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Monday, November 21, 2011


Truly, I have saved the best for last.  Friday morning we boarded a train from Frankfort to Brussels and then a second train to Bruges.  When the planning for this trip began, several months ago, my friend Kath had requested the stop in Marburg, so the last city on our itinerary was my choice.  After seeing the movie In Bruges, I had been very intrigued by it’s eight hundred years of architecture.  It was a bonus to find that it is also a Mecca for chocolate lovers. 

We arrived in the late afternoon on Friday and caught a taxi for the ten-minute ride to our hotel.  The old part of the city radiates out from the central market square, which is dominated by a huge bell tower.   
The bells, all forty-seven of them, ring out in a beautiful bouquet of mixed tones, marking the quarter hours from morning till night. Our driver found our hotel on a tiny alleyway just two blocks off the market square.  We checked in, unloaded our luggage and set out to explore. 

Over the next twenty-four hours, we learned a lot about this city by simply walking about. When Bruges first developed, it was a major trade destination, owing to the canal system that linked it to the sea.  But, the most amazing thing today is that every building, whether it is eight hundred or two hundred years old, has maintained it’s original façade.  If you look closely, you will see a system of braces that have insured that every building stands straight, the original chimneys are in tact and all colors are original.  On the exteriors you will see what appears to be a wrought iron S shaped rod, about three feet long, mounted on the building at the spots where another story has been added.  These pieces will follow the floor line and the roof pitch, being placed evenly, about every ten feet.   On the interior of the walls and floors rods have been strung from one brace to the opposing brace on the other side of the building bringing new strength to these antique structures.  We saw several buildings that were in the process of renovation.  This meant that we were looking into a shell.  Only the exterior walls were standing.  So, you now have an ancient city with every modern convenience neatly tucked away, out of sight of the tourists.  

On Saturday morning, we took an hour-long bus tour of Bruges.  The bus only seats about twenty passengers at a time.  Anything bigger and they wouldn’t fit through the streets.  This is a city where it is physically impossible to drive over fifteen miles an hour (in my opinion!), over the cobbles, through the maze, avoiding pedestrians who must walk glued to the sides of buildings.  In addition there are hundreds and hundreds of bicycles, a few motorbikes and dozens of horse drawn carriages.  There is no logic to the twists and turns of the streets and alleys.  Some streets run into market squares, some along canals and some only join two alleys for no reason at all.  

Following our bus tour, we decided to retrace part of the tour route on foot.  At one edge of the city we had seen three original windmills and decided that they needed a closer look.  Following a street map is almost impossible.  My eye could not read the street names, most of which contain multiple double vowels and ended in “djkt”.  We simple aimed our feet in the general direction of the windmills and began to weave our way about, snapping photos as went. 

It is nearly impossible to get lost in Bruges because all you need to do is look up and spot the bell tower, using that as your beacon to the city center.  Thus, we found the windmills and we found our way back to the market square.

The weather was fairly mild, and we found that a sweater under a light jacket was all we really needed.  But, Kath had arrived without gloves.  I had brought a pair of fingerless gloves that I had knit and I also had a second pair of gloves Amy had left with me.  Since Kath had none, I gave her my fingerless gloves.  These I had knit out of lovely Malabrego sock wool in the color Archangel (my knitting friends will understand this).  As our windmill walk-about was ending, we were again back in the market center.  After a few more stops at chocolatiers, we were ready to head back to our hotel before dinner.  We were now retracing our steps from the very beginning of our afternoon’s journey and stopped at a street corner to wait for a break in the bicycle traffic before crossing.  There, on a window ledge was one of the Malabrego fingerless gloves.  Someone had found it during the day and parked it on the window ledge, exactly were the rightful owner would find it.  Coincidence? 

