Thursday, June 13, 2019

Journeys in Northern Europe / Family and Friends : 2019

Journeys in Northern Europe
Family and Friends
Germany and Scotland
May and June 2019

In another life, our family sponsored a foreign exchange student.  I don’t believe any of us could have imagined how life changing this would be…
Maria entered our lives at the age of 17.  A senior in high school.  We had 3 boys and one girl at home all in high school as well.  She stumbled initially with the language but soon she was cutting it up with our kids, adding her own shenanigans to the mix.  The year sped by with the adults working full time, the kids participating in sports and countless school activities.  When June arrived, we were all misty eyed at her departure.  We kept in touch by phone and emails and the following year Maria returned for a visit, reaffirming our close relationship.  And then, she was off again.  We planned a trip to Germany the following year but it fell through…
The year after that,  Jim was asked to crew on a boat, belonging to our long time friend Larry,  crossing the Atlantic to Europe.  He gladly accepted.  Kathy would join them in Azores for the last leg of the journey.  We would take this opportunity to visit Maria and family in Germany…
We had a fantastic voyage by sea and another by land, meeting Maria’s parents and brother for the first time.  They treated us like family.   Dirk, Heika and Jàn found a place in our hearts and family as well.  After our departure, Maria met up with Larry on the boat in the Mediterranean…  Larry still had one of the other crew members from the Atlantic crossing aboard.  Jon.  Maria and Jon hit it off well… really well apparently!  They continued traveling together for several months until Maria needed to return to Germany… Jon followed.  That was in 2004.  They have since gotten married and are now parents to a happy and healthy boy… Sam Cooper
Ours families have continued to stay in touch over these many years.  They visited us in Michigan (USA).  Jàn has the record for most reoccurring visits aboard Inishnee.  Maria and Jon joined us for a week of sailing in the Mediterranean.  And Dirk, Heika and Jàn joined us on holiday in Cyprus.  And they all payed us a visit in Rome.
So, since we have the time and are in the ‘neighborhood’ we arranged to visit Maria and Jan in Dusseldorf, their current home / location.  A 3 hour flight followed by a quick train ride…
They met us at the train station and walked us home.  We got our first look at young Sam, just 3 weeks old.  Adorable of course!  We spent as much time reminiscing as we did jockeying for turns at holding Sam.  

Maria and Jon showed us many of the local attractions; the river Rhine with its busy fleet of barges.  The Rhine Tower.  The Gehry Buildings designed by Frank Gehry who also design the Guggenheim Museum in Spain.  We ate in, we ate out, we ate well!  
We presented Sam (Maria and Jon) with a special gift… A sheep skin from Bosnia.  It even won praise from the midwife!    

We took a day trip to Cologne (Kohl). When exiting train station in Cologne, you come face on to the massive Gothic style Cathedral.  Very ornate inside and out.  Built and rebuilt several times starting in 1248.  During World War II, the stain glass windows were removed and hidden out in the country for safe keeping.  It suffered some damage from bombing but remain largely intact because the ‘bombers’ would use it as a navigation aide.

By chance, friends from Michigan (Dave and Stephanie) were cruising the Rhine on a viking tour and had a stop in Cologne.  We met for lunch before returning to Dusseldorf.  And then, it was time to go home to Rome.  

We had one day to catch our breath, get laundry done and repack before setting out for yet another excursion.  This time we were of to Scotland where we would meet Jim’s  brother Rich, wife Mary and two of their daughters.

We took advantage of Ryan Air’s super low rates, however our flight to and from meant really later arrival and departures… Getting in to Glasgow Prestwick airport just before midnight.  No services open this late at the airport.  The last train had left long ago.  We were told there would be a bus and were given directions…  30 minutes later, no bus, so we headed back to the airport.  Luckily, Jim noticed a bus heading our way before we got too far.  We paid our fare and got on the bus.  At the station in town we then took a cab the rest of the way.  Euro Hostel for three nights.  9th floor.  Private room.  Ensuite bathroom.  2:30 am we settled in to bed.  Jim on top…  bunk beds.   
It gets light really early in Scotland at latitude 55.86 degrees north.  Dawn at 3:30 am.  Dusk at 10:45 pm.  Very glad the room had blackout curtains. 

