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2009 Year in Review

(better late than never, belated posting)

What a year we have had! Most of which dominated by one event. At the beginning of January, we decided to “pull the pin on that grenade” and go ahead and have a baby. In what seemed to be the longest pregnancy ever, starting with the twenty two weeks of nausea and vomiting, I eventually really enjoyed being pregnant. Epsilon got to be a very well traveled fetus, starting in Barcelona and making three trips to France, not too mention the day to day mundanity of flitting about England. Jana arrived two weeks late in December, a fantastic way to end the year.

I participated in making a video for an exhibit in the new Darwin Center. Capping off my tour of duty at the NHM before going on maternity leave by meeting Prince William and participating in the opening of the Darwin Center.

Jana’s arrival completely overshadowed our three year anniversary of moving to England (December 1st). This will be our fourth winter here. It still feels like we’ve only just arrived. That first walk down the footpath behind our house is so fresh in my mind. But that may be because I/we walk on it so much.

Jana is the best souvenir we could be bringing home from our time spent living here.

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France: Canal du Midi

We’re off to France for a week of floating down the Canal du Midi between Toulouse and the Mediterranean with a couple of friends of ours! Epsilon is one well traveled fetus!

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Pittsburgh and Baby Shower

We were in Pittsburgh for nine days where we saw our family and friends. More importantly, they all got to see me “in the family way.” It was a busy and hectic visit, but a good one. I’m in the last month I can fly, so we needed to get a visit in. The next time Pittsburgh sees us we’ll be a tiny family of three.

It certainly was weird to be in our home town and having to stay in a hotel. I’ve never been a guest in my own city before. Getting free upgrades to business class on both the outgoing and return flights was a huge bonus. I was worried I would be so uncomfortable flying at this point. But having seats that completely reclined to beds, real pillows, fillet mignon for dinner and so many other niceties went a long way. Epsilon’s first trans-Atlantic flights were done in style.

Cupcakes!  Chocolate brown and pink were the color theme of the day!I had a baby shower at my aunt’s and we now have so much stuff for Epsilon! Our flight returned this morning and already I have all of her gear unpacked, sorted and put away. I’ll get to the washing of her little clothes once I’m on Maternity Leave, which I gave my notice the week before we flew home to the Burgh to start in September.

Some nice family photos to be posted soon.

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France: Paris

Deb and Epsilon, 23 weeks, 5 days in the CatacombsWe are back from a mini-break to Paris. I do have to say that I particularly enjoyed the hassle free travel on the Eurostar. Posts and photos forthcoming! Here’s a teaser photo, me and Epsilon in the Paris Catacombs (23w, 5d).

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Paris: Sacre Couer to the Eiffel Tower

Today involved a bit of a whirlwind of sight seeing: Sacre Couer, the (albeit very short) funicular, Arc d’Triomphe, strolling along the Champs Elysee, purchasing an outfit for Epsilon from a shop along the Champs Elysee (have I mentioned how much more fun it is to clothes shop for Epsilon than it is for myself?), viewing impressionist art at the L’Orangerie, having a dinner cruise on the Seine, having fois gras for the first time and finally visiting the Eiffel Tower at night. This is a day better told in photos:

Deb and Epsilon with Sacre CoeurArc de TriompheMark, Deb and Epsilon on a boat cruise of the SieneMark, Deb and Epsilon with Eiffel Tower

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France: Paris – Catacombs

Bones stacked in the CatacombsToday’s mission: we set out in search of the perfect baguette. We ended up doing pretty well on that front, it wasn’t perfect, but it was mighty tasty. As were the other pastries we sampled. We walked through Luxemburg park and enjoyed our food finds on our way to visit the Paris Catacombs. By far the coolest “touristy” thing we have ever done or visited. You start your way down a very long spiral staircase and hike through empty corridors for distance, long enough to start having you think, “where are the skeleton’s, there are supposed to be skeletons!” But once you come upon them, it is striking just how many bodies were moved into these passages. This is the underground network of caves and corridors from an old limestone quarry which is now home to millions of human remains. Millions.

