My Way [ AN I PI R S ]

My Way, with profound apologies to the late, great Chairman of the Board, Frank Sinatra

And now, as home is near,

And so I face the final worsen.

My friends, I'll drink a beer;

I'd tell you the stories, but only in person.

I've went on a vacation that was bliss -

I drove 700 miles on Scottish highway.

And as always; I'm right on this,

I did it my way.

Lagers? Ales? I've had a few,

But then again, too few to numb me.

I did what I had to do

And saw it through though others doubt me.

I planned each charted view -

Each careful stop along the highway,

I herded kittens, as they mew,

I did it my way.

Yes, there were times, I'm sure you heard,

Some thought I acted rough, I was a turd,

But through it all, when there was doubt,

I sucked it up and let them pout.

I let them bitch, then swerved towards a ditch

And did it my way.

I'd planned, I'd called and mapped,

I'd done all the work for this vacation.

But now, as beers subside,

I am rewarded by damnation.

To think I did all that,

And may I say, not in a shy way -

Oh no. Oh no, not me.

I did it my way.

For what is a man? What has he got?

I clipped three mirrors, that's almost naught.

Can't say the things that make him strive

Like "shut up whack-job and let me drive."

The record shows I took the blows

And did it my way.

Yes, it was my way.

Note, Mark planned a 9-day vacation for 6 family members and in-laws in Scotland and England (originally just Scotland, but to accommodate others we also included England in the trip, but ironically not the town we thought we had to see…); including hotel, restaurants (ensuring all had vegetarian dishes), and airplane reservations. He mapped out over 25 potential attractions to see, including the "time on site", as well as mapped out obscure locations to distribute his mother-in-law's ashes, such as the hidden "danger waterfalls" in Glen Nevis, Scotland.

He drove over 700 miles - on the wrong side of the road - and despite what some (wrongly) predicted (N.B. diesel fuel is not technically flammable, so while we might've died in a crash, it certainly would not be a "fiery crash" ) I only "clipped" the passenger side mirror 3 times, but so little as to not leave a scratch. Almost like counting coups among the Plains Indians.

He may have seemed like a "travel Nazi" (and me without my Nohoki bracelet) but someone had to get us from Point A to Point B to Hotel in allotted Time X. He also tried to ensure that a daily web log (blog?) was posted; as were photos.

2010 Vacation Day 9 [ G I ]

On August 7 we had a great day in Windsor area. Windsor castle is obviously in Windsor, and as such dominates both the skyline and local economy. The thing to do in Windsor is of course to visit the castle, assuming the Royal Family is out. We got there at about the right time, and the line was not too long.

It is sort of nice to realize that all the trappings of royalty actually serve a purpose, to bring in boatloads of tourists. One thing I never noticed, and I have been in Windsor castle before and seen the outside one other time, is that the walls have jagged flint chips set in the mortar. This is designed I imagine to either cut the ropes or certainly the soles of the feet of would-be attackers. We did hear that one of the reasons Windsor castle was spared in WWII, was that Hitler wanted to use it as a summer home. Wow, talk about "counting your chickens."

There was only one set of "line-cutters" today, as opposed to the unwashed hordes of Spaniards at the Greenwich Observatory. From some former Soviet-bloc nation (another reason to bemoan the fall of communism and the end of the cold war) they appeared to be taking a photo, then got in line in front of us across a driveway (as the line was not allowed across the driveway, and the Windsor Castle line attendant was distracted; guess by which senior member of our entourage). Once we caught up with them, we did try subtle hints like, "I guess some people don't know the line goes back that far." However, I do not think that the sound waves from our voice could penetrate the strong odor barrier that clung to these lummoxes.

Windsor castle is as one would expect - a castle. However it is the swag inside that makes one almost swoon being overcome with the grandeur. This includes absolute one-of-a-kind works of art such as hand painted china from the mid-1700s, to jade baskets once owned by the emperor of China. And that's just what's in the "loo." Note the English - even though they speak English, it is not our 'merican English. They say "loo" for "toilet," "lift" for "elevator," "crisps" for "potato chips" and "knee trembler" for "happy ending."

