Anticipation….. vacation summer 2016


azamara-club-cruises-azamara-quest-exterior-galleryJuly 1, 2016 Packing and anticipating our Azamara 8 night British Isle cruise and hop over to Paris.

Gail and I were so enamored with Scotland last summer that we started looking for ways to return this summer to see the places we missed. Gail receives email offers for cruises and one thing led to another….. here we are leaving tomorrow for Copenhagen to board the Azamara Quest for our 8 night cruise. While we’re in Europe we decided to fly to Paris for a few days before returning home.

We spent the last few months planning, pouring over maps, and combing the Internet for things not to be missed. Some of the highlights we’ve arranged are – a taxi tour of the Orkney islands, a small group tour of the island of Sky, the Giants causeway and Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge , an independent tour to Mont St Michel, tickets to the top of the Eiffel tour, Louvre, Versailles, a private Citroen tour of Paris, and a Paris market and cooking class.
We’ve arranged an Airbnb apartment across the street from Notre Dame in the 5th Arrondisement and I’m familiar enough with public transportation and the layout of the city to get us around – famous last words.
The only regret – what WAS I thinking – is that we arrive in Copenhagen just a few hours before the cruise leaves. If Air France decides to delay either flight we may be meeting the cruise in Edinburgh two days late!
But I have to think positively.
Packing – just when I thought I had it down pat I run into the various weather types this trip will bring. Orkney Island and Skye could be very cold and wet – hat, gloves, rain gear, wool sweater and warm, water proof shoes. Edinburgh, Belfast, Waterford and Dublin will be mild but could be rainy – layers and rain gear. Paris could be hot and does require some thought to style, light layers, and good walking shoes that aren’t too ugly! Even though we’ve arranged Luggage Forward to pick up a bag with our cruise clothes so we can travel light to Paris, I still think I’m bringing more than I need despite going over and over the clothes laid out for packing. Sigh.

Florida: Adventures of an unlikely snowbird.


I swore I would never live in Florida. Too hot, too much traffic, too southern. Until the winter of 2015. Cold and seriously tired of shoveling snow, I started looking for a small house or condo to rent in Florida for the following winter. Fortunately my job allows me to work from anywhere, as long as I have good internet connection, so the idea wasn’t completely nuts. I have several retired friends who bought in a very well situated and well maintained neighborhood in Fort Myers but at the time there wasn’t an available rental for 2016. I expanded my search to the surrounding neighborhoods but it soon became clear that I wasn’t the only fed up Northerner who decided wintering in the north had lost its charm.
I was about to give up when I learned there was a house for sale in my chosen neighborhood and I started thinking about the possibility of buying. The neighborhood is close to beaches, shopping, and services, and is a short drive to favorite spots like Naples, Sanibel, and Captiva. It seemed like the ideal place to invest in property and guarantee a place in the sun for winters to come. Long story short I ended up buying the house and closed in May 2015.

There were obvious improvements that needed to be made before my return in October. I knew I had to replace the master bathroom, which looked like it was straight out of the 70s (a carpeted floor!). A good friend suggested a handyman who would gut and rebuild the bathroom and a painter to refresh all the walls, ceilings, and closets in the house. Over the summer the bathroom was completely renovated and the new paint made the house sparkle. I returned in October for a short stay to start cleaning out and making the house mine.

The previous owner, with my blessing, left everything (except personal items) but it all needed sorting and tossing. I was soon reminded of the value of friends when one morning three friends showed up with sleeves rolled up and we spend the next 4 hours going through every closet and drawer. Everything was scrutinized and sorted into piles to donate, toss, or decide later. Ultimately I ended up with a carport full of things to donate, an over filled recycle and trash container, and furniture to go to consignment. I also decided the kitchen, with it’s 70’s era wall oven, cook top, and vinyl cabinets with broken shelves couldn’t wait to be renovated. Mark the handyman was recalled to do more work before I returned for 3 months in January. Having spent the 9 days in October getting to know the house I had a long list for him!

In October I also hit the consignment shops with my good friend, and retired Interior Designer, Milly. There are an incredible number of thrift and consignment shops in this area of Florida and they all have 50% off sales during slow periods when merchandise isn’t moving. October, it seems, is an ideal time to furnish a house inexpensively, who knew! When all was said and done, with Milly’s considerable help, I replaced 95% of the furniture and the house was transformed.


Fast forward to January. I arrived early on a Saturday morning to get organized, set up Internet and desk, fill the fridge, and get ready for work Monday morning. My new internet connection was working well, the kitchen was functional, an by the end of the weekend I was ready to settle in to work and life in Florida.

Unfortunately things went downhill from there as I discovered I was not the only inhabitant of my new home. I shared it with a family, and likely extended family, of palm (or roof rats) living in the crawl space under the house. It was about that time the rain started, lots of rain, the kind of rain where you start thinking about building an ark – but that’s another story.

Prior to my arrival Milly had been in the house and heard rustling coming from under the floor. She knew it had to be either possum or palm rats, not uncommon in Florida. She decided wisely not to tell me before arrival because it would only freak me out. Instead she put a trap near an obvious entrance hole in the foundation. In the middle of the night I heard a crack and shortly after scuffling, running, scraping, and screeching which went on for hours. The next morning, out my back door I could see a possum staring up at me, hissing his displeasure from inside the trap. Over night, sensing a predator close by, the rats under the house had gone nuts – they weren’t the only ones. I came close to sleeping in my car that night (or heading to the airport!) but stayed in bed with a pillow over my ears waiting for morning.

It was time to call someone to take care of the problem. Eric from Critter Control arrived later that day to assess the situation. Hundreds of dollars later the possum was taken away and traps were set. I was to become quite friendly with “Eric the rat catcher”. He was actually a nice young man who called me “ma’am” and carried off my rats one by one!

About the same time I was arranging to have a new electrical box installed so I could hook up my new electric stove. This was another unexpected but very large expense. I also had to tell the electrician, who needed to crawl under the house to run the wire, that he would have company. Undaunted, no actually he was freaking out, he called a fellow electrician to help him. The second fellow, younger and more svelte, agreed that he would go under the house. Eric the rat catcher arrived about the same time to check the traps and assured me that the rats would stay far away from the electrician under the house. You can’t make this stuff up.

Soon I was preparing for my first overnight company, my sister Bev and brother in law Gord, arriving from the north to stay a few days on their way to see their daughter and family in Boca Raton. They were a big help and very supportive, I began to relax and stop panicking! Maybe this would work out after all.

Next came the trees. I had two large palm trees right next to my house and if I let them grow another two weeks I swear they’ll be in my house. They were touching at this point and had to go. The tree guy arrived the next day and I we decided a large clump of palm trees at the back of the shed were badly diseased and had to go as well. As you can imagine these little unexpected projects are doing damage to my bank account.
Taking down trees

Meanwhile it’s raining, and raining, and raining….. I have a swimming pool in my backyard, no actually it’s supposed to be grass and but there’s two inches of water sitting on top. I shouldn’t complain, at least it’s not snow, but my coworker just informed me that they are expecting 50° weather in Massachusetts. ….You know that place I left to get away from the cold! How can they have the same temperatures we have in Florida?

