Over the pond and far away..Day 6

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Sydney ?…….. where’s that?

I think it was true to say that both of us were getting slightly concerned that, yet again, we were eating slightly more than our bodies required, so decided that a light breakfast of cereal and yogurt would suffice. We had made , however, a major tactical error…..we were sitting within smelling distance of the waffle-making department. Many things I can resist but not waffles, especially with fruit, and so I have no excuse. Lady of the House can make her own excuses. But I not going to lose any sleep over it……in any case it was a rather miserable grey, cloudy morning and we needed a bit of colour in our lives.

When I originally looked-up Sydney in my little Berlitz book of Canada, it got no mention, and a brief look on Google only told me about a very large violin situated at the port, (Spirit of the Fiddle) which you see pictured above. OK, at least that was something…..but what else? We could have gone on a tour about coal-mining or re-lived history at the Fortress of Louisbourg, but neither appealed…

However, after a fairly-long tender journey we landed in light rain, to a neat harbour, including a pleasant-looking restaurant, and a memorial to those immigrants who came to settle in the area….maybe an example to us all to recognise the part that immigrants can play in the development of a country.

It seemed a pleasant area, and impressed as we were with the architecture, and the lovely gardens, we decided that a perambulation through the houses were about as much as we could expect from this little town.

……Loved the little seat inviting passers-by to take a rest, and I never discovered who the chap in the red coat and tricorn hat is….maybe a ghost from years gone by?

It was then that we came upon the oldest building in Sydney. Built in 1785, St George’s Anglican Church was open with lights on…so in we went. My eyes lit on the little organ, and it did not take much prompting from anyone to get me to have a little play. Whilst experimenting with the stops, and trying out some hymns, a number of people started to come in from outside (maybe they were just coming out of the rain!), and it was suggested that I could come back in to give a recital and attract more people in! Then a gentleman came up and handed me a handful of Canadian dollars…..he may have thought I was the organist! Oh well, more for the church funds! They were very loyal to the Crown, and the Queen Mother had visited some long time ago.

As if that wasn’t interesting enough, we came upon a Hearing Aid Centre (which was my profession!), so we went in and chatted with the Audiologist. Enquiring as to which manufacturer she uses most and it turned out that it was the company for which I was UK Sales Manager for nearly 10 years!

….and finally, we sat on the Tender back to the ship, with a woman who turned-out to be a speech pathologist, and many professional comments were exchanged. So, after all, a day which we thought might have been unexciting, turned out memorable, and the rest of the day on the ship paled into insignificance……. so the lesson is…… CARPE DIEM

Over the pond and far away..Day 7

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Halifax, Nova Scotia ………and friends!

This town is one of the large number of places in this area which reflect back to the home-lands of many of the immigrants who have been involved in its historical, and present, life. If you just look around your atlas you will recognise so many names (at least if you are from the UK).in fact Dartmouth was just across the water, by ferry, as we later saw.

A few special things we were told we should see were to be the Citadel, the Titanic Cemetery where many of those who lost their lives, rest together, the Waterfront, and if time permitted, Point Pleasant Park………..

[However….last year, on a family Adriatic cruise, we had met a lovely Canadian couple, Norman and  Jennifer. To say that they were outgoing would be an understatement…it fact, they were ideal friends during the cruise, and we thoroughly enjoyed their company. We didn’t know exactly where they lived but we knew it was somewhere around there.]

So when Lady of the House decided last year which cruise this was to be, I felt it would be worthwhile contacting these good people to ask what we should see in the area. When they heard that Halifax was one of the included ports, they immediately suggested that they could pick us up at the ship and show us the local sights….so what could be better?

We felt a bit like executives being met, with our name on a signboard….as if we could miss these good people! I am tempted to post a photo from last year’s cruise , of Norman with a bra on….but I promised faithfully not to!

So we were getting a drive-round guided tour, and a number of my photos would have to be taken from the car.It would not have been easily-possible in the UK, with the stop/start rather erratic driving style which we use, but as I said earlier, drivers seem are much more sympathetic to road conditions and pedestrians so it was not as difficult as I expected.

[What I still find strange, wandering round the world, is that most other people and places are just like us! There is a certain ‘universality’ at play, which is not really surprising, I suppose, with instant communication, social media, and the wonderful Google Earth….we all find out about things at the same time. This would not have been possible 100 years ago when we would have heard of myths from far-away lands, and large chunks of the atlas would be marked…‘HERE THERE BE DRAGONS’]

Halifax’s natural harbour is one of the world’s largest, and was developed by the British in the mid-18th Century as a garrison, before becoming a base for fishermen. An obvious haven for pirates, it is believed that Samuel Cunard founded his transatlantic shipping line, based on this….but please do not quote me! The wide, clean, tree-lined roads were a pleasure to be on as we moved around at a leisurely pace….

