Europe 2008 (Oban) Day 7 – May 31

31 05 2008

Last night we had a strange night.   I turned out the lights at around midnight and went soundly to sleep.  It seemed like almost immediately that I was woken up by the sound of a bell, which seemed a LOT like a fire alarm. It was 0300!!!  Mrs D also woke up and after looking at each other we determined it was likely a fire alarm.  We got dressed and got our passports and prepared to leave when it stopped.  Then it started again.  I opened the door to see if I could see any smoke or any other sense of urgency.  The rest of the guests on our floor were all peeking out their doors too trying to figure out what to do.  We decided it was likely a false alarm.  In hindsight… I should have also grabbed the laptop.  So many of my photos aren’t copied to the home PC yet. For about the next 30 minutes the bells would go on and then off and then sometimes they’d ring for 10 seconds while others they’d ring for a minute or so.  Sigh.  I think I fell back asleep soundly around 0330.

0700 came like a shot after the short sleep and it was hard to drag ourselves out of bed.  We had to move rooms today, so we had to pack everything up to move as well.  We got down for breakfast around 0815.  Mrs D decided to be daring and ordered the kippers for breakfast.  I went with a starter of porridge and then the "Full Breakfast"  – pretty standard fare.  Mrs D’s kippers were smoked. The poor Dead Sea was envious of the amount of salt in these little fish.  Yikes.  The full breakfast was OK, but I really wish they’d stop trying to push the baked beans on me.

We were in the car and ready to go by 0845….  We encountered our first problem almost immediately.  Because we had been driving until 1900 yesterday we had managed to hit quite a few bugs.  There wasn’t going to be much clarity to any pictures taken through the front window.  Off to the gas station that we saw the night before.  We asked if they had a squeegee with which we could wash the bugs off our windscreen.  I might as well have been talking martian.  After a quick description of what I wanted, the girl pointed me to a bucket outside the door.  In it was a small foam "squeegy" which was about 4 inches wide.  Okaaaay.  Over to the car and wash, wash, wash.  Then I went to "squeege" and the rubber squeegy part was about as hard as rock :(  Wipers. :)  Much better.

Since we were close, we decided to check out the ruins of Inverlochy Castle first.  It was about 0930  and the sun was beaming over the top of the Nevis range and illuminating the castle nicely.  We wandered about, read a bit of the history of the castle and took lots of pictures.  I even managed to get a bird photo while we were there.  I don’t know what kind of bird it was, but it was small with bluish wings and a yellow breast.  Picture will come one day.  Can you believe it??? It was FREE to wander throughout the castle ruins!  FREE!  Of course having it unattended meant that local teens apparently like to use it for a bit of a hangout…  some broken beer bottles and other debris littered some of the area in the old towers.  I guess kids are the same everywhere.  We left the castle area around 1000 and began our journey to Oban.  The road was windy, as it was the day before, but not as tight. There were many opportunities to pull out and take pictures, and to enjoy the views of Loch Linhe and the mountain ranges.  The drive was nice  and Mrs D didn’t leave fingernail marks in the car this time :)  We even saw a very cool little castle called "Stalker Castle" out on the water.  It had its own little island, and would probably have made a GREAT picture at sunrise or sunset.  As it was, we got it at near mid day.  You take what you can get.  Oban is a lovely town which turned out to be quite large.  We arrived right at the distillery thanks to Tom Tom.  This little GPS device has been a great tool for our trip.   We arrived at 1100, having paid for two hours parking.  We found out that the tour starts at 1200 and would last an hour.  PERFECT.  We wandered the main street of Oban and even found a Canadian Flag flying in their "International" square.  After a visit to the Tourist info centre we had just enough time to head over for the tour.

Our tour guide informed us that no pictures were allowed – bummer.  It was apparently due to the high alcohol content in the air due to the distillation processes.  I think it’s a trade secret sort of thing, but hey.. I wasn’t about to find out the hard way.  The tour was fascinating but being as we toured on a Saturday, the mashing of the barley wasn’t going on.  The only process that actually was occuring while we were there  was the fermentation.  Our guide let us have a sniff into the fermentation vats. WHEW!  Now THAT was a high alcohol vapour region!   We went through from the fermentation to the distillation and finally to the casking.  After the whole bit had been explained, we had the opportunity to sample some 12 yr old "cask strength" Oban Whisky at 63%.  Very nice.  But lacking some of the woodiness that it would have picked up in the last 2 years in the cask.  The last stop on the tour was to have a dram of the REAL stuff – 14 yr old Oban Whisky.  Fine Scotch!  My curiosity must have impressed the tour guide, as she allowed me and another tourist to sample some of the "distiller’s special" Whisky which is put into cognac casks for 8 mos after the 14 year regular casking.  It was a bit darker and had more of a full body to its flavour.  Nice.

