29 December 2016

Christmas in Glencoe

For several years, I have wanted to go away for Christmas.  In the US, because the Christmas season lasts so long, by the time December 25th arrived, I was just so sick of it and I could not wait for it to be over.  Here in Scotland, I have not felt the ever-increasing Grinch-iness, but I still liked the idea of a Christmas holiday away.

This year, Pat happened upon a package deal for a Christmas getaway for four nights at The Glencoe Inn in the Highlands.  Nearly all of our meals were included--three to four course meals every night, a huge Christmas Day feast, and sweets every afternoon.  We ate so much! The hotel staff were excellent too.  We would happily return.

Hopefully, next time the weather will be better.  Two winter storms ruined the possibility of outdoor activities (and sleep.)  We had winds gusting well over fifty miles per hour and rain or wintry mix most of our visit.  Our last day was calm and sunny, so we were able to take a short walk before departing.  Otherwise, our time was spent reading, watching movies, napping, eating and drinking, and taking in the Highland views through the windows.

Photos taken from inside and from our brief jaunts early in the weekend during the storms:

Notice the wind blowing the tree

No picnics this time; see the flags--they were like this every day but the last

Photos from our short walk on our final day to Glencoe Lochan:

Not our hotel

Loch Leven

The Monarch of the Glen?

En route to Glencoe Lochan

Glencoe Lochan

Glencoe Lochan

Glencoe Village

Here is some video footage on the return bus ride to Inverness.

Sun setting in The Highlands and a quick view of the Commando Memorial at the end.

Loch Lochy

A quick view of Castle Urquhart on Loch Ness.

08 November 2016

2016 US Presidential Election: A Scottish Perspective

Let me first say that I have voted in this election and it was the toughest decision I have had to make in casting a vote for president.

I suppose I should also say that I am generally not passionate about politics and I do not usually follow the news closely.  Generally, I am in a better mood when I avoid it all.  I have my opinions, of course, and I act on them accordingly.  My approach to life is to just do the best I can in my small space of the world, attempting to set a good example for others to follow.

Having said that, it has been nearly impossible to avoid this year's election, even here in Scotland.  The news coverage of major US stories here is extensive and, of course, there is Facebook, where the content can be at times thought-provoking and at other times just provocative.

The election is a frequent topic of conversation once people realize I am American.  I cringe internally most times when it comes up.  One reason is that the whole thing has been a huge circus.  The other reason is the Republican Party's candidate.  Trump voters: please read on with an open mind.  You might be interested to learn that Hillary Clinton and the other candidates are rarely mentioned in my conversations.  Everyone just wants to talk about Trump.  With very few exceptions, their comments have not been complimentary.

My point here is not to convince anyone how to cast their ballot.  I just want people to realize that the world is watching and what Americans do, even internally, can have a profound effect around the world.  Yes, Americans have the freedom to do basically whatever the hell they want.  But, not without consequences.

Also, please remember: we all still have to live together tomorrow.

"Our most basic common link is that we all inhabit this planet. We all breathe the same air. We all cherish our children's future. And we are all mortal."

01 November 2016

Life Happens In Scotland Too

It is not all castles, pints, and bacon rolls as I may have led my regular readers to believe. During the summer, we were notified by the property manager that the owner of our flat wanted it back at the end of the year's lease for her daughter who was returning to Aberdeen.  !!!!  We love the flat--it is imperfect, but has great potential--and the area of town.  So, we were disappointed.  We were, of course, loathe to move again so soon as well.  However, the housing market has continued to improve from the perspective of those seeking to rent--us!  As a result, we should be able to save significantly.

By the time we were able to really look, the choices were limited.  The market is a bit odd here...and frustrating.  We have to give two months notice prior to vacating, but it is pointless to look more than four weeks before you actually move.  Owners will not hold a property, waiting for tenants to move in.  And, of course, we would not want to pay rent on two properties at once.  See the problem?  We could potentially have no place to go or have to settle for a less-than-satisfying property.

We searched online and viewed six or eight different flats.  We found one we liked, but the owner did not accept our offer--shocking, considering the market!  Apparently, owners have not yet realized that the bubble has burst.

Fortunately, one of Pat's colleagues offered to let us stay at her house if we got stuck.  We are in the process of moving our things there and will vacate our flat by Sunday.  We will have two housemates plus a dog for a few weeks.  Then, they will be heading to France for about six months, leaving the house to us.

We are paying rent, but at a significant savings.  Most importantly, we will be able to move out on our own schedule since we do not have a lease.  We will start to look in the spring which, we are told, is a good time.

We will be back to more exploring soon!

04 October 2016

Another Adventure Into the 'Shire

On Sunday, we once again booked our wee Toyota Aygo for the day to explore beautiful Aberdeenshire and take advantage of our membership in The National Trust of Scotland to visit some castles.

After grabbing sandwiches and such for lunch and some Starbucks for the road, our first stop was just west of Aberdeen at Loch of Skene which is a large freshwater loch (or lake.)  The loch is home to various waterfowl, a local yacht club, and great spot for catching pike.  It is most remarkable perhaps for the old gatehouse which apparently, still has residents.  I tried to find some history on it, but have had no luck thus far.  Regardless, it was a nice place to go for a short forest walk and drink a casual coffee.  We may return to complete the walk around the entire loch sometime.

Stop number two was Castle Fraser which is in a gorgeous setting, surrounded by hills, trees, pastures, greens, and a walled garden.  It was so quiet and absolutely stunning with the warm sunshine and blue sky.  It helped that we were early and it is toward the end of the tourist season. Another cool thing about this castle and a notable difference to most others is that photography is allowed inside.

A recumbent stone circle near the car park

A local resident

Lots of stairs; most like this

The library, my favorite room

Original wood work from the 1600s

The walled garden, viewed from the tower

It was a truly stunning day

The stables; apparently the castle owners lived there during part of the 1900s

More stairs

We had a picnic lunch on the lawn after our tour.  We even got a little shut-eye afterward, but only a little because of two playful dogs that kept trying to introduce themselves to us and see if we had any leftovers.  We, of course, did not mind at all.

Our third stop was Craigievar Castle.  Unfortunately, it closed on Friday for the season (we knew that before we arrived), but the grounds are open year-round.  So we enjoyed the views of the exterior and the surrounding grounds and countryside.

Credit for several of the photos goes to my lovely wife, Pat.