No report would be complete without mention of a meal.  Friday afternoon, I enjoyed, possibly, the finest lunch I have ever had.  We found a tiny little establishment on a side street and noticed that there were diners sitting in the window on the second floor, overlooking the foot traffic below.  The first floor was only large enough to accommodate a wee little tea shop and a lunch counter.  We asked to be seated for lunch and were directed up the stairs.  The stairs.  Imagine a brass fire pole with little steps wound so tightly that only one person at a time can go up because you are in danger of putting the top of your head into the bottom of the foot of the person ahead of you.  When you reach the top of the stairs, you must spin around and step into the loft that is the second floor.  We found a table in the window and ordered our lunch.  My tea arrived in a little cast iron pot with loose tea leaves in a strainer.  Now, that’s a cup of tea! We both ordered the salade d’Medici.  This salad is nothing short of brilliant.  The base was a lovely collection of greens.  Forming a crown on the mound of greens was warm broccoli.  Now, I love broccoli, but am not a great fan of that lightly steamed version that is still way to crisp and still too crunchy.  I like it soft and tender allowing me to easily cut it with the side of my fork.  So, there was the centerpiece of my salad made from perfect broccoli.  Forming spokes from this center were the loveliest pieces of lightly grilled bacon.  Not crumbly, dark brown, salty, sulfide laced American bacon, but an Italian version that is more like prosciutto.  At the ends of the spokes of bacon were paper-thin rounds of spicy chorizo.  Between the spokes were alternately shredded carrot, shredded red cabbage, sliced eggs, and tomato (pronounced toe-mah-toe) wedges.  I know this all sounds delish, but I have one more thing to add.  Under the warm, perfect broccoli I found melting cubes of Gorgonzola cheese.  Lots of melting cubes of lovely Gorgonzola.  You are probably asking, “How can this salad be made any better?”  Well, I will tell you.  On the side was severed a tiny little pitcher of dressing that can only be compared to a fresh béarnaise sauce.  Lemony, creamy goodness.  Five stars to the Medici salad!

Friday evening we walked more, as though we couldn’t soak in enough of the magic.  Christmas lights were lit, window decorations twinkled, lively horse drawn carriages were clip clopping down the streets, the air was filled with the smell of chocolates and pastries, and always, the bells were ringing.

Saturday was moving day again, but we were able to squeeze in a forty-five minute walk around the town.  November mornings always seem to arrive in a frosty fog, which burns off around noon, only to arrive again in the late afternoon. On this Saturday we were treated to some sort of Boy Scout celebration that was marked by a band that played and marched all around the square.  The band was made up of scouts and adults in red uniforms, playing It’s A Long Way To Tipperary.  And, in the center of the square men with hoses were completing work on a huge outdoor skating rink as the band played on.  Very festive!

Then, off to another train station.  We were heading through the Chunnel and back to London for our final night of this adventure.  After checking into our hotel, we faced the crowds and made a final pilgrimage to Harrods.  Kath had never been and since it is an iconic Christmas shopping destination, we felt it was worthy of our last night's entertainment.  We browsed about for a bit because real people can't afford to buy much at Harrods!  We could, however, afford a cup of tea and a dish of sorbet in the cappuccino bar.  As we were leaving the store, we were treated to a powerful and highly professional youth choir of about forty voices singing in an outdoor walkway.  We stopped to listen for a bit but left as soon as they started passing out leaflets explaining how they had all been saved.  

I’m at the end of my trip.  I have found two women that I would travel with any time, assuming they would have me.  Each of us had a strength and we took turns being the smart one.  Thank you Amy.  Thank you Kath.  But, I really am looking forward to being home in a few hours.  I have missed Mike.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

GERMANY! Der Frost ist auf dem Kürbis

On Tuesday morning we caught the train from Paris to Frankfort.  It was an uneventful ride with the exception of the three uniformed and armed police that boarded the train as we crossed the border between France and Germany.  They slowly traveled through the train, looking between the seats and making eye contact with passengers.   I know that in our post 9/11 world, there are security measures at all borders, but it is still an eerie sight.  That being said, as we walked back to our hotel in Paris on our final evening, we had come face to face with three military persons, carrying rifles held at the ready, walking the bridge toward the Eiffel Tower.

