Monday, January 27, 2014

Beautiful Details

Some of my favorite things are books and some of the places I just wanted a few more minutes (okay, hours) were libraries and book stores. In Scotland one of the things that most surprised me was that I saw several men wearing kilts. Not as any kind of costume but with coats and ties, briefcases in hand.

The French know how to do lunch. These were the drinks included with our meal in Normandy along with coffee at the end which came with a little square of dark chocolate to melt into it. 

 One thing I always like is a silly photo op. In Invergordon, Scotland I couldn't resist this one since I was wearing yellow and all...

My love of post boxes is legendary. I'm sure people often wonder what in the world I'm doing.

Sometimes "things" just catch my eye.

 I got an entire blog post out of this beautiful picture of rocks on the coast of South Queensferry, Scotland. I even got a blog post out of this picture: Lessons from a Rocky Shoreline.

I discovered something amazingly delicious. A strawberry-lime cider brewed in Sweden. It's the kind of thing the offer you in pubs when you aren't fond of beer.

 I love this quote by C.S. Lewis in a bookstore on the Royal Mile in Edinburgh. You could see the castle from where we sipped our coffee.

Am I the only one who thinks this is actually the really practical thing for men to be wearing...(ahem) comfort wise?

I happened into this library in Belfast with famous authors in stained glass above all the windows. Charming. 

Another picture from Trinity College Library. (sigh)

Several areas had up these cheerful banners and they just made me happy, which I'm sure is the point.

Another post box. (swoon)

Sunday, January 26, 2014

The Beatles, Braveheart, and the Greatest Generation

Leaving Dublin, we sailed across to Liverpool,  the the next stop on our magical mystery tour. I'd booked a Beatles tour and we were met at the ship's terminal by our taxi driver, Rob. A knowledgeable and affable fellow.  Our 3 hour tour included stops at the childhood homes, Penny Lane, Strawberry Field (actually a girls' orphanage where John use to climb a tree to watch them undress), the church with Eleanor Rigby's grave out back, the church where John and Paul first met, and endless trivia and stories shared by our cabbie. Naturally between locations he played the song that best connected to our next stop.

 I was fascinated by the fact that Paul claims he made up the name Eleanor Rigby, that he'd never seen the gravestone or heard the name at all. That her name on that marker is a coincidence. Yet, given what we know about how much information the brain takes in that we are unaware of it seems very likely he saw it at some point and registered it in some unconscious way.

Then it was on to Glasgow, Belfast,  Edinburgh, and Invergordon:

There is one stop left on the places list, Normandy. As if to match your post about your visit to Arlington National Cemetary, I have the transatlantic companion. There aren't really any words to describe the feeling of the place. But my experience was profound in ways I didn't expect.  Beaches famous for fierce fighting and massive loss of life are now strewn with running children spending the day by the sea with sunbathing parents. Photos of beautiful landscapes marred by barbed wire. A carousel at the site of more heroic deeds and loss of life. 
 Arromanches-les-Bains (Gold Beach on D-Day) 

At Normandy American Cemetery

 Omaha Beach. The tour buses are lined up and tourists, mostly of a certain age visit the site and read the memorials. Pictures are taken, with no one exactly sure whether or not it is appropriate to smile in them. It seems like a sacred place.

Then just beyond where you see that stone monument there are steps going down to the beach. It took me by surprise to see these happy French families enjoying a holiday, children running and playing, parents laughing, sunning. I stood on the steps and looked up at older tourists, mostly American, pointing and discussing the historical significance of the place. I looked down and saw what could easily have been any beach in the world. I wondered what those men who died here would think of that. I could imagine that they might tell us that was exactly what they'd fought here for. After all what better memorial could there be than those free French children. I couldn't help but think that if they are aware of it, it would surely make them smile.

 The following pictures are taken in and around the machine gun nest at Pointe du Hoc:

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Oh, the Places You'll Go!

This week we move on from people to places. A story best told with the use of pictures:

Our first stop was the Isle of Guernsey, where we visted The Little Chapel and the German Underground Hospital. Both were made famous in the book, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. Then it was on to Cork and Blarney castle. I didn't kiss the stone (who would really want me to have more of the gift of gab?) but was intrigued by the Poison Garden. They were growing marijuana and opium in it along with things like hemlock and wolfsbane. After a train ride back to Cobh (pronounced Cove) we happened upon a regatta and festival complete with an Irish rock band and crusty old fishermen bringing in their catches of the day. Ours was the last big ship of the season and so lots of townspeople and festival goers came down to the dock to wave as we sailed away. There were even ladies in turn of the century dresses and a band that played Anchors Away. Here's what I saw as we headed out to sea:

We awoke the next day to the industrial side of Dublin. I had 3 things on my list for this day. The Trinity College Library, St. Patrick's Cathedral, and the Old Jameson Distillery. But my main mission: that Library. After waiting an hour and a half we paid and the first part of the building is dedicated to the Book of Kells.  It was interesting but the library was tugging hard at my heart. When I finally got inside I was completely overjoyed. The space reminded me of a cathedral of wisdom. A church of the written word. I was reminded of the verse from Proverbs 4, Sell everything and buy wisdom! Part of me wanted to sit down in a corner someplace and cry for all the things I will never know.