By mid February the rain torrential rain had stopped but it was still unseasonably cold and raining off and on. The house was coming along quite well and my daughter-in-law and granddaughters were coming for a long weekend. It was lovely to see them and we spent the first morning walking on Fort Myers Beach but my 5 year old granddaughter was anxious to get into the pool. Although the pool is nicely heated – the air temps were in the 50s and overcast! My daughter-in-law, good sport that she is, brought Rhian to the pool while one year old Rory slept. They were in the pool for almost an hour (likely thinking about how cold they would be when they got out!) Rhian took her first unaided swim across the pool and was thrilled. The next day (also in the 50s) we all went in! Needless to say the neighbors passing by were smiling likely thinking “they must be visiting from the north”!
A chilly walk on Fort Myers Beach

In the Pool – Brrrrrr

Rhian’s initiation to golf

First ever ice cream cone

As the weather got nicer toward the end of February I joined in on some the fun – sunset drinks and picnic dinners on the Sanibel causeway. Trips to Captiva and Matlache, drinks and music at Dixie Fish, dinners out with friends. I started feeling more comfortable with my decision and looking forward to winters to come.
Dinner with neighborhood friends

Lunch with High School friends in Naples

JetBlue field honoring Big Poppy

Guest Blog 3: The rest of the story…. Giverny, Bayeux, Honfleur and Paris, oh my!


Thank you Bev and Gord Simpson, you did a great job with this travelogue, Gord taking pictures and Bev putting her thoughts, and their adventures on paper. It makes me want to return to France again.

The picturesque port of Honfleur

Wednesday Sept 30 Giverny
Today we made the long trip to Giverny to see Claude Monet’s house and gardens and of course the famous Nymphéas. It is another beautiful warm sunny fall day and the trip is lovely but long – over 2 hours and strangely hard to find Giverny.

Not very well marked off the highway, we find it by GPS and of course it is lovely. Even this late in the fall, the flowers are stunning and the light on the lily ponds changes even in the short time we are there. The house and gardens are beautifully kept by the local Monet Foundation. It is surprisingly reasonable to enter, one small fee and stay as long as you like. There are lots of people, but not annoyingly so, as it would likely be in summer.

The house is old with small beds, little tables and lamps – not nearly as comfortable as we live today. But 2 rooms that stand out are the kitchen – all blue tiles, lots of copper pots a big old stove – maybe even wood burning – hard to tell. Lots of beautiful light steaming in from the front windows with their lace curtains. The copper pots are gleaming!

The dining room – with a table that seats 12 – is sunlight everywhere with its yellow paint on the walls and the furniture and light pouring in the windows, lots of pictures on all the walls.

There are a few Monet paintings around – one very familiar– presumably real although they would be worth millions of euros – so are they real? There are many, many Japanese style drawings and paintings – apparently he was very interested in Japanese art. There are guards in the house but very unobtrusive – even at this time of year there are many visitors and we move through politely!

The most stunning part of the house and garden is the walkway to the front gate that at one time was a driveway off the main road in the town. It leads up to the front door of the house and it is just a sea of flowers – at this time of the year, they are dahlias and nasturtiums with climbing roses – all catching the sunlight in a very charming manner.

On the walking path to the ponds you can see how beautifully everything is managed by the gardeners and repairmen. For example the flowing river is caught and held in place with small poles that provide a lovely looking fence like structure that adds to the beauty – how much of the islands in the river are man-made, how much are natural is hard to tell. There are 4 workmen repairing a very small part of the fencing with great attention to detail. It seems they appreciate this piece of “patrimoine” that Monet left for the town and surrounding valley, which attracts so many visitors and helps with the employment of many local people. Below is a view from one of the bedrooms in the house overlooking the garden

There are large pockets of tall stately bamboo on the islands in the river but they don’t seem to be taking over as they are held in place by the river itself. The walking trail is beautifully maintained – the light is stunning even at this time of year. Not sure why – does it have to do with how the sun is positioned on the earth at this point in Normandie? The iconic green of the trim on the house is also reflected in the benches that are here and there for visitors to sit and relax and enjoy the surroundings.

At the lily ponds, the light is most obvious and could never be caught with a photograph. Even in late September mid afternoon, it is beautiful and reflective. There are people sketching – and lots of photographers – and a few iPads clicking away. There are also very keen gardeners who know the names of all the flowers and discuss various forms and colours and how to grow them at home.

It was a long way to get here – it’s an easier trip by train from Paris and it is even longer getting back to Bayeux as we hit end of day traffic but we’re very glad we made the trip.

Dinner tonight is at L’Alchemie in Bayeux which is like many in this town, owned and operated by a husband wife team – he is the chef, she runs the dining room, meeting, greeting, hanging coats, seating people, taking drink and food orders, delivering the amuse bouche – I love that name – so weird and wonderful at the same time – delivering the dinner, topping up the drinks etc etc. very interesting to watch. They work very hard over spring, summer, early fall with tourists and have a lighter load in winter with only locals and the occasional tourist as their guests. Possibly their parents are home with their children – if they have them – since many live in the same town all their lives – and not a bad life it is.

Thursday Oct 1 A day of rest in Bayeux
Today we took it easy, staying in Bayeux and there is a lot to see and do. We visit the museums we have missed, wander in the parks and gardens in the town, sit and drink coffee on the sidewalk where we can watch people passing by, and catch up with our email, photos (Gord) and travelogue (me). Dinner tonight in a local brasserie with lighter fare – onion soup and salad and wine of course. Meals have been lovely – very gourmet and small quantities of excellently prepared foods often with a very fresh salad vert.

Friday Oct 2 Travel to Deauvile and Honfleur

Today we headed north starting off on the highway and then heading to the coast north of the beaches towards Le Havre. Below is one of several carefully maintained thatch-roofed houses on the way to Honfleur. Note the decorative work on the roof. Many of the houses had scrolled flowers into the manicuring of the roofs. Most of the towns we pass are beautifully maintained as are the yards and gardens. The farms are immaculate with very large fields growing lots of corn and other crops we don’t always recognize.

We pass through Deauville and Trouville, busy beach side towns that have a long history of attracting wealthy family in summer. Honfleur is our target and we easily find the busy Quai, which has been hosting people for over a thousand years. Today it’s packed with walkers, boaters, and photographers – the sun lit cafes and restaurants – dozens and dozens of them all side by side – are almost completely full and it’s a Friday in early October.

The buildings on the quai are impressive and iconic – they are very tall and skinny – up to 8 floors high, touching each other, each with its own colour palette and windows new or old. Some are occupied with businesses, often art galleries or second floors of restaurants but some seem to be lived in, with flowers on the window sills. Sailing boats are everywhere and occasional fishing boats although they perhaps have a separate harbour. Honfleur, the home of Samuel de Champlain who found the St Lawrence River, is a bustling tourist attraction with loads of history.

We visit the very old wooden St Catherines Church. The story has it that in the mid 1500s the citizens of Honfleur wanted to thank God for the fact that the British had left their country after the 100 years war. Stone and stonemasons were in high demand and short supply, but the locals were not to be deterred. Using what they knew—building wooden ships—they built a wooden church that has survived and is still very active 500 years later.