Later in the day we finally met up with Ethan and Liz, had a lunch involving more crepes. We walked around the island where Notre Dame sits, visited the crypts and set out to find this Berthillion ice cream shop Liz remembered. The shop itself was closed, but many vendors in the area sold the rich dessert. Mark and I both opted for the “salted buttered caramel” flavor. It was almost a little too salty. I glad we spent most of the day walking, with a diet consisting mainly of pastries, crepes and ice cream for the day.

Dinner involved another hike but we were rewarded with good food for our efforts. We had several places in mind after searching menus online. But it turned out our top three picks were closed. Not just for the day or the evening, but they had signs posted that they were closed for the owner’s to go on holiday, for the month. It worked out in the end and I was able to practice some French, although my accent quickly gives me away and I am then spoken to in English.

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France: Paris – Eurostar and Notre Dame

eurostarWe arrived in Paris by train, on the Eurostar. What a pleasant way to travel! Particularly in contrast to all the air travel we have done. It was so relaxed with our packed lunches and snacks and lovely countryside to watch zip by.  Pictured left, here I am smuggling a small child across the border.

Even though I had made them recently at home, we managed to have crepes, not once, but twice on this first day in Paris. From two different restaurants, mind you. As they say, “when in Rome,” or rather, “when in Paris,” we should be eating crepes.

Deb and Epsilon in front of Notre DameI was enjoying the opportunity to dust off my very rusty French speaking skills. Certainly my reading comprehension and listening comprehension is quite good after ten years of no practice. But speaking, from being so out of practice, my brain is a second or two behind in formulating responses and remembering pronunciation. It still feels good to stretch those neurons a bit.

Our hotel was within walking distance of the small island on the Siene where Notre Dame sits. We decided to have a little stroll around the island and as a 23w4d bump, Epsilon proved to be an excellent tour guide.

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France: Opio en Provence

I’m back from a short trip to France. We were there for a conference for Mark’s work and a number of people from the US were there, including some friends of ours. It was held at a resort where much relaxing was to be had in the form of absorbing some much needed sunshine and warmth, lounging by the “Zen pool” i.e. no kids and quiet, reading, rambling and even dominating and winning an archery competition. This wasn’t a sight seeing sort of holiday, I honestly may have only taken a handful of photos, and those largely involve the Geobear having adventures. That’s okay, after the weeks I’ve had lately, I needed a very low key relaxing holiday.

Our holiday will continue through the weekend where our friends will be joining us in the UK. it’s been seven months since we’ve had anyone visit us over here, so this will be fun to have some familiar faces around.

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Spain: Barcelona

Thick and bitter chocolate "beverage" I needed to consume with a spoonWe’re back from a brief trip to Barcelona. It was so nice to have several days of sunshine and warm(er) temperatures. More to come once the non-camera photos are processed. Mark had the camera at the conference he was at for one of the days.

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Spain: Barcelona – Museu de Xocalata

Thick like chocolate pudding thickNow this is my kind of museum, where the admission ticket is a bar of dark chocolate!

I enjoyed eating my dark xocolata as I explored the exhibits showing the cultural and natural history of the Theobroma cacao. Of looking at and reading about the technology for processing the bean. And seeing art inspired by this glorious plant. I finished my visit with a cup of spiced, thick and bitter “drinking” chocolate that was a recipe used in the ancient America’s. It required a spoon to consume, but was fantastic!

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Spain: Barcelona – Gaudi

This trip has been Gaudi-centric, and many of the places I visited and photographed involved his Dr. Seuss like architecture. I rather enjoy the style and it is the hallmark style of many landmark’s in this city. Enjoy the photo set:

Casa Batllo, Barcelona Lizard detail

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Happy New Years! (Eve)

Mark and Deb in the leavesIt’s the last day of the year already?  Well, here we are, 25 months into this adventure and it’s the end of 2008.

I know I’ve already reflected a bit on this already, but the year has flown by and has been as normal as it can be living abroad.  It’s been a year of settling into a routine for both of us working and living in England.   Mark commented recently, that it’s not camping anymore, we really live here.  This was after one of those moments where I look at him, and sounding genuinely surprised and in disbelief exclaim, “You know.  We live in England!” like it’s this brand new realization of someone who just walked off a plane.