Upon our arrival in Frankfort, we were pleased to find that our hotel was directly across the street from the main train station.  This would be helpful as we had plans for train travel to Marburg on Wednesday.  Our hotel was spotlessly clean but it lacked any soul. It shouted ‘BUILT IN 1955” from every corner.  The best feature of the Hotel Manhattan was the incredible continental breakfast that was offered.  Pretzel rolls, strudel, freshly baked breads, pate, cold meats, hard boiled eggs, nearly a dozen choices of dry cereals and muscli, and most importantly for my plate, five different cheeses, all laid out in a beautiful mosaic.

We did a small walk-about of our hotel’s neighborhood Wednesday night.  This only served to reinforce for inexplicable lack of enthusiasm for Germany.  However, we had a lovely dinner, sitting at a window table, watching the local parade of shoppers and office workers moving about in the damp early evening.

Thursday morning we were up early and, following our breakfast, ready to head to Marburg.  It was a cold morning.  The train offered us a view of the countryside and my first glimpse of a beautiful Germany.  As soon as we had left the outskirts of Frankfort, we could see frost everywhere.  The farm fields were all manicured and dressed for the winter. They had been harvested and put to bed in a tidy manor, raked and plowed, lined up shoulder to shoulder.  We caught glimpses of farmers out walking up and down the ditches that delineated each five-acre field.  Most farmers were assisted by their dog as they surveyed the frosty fields. There were some fields with horses, most wearing their winter blankets.  But, a few without blankets, were wearing the morning frost, tipping their brown coats with sparkle.

Marburg is a beautiful 800-year-old city that is almost untouched by any war damage or urban renewal.   The city could not afford to tear down ancient structures and build glass and steel replacements.  They had to retain all the old buildings and houses and make them continue to serve in the manner for which they had been built.  It looks just like a fairy tale town.   Marburg was the home of the brothers Grimm!  Today, Marburg is also the location of the first major European school for the blind and the city has made itself totally accessible to the visually impaired.

The reason for our travel on this day was that Kath had dear old friends who lived in Marburg and she wanted to reconnect with them.  They are living a quiet life now, having traveled the world, teaching and lecturing.  We were to be their guests for lunch, followed by a tour of the area.  They speak English fairly well, but not regularly anymore, so they spoke as one person.  Dieter would start a story, pause for a word, confer in German with his wife Heidrun, and then one of them would finish the story.  Kath has a very basic knowledge of some German words and could usually understand the theme of a conversation.  I nodded, smiled and said “ahhhh” a lot.  Then, Dieter would squeeze my arm and tell me I was now his sister.  Dieter was our driver and tour guide.  He explained to me how lucky he was to own his wonderful car.  And, it was his car’s birthday this month.  We were in a twenty year old, violet Mercedes. Not quite purple, but certainly violet.  Rather like riding about in a grape soda.

Our tour included the ancient city of Amoneburg, which sits on top of a huge hill.  The ruins of the ancient Celtic castle are still there.  And the town is a labyrinth of alleyways, just barely wide enough for a grape Mercedes.  Half-timber houses look as if they were built last week. We were presented with a three hundred and sixty degree view of the region, looking down upon more than thirty villages and towns.

We ended our day at the historic Castle of the Landgrove.  This castle sits at the top of a hill in Marburg.  Enchanting.  Everything is as it was six hundred years ago.  Again, this is the result of the long succession of owners and residents not having the money to tear apart parts of the castle and rebuild them in the style of whatever century they were living in.  It is magical.  Today the castle is a concert venue and is used for meetings and conferences.  Marburg University shares the hilltop with the castle.  It may be most famous as the place where Martin Luther debated the theory of Transubstantiation.  But, for us, it was the site of a beautiful restaurant.  (Readers may find that most of my posts seem to always come back to the theme of good food?). I knew the food would be superb in this breathtaking venue, even though the mood music was a nice CD of Dion Warwick singing the classics. We had no sooner been seated when a party of six arrived.  Their group consisted of three couples, one of which arrived with their Portuguese Water Dog in tow.   The dog sat between his man and woman and was fed generously from the table.  When not sitting with his chin dangerously near the food, he curled up on the floor and politely listened to the conversation.  The four of us enjoyed a beautiful meal, looking out over the castle walls and down the hills to the twinkling fairly tale city.