Saturday Oct 3 is an early breakfast in our wonderful dining room restaurant at the Villa Lara. It is kitted out in true French fashion with all the best in tableware and linens but with a country flavour to the décor . The food is excellent with all you can eat juices and fruits, yogurts and cheeses, eggs, and meats, breads and jams. And café au lait – my favourite, is de rigeur here. It is so easy to request warm milk that comes to the table in a lovely little pitcher to be poured at your leisure. I am using the hot milk on my granola and oats as well to keep my clicking jaw under control.

This morning we take our little car back to the Hertz at the local gas station and take a cab back to the train station with another group also returning their car – they are from North Carolina.

We walk to the train station in Bayeux with our pull cases – takes about 20 minutes – it’s another beautiful sunny day – and await the 14:40 to Paris. The trains are excellent, always on time with comfortable seating. They travel at significant speeds on the excellent tracks that are common all over Europe. Canada could take a lesson!

At the Gare St Lazare we find a taxi easily to our hotel (too far to walk). We are staying at Le Trianon (another small local one in the Best Western group). It is near Les Jardins Luxembourg. Our driver is very good – it’s a Saturday and the roads are packed with cars, buses, bikes, motorbikes, walkers of all sorts. Some of the streets are one way, others not, the taxi driver has to know his way around. Our hotel is pretty and clean on the outside, the lobby is small but cozy and the lady on the desk pleasant and welcoming. Our room, well let’s just say Gord was not pleased. Quite expensive, it was tiny, about 1/6th the size of our Bayeux hotel – where we were very spoiled! – decorated in black and red, and considerably more euros! Ah well, we are en Paris and near the Luxembourg.

Paris is amazing in the numbers of people it attracts – they are everywhere today on the streets. Tonight is Nuit Blanche when the museums and attractions stay open all night and many are free. We wander St Michel, have a glass of wine by the gardens and people watch, adjusting to our changed location. As it gets dark we find a nice little restaurant for dinner – Gord has a fishburger – salmon delicious and I have a bowl of house made cheese stuffed ravioli in a cream sauce – Delicious but very rich – with a green salad. We share a carafon of Cotes de Rhone. The nights bring an array of lights to the city and the crowds don’t abate but there is lots of room for everyone on the broad streets and parkettes everywhere. We are near the Sorbonne and pass groups of students engaged in eating, drinking, dancing and one group of 6 women dressed as cats playing a game with a mouse in a bowl…..and laughing their heads off. We give a couple of euros to a street musician playing the trombone but after he collects from the crowd he heads home! We have barely heard him play. We return to our dark tiny room – the walls are covered in a black fabric, curtains and bedding are red and white – and sleep well.

Sunday Oct 4
Today we headed out with no particular plan in mind and found ourselves headed for Notre Dame which had an unusually short wait time to enter. It is again a beautiful sunny Sunday and the church is full of worshipers. The priest is giving the sermon. Lots of tourists are watching and snapping photos but respectfully. Outside 5 cute young “boy scouts” are selling cakes to make money for their troop. We are a new team he says and so we must raise funds for our activities – they are dressed in scout uniforms. The cakes are all home made they tell us as we choose a brownie and they are truly home made and delicious! Give what you can he tells me when I ask the price and so of course he does well on the transaction. – and others are lining behind me – they are well positioned at the exit gate to the cathedral.

Our next stop is a wander along the Seine taking in the sites – several tourist boats pass us riding swiftly up the river their top level full of smiling picture-taking tourists. Les pompiers are training on one bank of the river climbing ladders and getting their hoses full of water to be able to spray what would be a fire but now is just back into the river – they are very slow so must be new recruits.

The stalls on the riverside are just opening up to display their myriad of books of every sort, old magazines with famous people on the covers, Marilyn Monroe, Serpico, Audrey Hepburn, Cary Grant, Ingrid Bergman ….
And the people watching is excellent.

Over time we make it to the Musée D’Orsay which has a huge crowd in line – 45 minutes I am told but since it is closed Monday I line up and Gord goes off to take some pictures. After 40 minutes of easy waiting we enter through the cursory security check-line. It turns out on the first Sunday of the month there is no charge so we are ahead about 25 euros and in one of the most iconic galleries in the world!

We head straight for the Impressionists. The D’Orsay holds the best collection in the world and there are many enjoying them. An added bonus is the views of the city from the large windows on the top floor of the musée are spectacular, especially the ornate rooftops of the Louvre and the placement of Sacre Coeur on the hillside.

We enjoy several Monets, Renoirs, and Sisleys among other beautiful works and appreciate the fact that the Impressionists committed an act of rebellion when they encouraged each other to paint exactly what they saw ‘en plein air” (outdoors) and as such we are able to enjoy these beautiful works of art so many decades later.

From the quayside of the Seine, we move into the streets of the Rive Gauche (Left Bank), passing the Medical School of the University of Paris and many upscale left bank shops – mostly closed on Sunday – and restaurants filled with people enjoying their café on the sidewalks in the sun, street musicians finding an audience – this one playing Dixieland.

We head towards St Germain de Pres, a beautiful old abbey church which dates back to the 10th and 11th Centuries and it’s on our path to Les Jardins Luxembourg.

Les Jardins Luxembourg is full of strollers of every age and stage, lots of children, lots of couples, many of them mixed race, it’s nice to see. There is room for everyone on this beautiful day. The flowers are lovely as they always are and the trees sparkling in the sunlight. It’s getting cooler…. apparently winter is coming, there is a feeling in the air but for now we enjoy everything.

From there a snooze in our cozy hotel room, which is quite functional if not at all spacious, and a light dinner nearby about 8:30 – we had a little café lunch around 3 on our walk along Le Blvd St Germain.

Monday Oct 5
We head for the Pantheon after a great breakfast in our little hotel. The Europeans are so smart to offer breakfast in their hotels – often included although this one is not – but it’s a better price than on the street, better food and easy to access – lots of fresh fruits, cereals, breads, yogurts, cafés. Love it!

The Pantheon in the Latin Quarter close to our hotel is magnificent. We have been passing it at night, nicely lit up for the strollers. Inside it’s an ancient delight, fantastic architecture, beautifully restored attracting many Français, Françaises and tourists alike to better understand French culture, values and heritage.

Built around the mid 18thC it feels ancient and it’s very beautiful. It was originally built as a church dedicated to St. Genevieve to house the reliquary containing her relics. It now functions as a secular mausoleum containing the remains of many distinguished French citizens. Its façade is modeled on the Pantheon in Rome. Outside there are large posters of 4 WWll resistants, including 2 women, Geneviève de Gaulle-Anthonioz and Germaine Tillion who become the third and fourth women interred among 74 men in this mausoleum of honour. Their stories are highlighted inside in a large interactive display, and represent a change in thinking of what denotes being deserving of the honour of being interred here. It is fascinating.

It starts to rain as we leave the Parthenon so we stop at a little café and I buy an umbrella nearby – one that will fit in our carry-on going home.

This afternoon we stay dry and cosy in the lobby of our hotel to finish off our pictures (Gord) and the Travelogue (me) because we know when we get home, it will be go-go again and we will easily get behind.

Tonight for dinner at Semilla we will meet the adult son of very old and good friends who lived twenty years and raised their sons in Paris.

