Saturday, November 30, 2019

Antarctica - Day 2

The flight from Houston to Buenos Aires was smooth and quiet the entire way.  Most people slept the entire night other than me and a handful of others that I could see were awake watching movies during the night.  So as smooth as the flight was, and the fact they fed us twice and both meals were tasty... I should have expected the rest of the morning to be a bit rougher.

It started off with some of the longest lines I'd ever seen at a passport control when flying into another country.  Sadly by the time I got into that line, I think I was way at the back and the slow slog began... snacking our way back and forth, feeling like I was never going to get to the front of the line.  They had it split up really strange too, and at one point, pushed a lot of us from one line into a much longer line for some unknown reason... so my long wait got even longer.  After almost an hour... with what looked like a good 45 minutes left in my line... I looked behind me and noticed that the original line I had been in, was down to about 12 people.  Quickly I rushed back and joined the end of that line and I was so glad I did.  Those customs agents were getting tired and could see that they were almost through their line.  After watching them asking people question after question for that first hour, and seeing them make people pull out their hotel info, their flight itineraries, etc....  they suddenly started blowing through people so they could get a break.  I think I was asked how long I would be here, if it was business or pleasure, they took my photo, my thumb print and sent me on  my way.  Dang.... why didn't they do that the whole time?  We could have been though there in 45 minutes instead of the 90 it took.  LOL

After that, I found my bag waiting at baggage claim,  got to the random red/green light telling me if I'd have to scan my luggage on the way out of the airport or not, and got the green light that let me bypass that last step, and was finally free to step outside ... into the 80 degree heat! 

Finding a taxi was a breeze, and then I got to experience some seriously crazy traffic and driving.  I quickly learned that traffic here is so much worse than the Seattle traffic, which I honestly didn't think could be possible.  It was only noon on a Friday and the freeway was backed up and at a stand still for as far as the eye could see.  My Taxi driver did a quick search on his mapping program to find a path around the mess, and then the real fun started!   If you get nervous when someone else is driving a little crazy, you may have just had to closer your eyes for the next hour and a half!   It seems lanes and stop signs are just suggestions here and suggestions that most drivers don't feel any sort of need to follow.  I don't think my driver came to a complete stop at a single stop sign, and in fact, at the 4-way stops we went through, there were times cars were coming in both directions, through the intersection with one slowing JUST enough to pass behind another ...  it was kind of scary at first... but I guess I got used to it after the first 4 "stop" signs....  and then just started to wonder how cars weren't getting t-boned in every intersection.  LOL

I did notice that almost every car on the road had big dents in them.... a lot with long deep gouges along the side of the car... where it appears they shared a lane with another car for a little bit of time.  Let's just say it made me appreciate the traffic in Seattle a little which I can't believe I just said.  :)

I finally made it to the hotel safe and sound and by now was really feeling exhausted.  I had only managed to sleep about 2 hours total in the last 24 hours so tonight is going to be a relaxing one where I try to catch up on some sleep before having to be up at 4am to get back to the airport for the final leg of the flight.   I did make the mistake of running out to look for lunch, just in time to get caught in a crazy thunderstorm that came out of nowhere!  I'll have to post videos of it after I get back home. 

If any of this makes no sense, or was just a bunch of rambling, I'll blame it on my lack of sleep! I don't know if anything will post after this entry until I get back... but maybe I can post one more day before I get on the ship and lose all contact with the world for 11 days.  :)

Friday, November 29, 2019

Antarctica - Day 1

This trip has been on the calendar for so long, that at times if felt like it would never get here, and as I would read up on Antarctica and watch videos and see photos from there, my excitement to get the trip underway would spike over and over again.... the waiting was killing me so I tried hard to put it out of my mine for months on end.  Then then the day of my flight out of Seattle got down to the single digits, it almost didn't feel real anymore. 

I don't think it really sunk in that it was time to go, until the night I packed my bags, which I did two days before the trip... and which is 2 days sooner than I pack for most of my trips.  I'm a last minute kind of packer when I travel.

I think I was at the airport close to 4 hours early on Thanksgiving... wanting to be absolutely sure nothing happened to make me miss that flight... not traffic, security lines, some snag while checking my bag, etc.  I have to actually admit I was nervous for the first time in a very long time about a trip.  Turns out there was nothing to be nervous about though, as I checked my bag and was through security in record time!  I think it might have seriously taken 7 minutes and 4 of those were talking from checking my bag to the security checkpoint.   Why can't flying always be that smooth?