Following dinner, Dieter delivered us at the rail station where we caught our train back to Frankfort with twenty-seven seconds to spare.  The train doors snapped shut barley missing my coat tails.

It’s Thursday and we are now on the train to Bruges.

Monday, November 14, 2011


For starters, how can you not love a city that lets you bring your dog into the restaurant?  Your little friend is allowed to sleep under the table or snuffle around your feet looking for crumbs.  This is the most civilized thing I have ever heard of!

Today we did a whirlwind tour that included the Eiffel Tower, a boat taxi up and down the Seine and a trip to the Louvre.  The color of the light is magnificent.  I can't imagine that any other season could top our day today.  It was cool enough for a light coat with a scarf, brilliant sun and warm golds and browns still in the trees.  Vive la Paris.

Now, I must tell you about dinner this evening.  When we returned to our room, late afternoon, a small ten minute siesta sounded like just the right thing.  We were right.  We had already decided that we wanted to eat in a "real" French restaurant, one that would fit our comfortable but cautious travel purse.  Our concierge suggested two establishments in the next block from the hotel.  He said they were both good and to simply choose between them based on any wait time.  The first restaurant was busy, but they could seat us immediately.  The menu was totally in French, but our grade nine course had taught us the difference between boeuf et poulet, so we were confident that we could order.  Kath won't eat liver and I don't do lima beans, so again, how hard can this be?  Man, were we wrong.  We did not know it, but we had stumbled into one of the most famous restaurants in Paris.  They offer one salad, one meat and one potatoe each night.  You sit down and they just bring you food, asking only if you want rare or medium temperature.  There was a wine list, but I could not figure out a single word except rouge.  Four reds were on the menu and I did the only thing I could think of.  I rated them from most expensive to cheapest and then pointed to the second cheapest and asked for the half bottle.  Hey.  We are in France. How bad can red wine be?  The evening got a bit better because our waitress spoke a little "restaurant" English.  We were served a salad made of that wonderful skinny curly lettuce with a fresh dressing made with a light mustard flavor.  Superb.  Then came a plate of thin french fries and the most buttery tender filet of beef topped with a secret sauce.  By now, we had struck up a conversation with the young couple at the next table.  They were both fluent in English.  This is when we learned of the fame this restaurant enjoyed.  Seems that the recipe for the secret sauce is kept in a vault, where it is guarded night and day.  There is a long list of attempted robberies and evil deeds.  The sauce has something of a green hue and the consistany of a light gravy.  It is thought that anchovies and capers are on the list of ingredients.  What ever.  It was all I could do to keep from running my finger around my empty plate.  But did dinner stop here?  Of course not.  Kath finished with a dish of lemon sorbet, swimming in vodka.  I had the most perfect creme brulee I have ever had in my life.  The custard was rich with fresh vanilla bean and eggs.  Not only was it the best I have ever had, the serving size was something one can only dream of.  Fear not.  I managed to get every custardy droplet into my mouth.  Hand me down my elastic waistband pants please.

And, as further proof of how civilized Paris is, here is a photo our hotel room key.  Some may think that this is cumbersome and not practical for carrying in one's pocket.  Ha!  You simple lock your room and leave the key at the front desk until you return.  Each room has a little pidgin hole behind the concierge's desk where he stores your key until you return and ask for it again.  I told you this city is the height of civilization!  I will really enjoy returning with my husband one day.  Right, Mike?  Please?