Scotland ...
After a 5 pound breakfast (denomination), we were off to see the city.  We did zero research prior to coming, but using a google search we headed for the pedestrian street a couple blocks from the hostel.  Typical shops and cafes except everything was in English!  We could read the signs and menus.  And mostly understand the language. They have quite the funny accent here.  
A stop in a book store because they had English literature! Got us a great tip on a couple of museums.  We located the subway and headed underground to catch a train.  What an experience that was.  The train is REALLY loud. Runs a circular route around the city.  The cars are really small; with 6 foot head room (you’ve met Jim right?)…  
Museum subway car with tunnel... actual size

the entrance to the subway...

James Bond could never battle any villain’s on the roof with only a few inches of clearance above coach roof and the tunnel.  

Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum.  

A fantastic way to spend several hours.  Free admission.  22 different galleries, it has a bit of everything from Monet’s and Rebrand’s to natural history exhibits.  Ancient Egyptian artifacts to Scottish highland memorabilia.  The Baroque style building it worthy of praise as well.  

Next we toured the Riverside (Transportation) Museum…again FREE.  The building houses hundreds of historic vehicles from actual train engines to bicycles.  Scooters and motorcycles.  “Stuffed’ horses and carriages.  Skateboards, cars and trams.  You can even tour the sv Glenlee, formerly a cargo ship.  A restored Victorian era tall ship from 1896.  It has an excellent interpretive and interactive exhibit on board.  

We, of course, had to have a pint or two and found a charming pub close by.  The menu also featured haggis…it tastes much better than it sounds, a savory pudding made of sheep’s pluck (heart, liver, lungs) mixed with spices, onions and grains, kind of like loose sausage.  

The next day we took the fast train to Edinburgh, marched up the hill and paid our fee (senior rate!) to tour the Castle.  The historic fortress dating from the 11th century, still dominates the landscape overlooking the city below.  The main areas of castle’s interior is made up of the royal palace, several war memorials and, a garrison and barracks. 
 A 1pm sharp the One O’clock Gun is fired, except on Sundays and holidays.  This tradition dates back to 1861 and was a way to set your watch (chronometer) to the correct time… We ducked in and out of the many museum rooms, grinding between other tourists as we went along.  Surprisingly, the castle is also a functioning military base.

After a bit of lunch, more haggis! we discovered we were very near Greyfriar’s Kirk (church).  It’s found in the old town.  It is quite noted for two different but notable things.  Bobby, a Skye terrier.  

Bobby belonged to John Gray, a nightwatchman for the Edinburgh City Police.  When John died, Booby took up residence on John’s grave in the Greyfriar’s Kirk yard and lived there sitting atop is grave until he died in 1872… 14 years later!  Bobby was buried in the Kirk yard near his master and given a tombstone of his own.  A statue was cast in bronze of his likeness and placed above a drinking fountain a short distance from the cemetery.  

a street busker performing in Edinburgh ...
 home town Detroit, MI! 

Another famous individual often visited the kirk yard while writing a book… which became a best seller worldwide.  J. K. Rowling’s wrote the Harry Potter books, often seen sitting among the gravestones.  Locals claim that many of the book’s character’s names came from those buried there. 

Day 3, and a rental car

We picked up Rich and Mary and headed toward Oban, a coastal village.  We made several stops along the way…  A waterfall and Saint Conan’s Kirk.  A monument with some of his his bones are on display. 

A late lunch… more haggis.  and a drive along Loch Lomond before reaching our apartment up the hill from Oban.  After dropping out bags we headed back to Oban for dinner and a look around.  

A charming and busy sea port.  A lovely tourist holiday spot.  The purchase of a fine bootle of local whiskey before dinner then home for a nightcap.  

A good nights rest, we were all set to do some touring.  Mary and Rich saved the day having packed spare rain pants… 

Kathy and Jim had neglected to bring any and were quite grateful they had planned so well!
With no real destination we set off.  Stopping if / when we saw something of interest. 

A nice soggy walk along a bay, water assaulting us from above and below.  Jim and Kathy returned to the car while Rich and Mary continued on the footpath, meeting up a couple miles down the road.  

Stops in the villages of Glencoe and Fort William, where somewhere in the mist, was Ben Nevis.