There were some good pictures outside of the castle; I decided - since it would be probably more felonious and considered espionage - to forgo the use of my "spy pen" or iPhone to video tape inside Windsor. We bought a book. We also got to see some of the strapping young guards marching about. These guys were making women from 15 to 50 flush, and they had a great way of calling out before marching "Make way for the Queen's guards." A lot of tourists would stand (or crouch) in their path, intent on getting a picture. Unfortunately we saw no one trampled (which the guards will do), as enough of the castle staff kept warning people to move.

We had planned a teatime (with ale) in the early afternoon, and unfortunately the pub I had been to before would not let Avery stay, as he was under 14. It was a shame as it is next to a green that is sometimes used by the Royal family when in residence, as well as the "long walk" and "Elizabeth's walk." We went to another place, and Cindy and a few others broke off to get tea in the "crooked house" of Windsor. Some then went shopping, and some went over the Thames to Eaton.

Later we went back to the hotel, and then to dinner. We weren't sure what to do, but then decided on this small Italian place we saw. What was odd (yet I suppose in retrospect true of the many pushy Italians we met) was that we were met at the door, and the maitre de just said "no room" and walked away, even though it appeared to be 50% empty. We settled on the same place we ate the night before, the Royal Stag. The food was great, ales were great, even appetizers like "whitebait" were great. Then it was back to the hotel, where along the way I learned never to eat blackberries growing along a public sidewalk near a pub, to pack for tomorrow; as it was a 3:00 PM flight, there would be no rush.


2010 Vacation Day 8 [ G I ]

Today (Aug 6) was the Tower of London and the Monument, and whatever else we could see in-between. As Cindy and I had been to the Tower about 5 years ago, I was surprised how things had changed.

The first is that there is no video taping of the Beefeaters giving their (often humorous and irreverent) tours. There was also no "tipping encouraged" hints from these gentlemen; I guess some bureaucrat decided that it was unprofessional for these yeomen of the guard to accept a tip? Who knows. And on the subject of tipping, it does take some getting used to that in Europe in general, tipping is not an everyday occurrence.

The other big change was the "white tower" had been redone inside. This houses mostly arms and armory, and was re-done to be clearer and more interactive. There was an area where kids could interact with old weaponry, such as drawing a longbow and "firing" a catapult. The armor was displayed in some cases mounted on "sprues" so it looked like an enormous plastic model kit.

The ravens were still there, although moved a bit as there was a construction project underway on the white tower as part of external renovation (saw a lot of these, probably similar to Obama's Recovery and Reinvestment Act. Unusually birds of ill omen (think "Poe" and "nevermore", according to legend the future of both Country and Kingdom relies upon their continued residence, for at least six ravens must remain lest both Tower and Monarchy fall. It is difficult to see, as the ravens can fly for short distances, but of course their wings are subtly "clipped" so they can no make it over the wall.

We also walked over the Tower Bridge to have lunch; and coming back we saw an uncommon treat; in that the bridge was up and then coming down after letting a sailboat go through. You have to remind yourself that the span was opened in 1894, and the mechanisms still work today, although the steam engines are for display only.

We then went to the Monument, which was built by architect Christopher Wren in 1677 to commemorate the 1666 Great Fire of London, which absolutely devastated the city. As I had a) already climbed the monument 5 years ago, and b) was now 5 years older, I eschewed a chance to get a certificate for the journey up and down. Evan went up, which he thought was pretty easy; well if you're a 17-year-old track star with 1% body fat, then yes I would agree.


2010 Vacation Day 7 [ G I ]

For August 5 we had a bit different way of getting around, to get to Greenwich, which requires a bit of planning. We took a cab to Slough (rhymes with "sow") and did the following. Fortunately a 2-day rail pass is relatively inexpensive, and if lost by one of your children is easily replaced:

- First Great Western RR towards Paddington Station [20 min]

- Walk to Paddington tube [8 min]

- Paddington Underground, take Bakerloo Line towards Elephant & Castle [5 min]

- Baker Street Underground, take Jubilee Line towards Stratford Underground [15 min]

- Canary Wharf, Docklands Light Railway to Greenwich [10 min].

What we did do that was different is that me and the boys got off at Island Garden stop of the Docklands RR, and walked across the Thames. I don't mean like Jesus (or Chance, the gardener) but there is a Victorial-era tunnel under the Thames. We met at the Cutty Sark station near Greenwich, home of the Royal Observatory and Greenwich Mean Time.