We headed northwest of the town, to the Fairview Lawn Cemetery where we saw the dignity and respect with which this area and many of those who perished in the Titanic disaster, is tended. It was here I captured my favourite shot of the holiday, a blue jay, peeping round a tree looking at a gravestone from an earlier era.

After a few moments reflection, we moved towards the Citadel, seeing more lovely  buildings, and a warning sign which might be useful in our country..

The Citadel (the star-shape is only evident from above) was built in the year that Halifax was founded by Great Britain,in 1749, and occupied an elevated position, which would present us with a wonderful view over the city and harbour. A cannon-shot has been fired every day at noon since the 1850’s. You may also note the French text is still in evidence.

So many other visual memories of Halifax, including the Public Park, could be recorded, but the following are the main ones before we headed off for lunch…

A ferry took us over to Dartmouth…and one on-board photo showed how much fun we had…P1080094.JPG

The Harbour and the Wooden Monkey restaurant were certainly worth a photo as were the drinks….the nearest they had to Guinness….

I must be frank, folks, and admit that I have not yet come to terms with their chips……but the fish cakes, rice and salad were excellent! On the way back to the ship I had the chance to get some more shots of this great area..

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And this was our final photo taken with our lovely friends, Norman and Jennifer. Hopefully we can return the favour, some day, in Auld Scotia….

P.S.as a matter of record, it was taken by a young couple, who was looking for the Titanic Graveyard, and who were then taken there by our friends, to save them hunting for it….how wonderfully-typical.

Symbolically, we were sent on our way by a piper (Scottish or Canadian), as we left Canada for the last time, and headed towards the Grand Old U.S. of A.

Over the pond, and far away……Day 3

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Quebec…….Day 3

I vaguely remember something in History and Geography about Quebec, but I am afraid, for my teachers’ sakes, that I remembered almost nothing! I had no real concept about what it was like, and it very-quickly became evident that we were not to be disappointed. A quick look at a town map showed an old part (Vieux-Quebec), and a market (Marche Chamlain), two features which add enchantment to almost any city.

…….but I’m getting ahead of myself. You see I am very fond of my food, and especially breakfast, lunch, and dinner! The quality of food on the Holland-America line is of a high standard and as a self treat we had the following little morsel on the first morning, after which we were ready to face the day.

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I had contacted some French speakers about whether my normal French would be understood in Quebec, and as assured that there should be no major problem, and so it was. We had a Shuttle bus which took us to the centre of this lovely city. We walked on up to one of the gates of the Citadel where numerous carriages were taking visitors on a tour. Ignoring them totally, we walked along the walls on a lovely day.

I took so many photos here, as every corner was just a new riot of colour and exquisite taste, and these are only a small selection This was probably the highlight of the cruise, and yet again, we were blown-away by the cleanliness. It could be compared in many ways with Luxembourg, or Monaco, in its beauty. One thing especially was the depiction of some of the town’s activities in 3D, but on a flat wall….see the last two photos. It really was amazing how well this had been achieved, even from close-up.

I had also mentioned the Old Market, and this was approached from a large board-walk down the funicular railway to a couple of crowded streets, full of lovely shops and cafes….well worth another visit. The only downside was that we did not have time to visit the modern town. Although maybe we should retain the memories we have. I suppose that it is a bit like Venice….having seen the old town, the modern bustling industrialised adjunct somehow seems to take away the charm…..so best left alone.

Tomorrow was to be cruising the St Lawrence, so I will take the chance to show you some of the folk we met and a little more about the ship. …….Night, night for now…

Over the pond, and far away…..Day 1

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Glasgow to Montreal ……….

Some five years ago, Lady and I, on retirement, traversed the north Atlantic, and the North American Continent to see Calgary, Banff, Jasper, the Rocky Mountaineer, Kamloops, yet more Rocky Mountaineer, and finally the fair city of Vancouver, before embarking on  a cruise into Alaska.

It was a momentous journey for me, as I am not a great lover of sitting in a metal tube for many hours at a stretch, either in the air, or on a rail line. Much as I loved it in retrospect, I was pleased that we had returned unscathed, and vowed that ‘That is That!’.