Home tomorrow and we are ready. We will leave this little hotel and our tiny bedroom a little after 7 to catch the RER to the CDG aeroport. The station is about 300 metres away – we hope it’s not raining too hard. We’d like to avoid a taxi in heavy traffic in the morning to catch the RoussyBus at the opera which is a good distance away. On the RER train we should get into CDG by about 830, plenty of time to have breakfast and be on our 11am flight home.

Kathy has graciously added this Guest Blog to her site and it is fun to see it available there.

Guest Blog 2: Bev and Gord Simpson North West France by car


Sunday Sept 27.

Today’s visit to Juno Beach in Courselles sur Mer and the Canadian cemetery in Bény sur Mer were very moving. There is not much to see on the beachfront at Juno and in fact we found it hard to find the right roads into the area. There is a busting town at Juno Beach now called Courselles sur Mer with many large condos facing the seashore, a very good harbour and lots to do. There is as well an excellent Canadian museum staffed with bilingual (of course) university students and hosting lots of good information and exhibits about Canadian involvement in WW2 and especially the D Day landing. As well there is a beautiful Croix Lorraine on the beachfront honouring the French Resistance fighters.

The Canadian Cemetery in Beny sur Mer is very beautiful surrounded by pastoral farmland and scrupulously clean and well manicured. Lots and lots of flowering bushes and perennials at all the gravesites – very, very peaceful. Apparently there are more than 2000 gravesites situated here – with more Canadians buried near Caen (which the Canadians liberated after June 6). As we wandered among the gravesites we were saddened to see that many of the young men were in their early twenties.

Monday Sept 28

Today we travelled to the Hague and the Route des Cap – north and west up the coastline from Cherbourg and wandered some of its trails on foot. We especially enjoyed walking the Nez to Jobourg pictured here.

Spectacular sites, small beautiful hamlets, well tended roads, well manicured gardens, every roadside and town scrupulously clean with gorgeous fall flowers everywhere.

One of the most interesting sites was the small village of Goury at the very tip of the Cap with views of the English Islands of Guernsey below and Jersey. I didn’t realize they were closer to France than to England.

Many of the towns such as Landemer below are built on heights that overlook the sea.

We passed many farm animals – cows, sheep and occasional donkeys such as this fellow who looks pregnant – not possible – it’s a guy and a cute and curious little fellow who came right up to check us out.

Most of our dinners have been in Cherbourg – this is the Theatre in the Main Square. Cherbourg is a seaside town with a large port and many industrial sections. The old town is largely filled with modern stores and restaurants but there are a few classic old buildings that provide a measure of charm. Cherbourg was a valued target and was heavily bombed during the liberation of France.

People are friendly but there are some rigid rules about eating times. It seems as if the restaurant owners also manage and operate their restos on a daily basis and part of the routine is closing after lunch – by about 2pm – and only reopening at 7pm for a full meal. We have been eating a big breakfast at the inn as part of the accommodations and then snacking just a little mid-day, then hoping for dinner a little after 6 but no luck on that score. However in all the small bars you can get a Heineken or a Calvados (the local liqueur made with apples) anytime and often the owner is chatting with customers at the bar even at 10am.

Tuesday September 29.
We checked out of the lovely Manoir de la Fieffe today and headed to Bayeux where we were booked into the Hotel Villa Lara for 4 days.

Bayeux is a very charming old town with a pretty little river, the Aure running through it. Again because we are in the beginning of the low season we have a beautiful hotel at a very reasonable price with breakfast included and complementary parking. Very fortunate with the weather – sunny and warm everyday – cool in the early morning and evening. We are also blessed with fewer tourists and shorter wait times to see the sites.

Bayeux is the home of a beautiful old cathedral – Le Notre Dame – in the city center. Bev 8
You can see the spires from miles around. Its stained glass windows are magnificent. Bayeux was left largely unharmed during the invasion – heavy fighting occurred nearby in the areas near Cherbourg and Caen.

Bayeux today is the home of 3 interesting museums including La Tapisserie de Bayeux that houses the story of William the Conqueror all told in cloth and stitch for which Bayeux is famous, the Musée d’art et d’histoire Baron Gerard (beautifully curated) and the Musée Bataille de Normandie which honours the liberators in great detail with many wonderful photographs and text in both English and French. Our charming hostess, the owner of the Hotel Villa Lara, is onsite regularly speaking to the guests and helping with what to see and do in the area. She is a great ambassador for the town, obviously enjoying her ability to welcome guests to her part of the world. She tells us the hotel guests are 90% English speakers usually from the USA. She herself is very fluent in both languages as are the hotel staff.

Wednesday Sept 30

Giverny dinner L’alchemie Bayeux excellent

Guest Blog: Paris and Normandy September 2015


My sister and brother-in-law, Bev and Gord Simpson, are in France for 2 weeks, I’m living vicariously through them. I think it must be time for another trip to France!
Bev and Gord live in Toronto and are avid travelers, Gord is the photographer and Bev the writer, together they make a great team. Enjoy!

Paris Normandy Paris Sept 22- Oct 6 2015

Tuesday Sept 22
We hired an Uber to the Toronto Pearson airport for the 19:30 Air Canada flight to Paris. The Uber was less than half what we normally pay for a limo to the airport and a pleasant ride with a young Iranian-Canadian who drives between gigs as a film producer. He was very bright and knowledgeable about politics – both Iranian and Canadian – and very interesting to talk with.

We were dreading the overnight flight – we had vowed after age 65 we’d take day flights from now on but couldn’t find one this trip. We travel with our slightly oversized carry-ons. Not a word or a measurement of luggage at Air Canada on this trip, maybe because it’s overseas. Last trip home from San Francisco in June they were measuring all carry-ons.

Wednesday Sept 23
Arrival at 8:30am at CDG in Paris was a pleasure – a nice sunny day which makes all the difference after an overnight flight. Customs was really easy, hardly any line-up, no questions, just a stamp and away we went. The RoissyBus (which runs every 15 minutes from 6am – 8:45pm) was really easy to find too and a snap to buy tickets from a machine, 11 euros each one way to the Paris Opéra. I looked for a Sim card in the Relay at the airport – but didn’t buy it there – too little time and unsure of what I was buying. I found better assistance in the Orange store near the Gare St Lazare – they are the big provider in France with stores all over town.

On the way into Paris, which takes about an hour, we passed the Gare St Lazare – the station we will use to get the train to Bayeux tomorrow so that gave us a good landmark. Our pre-booked hotel – the Best Western Opéra Diamond – was an easy walk – even with luggage – from the Opéra. The women at the hotel were “superbe”, as they say en France – very friendly, helpful, charming and bilingual, which is quite unusual, as so many Parisiens can be miserable to deal with, especially the servers. Our hotel – called Le Diamond is shiny black tile everywhere: walls, floors, even some ceilings, with small sparkly lights – diamonds??? – on every surface. It’s dark and strange but very clean and the people terrific – well, they always make all the difference. I noticed it’s a Premier Best Western so they must be the better ones. Best Westerns are everywhere – the company must have linked many existing small Paris hotels into their chain – and it seems to work – they were all over the booking sites.

We slept a couple hours in the afternoon with lots of hammering happening in the hotel – they are renovating something – then wandered the streets with a couple of errands in mind – I wanted a gift certificate for au Printemps for Paris friends for their new little grand-daughter, and I wanted to visit the Uniqlo store which has the lightweight vests that fit into a very little bag – not available in Canada yet.

