Category Archives: Experiences

Hope & the Youth of Today

This morning my 10 year old daughter had a bit of a melt down because she only got 88% for mathematics on her recent progress report, not a grade, but a progress report. It was strange, because when I was a kid my parents would probably have done a dance if I got an 88% at anything, but for my daughter this was unusually low.

While it may seem insignificant in the grand scheme of things, it was a big deal to her, and thus it also is to me as her father. So we consoled her, we will help her and encourage her and do our best to enable her to reach her full potential, because my wife and I love her more than anything, that’s what parents (should) do.

This was right before I got in the car to head to Dallas where I would be leading worship this morning at The Lord’s Hand & Hearts ministries. It is a homeless outreach that feeds people’s bodies and souls, I have been leading worship there on occasion for a couple of years now. While I was in the car the thought came to me (you can decide how) that what I just experienced is exactly what God experiences with each of us.

When we fall or stumble, when we get trapped by our habitual failings, He doesn’t get mad at us, He loves us and He comforts us. He will be there for us to help us do better in the future. He feels our shame and tells us it will be ok. He has bigger and better things for us to come, if we will trust Him. 

At Solomon’s Porch today (the name for LHH’s Saturday Gathering) the message was delivered not by the pastor, but a group of young volunteers. 5 or 6 of them gave powerful testimonies, thought provoking, inspirational testimonies. Each of them had been through something and with the help of Jesus had come out of the other side and were moving in His kingdom to make a difference in the lives of the homeless this morning. It was truly beautiful, heart warming and soul filling.

I see a lot of “older” people (probably my age lol) complaining about millennials and the youth of today. From what I saw today I can assure you there the future is in good hands. Sure there are some less then stella people in that generation, just like every generation that has ever walked the planet. These children of God, just like my daughter this morning, have lessons to teach us all, directly or indirectly,

I’m not sure exactly where I was trying to go with this, I just felt the need to share a morning in the spirit. A light went back on inside me today, just like it did for several of the guests this morning.

Hope is a good thing my friends, hold on to it,

May hope, peace and love light your way today 🙂

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The approach to El Paso

 

I put down my Elmore Leonard book on the approach to El Paso

As there are many new things to see, new to me at least

There are sandstone hills, topped with scrub brush

So neatly arranged it appears to be combed hair, cornrows maybe

 

The back of the hill reveals a gaping wound

As if the skull of a 19th century white man taken apart by an Apache

Of course the wound is from the white man

And the 21st century war he calls progress

 

The alien green patch of a golf course

Looks as ludicrous as it does enticing

Over watched by a mountain ridge

That appears to be an exact replica of a dog’s jaw

 

Then we land & work begins

Or at least that’s what we called it

 

Paris day 2 – Le Tour Eiffel

Our first full day in Paris was a Wednesday and it was quite a contrast from the previous day. Tuesday had been a day of many contrasting emotions, the sadness of leaving my Dad & my home town, then the joy of seeing my sister for the first time in almost 5 years. We added to that the stress of traveling a journey not before completed, making sure we caught the right trains at the right time, the metro, the journey around the metro, oh my it was an adventure.

I awoke pretty well refreshed on the Wednesday, despite yet another uncomfortable bed, it turns out I am utterly spoiled with my nice mattress at home & traveling in less than great beds causes poor sleep & an aching back, this night though I think I was so tired I could have slept on the floor quite happily.

Our apartment was in a great location, just a  few blocks from the Louvre & the Royal Opera house. Yet rather interestingly the nestle of back streets we were on seemed to be some sort of little “China town” as there were a host of asian restaurants of all nations. We had determined that we would go get breakfast from a patisserie, the one closest to the apartment was also recommended by Olivier on our arrival so we went there. For the quintessential multi-cultural experience it was a traditional Parisian patisserie that happened to be operated by some people of Japanese descent, meaning there were 2 languages we could not understand in the window. I was all set to try and bumble through ordering in French, but the assistant – who spoke perfect English, obviously overhead us talking & started the conversation in English. So with a little less excitement than I was expecting, we returned to the apartment with fresh Cafe Creme, pain au chocolates & a real French croissant, all of which were delicious.