Following the tour, we were ushered into the shop.. and it was time to spend.  And spend we did.  We bought a bottle of the "Distiller’s Special", which they don’t export,  for $90CAD.  When you consider that the regular Whisky goes for that price back home(and it was only 66CAD in Oban), I’d have to say it was a good deal. 

Having just broke the bank buying our Whisky, we walked around Oban a bit more to soak in the little town.  After 1/2 an hour of wandering we headed out and I checked the GPS for any heritage stuff near our route.  We were in luck – Dunstaffnage Castle wasn’t too far away.  We headed out to it to check it out.  It was a large castle ruins and it dominated the bay that it overlooked.  Well positioned as a castle.  We ended up buying a "Scottish Heritage" 3 day pass with the idea that we were likely to see more before we left the country.  The castle base was well preserved, and like many fortifications, it had parts that were added in the 19th century as well as its original foundations which dated back to the 15th century.  The castle also had the remains of a chapel nearby, but it wasn’t nearly as interesting as the castle.  There was a single memorial tomb for one person, but otherwise the walls of the chapel were just barely standing.

Now that we had our "Scottish Heritage" Explorer pass, we HAD to go visit another site.  The Bonawe Iron furnace was to be the second Heritage site for us!  We plugged it into the GPS and let it guide us there.  It all seemed pretty effortless until we got to a single lane which led down a path and straight to a BIG house.  Turns out that the house was the Bonawe Manor, and it had previously been the house belonging to the manager of the Iron Furnace.  After working out our own directions to finish the trip to the furnace, we got there and dutifully had our "Heritage passports" stamped.   The iron furnace was well documented and even though 200 odd years of non-use had taken its toll on some structures, others looked like they had been in use up until yesterday.  There was a numbered trail that took you through the process of charcoal making and storage all the way up to the blast furnace and the pig iron production.  The pig iron had, during the years of operation been shipped back down to England from whence came the original ore.  It was easier, and cheaper, to supply charcoal for the furnace up in Scotland than down in England.

Having visited the furnace we plugged Fort William back into our GPS and started following it.  We didn’t believe it.  "It must be taking us BACK to Oban."  "It must be wrong!"  I pulled an Eddie.  I refused to believe my Navigational equipment.  I went so far as telling it to plot a route via another way.  It STILL wanted to go the same way.  I drove the other way.    As I kept driving the other way it began to strike me that I had NEVER seen this part of the area before… oops.  Sheepishly turn around and listen to the GPS.  Eheh.  We figure out what happened when we get to the fork in the road that we took to get to the Iron  Furnace that we hadn’t noticed.  Ahah… it all made sense and, of course, our GPS was right.

We arrived back in Fort William in at about 1800 and got our new room number from reception.  We would be overlooking the Loch tonight.  We headed up to our room and found that indeed we were overlooking the Loch and we were facing WEST.  Hot, hot hot!  It had been sunny all day, and the sun had warmed the little room very well.   After arranging our belongings again, we went down to the bar to have a beer and then off for dinner.  We ate dinner at the restaurant above the Jacobite on High St.  I ALMOST ordered the Haggis, but just couldn’t bring myself to do it.  Mrs D and I both ordered 8oz sirloin steaks medium rare.  When they showed up one was so cooked it could have been shoe leather and the other was still mooing.  Well nobody had said the Scots were famous for their steaks.  Dinner was not particulary great.  We got back to our little room which had cooled a bit now that the window had been open for a while and passed right out at about 2100.  2300 I woke up and decided it might be a good idea if we were to change into our bed clothes :)  No blogging that night.  This one got written up the next night.


Europe 2008 (Manchester to Fort William) Day 6 – May 30

30 05 2008

We woke up at 0700 and had the usual artery clogging "Full English breakfast".  We got out of Sale around 0900.  First destination: Lancaster Castle.  I had heard it was a magnificent castle and being  in active use, it would be quite well kept.  Good old Tom Tom brought us there at about 1000, and surprisingly found parking relatively easily.  After walking around the castle looking for the entrance (which would have been about 200ft if we walked the OTHER way) we were greeted by a gentleman finely done up in a mourning coat as well as two constables.  We told them we’d like to visit the castle.

"Sorry.  Not this morning.", said the gentleman.

"Uhm… Why not?", said I.

"Today’s the day of the hanging of the shield of the High Sheriff"


He and one of the constables went on to explain what was happening.  Every year (3 years in advance) the Queen is given a list of candidates from which she is to choose who her representative in the county will be for a period of one year.  That happens at a ceremony called "The pricking".  Once chosen, the soon to be Sheriff gets to start saving up his/her money, as it will cost them about $80000CAD to hold the position (entertaining magistrates etc) for a position of one year.