One item to mention that was an amazing source of frustration was one could have a GPS in one hand, an iPhone with Google Maps in t'other, standing in front of an area map sign clearly showing where you were and where the Docklands RR station was and therefore easily how to get there (it's over that way behind yonder building). Yet some family members and relatives still insist on flagging down a random securityesque person (who of course says "blimey, it's over tha' way behind the building, squire"). Said encounter also requires the requisite "we used to live in England story." Now each of these delays are not great in and unto themselves, but I am reminded of the parable of a mountain that was reduced to a plain, because visitors took a handful of earth each day for centuries, if you catch my obtuse drift.

On to the University of Greenwich grounds, home to the Royal Naval Hospital's Painted Chapel. This was originally built to house injured sailors, but when completed a long time ago it was so beautiful as to become a paid attraction.

We walked past the National Maritime Museum, but we did not have time to go in. I did miss my pre-emptive attempt to approach the guard for a perfunctory "is this the way to the Observatory" (all the while surrounded by 9-foot signs pointing to what looked like an observatory on a nearby hilltop) thereby preventing my father-in-law from doing the same.

We then went to the Observatory to see the Prime Meridian, which is actually more amazing than it sounds. What was also amazing was the fuc... er, tourists that would simply ignore a long line waiting to take pictures, and jump to the front. Mostly Spaniards, but we'll speak of that later. Some tried to jump in front of us, and they seemed quite insulted at my attempts to speak to them in their native gibberish ("that's the line over there, el lino, la linee, la ligna, la cucaracha waitino" but I never said I was fluent).

After the Observatory, we walked back to the train station to head over to Big Ben. One of the other things I had to do - as master herder - was to keep distractions to a minimal and keep us on schedule. I know some of those on this trip did not like that, but my job was not to be liked but to get us from points A to B to C in the allotted time. As with guards, my in-laws have a fascinating attraction to the canus genus that borders on the pathological. I mean if I see a dog I think to myself "there's a dog." I might say to the owner, "nice dog." But to some people it becomes a discussion of lifetime dog ownership. As with the guards, this discourse may only take 2-3 minutes, but at 1-4 guards and 5-7 dogs per hour (DPH?) this can be an appreciable delay.

As two dogs approached in Greenwich Park, I (and my kids) saw them before my father-in-law. I hissed the order "distract him now" but they looked at me with blank stares, so I quickly asked "what kind of tree is this?" In a scene worthy of Hogan's Heroes, as my father-in-law turned to his left to face the tree, the dogs passed behind him to his right. My kids and I had to hold our laughter, as it was truly one o the funniest things we had ever seen.

We stopped in at a pub to have a snack, and a drink. What happened was very funny, as my father-in-law had what we call an exploding beer glass. He bumped it with his elbow, not hard enough to knock it over, and it exploded in shards of glass; probably due to a hidden stress fracture. No one injured and electronics (which got splashed) apparently none the worse.

We then went back to the other side of the Thames, to see Big Ben, Westminster, Parliment and several other buildings. We were supposed to meet my sister-in-law (as she went in to London by herself once she awoke around noon) but even the breathtakingly simple task of "meet at Charing Cross at time X" was beyond her, as for quite a while she did not know where she was. As I promised I will not dwell on the details and frustration of waiting for over 1/2 hour with two hungry kids, but suffice to say if a trip like this happens again (very unlikely) she will have to be "chipped" or otherwise equipped with a GPS tracking device.

We returned late around 9, just in time to hit the hotel bar for water and beer.

2010 Vacation Scotland [ G I ]

A) Glasgow airport

B) Glasgow hotel

C) Loch Lomond for ash service

D) Kilmore & Kilbride highland games

E) Glen Nevis for ash service

F) Fort William hotel

G) saw the Commando memorial

H) Urquhart Castle Loch Ness

I) Inverness Castle

J) Balvenie castle and Glenfiddich Distillery

K) Huntly Castle

L) Aberdeen hotel

M) Brechin cathedral

N) Glamis castle

O) St. Andrews Cathedral

P) Cupar B&B

Q) Falkland Palace

R) Linlithgow Palace & Scottish RR museum

S) Rosslyn chapel

T) Edinburgh hotel, Edinburgh castle, ash service

U) Edinburgh airport


2010 Vacation Day 6 [ G I ]

August 4 was a slow start, as everyone (me included) slept a bit longer. We scaled back some of my suggestions to just mostly Edinburgh castle and the castle area, such as part of the royal mile. We took a cab up as the road is really steep, and Cindy’s dad uses a cane occasionally. We got to see the setup for the Military Tattoo, a bagpipe and drum corps competition. Thankfully we won’t be there as the entire city is apparently “wild” as the hotel attendant told us.

