Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Wednesday, September 14th, Mission Bay


The Eagle has landed, and it's sitting in Airstream row, in the Mission Bay RV Resort.  Actually, there's only two of us here, and we're surrounded by 40-foot monsters, most with gas-guzzling off-road explorer vehicles.

It's nice to be back in the Southern California culture of my youth, where boomers who still think they are 18 - are everywhere.  Yea, look who's talking.

Look who woke me up this morning.  Las Flores Viewpoint has a colony of probably 500 of these squirrels who greet visitors just south of the Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power Plant.  They are huge, not afraid of humans, and burrow between the parking lot and the bluff.  This guy seemed to be negotiating for the group, and kept pounding his fists together.  Has anyone checked their radioactivity levels?

To see the few other shots of these guys, click on: Streaming to Reunion.

Monday, September 5, 2016

Monday, September 5th, Broadford, Scotland


The drive on Sunday from Aberdeen to Tongue on Scotland's northern coast was tough.  While only 291 miles, the narrowness off the road, and the amount of traffic, made it difficult. Almost all of it was a single-lane road, with sheep and lambs, and couples on a Sunday drive to Scotland's north coast, and salmon fishermen out to find the best spots.  With cars coming toward me, we had to find a mutual spot to attempt a pass.  Those wanting to pass me, we also had to find places to pull over.  It's too bad, because the countryside was gorgeous.  We just should have done it on a weekday, and planned a slower pace to have the time to stop and look around.

But in those long miles, we chose two places to rest.  The first was Clava Cairns, which we had visited on our last trip here.  Since then, new information has been suggested about the uses of the passages graves, and about the timing of the surrounding ring of stones.  Our archaeology tour of the Orkney provided us with lots of information about those cairns, and it was fun to look at these and apply that knowledge. I took a photo of the two interpretive signs to learn more.

The second spot was the Ness Island Walk along both sides of a short stretch of the River Ness in Inverness.  It reminded us of the river in Luang Prubang, Laos, where we spent a few evenings at dinner watching life drift by.  As we walked in one segment, a man about my age passing us caught my eye just as he scanned us and we both broke into big smiles.  We almost high-fived each other, as I knew his thoughts were acknowledging a mutual enjoyment of our lives at this moment.

We finished the drive to Tongue, a small settlement on the coast, having taken the wrong route, and paying for it with an extra hour.  Today, we drove more directly (on two-lane roads) to our hotel at Broadford, at the base of the Isle of Skye, and had time to tour the island before dinner.  Neither of us was impressed, but perhaps its hype made our expectations too great.  On the other hand, after Australia and Iceland, Scotland has to reach some high standards.  And without ruins or glaciers, it's hard to dazzle us.

Tomorrow, we’ll head over to Kilmartin Glen, the gold standard of Neolithic ruins in Scotland.  We’re staying at a golf resort just outside of Glasgow for the next couple of days, before returning home on Thursday. 

To see the photos taken today, click on Monday, September 5th.

Saturday, September 3, 2016

Saturday, February 3rd, Aberdeen, Scotland


Scotland has a Coastal Path, and we walked a small section of it today.  After a night ferry to Aberdeen, a taxi to the rental car agency (before the car was ready - we walked around town for an hour), driving the car to the hotel (before the room was ready we sat in the lobby for an hour), and then read the Scotland Lonely Planet sections on the towns coming up in the next few days.

A strong wifi, Google Earth and Street Tracker seemed to indicate trail along the coastal bluff nearby.  Pat read the news on her Mini-IPad, and I drove to the trailhead, found a good place to park (still getting used to right hand drive), and walked and photographed the section.  When finished, I returned to our hotel room, uploaded the photos, and made a pitch that we go get lunch, and then walk the trail.  Pat quickly agreed, and we headed out.

An added bonus was seeing several runs of the local commuter train running along the trail (not shown here - that's an oil delivery train).  A shiny new, three-coach express delivering north coast residents to jobs, shopping, and friends.  And very quiet.

Sunday to Durness, Monday to Isle of Skye, and Tuesday and Wednesday in Glasgow.  We fly home on Thursday.  Hope I can keep up posts along the way.  This is a beautiful country with lots of adventures, but it's also plenty of driving.

To see the photos taken today, click on Saturday, September 3rd.

Friday, September 2, 2016

Friday, September 2nd, Kirkwall, Orkney Islands


An illegal palace built by an Earl everyone hated, a cathedral built by an outcast to honor someone he and everyone in Orkney loved,  submarine barriers and a chapel built by Italian prisoners of war, an iron-age "Earth House" that was neither made of earth nor which served as a house, and a neolithic tomb built by who knows who, containing among other things - 24 iron-age dog skulls.  A real potpourri of Orkney Island Adventure.

Today concluded our tour of Orkney, with more climbing and crawling than ever.  As always, it was fun.  And we're really going to miss Caz.  The past six days have been filled to the brim with stories of life in Orkney, from the Neolithic to the present.  A timeless resident, sharing insights from someone dedicated to constantly questioning, understanding, and sharing.  Part tour guide, part mother duck, she has cared for us and nurtured us.  And we'll be forever greatful.

