Sunday, August 12, 2018

A New Link and Name to our Blog

We leave soon to start our 500 mile walk on the Camino de Compostela Santiago in northern Spain.  Since we are not carrying computers or tablets, I created a new blog site where we can easily upload a daily photo or two, along with some commentary from my fat thumbs.

We also changed the name.  "Mid-Life Adventures" just seems a little too optimistic at our age.  So our new blog is now called "Ron & Kathy's Retirement Adventures."

I won't be sending notifications for any post along the way, so you'll need to periodically go to:



to see what's new.  If you are already a Tumblr member (sign up is free), you can elect to get notified every time I post something new.

To view any of the past 114 blogs since 2014 (with over 60,000 views), you can still use www.rwk777.blogspot.com, which is the address for the site you are on now.

Enjoy!
Our route, starting in St. Jean, France.


Having fun training in scenery and cool weather on the Oregon
Coast that won't resemble the Camino at all.

Thursday, July 26, 2018

Scotland, Part III--Edinburgh & Tips


Aboard the royal yacht Britannia.  
We (mostly Kathy) usually do a good job of trip planning.  But this time, we both screwed up.  We simply didn’t allow enough time for Scotland, especially the Glencoe area and Edinburgh.  Ten days for Scotland simply aren’t enough—three weeks would have been much more comfortable (and expensive).  And perhaps 3-5 days in Edinburgh would have been more appropriate.

The summer crowds in Edinburgh are huge, with people from all over the world.  The success of the Harry Potter books and movies could be part of the reason.  But even then, Edinburgh was visitor worthy long before that, dating back to the Middle Ages.


Cow Corner, just below the Royal Mile
It was fun riding around the narrow and choked streets in the front row of a double decker bus, piloted by courageous and skillful drivers.  This city exudes history, architecture, beauty, art, cultural events, and international food—and again, lots of tourists, including many student groups. The friendly locals (mostly wait staff and our two Uber drivers) we chatted with love it here.  Some were students from all over Europe who would live here permanently if they could. 





The castle complex

So, besides the ambience and the Royal Mile leading up to the castle, what did we see?  Not much!  We toured the famous castle, jostling among the hordes speaking multiple languages.  It is a truly impressive 900-year old fortress and the free audio guides are very educational.  If you go, go there early.  Avoid the crowds of the 1:00 pm firing of the cannon.

St. Giles Cathedral on the "Royal Mile"
just below the castle.





Gladstone's Land, the world's first high-rise apartments, also on
the Royal Mile. (The colorful arches are barriers on the
pedestrian mall to prevent truck-style terrorist attacks.)
















We wanted to tour the tenement museum, but the tours were fully booked.  It was in one of the world’s first high rises, nine stories up with no running water—or elevators.  (Our microscopic third story walk-up B&B was a modern version of a tenement, but at least we had plumbing, electricity, and even a washing machine.)


Our B&B in an old tenement.  Entrance by the red area,
then a two-story climb up a narrow spiral staircase.
So we went to the other extreme of society and visited the well-preserved Georgian House in the New Town, laid out in the mid-1700s in an attempt to make Edinburgh look more cosmopolitan.  Many of the palace-looking buildings were subdivisions of row houses.  We’re so glad we didn’t live in the 17th and 18th centuries! It sucked to be upper class and sucked even more to be their servants.  Still no indoor plumbing, but lots of cholera, TB, and more.
The George Street home, circa 1750. Each home was three
windows wide, and the buildings took up an entire block.  


Our cozy living room











The highlight of our brief stay was a tour of the royal yacht Britannia, launched in 1954.  We probably wouldn’t have enjoyed it as much had we not watched part of The Crown on Netflix where two episodes took place on it.  The audio guides brought it to life.  While admiring its splendor and attention to detail, the extravagance and formality of life aboard only reinforced our distaste for royalty.  Tony Blair did Great Britain a big favor by ordering it decommissioned in 1997, saving countless millions of pounds per year in operating costs. 
The royal yacht Britannia.  A very worthwhile tour. 
(A few more photos of the interior can be seen by clicking the link at the end of this post.)
There is so much more we wanted to see and do, including visiting some interesting-sounding museums and art galleries, the botanical gardens, parliament, and perhaps a cemetery or two where J.K. Rowling found inspiration for many of the characters’ names in her Harry Potter books.