We had arrived at the day of the handover of office.  As bad luck would have it, the constable explained, the last High Sheriff passed away on Tuesday of this week, so there was a bit of a damper on the occasion.  On this day though, there would be a short gathering at the castle, and then a small procession to the Lancaster Priory next to it.  We watched various guests arrive and  head to the church.  The women were done up in their best dresses and hats.  Very stylish!  The men were all stiff and proper, some with hats as well (one with a bowler!).  While we waited and got a bit more history his worship, the mayor of Lancaster arrived in all his finery.  The ceremonial mace came out and the glittered beautifully in the filtered late morning sun.  After a bit, there was a small procession of the mayor, the new Sheriff, and the district and regional magistrates with the mace toward the church.  We got some pictures of the procession.  They disappeared into the church and their entrance was heralded by trumpets.  The horns sounded magnificent reverberating off the stone walls of the church and then back again from the stone of the castle. 

A few moments after the trumpet fanfare had settled down, we found our way to the back of the church to participate in a bit of the ceremony (time dictated that wouldn’t be able to see the whole event :(   The ceremony in the church is a complete Anglican service and there is a blessing of the new Sheriff.  We stayed until after the Lord’s prayer had been completed as it was an opportune time to slip out without disturbing the service.  Wow!  how’s that for a trade off.  Instead of going into a castle and paying some unknown ransom to see what a bunch of dead people did, we got to see real live history, as it has been carried out for centuries at this very location.

We beetled out of Lancaster around 1130 and headed up, up and away towards Scotland.  The national heritage book we had with us indicated that there was a cool ruin of an Abbey (Shap Abbey) along the way so we went over to check it out.  We ended up going down some VERY narrow, single track roads that led us onto some farmer’s sheep field.  Uh Oh.  We could see the Abbey, but it didn’t seem very likely that we were going to be able to get anywhere near it :(  From the hillside among the sheep we took a few pictures. Both Tom Tom and Autoroute seemed to indicate that there was a road, but I didn’t fancy driving down a grassy, sheep poop filled hill only to find out that "You can’t get there from here".

The drive out was interesting since the Motorway doesn’t have a lot of entrances.  We wound along on some side road crossing over the Motorway probably about 5 or 6 times before we got to rejoin it.

It was getting on for time, and it was about 1500 when we hit Glasgow.  Another timing issue:  Friday afternoon and we were heading through town up to the highlands – where many other Glaswegians were heading as well!  The route "through" Glasgow consists of driving about 3/4 of the way AROUND Glasgow in a big counter-clockwise circle and then continuing up north.  It took about an hour or more to skirt Glasgow.  The road above Glasgow ran through some very lovely countryside and the mountains around us were getting craggier and craggier.  Interestingly, most of the mountains were covered in grass all the way to the top making them look like someone draped a green cloth over them.  Only the highest had snow.

The last 50 miles of road were a mix between beautiful driving in various glens and white knuckle turns around corners that didn’t seem to fit all of your vehicle in your assigned lane.  The speed limit was 60mph!  Oh. My. God.  Mrs D is sure that her expected lifespan is a bit shorter now.    The problem is that the road is cut into the hillside, right along the loch (Laggan?) and on the other side is the hill.  Not much room for width.  The locals have petitions to have the road improved.  Good idea!  When Mrs D wasn’t having her heart stop I made sure she took some pictures from the car.  The scenery is very dramatic.  I can imagine a highlander  walking through the marshy areas herding his livestock and fighting out an existence against the elements (think Braveheart).

We arrived in Fort William around 1800 and started looking for the "Inverlochy Villas" as it had sounded like a great idea when I tried to book it on the Internet.   Despite the fact that they didn’t get back to me, I thought we’d give it a whirl.  Well… wouldn’t you know it – we couldn’t find the place, and had no reference to find it.  Thank God for the BB.  I emailed back home and got the address and phone of the place.  Address:  "North Road".  No street number or crossing :(  We called the number – no answer.  Hmmm.  We decided to driver FURTHER North up the road, and finally found it!  We pulled in and went in to reception…. Nobody there..  Called out.  Someone answered back.  It turned out to be the tradesman in to do some work.  The owners whereabouts?  Unknown. 

With that hope quashed, we decided to head back down the road and look at what was available.  Many of the B&B’s and hotels had "No Vancancy".  Apparently there is to be a wheelchair climb of Ben Nevis, two cycling events, and something else.  All occurring in Fort William on OUR weekend!  We managed to get the LAST room at the West End Hotel.  It was a triple room, but the lady at reception offered to let us have it at the double rate of £70 instead of £85 for the triple.  Since it includes breakfast it ended up with a cost the same as the Amblehurst Inn in Sale.  Funny how things work.  We gave the lady a Canada Flag pin to thank her and she was quite appreciative.  Since Saturday night would have more rooms available, we wouldn’t be able to have the same room again without paying for the triple rate, we are planning to move on Saturday night.  Apparently we’re getting a room with a view of Loch Linhe!  Sweet.

Well – No Internet again tonight, so no actual posting… just another draft tonight.  Perhaps ONE day we’ll get more Internet time to get pictures up and more than just draft postings.