On our dinner walk to the Champs Élysée we passed the lovely Eglise Madeleine which so resembles the Parthenon, the Élysée Palace – beautiful with lots of security! and La Place de la Concorde. We wandered the Champs Elysée where we had a light pasta dinner with a nice Bordeaux at the Café di Roma. It was still lovely, sunny and warm at 6pm, getting cooler and darker about 7pm. Lots of people watching – cars, motorbikes, pedal bikes, and foot traffic at this hour on this iconic boulevard.

Thursday Sept 24
After a great breakfast at the Opéra Diamond we took Rail Europe at Gare St Lazare (a 5 minute walk) to Bayeux where we have rented a little car from Hertz. Car rentals pre-booked in North America provide great savings. Travel from Bayeux to Cherbourg was easy with a little help from gmaps and very good roads. We are staying in La Glacerie, a small suburb south of Cherbourg at Manoir de la Fieffe which is gorgeous and very reasonably priced – a small country inn set on 4 acres of beautiful grounds on a hill with occasional long views of the sea at Cherbourg. Fortunately friends stayed here in the spring and spoke highly of it – else we might never have found it. Dinner in Cherbourg at La Taverne, found on a wander by the ocean, was very good, although it was too cool to sit outside. Dinner is not served in town until 7pm and without lunch we were hungry.

Friday Sept 25
After a delicious French breakfast at le Manoir de la Fieffe with our charming hosts, Emmanuel and Michel, we set off for Utah Beach and Point du Hoc, which are the closest d Day sites to La Glacerie. Roads are good although fast-moving so the Navigator has to be on her toes! We’re lucky it’s late September because the number of tourists is reduced from the high season and yet it’s still beautiful weather, especially mid-day. Lunch at Le Roosevelt, the café at Utah Beach in Ste Marie du Mont. The café is full of memorabilia, and even the toilettes are made to look like bunkers.

We spent some special moments in the church in Ste Marie du Mont where there is a picture of the church service the day after the D Day landing. The church is filled with soldiers so many saying their thanks that they had made it this far when so many of their comrades had fallen. It is likely they were also feeling very apprehensive about what would happen on the next phase of their march to liberate France.

On leaving Ste Marie des Mont we were surprised to see an official-looking US Army jeep with a local man driving with his wife – le maire, perhaps?

Next stop was Pointe du Hoc (between Utah and Omaha) where 220 US Rangers had to scale a huge rock wall bombarded by Germans to begin to take the beachhead. They accomplished their mission but only 90 survived. The craters from bombers are still very visible – grass covered with handsome roaming black sheep.

Saturday Sept 26

We are off to Mont St Michel this morning and excited to see this magnificent landmark. About a 2hour drive away, it’s a lovely sunny day, roads are very good and it’s still lush and green in these valleys. Occasional wind turbines dot the coast high on green hills often in groups of 5.
First glimpses of Mont St Michel across farmers’ fields are as spectacular as you can imagine. Set in a tidal basin, the small island hosts a very large monastery that was built hundreds of years ago. The Archangel Michael sits atop the cathedral close to the heavens.

On to St Malo….

Walled old city of St Malo – Jacques Cartier left for New France from here.

Sunday Sept 27.

Juno Beach and Canadian cemetery in Beny sur mer

Getting to know Edinburgh, our last two days in Scotland.


On Friday and Saturday, our last two days in Scotland, we decided to see how many steps we could log onto the Fitbit and explore Edinburgh more fully. This street performer was amazing. He, or she, was on the Royal Mile every day on the bike rock steady, not moving a muscle. I have no idea how anyone can stay that still for so long but its fascinating to watch.

We returned to the Elephant Room café for breakfast because we really liked the atmosphere and tea.

We went back to the Museum of Scotland and had lunch at the lovely atrium cafeteria.

Went into the lobby of the Balmoral Hotel to check it out (not as impressive as we expected).

Visited some of the Scotland National Gallery.

Sat on a bench in Prince’s Street Park on a lovely afternoon watching young kids – and old kids – playing or strolling.

On Saturday we saw several wedding parties going to or from wedding venues. The men typically wear the whole kilt set up – kilt, kilt pin, sporran, hose, garters, flashes, brooch, fancy shirt and jacket and Ghillie brogues, that you tie up over the socks with little pompoms at the end. I do love a man in a kilt!

Near the posh Hotel Balmoral we passed a man walking down the street with his young son, probably only 4 or 5 years old, both in full and matching regalia. I asked the father if I could take their picture but his son was having none of it. He quickly darted behind his father’s kilt and wouldn’t come out. I gave in and took a picture of dad – then hoping to get a candid of the son as they walked away, hid behind a planter (yes, I’m not proud of it) but the kid was no dummy and was on guard, not wanting any part of a picture by this crazy stranger.

It was nice to have a day with no particular plans, we even has time to go into Edinburgh library and peruse an interesting exhibition about food and food preparation in Scotland over the centuries.

Saturday night we returned to the restaurant NO 1 on the Royal Mile for steak and ale pie and some pub music.

Sunday morning we left our Inn Place Hotel and took the very convenient bus back to the airport for our return home.

It was a great trip and I’d like to come back some day. Its on my list of cities to spend a month of two when I retire.

Day 2 Highlands, Cairns, and Culloden


Day 2

Waterside Hotel in Inverness, our one night hotel. Very nice, walkable to everything, but no time to see the city.

Stopped to get gas and right beside the station is a marker “The supposed burial place of King Duncan 1040”. This is the King Duncan killed by Macbeth – I understand the “supposed” is an important word on the marker. The weathered marker is on the sidewalk of a busy road and ignored by cars racing past.

After Graeme does his rounds collecting his group from the various B&Bs and guest houses, we drive east to Clava Cairns and Culloden, a highlight and key reason for my coming to Scotland.  It’s a very short distance and I’m excited!

We arrived at Clava Cairns well before other tourists and have the place to ourselves, thank you Graeme. The site is way off the beaten path down a narrow path barely wide enough for our small bus. The site is surrounded by thick woods, empty fields, and the river Nairn. It’s early and the morning mists have barely dissipated so the site feels other worldly – or maybe it’s just me. There’s a small parking area, minimal signage, no entrance fee, and no vendors selling miniature cairns. It’s peaceful and you feel a sense of wonder. Who built these ancient burial mounds and why?
The woods on the far side are thick and green. There are no buildings in sight and if you shut out the wandering figures of our tour mates you can almost see how it must have looked thousands of years ago. Graeme is guiding the others through the sight but I just want to wander around hoping to feel something and understand where I am. Besides I’m not sure about the veracity of Graeme’s stories, he loves to talk.

Besides I’d already done some reading before coming to Scotland. The cairns are about 4000 years old. Used first in about 2000 BC, then again 1000 years later. Archaeologists think the site was originally a farm area and there’s some evidence the stones used to build the burial cairns were taken from demolished houses. They don’t know who built these cairns, exactly when, for what reason, or who was buried here. Graeme gave us a good amount of time here but these are the times I wish I didn’t have a time line and could just sit on the ground alone and take it all in.