One thing I didn’t mention was one of the challenges in driving on the lef LOOK OUT LOOK AT THAT!! (What? Where? Oh you’re speaking about the interesting building over there, and not the traffic conditions.) Yes, Cindy’s dad was very comment-ful and TURN HERE!! HERE!!!!! (no I’m following the GPS) very helpful with directing my driving.

The castle itself is mainly a museum to Scottish history, as well as the castle history itself. It has such things as the war museum, and a museum to Scottish forces in global and local conflicts. There are churches and even a cannon firing. These words do not do it justice at all.

One thing that was amazing was the absolute pushiness of some of the tourists. I’ll have to write separately but Italians and French are pushy, but no more than the worst New Jerseyians, However the Spaniards are amazing – it is as if any rules of humanity do not exist.

After Edinburgh castle we walked part of the “Royal Mile” which as near as I can tell a craftily orchestrated tourist trap. A lot of nice things, but really with the visitor to Scotland in mind. We did see a cute character in costume outside the Whiskey Museum. He was a large shot of whiskey, and although not named we christened him "Cirrosey, the Whiskey Mascot." I believe he was handing out whiskey-flavored lollipops to the kids. Avery and I went to the Scottish Monument as well.

I also tried to have a beer but in a perfect example of "reverse pendulum" was I couldn't get an ale with him in tow. The first place - Rose Street Brewery - said a child with you couldn't be under 18; I said he wasn't drinking, but the rule was "if the child can see the bar you can't bring him in." I offered to put Avery's eyes out, but I do not think the barmaid understood my humor. The next bar he could go into (he wanted to eat after all) but he had to be 14; and not knowing this I answered honestly "13." I settled for a sandwich with a Mountain Dew.

We then met up with everyone and took a cab to the airport. We arrived late but safe, on to Slough. Tomorrow London, Greenwich, and the Prime Meridian.

2010 Vacation Day 5 [ G I ]

On August 3 we went to Falkland Palace. Before we left I had spoken to the B&B owner Elizabeth and chatted about such things as the "wee beasties" that inhabit Loch Ness and the Isle of Skye. I gave her a copy of the Lake Monsters book I illustrated, and she thought that was so nice.

Falkland Palace is an occupied palace. The antiquities and other items of historical significance were amazing. I thought I had been in the Brechin cathedral area before, but it was this palace I had seen. There was no photography but again I may have been able to get some covert pictures. There was also a garden with a giant checkers board. The town of Falkland was also very quaint, with some great architecture.

After the palace, we drove to the Linlithgow castle ruins. These comprise some huge remaining structures, four stories tall. The view over the local river is spectacular, when viewed form the windswept crumbling precipice. Linlithgow castle is located just next to the Church of St. Michael, with its characteristic aluminum “crystal” steeple. We had a lot of fun climbing, and Avery (true to form, wonder where he gets it) was able to unlock an iron gate on the 4th floor. This allowed a shot fo the boys that was spectacular (and totally safe, as long as you stayed away from the edge).

We left Linlithgow castle and I had seen something about “steam trains” so we made a small diversion. It was the Scottish rail museum, but I resisted the temptation to go inside. We took some photos of the outside of the trains, both running and rusted.

We then went to Rosslyn Chapel which is famous (infamous?) as the legendary resting place of the Holy Grail, placed there by the Knights Templar – at least according to the Da VinciCode. The chapel was undergoing extensive restoration so a lot of the outside was not visible, Note the way they clean the outside is to blast with baking soda; this removed decades or centuries of dirt, and impregnates porous stone and mortar with an alkali that wards off the effect of acid rain. Inside and outside the chapel are perhaps the most amazing and intricate carvings of any historic structure. There is a stone column with detailed spirals of animals going to the ark, carved by the apprentice. According to legend when the head sculptor saw it he flew into a jealous rage and killed the apprentice; then he too was hanged. Their faces are allegedly carved into the corners of the chapel, the apprentice’s includes a gash symbolizing his head wound.

