Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Wednesday, September 14th, Mission Bay


The Eagle has landed, and it's sitting in Airstream row, in the Mission Bay RV Resort.  Actually, there's only two of us here, and we're surrounded by 40-foot monsters, most with gas-guzzling off-road explorer vehicles.

It's nice to be back in the Southern California culture of my youth, where boomers who still think they are 18 - are everywhere.  Yea, look who's talking.

Look who woke me up this morning.  Las Flores Viewpoint has a colony of probably 500 of these squirrels who greet visitors just south of the Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power Plant.  They are huge, not afraid of humans, and burrow between the parking lot and the bluff.  This guy seemed to be negotiating for the group, and kept pounding his fists together.  Has anyone checked their radioactivity levels?

To see the few other shots of these guys, click on: Streaming to Reunion.

Monday, September 5, 2016

Monday, September 5th, Broadford, Scotland


The drive on Sunday from Aberdeen to Tongue on Scotland's northern coast was tough.  While only 291 miles, the narrowness off the road, and the amount of traffic, made it difficult. Almost all of it was a single-lane road, with sheep and lambs, and couples on a Sunday drive to Scotland's north coast, and salmon fishermen out to find the best spots.  With cars coming toward me, we had to find a mutual spot to attempt a pass.  Those wanting to pass me, we also had to find places to pull over.  It's too bad, because the countryside was gorgeous.  We just should have done it on a weekday, and planned a slower pace to have the time to stop and look around.

But in those long miles, we chose two places to rest.  The first was Clava Cairns, which we had visited on our last trip here.  Since then, new information has been suggested about the uses of the passages graves, and about the timing of the surrounding ring of stones.  Our archaeology tour of the Orkney provided us with lots of information about those cairns, and it was fun to look at these and apply that knowledge. I took a photo of the two interpretive signs to learn more.

The second spot was the Ness Island Walk along both sides of a short stretch of the River Ness in Inverness.  It reminded us of the river in Luang Prubang, Laos, where we spent a few evenings at dinner watching life drift by.  As we walked in one segment, a man about my age passing us caught my eye just as he scanned us and we both broke into big smiles.  We almost high-fived each other, as I knew his thoughts were acknowledging a mutual enjoyment of our lives at this moment.

We finished the drive to Tongue, a small settlement on the coast, having taken the wrong route, and paying for it with an extra hour.  Today, we drove more directly (on two-lane roads) to our hotel at Broadford, at the base of the Isle of Skye, and had time to tour the island before dinner.  Neither of us was impressed, but perhaps its hype made our expectations too great.  On the other hand, after Australia and Iceland, Scotland has to reach some high standards.  And without ruins or glaciers, it's hard to dazzle us.

Tomorrow, we’ll head over to Kilmartin Glen, the gold standard of Neolithic ruins in Scotland.  We’re staying at a golf resort just outside of Glasgow for the next couple of days, before returning home on Thursday. 

To see the photos taken today, click on Monday, September 5th.

Saturday, September 3, 2016

Saturday, February 3rd, Aberdeen, Scotland


Scotland has a Coastal Path, and we walked a small section of it today.  After a night ferry to Aberdeen, a taxi to the rental car agency (before the car was ready - we walked around town for an hour), driving the car to the hotel (before the room was ready we sat in the lobby for an hour), and then read the Scotland Lonely Planet sections on the towns coming up in the next few days.

A strong wifi, Google Earth and Street Tracker seemed to indicate trail along the coastal bluff nearby.  Pat read the news on her Mini-IPad, and I drove to the trailhead, found a good place to park (still getting used to right hand drive), and walked and photographed the section.  When finished, I returned to our hotel room, uploaded the photos, and made a pitch that we go get lunch, and then walk the trail.  Pat quickly agreed, and we headed out.

An added bonus was seeing several runs of the local commuter train running along the trail (not shown here - that's an oil delivery train).  A shiny new, three-coach express delivering north coast residents to jobs, shopping, and friends.  And very quiet.

Sunday to Durness, Monday to Isle of Skye, and Tuesday and Wednesday in Glasgow.  We fly home on Thursday.  Hope I can keep up posts along the way.  This is a beautiful country with lots of adventures, but it's also plenty of driving.

To see the photos taken today, click on Saturday, September 3rd.

