Thursday, September 22, 2016

Next I take up smoking

I give up.  We've been so busy each day that I am sooooo far behind on this blogging bit. I enjoy doing it, I love that my family and friends can armchair travel with us, but it just keeps getting harder every day to go back in time and resurface what occurred in the past.

Our days start with breakfast between 8 and 9 in the morning and then we pack the car and off we go.  We usually drive at least 2 hours to some attraction near where we will stop for the night and then spend anywhere from 1.5 to 3 hrs going through that venue reading every sign, plaque, etc.  Afterwards, we locate a coffee shop and have decaf and a small treat.  More driving puts us at our stop for the night and we check in between 5:30 to 6:30.  About 30-45 minutes in our room before we head out for dinner which takes us about 1.5 hours to fully enjoy. Back to our rooms, semi unpack, get ready for bed and then I blog...unless I'm simply too tired to do so.  The driving takes it out of me.  There is just no way to describe that frisson of anxiety that courses through my whole body when a large truck (lorrie) comes lurching around a blind corner on a narrow little back country road - or even one with a dotted line...

New tack, you're just going to get what I write.  Novel idea, eh?

The day started out sunny and breezy as we left the B&B about 10a to drive out of the Scottish Highlands and head for Glasgow.  View from the room this a.m.

We stopped at Pitlochry to investigate a Whiskey Distillery and go on a tour.  The first stop on the tour was the tasting room with a video about Edradour, "Scotland's smallest distillery".  This is one of the few that still use manual methods to produce whiskey.  There we are at 12:40 in the afternoon drinking two different whiskeys.  The first time I've tasted whiskey in fact. One was a whiskey cured in a sherry barrel - their Edradour 10 year old whiskey.  The second was their Ballechin  (bal like in balance -uh -kin).  The latter was very peaty/smoky and of the two, I liked it best, which perhaps is not saying much.  Sitting there trying to do my best to drink whiskey for lunch, I wondered if I would next take up smoking to go with my new, foul whisky-drinking habit.  I'll have to pass on both I fear.

Below is a chart showing the various characteristics of whiskey as laid out by experts.  Some of these are pretty humorous and indicate to me that I will never be serious about any of this.  I particularly think that "sweaty" under the Feinty category and "stagnant" under Sulfur are enough to choke one up.

This is where whiskey made at Edradour starts.  Each day a ton of dry, malted barley from a large plastic bag like this is ground up and then mixed in  a huge vat with very hot water and rehydrated. 

 The malting of the grain takes place off site in a special facility for a variety of health and safety reasons.  The next step is to separate the solids from the liquids.  The remaining solids are given to local farmers as it still has value as fodder.

Next, the liquid is placed in a large vat and yeast is added.  On the top is today's  batch with yesterday's below.  Lots of fermentation going on.

The liquid is then heated again and run through two distillations, one for each of these tanks.

Each of these has a 10' condensing coil immersed in a cold water tank on the outdoor side of the wall to the right.  The resulting spirits are then run off into a tank for further cooling and then put into barrels and labelled.  At this point and for the next 3 years it is called spirit.  After 3 years, the distiller has the right to sell it as whiskey.  At this distillery, it stays in the barrel for at least 10 years and loses up to 25% of the alcohol, which is called "the angels share".  They asked us not to use any flash photography in the storage building as they said it could start a fire.  


Last but certainly not least.  The admiration and jealousy for the distillery owner who has the imagination AND the money to experiment with different marketing ideas.  One of his ideas is to use different barrels, previously used for making wines.  Sauterne, Barolo and Bourbon to name few.  Each type of barrel lends a different color and flavor to the whiskey.

Another "sideline" is that he has been travelling around Scotland and different distilleries and buying up old stock.  He is then bottling it under a new label called Signatory Vintage.  Whiskey drinkers, eat your hearts out. This stuff ain't cheap.  I inserted this photo as large as I could so that you all can read it and weep.

Monday, September 19, 2016

Trains and Automobiles, but No Planes

Note: This is going to be a quick catchup entry as I am behind more than usual from taking a night off through being tired and also from getting sucked into a YouTube video. In the event you were not aware, these posts are usually a a couple days behind reality, but so am I most of the time.