There have been losses and gains this past year.  We lost our sweet Greenbean, which was difficult.  I miss my Bean and think of her everyday.  Her photos are everywhere, on my desktop background, in a locket around my neck and by my bedside.  She was our family.  She had a fantastic life, was well loved, and was so awesome she has turned two people into cat people.  In April, I gained a sister-in-law as my younger brother married a delightful woman.  Two of my cousins had babies this year and one also is newly married.  Our extended family is growing in leaps and bounds.

This has been a year of increased visitors, a pattern I imagine will ramp up in the coming third year of our residence here.  My parents and another brother visited in March, the first time trips abroad for all of them.  Friends visited us in May, September and October.  We made a second trip to Turkey for a holiday, which, I’m really digging the whole vacationing with friends idea.

So what will 2009 bring?  We’ll be celebrating our 10th wedding anniversary.  Living abroad for a third year.  Where will we travel?  Who will visit us?  What will our jobs bring? How much more will our family and circle of friends grow?  2008 was a good year, 2009 is shaping up to be spectuclar already and we’re still a few hours away from it beginning!

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GeoBear

Taste Testing cheddar made in Cheddar, UKI am helping a friend’s 10 year old daughter with a class project, their GeoBear project. Basically, it’s like the gnome from Amelie, only a little stuffed bear. The bear will feature in a series of photos and I’ll be sending post cards to the class room. In theory, I think I am supposed to send the bear along to someone else who may be traveling further. However, we travel a lot, and if the bear sticks with us, he’ll be getting around.

This past weekend while a couple of friends of ours were visiting from the U.S., the GeoBear got off to a good start on its world traveling adventure. We were in Cheddar where we taste tested cheddar cheese made in Cheddar and matured in caves there. We had an amazing fun caving adventure. Climbed Cheddar Gorge. Had a fly-by of Stonehenge. Not to mention a day around London, hitting the highlights of Trafalgar Square, Westminster Abbey, Big Ben and the Parliament, boat trip on the Thames, tour of the Tower of London, and seeing the Rosetta Stone at the British Museum (whew!)

It’s only the beginning for this bear, keep an eye on the photo stream for further adventures and travels!

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Planes, Trains & Automobiles

I had the most convoluted commute in to work this morning. Starting in Rotterdam, in the Netherlands. I hopped into a taxi with an incredibly chatty driver, with whom I was having an in depth conversation about how quickly the Dutch language changes, seemingly on a weekly basis. Spelling changes overnight, grammar is completely revised and half the words are being anglicized. The immediate example being the Dutch word for airport, luchthaven, is now just simply, airport. Kids these days don’t even know the word luchthaven apparently. He went on to explain how kids these days can’t read written Dutch from just thirty or forty years ago. It’s just that different. English is the second national language of the Netherlands. It’s a small enough country to not have the cultural heft that identifies with strict language identity and pride like that of France or Germany.

From there I was on to the tiny and charming Rotterdam Luchthaven, only eight gates, two for international flights. It was one of the most pleasant airport experiences I’ve ever had, given how much we’ve traveled, that is saying a lot. Latte in hand, I settled in for a bit of people watching, even though there were only a handful of people there. Once on the plane after a brief delay I was sat in my window seat on the little dual prop plane. Even on this short fifty minute flight, the passengers were taken care of, complete with little cheese and tomato pita sandwiches and squares of chocolate with the coffee and tea service.

I landed at London City Airport on the east side of London (after circling the city half a dozen times and flying so low over Canary Wharf I felt I could reach out and touch the buildings). Right out of the terminal are the platforms for the Docklands Light Railway trains. My usual rail/travel card covered the transit on this train, although at no point did I need to pull it out until my final destination. From Canning Town station on the Jubilee tube line, transferring to either Circle or District Line at Westminster and on to South Kensington. I guess I could add “feets” to my list of transport for the day as well, for the walk up and into the museum :)

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Netherlands: Amsterdam

We visited the famous floating Flower Market. You would not believe the variety and color of flowers and alien looking bulbs available to purchase. This was a case of photographer’s paradise, inspiration was overflowing. Once we catch up on some of that backlog of photographs I keep mentioning, I’ll link to some here.

We spent some quality people watching time at a cafe across from the flower market. Here we had the Dutch interpretation of a pancake. Much thicker than a crepe and more savory. Mine had thinly sliced apples on it, Mark opted for the the bacon pancakes (no surprise there). The syrup was a delicious caramel sauce. If it’s not raining tomorrow, we need to either hop on a canal boat or rent bicycles and do as the Dutch do in terms of transport.