We’re sure we’ll back again, especially with newlyweds Shanti and Alan to visit in London.  We have a few tips:

1.       Plan on at least two, ideally three weeks, for Scotland.
2.       If you go in the summer, book accommodations in advance.  Most places had no vacancies.
3.       Join the National Trust of Scotland at your first opportunity at an historic site.  The annual membership fee will pay for itself in just three or four visits to other sites in Scotland and Canada.  The same goes for Historic Scotland.
4.       Unlock your phone before you leave and buy a local SIM card upon arrival.  They don’t cost much, but are essential for confirming reservations, getting online, YELP restaurant reviews, communicating with your B&B hosts, Apple/Android Pay, directions, and finding reach other via text.
5.     Upon arrival, download maps.me when you have a good wifi connection.  It works off-line no matter where you are.
6.  A great starting place is the book Top 10 Scotland:  Your Guide to the 10 Best of Everything.
7.       We rented a small Peugeot crossover SUV.  While the high clearance and larger tires helped on the rough roads and unpaved areas, a narrower vehicle would have been less nerve wracking—especially for the passenger sitting on the left.  Make sure it has GPS to help you through the hundreds of roundabouts.  And her Scottish voice is very calm and polite--just like the friendly, but hard to understand Scots.


In the Highlands, near Glencoe enroute to Ft. William 9 days earlier.
Definitely more serene and green than Edinburgh!
We’re home for a few weeks to bone up on Spanish and get in shape for our 6-7 week hike of the 500-mile Camino de Santiago de Compostela in northern Spain.  Hopefully our latent aches and pains will be gone by then. Pilgrims have done it for more than 1,000 years, with heavier packs thans than the 12-15 pounds we plan to carry.  So if they could do it, perhaps we can, too. It will certainly be a change in mode of travel, scenery, and accomodations in hostels from what we experienced in
Scotland!

Here is the link to about 20 photos of Edinburgh.  Enjoy!

Monday, July 23, 2018

Scotland, Part II--Spectacular Skye and Interesting Inverness

"You're going to Scotland?  Then you must go to to the Isle of Skye!"  That was the advice we received from people who have been here or live in the UK.  They were right, we did, and we're so glad.

The Isle is the largest NW island of the inner Hibrides islands, accessed by a 40 minute ferry in the south or a five minute bridge crossing in the north.  It's dominated by spectacular mountains, lakes, and seashores.
About the same latitude as Anchorage, AK.
Sun doesn't set until 10:00 pm, rises at 4:58 am.

It has settlements dating back to the bronze age and the Vikings.  In the late 1800's over 20,000 people lived here, now only about 10,000 and many more sheep.  B&Bs, although fully booked, seem to be everywhere.

The roads are rough, winding, and narrow, often just one lane with turnouts.  But the traffic is lighter than the mainland and most drivers are courteous.  The sheep are oblivious to vehicles.  No matter what, the views at every turn (even the blind curves) are stunning.



We mostly drove around, soaking up the magnificent scenery.  We visited the Dunvegan Castle, home of the McLeod Clan, for hundreds of years, and today.

Dunvegan Castle, still occupied over the past 400 years
We hiked three miles in a light rain or mist to the Old Man of Storr, and toured a fascinating museum of island life 100 years ago.
The Old Man of Storr













Life was unbelievably hard then, as it was for rural dwellers everywhere.  Many left to become American homesteaders.
A 'crofter' home, occupied over 100 years until 1954
We topped off our stay with a spectacular dinner at what we thought was a Michelin one-star restaurant. Turns out the chef left and took his star with him, but it was still a very memorable meal.
High heals don't work well on cattle guards!


Our trusty Peugeot steed and our B&B cottage
In fact the Isle of Skye is the highlight of our trip so far, with only one more day to go in Edinburgh.  (Take a couple of minutes to savor a few of our best shots of the Isle of Skye at the link on the bottom of this post.)

The drive over the bridge to the mainland and on to Inverness was long and intense, but the scenery continued to astound us as did Loch Ness and tantalizing glimpses of castles where we were waved on because there was no more parking.

Roadside scenery on the way to Inverness













A castle we couldn't get close to because of
the weekend crowds.  So we drove up a farm
road to get this view.

We loved Inverness, settled sometime around 500 AD.  We're glad we watched a few episodes of Outlander before we left home, as it gave us a little background of the history here, especially regarding events leading up to the April 1745 Jacobite rebellion and the Battle of Culloden.  We enjoyed a guided tour of the battle field and all of the causes of the battle, in which the Jacobites were slaughtered.  We wondered if we may not have had the Revolutionary War if the French-backed Jacobites had won.