The day dawned bright and fair as we headed out of Portmeirion towards the north of Wales.  Our route took us through the Snowdonia National Park, Snowdonia being the tallest peak in Wales.  As usual, the scenery was gorgeous as we wended our way along a little two lane road that afforded a few white-knuckles moments for me and caused Debbie to grab the handle over her window.

At this point, you can see the landscape changes as the brilliant greens are giving way to gold and brown - the brown being bracken.

Eventually, there was a local on my tail that obviously knew the road and wanted to drive faster, so I pulled off to let him by.  The silver lining here, was that I chose a train station parking lot to pull into.  We decided to stretch our legs and as we read the boards along the carpark, discovered that it was a stop along the route of one of the many steam locomotives that still run here in Wales.  Legacies of the past and now used as tourist attractions.   As luck would have it, one was due in 5  minutes.  As we moved towards the platform, we could hear the sounds of its approach echoing up the valley though as yet, we couldn't see it.

Soon enough, it rounded the bend and rolled into sight.  We stood on the Passenger bridge over the tracks as it rolled under us into the station and I was overcome with the nostalgia of the smell of a coal powered train.  As a child, on summer vacations back in Pennsylvania, my grandfather would take us to ride on the Strasburg railroad, "a 9 mile round trip to Paradise (PA) and back".  The train was in station for a little over 5 minutes, but I had the luck to talk with the young engineer and discovered that he too had been to Strasburg and ridden the narrow gauge train there.  The UK is a train aficionado's Mecca.

Our next stop was on the Isle of Anglesey, specifically, the little town of
LLanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch which is 58 letters. The actual name is Llanfairpwll, but during the Victorian era due to a promotional stunt, it was changed.  It translates from Welsh to English as "Saint Mary's Church in a hollow of white hazel near the swirling whirlpool of the church of Saint Tysilio with a red cave" and is now the second longest one word palace name in the world.  The title for the longest one word name goes to 
Taumatawhakatangi­hangakoauauotamatea­turipukakapikimaunga­horonukupokaiwhen­uakitanatahu which is 85 letters and means "The summit where Tamatea, the man with the big knees, the climber of mountains, the land-swallower who travelled about, played his nose flute to his loved one".  Not to be outdone, the U.S. holds third place with the 45 letter one word lake name Chargoggagoggmanchauggagoggchaubunagungamaugg which means "Fishing Place at the Boundaries – Neutral Meeting Grounds".  But I digress.

Our final stop for the day you was at Conwy Castle in Conwy, Wales. A medieval fortification built in only 4 years beginning in 1283.  The Castle changed hands between the British and the Welsh several times.  It was very large and very impressive.  Surrounding the old town, the original castle wall still stands and has been incorporated into modern use age.

Oddities for the day.  The 12 little battlements sticking out along this section of the Castle wall, where actually communal medieval toilets.  They were a later addition to the castle by Edward I built as a convenience for the gentlemen of his wardrobe (think medieval logistics officers).  They were installed at the cost of £15, which is the equivalent of £45,000 in today's £.


Last but not least, is this.  I'm really not sure what this is about.  Is it meant to be a collection of those little scented tree shaped thingys?  Hoarding behavior for the car?  Or perhaps like Jelly Bellies, when you eat a cola flavor bean and a cherry flavor bean, it tastes like a Cherry Coke?  Perhaps this person is creating a Strawberry Pinetree scented car?   I'm just not sure, but that's an answer I'll never know.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Two earthquakes

As, I alluded to photographically in my last post, we stayed at Portmeirion, a hotel set upon the hillside on the coast of Wales in the local jurisdiction known as Gwynedd.

It was conceived of and built by Sir Clough Williams-Ellis between 1925 and 1975 in the style of an Italian village and is now owned by a charitable trust.  It has been used for several films and was "The Village" for those of you who remember the TV show "The Prisoner".  There is a Disneyland like quality as it is fantastical to find a setting like this on the wild coast of Wales.  Views from our room:

And a view back at our room.  We're the ones with the open windows.  You can see the little bow window in the room itself.  The tall, single window to the right of it, is the bathroom window.  The toilet is right next to that window and offers a grand view of the Plaza below from there...hmmm.  'Nuff said.

