Oct. 2003
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Check out Weeks ending: [11 Oct 03] [18 Oct 03] [25 Oct 03

After this month, we traveled thru the Czech Republic, back to Germany, Austria, Italy, Greece, and returned to Turkey - see Nov 2003 for this log.

Week ending 11 Oct 03 (Bob)

More of Scotland - When visiting Scotland, the biggies are castles and Scotch and we tried to sample several of each.

Castles - There are scores of them, from ruined piles of rock to magnificent palaces - the ones we stopped at were:

  • Dunrobin Castle - If Scotland Dunrobin Castle.jpg (35512 bytes)CamelotScotland owl trainer.jpg (23224 bytes) had been for real, this would have been it! With 179 rooms, a real Duchess in residence, and falcons flying over the gardens, it was magnificent.  We watched a falcon trainer as he put the resident owl and falcon through their paces and marveled at the wonderful paintings and weaponry on the walls.

  • Dunnottar Castle - Overlooking Scotland Dunnottar Castle.jpg (13340 bytes)the ocean, this hulk seems unconquerable, except for the elements.  High walls look down over steep cliffs and you can see for miles out into the ocean.  But time has taken its toll, the roofs are gone and the walls crumbling but it was still impressive.

  • Balmoral Castle - The Royal Family's place in Scotland, unfortunately it closes for the season in July so we missed the tour.

  • Blair Castle - This looksScotland Blair Castle.jpg (11611 bytes) more like a huge summer home than a castle.  Owned by the Duke of Atholl, it is the only property in Europe authorized to raise its own 'army'.  The Duke, resident in South Africa, visits once a year to review the troops and perhaps collect his portion of the £6 extracted from each visitor.

Scotch - Single malt scotch is produced only in Scotland, distilleries dot the country-side ranging from the world-famous to the local brands imbibed at the local pubs.  The way to do this would be to take a bus tour and leave the driving to the driver.  We limited our sampling to:

  • Glenfiddich - A world-famous single malt, they also run a world-class tour.  A young lady took us from where they receive the barley, to the brewing vats, distillery vessels (unchanged for 100 years) to the bonded warehouses where the excise-man makes sure he gets the Crown's percentage.  The tour was free, but we loaded ourselves down with very expensive 'samples' as we left.

  • Highland Park - We were served this very smooth single-malt at John O-Grout's, northernmost place in Scotland.  We didn't visit the distillery on the Orkney isles, but we have become fans of it.

St Andrews - A visitScotland St Andrews golf course.jpg (13422 bytes) to Scotland would not be complete without a stop at the Mecca of golf, St Andrews.  It was a very cute town (that lured our motor-home into a spot too low to pass and too narrow to 'U' turn) with more golf shops per capita than we have ever seen.  The St. Andrews University also makes its presence known as students rush to and fro.  We popped down to one of the links and watched a few people tee off - some with style, and others clearly duffers.  T-times must be booked far in advance, but golfers, must play at St. Andrews given the chance

Edinburgh - This wonderfulScotland Edinburgh skyline at sunset.jpg (22339 bytes) old city captured us for 4 days as we wandered into kilt shops, through museums, along streets of centuries-old buildings, past the Edinburgh Castle, and took in a Scottish show with pipers, kilts, dancing, and singing - and HAGGIS!  This item of food, made famous by a Robert Burns poem (for reasons that totally escape us), is a 'must try'.  A sausage-like meal, wrapped in a sheep's stomach - it tasted much better than it sounds!  Bill, the Master of Ceremonies for the night brought the Haggis out on a platter of deer antlers, and presented it to us, with all the flair of an artist - all the while reciting Burns' "Ode To A Haggis"!

Scotland Bill addressing the haggis.jpg (21076 bytes)    Scotland Haggis on antler plate.jpg (18865 bytes)

Back to England

  • Hadrian's Wall - England Hadrian's Wall.jpg (14434 bytes)When Rome dominated the world, their empire extended into Britain, a set of islands peopled by barbarians.  The northern boundary was protected by a wall, built by Emperor Hadrian in 122-128 AD.  For 500 years it kept out the barbarous northerners as the Roman Empire collapsed from internal pressures.  Since then the wall, which extends 72 miles from the Atlantic to the North sea, has gradually deteriorated as locals disassembled it to make walls and houses.  But even 1900 years later, it stands as a strong testimony to the skills and expertise of the Roman Empire.

  • Whitby - A quaint port city, it boasts as the training spot for Captain James Cook.  We visited a Cook museum that had an amazing collection of letters and artifacts from this famous 18th century explorer.  It is also on the edge of the Yorkshire Moors, a wild and pretty countryside.

  • York -  This countryside is so beautiful that scores of British TV and feature movie have been based here.  James Harriott's stories are based in Yorkshire as well as the new funny flick 'Calender Girls'.  We must return to this part of England. 

  • Oxford - This England Oxford Keble college chapel.jpg (22317 bytes)world-famous university town was a delight.  We took a walking tour and learned a lot about the university.  The university includes 39 colleges, which are combination living and teaching units.  In the England Oxford Keble college dining hall.jpg (22431 bytes)US, this would equate to a fraternity plus teachers, tutors, libraries, and a chapel.  We visited portions of a couple of colleges, including Keble.  J K Rowling got some of her ideas for her Harry Potter stories from Oxford, and the dining hall we visited may have given her inspiration for Hogwart's dining hall.