Tomorrow:  Oban and Inverlochy Castle!

Europe 2008 (Chester) Day 5 – May 29

29 05 2008

We left Sale at 0900 today and it was a short one hour drive down to Chester.  We drove around until we found some close parking.  Found it.  For three hours or more: 12 POUNDS!  Shelling out my CAD24, I  was now parked, and not about to move until we get bored with Chester.

We walked up the rows to the cathedral and went in.  We took a TONNE of pictures.  Can you believe it???? They LET you take pictures.  Admission to the cathedral was only about £4, and it came with an audio guide!!  The building was lovely and there was some great art throughout the cathedral.  I think I got some good pictures down the aisle and the audio did a great self guided tour. As with most churches, the inside of the cathedral was dark, but nothing that high ISO can’t get around.   There was a service happening in one of the chapels at 1145 so we left and headed down to "the cross".  At 1200 the the town crier (criess?) came out and called out some greetings to visitors and entertained the gathered crowds.  It was fun.

We walked over to the EastGate and decided to walk along the Chester wall.  What a long wall and correspondingly, a long walk :)  The tour of the wall did give some nice views and insights into the ancient Roman and Norman history of the town.  Very nice. 

We stopped in on a pub called the "Black inn" I think… founded in 1646.  On the second level of the rows and only about 6 foot 6 ceiling clearance to the beams.  Really got the feel of an old medieval pub.  Loved it.  Had some Samuel Smith’s Bitter for me and the lager for Mrs D.

We had seen enough by 1400 so we headed back to the little Astra and  left Chester.  We got back to hotel 1530ish  and then we grabbed our laundry and headed over to the launderette just a couple blocks away.   We started laundry and the lady that runs the place nearly talked our ears off.  Mrs D had a hard time with the Manchester accent.  Myself, I got about 2/3 of what she was saying 😉

With our laundry finished we were just in time to go visit Auntie Phyllis.  She turns 90 this year!  Her son Michael and his wife Elaine where also there with their son Neil.  It was a great  get together at a pub not far from Auntie Phyllis’ place, and after that we headed back to her place and chatted and socialized.  At 2130 we had to bid farewell to all as we were planning a long day driving up to Fort William in Scotland the next day.

When we got home, I found that my email about  internet problems of the night before had been answered by a tech and they had given me a free 24hr period to use the system.  SWEET.  Finally got some blog postings uploaded, and started on uploading the 4GB of photos to the home PC.

Perhaps during the evening in Scotland I’ll get some photos ready for uploading to fotothing.

It has ended up quite late, so It’s off to bed finally!

Europe 2008 (London to Manchester) Day 4 – May 28

28 05 2008

We woke up at 0730 this morning and had our last breakfast at the Holiday Inn.  It was nice that the they had mango pieces again.  Today was the day when I was going to have to learn how to drive on the "wrong" side of the road – on less than wide roads!  Liz came and got us at 0845 and we headed out to the National car rental in Chelmsford.  The car we picked up was a Vauxhall Asta 1.9 diesel.  It was an automatic.  There was no way that I was going to try to learn to drive on the left side of the road AND work on shifting with my left hand.

We headed out of Chelmsford and onto the M25 to get over to Chingford which is where Gilwell park is located.  For those of you not in the Scouting world, Gilwell is the home of Scouting, and the 1st Gilwell troop (which we joined when we completed our Woodbadge training).  It had started to rain pretty solidly and there were only a few breaks.  We saw some scouts that were camping for the week (as it was school break week) and having the usual joy that kids camping in the rain have.  We bought a couple of polo shirts and some badges to take home as souvenirs.

By the time we got down to Stonehenge we were into a full out downpour.   I swear I saw a smaller vehicle flowing DOWN hill against the way he was driving ;)  We wound our way out to the countryside and almost felt like we were going the wrong way had it not been for the GPS.  Well, we found it and it was WET.  We honestly thought about NOT going out.  We went up to pay and were convinced to buy a "Heritage England" 7-day pass which would get us into Heritage sites throughout the country.  We grabbed the free audio guide to take us along the route describing the building of the structure.  As we walked along in the downpour, it quickly became evident that we probably should have brought some kind of umbrella or at least some serious rain gear.  It rained so heavily that our audio guides went on strike and decided to stop :(  The upside to the heavy rain was the fact that the crowds were low.  This meant that we could get some photos of Stonehenge with it seeming to be standing solo WITHOUT the tourist appearance.  After we were thoroughly drenched we wrapped up our tour at the gift shop and acquired a souvenir  Stonehenge umbrella as it seemed that the rain would NEVER stop.