As you can see from this picture, these buildings are built on the rock face of the cliff.

Now, as I see it, being built on a rock is a good thing, isn't it?  Wales does experience earthquakes, in fact two earthquakes in the last 5 years.  I looked it up.  A 3.0 in May 2015 and a 3.8 in May on 2013.  Luckily it's September And none of the 14 earthquakes around the UK in the last 50 days occurred in Wales.

We enjoyed an excellent dinner at the Castle Deudraeth and hit the sack.  The next morning, we had breakfast and then went for a walk along the coast walk.

After our walk, we packed up the car and headed out.  I'm going to leave you with a few oddities discovered at Portmeirion.  Below is a tree stump with various coins wedged into the cut face of it.  These coins are in there right and tight as if the wood grew around the coins.  Some were bent over as if pounded in.  Some were new, some old, some rusted.  It was intriguing and has no answer as to how the HECK?

Last, but certainly not least, is the picture of the maintenance guy here at the hotel solving the issue of mold/moss on the wall of the building across from our window. A new coat of paint apparently solves everything.

Friday, September 16, 2016

I Once Spent A Week in a Car

Looking back on yesterday, the old W.C. Field's line comes to mind,  "I once spent a week in Philadelphia one night."  Yesterday was one of those weeks, a long day behind the wheel of this.

Yes, it's  a Citroën.  It looked kind of jaunty there in Zone 2 of the rental car lot.  I had my misgivings about it being a dog for acceleration, but it actually has some zip to it.  This is especially important during those times when I'm struggling with driving here in the UK.  Debbie asked if she could ride in the trunk because she didn't want to watch, but I told her that wouldn't work because the luggage is in there.  She told me we could move it to the back seat and I countered with the argument that I needed someone to tell me to shift into first when I'm waiting for the light to change.  That finally got her to concede to sitting up front with me.

We drove from outside Cardiff to Portmeirion.  About 6.5 hours of actual driving with a few pleasant breaks.  One was for lunch.

Other little stops along the way were made ostensibly to take pictures, but really to let the locals get by our car.  This driving isn't easy.  We're often on narrow two lane back roads, winding through tall hedgerows, up and down hills, lots of blind corners.  We've learned that when the stripe that separates the lanes disappears, the road gets even narrower and two cars have to work carefully to pass each other.  Here's a good picture of one of those "one lane" roads taken at one of our "unscheduled" rest stops.

And another view along the way.  

Wales is absolutely beautiful.  Even with the overcast and mist, it glows green and eternal, quietly thriving in a kind of off the beaten path kind of way.  The hillsides can be quite steep and are covered with fields that are "tiled" across the landscape with dark green grout lines consisting of hedges and small trees.  In some of those fields, there are specks of white that are grazing sheep.  

Next scheduled stop was Aberstwyth, Wales.  Known for its colorful townscape as you can see here.  Most of the houses were brightly painted, but there were a few that were more subdued.  


We walked around a bit, visited the harbor (low tide), walked up the main street and I even managed to skim a few of the flat beach rocks in the Atlantic Ocean. We then hopped back in the car to push on.

We finally arrived at Portmeirion by a few minutes after 6p having left our B&B in Cardiff about 8 hours earlier.  What a magical place.  More about that tomorrow, but here's a teaser.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

English Breakfast for Two

This is how we started the day, so this is how I'll start today's installment...

Breakfast at the Mousetrap.  They even had a GF sausage and toast for me yippee!  After breakfast, we threw the luggage in the boot (look it up) and drove down to the car park near the model village hear in Bourton.  I'd shared a post about it a couple of months ago and I must admit that was more or less the inspiration for this trip.   Well, that and an Alaska Airlines double mileage offer...

The exhibit didn't open until 10, so we had about 30 minutes to kill.   We took the time to walk through the parts of the village outside the hard core tourist zone.  Very tidy, quiet little village consistng mostly of  little houses made of Cotswold stone, a yellowish sandstone.  Here' s a twofer photo showing both the stone and an interesting statuette set in the front wall up high under the eaves as seen in the second photo.  I also tossed in a few obligatory "cute" shots taken in the village.

Determining we'd killed enough time we returned to the model museum.  This museum contains 1/9th scale replicas of various buildings in the village.  More of that story can be read here.