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Netherlands: Amsterdam, Artis

Mark is working today so I’m up to my old tricks and entertaining myself in the city for the day. I had all these grand designs for visiting places, including the Troppenmuseum (the Tropical Museum), the Hortus (the botanical gardens) and possibly making it to Artis, the zoo. Since there wasn’t a deluge pouring from the sky, I thought I would start with the out of doors attraction and headed straight for Artis.

The walk was fabulous. Chilly, but at least sunny. It was nice to see the canals by daylight. Amsterdam is a city of concentric half circles of canals with radiating branches throughout. A watery spider web outlined with cobbled roads and impossibly narrow and slanting buildings. Every single road had a bicycle lane, I have never seen so my bicyclists, or bicycles, period. The city caters to and is designed for bikes. Crossing intersections, it’s not the motorists to look out for, it’s the people on bikes who will run into you.

I ended up spending my entire day there. It is not just a zoo. Inside its grounds is the University run Zoological Museum, the Aquarium, a Planetarium and an Insectarium (I kept thinking of the “orphanarium” from Futurama when I saw this!) complete with an enormous butterfly house, I’m talking thousands of butterflies, a photographer’s paradise. With so much on offer, it’s easy to see how I spent so much time here. After seeing some of my photos of butterflies, Mark actually said this is a place he’d like to go (this from a person who does not like museums or zoos). But there was so much else to do, maybe next time. Photos forthcoming, at some point, we are months behind in processing photos.

I found a “New York” bagel shop for lunch and was sat in a window seat with a latte for a session of people watching. I kept seeing the twins of a close friend’s mother, I don’t think they’re Dutch, but the resemblance was uncanny.

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Netherlands: Road Trip, Amsterdam

I am sorely disappointed that I did not get a stamp in my passport traveling through the Eurotunnel in to France. Although we did drive through France and Belgium, I don’t think I can legitimately include those countries on my list of those visited. High speed motorway travel doesn’t count. Eight hours after leaving our home in England, we arrived safe and sound in Amsterdam. Wearing ear plugs on long trips on motorways is key. They are an essential piece of kit in the Lotus.

We walked into Amsterdam for a late night dinner at one of the surprisingly abundant Argentinian (and even one Uruguayan) steak houses. Oh the beef was good! It tasted like American beef. Tired from the drive and our long late night walk through the city, full of food, we slept like the dead.

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Turkey: Back to Reality

We are home from Turkey after a glorious vacation involving lounging on the beach on the coast of the Aegean Sea. We were near Assos and the Greek island of Lesbos dominated the skyline of our view across the sea. We stayed with our friends parents summer home and who were the most marvelous hosts. The sun shone bright and hot every day and we were treated to a full moon, it’s light shimmering like a bridge across the water. Every meal was lovingly prepared by our friend’s mother, every meal a Turkish feast. My daily itinerary was something like this:

Sleep in waking briefly for the sunrise.
Enjoy huge breakfast.
Lounge by the shore.
Go for a swim, snorkle with the fishes and octopi.
Read lounging by the sea.
Nap hypnotized by the sound of the water.
Light lunch.
Afternoon, more of the same.
Shower for dinner.
Fabulous feasts for dinner, complete with desserts.
Maybe a moonlit stroll, or gazing at the night sky, sometimes with a telescope.

We felt so welcome and genuinely like part of the family, complete with Turkish mom piling more and more food on our plates :) It wasn’t all lounging, we did visit some ruins. The are more details to write about later, the private traditional music performance by a neighbor who was a guest for our last dinner, the pile of kittens, special Ramadan dessert, the little things too are to come.

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England: Tring

In our effort to have more but smaller adventures around England I suggested Tring. I had been wanting to go to the museum at Tring for quite some time now.  Once the private museum of the Rothschild’s, it is located in the grounds of the former Rothschild family home of Tring Park.  The building was constructed in 1889 specifically to house The 2nd Baron Rothschild’s collection of mounted specimens and first opened to the public in 1892.  It became part of the Natural History Museum in 1937, and if you’re an ornithologist employed by the museum this is where you would work as the bird collections are housed here.