Lady is not so easily put-off, and expressed a gentle (but insistent) wish that ‘Boston in the Fall’ might be worth a view. As any man knows, this indicates that cerebral plans are already well-established, if not completed, in the Lady’s mind and that further discussion is meaningless……IT WILL HAPPEN….

This was all in August 2015, and when our Travel Agent was approached, I knew that all struggling was futile. Dates, times, hotels, cruise itinerary, were all established, as I saw a dwindling bank balance being replaced by increasing paperwork in a folder. Weather forecasts all along the way were viewed anxiously, so that it could be established what clothes I would require, to have washed, ironed, unworn, and sitting beside an open suitcase some weeks before departure. I had no inverse opinion requested about Lady’s clothes!

And thus it was that just a couple of weeks ago, accompanied by the massive amount of paperwork demanded by the so-called ‘paperless society’, we set-off for our flight from Glasgow to London. Weather and flight were pleasant and great views of London convinced us that we were lucky to live to the north of Glasgow with a view of the lovely Campsie Fells……all was looking good…..

Our Heathrow transfer was painless and our 7 hour BA flight to Montreal uneventful…… even some sleep was possible after a pleasant meal. As a bonus, the Canadian Customs Officers at Montreal were courteous, and the airport coach took us to a couple of hundred yards from our hotel. So we set off happily walking and chatting in the late evening …….but everything had been going too swimmingly….!

There is something about a foreign city at night…….it doesn’t look at all like it does in Google Street! We had just missed a turning, but, hey, there were a few police standing together, and we could ask them. It turned out that they were there because of the presence of the Chinese president! We chatted briefly and then asked for confirmation of where our hotel was ….well you know what they say…..policemen know everything. We set off again on our way happy that we would be soon tucked up in bed…..

The receptionist was mystified, and justifiably so, as she had no record of us. Showing her the booking confirmed that the police were wrong. It was NOT our hotel, although is sounded similar (probably my Irish/Scottish French!).

OK, so we now had the correct directions to our correct hotel and we DID arrive, checked the name over the door, and met ANOTHER mystified Receptionist…..’Sorry, Mr Monroe, no record of you’…..’Can you give us a bed and we can sort it in the morning?’……..’Of course, De Luxe OK?’…..’Anything!!’…..’Sleep well’……..

Three am saw me on my phone to our Travel Agent (the 5 hour time change permitted that) who reassured me that they would be working on this for me, and slumber eventually overcame tiredness from a very long day, annoyance, anxiety, and the question….. what can happen next?

For that you will just have to wait……

 

 

 

 

 

Keep right on to the end of the road…….

I don’t know about you, but I have a fascination with dead-end roads, especially in the countryside. In some ways the sign we use can be a bit disappointing, or even intimidating….’Not worth going down this road’…’There’s nothing to see’…….. ……’Better to turn round while you 7559_signs[1]have the chance’……you know what I mean.

However there usually is something to see…a beach, a loch, a little pier, a house, an old church, and often they have a lovely view. Someone obviously thought that it was worthwhile building and maintaining a road for good reason.

And so it was that yesterday, along with two of the ladies in my life, we set off for one of the loveliest dead-end roads in the west of Scotland. Skirting the historic City of P1010551Stirling, you take the A84 and A873 through Thornhill. There you will find the excellent restaurant ‘The Lion and the Unicorn’ where you could stop for excellent refreshment. Continuing to head west and joining the A81, you pass  (or stop to admire), the only lake in Scotland, the Lake of Menteith. It is tiny, but the village is called  Port of Menteith, and it feels quite proud of its watery neighbour, and the Inchmahome Priory.

Just as you come to Aberfoyle, you enter the Queen Elizabeth Forest Park, and head on the B829, which has the afore-mentioned ‘dead-end’ sign . The B designation is a good indication that this road is not for the faint-hearted driver, as it is single-track with passing places. P1040845But we managed to stop and pick some blackberries on the way, on the side of Loch Ard.

I should say here that it was not me driving, as medical advice was that I should not get behind a wheel for a little time yet. So it was the Lady of the House, who was in control. (She is, of course often in control when I am driving!) Daughter was in the front passenger seat helping with the negotiation of this nasty but lovely road.

Wonderful country houses abound along here with the sweeping drives, and gardens which would have engaged a number of full-time gardeners at one time. Lovely it must be to live in such locations, but what about the winter? 4WD vehicles would be more suitable than a flash car when the snow comes, or trees fall over the roads, or accidents block roads.

When you are able to stop to admire the vistas, Ben Venue, Ben P1040838Vrackie, and Ben Lomond all offer great views, so a camera, and binoculars are advised on this trip.