Culloden Moor is a only about 5 minutes from Clava Cairns. There’s a large modern visitor’s center, a generous parking area, and discreet signage asking visitors to remember and respect that this is a burial site. The battle was fought on Culloden Moor, after the battle the dead were buried where they lay.  Small stones with the names of the different clans, or “mixed clans”, are scattered around the field.

Other than the Visitor’s center the only building within site is a croft (Old Leanach Cottage) said to have been built in 1712 and likely used as a field hospital for the English wounded. There were out buildings but they were burned after the battle when the English were searching for Jacobites. The croft has been maintained, the grass roof has been replaced, probably several times in the last 250 years. Graeme tells us the field is usually mowed but the government is encouraging bee pollination so they aren’t mowing certain government maintained sites. To my mind the tall grass makes the scene more realistic. You see nothing but tall grasses, woods, and distant hills as far as the eye can see. Very serene, very eerie, the dark sky only adds to the mood.

According to a sign at the sight, archaelogical excavation as well as topographic, geophysical, and metal detector has revealed lots of metal objects like musket balls, cannon shot, mortar shell fragments, pieces broken from muskets, buttons, buckles, personal possessions, such as a king’s shilling and a pewter cross and even a bayonet. From the placement of these objects they’ve learned that much of the battle was fought in close quarters, hand to hand or with close range gun shots.

I had never heard of Culloden or the Jacobite rising until reading Outlander. The books are fiction, the characters not real, but the story gives you an idea of how the clan system worked and how highland men were trained to fight from a young age.

That April day the Jacobites knew they were far outnumbered, they were also tired and hungry, without the supplies and equipment their opponents enjoyed. The conditions were not in their favor, and Charles Stuart wasn’t listening to his chiefs recommendations of how, where, and when to fight. Many deserted before the battle began, going back to their neglected farms and families, others stayed out of honor or stubbornness, fully expecting to die.

The battle was short and when it was clear his army would not win, Charles Stuart ran. Apparently with the help of supporter Flora MacDonald he traveled to the Island of Skye in the guise of an Irish servant woman. From there he was taken back to France and lived the rest of his life in Italy.

After the battle Jacobites were hunted down and killed or imprisoned, farms and estates were confiscated, families put out of their homes starved. Clans, gaelic, tartan, weapons, and even bagpipes were banned. Men not hung or killed on the spot were sent to Canada and the American colonies as indentured slaves. Others left Scotland voluntarily to flee persecution. The English wanted to end any thoughts of Scottish independence for ever.

I regret we were not able to go through the Culloden museum, in hindsight I would easily have given up several of the things we were to do that afternoon for another hour at Culloden.

Taken from WIKI……

The Battle of Culloden (Scottish Gaelic: Blàr Chùil Lodair) was the final confrontation of the Jacobite rising of 1745 and part of a religious civil war in Britain. On 16 April 1746, the Jacobite forces of Charles Edward Stuart fought loyalist troops commanded by William Augustus, Duke of Cumberland, near Inverness in the Scottish Highlands. Queen Anne had died in 1714 without any surviving children and was the last monarch of the House of Stuart. Under the terms of the Act of Settlement 1701, she was succeeded by her second cousin George I of the House of Hanover, who was a descendant of the Stuarts through his maternal grandmother, Elizabeth, a daughter of James VI and I. The Hanoverian victory at Culloden halted the Jacobite intent to overthrow the House of Hanover and restore the House of Stuart to the British throne; Charles Stuart never again mounted any further attempts to challenge Hanoverian power in Great Britain. The conflict was the last pitched battle fought on British soil.[4]

Charles Stuart’s Jacobite army consisted largely of Catholics – Scottish Highlanders, as well as a number of Lowland Scots and a small detachment of Englishmen from the Manchester Regiment. The Jacobites were supported and supplied by the Kingdom of France from Irish and Scots units in the French service. A composite battalion of infantry (“Irish Picquets”) comprising detachments from each of the regiments of the Irish Brigade plus one squadron of Irish cavalry in the French army served at the battle alongside the regiment of Royal Scots (Royal Ecossais) raised the previous year to support the Stuart claim.[5] The British Government (Hanoverian loyalist) forces were mostly Protestants – English, along with a significant number of Scottish Lowlanders and Highlanders, a battalion of Ulstermen and some Hessians from Germany[6] and Austrians.[7] The quick and bloody battle on Culloden Moor was over in less than an hour when after an unsuccessful Highland charge against the government lines, the Jacobites were routed and driven from the field.

Between 1,500 and 2,000 Jacobites were killed or wounded in the brief battle. Government losses were lighter with 50 dead and 259 wounded although recent geophysical studies on the government burial pit suggest the figure to be nearer 300.[citation needed] The battle and its aftermath continue to arouse strong feelings: the University of Glasgow awarded Cumberland an honorary doctorate, but many modern commentators allege that the aftermath of the battle and subsequent crackdown on Jacobitism were brutal, and earned Cumberland the sobriquet “Butcher”. Efforts were subsequently taken to further integrate the comparatively wild Highlands into the Kingdom of Great Britain; civil penalties were introduced to weaken Gaelic culture and attack the Scottish clan system.



Just a wee distraction before writing about Day 2 or our highland adventure.

The Outlander series by Diana Gabaldon was partially, well mostly, the reason I wanted to go to Scotland this summer.  I’m a big fan of historical fiction so these books were right up my alley.  I talked about Outlander and its pull in an earlier post Aye, you’re a long time deid, ya ken?  Since then I’ve read and listen to the series a few times and I’m still fascinated. I pick up something new each time and end up looking up people and events to learn more. I have a great respect for writers anyway, but those who make me think are just brilliant!

The author Diana Gabaldon

The 8 (soon to be 9)  book Outlander Series

The Outlander series is basically a love story that takes place in the 1700s between two strong and intelligent people living through a fascinating time in history.  The books are clearly fiction (ya think!) but the author, a researcher by education and trade, peppers her story with historical events and people. The books take the reader through  18th century Scotland, France, Jamaica, and North Carolina. The two fictional characters, Claire Beauchamp and James Fraser,  travel through their 1700s life meeting people like Charles Edward Stuart (Bonnie Prince Charlie), Louis XV of France, Count St Germain, Ben Franklin, Marquis de Lafayette, George Washington, Benedict Arnold, and Joseph Brant, to name a few. The books show how people lived on farms and estates in the Scottish highlands, on Jamaican plantations, and in the Carolina back country, as well as in Edinburgh and Paris society.

The story starts with life in Scotland leading up to the massacre on Culloden Moor in 1746,  then hobnobbing with French nobility during the reign of Louis the XV, the long and dangerous crossing to the new world , plantation life in the Indies, finally colonial America just before and during the Revolution. What people ate, how they built homes, what games they played, books they read, songs they sang, how illness was treated – or not, the politics of the time, all discussed in the narrative. You get a feel for how wealth and poverty effected lives, how dangerous life was for everyone, men (war), women (childbirth) and families (starvation and war).

Main character actors – STARZ Outlander Series (Caitriona Balfe and Sam Heughan)

Tough Highland men

Claire caught in the intrigue of the French court.

Of course the story has that twist.  Claire accidentally comes to 1743 from 1945 through a standing stone on a Scottish hillside.  I know, I know – but what if?