IMG_3134I’d love to tell you that we came to Paris to do more than the most cliche of tourist things, that we went exploring little know treasures (other than a Japanese / French patisserie). But I don’t want to lie to you, we came to Paris to do the things people do when they come to Paris, on the first visit at least. Today was going to be all about making some little girls (who happen to be cousins) dream come true. Today we would go to the Eiffel Tower.

Following our delicious breakfast, we began the rest of the day’s adventure. We decided to start with the park at the Louvre, it would give the kids a much needed opportunity to run around & burn off some steam & also allow the adults to relax and enjoy the surroundings while stretching our legs. It was in easy walking distance so no need to use the metro, we were all a little gun shy from the previous day’s excitement. The streets were lined with 5 story stone buildings, it would be easy to imaging the roads having been carved out of the buildings rather than the buildings being built around them. Just at the end of our street there was a magnificent statue of some gut that looked like he had escaped from the Musketeers stories.

Once we got to the louvre we fort the first time saw the Eiffel Tower in the distance past a rather grand arch which we would head through into the park. The tower even from a distance is quite a sight, standing almost regally over the city, even with all its fame, actually seeing it was somewhat breathtaking.

It was an impressive beauty of a park, long, wide and well manicured. Sculptures strewn throughout, interesting plant life and some trees that were oddly cut flat at the top with impress levelness. We found a little playground within the park & the kids set about having a good time, while I tried (in vain) not to stare at the crowd of men practicing some form of martial arts, seemingly the older gentlemen were instructing the younger ones. We moved on from the playground after a while to let the kids ride the merry-go-round and then have a go in the trampoline park, My daughter had a blast with all of this, her soccer fitness helping her never even remotely get tired.

 

We decided to grab lunch before catching the metro to the tower & exited the park on the north side, no plans or destination in mind, just somewhere to eat. Right where we exited there were 2 restaurants on the main road either side of side street junction which had a third restaurant for us to choose from. For some reason i declared that we should go to this third one, being a hundred years from the main road seemed preferable to me.

The Brasserie called Flottes was just perfect. It was a long but rather thin city bar / restaurant. At least 3 floors, we were seated on the main floor at a corner table. Oddly I had a taxidermy’d polar bear towering over me in the corner. The place was not particularly busy, but there were folks there doing life, conversing in French, the ambiance of the place was just right, maybe because I was so relaxed and enjoying our stay, but I really felt like I was traveling here. I ordered a salad that came with cheese and ham & potatoes, making for a quite substantial meal for a salad. My wife enjoyed real French onion soup & my daughter had a sandwich with an egg on top (I forget the name) & was most excited to eat real french fries in France (although they are apparently of Belgian origin).

After lunch we rode the metro to the tower, a much more relaxed metro ride given that we were without suitcases and it was not rush hour. Rather than going the long way around on the metro to get to the closest station, we got out at Ecole Militaire metro station which put us at the entrance to the gardens leading up to the tower. This allowed for some great photo opportunities and also gave the anticipation of the climb chance to grow amongst both the kids and the adults as we strolled towards the imposing structure.

Once we reached the base of the tower we were faced with the choice of riding the elevator or climbing the stairs. A combination of long lines & significantly higher prices made the choice to use the stairs a fairly easy one to make. Once through security we began the climb, our surroundings were as you would expect, lots of exposed metal all joined together in a very industrial revolution kind of way. We were climbing the east side, the elevator there was closed for repairs, a rather amusing sight was the 2 engineers working on the elevator car situated either side of a model of a man who looked like a train driver. It took a second to realize that 2 of them were real, or maybe that one of them was fake.

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We reached the first floor fairly quickly, my daughter excitedly leading the way as I straggled behind taking photos. The first floor was quite the tourist center with restaurants, a gift shop and even a small ice skating rink.  There was also one of those awful see through floors running around. I actually didn’t realize how much I do not enjoy them until this day. My head knew it was safe, they wouldn’t put it in if it were not, millions of people have walked safely on them, yet as I told myself they were safe, my legs said no, not moving. I eventually managed to get myself to walk in it, rather week kneed and certainly not enjoying having to overcome some repressed fear of falling to my death. Ok at that point in time it was not particularly repressed, but think about it, if by random chance that thing were to fail while you were stood on it, you are going to die, absolutely no other options, there’s also a good chance you are going to land on someone & take them with you, it just …. yeah.