Friday, September 2, 2016

Friday, September 2nd, Kirkwall, Orkney Islands


An illegal palace built by an Earl everyone hated, a cathedral built by an outcast to honor someone he and everyone in Orkney loved,  submarine barriers and a chapel built by Italian prisoners of war, an iron-age "Earth House" that was neither made of earth nor which served as a house, and a neolithic tomb built by who knows who, containing among other things - 24 iron-age dog skulls.  A real potpourri of Orkney Island Adventure.

Today concluded our tour of Orkney, with more climbing and crawling than ever.  As always, it was fun.  And we're really going to miss Caz.  The past six days have been filled to the brim with stories of life in Orkney, from the Neolithic to the present.  A timeless resident, sharing insights from someone dedicated to constantly questioning, understanding, and sharing.  Part tour guide, part mother duck, she has cared for us and nurtured us.  And we'll be forever greatful.

One of my favorite moments was when she told the story of a friend who had participated in a ceremony wherein school children gathered in a circle during the Queen Mum's visit, and presented her with stones from their parishes.  The Queen directed they be imbedded into the sides of a bowl to be placed on the Cathedral alter.

To see all of the photos taken today, click on Friday, September 2nd.

Tonight, we take a ferry to Aberdeen to begin a five-day Northern Scotland adventure.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Thursday, September 1st, Kirkwall, Orkney Islands


Hackness Tower and Battery, in South Walls, stands on a promintory overlooking Longhope Sound.  Built in 1813-14 at the height of the Napoleonic Wars, they were designed to protect one of the most important bays in the British Isles.  Their construction was inspired by an embarassing incident twenty years earlier, when two British warships (with a combined firepower of 106 guns) were defeated by two small cannons atop a Corsican hillside circular tower.

But if you thought this story was about how well this military gun placement performed - guess again.  It's initial construction was completed after the War of 1812 ended.  The resurrection of it during the Crimean War saw it failing to be useful.  Like a roller coaster, it was abandoned and then refurbished multiple times, missing out on effective use for the next hundred years.  In all, one shot was fired from it, and that was in practice.

Meanwhile, the bay it protected participated in some of the great developments in British naval history.  This includes American, French, and German patrols and reconnaissance campaigns, development and storage of supplies and materials for British efforts, and finally the scuttling of two-thirds of the WWI German fleet, and its private salvage for scrap metal, sold back to the Germans to upgrade their ships prior to WWII.
Face it, most of us think naval warfare in the past two hundred years took place off the coast of New England, the coast of France, or in the Pacific.  In short, where the U.S. was involved. What our visit reveals, and we should acknowledge, is that naval encounters in Orkney waters and the North Sea - heavily impacted every major world conflict over the past three hundred years.

Ending the day, we drove to the Dwarfie Stane and the Scapa Flow Visitor Center and Museum.  The first is considered by some to be Britain's only rock-cut tomb.  And at five thousand year old, it's cavern would have been carved out of solid rock with stone tools or antlers.

The second hosts photographs, artifacts, vehicles, boilers, pumps, tanks, and other materials which supported the work of the British Navy during both world wars.

To see all of the photos taken today, click on Thursday, September 1st.

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Wednesday, August 31st, Kirkwall, Orkney Islands


Maes Howe is the fourth of the Orkney sites included in the Heart of the Neolithic Orkney World Heritage sites.  Built five hundred years before Stonehenge (3200BC), it is the largest neolithic chambered cairn and passage grave in Europe.  The grass mound hides a complex of passages and chambers built of carefully-crafted flagstone slabs, weighing up to 30 tons.

And though taking photos inside is prohibited,  decided that the inside is so important for others to see, I have chosen to include some from the internet.

After a long low stoop, the inner chamber and side depositories are easily navigated, and one can imagine their use as bone storage for a chosen few.  What's more easily imagined is the visits of viking warriors two thousand years later.  The stones contain the largest concentration of viking runic grafitti resulting from a couple of recorded winter occupations in the eleventh century.

The Stromness Museum nearby is hosting an early exhibit of some of the finds from the Ness of Brodgar, so we had to go visit.  We were also looking for the Skare Brae Buddo (right), the mascot of neolithic Orkney archaeology.