It is a place that appeals to me because of the nature of the exhibits.  Here, you won’t find computer screens flashing and blinking or otherwise detracting from the displays.  What you do find are classic collections of articulated skeletons and taxodermically prepared skins of mammals and birds.  They are carefully arranged in related groups in Victorian era wood and glass cabinets.   I can’t think of a better way to capture the imagination of a visitor, to spark curiosity about a group of organisms, than to have actual specimens illustrating the incredible diversity of life right in front of you.  Well, visiting a zoo or seeing wildlife in their natural habitats undisturbed would be better.  But, for most people and for young people, the specimens can be powerful tools in exciting the imagination.

What was the impetus for this visit, however, was an article I read on the Blaschka glass marine animals, of which there was going to be a small special exhibit gallery devoted to them.    The Blaschka’s were a father son team who created glass models of natural history objects.  The accuracy and attention to detail of the organisms they crafted even impresses scientists who study the animals in real life.  They are more famous for their flowers, which are housed at Harvard’s Botanical Museum.  But they created hundreds of marine animals in glass as well.

This is a clear mix of science and art, as any scientific preparation of a specimen is, in my humble opinion.

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England: Dorset, Bloody-Nose Beetle

Bloody-nosed Beetle

Timarcha tenebricosa

A lumbering, flightless leaf beetle, often seen plodding across paths or through grass. In this case, he was fighting against the stiff breeze on the top of a cliff on the Jurassic Coast at Lulworth Cove. When disturbed, these beetles exude a drop of bright red, blood-like fluid from their mouth. I must not have disturbed him, he didn’t spew any goo at me. This photo doesn’t capture the color very well, but the elytra had a metallic purple sheen too it.

After Lulworth Cove, we drove to Durdle Door, a natural limestone arch on the Dorset coast.

More Durdle Door

After Lulworth Cove, we drove to Durdle Door, a natural limestone arch on the Dorset coast. This coast line is riddled with interesting geology and features. If you can imagine a layer cake with three cake layers turned on it’s side: a layer of vanilla, a layer of chocolate and a layer of carrot cakes, you can imagine what this coast looks like geologically. The layers of rock have been uplifted and tilted, revealing interesting patterns in the strata, eroding differentially making these coves and arches.

We sat on the pebbly beach and dipped our feet in the cold cold water. Mark was significantly braver than me and went for a swim. Just to say he swam through Durdle Door. Mark remarked on the fact that we knew we were going to the coast, to the beach, and at no point did we even consider bringing swimsuits or towels. I was bundled up in a sweater. It was a gorgeous sunny day, no doubt, but the stiff breeze was chilly.

There is so much more to explore on the southern coast, we’ll need to make another trip, or a longer trip :)

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England: Duxford Imperial War Museum

And now for something completely different. Suzanne’s husband made the suggestion for today’s adventure. It’s a place he remembers fondly visiting in his youth, the Duxford Imperial War Museum. I honestly never would have thought to look for a place like this, but I was impressed.

There were huge hangars full of displays of airplanes. One for British aircraft and one for American.  Once inside, some part of me did not find the heavy cables suspending some of these enormous crafts from the ceiling terribly confidence inspiring.  And my first thought standing at eye level with the helicopter blades went something like this, “if that helicopter were to start up for no apparent reason right now, we would lose our heads.” Just to give a glimpse into the inner workings of my brain.

One of the first Concorde’s was open for visitor’s to walk through, so I can officially say I’ve been on the Concorde. I also found it a bit disconcerting to be allowed to walk under and so close to the planes. How strange to be poking my head into these nooks, inches from engines, when my life’s experience with aircraft has kept these areas verboten.

Entering the doors to another hangar, the strong smells of solvents, oil and paint waft over you. There were three or four hangars dedicated to the restoration of planes. The signs reading, “Please do not disturb the engineers more than necessary” as I’m sure they get riddled with questions about the plane they are working on, what they are doing or about the tools and equipment they are surrounded by. Can someone tell me why so many aircraft are painted bright yellow?