After some souvenir shopping in the gift store my sister informed me that she would not be going to the top, nor her husband or my nephew, I guess theres a family thing here haha. My niece however did want to join us & so we headed up the stairs to the 2nd floor, just the four of us now.

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If I remember correctly it was a total of 670 stairs from the bottom to the second floor, that’s a lot of stairs (they were numbered by the way, I didn’t count). The view from the 1st floor had been pretty good, but the razzmatazz of the surroundings took away from it a little. The 2nd floor was all about the view, the platform was smaller (as I’m sure you know, the tower gets thinner as it goes up) which made it quicker to walk around and see the view from each side. It felt as though you could see forever, the sprawling city immense and beautiful, the air was cool, but not cold, not like it had been in England & certainly not like Scotland. The breeze was pretty good up there though. After spending some time taking photographs etc we to some tickets to rid the elevator to the top, the stairs only go to the 2nd floor, but the elevator add on from there is way cheaper.

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The elevator was cramped due to the number of people in there, I wonder what the capacity is, surely it must be significant. The place must be awfully busy in the summer, early December crowds were enough for me. The ride up was fairly quick, the elevator wobbled a little & if I allowed my mind to wander towards what would happen if the cable failed, well, my knees went a little week. I’m not sure where these thoughts of falling were coming from on that day, it was rather bizarre.

The view from the top of the Eiffel Tower is one that will stay with me forever, it is beyond spectacular, words really cannot do it justice. The girls were just as blown away as I was, my darling nice particularly proud of herself for not being too afraid to reach the top of the tower, I’m sure she will remind Mum of that for years to come. I took many photos & some video. If even took some panoramas, holding my phone through the fence to get an unrestricted shot. That was until my wife pointed out the signs that I had somehow been oblivious to telling you specifically not to do such things. I guess a cell phone accidentally falling from 300 feet would probably not be such a good thing lol.

I am not sure how long we stayed at the top for, we did not hurry, but it was getting crowded so we decided to go back down. We rode the elevator and then hit the downward stairs which did not feel particularly good on my knees or legs in general (yay getting old). We exited the tower just in time to see a guard of armed soldiers passing, a stark reminder that we were then only 3 weeks removed from the terrorist attacks that shook not only Paris, but the world. It was reassuring to see them as it helped to make us feel that we were in Paris at probably the safest time in history. Yet it was also heart breaking, that such a thing would be necessary in a place of beauty, a place of civilization, a place where normal people aspire to visit, to make dreams come true.

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We spent a little time in a small park near the tower, my daughter and her cousin doing their best to communicate with some of the local children. Kids were playing all around, young boys playing football others chasing each other, the rest of the swings and climbing frames, it was a wonderful sight. Eventually it was time to leave and ride the metro back to the apartment.  however before we settled in for an exciting meal of leftovers lead us into a pleasant relaxing quite evening in the apartment, a quick trip to Starbucks was in order. They had some fabulous freshly squeezed orange juice which I enjoyed much more than my wife did her luke warm coffee. We strolled down the street to get a closer view of the stunning Palais Garner, the national opera house. Then on the way back, we called into the must amazingly delectable chocolate store, it was frightfully expensive, but worth every cent.

The not supposed to be take panoramas 🙂

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The Journey to France

We started early on this rainy Tuesday morning in Leeds, a 6:30 alarm call is not usually what you want on vacation! Still, we were mostly packed & the early start enabled me to drop the family off at the train station, return the hire car & then get a ride back to the station with my Dad. After some emotional goodbyes I went to find my wife & child, at the Starbucks of course. There was a fantastic pianist playing, my daughter gave him the last of our UK money which gave him a big smile & got her both a high 5 & a 2 minute lesson, my budding pianist was very excited. So excited that she wasn’t really paying attention when we picked up our bags to head to the train, she swung around & knocked my full cup of coffee all over the place with her back pack. Wet pants & some coffee smells, but no harm done.

