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.

Saturday, April 13, 2019

Scotland - Day 6


Everyone was up early this morning so that we would have time to head to the fairy pools before leaving Skye for the mainland.  The road leading to the fairy pools was another very narrow winding road and took a little longer to drive than expected, but we got pretty lucky and got there early enough that there weren’t very many people there yet.  The pools were just a series of small waterfalls that dropped into deep crystal clear pools of water.  The photos just don’t do them justice, but here are a few from the morning.







As I got to the last of the big pools I turned around and saw big groups of people walking down the path toward the pools so it was perfect timing to get out of there. Especially since almost every group I passed was walking out into the middle of the rocks at the falls and would have been in the way of any possible photo I took.

On the way to the next hotel we also stopped at a very cool castle called Eilean Donan which might have been one of the more picturesque castles we got to see on this trip.  The only problem was that the sun was almost directly overhead when we got there and made it so very hard to get really good photos of the castle.  Here are just a couple of quick shots and hopefully I might have a few more once I get home and get a chance to edit them a little bit.





After spending a good hour touring the inside of the castle we went into the small cafĂ© here to have some lunch and sat at a table that let me look out the window at this as I ate.  It was one of the best backdrops I've ever had while eating lunch.

We got back into the car and headed to the next house we were staying at.  The drive took us through the heart of Glencoe which was absolutely stunning, but no one wanted to stop along the way so I have no photos to share from there.  I think everyone is tired from a few of the long days we've had and wants an early night so we can just relax and have some dinner.  No idea what the plan is for tomorrow yet, but hopefully we'll get out to see something good.

Friday, April 12, 2019

Scotland - Day 5


The morning started off a little overcast and I had hopes that the clouds would hold on until we could make it out to Neist Point.  For a country that is described as even worse than Seattle when it comes to rain and overcast days, it’s sure been sunny and warm every day since the first morning here.  So sunny in fact that it’s made most photography really tough on this trip.  The lighthouse was already going to prove to be a tough location to photograph without dealing with the sun too, so my fingers were crossed, but true to my luck with Mother Nature, those perfect cloudy skies cleared up JUST as we got to Neist Point.  The light was harsh and I was stuck trying to shoot into the sun to make things even tougher but I actually still think I managed to get a few okay shots. 

This first photo is of Neist Point itself, just showing how the land kind of swoops up just before a shear cliff wall drops off to the ocean.  When you first get here, you can’t even tell there is a lighthouse out there.


I wandered up the cliffs to the right of the parking lot and headed out until I could see past the cliff, and then got my first glimpse of the lighthouse way out there on the point.  As you can see it’s not the greatest photo of this beautiful location but it gives you a bit of an idea of what it looks like. 

 I then made the long trek down to the lighthouse itself which was a nice little hike with amazing views of the cliffs all along the coast.  Photos really can’t even do it justice!



Once we all met back up at the car and had a snack and some water, we decided to try to head to the Fairy Pools, but along the way, we passed a small farm that had a sign out that their sheep were currently having their babies, and there were newborn lambs we could stop in and see.  Everyone wanted to stop to see them as we’ve been seeing sheep everywhere with babies but no places to turn off the road and get a closer look.  There were two lambs that had just been born in the last hour so you really can’t see them too much younger than that.  It was very fun to wander through the barn and see all the lambs at different stages … from the newborn lambs to some that looked to be about a month old.  I forgot my camera in the car so didn’t get any photos but just take my word that those little sheep were so very cute. J

While talking to the woman that owned the ranch, she told us of a Corel Beach on the northern coast of the island that was covered in coral and sand…. And was the only stretch of beach like it anywhere on the island.  Everyone decided that we just had to go see that and we could visit the fairy pools tomorrow morning instead, before having to leave Skye.  It really was kind of wild to see this tiny stretch of beach that was so different than anywhere else we’d seen in Scotland so far.  Still not sure what it’s just this one section of beach that is sandy and filled with little bits of coral right at the waterline, but it was fun to see in person. 