Scotland has a rainforest!  Quite a surprise...  Fortunately for us, it was raining so we could get the full effect… and as Julia might say, “great!  we get to test our rain gear for leaks”… 8 squishy shoes and equally soppy socks … but the rain coats and pants proved there worth.  

Another stop at Carnasserie Castle at Kilmartin Glen.  Erected 1560’s, it has 5 stories… you have to use your imagination a bit though…

Nether Largie was an interesting find.  Standing stones, 2 stone circles and a cairn (burial grounds).  Its estimated that bronze age farmers erected these stones around 3,200 years ago.  
Ancient symbols can still be seen on several… it is believed they used these to mark the movement of the stars…

Along the way:  sheep grazing (blue and pink rears). Roadside water falls draining from the hillsides.  

Rivers and lochs. A brief glimpse of two  ‘airy coos (hairy ‘highland’ cows).  

Our next overnight was Loch Long, the village of Arrochar. Stops in Lochgilphead and  Inveraray before checking in. Our rooms over looking the Loch Long.  The clouds and mist enveloped the shore.  A light drizzle.  Dinner at a pub followed by drinks in our room.  

It didn’t take long for us to start nodding off.  

We meandered our way back to Glasgow in the morning where we arranged to pickup Julia ad Michelle, Rich and Mary’s daughters.  

With two separate cars to accommodate the 6 of us we headed to the highlands.  Aviemore.  

A fantastic holiday home located on the River Spey.  3 Nights to explore the area.  

The weather finally gave us a break, two sunny days in a row.  Day one, Julia found a hike for us to do around a nearby loch.  Snow had fallen overnight on the surrounding mountains… doubly surprising since we weren’t aware we were near any mountains… it having been cloudy and wet on our arrival.  

The walk around Loch an Eileen was quite pleasant.  The warmth of the sun.  The stillness of the lake.  Ducks and nesting birds.  

An optional alternative trail around the adjoining Loch Gamhna was discussed.  We pressed on and explored the lesser traveled route.  

The trail quickly narrowed but easy enough to follow single file.  Then opened to an expanse of shrubs and pockets of water.  Jim and Rich lead the way, the ladies picking their way though a bit more gingerly.  Another bog; I believe the guide book mentioned needing ‘wellies’ here.  Turn back and get wet or continue on and get wetter… onward we went.  No worries…  back to the main trail, we continued around the lake and the parking lot.  

Dinner at the Winking owl (no haggis this time).  
After dinner drinks by the fire at home.  

The next day, the group minus one (Kathy kept the ‘fire’ going), took a quick morning walk around another lake then headed toward Inverness and Culloden.   

The Battle of Culloden was the final and fatal confrontation of the Jacobite army.  On April 16, 1745 (*the ’45 rebellion) the Highlanders (6,000 men) faced off with the British troops (8,000 men) on a moor just east of Inverness.  An estimated 2,000 Jacobites were killed or wounded less than 30 minutes int the battle.  Over whelmed and out numbered, Charles Stewart sent the message that ‘all was lost’ … the Jacobite army disbanded.

We went on to Inverness to explore a bit.  *Inver means ‘mouth of river’ in Celtic.The river Ness flows from the northern end of Loch Ness through Loch Dochfour to Inverness and out into the Beauly Firth (estuary). 

We ate a late lunch overlooking the Inverness Castle and River Ness before heading home.  

Choosing a slightly different route home, we came upon the Old Packhorse Bridge spanning hte river Dulnain.  Originally built in 1717, it’s suffered extensive damage over the years due to floods and weathering.   

The crews would now separate.  Kathy and Jim continuing on their own, the Illinois Nee’s headed to Edinburgh and Glasgow.  

Kathy and Jim decided to head to the Isle of Skye.  The drive was spectacular even in the intermittent rain and mist.  Very mountainous.  Vast areas of national forests and protected lands.  Dozens of very hearty hikers braving the rain and wind, tramping about the hills, mountains and valleys.  

The Isle if Skye was wind swept and craggy.  The main village, Portree (Port Righ), a bustling fishing port and tourist destination.  We walked along the small water front.  Fishing vessels big and small.  A pier to accommodate the car / passenger ferry.  A quick lunch snack in the park, then back on the road.  One more full day in Scotland ahead of us and many miles to Prestwick Airport / Glasgow.  