Debbie playing hide and seek behind the house.

This gentleman is a full time employment of the Model village.  He told us that he'd been working on the restoration of this building for 6 months and that he had about 8 more weeks to go.  After that, he indicated that restoring the church behind me was his next task.  I'm thinking that might be a cool job to have for a short time and Debbie's thinking "no way".

I thought this was charming with the King Kong size pink rose growing over the back of it.  The next two photos are offered as a visual gag.
After the Model Village we went walkabout and used one of the many local footpaths available to visit a village called The Slaughters.  Picture of me in front of the old Mill there.

 The humidity has been on the somewhat unpleasant side since our arrival, but the paths through the woods and fields provided us a way to take advantage of the shade and a pleasant breeze.  We passed fields with horses and walked through a field with a flock of sheep.  This was really cool, but took some careful treading to avoid the many piles of sheep poop littering the path.

A brisk return walk, a stop at a grocery store and off we went to Cardiff in Wales.  This was about a 1.5 hour drive during which Debbie's right eye began twitching also.  We visited St. Fagan which is a national exhibit of dwellings that have been brought from all over Wales in one outdoor exhibit.  The exhibit is intended to chronicle the historical lifestyle, culture and architecture of the Welsh people.  The part we liked best was a row of Iron worker's terrace houses that had been decorated in the style common for different years, 1805, 1855, 1900 and just after WWII.  The whole thing was fascinating.  We arrived late in the day, so many of the places had already closed as the weather had dampened their usual turnout.

Another 40 minute drive to our B&B that included a hair-raising drive up a two lane street with many small businesses.  What was the big deal?  Parked cars  effectively made two lanes into one lane with cars trying to go both ways.  That was our first episode of that fun, but sadly, not our last.

After that experience we decided to walk to dinner.  We chose Moksha in town.  Wonderful Indian restaurant.  My dinner came in a contraption that looked like it was last used in a trapeze act, but it was very tasty meal.

Another successful day in which we survived and thrived.  Accomplishment for the day was beginning to shift gears more smoothly in and out of those #$##@@&&$##$$ traffic circles.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Driving on the Wrong Side of the Road

The flight over on British Airways was non-eventful, but certainly not the most pleasant international flight I've been on.  The flight attendants were affable and if you weren't sure whether you wanted red or white wine, they simply chucked a bottle of each at you and slammed the trolley a little further down the aisle.  Drinks as well as meals landed on your waiting tray with a definite plunking noise.  I had the GF dinner - chicken, rice, mushy veggies and the usual rice cake wrapped in plastic wrap standing in for a real dinner roll. Debbie, my traveling companion, had the tortellini.  We each came away with a 250ml bottle of red and she also had a little bottle of vodka too.  She must have been especially pleasant to the server.

Our flight landed a little after noon and we proceeded through Border Control easily enough.   After taking the shuttle over to the Europecar rental building, we got to pick out our car.  Oddly, the deal here was "Pick any car in Zone 2, the keys are in the ignition."  As we perused our choices, another dripping wet car would be parked afresh in Zone 2, which caused further delay in making a choice. All this while jet after jet rumbles LOUDLY down the runway in a takeoff maybe 1/4 of a mile from us.

We finally picked a two tone Cirtröen and then tried asking for directions out of the airport and onto the correct motorway.  Surprize...or should I join the British and say Surprise?  No map.  Just some directions jotted down on the back of the map they do have that shows where one is in their parking lot.

Needless to say, we managed to get out of Heathrow and onto the M4 headed west by about 14:15.  The destination, Bourton-on-the-Water in the Cotswolds.  All in all about a 2 hr drive.  Driving in the UK is easy enough on the motorways when everyone is going the same direction as you are.  It's when you get off the motorways, have to negotiate the left and right turns from the left lane and OMG the freaking traffic circles everywhere.   I've driven manual transmissions through France, Germany, Switzerland, Italy, and Brussels using traffic circles before, but the combination of driving on the left side of road from the right side of the car, the gear shift on your left and a crap load of traffic circles is overwhelming after being up for over 24 hours.  Obviously, I didn't kill us both, but Debbie's left eye is still twitching from yesterday's car trip.