We drove down to Bath, through some tiny little towns.  As much as the roads were numbered as secondary roads, a more appropriate name for them might be small paved track! One of the challenges in driving on the left side of the road was that I have a habit of drifting left (probably to stay away from the oncoming traffic which felt too close) On these little paved tracks they call roads there were also cars parked here and there.  Between the narrow track and avoiding parked cars, while I was driving down I heard SMACK!  This sound, it turns out, was my passenger side mirror smoking a pole or tree or someshuch.  Ooops… Hello Visa Gold card insurance. Bath was a large town.  It was also rush hour.  We tried to find our way around but we only saw the royal crescent.  There was no way that either of us had the desire to get out of the car and "swim" around the streets. Too bad.  Perhaps if the weather had been nicer and it had been earlier in the day we could have walked around.

Bath to Manchester via M4-M5-M6.  We drove hard.  Certainly put the 1.9L Vauxhall wagon through its paces today.

We arrived in Sale at 2100 having stopped for a few rests along the way.  With heavy rain, it’s not much fun doing a driving tour :(  Perhaps a bit too ambitious to throw in Gilwell to our tour.

After passing it twice, we found our hotel. The Amblehurst Hotel is old but nice.  We got in and called Liz as well Aunt Phyllis as soon as possible.  (2130)  What a long day.  The hotel was simple but nice.  There was even WiFi!  After having had a some quick pub grub before the kitchen closed at 2200 we got settled into the room.  I went to sign up for the WiFi as it was only $8CAD/day!  The drawback to this whole system was that you had to purchase a credit before you could use the connection.  Of course to PAY, you had to hit the Mastercard secure site, which was blocked… Basically, if you had access, you could pay for access (chicken and egg scenario).  Sent an email to the support with the hope that they might fix it fairly soon.  Alas, no Internet for me again 😦

Tomorrow we’re off to Chester and then dinner with Auntie Phyllis and other family!

Sweet slumber… here I come!


Europe 2008 (London) Day 3 – May 27

27 05 2008

We knew that today we would go with a later start since we had to time our arrival down in London with the Changing of the guards at 1130.  Liz picked us up a little later this day.   We planned for an 0830 pickup but due to not setting an alarm (oops) we phoned her quickly upon wake up and asked her to delay to 0845.  After our usual heart attack breakfast we met Liz who was right on time.  She got us to the station at 0905 and insisted on making sure we were OK and off on the train.  Good thing.  It turns out the cheap fare begins at 0930 on weekdays and we were about 30 minutes early.  We headed over to her place to chat and have a coffee before going back for 0930.  By delaying our trip we saved £7.50 each for the travel card.  £11.50 instead of £19 

This time down on the train we get smart.  At Stratford station I realize that we can switch directly to the Jubilee line which would take us to Green Park.  We bumped and thumped along the tracks on the Jubilee line until the stop and headed aboveground.  The signage was quite clear and we easily made our way down to Buckingham Palace at 1045.  We didn’t really know where anything was going to happen so we settled into what appeared to be a good position along the entry road.   There was a lot of waiting and then a group of guardsmen come down the OTHER road and head into the palace grounds.  What??  Oh well.  We keep waiting and are rewarded by the next set of guards coming down OUR road and heading into the grounds.  We got some decent pictures of these guys.  Here’s the rub though.. .they weren’t dressed in black and red.  They were wearing white pants and tunic with a green "kilt-like" outfit overtop.  They were all obviously of some sort of East Asian or South Asian descent.  Where they the Gurkhas?  We met a nice couple from New Zealand and we helped each other get shots of what we could.  The ceremony itself was not visible due to the crowds up at the gates, but we got some good shots of the departing British Guard and the mounted riders.  We took some pictures of the Victoria monument and as we were doing so the sun started to come out.  Things were looking much brighter but still no blue sky.

From the Palace we headed down to Admiralty arch and saw the various memorials that were there.  There are some very creative ones.  The Austrialian memorial did a great job of using differing type weight on the list of names on the memorial to create the names of the locations of battles.   It really hit when you realized how many nations fought for or alongside Britain in its various military battles.

We got on the tube again and zipped down to London Bridge.  Oops… London Bridge is NOT the Tower Bridge.  We took a long walk and enjoyed the sight of City Hall  and stopped along the way for lunch at a pub.  We took a tour of the bridge and its history.  Quite the engineering marvel for its day.  From the bridge it was on to the Tower of London.  The tower, which is really a castle, was originally built back in the 12 century and even encompassed bits of the old Roman walls which had been built 100’s of years earlier.   It was interesting to read of the history of the various prisoners of the tower and what became of them.  The tour definitely confirmed my belief that politics hasn’t changed any since then.  The only difference is that now we have more media embarrassment for them rather than beheading or solitary confinement.   The truly cool part of the tour, of course, was the crown jewels.  Wow!  The actual coronation jewels and accoutrements were in a room with a moving beltway that kept you moving along.  I suppose in the summer this area must get pretty crazy.  From there we went on to see a wall of gold maces that had been used over the years by various monarchs.  The golden bowls, trophies and everything else helped you to understand why that area of the tower had a vault door that was about 12" thick.