Museum & battlefield of Culloden

Each extended brick represents one of the 1500
Jacobite fighters killed in  matter of  minutes.  Only 50
British soldiers were killed, but 200 died of wounds later.

The 3,000-year old Clava Carins.  (No, we didn't see
 Clair Beecham or any other Outlander cast members.)







































Nearby was Fort George, a huge military fortress that took 20 years to build after the Culloden battle.  It's still a working military base, but overall pretty useless in this modern era.  Nevertheless, the history, tour, and even the dog cemetery were fascinating.

Ft. George, Completed in 1765, still occupied today












Downward Dog Kathy at the Ft. George dog cemetery
We loved Inverness. It's a very walkable and enjoyable city.  We walked along the River Ness, enjoyed a yummy south Indian masala dosa, had pub food, and tasted whiskey.  After all of this, we still don't like scotch whiskey or Scottish food.  I may need to revise the title of this series, "Scotland without Golf."  Everywhere we went, people were glued to the TV screen, not watching soccer, cricket, or rugby, but rather the British Open golf tournament.

Smiling before a scotch tasting in Inverness.
Not smiling afterwards. 
Atop a castle tower, that is now part of city hall.


After four hours of freeway driving with average speed cameras ready to issue a ticket, we reached Edinburgh and gladly turned in our rental car, proud to have survived without even a scratch.  More about Edinburgh in Part III.  Meanwhile enjoy the photo links below.




Link to our best shots of the Isle of Skye.

Link to our best shots of the Inverness area.

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Scotland Without Golf, Part I

Blogging is easy when we stay in one place for awhile, or have downtime, like we did during our 2014 month in Bali, or recently in Japan.  This trip, being only two weeks long, with a fun wedding thrown into the mix, makes it hard to find the time and go into detail about each area.

So, to recap--Shanti and Alan's wedding last Saturday was one of the highlights and most fun days of our 60+ years so far.  As I said in a Facebook post on the train to Glasgow,  it was a small civil wedding with just the parents, sister Skyler, and Uncle Steve, followed by a fun pub dinner for 20.  We can now see why weddings the world over are such a joyous occasion. 
Newly weds leaving Islington Town hall.
@Sophia Dinh

There were 20 of us from 11 countries, some coming from as far as Australia and Singapore. Alan and Shanti just seem so right for each other, and we enjoyed their visiting with their very interesting friends, sharp denizens of the world. And Alan’s parents from Australia are our new best friends. Life is more than good.





Uncle Steve, me, Kathy, Skyler, Alan, and Babette
@Sophia Dihn

And Scotland is more than good.  In fact, it's great!  And so are its friendly people, if we could only halfway understand their thick accents.





The transportation museum, with a tall ship in
the reflection.  It had trolleys, cars, steam
engines, bicycles, a models of nearly every
modern ship manufactured in Glasgow.
The eclectic Kelvingrove Museum.  The purpose
of this visit was to see furniture designed by
Charles Macintosh.


We spent a full day and a half in Glasgow, a mighty industrial city, that went into decay in the 70s and 80s, and has come roaring back today, but with a lot of economic and ethnic diversity.  We walked over eight miles, touring the fun and fascinating Transportation Museum, their eclectic national museum, the tenement museum (similar to the one we toured in New York), and the Willow Tea Room, designed by Charles Mackintosh, the Scottish version of Frank Lloyd Wright.







One of many beautiful design
features within the Willow Tea
Room in Glasgow


















Then on to the Culzean Castle, the best preserved castle in Scotland, and quite over the top.  
The Culzean Castle, south of Glasgow
Getting there in our Peugeot rental car was an adventure with driving on the left hand side of the narrow roads and countless roundabouts.  The only thing that would have made it more exciting and stressful would be a stick shift.  I'm happy to report that Kathy survived, we are still married, and no guard rails, stone walls, cars, pedestrians, trucks, or people were harmed in the process.  

From there to Loch Lomand.  Finding accommodations in this high tourist season was a struggle, but thanks to AirBnB and Kathy's travel agent and navigation skills, we finally found something, and were damn glad Scotland has good beer, whiskey, and gin.

Today, we hiked partly up a mountain over the loch, then headed 89 miles north on torturous roads with high traffic through stunning scenery.  (See comments from the above paragraph).  Part of our route paralleled the railroad route made famous by the Harry Potter movies.