The train to London was on time & once we had the luggage in place the journey was pretty pleasant, it only took 2 hours & 15 minutes, we had a table for the 3 of us, reading & good family times were had, British Airways could take some lessons here! On arrival to Kings Cross we made our way, with all 5 suitcases & 2 backpacks out of the station & across the street to St Pancreas. After only a minuted there my sister & her family arrived from Bristol, it was so wonderful to be bale to hug my sister after 4 and a half long years. I met my nephew for the first time & my niece for only the 2nd, my brother in law doing a great job of corralling them as my sister came to find us.

We got through security & customs with no real problems although lugging those suitcases up onto the X-ray machine was – yeah. A quick lunch at a cafe & we were on to the Eurostar for the journey to Paris. Again we were pretty comfortable, my sister had booked our & spaces around 2 tables across from each other. The kids were fascinated at first, but a little bored by the end of the 2 and a half hour journey. The tunnels leading up to the channel gave surprising air pressure pushes on your ears, I’d say worse than a plane on take off, the channel tunnel however wasn’t bad at all. Once we got to France the speed went up & we were causing along at an average of 167 mph, quite remarkable.

On arrival in Paris it was just like getting off a normal train, I kind of expected another go through customs. It was rather odd that French customs were in London, maybe 20 feet down the line from UK exit customs.  In the Gare du Nord we paused as I tried to get my bearings, being all resourceful & not wanting to rely on having data on arrival I had printed off directions to our apartment. Unfortunately, folks won’t leave you alone long enough to get adjusted to everything being in French, taxi here, taxi there, no thanks, I don’t want to pay you 85 euros for a minibus.

We exited the station & couldn’t find the road we were looking for, fail, we walked a little way & then I turned on data on my phone, I was a little worried that I wasn’t on the correct network & would get data charges instead on the free roaming data from the Sprint deal. However after some later research it appears I am ok. The metro station we needed wasn’t too far, however with all of our 2 weeks worth of luggage, the 550 meters (or whatever it was) seemed like quite a haul, there was probably a closer one but we were committed by this stage to the directions we had on hand. Once we got to the metro station, the epic task of hauling those darned suitcases down the stairs began (I know we need them, but my back, my back). Once we got through, the nice lady at the metro kiosk was going to help us, until her card machine wasn’t working, then she thought it was, then no, it wasn’t. Eventually I managed to stay in line at the machine long enough to buy our tickets, I grabbed 30 of the things, no idea if that is too many or not enough, but they did a deal if you bought packs of 10, so 10 each for my wife my daughter & myself. (it turned out to be the perfect amount)

We squeezed through the ticket deal, got down yet another flight of stairs & then made it onto the subway. The doors started to close on my daughter, I reacted quickly enough to stand in the way, otherwise I’d have ben hitting the emergency break or busting a window, no way on God’s green earth I’d leave my kid behind. The subway was packed, people were like they always are on subways, solemn and trying not to make eye contact, of course I can;t help myself & I look them all in the eye, it’s kind of fun when they turn away!

Once we got off, we went up the stairs, through the exit thing & up more stairs, really, I’ll be glad when we are home if only for the suitcases. We exited the station apparently at a different point than my directions expected. So we crosse the road & started walking in the right direction looking for a road that we actually just to the left of where we crossed, not to the right where we were walking. We must have looked like fully confused tourists wit our luggage and me holding my printed map. A very nice and helpful French gentleman offered his help, in English praise God, and helped us to turn around and retrace our steps. It turns out the apartment was only a couple of minutes walk from the metro station.

Olivier, the man I had been communicating with for the rental met us at the apartment. It is a 4th floor place, just down the street from the Louvre. The elevator is just big enough for 1 person and a suitcase, unfortunately with a backpack you cannot turn around which made my exit a little ungainly haha.

After a brief orientation & me handing over the rest of the rent in cash (glad to not be carrying that around anymore), we had the place to ourself. It is a fabulous apartment, 3 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms, a spacious living room, dining room & a decent kitchen. It is an old building, I’m not sure how old, but it must be at least 150 years, maybe more. The floor has a fabulous sag to it, everything creaks, it seems safe, but it is so quaint, a slope to the middle isn’t troubling anyone much.