Water is not normally in short supply here, and so several lochs have been dammed and channelled to provide water for Glasgow and the Central Belt of Scotland. Besides Loch Ard, where got the berries, Loch Chon also is beside the road, and both offer boat fishing. The water here and ultimately fed to Glasgow is very pure and no lime-scale is produced in kettles or washing machines…….and it is lovely to drink, especially in a glass of amber liquid!

As we move northwest, we are travelling between two large lochs….Katrine (Glasgow’s main water supply) and Lomond (known the world over for the Bonnie banks). At a T junction you can turn right to Stronachlachar (an awkward-sounding word for non-Scots), with a Pier-head Tearoom.

P1040851However we were turning westward past the lovely Loch Arklet heading to the village, or more-correctly, the clachan of Inversnaid.

This is probably the most awkward part of the road as it drops sharply to the northern tip of Loch Lomond, and indeed the Banks are Bonnie as promised in the song. Suddenly, from a narrow country road we descend into a large car park, beside the massive Inversnaid Hotel, and situated beside the pier for boats cruising Loch Lomond.

So, you may ask, why has this large Hotel beenOld Photograph Inversnaid Scotland[1] built here in a remote area, and is obviously popular, with high-occupancy rates? The old photo shows how long it has been operational.

It was built in 1790 by the Duke of Montrose as a quiet hunting lodge. It achieved exposure to the world, when Queen Victoria visited there several times, for privacy. Whether the impropriety involved with John Brown, her ghillie, occurred here I do not know. It has obviously been extended over the years.

We had a very tasty meal in the hotel, chosing the Inversnaid Burger, which consisted of P1040865chicken, bacon and cheese. Afterwards, we went to examine the waterfall just beside the hotel. There has been no appreciable rain recently, so no  great torrent of water, which was a bit disappointing. There are lots of little walks in the area, which we could not explore due to time restraints.

The pier is a place of constant activity during the day, and P1040858no doubt, there is a fair bit of freight brought in by boat. Looking across the Loch, you can see the village of Inveruglas, and the large pipes of the Loch Sloy Hydro-electric Power Station on the hillside. They have a Visitor Centre about the area, so is well-worth visiting.

Two other facts about the area…….

Firstly……The local primary school was, in 2010, the most expensive/pupil in education costs, in the UK. It is said it was £54,000 per pupil! Presumably some may have been accommodation costs for those who could not commute each day, in the scattered community.

Secondly……The famous Rob Roy was basically an outlaw involved in castle-rustling, and in the Jacobite rising. He hid in a cave, close to the Hotel, and which can be only approached by water, and was well-hidden. No doubt the locationis pointed-out to all those on the cruise boats.

……so there you are, a true end-of-the-road journey, which provided on a very-pleasant autumnal day, a lot of visual excitement with the gorgeous scenery,  a trip on narrow roads, a pleasant meal, and plenty of blethering!…….

And the day was complete on our way home, as we popped-into a tearoom in Aberfoyle………pleasure complete……

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To the Beautiful north of Scotland…Brodie Castle

One thing I love about being away on holiday is the variety of breakfasts available. I like to serve myself and can try things for the first time. Having said that, I had a Full Scottish Breakfast every day! Presumably every British area has its version….but it is still probably based on egg, bacon, sausage, beans, black pudding, fried bread/hash etc,…… good healthy stuff! Much toast and coffee and I’m set-up for the day. The Kingsmills Hotel was our place of repose for the night, and next morning dawned with a blue sky, and you can see Lady of the House waiting patiently, and wrapped-up, for our SAM_0379friends to collect us for the day.

For those of you who don’t know the area, Inverness and north can be windy. When preparing for our trip, I looked at videos I had made over the years, and speech was often drowned by the wind. So that it makes the use of a even a modern video camera very difficult. So it was to be my still camera only.

We, and our local friends  have been members of the National Trust for Scotland for many years, and we make use of the facilities as much as poss. There is a variety of outdoor-nature-historic,-gardens to see but the further you go from areas of population, the options decrease.

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However, Brodie Castle is one of these places where you can spend equal time inside and out. We were blessed with bright, cold blue skies, and the extensive grounds were chosen for exploration while the weather held-up. Long wide avenues, tree-lined tracks, a well-populated duck- (and swan-) pond and a private family graveyard would give us plenty to see. Last time we were here was in 1996 and we met Ninian the 25th Brodie of Brodie, but he now passed away.

The castle itself was built in 1567, but the family presence there goes back to the granting of the lands around the castle stands in, during 1160, by King Malcolm IV.