I spent a few hours just wandering around the airport,  caught a little bit of the first Thanksgiving Day football game (but can't tell you a single thing that happened)... and then watched a movie about Apollo 11 to take my mind off things.

The flight was mostly smooth and the first leg of the trip was over.  Now it was just a matter of waiting another 4 hours to get on the flight to Buenos Aires.  I got my first taste of hanging out in the United Lounge which made the wait so much nicer... (Thanks Randy!).

Boarding for the next leg started at 9:30 pm... so I was already 12 hours into the trip, with a 10 hour flight ahead of me now.  Nothing too exciting really happened in all that downtime, so I'll just sign off for now.  It's a huge plane, not nearly as full as I feared... and so far so good!

Thursday, April 18, 2019

Scotland - Day 11

For the final day in Scotland, we decided to take a last minute tour to see Rosslyn Chapel, Melrose Abbey, and then cross the border down into England to visit the World Heritage Site, Hadrian's Wall.

The first time I heard or read anything at all about Rosslyn Chapel, was in "The DaVinci Code" by Dan Brown.  It was a surprise addition to the trip and one that I was excited to be able to go visit and see in person.  The ideas of the mysteries buried there in symbols and codes were pretty intriguing so it was fun to see some of those things and find them on the walls of the chapel myself. I can totally see why it's made people wonder if there was more to it than just blueprints for work on the church itself.  I wish I could have taken some photos from inside the Chapel, but it wasn't allowed so this was all I could really shoot there.

Just down the hill from here is the family home and another set of ruins where parts of the movie starring Tom Hanks was filmed, so I had to wander down there for a look and shoot a couple of photos from that location as well.  It was really fun to see where some of the filming took place.

After having about 90 minutes here, it was back on the bus and on to the next stop in a small village called Melrose.  The town was really pretty and situated just on the edge of town was the Melrose Abby, most famous for being the location of Robert The Bruce's Heart.  The King's heart is said to have been buried in the church, perhaps brought back from a crusade with the body of Lord Douglas in either 1330 or 1331.

After walking around the Abby and having some lunch, it was back onto the bus and across the border into England and a visit to see Hadrian's Wall.  It's also known as The Roman's Wall, and runs 73 miles, spanning the entire width of England at one of it's narrower locations.  The story as it was explained was that the Roman's had gone north to take all of Scotland along with England as they ruled most of the known world back then, but for some reason decided against claiming Scotland for the Empire.  They then decided to build the Wall to protect themselves from what they called the Barbarians north of the border and this wall marked the northern-most point of the Romane Empire. Construction of the wall ran from 122-128 AD.

This shot gives more of a close up of the construction of the wall and how well it has held together after all these years.  I think it was between 5 - 6 ft high along this stretch of wall.

Here you can see the wall running off into the distance up and over the hill in the background.

If you'd like to read more about the wall, check out the link here.

After leaving here, it was time to head back to the apartment, pack up the bags and get ready to head back home.  11 days may sound like a lot, but there is just so much that Scotland has to offer, that we barely scratched the surface on things to do and see if you ever go there.  I could have spent months there an never ran out of things I wanted to see.  It's truly a beautiful country.

I'm sad the trip is over but ready to head back home.  I will be back!

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Scotland - Day 10

After a very long first 9 days, today was going to be much more relaxed and easy going.  A few of us decided to head to the Edinburgh Zoo today and take a bit of a break from hours in the car. It was really nice to just use the local transit system and see what the zoo here was like.  The zoo was advertising a new baby Polar Bear, the only one in the UK I think, but once we got there we discovered that the baby Polar Bear was on loan to another location right now. I was a bit disappointed but new there was still so much more to see.  The zoo itself was really nice and I liked to see that the animals had bigger enclosures than I expected and they had the freedom to decide between a big outdoor area or being inside where it was warmer.  Almost every enclosure had little tunnels or ramps between the inside and the outdoor areas.

If you decide to ever visit the zoo while here, the one thing to be ready for that I didn't expect, was that you'll be walking a lot of pretty steep hills throughout it.   It still didn't take very long to see everything here, and we were pretty much done after 2.5 hours.