What are you going to do after such an experience? Well, it's Ireland so head to a pub of course. And then to a church because...well, again, it's Ireland. :)

St. Patrick's was another overwhelming experience. Jonathon Swift and his wife are buried in the floor. One of the most interesting things to me was the Door of Reconciliation.   Next it was on to the Jameson Distillery, then a bit more walking before catching a cab back to the ship. 

Up next: Liverpool, Glasgow, Belfast, Edinburgh, and Invergordon.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Oh The People You'll Meet!

Generally travelers set off with lists of important places they want to see while on their journey. The famous cathedral, monument, natural landscape or oddity, or well known restaurants or bars. We rarely intend to collect conversations as part of our travel memories, yet those always seem to be the things I remember most from my travels. I return home impressed with who I met and what I learned from them.  

In addition to the embassy worker and the Qatar flight crew we met a lot of smart, inquisitive people, and everyone seemed to have an opinion they wanted to share about one thing or another.

The Brits and Australians at dinner sounded a lot like many Americans you talk to. They are tired of their governments backing our government in military actions and paying the price. They are pretty sure only the craziest of their citizens are running for office. They are convinced whatever is being shown on the news isn't close to the real truth.

We found an amusing trend among pub patrons and cabbies. There was a lot of hostility toward people in other cities. In Dublin, we were told by the collection of men at the bar that if we were on our way to Glasgow, we'd better be damn careful, because it was a rough city and we'd be mugged. We were also informed that Margaret Thatcher "single handedly ruined that city. Glasgow use to be a beautiful city." A couple of days later in Glasgow residents were amused. "Of course people in Dublin would say that."  My husband shared the mugging prediction with a couple of policemen. "Aye. Have ya been mugged yet?" Of course every city has parts it would be safest to steer clear of. We chalked up this kind of talk to that.

At dinner one evening we sat with a couple who were celebrating their 52nd wedding anniversary. He was American and she was Mexican. They'd met when she was visiting a cousin in Southern California who lived next door to him.  The woman smiled as she told the story. "I didn't speak English and he didn't speak Spanish." Of course, my female curiosity had to know how they fell in love under those conditions. The man chimed in "When she went home I bought a Spanish dictionary and taught myself Spanish so I could write her letters." They had written each other letters for 3 years--"he wrote 3 for every 1 I wrote"--until he drove to Mexico city with several members of his family to marry her, arriving the week before the wedding to meet her family. They had 7 children all of whom were doctors, lawyers, or engineers and scads of grandchildren. They looked like they'd had the happiest life.

In the hot tub one afternoon I struck up a conversation with a man and his wife. He was a professor of business ethics at a university in Santiago, Chile and she was a "head hunter" for several major corporations. Our discussion quickly started with the lack of long term thinking among corporations and governments and covered several other topics until I finally asked what he thought the largest problem was. "Population. Specifically people living in cities." I was intrigued and remembered Dunbar's Law, which says that humans can only have approximately 150 real relationships. I asked if this was part of what he was speaking about. His eyes lit up. "Yes!" He gave a lengthy lecture on the effects of it. (It all seemed familiar somehow. :)) His basic theory was that once people moved into large groups and away from villages where everyone knew them from birth to death they gained a sort of anonymity that greatly affected their behavior. Decisions stopped being made for the good of the group and the self was exalted. Once that happened the short term thinking about what would be good for a single person became more important than long term thinking. He explained that he found the same thing happened in corporations the larger they became.

When he got all finished I asked what the solution was. As the words came out of my mouth his wife smiled a cryptic smile. He said, "Oh yes, my students ask that all the time. But there is no solution. This living in groups will kill us eventually most likely by a plague (he asked if I'd seen the movie, Contagion) and this he felt sure would happen in the next few decades.

Some other people entered the tub and broke our conversational spell but it was nearly time to get ready for dinner anyway, as stepped out of the tub he said "Enjoy the rest of your cruise, our species is going to end soon."

One of the things that impressed us most on our trip was just how genuinely kind people seemed to be, particularly in Scotland. My husband played a round of golf on the "wee course" (meaning 9 holes) and after we went to the clubhouse for a pint and a snack. The chef came out to chat with us and when we asked if we could use the phone to call a cab he insisted on driving us back to the ship himself. "It's 5 minutes out of my life, I'm not doing anything right now." We explained that after changing our clothes we wanted to catch the train and asked where it was. "I'll just drive you over to it so you  can see where your are going. It's 10 minutes out of my life."

A regular occurrence even in large cities was that if we were asking directions from someone 2 or 3 other people would stop to find out if we needed assistance and if they could help. Everyone was nice but the Scots seemed to be willing to go the extra mile.