SAM_0392But first of all we had to fortify ourselves against the bitter winds, and this was achieved by repairing to the warmth of the little tearoom in the castle. This is one thing which the National Trust for Scotland does well……they have volunteers who serve in the tearooms, and use local baking and cooking where possible.

So hot chocolate and highly- calorific cake were consumed avidly before we set-out. The gentleman in the picture (I use the word ‘gentleman’ for the sake of retaining his friendship) may well be known to watchers of Grampian Television News, as he provides signing for those with a severe hearing impairment.

The swans and ducks were very friendly – indeed they followed us along the towpath- but it SAM_0407may have been the desire for food! I can imagine both swans and ducks providing food in the early days, but now they are now just for show. Along the side of the pond was a narrow track with trees, whose leaves were turning in colour. I much prefer walking on non-manicured lawns, amongst untrimmed trees, and crunching on the leaves. And this was certainly possible here.

It was a wonderful time, not just because of the natural beauty, but also because there was no wind. We were well-protected amongst the trees, but still left with a ruddy glow to our cheeks.

One relatively-known fact is that Scotland, and especially the north, has superbly beautifulSAM_0425 beaches. You will see some more later, but just along from Brodie is the town of Nairn. famous for oatcakes, and as the holiday home of the singer Harry Lauder, A thriving town, but it was the beach we had come to see.

I think most of us love beaches, either because of childhood memories, the fact that there is a sort of ‘cleansing effect’ from sea-air, or we find some strange affinity with a vista which seems limitless.

So today we had seen three different environments…the castle, purely man-made…the gardens, nature tamed by man, and…..the sea and beach, still largely free from man’s interference, but for how long?

Off tomorrow up the rugged east coast to the most northerly point of Scotland’s mainland………come and join us….

To the Beautiful north of Scotland….Glasgow to Inverness

One of the delights of retirement is the ability to make sudden decisions about events or make alterations. And so it was that a two night visit to Inverness a week ago, to celebrate our wedding anniversary with friends, was extended into a trip much further north, and into the north-west of Scotland. As we are now ‘getting-on’, and creaking bones and stiff backs are now unlikely to get much better, we decided that it was a good a time as any to revisit old haunts, and take the chance to see new areas while relative fitness was still available. ‘carpe deum’ was the motto. the Good Lady has a love of Autumn, and if Canada was not to happen this year, then at least this would be ‘something’.

Waterproofs were packed to add to the ‘dressy’ clothes, and off we set…in Imagebeautiful weather. Now this is not unusual in September and the beginning of October, but here we were, verging on November and the trees were beginning to change colour. we took the A9 to Pitlochry, with a famous theatre, and got our first shots of the changes.

Stopping on the A9 is not to be normally recommended but we found a suitable place just before the Pitlochry turn-off and began to see the delicate tones of Autumn. Luckily the clouds in the back-ground did not materialise as rain….at least not then. And the lower sun in the west gave a more-intense background for the colours

Pitlochry itself, is an old spa town, with lovely hotels, walks, and access to much beautiful countryside. Unfortunately, like many such Imageplaces, there is an air of sadness about, as small, niche businesses open and close, and the numbers holidaying abroad means there are fewer beds taken here. Whether the old days will ever return is uncertain, but there are still places where women can browse, often as a group (whilst their men wait outside!).

Of course, this was the day when a terrible storm was to hit middle England, but we saw nothing of this as we proceeded on through sunshine, and cloud towards Inverness. We had planned that we would not be travelling large distances every day so could ‘tootle along’ at a reasonable pace, but without hassle, or shattered nerves. we did see the occasional driving idiot, but mostly it was trouble-free.

It lies at the north end of the great split which divides Scotland into east and west. Known rightly as the Capital of the Highlands, it straddles the River Ness, with OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAglorious bridges. Much of it is flat so it is accessible for easy walks. The River is clean, bright, and wends like a silver thread through the city. You can cross it in many places so the opportunity for photography is endless. You can see Inverness Castle in the photo, but of course it is no longer a fortress.

It boasts excellent hotels and B and B’s offering accommodation to cover a wide Many fine restaurants are situated on its banks, so that dining-out can also be a visual delight. We were staying at the Kingsmills Hotel, courtesy of our son who had given us the weekend as a present……great!

A marvellous meal at the Italian Riva Restaurant (not an Italian on the staff!) with our old friends, and we were glad to lay our heads down in anticipation of the trip to Brodie Castle on the morrow………………………..