Everyone other than my brother in law & their young son went out to get some supplies from the Monoprix, a supermarket similar to Marks & Spencer just down the street, relatively trouble free, we did get full fat milk instead of skimmed & my wife spent a long time trying to make sure she was actually getting butter.

Once back to the apartment, we had spaghetti bolognese, of course, we are in Paris, lets have Italian 😉

After a nice family meal, lots of dishes were cleaned & then a little r&r (and writing at last) and then bed time. Hello Paris, you seem like you will be fun, I can’t wait to walk your streets free of bags.

 

A Rushed Visit to Leeds

The continuation of my vacation journal from our big thanksgiving trip to Europe ….

York was wonderful, we could have stayed for ages, however it was time to go to Leeds. If York was a nice time catching up with family, Leeds was to be a great time, if a little busy catching up with even more folks. Somehow with trying to do so much on this trip we ended up with only 4 days in the city of my birth.

Friday morning we rose in York and packed our suitcases, yet again, then took a nice stroll into the city for coffee, I could get used to this location! After a last bit of visiting we said our goodbyes to my Aunt, Uncle, cousin & his fiancee.
We then made the relatively short drive to my home town, Leeds. Finally at my Dad’s house, we got caught up, although we had been together the day before. It was nice to be in familiar surroundings, even if I haven’t lived in the house for the best part of 20 years. The old city looks much the same, maybe a little damper looking, it has been raining a lot. The most noticeable change that I saw, other than even more buildings in the city center were all the cars. Leeds has always been a busy city, but it felt like there were probably 50% more cars on the roads than when I lived here. It may just be the smaller roads tricking my Texan brain though.

In the afternoon we joined my Dad & step Mum for a visit to Costco, always interesting to see how the same stores compare in different countries. I was quite surprised how similar it was. The Leeds warehouse was huge, easily big enough to be  a US store, many of the goods for sale were also the same as in the US, there were obviously lots of them not.

In the evening we join an old friend and his wife for dinner at a restaurant called the Moody Cow. The food was great & the company even better. I had a jerk chicken & sweet potato fries and a couple of local beers. It was raining like crazy when we got there & freezing cold on the way out.

Saturday was a fun day, after going for coffee (recurring theme on this trip), we had a family reunion of sorts in the afternoon at my dad’s house. I got to catch up with all my step sisters, their spouses & children. My Aunt & Uncle cam over from York. A few family friends stopped by too. I ate far too much and generally just had a great time being in the company of loved ones.

When everyone was heading out to call it a day, maybe sit on the couch & snooze the evening away, we were headed out to a party. Another old friend’s wife’s birthday party. This one was a blast, there were a ton of my friends from when I used to live here & the whole evening was just one of catching up & reminiscing about the crazy adventures of our youth. The most noticeable difference from when we used to hang out in our teens & early twenties were all the kids from babies to my 9 year old running around the place, it was really rather hear warming.

On Sunday we went to church with my Dad. The church of my youth, it is always nice to go and remember the place. It is a very traditional church of England, beautiful stone building with towering ceilings and a pipe organ. It also has the traditional, cold sterile type of service that i remember, lots of incantations or invocation type things, heres what you say after I say this etc, old hymns that do their best to hide their joy & sense of worship in exchange for I suppose a revered respect. It’s no wonder that I went away from the church as a kid if this is what it was like, it just doesn’t speak to me personally. At the same time I felt a sense of gladness and amazement that God has so many ways to reach different people through different churches and worship styles, it’s quite amazing really & just speaks to how much the Father loves us.

We spent the rest of the rainy Sunday doing laundry, an unfortunate necessity of a long trip, I also had a good chance to read, I am trying an actual fiction book, Mistborne & quite enjoying it so far,

Monday would be our last full day in Leeds, we made the most of it though. In the morning, after packing (again), we went and had coffee with some very old friends, the parents of my primary school best friend, it was wonderful to chat & catch up & be in the house I had such good time sin as a kid. Unfortunately my friend was working away in France.