Claire Beauchamp is a doctor trained in 20th century Boston and practicing in the 18th century. She tries to use her medical knowledge without the benefit of anesthesia, antibiotics, operating rooms, xrays, dentistry, and modern methods of disinfection.

James Fraser was born to run a Highland estate, sent away as a teenager to learn to fight and defend himself and his land, then sent to France for the formal education befitting a higher born Scot.  On his return to Scotland he joined his fellow highlanders defying the English as often as possible and dealing with the backlash as it came.

Claire falls in love with Jamie but circumstances (the last Jacobite battle) sends her through the stones, back to her “own time” pregnant and devastated to be leaving her husband.  Twenty years later she learns Jamie didn’t die in the battle and she contrives to go back.  Later, unknown to Claire, their 20 year old daughter Brianna follows her, then Brianna’s boyfriend Roger comes to find Brianna.   Brianna is an engineer by education, and a very competent and strong willed woman, she and her historian boyfriend bring a whole new set of interesting possibilities to the story.

Tomorrow we visit the Culloden Battlefield a few miles north east or Inverness.  The Battle of Culloden, fought on  April 16, 1746, plays a key role in the Outlander books.  It was a short bloody battle fought between men who backed the British King, and men who followed  Charles Edward Stuart (Bonnie Prince Charlie or The Pretender King) called Jacobites. The English crushed the Jacobites and the battle changed Scotland forever.

North to the Highlands, the other Scotland.


Beautiful Urguhart Castle on Loch Ness

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Our two day Timberbush tour from Edinburgh to the Highlands with an overnight in Inverness departs from the same place as yesterday and we know the drill. We arrive early to insure a good seat on the bus and again appreciate the small 19-seater that arrives right on time.

Our new driver is another Graeme – spelled differently but he’s just as gregarious and knowledgeable as Graham was yesterday. As we get ourselves organized and out of city traffic he asks everyone where they’re from. I can see we have a mini united nations on board and we Caucasians are in the minority. There’s a couple from Hong Kong, a family from Mumbai, two young women and a young man from Bankgkok, a young Japanese woman from Toronto, and a mother/daughter from Norway. Gail and I, and a couple from the mid-west, make up the contingent from the US.  Very interesting group, you really wonder what brings people from Hong Kong, Mumbai and Bangkok to Edinburgh? I can understand London, Paris, Berlin, Rome but I didn’t think Edinburgh would draw people from all over the globe. Yet here we are and I’m so glad I’m able to spend time in Scotland.

Graeme our driver and out guide.

Today we head west following the path of our fateful journey in Lucifer, but this time we get to watch the scenery and let Graeme watch the road. The first thing we encounter is the Kelpie sculptures just out of Edinburgh. Its quite a site and I wish I could see them up close and not from the highway. The following information is from a website called Colossal, an art website.

Kelpies sculpture in Falkirk north of Edinburgh

Currently in the last stages of construction after nearly 7 years of development, the Kelpies are a pair of gargantuan horse heads by public artist Andy Scott that now tower over the Forth & Clyde canal in Falkirk, Scotland. The sculptures measure some 30 meters tall (99 ft.) and are meant as a monument to the horse-powered heritage of Scotland.

According to Wikipedia:
The Kelpies name reflected the mythological transforming beasts possessing the strength and endurance of 10 horses; a quality that is analogous with the transformational change and endurance of Scotland’s inland waterways. The Kelpies represent the lineage of the heavy horse of Scottish industry and economy, pulling the wagons, ploughs, barges and coalships that shaped the geographical layout of the Falkirk area.

Our first stop is Castle Doune which we had already seen, and I’m glad,  because this is a quick stop and I’m disappointed not to go inside. Graeme points out the section of the outside castle wall which was the background of Monty Pythons famous Holy Grail scene called “French Taunting”, hilarious in that weird Monty Python way. (check it out on UTube)

Another look at Doune Castle. Sp peaceful, I could spend all day here.

The rest of the day we drive  through Loch Lomand, Trossacks National Park, Glen Coe and the Highlands. The southern part of Scotland is more inhabited and industrialized with large cities (Glasgow and Edinburgh being the largest)  but as you go north the landscape changes and it gradually becomes more remote. Inverness it the northern most city and there’s a lot more of Scotland beyond Inverness. I would have liked to visit the northern islands, the Okneys and Shetlands. From what we saw spending a short time on Mull and Iona, the islands have their own unique landscape, customs, and history. The Orkney and Sheland Islands are that much farther north and away from “civilization”, full of Neolithic and Viking history. 

There are so many fascinating places and people on this earth. I begin to understand why some people chuck everything, slap on a backpack, and just go!  Not everyone can do it but I envy those who can (or just do!), at least for a period long enough to gain understanding of our vast and fascinating world, before coming back to reality.

The Highlands are breathtaking because for the most part there aren’t structures to mar the panorama. There are many lochs and rivers, and vast areas of nothing but mountains, not the jagged peaks we’re used to in North America, these are older and worn smooth. Verdant green valleys stretch between the mountains but you can see how hard it would have been getting from A to B before trains, planes and automobiles. As you go further north there aren’t many trees, just lots of rock and uneven ground. Even now there are few roads and Graeme describes how dangerous it is to be caught in the highlands in a winter storm. Blowing snow completely obliterates the road and you can easily drive into a ditch or worse.

It’s so nice driving through this amazing landscape so different from anything in North America.

Loch something or other, there are so many.

Abandoned railway line, apparently it was built on the side of an unstable hill and there were so many landslides they had to abandoned it and rebuilt the line on more even land.

This goes on for miles and miles, green and beautiful

Another beautiful body of water

Gail and Kathy, watching for some kind of beastie that we were told were all over this beach, but we saw none. However the scenery made up for any lack of beasties.

This is Heather and Hamish. They’re outside the restaurant where we stop for lunch. Both are clearly very used to people taking pictures, apparently this is a common bus stopping place and everyone comes to take their picture.

Graeme stops several times as we drive toward Loch Ness and Inverness where we’ll spend the night.

We stop at Dochart Falls for pictures and bathroom break. The falls are lovely but on the walk across the river we pass the Clan MacNab Ancient Burial place Dochart Falls. I would like to visit the burial ground and stop at the Folklore museum in Killin where the falls are located. These are the drawbacks of a short tour, you get just enough time to want more and then you move on. Frustrating.

Loch Ness.  The Loch is large, very deep, cold and lovely. This is a nice break from the bus ride but if up to me I would spent the time differently.  After 5 minutes I’m done with Lock Ness and have another 55 minutes to go!

Loch Ness

Nessie (actually a small figure drawn on the window, quite clever, afterall why else would you take a boat on Loch Ness if not to take a picture of Nessie?)

We arrive in Inverness at dinner time and Graeme starts depositing people  in various B and Bs and guest houses.  There’s a delay as he drops off a one couple only to find the owner has them booked for the following week! Whoops!  Graeme scrambles to make calls and find a substitute accommodation.  The poor guy is driver and tour guide and even though there are only 19 of us I’m impressed – I do worry about his blood pressure though!

Timberbush booked us (last minute) at the Waterside Inn.  Our room doesn’t overlook the River Ness but its comfortable and a short walk to town. We’re tired and hungry and unfortunately chose the first pub we see,  this turned out to be a big mistake. The pub is preparing for a large bus group and clearly its limited and unaccustomed personnel are putting all their time into prepping for the group. Our meal is late, overcooked, and almost inedible. Cranky – time for bed!