Outside the crown jewel area was another one of these white/green Asian guards.  I asked one of the beefeaters who they were. 

"They’re Malaysian sir." , came back the reply.  "Different commonwealth countries supply the ceremonial guard for Buckingham Palace and here from time to time." 

"Thank you!".  There you have it…they were Malaysians.  This also helps to explain the various Malaysian soldiers I saw wandering about in casual fatigues near the palace and at the tower.

By now it was 1745 and they kicked us out of the tower complex as it was closing.  Good thing.  My feet were getting tired.  Time to tube it over to Westminster and shoot the OUTSIDE of Westminster Abbey, Big Ben and Parliment now that there was finally sun.   Being rush hour, we crammed into the tube and popped out of our sardine can when we arrived at Westminster.  We walked around the outside of the various buildings and snapped away.  It was nice not to have to dodge raindrops for a change.   By 1900 it had become quite a bit cooler and was starting to rain… Just in time… We headed back down to the tube with sore feet and still dry bodies 🙂

We went from Westminster to Green Park and then transferred onto the Jubilee line again to go home. We waited for our Jubilee train and the first one ended up so full that we couldn’t get on.  We waited some more.  The next train didn’t go to Stratford, and by the time the third one came by there was actually some room.  We squeezed in and began our homeward journey, content with having seen the key points of London.

We got back to Brentwood by 2030 and Liz met us at the train station.  After getting to her house she ordered up some Fish and Chips, and we all had a very pleasant dinner.  Liz, Aiden, the two girls (names escape me at the moment) and Mrs D and I.  It was a very pleasant night.  A nice finish to a good time in London.  We got back to our hotel, tired, at 2230.

We’re leaving tomorrow at 0830 to get the car and start our Odyssey by car.  What fun awaits for the Canadian driving on the Left?

We’ll find out tomorrow!

Europe 2008 (London) Day 2 – May 26

26 05 2008

We woke up at 0700 to the rhythmic sound of rain falling and wind blowing.  Not what you want to hear when you’re planning an outing in the city 😦

We had the hot buffet at  hotel, which is also known as the "Full English Breakfast"  I don’t know how more British people aren’t dead from cholesterol poisoning 😉

Back bacon, sausages, fried eggs, hash browns, toast, fruit, juice, baked beans, mushrooms.  Whew!  They even had diced mangos!  It was pretty tasty even though the bacon was a bit dry.

As arranged the night before, Liz was there to get us at 0830.  She shuttled us over to the train station and we picked up our "travel cards".  The total for the two of us came to £23.  It would let us travel on the trains/busses/tube all day.

We took the NEEA Train into Stratford and it was really simple to just walk across the platform to catch the Central line into London.  Total travel time about 60 minutes.  We got off at St. Paul’s Cathedral, as we had decided that it was INDOOR activities today due to the rain. 

£10 each to get into St. Pauls. $40 for two people! It was a very beautiful Cathedral with many memorials to military past. So many that it felt more like a military memorial than a church in many ways. In the Crypt was Lord Nelson’s and Florence Nightengale’s tomb. Kinda creepy thinking about all the corpses down in the crypt with you. We walked up the 434 steps all the way to the golden gallery (above stone gallery and whispering gallery)  and braved the wind and rain to get some pictures of the area.  We had timed it well.  We were out there when the bells rang 1100.  I’m still surprised I didn’t lose my Tilley hat in the rain!  From looking down the halls to the quire and up into the dome, I can see why Diana and Charles got married there.  Quite ornate, but not too cluttered in the center.

Once we got back down and dried off a bit, we figured we might as well head over to Westminster Abbey.  Back out and on the tube over to "Westminster".  The wind and rain was STILL blowing hard around us :(  Not much for outdoor shooting opportunities.  Westminster abbey also took us for £10/person.  I could see that this vacation was going to be pretty pricey!  The abbey was  VERY COOL, with VERY OLD stuff.  Tombs from 1066 and Edward the confessor(?)  It is a HUGE Abbey.  We saw the tomb of various Kings and Queens.  There was a beautiful side tomb for Mary Queen of Scots. As we left the abbey, Mrs D noticed a memorial plaque for BP and his wife.  Cool!

Both places allowed no photos, but I found if you set your ISO high enough and you knew where your camera pointed you could get a few 🙂

Continuing on our "indoor" tour we tubed down to Harrods (Knightsbridge) and walked through the store. OMG is it a  HUGE department store.  We started on the top floor and wandered around until we had seen the whole floor and then descended to the floor below and did the same.  After 2 floors, I had to admit to Mrs D that I was going to die if we didn’t stop soon.  It was 1600 and we seemed to have skipped lunch.

We went down to the basement for the food fair.  There was SO much variety.  We ended up just getting a couple of diet Cokes and went to the gift shop section.  A gift shop for a department store… HAH!