Back in Ringwood - Our UK tour must come to an end (temporarily we hope), so we have returned to our good friends Peggy and John in Ringwood, south of London as we prepare for cross the Channel to the Continent and thence to Turkey.  Stay tuned for more as we tackle Europe.

Week ending 18 Oct 03 (Bob)

Visiting Friends - Our last week in the UK involved visiting friends and sharing experiences.  Around SE Britain and London we visited:

  • Dodd's - Back to the friendly home of John and Peggy, who helped us out so much while we dithered over motor-homes.  Although in their 80's, we only got to visit for 2 days before they zipped off on a boat trip through the British canals.

  • Skelly - Tom, a friend of Bob's from way back and his wife Valerie were kind enough to show us the night life in Locks Heath, a small English village near Southampton.  We shared brews, stories, and made tentative plans to meet up in Prague, one of their favorite cities.

  • Mooreheads - Judi's friends Martin and Julie from NZ have made their new home north of London.  We had a great evening chewing over old times and seeing their children - Liam who was only a baby when we left NZ in '98- now a very intelligent 7 year old and the new baby Evie who is a doll!  Liam is very interested in space travel and may be set to become the first British astronaut.

Crossing to Europe - We vacillated over where to cross to the Continent, and finally decided to head for Holland since we planned to drive through Germany and the Czech Republic before heading south.  This means we needed to cross from Harwich to Hook of Holland.  We showed up on Thursday, made a booking for Friday, and by 1100 we were under way on a 3 1/2 hour trip across the North Sea.  The ferry was very nice, with lots of comfortable seats, several restaurants, a casino, entertainment, 3 movies, and a couple of bars - if you were bored it was not their fault.  By 15:30 we were on the highway looking for our first caravan park in continental Europe.

Racking up the Countries - National boundaries are surprising close in Europe, so on our first day we whipped across The Netherlands into Germany before stopping for lunch.  This may set the pattern for the next month!

  • Netherlands - We know we are not doing this beautiful country justice by crossing it so quickly, but cold weather looms ahead so we need to save Holland for a future trip.  That said, we found everything very well organized, the roads are excellent, the land is FLAT

  • Germany - The roads, if anything, are better in Germany - although we are starting to question their efficiency.  We arrived at our caravan park at 3 PM, and it took an hour to check in as the lady chatted, poked slowly at the keys, and entered interminable information into their computer for a queue of 12 families trying to start their weekends.

Week ending 25 Oct 03 (Bob)

Berlin - A huge construction project -Germany Berlin Brandenberg Gate.jpg (15250 bytes) that is what Berlin seemed to us.  Reunification of Germany and the relocation of their capital to Berlin has required a new Parliament and its associated buildings, so one of the postcards they sell is a sea of cranes silhouetted against the sky.   The removal of The Wall in 1989 is a drastic change from Bob's prior visits in 1966 and 1982!  The Brandenberg Gate, the icon Germany Berlin memorial crosses to Wall victims.jpg (26075 bytes)of Berlin, used to be just out of reach across The Wall - now it hosted souvenir stalls and a World Football ticket booth.  We visited Checkpoint Charlie and were inundated with data about atrocities and escapes while the nearby park displays crosses remembering a few of the 176 who died trying to escape over The Wall. No big city is complete without shopping, so we stopped at KaDeWe - they come close to Harrod's in London with an outstanding and expensive selection of everything from designer clothes to Reese's Peanut Butter.

Saxony Switzerland - A few hours Germany palace in Kohnstein.jpg (17967 bytes)south of Berlin on the Elbe river sits this pretty parkland.  We found a campground north of Dresden and drove around the countryside for 2 days.  With loads of steep cliffs inhabited by castles and palaces like the one at Hohnstein to the left, it is fascinating country.  Tours were not too useful since all material was in German (Imagine That!) but we still enjoyed the views. In the heart of the park lies the Elbe, Germany paddleboat on the Elbe.jpg (28353 bytes)a peaceful river with lots of commercial and tourist traffic surrounded by plateaus with lush fields, deep gorges, and forests with their beautiful Fall colors showing.  We had to keep reminding ourselves that we were deep in what used to be East Germany, and although there were some old factories and rough roads, they appeared to have been reasonably well off.  On our last full day, we visited Kunsthanfwerkerhaus, a handcrafting center that produces 600,000 products from Christmas decorations, to dried flowers, beautiful painted nutcrackers (we succumbed), carvings, wood cutouts of nativity scenes, rotating scenes of German dancers ... the list goes on and on.  It was a fascinating place to visit!

Impressions of Germany - Granted that our visit was very brief, but that hasn't prevented us from giving our opinions before:

  • Friendliness - People are civil but normally not really friendly.  

  • Things work - we rarely found anything from toilets to highways that did not work properly.

  • Under Construction - buildings are being built everywhere and every road has areas under construction.

  • East Germany is still catching up - roads are rougher, buildings drabber, and stores appear plainer.

  • Down time is important - we have found many businesses closed during the middle of the day as the 'time of repose' is still important.

  • Procedures are exacting but not efficient - in many cases we have waited in queues or a sequence of queues because the organization hasn't any consideration for how it affects their customers.

Czech Republic - After 3 days near the border, we took the plunge and drove across the border to a new country - another one liberated as the Soviet Union fell apart.  Prague has a magic sound to it, and we are looking forward to a good visit there next week!

 

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