Sunday, November 13, 2011


Can it really be our last day in London already?  Not fair, I say. Amy and I  decided to walk to Portobello Road and scour the stalls for treasure.  This is a most fascinating section of road that hosts a flea market every Saturday, complete with street entertainers, crepe stands, stalls filled with vintage alligator bags, antique lace and more old silver than you can imagine.  And, you might even spot the occasional movie star.  We hiked through Kensington Garden and wound our way through a maze of tiny streets.  The weather was glorious.  We spent hours dodging Italian tourists, peering into cases of estate jewelry and people watching. Amy even found a couple of tiny lead farm animal miniatures  to take home to live on her kitchen window sill.  I bought a beautiful jacket that I planned to wear to dinner and the theatre that night.

The late afternoon found us back at our hotel for a quick shower before walking to meet our new friend Catherine for dinner.  You will remember that we found Catherine in Edinburgh a few days earlier.  It was Catherine's birthday and we all met in the bar at her hotel for a toast.
Jody, Catherine the birthday girl and Amy

 After cocktails, we toddled off to a local restaurant for a quick dinner and then hopped on the tube to our respective theaters.  Amy and I had chosen to see Driving Miss Daisy, staring James Earl Jones and Vanessa Redgrave.  It was brilliant.  There is nothing more I can say about it.  We could not have asked for a better end to Amy's first trip to the UK.

Sunday morning was going home day for Amy.  She caught an early flight home and I met my friend Kathleen for the second half of my trip.  And now, to explain who Kathleen is.  Think back to 1962.  It's a convent boarding school and two girls become fast chums, trying to stay one step ahead of Sister Edward.  Sometimes we won, sometimes Sister Edward won.   But wait.  Now, it's 2011 and, thanks to the internet, we meet up again.  Let's travel together.  So, we board the Eurostar, travel through the Chunnel and voila, we are in Paris!

Thanks to our Cameroon Cabbie and his Top Ten Cameroon Hit Parade CD, we arrive at our hotel to find a little bit of paradise.  We are in a beautiful little boutique hotel three blocks from the Eiffel Tower.  After a quiet dinner at a tres chic Italian bistro, we walked the few blocks to take in the evening in Paris. 

This is glorious!  And, our room has a wee little wrought iron balcony from which we can see the Tower to the right and the full moon to the left of us. 
Ahhh.  Bon soir, mais amis.  Fermer la fenetre, Kathleen

Friday, November 11, 2011

11-11-11 at 11

Wednesday was shipping day, as we used to say in the horse biz.  Amy and I found our way to the train station in Edinburgh and settled into our seats for the ride south to London.  We had reserved seats and found that we were seated across from each other in a four seat configuration with a table between us.  The train made a few stops along the way, picking up and depositing passengers.  From the train, it looked as though there are more sheep in this part of the world than there are people.  Somewhere along this route a crusty looking fellow took the seat next to Amy and he spent much of the trip grading papers from students.  I think he may have been a cousin to Andy Rooney.  He had the same slightly rumpled look about him with extraordinary eyebrows that grew straight out before curling up toward the top of his head.  He had excellent hearing.  As Amy and I began to examine our map, looking for a route to our hotel, he chimed in with tips and advice on ways to navigate the tube.   We must have looked a bit dazed because he finally smiled and said not to worry because he would deliver us to the proper line.  Well, he did way more than that.  We all collected our bags and disembarked the train.  From there, he let us through the station, stopping to instruct us on reading the color coded map that laid out the twelve different subway lines that criss crossed the city.  Now, I am fairly adept at the Toronto subway, but that is only and east/west line and a north/south line, with a few spurs.  The London system is stacked, one line below the next in some stations.  But, our unnamed gentleman put it into the simplest form and then told us to "Walk this way".  Off he marched, with us trailing behind.  He took us to the cashier's kiosk where he told the clerk that we each wished to purchase an oyster card.  This is very clever.  It is something like a ticket in a plastic sleeve that you simply tap onto a big button as you enter and exit any station.  The gate reads your card in a nano-second and debits the prepaid card. Brilliant!  Then, he told us to fall in line behind him again and he lead us to the proper gate for our line, having already instructed us on which station was nearest our hotel.  Then, in a blink, he disappeared into the crowd without giving us a moment to properly thank him.  So, good Samaritan, we love you!