Even the very last hangar, which was at the end of a mile long row of hangars, that contained the land combat vehicles was fascinating. The place was packed with vehicles. It was the kind of exhibit that reminded me of the more old school museum exhibits where there are huge numbers of actual specimens to look at. There were no flashing screens or buttons to push. Just specimens. These just happened to be combat vehicles arranged in chronological order and by what war. Each made to look like the setting they were used in. Pale golden sand spread beneath the similarly golden paint for Northern African vehicles; Jungle scenes and mud for Pacific conflicts. The “Normandy Experience” was a bit much though.

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The Journey Is The Destination

We are back from the epic road trip that involved the Lake District, the Scottish Highlands and the Isle of Skye.  Much to write about, many photos to share, you know the drill, it’s a backlog here when we’re busy experiencing life.

What a long day of driving, but, we were in Scotland this morning!

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Scotland: Stirling and The Long Drive Home

We were in Scotland this morning! How weird is that? We had one last lovely drive through the Highlands. It was raining when we left Glencoe, but it quickly let up. It was surprising as we were driving out how quickly the mountains were gone. We were taking them for granted I think. We missed them when they were gone from our sight.

We met up in Stirling at Stirling Castle. We didn’t take the tour, just walked around the grounds and tried to get as far away from the group of annoying tourists. They were a group from the US who were singing religious songs at the top of their lungs clad in fluorescent yellow ponchos. The streets of Stirling leading up to the castle are idyllic. Cobble stone streets, many of the buildings built with similar dark colored stones. The castle in the center of the town rose high above on a rocky crag. Those cobbled streets wound in narrow switch backs to reach the top.

From here, we worked out a strategy for getting home. The plan, to drive through Northumberland National Park. We left the relative plateau of the lowlands and entered the rolling hills of Northumberland and large swaths of forests. Since we would be driving parallel to it for some time, perhaps a stop at Hadrian’s wall would be in order. We’ve been to Hadrian’s Arch in Athens, might as well cap it with a stop at the wall. It turned into a fly by of Hadrian’s Wall. If we had more time, I would have loved to hike along the suggested trails. But the long day of driving, after several long days of driving, I just wanted to get home. Perhaps there will be a next time and more time.

Two miles before we reached a service station, we needed to pull off to the side of the motorway to put the soft top back on. The skies were looking incredibly threatening. It would be the first time we needed the top on for the entire trip! Eventually this proved a good strategy, but the rain did hold off for quite a while. We ended up meeting our traveling companions part way at that service stop, completely randomly. We thought we would be way ahead of them. They were getting ready to hit the road just as we were pulling in the lot. We took our time leaving, doing things like rainx-ing the window, getting fuel. They had a least a half hour head start on us.

We entertained ourselves on this last stretch by texting our positions along the way. “We are looking for you! Where are you?” I imagined this is a sing song Bugs Bunny accent, but I doubt that’s how in translated in the text. Mile markers were counting down, they were in slow traffic and as luck would have it, they needed to make a pit stop to refuel. “We may catch up to them yet!” as I joked about our refueling stop strategy as if we were in an F1 race. Despite a 40 mile headstart we made it home seconds after they reached our house. Ha ha!

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Scotland: Highlands and Isle of Skye

What was intended to not be a day of driving turned into yet another day of driving.  We weighed our options and decided on heading out separately.  We would meet up at Eilean Donan Castle, regroup and make for the Isle of Skye.  On which we would drive a circular circuit going clockwise.

The drive to Eilean Donan was, again, incredibly lovely, through the Scottish highlands.  We drove right by Ben Nevis, at 4,409 feet it is the highest peak in the U.K.   The surrounding rocky range piercing the skyline.  The twisty roads are so well suited for a zippy sporty convertible.  I have to repeat the phrase that while driving through such an amazing landscape, the journey really is the destination.

Eilean Donan Castle was interesting, it stands on an island where three lochs meet.  The site has been occupied for 1500 years or so with the first fortified building erected in 13th century.  It has a long and colorful history and is the seat of the clan MacCrae.  It wasn’t the best castle we’ve visited, but there were certainly details of it that I loved.  All the built in window seats overlooking the mountains and water.  Each room had it’s own little fireplace.  And there were just so many little nooks and crannies to explore.

What I found most interesting was that as you walked through the rooms, with all the family photos on the walls and sitting on furniture, you really felt like you were in someone’s home.  Suzanne commented that it was like going through an “open house” of a property for sale.  I had to ask about the photos, who they were.  The room guard/guide explained that they were photos of the current owner’s family.  The matriarch, a MacCrae pictured in an oil painting above the fire place in the room, had five daughters, 20 grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.

