off the road when I saw these. At first I thought these sheep -- just south of Aberfeldy, Scotland -- must be wearing some kind of fabric coat to keep their fleece clean or something. On closer look, I saw that their actual fleece was "golden" in color -- or at least some kind of goldy-orangy color. I immediately thought of old Frank Purdue who -- I have heard -- fed his chickens marigold buds or something to give them that "healthy yellow color." I have no idea what these "golden fleeces" are all about, but I don't have PhotoShop so you can trust this is an authentic, un-messed-with image. Anybody got any ideas?

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Logbook: Back To Pitlochry

The weather in Ullapool turned very, very bad.
When I wrote in my last Logbook entry that I was not worried about missing the opportunity to explore Pitlochry because "I expect I'll wander back to that lovely little town again some time," I didn't expect it to be quite so soon. I am back in Pitlochry now, and here's what happened: I had planned to leave Ullapool on Monday morning, but the weather there -- and throughout the northwest of Scotland -- was rainy, windy and cold. So, I decided to stay an extra day and spent most of a bleak Monday productively back in the internet cafe. Tuesday morning was even worse than Monday, with torrential rains, gale force winds and bitter cold. Still worse, the forecast for the week promised more of the same. I figured there was no sense in pursuing my plan to drive around some remote areas to enjoy the scenery if I wouldn't be able to see it -- not to mention probably getting blown off the narrow, windy roads in the middle of nowhere -- so I decided to bag my little roadtrip on the moors. I also decided there wasn't much point in hanging around the area in bad weather, so I called the nice folks I stayed with here in Pitlochry and they said they'd be delighted to have me back. A couple of hours drive out of Ullapool I emerged from the horrid weather into clearer skies, stopped for a bowl of soup then drove on into Pitlochry. I walked into the inn and said "Hi, Honey, I'm home!" to the hostess and was rewarded with a warm welcome. Okay, now you know why I'm back in Pitlochry so soon!

A tourist gets "up close and personal."
Although I did spent some time yesterday doing more R&D on this weblog -- I even wrote my first original snippet of Java to create the "Today Is..." box you see in the upper left sidebar (go ahead, view the source!) -- I spent much of the day cruising around the town of Pitlochry. Admittedly, it is a tourist town, but it is a pleasant one with not too much touristy stuff. There are, of course, a number of tourist oriented shops, but there are also "normal" places. During the day you can see plenty of tourists wandering around and making fools of themselves -- like the woman you can see getting up close and personal with a sidewalk bagpipe player -- but they don't seem to get in the way too much and are pretty well back in their buses and on their way by evening. After strolling the length of the town and enjoying the "show" I sat in the local park and had a little picnic then walked around the tiny "suburbs" for a while, happy to see they are quiet and tidy.

Just one of many fabulous views on my drive.
The weather was just beautiful this morning, so I decided to go for a drive and planned out a route that would minimize time on the main roads and maximize time on the little ones. Actually, "little" doesn't do justice to them, and "unbelieveably narrow and twisty one-lane paved surfaces with occasional turnouts" is more like it. If you've ever driven here, you know what I mean. If you haven't, well, they're really an adventure. Along the way, of course, I was treated to an almost non-stop succession of beautiful views. Up and over the hills, through the valleys, along the lochs... This is fantasic countryside and the scenery is worth every point of blood pressure elevation that the roads have to offer.

There are sheep everywhere... To say the least!
While the scenery has a great deal of variation, the livestock does not. There are sheep everywhere around here and you can spot them in flocks both large and small on practically every open piece of ground. The almost abject lack of trees makes the terrain seem even more wide open and also makes the white dots of sheep stand out even more. It's hard to capture in an image, but I think this photo does a pretty good job of showing the terrain, the sheep and the absolutely amazing blue sky that made this a fnatastic day for driving the highlands.