We had a light supper before checking into our room at the Mousetrap Inn.  Needless to say we were both sacked out by 8p, exhausted after the first day of travel.

The big coup for the day was discovering just HOW to put the car in reverse.  This skill comes in very handy when your car is sideways in the road trying to maneuver a U-turn in a narrow country road.

The payoff moment for the day was walking around the village before sunset with most of the tourists gone for the day.

The oddest thing seen yesterday was this hand dryer in the bathroom of the Baggage Reclaim hall at Heathrow.  It was easy enough to work.  You inserted your dripping wet hands under the icon showing two hands.  The warm air immediately begins to blow the water off of your hands and onto the angled metal piece in the picture.  The water is then both pushed by the air and pulled by gravity across the metal, both forces causing the water to begin to drip down the slanted surface towards the edge.  The whole time I'm watching this and wondering at what point the floor in front of this contraption becomes covered by a growing puddle.  As there was nobody really using this bathroom, it was perhaps moot, but I think that the logic here was that the rapidly moving hot air obliterated any moisture into thousands of little beady drops that then magically disappear.  I can neither confirm or deny it's efficacy as there were not enough test cases and only a quarter size wet spot on the floor.  Given the elegant Dyson hand dryers we sometimes see in the states,  I was baffled by this one.

Tomorrow, we sightsee here in the village and then take our lives into our hands once again and drive into Wales.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Crashing back to Earth

I've seen so many very interesting things here and learned so much also.  Last night I went to Tooting Bec (I love that name), which is a section of London where there are a lot of great Indian restaurants.  My landlady took me out there.  The food was great and the restaurant was full of people from all over India.  Shradha, my hostess, was telling me which part of  India they were from based on the way their saris were wrapped or their hair ornaments.  It was fascinating.

We talked about remodels, houses, what Bellevue is like, etc.  When we got back she invited me into her four floor home and she shared all of her plans for the future.  She's quite an animated lady, full of positive energies and projects.  She is a radiographer by profession and assists women with fertility issues using ultrasound and a supportive positive attitude.

Next week she is going to Spain to walk 100 miles on the pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostella.   It's her version of my London trip.   She was explaining how she has an 80 year lease on their home which was built about 150 years ago.  She then was talking about the improvements she wanted to make to it which started a whole other conversation about why.  If she doesn't own the place, why would she spend money to put in say, a new kitchen?  She explained that there are two levels of "ownership" I'm calling them.  There is the freeholder who actually owns the property on which the building stands.   Then there are the people who buy the lease on the units within the building.  I'd say that the lease is less expensive than our houses, but our houses are way less expensive than the freeholders cost.  She said that the freeholder's purchase price on the houses just down the road from the pizza place on the opposite corner of the intersection are between 5.5M to 6M GBP.  Now take that figure and multiply times the exchange rate of 1 GBP = $1.50 US.  That's a lot of money...but the bright side is that here in London, they get there trash picked up more than once a week.  :)  The white units along the road are the ones she was talking about.
I saw this on the way to Kensington Palace this morning.  Tell me if you could make an Aston Martin that James Bond would drive, why would you build one that looks like a Smart Car?
Another item I've been meaning to share this week is the outlets here in this flat.  The UK has these rather large 3 prong plugs, but the cool thing about the ones here is that they have switches on them.  You can turn the switch on and off at the plug, which CAN get a bit confusing if you also have a wall switch.  Think about it.  There are 4 possible settings for the two switches and only one of those settings will actually make the item plugged into the wall work.  It took me a while to get the hang of this even though it seems like it could be a good thing to have...especially with small children. 
Other typical things I've seen.  Here is a picture of one of the pubs in the heart of a nearby neighborhood.  It's usual for a popular pub to have more occupants than there is room for.  No worries, they just pile out into the street and occupy the sidewalks.  In this instance they also were sitting on a wall across the street.
On my perambulations today, I walked into this cheese shop to get this shot.  OMG, the smell was overpowering in there.  That's a lot of stinky cheese in one place!
Last photo is my "arty" shot for the day.  I took this through the window of an antique shop up near Notting Hill Gate.
Note to self.  Never, ever, ever get sucked back into your work email before you return from vacation.  Nothing can kill a wine buzz faster than viewing unpleasant things at work from a distance.