The castle was the family home until the mid 1980’s.  They occasionally opened it’s doors to visitors from time to time.  But when it became obvious that the property would be more suited as a historic tourist attraction, the family moved into the servent quarters.  The castle is still used frequently for family gatherings, the matriarch will be celebrating her 80th birthday there next month and her oldest daughter recently turned 50.

We refueled with some soup and bread. Although I was curious about the Cullin Skink that was on the menu, my imagination was telling me it was probably something awful.  On the road again, we reached the Isle of Skye.  It was different.  Different scenery.  Flatter.  We stoppd a while to commune with the sheep.  Which made me wonder about a few statistics.  There are a lot of sheep, I mean A LOT of sheep on the Isle.  The general population of sheep is high across the whole of the U.K. but on Skye, it just seemed inordinately high.  I’m wondering about the ratio of sheep to people on this island.

The whole place,  at least the north west region we circuited, seemed rather barren.  I started also wondering what the species diversity overall was for the island (I need to look up some checklists for these statistics).   This apparent barrenness combined with the widespread large scale clear cutting of the pine trees was making me a little depressed.   Fields chewed to the nub and swaths of recently cut tree stumps does not paint the best picture of the island.  We decided we like the main land better and made the executive decision to head back to the mainland, where it was prettier, cutting our loop short.  It was the right thing to do.  We were able to get back to Glencoe relatively early and relax over dinner (and another football game, this time between two teams from Scotland).

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England: Lake District – Catbells; Scotland Drive

When planning for this trip into the Fells, I was having a hard time narrowing down what hike to do.  I knew we had limited time so it couldn’t be an expedition of epic proportions.  But I wanted to make sure we got to have a good hiking experience. There are almost too many choices, all good choices, all with excellent views, I was paralyzed with all the choices.  Until the answer came to me through watching a program on England’s mountains where the program host followed one of Wainwright’s walks.

I own a copy of “The Best of Wainwright’s Walks” and still had a difficult time deciding what to do.  His hand written notes, maps and illustrations are all inspiring.  And upon this visit I can understand why he spent so much time exploring and documenting this region of the country.  This program, however, made the decision easy.  How could I resist a hike described by Wainwright as, “the perfect walk for after dinner.”

Given our time constraints, we hiked up Catbells.  The inviting knob rises up along side Derwentwater Lake just a few miles from Keswick.  It looks small enough to tackle, but big enough to make it worthwhile rising 1,481 feet in one and half miles.  It was a short hike and had enough moderately challenging bits scrabbling up rocky faces  for us to really feel like we were getting the full Lake District Fells experience.   We were rewarded with lovely views, despite the wind and clouds, the sun was trying desperately to make an appearance.

Although it was a relatively short hike, we decided we didn’t have enough time to do the other hike I had planned; which was a 4.5 mile level hike around Lake Buttermere, we’ll just have to do that one next time.  I could honestly return here and stay for week or more.  This is the most beautiful place we’ve seen in England so far, it is a shame we only really spent a day.  There would be so many walks worthwhile here, or sailing on the lakes or canoing or camping.  We will be back!  But for now, we hit the road for Scotland!

Once we were well past and had skirted around Glasgow, the drive became the destination. The mountains just seemed to come out of nowhere.  No sooner were we on what was a plateau of pretty even terrain, BAM!  there are the mountains towering above us.  I was surprised to see so many peaks still blanketed in snow and the tops were shrouded by clouds.  We wound around on twisty narrow roads that took us along lochs, rocky streams, dense forests and of course the mountains.  This was a drive made for the convertible.  It was such dramatically different scenery than anything we’ve seen so far.  Even in contrast to the Fells of the Lake District this morning.

We needed to make a bee line to the B&B we were staying at so we wouldn’t arrive after nine p.m.  After we settled ourselves in, we hit a local pub/restaurant, where there was a lively and divided crowd watching the UEFA  cup finals, red shirts in the bar, blue shirts in the restaurant.  The European football league that had two British teams in the final, and a game that was held in Moscow.  It was still light out when we left around 11 p.m. with the long lingering twilight.

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