After lunch, we drove back to the Ayre Hotel (About time I gave them a plug), and walked over to the Orkney Museum to read some of the local newspaper reports of digs in the area, and look at more of the museum's collection.

To see all of the photos taken today, click on Wednesday, August 31st.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Tuesday, August 30th, Kirkwall, Orkney Islands


We drove to three of the four of the Heart of Neolithic Orkney's World Heritage sites today.  We'll see the fourth tomorrow morning (Maeshowe).  Though closed for the season, Caz gave us the details on the Ness of Brodgar, which is revealing new information on its role as the center of a huge ceremonial complex, including the Ring of Brodgar and the Standing Stones of Stenness.

Skare Brae has been called the oldest known village in Europe where you can still see the houses with their original stone furniture.  Built five thousand years ago, it consists of eight or more dwellings of square rooms with central hearths, stone beds on both sides, a shelved stone dresser opposite the entrance, covered passageways, and utilizing commons drains.
Revealed by erosive storms, its future is continually threatened.

The Ring of Brodgar, an almost true circle of standing stones, 104 meters in diameter, it is the third largest stone circle in the British Isles.

Thought originally to contain some 60 stones, the circle has lost stones to local destruction and at least one lightning strike.  Standing between two and seven meters high, the current count is 27 stones.

The Standing Stones of Stenness contains fewer, taller stones, arranged originally in an oval, built earliest, and with a hearth stone area in the middle.  A common misunderstanding is the depth of the stone in the ground.  The answer is much less than is believed, with wedged stones supporting a short burial.

To see all of the photos taken today, click on Tuesday, August 30th.

Monday, August 29, 2016

Monday, August 29th, Kirkwall, Orkney Islands


In the northwest of the Orkney mainland, across Eynhallow Sound from where we were yesterday, lies the Broch of Gurness.  An early iron-age, stone tower settlement, it is almost surrounded by three stone-faced ditches.  The main structure contained an upper story with a thatched roof and wooden floor, and was accessed by a wall walk linked to stairs to the ground floor.

Leaping ahead a couple thousand years, we visited the palace of a much-disliked son of the half-brother of Mary Queen of Scots, Patrick Stewart, who became the 2nd Earl of Orkney in the late 1500s.  Two years after construction began, Earl Patrick was imprisoned (1609) for financial mismanagement and his brutality against the local population, first in Edinburgh Castle, and then in Dumbarton Castle.  From the castle, he sent his illegitimate son, Robert, to seize the palace and most of the area around Kirkwall.  James VI's Privy Council ordered the Earl of Caithness to respond, and the rebellion was soon defeated.  Twelve officers were hanged at the palace gate.  Robert was taken to Edinburgh, put to trial, and hanged.  Soon after, his father was also tried and executed.

Driving west to nearly the northwest tip of Orkney, we crossed at low tide an up-ended seafloor causeway separating the mainland from the tidal island housing a 6th century monastery, 7-8th century Pictish, and 9th century Norse settlements.  The recovered evidence here indicates that the seat of power during these centuries may have been here, and the defensive attributes of the site reinforce that perception.

Barony Mills has been grinding barley (bere), tolerant of the cold weather and short growing season, since 1873.  Barley has been growing here since the Neolithic period.
Orkney Beremeal Bannocks 
There are various recipes for baking bere bannocks, but the most common is probably something like this:
2 c. of Birsay beremeal
1 c. of plain flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. cream of tartar
salt (if desired)
Mix thoroughly, add milk, water or buttermilk to make a stiff but soft dough, roll out on a floured (mixture of flour and beremeal) board to form the bannocks (this will make 2 or 3), then cook on a hot, ungreased girdle 5 minutes or so each side until both sides are browned and the middle is cooked. Practice will make perfect. Consume with copious amounts of ale (plus plenty of Orkney butter and cheese.)
Ending the day at Kirbuster Farm Museum brought home to all of us how important the hearth was to families over the past milleniums. The museum was opened to the public in 1986.  It is the last un-restored example of a traditional "firehoose" in Northern Europe.  It has a central hearth, complete with peat fire, and a stone neuk bed, reminiscent of the Neolithic interiors that can be seen at the sites we have visited.