Retracing our steps inbound steps to the town of Klye of Lochalsh.  Soon after we managed to make a wrong turn (but ‘google’ rerouted us), we found ourselves passing a the impressive Eilean Donan Castle.   We had to stop.  Sitting on an island where 3 lochs converge, assessable by a pedestrian bridge.  We studied the outside but passed on the tour, opting to continue on; many more miles to go and the day more than half gone.  The wrong turn then took us through some of the most majestic mountains and valleys we’d seen.  The constant rains created dozens of cascading waterfalls flowing from the crevices of the hillsides.  

With evening approaching as we neared Fort Augustus, we began the hunt for lodging.  My searches found scant few and all pretty pricey.  Fort Augustus sits at the southern tip of Loch Ness.  Jim noticed a small sign on the roadside for the Old Pier House B&B… with nothing to lose but time, we turned in and drove along the Loch till it dead ended at a whitewashed stone cottage… Horse grazing.  Ducks and birds fluttering about.  The farm dogs signaled out approach bringing out the proprietor, Jennie, soon followed by her grandson; Osh.  They had 2 rooms available, a small cottage or a private room in the house with ensuite and a full Scottish breakfast *with haggis….  We took the guest room in the house.  Osh gave us a brief history of the place.  

Cuidich ’N Righ : Escape the Everyday… A family run croft on the banks of Loch Ness.  The MacKenzie family acquired the land in the early 1900’s.  The land was the former site of the terminal for the train from Glasgow.  The last stop.  From here passengers could board a boat to continue north up the loch or holiday in the area.  The service closed in 1924.  In 1970’s, Jenny and her family moved in and renovated the old station-masters cottage for their private home.  In 1985, they began offering guest accommodations,  Osh is now the general manager and doing a splendid job!  
Osh mentioned that the farm also had 4 hairy highland cows…  pronounced ‘airy coos’ by the locals

 “Just go through the gate.  They are quite friendly.”… 
but what about the  “beware of BULL sign?’ … 

“not to worry, we put that us to keep the tourists out.  Mind the gate, close it behind you… 

past the family cemetery… the cattle are just beyond in the next pen”.…

Our shoes had almost dried out so, we had to go find them.  Walking over the cattle guard, there they were!  Gorgeous, hairy brown coos, with gracefully long curved horns…  Coo number one, contentedly munching grass.  
Tossed her head, held for s few glam shots then back to grazing.  Coo number 2 a bit more reluctant to have her photo taken, but complied… until she didn’t!  She snorted and leapt at us with startling speed… We retreated behind trees, hearts pounding, minds racing.  She head butted Kathy’s tree several times… her horns leading the charge… a couple tense minutes, she apparently felt she made her point and returned to her patch of grass.  No time was wasted sprinting for gate and closing it tight behind us… 

We changed out shoes which were again oozing rain and remnants of the field… and went off for dinner in Fort Augustus.  There are five ‘locks’ dissecting the village.  These locks make it possible for water traffic to negotiate the differing levels of the connecting waters to the lochs either side.  

Back at the B&B, Osh had a roaring fire lit where we enjoyed a glass of (Irish) whiskey.  Thoroughly placated,  we retired to our room and fell into a very pleasant sleep. 

Our last day in Scotland, a proper Scottish breakfast was served as we sat in the dinning room which overlooked Loch Ness.   Though our visit did not coincide with any Nessie sightings… it was pretty darn fantastic.  

Luckily we had plenty of time to get to Prestwick that afternoon… or so we thought.   The roads were clogged with traffic… backups and road construction.   It took twice the time we expected to get to our room… another wrong turn didn’t help either.  We found a nice pub for dinner then returned to our room to pack and rest.  
4am we were up for a long day of travel.  One flight.  A bus.  Transfer to the metro.  Another bus then the last few blocks on foot.  

Each leg of the trip, we shed a layer of clothes… Rome was in the mid 70’s… someone had finally flipped the switch for summer.

Back on board we unpacked and reorganized everything.  Departure from Ostia days away,  8 months after arriving.  We are more or less set to toss off the dock lines and see if we remember how to sail this rig…

Next stop… the Tuscan Islands

a few more of the locals from Scotland...