One of my favorite moments was when she told the story of a friend who had participated in a ceremony wherein school children gathered in a circle during the Queen Mum's visit, and presented her with stones from their parishes.  The Queen directed they be imbedded into the sides of a bowl to be placed on the Cathedral alter.

To see all of the photos taken today, click on Friday, September 2nd.

Tonight, we take a ferry to Aberdeen to begin a five-day Northern Scotland adventure.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Thursday, September 1st, Kirkwall, Orkney Islands


Hackness Tower and Battery, in South Walls, stands on a promintory overlooking Longhope Sound.  Built in 1813-14 at the height of the Napoleonic Wars, they were designed to protect one of the most important bays in the British Isles.  Their construction was inspired by an embarassing incident twenty years earlier, when two British warships (with a combined firepower of 106 guns) were defeated by two small cannons atop a Corsican hillside circular tower.

But if you thought this story was about how well this military gun placement performed - guess again.  It's initial construction was completed after the War of 1812 ended.  The resurrection of it during the Crimean War saw it failing to be useful.  Like a roller coaster, it was abandoned and then refurbished multiple times, missing out on effective use for the next hundred years.  In all, one shot was fired from it, and that was in practice.

Meanwhile, the bay it protected participated in some of the great developments in British naval history.  This includes American, French, and German patrols and reconnaissance campaigns, development and storage of supplies and materials for British efforts, and finally the scuttling of two-thirds of the WWI German fleet, and its private salvage for scrap metal, sold back to the Germans to upgrade their ships prior to WWII.
Face it, most of us think naval warfare in the past two hundred years took place off the coast of New England, the coast of France, or in the Pacific.  In short, where the U.S. was involved. What our visit reveals, and we should acknowledge, is that naval encounters in Orkney waters and the North Sea - heavily impacted every major world conflict over the past three hundred years.

Ending the day, we drove to the Dwarfie Stane and the Scapa Flow Visitor Center and Museum.  The first is considered by some to be Britain's only rock-cut tomb.  And at five thousand year old, it's cavern would have been carved out of solid rock with stone tools or antlers.

The second hosts photographs, artifacts, vehicles, boilers, pumps, tanks, and other materials which supported the work of the British Navy during both world wars.

To see all of the photos taken today, click on Thursday, September 1st.

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Wednesday, August 31st, Kirkwall, Orkney Islands


Maes Howe is the fourth of the Orkney sites included in the Heart of the Neolithic Orkney World Heritage sites.  Built five hundred years before Stonehenge (3200BC), it is the largest neolithic chambered cairn and passage grave in Europe.  The grass mound hides a complex of passages and chambers built of carefully-crafted flagstone slabs, weighing up to 30 tons.

And though taking photos inside is prohibited,  decided that the inside is so important for others to see, I have chosen to include some from the internet.

After a long low stoop, the inner chamber and side depositories are easily navigated, and one can imagine their use as bone storage for a chosen few.  What's more easily imagined is the visits of viking warriors two thousand years later.  The stones contain the largest concentration of viking runic grafitti resulting from a couple of recorded winter occupations in the eleventh century.

The Stromness Museum nearby is hosting an early exhibit of some of the finds from the Ness of Brodgar, so we had to go visit.  We were also looking for the Skare Brae Buddo (right), the mascot of neolithic Orkney archaeology.

After lunch, we drove back to the Ayre Hotel (About time I gave them a plug), and walked over to the Orkney Museum to read some of the local newspaper reports of digs in the area, and look at more of the museum's collection.

To see all of the photos taken today, click on Wednesday, August 31st.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Tuesday, August 30th, Kirkwall, Orkney Islands


We drove to three of the four of the Heart of Neolithic Orkney's World Heritage sites today.  We'll see the fourth tomorrow morning (Maeshowe).  Though closed for the season, Caz gave us the details on the Ness of Brodgar, which is revealing new information on its role as the center of a huge ceremonial complex, including the Ring of Brodgar and the Standing Stones of Stenness.

Skare Brae has been called the oldest known village in Europe where you can still see the houses with their original stone furniture.  Built five thousand years ago, it consists of eight or more dwellings of square rooms with central hearths, stone beds on both sides, a shelved stone dresser opposite the entrance, covered passageways, and utilizing commons drains.
Revealed by erosive storms, its future is continually threatened.

The Ring of Brodgar, an almost true circle of standing stones, 104 meters in diameter, it is the third largest stone circle in the British Isles.

Thought originally to contain some 60 stones, the circle has lost stones to local destruction and at least one lightning strike.  Standing between two and seven meters high, the current count is 27 stones.

The Standing Stones of Stenness contains fewer, taller stones, arranged originally in an oval, built earliest, and with a hearth stone area in the middle.  A common misunderstanding is the depth of the stone in the ground.  The answer is much less than is believed, with wedged stones supporting a short burial.

To see all of the photos taken today, click on Tuesday, August 30th.