To see all of the photos taken today, click on: Monday, August 29th.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Sunday, August 28th, Kirkwall, Orkney Islands


Joined by Dave and Jane, Brian and Eileen, and Sophie and Odile, we were off today, led by Caz Marnwell of Orkney Archeaology Tours.   The group is full of interesting and traveled people, with whom we've shared four meals, two ferry rides, and four neolithic and iron age ruins.

On a warm, almost windless day, we drove from Kirkwall to the ferry at Tingwall, and sailed to the island of Rousay (population 300).  In the course of a day, we saw structures which spanned almost 3,000 years.  And the youngest of these was a thousand year old by the time of the earliest Mayan temple.  And what struck Pat most was the fact that these ruins are surrounded by only a few islanders, no facilities, hardly any signs, and certainly no other tourists.

Listening to Caz, displaying her passion for both the present islanders and those who lived here for the past five millenium, we were fascinated by how much these preserved stone tombs, cairns, and brochs could reveal to us.  And by how many questions they left unanswered.  Few other spots on earth contain such a long, continuous, record of occupation leaving such detailed fresh evidence to study.  Absent only greater organic materials, one can hardly imagine a more valuable documentary treasure of man's existence.

In the next five days, we'll accompany Caz on a journey across the hills, shores, and bays of Orkney Islands.  We'll see palaces, chapels, single and rings of stones, more tombs and cairns, more brochs and towers, and plenty of really, really, really old houses.  And we'll question and wonder how the people of this area lived and died in them.

To see the photos that were taken today, click on Sunday, August 28th.

Friday, August 26, 2016

Friday, August 26th, Kirkwall, Orkney


Hurry up, you'll be late for the wedding!

While wandering around Kirkwall, we discovered that a fairly well-connected local family was having a wedding at the town's church.  If you weren't invited, you were outside watching, waiting for the bride to show up.

Before the wedding, we walked through the three floors and garden in one of the best local museums we've seen in a long time.  There are few places where 5,000 years of history can be laid out in great detail, with displays containing evidence almost all from local sources, without having to explain that some foreign explorers took the best of it to museums in Berlin or London.  I could spend many more hours in The Orkney Museum.

The weather this morning appeared to be what most think it would be like north of Scotland - overcast and a bit a rain, so we had breakfast at our guest house (Castaway), and I composed a Google Map of our travels around the area for the next week.  Each red icon contains the itinerary for the day, and the blue spots are the sites we'll be seeing.  Be sure to zoom in using the plus sign and out with the minus, so you'll be able to accurately click on the site icons.  Use your mouse to drag around the map.

To see all the photos taken today, click on Friday afternoon, August 26th.

Thursday, August 25th, Kirkwall, Orkney Islands


Wednesday and Thursday, we traveled from Reykjavik, Iceland to Kirkwall, Orkney Islands.  Normally, it would have only taken one day.  But the flight from Iceland got into Edinburgh, Scotland about ten minutes after the flight to Orkney departed.  So we stayed the night just outside of Edinburgh.

The photos today show us coming in on the train to Edinburgh, spending the day visiting the Royal Botanical Gardens, and then using the tram to the airport.

We're now in Kirkwall, arriving a couple of days early, and we'll explore the town before we meet up with our archeological contacts on Sunday to begin our ruin adventure.

To see the photos taken today, click on Thursday, August 25th,

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Tuesday, August 23rd, Reykjavik, Iceland


We're back in Reykjavik, turned in the rental car, and picked up my wide angle lens at the hotel.  I'm relieved that no speeding tickets were waiting for me, they didn't notice the small pebble shatter on the windshield, or the plugged nail hole in the tire.  Of course, we paid a lot to cover more than that, so my worries (other than the tickets in the tunnel) were overblown.

If you really want to see what good photographers can produce from a stay in Iceland, check out the album from today.  I promise you'll have no trouble picking out the two photographs of mine from among the collection at Tuesday, August 23rd.

Tomorrow, we fly to London, Edinburg, and finally Orkney Island.  

Monday, August 22, 2016

Monday, August 22nd, Hellnar, Iceland


Nothing like a 5km walk over a coastal lavabed to test out your knees.  We made it, and are having lunch on a deck overlooking the cove back at the FossHotel Hellnar.  Two and a half hours from Reykjavik, we're sitting in 65 degree sunshine, with no-wind, watching a jet overhead fly back to Minneapolis.