What's up with my luck and closed roads on The Voyage?
Okay, here's something I'd like to figure out on The Voyage: What's up with my luck and closed roads? I mentioned above that I "planned out a route" for my drive. This is because there really aren't that many roads around here and if you're going to do a drive with any hope of getting back to where you started -- without going many, many more miles than you wanted to -- you pretty much have make a plan. So, you can imagine my dismay when I encountered this sign just about half way through my circuit. I have a thing about back-tracking and/or repeating roads when I drive -- probably a "therapy issue" right? -- and I was a little bummed about being miles into this tiny road and having to turn around and go back the way I came. You may recall when this happened to me in France and I actually got to the closed bridge because I couldn't read the "route baree" sign umpteen miles back. In this case, I could read the sign just fine... I just didn't want to stop.

Ignoring the sign scored me my best view of the day!
So, I forged ahead for a few miles, knowing full well that I was going to have even more road to back-track. I'm very glad I did, because I was rewarded with one of the most spectacular views of the day! Sometimes it pays to be a little bit stubborn on The Voyage! So, all in all, while I'm disappointed that my trip to the northwest hinter lands was rained out, I've had a great couple of days back here in the heart of the highlands. I am still "on hold" about my Arctic sailing on the Polar Star, and won't know anything definite for another couple of days. So, I intend to hang out in this area and enjoy more of what it has to offer! Stay tuned!

Saturday, August 04, 2007

Logbook: Pitlochry - Ullapool

Ullapool was completely abuzz when I arrived,
enjoying a day-long fundraiser for football.
During my day of driving and walking last Tuesday, I made the decision to "evolve my website." As is my custom, I then immersed myself in the project and spent most of my time in Pitlochry -- Wednesday, Thursday and Friday -- online, getting this weblog set up and running. Accordingly, I didn't explore much of the area after all, but I did take nice, frequent walks around town to get meals, do errands and generally clear my head of HTML code. I'm not too worried about missing the opportunity -- and I have no regrets -- because, frankly, I expect I'll wander back to that lovely little town again some time.

On Saturday morning, the Innkeeper of the delightful little place I was staying explained to me that she was already overbooked for that night and, sadly for both of us, I would have to leave. So, I packed up and hit the road, once again with no particular destination set in my mind. I took the main road north then northwest and found myself heading to the coast by mid-afternoon. The only place of any substance in this area is the port town of Ullapool, so I pulled in and found a place to stay for a couple of days.

"They left me here while they go have
fun! I'll show them... I'll stay awake!"
To my surprise this sleepy little town was abuzz, with frolicking of all kinds associated with a day-long series of fundraising events for the local football team. I checked it out for a bit before hearing "the call of the code" and wanting to get back to my weblog project. To my dismay, it turns out that the wi-fi where I am staying didn't work, but the coffee shop across the street was available for internet connection. I spent a couple of hours there before shutting down for the afternoon, then asked if they would be open today and received a simple "No" in reply. No worries, though, they don't shut off the wireless network when they're closed and I was invited to sit outside and do whatever I needed to. So, last night and most of today I have alternated between working in my room on content and sitting on the sidewalk outside the cafe to upload everything.

The party is over and it's back to "Sleepy Ullapool"
with beautiful camping by the sea!
In between, I often repeated my walking around and was delighted to find the town back to "normal" with not much going and only a few folks hanging around. At one point this afternoon I wandered along the coast for a mile or so and discovered an RV camping spot that looks just lovely, right on the shore with a fantastic view despite the overcast skies. This is a truly beautiful, remote, rugged area.

All in all it has been pretty much a "work" week, but a very productive one that I expect will serve me very well going forward. In the morning I will head out for yet another point unknown -- ready to get back to exploration -- on The Voyage of Macgellan!

Lost In Translation: Ullapool, Scotland

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Hotel Door Sign, Ullapool, Scotland, August 2007

I'm not sure this exactly qualifies as a "Lost In Translation"... but it's too good not to share.

Friday, August 03, 2007

Dram: Best UK Take Away

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With a sign like that, I just had to check it out. It's a busy and efficiently run place, with very appealing boxes. It may be the "best UK take away" but I found it pretty revolting and threw most of it away. It appears many other did, too. Memo to self: "There is no good UK take away."