Saturday, October 24, 2015

The Gardens of Versailles

Notice our happy faces at having survived the Chateau tour.
There are several new items in the gardens of Versailles.  One, which we really had fun with, is a mirror where you can take pictures of yourself, along with some of your new friends.  On one side, you are right side up, but the other, you are upside down.  The clarity is not as good as the one at the casino in Monaco, but France isn't as rich as Monaco, either.
A rather odd piece set in the center of the gardens.  It reminded us of a partially buried, rusted soprano saxophone.  I'm sure if we had read the artist's comments it was something "artistic".  

The fountains are on!
The fountains came in two time periods.  One side of the garden ran for 45 minutes, then the other side did the same.  Not all of the fountains were turned on, as there has been a drought in France, so they are conserving water.  The fountains that were working were fabulous!  Several of the larger ones even had music which coordinated with the rhythm of the water.
The Grotto, all man made, with statues.

The fountains are only turned on once a week, on Sunday.  There were several which were not running, and a few which were being renovated.  The water used comes out of the river, which was diverted by Louis XIV when he built Versailles.
A very nice man and his young daughter took our picture.  Thank you!
Despite the fiasco of the Chateau tour, the gardens at Versailles were worth the effort. And, on the train home, we met two young Canadians who had just come from a Marching Bands Competition in Scotland!  They had sent their instruments and kilts home with their family, and were on a backpacking tour of Europe, to end in Turkey.  I hope they had a wonderful trip!

Monday, October 19, 2015

Versailles with 10,000 of Our Closest Friends

We decided to visit Versailles on Sunday, when they turn on the fountains in the gardens.  We took the train and arrived early, only to be greeted by thousands of others waiting to enter.  The hold up is going through security.
Lines of people waiting to enter the Palace.

People with the exterior of the Chapel behind.

Everyone waited, most patiently, in the courtyard, going up and down and around and around.

The Hall of Mirrors.
Once we made it inside, the crowds were so thick, it felt like herding cattle.  MOO!  It was impossible to really look at anything.  Bill was especially bothered by all the people.  So, we rushed as much as we could, looking for a way to exit.  It
Bill was looking for a way to escape; maybe open a window and jump?

The Palace is quite beautiful.  The ceilings were easily viewed, but trying to look at walls, floors and such, was nearly impossible.
The ceiling of the Chapel.  Bill took this picture through a 8 foot wide doorway.

We finally worked our way through the crowds to find the exit.  What a relief!  Fresh air, no elbows, and the noise level had dropped to where we could carry on a conversation!.        
Louis XIV
Next time, if there is a next time, when we arrive to such a hoard, we will skip the chateau and head directly to the gardens.  When we came back from seeing the gardens, there was no line to go into the chateau.  Now we know.
The original entry gates; they keep the crowds away from these.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Paris Apartment from AirBnB

Note to self; next time make sure there is an elevator when not staying on the ground floor!
When we decided to stay over in Paris for a few days on our way home from Scotland, we really didn't want to be in an hotel.  Several reasons; cost per night, cost of breakfasts (which are usually only croissant and coffee for 10 euro), space and laundry.  We had heard of Airbnb, so decided to give it a try.  What a good idea!!
Panorama of the kitchen, livingroom, part of the entry hall and the bathroom doorway.
We stayed in Katia's apartment, while she was in Italy for a holiday.  We had a living/dining room, with the kitchen in the corner, an entry hall, bathroom and a bedroom. The apartment windows opened onto an interior courtyard, so were private. There was a washer/dryer, but we used the drying lines in the bathroom. The place was comfortable, had wifi, and tv, although the only channels in English were news; boring!  The kitchen had all the necessities for cooking, including condiments and coffee.  It came with all the necessary linens and all that was asked of us was to leave it clean, but not a deep cleaning as that would happen after we left, and the garbage emptied.

Our apartment was on a pedestrian street in the 5th arrondissemont, also known as Rive Gauche, the Left Bank.  We were two short blocks from the river and could hear the bells of Notre Dame!  We loved it! The price was much less than staying in a hotel and included doing our laundry, which usually would run about 20 euros.  We chilled our own wine, cooked our own breakfasts (which included scrabbled eggs with our croissants!) and on one occasion, we returned to eat take away from one of the Greek restaurants on our street.

Would we do it again?  ABSOLUTELY!!

Sunday, September 06, 2015

Good Bye Scotland! Bon Jour Paris!

The coast of Scotland near Stonehaven.
Flying out of Aberdeen, the sun was shining!  We were able to see the land beneath us, places we had visited during our travels.  We passed right over Newtonhill, though it was under a big fluffy cloud. but Stonehaven was visible; the harbor, the village, even the Castle!  Quite a change from the day we arrived in June.
On the plane out of London.
We flew to London, then changed planes to Paris.  It seems so odd to me that with our AAirmiles, it is less cash to fly home from Paris than London.  Enough of a difference, that we could fly on to Paris, then home and still save money.  Of course, after adding in the cost of our apartment and other necessities (museum passes and metro tickets) it did cost more, but we were in Paris!