The day was another long one with everything taking much longer than expected, so we decided we should head back to the house, or at least get much closer to it before the sun fully set.  On the drive home there was one more surprise view in store for us, and that was seeing Dunvegan Castle from across the bay.  It almost seems unreal to see these castles like this and really makes you wonder what life must have been like when they were all first built.


We got back to town and then decided to hit the restaurant that was the busiest around, because we’d heard they have the best mac n cheese in the world.  That and their pizza was a high recommendation and it turns out that both were very good.  It was also a nice change of pace from all the fish and chips we’d been eating. J

Tomorrow, it’s time to leave the Isle of Skye, but we are getting up early to hit the fairy pools for sure before leaving the island.

Thursday, April 11, 2019

Scotland - Day 4

Some of you may have realized that things didn't go as planned on keeping this blog up on a day by day basis.  Turns out that one of the houses we stayed at had Wi-Fi, but the signal was so bad that only one person at a time could even connect to the internet with their phones and then when I tried, I couldn't get anything to work.  So the blog is going to be running tape-delayed :)
The 4th day started off with a long drive to Isle of Skye.  There was a private tour of the Talisker Distillery that had been set up and in order to get there in time for the tour, we had to skip a number of sites on the way there.  We were quickly learning that if Google Maps told you a drive would take 2 hours, it would actually turn out to be much closer to a 3 hour drive and we didn’t want to risk missing the prepaid tour.  The day turned out to be a nice day though and the drive to Skye was amazing with so much beautiful country to see on the way there.
The Distillery tour was very interesting and I learned there was a lot more that goes into making Whiskey than I thought and the process was fun to see in person.  Our guide was very good and very happy to answer all of our questions during the tour.  Here are a couple of shots from inside the distillery.



After leaving there we stopped at a very nice little restaurant and had a great lunch before heading on to see Dunvegan Castle.  The castle began its life in the 1200’s as a simple masonry wall surrounding a former Norse fort. Most of the current Dunvegan Castle was constructed in the mid-14th century by Malcolm MacLeod and has been home of the Clan MacLeod ever since. Dunvegan is famous for being the oldest continuously inhabited castle in Scotland.  If I remember right, the current resident is the 30th generation of the MacLeod Clan to inhabit it.


 Sadly the day was so nice that the sky was so bright behind the castle I had a lot of trouble getting any good shots of it.  This might be one of the better I was able to get from outside.  One plus side of the bright day though, was the the rooms inside the castle were pretty bright and I could get some photos inside that weren't blurry.


The day seemed to fly by and it was already getting dark by the time we left the Castle and got back to town.  The roads are extremely narrow and not lit at night so we didn’t want to be stuck far from the house after dark.  We decided to stop at a local pub and play some pool and darts to end the night.  We made plans to get up early and head out to one of the most famous lighthouses in Scotland if not the world.  It’s one of the locations I was most looking forward to seeing myself so I am excited to see it.

Tuesday, April 9, 2019

Scotland - Day 3


Day 3

Well, today was another cloudy and cold day.  The first stop was the Culloden Battlefield which was the site of the last Jacobite uprising which many mistakenly think was a battle between the Scots and the British or a religious battle between the Catholics and Protestants, but was really just a battle for who two groups wanted to have at the King of England.  Scottish clans fought for both the Jacobite army and the English Government Armies.

The history here was interesting to hear about and to see where it all happened.  The biggest surprise to me was to hear that the mass graves there each contained close to 100 men women and children in each and there were many of them scattered around the battlefield.  If you have some time and interest, you should read up on the history here.

After leaving there, we headed into the city to visit Inverness Castle.  The city turned out to be bigger and busier than I expected and finding a place to park was super difficult.  After all the trouble in finding a place to park, it turned out that the castle isn’t open to walk through and appeared to have been converted into a courthouse or something.  There was entry to the highest tower though which would give you a 360 degree view of the city so I had to go up and take a look and shoot a few photos from up there.  It was so windy up there though that I couldn’t stay up there too long.