When we arrived at our hotel, we were pleased to find it in a converted Edwardian town house, with restored paneling and period furniture.  It was beautiful.  The young French woman at the desk informed welcomed us and then told us that the hotel had suffered a water leak the day before and they had to move us to their sister hotel.  We were a bit frightened by the possibility that the sister hotel would not be of the same calibre, but were pleasantly surprised to find that they had actually upgraded us and our room was wonderful.  All's well that ends well.

Thursday we went on a nice walk and visited two more prospective drama schools.  We were treated to a guided tour of one with another former class mates of my grandson's.  After a light lunch, Amy and I proceeded to Harrods and did a bit of gift shopping.  Now that we had a pretty good feel for the underground, we took the tube up a few stops and walked about and window shopped on Bond Street in the early evening hours.  Then, back to Harrods to purchase theater tickets for a Saturday performance, before heading back to our hotel and a nice dinner.

Friday is see the city day.  We bought tickets for the Hop-On bus and did the entire loop of the major sights.  This turned into one of the most moving rides imaginable.  Traffic was particularly heavy, even by London standards.  The date is 11-11-11.  The streets became more and more clogged as we neared Trafalgar Square.  Some event was taking place.  The square was clogged with people and there was a stage in one corner and a huge TV monitor.  We could see that there were speeches being delivered and it was a somber event.  Then, all traffic stopped dead.  All traffic in the entire city came to a stand still.  All engines were shut down.  As we looked out the bus window, there were people with posters passing along the sides of the buses.  The signs simply said, "National Two Minutes of Silence, 11-11-11 at 11:00."  At the end of the two minutes, a bugle played.

The bus moved on.  The second moving event was being right in front of Big Ben at the stroke of noon and hearing all twelve bongs.  Spectacular.

Our plan was to finish our tour at the Tower Of London.  We left the bus and spent the next hour and a half in the tower.  Amy had watched a PBS history of this palace and knew almost as much as the Yeoman Warder.  I had watched The Tudor's and was ready to see where the queen's heads had fallen.  Of course we viewed the jewels.  As we were exiting the White Tower,  we paused on an exterior landing to chat with one of the ravens.  He just sat and looked at us, not more than three feet away.   Very cool!

Again, it was a quick ride on the tube, back to our hotel and dinner in a local establishment.  After a shower and putting on our fluffy hotel robes, a good movie and an early night are looking like the perfect way to end a wonderful day.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011


Monday morning and we managed to escape Lurch’s watchful eye! A quick breakfast (skipping the black pudding) we made our way through the ever changing road work zone and found our train to Glasgow.  The labyrinth streets of Edinburgh are nearly impossible because the city fathers have decided to add a tram line.  In order to have the entire line up and running by 2014, the entire city is being excavated at once.  Buses and taxis have found that the easiest way to get from point A to point B is to keep one tire on the sidewalk.  Being a pedestrian is an adventure.

The train ride between Edinburgh and Glasgow is very quick.  Amy had made a date for us to see the Royal Scottish Conservatory with a former classmate of Caleb’s as our guide.   Mia met us at the station and we walked the few blocks to the school, which is in the city center.  Downtown Glasgow is fairly manageable on foot.  Mia did a super job of describing her program and Amy picked Mia’s brain on the emotional adjustments of being this far from home and the depth of the program. 

After the school tour, Mia agreed to join us for a walk up to the Glasgow Cathedral and the necropolis.  This cemetery sits on a cliff behind the cathedral and we hiked up the serpentine path to the very top.  This provided us with a great view of the city.  Glasgow is a gritty, working city that shows the ravages of two centuries of industry.  But, you can see that the city is working at putting on a fresh face.  There is preservation and restoration work everywhere.