Also in the basement is a small memorial that Mr Al Fayed made for Diana and Dodi.  It was quite nice.  Obviously it’s always tough to lose a child.

By now it was about 1630 and we hadn’t eaten all day.  I needed food.  We decided to stop at a little Italian place in Knightsbridge and paid £23 for "afternoon tea"  2 SMALL sandwiches, 2 scones, tea for 2 and some light dessert. OUCH!  Mental note – STAY out of restaurants… OVERPRICED.

At 1730, we decided to head over to Soho to check it out.  What a lively area.   We got off the tube at Picadilly circus and watched firetrucks trying to get through the crowded cars..  Crazy!  We walked over to Soho and saw all the theatres as well as Chinatown.  I wonder how good their chinese food actually is.  We walked around the area and ended up at Leicester Square, which left me humming "It’s a long way to Tipperary" ;)  Around 1900, I told Mrs D. that I wanted to sit and have a  pint in an English pub.  It was something that I wanted to do.  We settled on the "Crooked Surgeon" and had a couple of pints and shared a plate of fish and chips.  much more reasonable prices!

I had "London Pride" and "Bombardier" bitters.  I much prefferred the London Pride.

We wrapped things up at the pub at 2045 and tubed/trained our way home.  We took a taxi from train station and we got back to the hotel at 2200.  Long day!  Tomorrow we don’t start going until 0900 to try to avoid the rush hour.  Weatherman says "No Rain" for tomorrow.  I hope so!

Sorry – still no pics.  They WILL come.. I promise.  We’ve taken a tonne of them!

Europe 2008 (Vancouver-London) Days 0-1 May 24-25

25 05 2008

We finally got around to starting our vacation!

We left home today/yesterday at 1430.  Thank you Anne for driving us!!!  Check in was uneventful and we made it smoothly to our secure area by 1545.  Lots of time to kill so we shopped for a few souvenirs to bring friends over in the UK.

They boarded us at 1710 instead of 1700 and we got underway only 5minutes late.    The flight was odd.  They didn’t turn down the lights until we had only about 3 hours short of Heathrow.  Not exactly great sleeping conditions.  Turns out there had been a medical issue on the plane, and that was most likely the reason for the long “lights on” period.

At around 0500 UK time, we looked out our widow and saw the ice floes of the North.  Just after that they put up the “you are here” map on the screen between movies.  Apparently we were at 65.04 N  82.26 W  Within the next hour or so we also saw the sun rise over the clouds on the ocean. It was lovely.  Intense reds in the sunrise.  After all that I finally got a bit of shut eye.

I was surprised at how easily you go through customs and immigration at Heathrow.  We handed a card to an officer who stamped our passports and checked our little “immigration cards” and that was it.  No interrogation at customs or anything.  Seems like it might be a uniquely Canadian and American thing.  😦

After clearing immigration, the next challenge was to find Liz who was meeting us there.  I hadn’t seen Liz for about 16 years and that was only for a short bit.  We walked out and started looking wide eyed at all the people that were waiting for folks from the plane.  Suddenly a little lady stepped forward and I said “Liz?”

“Yes”, she said.

It turned out not to be too hard.  We checked out of the parkade and Liz drove us off to Brentwood via the core of London.  Wow… busy, and on a Sunday at that!  We had the scenic whirlwind tour. Houses of Parliment, Big Ben, Westminster Abbey, St Paul’s, Buckingham Palace, the Mall, the Eye, the tower Bridge.  Whew!    We took a few pictures from the car, but it was beginning to rain.  I don’t think they turned out that well.

We then got out the the ring road –  the M25 a and out to Brentwood, where we checked into the Holiday Inn.

The Holiday Inn was a reasonable place, but small halls and smoky smell to the halls.  It was VERY busy. Of course with Monday being the Bank Holiday so many people were on vacation.  The bed was quite soft, and the room was quite basic.  We flopped into our beds and had a 3-4 hour nap.

We went down to the restaurant for “snack-dinner”, since we really hadn’t eaten anything since about 1000 on the plane. The restaurant had a set dinner… cost was 20 pounds/per person.. ouch… We ate at the bar instead.

At the bar, Irene ordered Fish and Chips, while I had a Lasagna: £18.95!  Ouch.

After that Liz came over to get us and we went over to her place where we met Aiden, her husband, and  Richard, and Jessie.   What a lovely place!  Beautiful yard and garden in the back.  Typical quaint British home!  We enjoyed a nice drink with them and chatted about our plans for tomorrow.

Well we got back to our room at the hotel around 2230.  We figured it was a good time to call home and let people know that we’re all OK.  Irene went to call home.  No go… If you don’t have a credit card on record with the hotel you can’t make LD calls from your room.  Down to the desk at 2300 and dealt with that.  Apparently the Internet booking had been “pre-pay” so they didn’t have anything on file at the hotel.  Fixed. We appear to be finally settled into this VERY expensive country.  For Internet they want $24/hour at the kiosk.  OUCH!  Sigh.  Maybe the room will be cheaper.

Tomorrow  we take the train into London and sightseeing – too bad they forecast rain 😦


(pics etc will come later.  Sorry – this is getting published 5 days later due to Internet connection problems to date 😦 )

New Lens!

20 05 2008

We got the 100-400L the other day…. I LOVE it.  If you are thinking about it… stop thinking and start saving!  Sharp… Lovely.  Obviously if you have the 400 F/4 you might not need it, but we mere mortals are VERY happy with this lens.

Here are some shots.  (For real detail, see the full sized photos by clicking on the images below:

Mr Wood Duck – cruising:

Mrs Wood Duck – cruising:

Mallard Ducklings

Long Billed Dowitchers in flight

Male Cowbird doing a bit of posing

Male Towhee WAY up in a tree

Song Sparrow

Canada Goose Airing out his/her wings. I love the feather detail in this.

Canada Goose – Up Close and personal

Another new bird!

13 05 2008

Last night, I was just sitting around watching the Red Wings (the Hockey team – not the bird) beat Dallas when out the window appears a first time bird for me. It was large..certainly larger than the Chickadees and Sparrows; about the size of a crow.

"Quick dear! Grab the camera!!", I call/whisper.

Slowly I get the camera up to the glass of the door and I squeeze off a few shots, cursing the late evening light. As I open the door ever so slowly the bird freezes and then flies off. Gone.

I run upstairs to the PC, download the shots and process them. I check out my bird book… It turns out that I saw a Band Tailed Pigeon. Definitely prettier than the rock pigeons we always see.

Here he is with a bit of noise… Like I said it was darker than I would have liked:

Shot with the Canon 40D and 100-300mm 4.5-5.6 lens.

Some new birds!

13 05 2008

Thursday, I was down at Burnaby Lake after dinner with Mrs. D.  It was pretty late and the little sparrows were out and singing, the blackbirds were settling down and there were a lot less ducks and geese than during the early evening times.  Surprisingly, I saw a duck that I could swear was a mandarin duck.  Mrs. D saw it too, but doesn’t know her ducks well enough to confirm.  This would have been my first ever sighting of one of these lovely birds.  No camera… no picture.

Well, I wasn’t going to let that stop me.  On Friday, as soon as I got home I zipped down to the lake again with the hope of seeing my Mandarin again.  There he was!  He was even hopping up on the shore to eat some seeds!! Excitement.  Get the camera, shoot a few pics! Got him!  Here he is:

I also finally managed a Red Winged Blackbird in flight:

This little Savannah sparrow was a first time for me too:

This male cowbird was kind enough to pose for me and give me that nice creamy bokeh for a background:


Of course the bird scenery is dominated by goslings and ducklings now, so here are some shots of Geese and Goslings:

Mom is never far behind:

Looking after the little ones can be pretty tiring:

All that sitting and sleeping… Naturally a bird’s gotta stretch:

I happened to turn around from my stretching goose to catch this squadron coming in for a landing to roost for the evening:

Then we have the "Gene Simmons Fan Club":


Spring is SUCH a great time to get out and take pictures.  Everything is starting fresh and growing up!

All pictures taken with the Canon 40D and the 100-300mm 4.5-5.6 lens.

Camp Log from 40th Marpole Galiano Island Scout Bike Camp

6 05 2008

Back after we finished camp, I promised I’d get a log posted.

This is the log of the camp as written by one of our 11 year old Scouts:

This bike camp is fun. I had a lot of fun with my bike.  We went uphill and downhill.  Even though the uphills were hard it was still good excercise.  The downhill riding was very exciting.  I like going down hills you can go very fast.

Bike camp is fun.  We made a campfire that I also really enjoyed.  We sat around the fire and sang songs and played.  I really enjoyed looking at the stars in the sky at night.  The stars are beautiful.  The hike on Sunday was good.  I learned a lot and saw old rocks that can easily break.  It was very cool.  There were little crabs under the rocks that were very interesting and funny to watch as they scurried around.  The seas and the beaches were beautiful.  The beach isn’t made of sand at all, but rather millions of cracked shells.  The path along the hike was very hard to walk on at some places, but I liked it.

I really enjoyed this bike camp, even though it was short.  It was my first time to go to camp on my bike.  I was surprised how hard the uphills were and how exciting the downhills were. I will definitely go to the next biking camp because I love it.

What the HELL is some Project Manager at MS thinking????

2 05 2008

Count me as NOT impressed!

I’ve talked about Foldershare before and mentioned how good it is.

That just changed.   MS have forced an "upgrade" to a new version.  Win2K NOT supported 😦

Well shucks – great way to kill off a product guys.

There is so little code that should require XP only… Come on, this is ridiculous.

Apparently I’ve got to go look into some nice little open source tool called Unison

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