There it was to Edinburgh to the ROSL (Royal Over Seas League) house and hotel. What I didn’t know was that Princes street (where they were) was not accessible by car, as the street in front was for busses and taxis only. Needless to say I was not happy with a) Garmin or b) the hotel (for not mentioning it) and c) Edinburgh city council. Anyway, let’s just say t was tense driving, but again I hit no one and nothing. I did park and went to the hotel to find that we just have to park on a side street.

Evan and I went to the airport to return the rental. When we got gas we were almost hit by some bird texting while she pulled away from the pumps! We took a cab back to the hotel and I found the views of the castle from the hotel were truly spectacular. We all went to dinner, where I had my 1300th beer (Stewart Brewing’s Holyrood). After dinner Avery wanted McDonalds, so we let both boys wander down to McD’s.


2010 Vacation Day 4 [ G I ]

Today (Aug 2) we set out to see "Old Aberdeen," as it is called. I had planned to leave the hotel about 8, but I am finding this to be an admirable, albeit unreachable, goal. Unfortunately the plans I laid out do require sort of adherence to them - not like the airlines mind you but if we want to see "point "A" then travel to "point B" before noon then we sort of have to do this. Anyway, as it turned out, "Old Aberdeen" is mostly Aberdeen College, and trying to park there is like trying to park in Cambridge MA. WE decided again to leave for Brechin Cathedral in the town of Brechin. I was happy to see there was also Brechin Castle nearby, and the New Caledonian Railway.

The Cathedral would be a church by most definitions, but there was a Bishop there since like the 1300s; a Bishops sits in a chair called a "Cathedra" so even though the church is smallish for a cathedral, it is one nonetheless. It also has one of only two circular towers in Scotland, as most towers were built with square bases. The cathedral was beautiful, and had some amazing stained glass windows. There was also some Pict stone carvings in their collection. We listened to some stories from one of the church elders who happened by. He explained the history of the cathedral, such as when soldiers were garrisoned there, and why the columns on each side do not match (either bigger plans or lack of funds, or both).

We then walked through town a bit; I had been through her eon business and had seen the outside of the cathedral previously. But couldn't find some of the shops I remembered. I did have a Scottish beef and onion "bridie" (their equivalent of a Cornish "pastie" or meat pie). We drove to the New Caledonian Railway and I was prepared for a letdown as this is a tourist railway (last vestiges of the Caledonian Railway) that runs on weekends. Didn't even get to see any locomotives or rolling stock, but the restored Victorian-era station was a delight.

We then went to Brechin castle, but this was a real shock - the castle is only open 1 month a year for tours, as it is fully occupied. The owners did set up a garden shop and other retail shops on some land they sold. The god news is they had a theater/museum about the Pixcts, the first inhabitants of Scotland. They are obviously long gone now, but left behind pictograms (stone carvings), many place names, and the legend of the "lost Roman Legion."

From here we left for Glamis castle; this is a fully occupied castle that is sort of a living museum. We had a great tour although no cameras could be used. However my pen-movie-camera seemed to function fine and I'll post a movie and/or pictures once I edit it. The castle was full of absolutely priceless artifacts relating to Scottish and English history. It was also haunted, but the nun who accompanied our tour thankfully kept them at bay.

Due to timing, we (I) had to forgo visiting even briefly the St. Andrews golf museum (I mean what's so special, just the birthplace of golf), as well as the Dreel Tavern, which was supposedly one of the best true taverns in Scotland. Buit we had to keep everyone (especially that certain someone) happy. Of course it staggers the imagination to not understand if driving from Glasgow to Fort William to Inverness to Aberdeen to Cupar that we as a group would be together in the same car, and there would not be a lot of "me time." But I digress. Again.

We had a minor problem with the B&B we had arranged, as one guest decided to "stay on" as owner Nick put it. However he arranged a stay for some of us at a place about 7 houses away. Run by a very charming lady (with two hilarious Jack Russell terriers) we had a great stay. She told us a story about a calf they adopted when the mother wouldn't keep it, as it was born at an odd time of year. They raised it in the basement for 6 months!