Traffic through the Highlands
Tomorrow, we take a ferry to the Isle of Skye for two nights.

Typical roadside view of the Highlands


Kathy's window shot while my eyes were
glued to the road.  No need for coffee!
The village of Luss, where we had a lunch
of delightful smoked wild Atlantic salmon.



Sunday, July 8, 2018

Wedding Bells are Ringing!

Shanti and Alan in Salem last summer
One of life's great mid-life adventures is to witness the marriage of your children.  As millennials postpone marriage until their mid-thirties, it seems like it will never happen.  But when the announcement is finally made, the joy is worth the wait.

Islington Town Hall




We fly to London on Wednesday for our oldest daughter's wedding.  Shanti Kelemen and Alan Hampson will tie the knot in the Mayor's Parlour at the Islington town hall on Saturday afternoon.

Her sister Skyler from Boston, Uncle Steve from Portland, and John and Babette Hampson from Australia will also join us for the ceremony.  Afterwards they're having a small party for 25 at a pub (the Pig and Butcher), and an after-party and dancing at a nearby bar.
The Mayor's Parlour--their venue

Shanti and Alan met (guess) online four years ago. We're so delighted to have Alan and his parents join our extended family.  For those that don't know, Shanti is a senior portfolio advisor at Coutts Bank and its presence on Bloomberg TV and  CNBC.  Alan is an IT security specialist.  We love Alan and the comfortable chemistry he and Shanti have together.  They are fitness fanatics, go to a lot of big name concerts, and love adventure travel.

The Pig & Buther
We leave London Sunday morning for 10 days of independent travel to Scotland.  The wedding will no doubt be the highlight of the trip, but we're reminded of a friend's recent Facebook post that has rung true for us over the past 41 years:  "It's not the wedding, but the marriage that counts."

Shanti, Alan, John, Babette, and Kathy last July



Saturday, June 2, 2018

Japan: Between the Cracks

Small, but we wouldn't want to
drive it on narrow Japanese roads
Not everything we experienced or observed in Japan fits into the narrative of the day.  Some topics need their own mini blog or at least a photo. So here are a few things we found interesting during our three-and-a-half week trip there.


Small
Everything in Japan seemed small to us, and we're not big people.  Cars, RVs, hotel rooms--you name it--they seemed small to us.  What wasn't small?  Our meals.  While the individual tidbits of food were small, they were numerous, making for huge meals.  And the ramen bowls were more than we could eat.


More arrived after this photo.  (You can see more Japanese
food porn by clicking on the link at the bottom)

Ubiquitous and smart vending machines
Vending machines at the Golden
Pavillion in Kyoto
The Japanese seem obsessed will vending machines.  We'd find them in the middle of nowhere, unprotected, even near trailheads and bike scenic viewpoints. They sell everything--hot or cold coffee, snacks of all kinds, and even beer in some locations.  In an earthquake, they all unlock to that people can have access to food and water.(And the beer, too?)  We used one in an alley noodle shop in Kyoto.  It spit out a ticket, which we took to the 10-person lunch counter where our soup was served.





Cleanliness
Other than Singapore, Japan is probably the cleanest country we've ever experienced, including the US.  Litter is nonexistent, but so are trash cans.  Everyone is expected to keep their trash with them and dispose of it at home. But cleanliness goes beyond litter.  One doesn't wear shoes inside a home and is expected to use special slippers when using the bathroom.  You shower before you soak in the tub.

The bathing stools, buckets, and showers
before entering the soaking tub


Regular and bathroom slippers
















Toilets
No discussion of cleanliness or Japan would be complete without mentioning toilets.  We miss them so much!  The hotels, inns, convenience stores, train stations, and some rest stops have high tech bidet toilets, with male and female settings, where the pressure and water temperature can be adjusted.  (Jokes can be made here, but I'll refrain.)  Many have heated seats and some have blow dryers!  It took awhile to figure them out because there were no instructions in english.  The women toilets in public places often start making loud water trickle sounds as soon as one enters the stall, as Japanese women feel embarrassed by the sound of their own peeing.
Note the sink above. The grey
water from hand washing fills
the tank for the next flush

Wall mounted toilet instructions.  Can you guess which
bidet button is for men or women?  Which one flushes?
Many restrooms have
baby holding seats
while you do
your business


