We had lots of other random encounters. There was the Israeli dairy farmer, the woman who taught international folk dances as a profession, our bar tender who owned a rubber tree farm in Thailand, and an old guy who walked up to me at a bar in Belfast while my husband was in the bathroom and said "How long have you been sitting here waiting for me."

I told him it had been a really long time and I was beginning to wonder what had happened to him and that I thought maybe he'd changed his mind.

His two friends he'd come in with had the most priceless looks on their faces. :)

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Up all Night Drinking in London

In August my husband and I took a cruise of the British Isles to celebrate our 30th anniversary. There's lots to share, but let's start with an overview: London, Southhampton (to set sail from same port as the Titanic), then Guernsey, Cork, Dublin, Liverpool, Belfast, Glasgow, Edinburgh, Invergordon, and La Havre before returning to Southampton and London again to fly home. An exhausting itinerary except that a cruise ship makes it possible to unpack once for such a journey and sleep in the same bed every night.

We arrived a day early with good intentions of checking into an airport hotel, having a nice dinner and a pint, then off to an early bedtime to start off our UK adventure fully rested and recovered from our long flight and loss of sleep.  But as we know, travel is full of surprises. The hotel receptionist directed us to a neighborhood restaurant a few blocks away. It took us a moment to figure out there was one queue for ordering food and another one for ordering drink, but then each was brought to the table. While we stood in line a young woman struck up a conversation with me about the news from Egypt being shown on the screen over our heads. She was from a middle eastern country working for the embassy of another one in London.

She found the news footage upsetting and proceeded to explain to me that the people rioting could neither read nor write and had no knowledge of world affairs or politics other than what their religious clerics share with them. She explained that a good man with modern ideas who could get himself elected could most likely not maintain control. "These people only respect strength. The need is for a very strong leader who also has a modern way of thinking, but I fear this cannot be found." We discussed her own country which has a reputation of stability which I was glad to hear, as it also has a site high on my travel list.

While I was engaged in this conversation my husband was chatting up a young man and woman in front of him in line. 

Which is how we ended up staying up all night drinking with a Sicilian, a Serb, and a Swede.They were a crew of flight attendants on a layover for Qatar Airlines. They were quite curious about the number of Americans who are passport holders. They'd heard 8% someplace but I argued (only guessing) that the number must be closer to 30%. Luckily I wasn't far off with Forbes reporting last year that a record number of Americans, roughly 1/3, have their passports.

We eventually moved from the pub when it closed to our hotel lobby, where a bored night time manager was willing to open the bar back up for a little company. The evening was filled with discussions ranging from religion to politics, travel, family history, home, education, and love.

We began our UK adventure less rested than we'd hoped, but such encounters are always worth losing a little sleep over.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Jack Daniel's Distillery Tour and Tasting

Destination: Lynchburg, Tennessee. A tour of the famous Jack Daniel's Distillery was long on our bucket list. Okay, so maybe we have more of a barrel list.

I love grown up field trips.

I'm not sure what we expected as we drove up  but a parking lot filled with cars wasn't it. As we walked toward the visitor center we marveled at the license plates from all over the country, sort of a drinker's Disney Land. Stepping inside we were surprised at the size of the building, the museum like atmosphere, and number of tourists. You can take a free tour or for $11.00 you can embark on a tasting tour. Guess which one we chose!

Sugar maple stacked in the rickyard

After watching a short film (use the bathroom now, there are none on the tour!) you have a group photo made and board a van which takes you up to the rick yard. Jack Daniel's makes their own charcoal and the process starts with sugar maple cuts of wood, stacked, aired out, and burned just the right amount to retain wood flavor without ending up with a pile of ash.

The tour then heads to the cave where water bubbles up from an underground spring.

"Every drop of Jack Daniel's ever made has come right out of this cave." ~Tour guide, Wes Cambell

The safe that killed Jack Daniels
Just a few steps away from the cave and statue of JD sets his house including the safe he kicked that broke his toe, that eventually led to his death.  A useful story to share with all the angry people you know. If they are really getting on your nerves you might just tell them you know where there is a safe they can kick.

I was unable to take photos inside any of the buildings (which are immaculate) but here's what you need to know about the distilling process:

It was a tasting tour!

 Trees located near the distillery, as well as rock, and sides of buildings are covered with what is called "still mold." A kind of mold that apparently enjoys alcohol vapors. If you are in the woods and see trees black with it, there is a still nearby. It was a low tech way the revenuers use to use.
 At the end of the tour you can enjoy some lemonade. The distillery sits in a dry county so they can't "sell" any whiskey here. They can however "give" it away. You can  taste a small portion on the tasting tour and buy a collectible "commemorative" bottle. They then "give" you the whiskey inside. Aren't they clever?

You've arrived!
I'd recommend this tour even if you are a teetotaler. The history is interesting, the location is beautiful and quaint, and if nothing else it's nice to see an American business that can never ship its operation overseas. There's only one place you can make Tennessee sour mash whiskey and that's in Tennessee.

The General in front of the entrance to the visitor's center.

I told you it was kind of like Disney Land!
Happy travels, y'all!
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