In the afternoon we went into the city center, or “town” as folks in Leeds refer to it, and did some shopping. Once we returned to my Dad’s house we did one of the most important things of any trips back to Leeds – we got fish and chips from the original Nash’s in Chapel Allerton, they were amazing of course!

In the evening we went to go visit my uncle for a little while, that would be the last visit in Leeds, we got almost all our family & most of my old friends in, pretty successful. It was great to be in my home town, even if it was for only a few days. The sights and sounds, the smells, the people, the roads, just everything about it, it may not be where I live or call home now, but it will always be home & as such, it feels good to visit there at least occasionally. I look forward to returning again, hopefully much sooner than this last time. Hopefully I will remember to take more photos then too, we were so busy this time I hardly snapped any.

 

York & Thanksgiving in the UK

Well, as was somewhat expected, the vacation journaling got a little minimalistic and scattered after we left Scotland. Not a lack of desire, rather a wonderful time of catching up with many loved ones, family & friends that I had not seen in almost 5 years, or much longer in some cases.

We were in Scotland from when we arrived on Friday Nov 20th until the following Tuesday. We were scheduled to be in York on Wednesday which is around a 6 hour drive from where we were staying in Fort William. In order to avoid a 6 hour drive we decided to split the journey & I had us booked into a Holiday Inn Express just south of Glasgow. The price was great, the hotel was not, still it did the job, just a few extra back aches to worry about.

Wednesday morning, after 3.5 almost comfortable hours in the car ( the vauxhall Mokka is not really built for long journeys), we arrived to my aunt’s house in York. My Aunt, Uncle & cousin came to visit in 2012 for thanksgiving, so we decided that we would have our thanksgiving celebration in the UK at their house. After some catch up time and lunch we unloaded the car – I was starting to grow slightly weary of loading & unloading that thing, although I do had it down to a fine art by that stage, the Tetris song playing in my head the whole time. My wife then went to the kitchen to begin thanksgiving preparations, one of her favorite things to do. Which gave me the chance to keep a promise I had made to my young daughter, we would go and visit the Jorvik Viking Museum. She remembered going the last time we were here (4.5 years ago), but didn’t really remember the place.

It was about a 25 minute walk from the house to get to the museum, I delightful walk through the beautiful historic city of York. We knew we were getting close when we got to the old city walls and gate, I really love this town & have very fond memories of visiting as a child. There were many street artists playing all sorts of instruments and juggling, a Christmas market lining the street with all sorts of tempting gifts willing your wallet to open. We managed to pass them all and make it to the museum with plenty of time to spare ( it closes at 4 & I didn’t want to risk getting shut out or hurried).

The one thing everyone remembers about the Viking Museum is the smell, faithfully reproduced to build the atmosphere of being back in the time of the Vikings, it’s not exactly pleasant, you could say it’s somewhat like those candle shops that you get dragged into & then have every scent of candle under the sun shoved in your face repeatedly until your senses just give up & it all turns into a repugnant mush of an odor, yes quite like that 😉

The Jorvik Viking Center is just as a remembered it, it is a truly fascinating place & well worth a visit for anyone if you are in the north of England. The history of the archeological dig is covered well & the details they have been able to ween from their studies is astounding. They know the Vikings diets, lifestyles, diseases, physical ailments. They know where they went, where they traded ( international trade  – I’m a viking lol). The is the most historically significant true there too, fossilized & since world travelled, the guide seemed very proud to tell us all about it.

My daughter and I wandered a little around the center of York before returning home, I would have taken her around the city walls but she was worried that we would get lost & we both wanted to get back to visit with family. My girl especially enjoyed that there was a piano there, she had missed playing the last week & ended up spending the evening doing a duet of Mozart with my Uncle!

The next day, day 7 would be our first Thanksgiving in the UK since getting married. You know, Thanksgiving, the traditional US holiday, it might seem odd to be away from family and friends for it, however this year although we were traveling, we were indeed with family and friends. We were at my Aunt & Uncle’s house in York, my cousin and his fiancé drove up from Reading to join us & my Dad & step Mum came over from Leeds & brought our very young niece with them. I had the chance to revisit the comical old story of when my mother in law asked what I used to do for Thanksgiving when I lived in the UK, to which i dryly responded I usually went to work, it always raises a giggle, especially with my mother in law.