Bowing and Waving Goodbye
We found the custom of bowing amusing and pervasive.  And the same goes for the vigorous  waving-goodbye sessions by our hosts until we are out of sight.  We were greeted at the inns with a bow.  The cashiers bow and accept our money with both hands. People bow to one another in the elevators and on the trail.  I thought it was classy when the train conductor bowed deeply to all the passengers as he left the car, exiting backward through a sliding door.  But the winning bow award goes to the two airport workers with the big flashlights directing our plane in Tokyo out of the gate and onto the tarmac.  After our plane was pointed in the right direction, they waited for it to start moving, holstered their lights, took a deep bow, and vigorously waved goodbye with both hands until we couldn't see them anymore!
At the Kyoto RR &
Subway Guilt Emporium

Gifts
Every train station, airport, and subway shopping mall has what we call "Guilt Stores" or "Obligation Emporiums."  Gift giving is important for every occasion, special or not.  Since most people live in very small houses and apartments, beautifully packaged food items are a big hit.  The boxes contain elaborate pastries, seaweed, cakes, saki, whiskey, crackers, raw sashimi, and more.  With more samples than Costco on a Saturday, it was a fun way to snack and drink.
Outside our Inn on Miyajima Island

Food Displays
Most of the menus where we ate didn't have English in them.  But rest assured, we ate well.  Many of the restaurants in tourist areas had elaborate plastic models of what they served.  It's quite an art form.  We may not have known that we were about to eat raw pickled fish eggs, but at least we knew what they looked like.  Going through convenience and grocery stores was a blast.  So many snacks to try!  Some were delightful, some were forgettable.  You never knew until you bought the bag and tasted the contents.


This deer knew how to work
the sliding doors  to our inn
at Miyajima Island
Sliding doors
Other than doors to rooms in western-style hotels, nearly every door we encountered was a shoji screen or a sliding door.  Many were automatic and fast, like on the Starship Enterprise or on the Shinkansen (the bullet train).  But some weren't, or they opened too slowly, creating some confusion and an occasional collision with one.    

Cell Phones and Selfie Sticks
Seen in train stations
and tourist areas
Speaking of collisions, more than once we bumped into clueless cell phone addicts on busy streets or subway stations.  It seemed like everyone had one and used it constantly--but not for talking.  In fact, phone conversations are not allowed or at least discouraged on railway and subway cars and busses.  We traveled with an international wifi hotspot and used phones for downloaded maps from Maps.me and Google Translate. (It was great when it worked, and humorous when it didn't!)

Most train stations and many of the more popular tourist sites now prohibit selfie sticks. (YES!) Too many people trying to star in their "It's all about me" movies were creating hazards, blocking views for other photographers, and holding up the flow of the large crowds. 

Background and wake-up music
It seemed like every noodle shop and sushi bar in which dined played jazz, mostly smooth jazz.  There must be something about ramen that brings out the inner Miles Davis.  Our roykans (traditional Japanese inns), were a different genre altogether.  We were often awakened at 6:00 am to a music box rendition of  Edelweiss.  The loudspeakers in small villages or temple areas also played Bavarian chime music at noon.

"Feeding the bird"
Typical purse/bag basket
A lot of places didn't accept credit cards, so cash was king.  The bills were easy to understand, but the coins were complicated.  So when making a small purchase requiring change, we simply held out a handful of coins.  The clerk would pick away at them to get what was needed.  Honesty was never a problem.  We had one clerk chase us down a half block because we had overpaid by a few cents.

Purse Baskets
And speaking of honesty, we saw women leave their purses on tables in coffee shops to go place their orders.  They weren't worried, nor did they need to be.  Since eating and drinking establishments were small and crowded, most of them had baskets under the tables for one's purses, backpack or umbrella.

But wait, there's more....
We could go on, but we won't.  Let's just close with saying it is a wonderful and unique place to visit.  The people, while not outgoing, are unbelievably helpful and courteous.  They stand in neat lines and obey the crosswalk signals.  It's clean and modern. You can drink the water.  It's efficient, down to the minute.  The food is fantastic if you're not squeamish.  The countryside is beautiful.  The onsens (hot baths) are so civilized!  Many of the signs have English lettering at the bottom, and the major trains have English announcements.  Tipping isn't expected, so that brings down the cost of meals and services. Oh, and don't forget the toilets! We'll be back!

Some of the tableware for our final feast in a
family-owned ryokan in Kagoshima


Click here if you're into Japanese food porn.

Click here for a "few" photos that hopefully captures the essence of our trip.