There was one last stop today but that one stop turned into two when we passed by this very old graveyard and church.  After a short stop here we continued on to see Red Castle.  We learned from a local that the castle was now a ruin.  The owners of the castle had been hit with extremely high taxes on the castle and were at risk of losing everything and so they burned the castle down, or at least attempted to destroy it.  There was nothing left but the stone walls…. And then this is all that was left of those after all these years.  The ruins were off limits though due to its protected status and the fact that it had become too dangerous to enter any longer.




Scotland - Day 2


Day 2

Today started off bright and early in the hopes of catching a great sunrise over Dunnottar Castle, a ruin that sits high on a cliff overlooking the sea.  Yesterday was such a sunny day that I had pretty high hopes when going to bed, but woke to find that the weather in Scotland can and does truly change drastically day to day and even hour to hour.  It was a cold and rainy morning and no sunrise was to be seen, much less there being a pretty one today.  That was totally okay though as the castle ruins themselves were pretty amazing to see.  The only downside to getting there so early and not getting to see the sun rise over the castle, was the fact that it wasn’t open yet either to let me look around and explore it some.


Next was on to Cowie Chapel which was rededicated to St. Mary of the storms in 1276.  The church ruins sit right on the ocean side cliff just as Dunnottar Castle does, but instead of there not being much around, there is a golf course here that sits right up to the church and graveyard and made for a very interesting backdrop to the course. 


Next up were a couple of lighthouses to see, but there was construction going on at the port and the road to the lighthouse was closed off to traffic until the end of the month. So didn’t stop to take photos and just decided to move on to the next Castle on the list.  This one was called Crathes Castle.  It sits on hillside and is bordered by what is probably a beautiful garden area later in the spring and summer, once everything begins to bloom.  It wasn’t actually so much a castle as it was a fortified home, but taking the tour of the house was pretty interesting and just walking through a place like that and trying to imagine what life must have been like in those times was very interesting.   




The tour ran a bit long and took up a lot more of the day than planned, so had to change up plans a little as the day went on and just decided to drive past the next two lighthouses on the list and head to Drum Castle instead.

This was another “castle” that turned out to be much more a fortified home as well, but it did appear more castle like than the last one.  Another bonus here was that you don’t have to take a guided tour and can just go in and wander through at your own pace and look at what you wanted and skip the things that didn’t look at interesting.  My favorite room in this castle was a giant reading room that was a huge library with wall to wall, floor to ceiling bookshelves, filled to the max with old books.  It’s a room I would love to have in my house!  I think I might have gotten a few photos of it but didn’t see them on my first run through my photos tonight so I’ll just post one from the outside for now.



The last stop of the day was another ruin, this one was Slain’s Castle.  I first heard of this castle watching a VLOG by a photographer from Scotland named Kim Grant.  She had made a couple of videos here that were so interesting to watch, and made me put this on my list of must see stops.  As good as her videos were, it didn’t even do justice to this place and make you realize just how big it was.   Like the castle ruins from this morning, this one also sat atop a steep cliff helping to protect it from the ocean side, but what made it my favorite stop of the day was that it was wide open to explore and talk through.  It was cold and the ground muddy, but I could have probably spent another hour there easily just exploring every nook and cranny of the place.  The biggest disappointment though, was that there was trash left behind by people who just don’t care about preserving places like these and they are the reason many of these places are made off limits to everyone.  People just can’t help but destroy these awesome relics from the past and it’s so frustrating to see.  For now, it is still free to visit and explore this castle, but something tells me that might not be the case soon.


The day was a very fun and interesting one, but it was getting late and there was a LONG way to go to the next stop for the night.  There were still so many stop on the list for the day, but we all hit the road and stopped for dinner about half-way to the next house on our stay.  Even with skipping all the other stops, it was still just after midnight when we rolled in here.  As I type this it’s almost 3:15am… and I need to get some sleep before heading back out in about 4 hour or so.