Upon our return to Edinburgh we decided to have another dinner at the wonderful pub we had found the night before.  We sat at “our” table and both decided on the fish and chips and wine.  As we chatted about our day and our overall impressions of Glasgow, we noticed a single women sitting at the next table.  We could see that she was a tourist, as she had a number of brochures touting the sights of Edinburgh.  Our waiter from the night before stopped by our table and asked if we had ordered haggis again.  This was the perfect opening for the single diner to join our conversation.  “Would you care to join us?” I asked.  But I was half a beat too slow, as she had already raised herself out of her seat and was asking if we would mind if she joined us.  And from this, a fabulous new friendship began!  And, just to show how our lives were meant to cross, we were all staying at the same hotel.  Coincidence?  I think not. Catherine is a single woman from South Australia who has been traveling about for the last month.  Her final leg to her journey will be in London this coming weekend to celebrate her 40th birthday by treating herself to a performance of The Lion King.  Of course, several more rounds of wine and a few hours later, the three of us had hatched plans for a shared tour the next day and a meet up in London to toast Catherine’s 40th.

Tuesday, Amy and I slept in a bit and then agreed that we were smart enough to figure out the city bus routes.  We discovered that the best way to find out how to get from A to Z is to stand on a street corner with a map in your hand and then spin the map about a few times.  Sooner or later, some lovely senior citizen will stop and ask if they can help.  This is how we learned that we wanted bus 21.   We purchased our all day pass and then climbed to the top of the bus.  Due to the construction, we have no sense of the route we were taking, but had somehow gotten the idea that the driver would know where we wanted to get off.  Not so.  Again, we had a dear wee lady offer some advice and away we went.

We worked our way up the Royal Mile to the castle.  If you find yourself in Edinburgh, don’t bother paying to get into this castle unless you are a modern day military aficionado (not sure on the spelling of that one!).  Edinburgh Castle is still a military base and it is not set up to give much of a look at ancient royal life.  But, the views are wonderful, assuming you visit on one of the eight clear days they have a year.  And, just outside the castle is a working woolen mill.  This is fascinating.  They are still weaving the tartan fabrics on antique looms.  Catwalks and levels of retail space where you can purchase kilt socks, a sporran or yards of your clan fabric surround the factory.  You’ll find a photo concession that will dress you as a Scotsman and hand you a sword for you portrait.  They will print your coat of arms while you wait.  And, cashmere nestles in every corner. 

Once we left the mill, we continued down The Royal Mile to Mary King’s Close.  This is an interesting tour down into the oldest parts of the city where people lived and worked 300 years ago.  Because the newer parts of the city have been built upon the old foundations of these streets and buildings, it is now underground.  A close is a very narrow alleyway between buildings and this particular one is where Mary King lived and had her seamstress business.  Amy and I rendezvoused with our new friend Catherine and all took this dark and at times frightening tour.  “Gardy Loo”.  This is what you yelled when you opened your door and heaved the contents of the family slop bucket out onto the street, where it joined all you neighbor’s contributions, all flowing down hill to the Nor Loch.  Yikes!

At the end of this tour, we three needed a beverage.  We popped into the first pub we could find.  We asked and Catherine confessed that she had never had haggis.  Luckily, this pub offered haggis balls as an appetizer!  Now, a plan was developing.  We decided to have one drink and one appetizer order of haggis balls at as many pubs as we could find, ending up at the Whiskibar for our final of the evening and the presentation of traditional Scottish folk music. We all agreed that haggis fritters are far superior to haggis balls. We finally got to the Whiski and found a great table.  It was somebody’s turn to buy.  We began to sip our drinks and found (surprise surprise) the couple seated to my right had joined us.  More Aussies.  Nicki and Johnny were on holiday with a notion toward finding a location for a future inn, at which they would become the proprietors.  And soon Johnny was doing what I have a feeling he usually does.  He owned the room.   He was up explaining Scotch whiskey to us all.  He was chatting up the bartender and making glasses magically appear at our table.  The music was playing, one young man in a kilt was dancing with the grandmotherly band member and now a South African/Welsh couple to my left had joined our group.  Jill and Roger were keeping up with us too!  
Roger, Nicki, