Category Archives: Travel

Driving in Scotland

Edradour Distillery in Pitlochry, Scotland

Kathy & I seem to enjoy planning vacations almost as much as we enjoy going on them.  There is something about doing the research and learning about a new place that gets us excited for the journey itself.  I know we drive our travel agent crazy (sorry, Robin!) because while she is an expert on all the places we go and has lots of good recommendations, we almost always end up telling her what we want to do instead of relying on her expert advice.  What happens is that by the time we have done our research we have ended with our own preferences, so even though her recommendations might be as good as, or probably better than, our own choices, our confirmation bias gets in the way of her good advice.  That sort of happened to us with Scotland.

Our visit to The Falkirk Wheel in Falkirk, Scotland
Our visit to The Kelpies at The Helix Park in Falkirk

When we decided to visit Scotland, we were torn between taking a group tour or doing the planning and driving ourselves.  There were a number of group tours, but our impression was that the big groups were way too big on huge busses, the small groups were really expensive, and that none of them went where we wanted to go.  We always prefer to set our own agenda when possible, so none of those sounded like viable options.  Some people might suggest that it’s a control thing and I suppose that’s true to a degree, but I think that we just like to do things our way.  I guess that’s the same thing, isn’t it?  We did learn later on that there were probably some ways to do smaller group tours that might have been more to our liking, but we had already made up our minds and didn’t want to be confused with facts!  So we relied on our travel agent to make the air, Edinburgh hotel and rental car arrangements, and we did the rest.  I think it turned out to be a good solution for us, even though there were many other solutions that might have been just as suitable.

Urquart Castle from our cruise on Loch Ness about the Jacobite Queen
View along the A87 between Kyle of Localsh and Sligachan, Scotland
Talisker Distillery in Carbost, Isle of Skye, Scotland

A lot of the places we visited are places that tours often visit, such as distilleries and castles.  A few of the places are not going to be on a tour bus agenda, however.  Quite a number of places were along or at the end of a long single track road, certainly not suitable for large busses.  We spent a lot of time on those narrow roads and got pretty good at knowing when to stop and wait or to tell when the other guy was waiting.  That system worked pretty well over there, but the drivers in Scotland have a lot more patience and courtesy than we see over here!  Also, we drove past some beautiful countryside where there simply wasn’t a safe place to stop, regardless of vehicle.  So in those cases we just have to picture the scenes in our memories, as we weren’t able to make photographs.

The Balmoral Hotel in Edinburgh
Greyfriar’s Kirk and Greyfriar’s Kirkyard church and graveyard in Edinburgh

Driving in Scotland wasn’t too hard for me.  I’m ambidextrous, and when I thought about it ahead of time, I was pretty sure that driving on the left side of the road in a right-hand drive car would be like “driving in the mirror.” For the most part that was correct.  The roundabouts were sometimes tricky, especially at first, and they have a lot of roundabouts in Scotland.  The ones with multiple lanes could be especially vexing, and some of the towns could be a little tricky to navigate.  But Kathy is a good and experienced navigator, and with the help of Google Maps we drove over 1000 miles and only took a few wrong turns.  I will admit that having all of the signs in a language I can read helped a lot, so for any future trips to non-English speaking countries I’m inclined to let someone else drive!

Our cruise on Loch Katrine aboard the steamship Sir Walter Scott
Our cruise on Loch Lomond aboard the Lomond Princess

Around Edinburgh

Street performers at the Fringe Festival in Edinburgh

Some of the sights from the streets of Edinburgh.

Street performers at the Fringe Festival in Edinburgh
Spectators enjoying Guitarist “Adam Kadabara” performing during the Fringe Festival in Edinburgh
Spectators enjoying Guitarist “Adam Kadabara” performing during the Fringe Festival in Edinburgh
The Royal Mile in Edinburgh during the Fringe Festival
Street performers at the Fringe Festival in Edinburgh
Street performers at the Fringe Festival in Edinburgh
Street performers at the Fringe Festival in Edinburgh
Street performers at the Fringe Festival in Edinburgh
Street performers at the Fringe Festival in Edinburgh
Scene from around Edinburgh
Apple Store in Edinburgh
Scene from around Edinburgh
Scene from around Edinburgh
Waverly Train Station in downtown Edinburgh

Bagpipes, Castles, Whisky and Lochs (Oh, My!)

Royal Cottage on the shore of Loch Katrine from aboard the steamship Sir Walter Scott

Here is a short summary of our recent Scotland adventure for anyone who may be interested in a synopsis of our trip.

Eilean Donan Castle, Dornie, Kyle of Lochalsh, Scotland

We flew to Edinburgh from Charlotte via Heathrow, then spent 4 nights in Edinburgh, exploring the city and attending the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo.  The Tattoo was the main reason we went to Scotland in the first place, and it completely lived up to our expectations.  During the time we were in Edinburgh, the International Festival and the Fringe Festival were taking place, which made for a lot of crowds, but some interesting sights and sounds.  We did our best to participate!  Besides spending lots of time walking around, we did a bus tour of the city, toured the Royal Yacht Britannia and Edinburgh Castle, ate (and drank) in a number of pubs and restaurants, and generally absorbed the atmosphere of the place.  It was quite the spectacle!

The Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo at Edinburgh Castle

After our 4 nights in Edinburgh, we rented a car (yes, I drove!) and set off into the countryside in search of sights and experiences.  We stayed at inns in Pitlochry, Inverness, Portree and Luss.  We visited The Falkirk Wheel and the Kelpies, toured 4 distilleries and a cooperage, drank some whisky, drank some beer, toured castles, drove some narrow single-track roads and saw some incredible scenery.  A lot of the scenery was in places where it wasn’t safe to stop the car, so I had to make do with making the best photos I could where I was able to stop!  We took boat cruises on Loch Ness, Loch Lomond and Loch Katrine and visited a couple of lighthouses.  Once it was all done we were back in Edinburgh for one last night before returning to Charlotte via New York JFK.  Flights were all on time, the trip was comfortable and the airline food was surprisingly good.  I must say that 8 hours is a long time to be on an airplane!

The Tarbat Ness Lighthouse on the Dornock Firth near Wilkhaven, Scotland

I’ll continue to post photos and narratives to detail some of the individual highlights of our trip.  Overall it was an incredible vacation, but it was also a lot of work for both of us. Our next vacation, someone else may need to do the driving and navigating!

Our visit to the Glenmorangie Distillery in Tain, Scotland
Scene from around Edinburgh

A Little International Flavor

Ogon’ki Ensemble from Russia performing at the Mountain Street Dance in downtown Waynesville NC

An annual event in Waynesville, NC is the Folkmoot Festival that takes place at the end of July.  We typically get to Waynesville during the month of July, but for all our trips there we had never made it to the Folkmoot Festival or anything that had to do with it.  This year, while planning our July visit I happened to notice that some of the performers would be participating in the annual Street Dance in downtown on Friday night, and that the Parade of Nations on Saturday would be right down Main Street  That was too easy to pass up, so we went.

Ogon’ki Ensemble from Russia performing at the Mountain Street Dance in downtown Waynesville NC
Ogon’ki Ensemble from Russia performing at the Mountain Street Dance in downtown Waynesville NC

At Friday’s Street Dance, the Ogon’ki Ensemble from Russia (Siberia) were featured.  They put on a great show with several groups of performers.  These photos are from that performance.  I also got some photos from the parade the following day, but those will need to wait for another post!

Ogon’ki Ensemble from Russia performing at the Mountain Street Dance in downtown Waynesville NC
Ogon’ki Ensemble from Russia performing at the Mountain Street Dance in downtown Waynesville NC
Ogon’ki Ensemble from Russia performing at the Mountain Street Dance in downtown Waynesville NC
Ogon’ki Ensemble from Russia performing at the Mountain Street Dance in downtown Waynesville NC

A Folder Full of Phone Photos

Aboard the ferry from Swan Quarter to Ocracoke, North Carolina

Got a bit behind (again) but catching up.

Kathy & I spent some time at the NC coast in early July, visiting Belhaven, Washington and Ocracoke.  While I took my camera with me, it seemed like whenever I saw something interesting all I had with me was my phone.  Out of a total of 93 photos, 77 were taken with my phone and only 16 with my camera.  These are all from my phone.

Aboard the ferry from Swan Quarter to Ocracoke, North Carolina
Aboard the ferry from Swan Quarter to Ocracoke, North Carolina
Aboard the ferry from Swan Quarter to Ocracoke, North Carolina
Coiled rope on the dock in Washington, North Carolina
New wood on the dock in Washington, North Carolina
Shadows along Water Street in Belhaven, North Carolina
Shadows along Water Street in Belhaven, North Carolina

A Visit to Jamaica – Ya, Mon!

Sunset at the Sunset Gazebo. Half Moon Resort, Montego Bay, Jamaica

I haven’t been terribly motivated to process photos lately but forced myself to get a few done for this post.  It’s a tough job and no one is going to do it but me! 🙂

Open air bar at Half Moon Resort, Montego Bay, Jamaica

Kathy & I spent the Memorial Day weekend at Half Moon, a resort in Montego Bay, Jamaica.  Quiet and laid back, Half Moon was just the answer to a hectic spring and early summer.  I went with  only my lowly Olympus point & shoot, but still managed to come home with a few photos.

Not a bad view to wake up to. View from our villa at Half Moon Resort, Montego Bay, Jamaica
You almost don’t need coffee in the morning with a view like this! View from our villa at Half Moon Resort, Montego Bay, Jamaica
Shadows on the patio of our villa at Half Moon Resort, Montego Bay, Jamaica
Front of our relatively modest villa (compared to some!). Half Moon Resort, Montego Bay, Jamaica
Low Beam – as in Watch Your Head! Half Moon Resort, Montego Bay, Jamaica
Path to the beach and villas. Half Moon Resort, Montego Bay, Jamaica
Not our villa, but typical of many of the residences at Half Moon Resort, Montego Bay, Jamaica
Not our villa, but typical of many of the residences at Half Moon Resort, Montego Bay, Jamaica

Full Pond

Lake Lure, North Carolina

Kathy & I had occasion to pass through Lake Lure, NC this past weekend.  I was interested to see that the lake levels and the supply of resident boats have returned.  Some may recall an earlier post in January where the lake levels were lower for the winter. It looks like things are ready for spring at Lake Lure!

Lake Lure, North Carolina
Lake Lure, North Carolina

Time Management

Blackbeard’s Castle in St. Thomas USVI

A very interesting phenomenon happens this time of year in the corporate world, as people try to use up their “carryover” vacation time – time that they weren’t able to use in the previous year when it was allocated.  Most of us get a set allotment of Paid Time Off (“PTO”) each year, and it usually must cover any reason that a person needs to take off, such as vacation, illness, parent-teacher conferences, etc.  In some cases, employers allow unused vacation time to be “carried over” into the next year, and it usually needs to be used by a certain date or it is forfeited.  In my company, that “use it or lose it” date is March 15.

Colorful building in New Smyrna Beach Florida

Kathy & I tend to think of carryover PTO in the same way we think about leftover wine or saving for our kids’ inheritance.  “Why would we do that?” 😉 We use every day our employers give us and would gladly take more if we could, whether paid or unpaid.  And we never have any trouble using it.  The trouble comes when we have to strategize over how to get our travel done in the time we’re allotted.  We’re always coming up short!

Blackbeard’s Castle in St. Thomas USVI
Wandering the streets of St Thomas, USVI

The “phenomenon” I spoke of is that all those people who couldn’t figure out how to use their PTO time during last year are suddenly inspired to use it all up in the first few months of this year.  We’ve got people taking off Fridays and Mondays in January, February and part of March, and a few of them actually manage to take whole weeks off.  In some cases these are the same people who managed to be off for two whole weeks at the end of the year just to get their carryover “down” to the amount that they could actually carry over.  I’ve offered to help people with travel planning but for some reason no one ever takes me up on it! 🙂

Lifeguard station in New Smyrna Beach, Florida

The downside for me is that I often end up being asked to cover for the people who are off.  And since managers are generally among the people who are impacted, the usual limits on the number of people who can be off at any one time are largely waived.  And we’re generally busier this time of year than we are in other parts of the year, so there is more work to do then there is, say, over the Christmas holiday.  But for the most part I don’t mind, because I always feel like I’ve gotten the most out of my time when I’ve taken it.  And I certainly wouldn’t want to be off over the Christmas & New Year holidays – it’s a lousy time to travel, you can’t go anywhere because everyone who is off work is out shopping, and then I wouldn’t have that time to use when I want it!

Wandering the streets of St Thomas, USVI

Now I don’t intend to make fun of or condemn people for this.  In a number of cases there are good reasons and it is completely justified, as in they have to save days for child care, their personal situations (money, health, caring for another, etc.) require that they hold back time or other reasons.  The sad thing is that a lot of people don’t actually manage to do anything with their time off.  They just do whatever it is they usually do on a weekend, they just do it longer.  Maybe I just don’t get it, but like with a lot of things I just like my way better.  And as long as other peoples’ way works for them, it’s nothing for me to get worked up over.  But I do admit to a certain amount of smug satisfaction when I sit at my desk in March and think about all the fun things I’m going to do with my own PTO.  And I have plenty of work to do so the time goes faster!

Wandering the streets of St Thomas, USVI
Blackbeard’s Castle in St. Thomas USVI