A friend here provided some insight into why everyone seems to have found Iceland.  The answer:  Some tourist spots have become risky - Turkey, Egypt, France.  This is becoming the August vacation spot.

Our walk gave us great looks at basaltic hexagonal columns right at the cliff faces, and no one has a better blog about them than Shing.

But if you don't tire of her photos, check out these and other walk shots we took today at Monday, August 22nd.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Sunday, August 21st, Hellnar, Iceland


Today was a sailing day.  I doubt if we saved time over driving. but the trip was restful.  The main link for island living in the northwest, the ferry delivers tourists returning to the Reykjavik area, and fresh fish to their markets.

We disembarked at Stykkisholmur on the Snaefellsnes Peninsula, beneath the ice-capped volcano, Snaefellsjokull. Immortalized in Jules Verne's Journey to the Center of the Earth, the mountain today was obscured by a thick cloud layer which hung just above equally majestic sea bird cliffs.  We drove the remaining 200 kilometers around the Peninsula, and made notes on what we might come back to see tomorrow.

The FossHotel group has provided us with the majority of our accommodations, and done a pretty good job of it.   Located strategically in rural areas just out side of small towns, they have brought us clean, efficient, friendly service at a good price.  But I have a complaint.  What's with the cereal bowls?  This morning's bowls were just deep enough for three corn flakes to reach the top.  With a small splash of milk, it took about eight spoonfuls to take it all in.  This contrasts with the soup bowls at dinner which one could make a complete meal.

To see the few photos taken today, click on Sunday, August 21st.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Saturday, August 20th, Patreksfjordur, Iceland


To get the scale of this waterfall, be sure to spot the guy standing on the clifftop in the center-right of the photo.  This is Dynjanti, one of the jewels of Iceland's waterfalls.

We didn't make many stops today, as we drove almost entirely on rutted dirt roads over several mountains and around fjords at the western end of Iceland.  Down steep roads to reach the sandy beaches at Rauoisandur, and out to the very end of Iceland at the Latrabjarg sea bird cliffs.  

While gas is expensive in Iceland, if I had it to do over, I think I'd choose a stronger, bigger, more off-road vehicle for these stretches of travel.  Dodging rocks and ruts in a little French Citroen with little room between you and the road is exhausting.  Pat's a very good sport, but I can see her knuckles getting white as she braces against the dashboard as we slide around the steep hairpin turns.  And let's not mention the tickets I'm getting while speeding through the one-lane tunnels to avoid oncoming trucks.

One last photo might give you a sense of place.  Fjords and cliffs and roads - leading to a small town trying to make it easier on the swarms of visitors.  Patreksfjordur did just that tonight by serving us the best lobster rolls, salad, and seafood soup.  We're curled up in our hotel room, looking out at what seems like the never-setting sun, and planning our last few days in Iceland.

To see the few more photos taken today, click on Saturday, August 20th.

Friday, August 19, 2016

Friday, August 19th, Isafjordur, Iceland


We're staying around the town today, taking advantage of the 2-day stay here to do the laundry, and catch up on some sleep.  It's a small town, and our hotel is right in the middle of it.  We get a perfect view of the townsfolk, and the cruise ship passengers, out our hotel window.

With gas at $6 per gallon, Icelanders are exploring other means of transportation. Without a doubt, cars are necessary to travel the long distances between towns.  Around town, it's another story.  Skateboards, bikes, scooters, sit-down bikes, and busses are everywhere.

On our morning walk, we explored old houses and a strong salt cod industry, and saw the Cruise ship tourists who came off the two ships parked in the harbor.  The largest, carrying 4,000 passengers, unloaded this morning.  The ice cream shop across from our hotel seemed the place to congregate, and we joined them for an excellent bowl of chocolate, caramel, and berries.

Driving to a nearby natural history museum, we discovered an exhibit featuring a piece of lignite (formerly a redwood tree) retrieved by a local geologist from a coal mine.  Evidently, such trees grew on Iceland 14 million years ago.  A larger display is being hosted this weekend near the ferry we will take on Sunday.  It's being organized by a local park ranger,  and I'm eager to learn more about Iceland's redwood history.

To see the rest of the photos taken today, click on Friday, August 19th.