Next, we met up with the rest of the group and headed out to find something to eat for lunch.   We walked around the castle area of the city for a while until we found lunch and then afterward just headed back to the apartment.  Tomorrow is going to be an early day as we have a 9.5-10 hour but tour down into England for our last day in the UK.

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Scotland - Day 9

Edinburgh Castle was the only thing on the agenda for the day today other than some shopping for everyone else in the group.  It’s pretty amazing to just look at the castle from the distance and see the way it looms over the city, high on a steep cliff of bedrock.  It was a beautiful day out, but that made for tough conditions for photos, well, that and the fact that it’s Easter break for a lot of Europe right now so the crowds were pretty big everywhere in Edinburgh.  I think I saw more people on the Royal Mile than I did in all of the rest of the country the previous 8 days.

As great as the castle is, and as interesting as it was to explore, with it being as crowded as it was today, it was just hard to get to really see and read things the way I would have enjoyed to. Luckily I had been here before though so I didn’t mind skipping past a few things and just seeing some of the better sights here.

Once everyone had enough of the crowds, we headed back down the hill and did a little shopping and walking around.  Since shopping isn’t my thing, I mostly just people watched and browsed the stores until we headed back to the apartment and then out to dinner.

I finally broke down at dinner and had to have some Haggis… which I’d heard so many horror stories about, but I can honestly say not only didn’t it smell the way it had always been described to me, but it was actually delicious!  Now I’m kicking myself for not trying it earlier into the trip so I could have it a few times before heading home.  I’m really going to have to find a place to get some again before I leave Scotland.

Monday, April 15, 2019

Scotland - Day 8

Today was filled with stops at some great castles on the way to Edinburgh. The first was Kilchurn Castle which was an amazing looking ruin standing on the edge of a Loch on our route east.  It was almost surreal looking as we walked up this long gravel path towards it.  One nice thing was that It was also free to enter and explore which was a huge plus as we’d been spending a lot of money on castle visits so far on this trip.
Here is a view of the castle as you approach it.

Here are a couple of views from inside, although they just can't do it justice.  I didn't have a lens that was nearly wide enough to capture anything in one shot.

Next on the trip was Doune Castle, which many of you may know was used in the filming of many movies and shows over the years.  It was used as Winterfell in Season 1 of Game of Thrones.  It was also used as the castle in Monty Python’s Holy Grail, and in the series Highlander.  Those alone made it really fun to walk through the entire castle and try to recognize the different rooms and what they were used for.

Blackness Castle was the last of the stop along the way, and was also used as a backdrop in Highlander.  It’s another amazing looking castle that sits right on the water front.

On a hill just outside the main castle walls, there sits the ruins of a chapel that I almost missed seeing.  There was a plaque that stated that unfortunately for the chapel, the spot where it sat was an ideal place to position artillery attacking the castle, which meant that the chapel suffered from Cromwell’s troops, making way for their guns when they laid siege to Blackness Castle back in 1650.

After finishing exploring Blackness Castle it was on to Edinburgh for our last apartment of the trip and our last 4 days in Scotland.

Sunday, April 14, 2019

Scotland - Day 7

The first stop of the day today the Distillery in a very nice little town called Oban.  This was the second Whisky tour of the trip but this one was actually a much more entertaining tour as the guy leading it could have seriously been doing stand-up comedy for a living.  He had us laughing hard more than a few times on the trip, but also knew his stuff and I learned a a few more things about the process than I had on the first Whisky tour.

After the tour we just walked around the town a little and ended up having lunch at the pier from a great food truck there.  It was a little cold out but fun to sit and watch the people while we ate.  Our parking spot had a two hour limit so we decided it was time to head out of town and back to the house.  

On the way back, we stopped at Dunstaffnage Castle and Chapel which was an old ruin that was very interesting to walk around explore.  I’ve actually been enjoying the ruins much more than the castles that are more like museums on this trip.

The house we rented for two nights in Taynuilt was really nice and maybe my favorite place to stay on the trip so far.  It is so very quiet here and the view from the upstairs is beautiful. The only downside to the place was that the staircase is very steep and narrow and getting the bags up to the third floor was an adventure.

Tomorrow morning will be another early start, as we’ll be heading out for our final stop on the trip.