Inverness isn’t Edinburgh however in all fairness we’re only here overnight and won’t see enough of Inverness to make judgment. Graeme will pick us up first thing in the morning and we’ll leave Inverness without so much as a glance. BTW  Inverness has a castle , a cathedral ,  and a huge amount of interesting history.   I wish we had more time, a return visit is necessary!

Cathedral, Castle, Royals, and Golf! St Andrews


Main Street in St Andrews. These little boys started waving madly when they saw me taking pictures of the coffee shop. They were sitting in the window luring people in, cute as they are.  You could see the young Wills in all their young British faces. This is one of my favorite pictures from Scotland. We met such nice people.

Who knew…..

Mary, Queen of Scots (1542-87), an avid golfer, is thought to have coined the term “caddie” by calling her assistants “cadets.” The Queen traveled to France to play golf and historians report that she was criticized for playing golf and not spending enough time on Royal matters. It is during her reign that the famous golf course at St. Andrews is built.

Wednesday July 29, Day tour to St Andrews

Off to St Andrews today. We weren’t sure  if we would be in a large bus or a 19 seater – we were relieved when the 19 seater pulled up with our tour guide/driver Graham. Graham is a jovial Scot of about 50, he loves to talk and is a wealth of information, a virtual sponge. I suspect about 60% of what he’s telling us is accurate, but regardless, he’s entertaining and we’re learning a lot of history and fun facts about Scotland and the Scots – past and present. Our group is social and more importantly — on time!

So nice to let someone else do the driving. The bus has two rows, double seats on the left and singles on the right, we choose the single seats so we each have a window. Leaving Edinburgh we cross the Firth of Forth over the Forth Road Bridge. The bridge was build in 1964 to replace the old ferry service from Edinburgh to Queensferry. Originally established in the 1100s by the Queen (hence Queensferry) the ferry carried religious pilgrims from Edinburgh to St Andrews.  It was in service steadily until the 1960’s, which to me is amazing.   There’s a Victorian era railway bridge on our right, so well maintained it looks new. On our left another road bridge is being built to replace the current 1960s era bridge on its last legs.

Our first stop is the 13th century Aberdour Castle. It was originally built in the 1200s but added to substantially in subsequent centuries. It’s easy to distinguish the newer, versus the older construction. We arrived right at 9:30 for a bathroom and coffee stop and a quick walk around the grounds. This castle was used in the Starz Outlander series as the French Sainte Anne de Beaupre monastery (I have to go back and look at that episode). It’s early morning and very peaceful here. I wish we had the time to go through the castle – another reason to return to Scotland! As it was the person assigned to open up is late so we wander around waiting for the person to arrive to open the bathrooms – the coffee will have to wait.

Aberdour Castle Fife

800 years of history

Back lawns

Our next stop is further up the coast towards St Andrew’s . The fishing village of Anstruther is very charming and old world , there are certainly signs of the 21st century but much of the town was built in the 1800s and feels it. We have a limited amount of time and after walking up the street admiring the architecture and small shops we duck into a coffee shop to have a cappuccino and scone. No paper cups, plastic stirrers, or mass produced muffins here. Strictly homemade and beautifully served. Makes me want to run home and dust off the tea pot, tea strainer, cozy,  and the lovely tea cups my mother gave me   when she moved out of her “big house” into her condo years ago.

Anstruther coffee shop

Main Street Anstruther

The pictures make it look like winter but we really didn’t notice until we looked at our pictures! It was actually comfortable travel weather.

Sea wall

Lovely flowers in all the small towns

Our next stop is St Andrews. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect of the city and the golf course and was surprised. The Old Course is downtown right beside a beautiful beach (opening scene of the movie Chartiots of Fire!)  The ruins of St Andrews Castle and Cathedral, as well as St Andrews University, shops, restaurants, pubs are all a short walk from one another.  Its a very walk-friendly city.

We parked in the parking area near a clubhouse .  Workers are busily taking down the considerable number of stands and other non permanent structures left from “The Open” the week before. Meanwhile the course is busy. There’s a miniature course where families with children were playing and a putting area that was busy. Between the golfers, families, and workers, it was not the pastoral scene I expected. I pictured a course in the countryside, with gates and staid old buildings and signs saying “members only”.  Not the bustling scene we encountered.  There was more a feeling of excitement, guys finally stepping on golf’s hallowed ground and getting to play “The Old Course” they’d dreamt of since picking up their first putter.

Old Course St Andrews, stands still up from The Open

It took everything in me not to interrupt him to ask where he got his cool duds.

Beach right beside the course with kayakers – brrrrh!

We have three hours in St Andrews and the others are going to lunch at a seafood place with our driver.  Gail and I decide to pass , not wanting to waste sightseeing time, and we go our separate way. There’s St Andrew’s Castle ,and the Cathedral, and we both want to pop into the University . Everything is walking distance and within the town – amazing! I can’t imagine living amongst these ruins from the 10th and 11th century, passing them everyday on my way to work or to the grocery store, such an beautiful and interesting city!
St Andrew’s Castle ruins

The Castle is right downtown and beside the Cathedral, both on the water with lovely views and protection I assume.

Looking back at the castle from the Cathedral

Gruesome things happened here in the name of religion.

Castle rooms still in tact. Damp and cold!

Located on the cliffs overlooking St Andrew’s Bay, the castle and adjacent Cathedral are in ruins, their stone having been pillaged to build the town. It’s fascinating to see the gruesome dungeons still visible at the castle, and the cemetery stones surrounding the ruins of what was once the largest cathedral in Scotland. It would take all day to properly see the castle and cathedral so we see what we can and, trying to manage our time, head to the university. Along the way we pass a small coffee shop with a sign announcing “Where Kate met Wills”. There are three young boys, probably 8 or 9,  sitting in the window hamming it with the passersby , seeing my camera they give me a big smile and a wave. Very cute.

Huge drooling Newfoundland Dog in St Andrews. He was drawing quite a crowd but was looking quite bored, or maybe that’s his normal expression.

Lovely flowers all over Scotland in the summer

We’re conscious of time, we both want to pop into the gift shop at the Old Course Clubhouse and we need to grab something quick to eat before the long ride back to Edinburgh.  We pop into the inner courtyard and gardens of the University, no time to seek out the library or other interesting buildings. It’s old and soaked in tradition,  just as I imagined.  It’s summer but it must be fun to be there during the school year – students taking over the pubs, coffee shops,  and restaurants, laughing and full of life.

Gardens St Andrew’s University

After that we head back to the Old Course Clubhouse and gift shop. After a quick look around and purchase of some souvenirs for our golf playing sons, we were greeted as we entered the restaurant and escorted to our table. Windows surround the restaurant and we can see the golfers teeing off.  We have enough time for soup and scone — and of course another pot of lovely Earl Gray.

Our tour mates are all on time – so lovely – and we’re back on the bus headed for Edinburgh.  The driver has one more stop for us, Queensferry.

This building is from 1628

You can see the rail bridge, current road bridge and to the left of the road bridge is the new bridge construction.

The Victorian era rail bridge