The stairs in our apartment building.  We were on the second floor, which is the third floor in the US.
The only hitch in our travel was leaving the train at St Michel station.  We were suppose to be able to take an elevator directly from our 3rd level underground arrival platform to the street.  Unfortunately, the elevator was not working!  A very nice Parisien woman helped us get back to the platform with her pass (we had already used our tickets to exit) and showed us where we needed to go.  We had a deadline to meet host at the apartment, so were rushed and anxious.  BUT, we made it just fine.

Thursday, September 03, 2015

Home from Malta

After a wonderful two weeks in Malta with family and friends for the wedding of their son and new daughter in law, Gary and Sarah,  Eleanor and Brian are home.  We usually take a picture ourselves, but this one from the day of the wedding shows such happiness, I just had to steal it from Eleanor's Facebook page.

Since Eleanor and Brian were arriving home late, we again spent the night at The Priory Hotel in Beauly. After a delicious breakfast, I had a wonderful bowl of porridge, we returned to the house to say our goodbyes.

Charlie had returned home with his family last night.  Brian told us how Cameron and Charlie were very excited to see each other.  We could imagine that reunion, after knowing Charlie for two weeks.  He was always happy see us, so Cameron would have made him ecstatic!  Lucy was still here, though.  She barked, turned in circles with her ball in her mouth, and peed all over the steps!  Yep, she was happy!

Staying in Muir of Ord at Eleanor and Brian's house was fun.  The house was comfortable and the dogs were good.  Allowing us to use their car to drive the dogs to various walks was a big plus.  We were surprised we could be added to the insurance, but apparently, Scotland's rules are different from England.
They were also very generous, with two nights at The Priory and an assortment of food in the fridge.  Perfect homeowners for housesitters!  Oh, and we loved the Charlie and Lucy, too!

Monday, August 31, 2015

The Road to Ullapool

Coming out of the wooded area close to Muir of Ord into the Highlands.
When we agreed to come to Scotland house sitting, we didn't think we would be able to make it to the West coast.  While it isn't too far, mile wise, the roads can be narrow and twisting, making for slow travel.  Since we would have two dogs waiting at "home", we couldn't be gone too long.
The Scottish Thistle.
When we arrived in Muir of Ord, after talking to Eleanor, Brian and Sarah, we realized it was possible to go West!  So on a day when the weather was to be more sun than showers, off we went
The Western Highlands are beautiful, with mountains and lochs, but not alot of people.

A cruise ship in port at Ullapool.
We were surprised driving into Ullapool to find a cruse ship docked and unloading passengers to take their mini-visits on buses.  It was a very organized spectacle; with 1000's of people it would have to be.  The little boats just kept bringing them to the dock, over and over and over.  Whew!  After watching this, we knew our decision to never take a cruise was the right one for us.

One of the tenders unloading passengers.

The harbor at Ullapool.

The harbor has small boats, fishing boats and the ferry terminal to the Hebrides islands.  Visitors could also take tours out to the surrounding islands and watch birds and look for sea life.  They were all booked for the day, though.
The street facing the harbor.
Loved this building, now a restaurant.
We spent a lovely couple of hours walking around, eating our lunch and in general enjoying this little village nestled between the hillside and ocean.  Being a cruise ship stop, there are many tourist type shops selling Scottish souvenirs.  We admired some lovely woolen sweaters, scarves and hats, but living in Tucson, we rarely need anything wool.

On our way home, we saw a sign for Corrieshalloch Gorge.  It was listed on our NTS brochure, so we decided to stop.  Great idea!  There is a suspension bridge over the water that plummets over the 150 foot Falls of Measach.  The bridge was built by Sir John Fowler, the engineer behind the Metropolitan Railway in London, as well as Victoria Station.  In Scotland, he was the joint chief engineer on the Forth Bridge in Inverness.

The sign when we arrived at the bridge.  We wondered what size the 6 people could be.
The suspension bridge, while built in the Victorian era, doesn't have a that Victorian feel.
To get to the bridge, we walked along a trail that winds down to the gorge.  There were flowers blooming everywhere, some we had never seen before.  Arriving at the bridge, we found the warning sign: No more than 6 people on bridge.  This brought up the question, "How large can these people be?"  With just us on it, you can feel the bridge move.  When I made the video, starting at the top of the falls and filming until I was looking straight down over the side, I did feel a bit of vertigo.  So I made a second one, just in case.

Stopping by the road when we see a sign which sounds interesting has to be the best reason to travel by car, with no real itinerary.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Inverewe, A Long and Winding Road

The road to Inverewe is not very busy.
One of the places we hoped to visit, if it wasn't too far away, was Inverewe Gardens on the West coast.  It's out on a peninsula of the Wester Ross, that is accessed by a loop road.  We thought we would give it a try.
The road out was very good, then it got narrower and narrower until it was one lane with passing places.  We pulled over in one place for 3 motor homes, 2 cars and a delivery truck to pass, so it's not a little traveled road!

Rock outcroppings give it a very rugged look and feel.

There doesn't appear to be much agriculture, as far as growing things, but there were sheep.  The houses were far apart and very small.  In no time we arrived to the small village of Inverewe, driving on the the gardens on the outside of town.
Houses are few and far between.