My wife had been cooking since yesterday & so the prep didn’t seem too chaotic (from my distance) on thanksgiving itself. We even had time to go get a good cup of coffee at the local Costa.

The spread was wonderful, everything I am used to, great turkey, dressing, sweet potatoes, gravy, back eyed peas etc etc & several pies. We were all so full after the meal though that we decided the pies should wait & we would go for a family walk.

A very pleasant evening stroll through the Christmas market and around the “Shambles” helped us to feel slightly less full, just enough to return to the warmth of the coal fire and enjoy some pecan or pumpkin pies. A little later I managed to figure out a stream for the Cowboy game, which turned out to not be a good thing, my cousin still suffered through it with me until it was clearly a lost cause & we called it a night.

 

Loch Ness

Yes, I am way behind on the journal, I’ll catch you up when I can, probably mostly when I get back home. Heres my journal entry from back on day 4 – seems like a long time ago now 🙂

 

We had been spoiled by the weather so far, it was never going to last – today we were given what in all honesty we had expected all along, cold, rainy & windy weather. The main purpose for beginning our vacation in Scotland was that for the last 14 years my wife has been asking me to take her to Scotland and to one place in particular, Loch Ness. Call it childish fantasy, American intrigue, or just because well, you know, it’s Loch Ness.

It was about an hour’s drive from where we were staying, a long twisting hour of a drive, another that would be incredible fun in a good car on a dry day (if the roads were empty & not speed restricted). Given that we are going to France next week I decided to get a learn French while you drive audio book & spent the journey being reminded of how much I didn’t pay attention in French class as a kid. The twisty roads didn’t sit well wife my wife who was utterly car sick by the time we reached the Loch ness visitors center.

The visitors center was actually quite good, several rooms with projected educational videos. Personally i think they missed an opportunity to really ham up the Loch Ness Monster, but I guess I can get behind the factual & very interesting presentation instead. They did in the end leave it up to us if we believed there was a monster or not (spoiler alert – there isn’t).

The rain eased up just enough for us to enjoy a picnic lunch out of the back of the car.

The next plan was to find a place overlooking the Loch to do some Nessie spotting & also take some photos as well as just breath in the clean, damp air. On the way to Fort Augustus where we planned to do this we saw Urquhart Castle which from the road looked like both a greta place to view the Loch and also another great old castle to go visit. I knew from when we bought our Scotland Explorers pass that it was covered under the places we had already gone to so we decided to venture in.

Unfortunately we then discovered that we had left the pass at home, being an Englishman that was tremendously disappointing, obviously we wouldn’t be able to get in, but also being from Yorkshire I simply wouldn’t be able to pay again to get in, ok so maybe I’m playing up the stereotypes just for fun, but you get the picture. On the bright side, I married a Texas girl, my wife explained the situation & our forgetfulness to the ticket lady who said that my wife had such a trustworthy face that she would go ahead & let us in, but we were not to tell anyone, so do me a favor & don’t tell anyone 😉

The castle was wonderful, evolved from a Pictish camp to a medieval fortress it was abandoned in the mid 1500s following years of raid by the Macdonalds (no big macs that I saw) the residents at the time loaded the place with gun powder and blew it up. The setting was beautiful, down a green grass hill from the road right on the Loch side, the views in all directions utterly stunning. Also stunning was how fierce and cold the wind was down there, it wasn’t exactly pleasant in the car park, but down in the castle it was blowing a gale, the wind whipping up off the Loch bringing blasts of clod dank air.

We still thoroughly explored the castle although a little more hurriedly than we would ordinarily have done. The older I get, apparently the more practical I think, the steep spiral stair & the open windows must have been a nightmare in mid winter. They must have had some good doors to block out the cold or they would have been just miserable living in those castles a thousand years ago.

Despite out best efforts to spot him, the Loch Ness monster was not at the castle, after slightly longer in the cold than we could stand it was back to the twisty road and French lessons. I think I can reserve a room now when we get to Paris, which would be handy if that wasn’t already arranged!