I also had to really bite the inside of my cheek to keep from making a joke when the lady's aquarium sprung a leak. Not at the leak, but what she said. She told us (and I am not making this up) how her son was an engineer with BP, and when she called him, the best he could suggest to stop the leak was to put some plastic cling wrap on the inside of the tank (which did little). The lady applied some bar soap to the outside of the tank which seemed to stop the leak temporarily; at my suggestion she used a hair dryer to harden the soap. It worked, I guess BP should've called us a few months ago.


2010 Vacation Day 3 [ G I ]

Leaving Fort William, we proceeded up the A82 past the unimaginatively named Loch Lochy past Loch Oich to Urqhart castle on the shores of Loch Ness. This castle dates from the 6th century in the time of St. Columbia. Although we saw a lot fo Loch Ness we saw no monsters, I think. One thing I am not allowed to write about is what happened with my sister-in-law at Urqhart castle.

As we were a bit behind, we planned to just see Inverness castle in Inverness, When we arrived, we saw it was a really modern, occupied building, so we eschewed this and some other Inverness attractions and left for Balvenie castle. This one is a bit more intact than Urqhart, but not much. A really impressive structure, all of these castle even more impressive when you realize this was built sans cranes, bulldozers, etc.

We also stopped at the Glenfiddich distillery, as it is about 1,000 feet from the castle. Although modern in the inside (no photos) the buildings look quaint and old; the visitor center is the original distillery from over 100 years ago. They sell bottles at prices up to and including 10,000 Pounds for a 50-year old scotch.

From there to Huntley Castle near Huntley (where else). We didn’t have a lot of time as the closed in about 1/2 hour, so we ran through and took lots of pictures. This castle still had some great detailed carvings left, as many castles were stripped of anything ornate (even plain stones) for local peasants to use as building materials.

We arrived in Aberdeen about on time (who was wrong to make a schedule?) and lucked out again. The hotel (Craibstones Suites) was like the Fort William hotel newly-renovated with posh accoutrements and a fantastic mini-kitchen. The Italian restaurant near us was closed, and no one at the time really wanted Spanish tapas, so we chose a Chinese restaurant.

Later Avery and I went walking to get some next day snacks. We found a grocery store that was moving, so everything (beer too) was 1/2 price. However, due to some draconian Byzantine law I could not buy beer accompanied by a minor. I was told (the girl thought 13-year-old Avery was 16 or 17) that I cannot buy alcohol with a minor with me. I thought she meant (like in the States) that he couldn’t carry it. I was told flat-out I couldn’t buy it. Weird; so we wne tnext door and he waited outside.

2010 Vacation Day 2 [ G I S ]

Avery and I went out walking near the River Kelvin at around 6:00 AM. We went over the Ha’penny bridge and then back around to the hotel. We all had breakfast and left Glasgow for Loch Lomond. This is one place where Cindy’s mom’s ashes were to be scattered. There we saw the most amazing tree, and then we headed to Oban then to Kilmore for the Highland Games.

We arrived just as the rain broke – it was very sunny for about an hour. We watched hammer throws and other manly events; some of the female contestants were fairly manly, as well. Then up the A828 over Loch Etive (a one-lane converted railroad bridge) and Loch Creran (with a real two-lane bridge) to Fort William. We dropped stuff at the Nevis Bank Inn (just renovated, great score for a hotel) and then to Glen Nevis area for more scattering.

Glen Nevis is this nature preserve with some amazing scenery and a lot of waterfalls and streams. The spot chosen was on the edge of an undercut, deadly raging stream (as opposed to the placid brook Evan suggested that flows into said stream, I could see headlines now: “man watches in mock horror as spouse, father-in-law and sister-in-law perish, but I digress). This done we stopped near the foot of Ben Nevis (highest mountain in Scotland) for pictures.

We then went to the hotel, and back into town for dinner. We ate at a great restaurant, No. 4, and Evan tried Haggis (sheep heart, lungs, liver mix cooked in the stomach, very “hearty”). I had a great Scottish grass-fed steak, cooked as some know just barely.