The gardens were developed from the 1860's by Osgood Mackenzie, a man with a vision, who was followed by his daughter, Mairi, in transforming this barren, windswept headland into a unique garden.  The area is insulated by the North Atlantic Drift, allowing plants from around the world to thrive.

The Gardens at Inverewe.
As soon as we were out of the car, we were attacked by midges, tiny flies that swarm and bite!  We had read about them before coming to Scotland, but, fortunately, this was our first encounter.  We also realized that our bug repellent was sitting on the bookcase at the house.
Kitchen garden planted inside the Walled Garden to keep it safe from rabbits.
Inside the visitor center, they sold spray developed just for midges.  It's probably not too good for people, but who cares when you are under attack!  We bought the stuff, even though it was 7.95.  We sprayed it on our hands then rubbed it into our hairline, on our face and neck.  As is was raining, we had on long sleeves and high collars.  Out into the garden we walked, only to be inundated by the damn things.  They also like to fly into your ears and up your nose!  Poor Bill was really eaten up by them.
Beautiful garden gate.
So, today was the Bill and Mary running through the Inverewe Gardens while swatting at midges tour.  I hope to never encounter them again!  Bill received many more bite than me, but he always does.
The gardens face on to Loch Ewe.

Water falls on the way home.
The drive on around the peninsula was spectacular!  The road didn't get as narrow, but it was still narrow.  The fog came down the mountains until they looked flat on top.  There were many waterfalls and cascades; we ate our lunch, sitting in the car to avoid the midges, by one.
Looking down a glen.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Duncansby Point

At Duncansby Point you can look across to the Orkney Islands.

Duncansby Point is the farthest North one can go on the main Island of Britain.  We were hoping to be able to see the Orkney Islands, and were not disappointed.  It's the closest we will get to them this trip; maybe another time.  The Stacks of Duncansby were something we could go see.

Just follow the signs to the Stacks.

The parking lot had several caravans driven by French folk.  We have seen a lot of French holidaying in Scotland.  It's a much cooler summer than in France, especially this year.  The signs to the stacks are very clear, with the pathways mowed for easier hiking.  The ground, however, is very boggy, so you have a spring in your step.  I was glad I had my hiking poles, as they helped me navigate over some of the soggy spots.
Our first view of the Stacks of Duncansby.

At some places, the ground was too boggy, soggy to walk on, so board walks had been built.
The Goas are sections of the land that in several thousands of years will be stacks, if they are lucky.  Now their cliffs are protected areas for nesting sea birds.  Even though it is late in the season, we saw several Kittawake chicks covered in fuzzy down.

The Long Goa whose cliffs are used for nesting.

A Kittawake chick on the cliffs.

In sun and shadow, the layers show.

The stacks.  We wondered if the flat spot to the right had been a stack at one time; it is the same stone as the bottom of the other two.
The round trip was about 1 1/2 miles, as we went farther than the first view point, of course.  The wind was really howling, but we still had a good time!

The Great Glen from Loch Ness to Fort William

Beautiful Loch Ness, but no Nessie in sight! 
We had to visit Loch Ness and see if we could find Nessie.  Try as we might, no Nessie sighting.  Maybe she's on holiday somewhere warm.  Loch Ness is not user friendly when it comes to driving; not many pullouts with views as the trees have grown too thick to see through.  So we drove with occasional peeks at the loch.
Several sailboats were on the loch, which would be a great way to see it.

The south end of Loch Ness has a tiny beach with ducks, the only water life we saw.
At the south end there was a small pullout where we could walk down to a tiny beach.  A flock of ducks were on the water, but soon moved on away from us.  Climbing back up, Bill spotted this tiny field mouse ready to pose for his picture.
Could this be a Scottish Pack Rat?
Loch Ness ends at Fort Augustus, where the River Oich is used to make the Caledonian Canal after running out of Loch Oich.  Then you come to Loch Lochy.  They did a good job building pullouts around this Loch, complete with information boards explaining how the Great Glen came to be.  It's all geology, baby.

Loch Lochy 

This is how it all happened to come about.
Everywhere there are waterfalls, if you can get past the trees to see them.  Some have names, some don't, but all are beautiful.  We saw several on the drive on into Fort William.  We didn't stay long in Fort William, just hit the grocery store so we wouldn't have to stop on the way home.  (We are so lazy sometimes.)  Fort William was definitely a tourist town.  It not only is the gateway to the Lochs for tours from Glasgow and Edinburgh, but is has Ben Nevis, the highest peak in the UK, at is doorstep.

Waterfall on a stream that feeds Loch Lochy.

Lochs and waterfalls are everywhere in the Highlands, all you have to do is wander a bit and keep your eyes open.  It is especially true this year, as they have had their wetting summer on record.  Every one has apologized to us for the weather, but we came prepared.  All the rain makes everything incredibly green, besides, no rain, no rainbows!

Loch Lochy is very beautiful; I think I like it better than Loch Ness.

Small waterfalls are in abundance.

Doune Castle

Doune Castle was rebuilt by Robert Stewart, the Duke of Albany, a man who was the power behind the throne as Regent for James I of Scotland,...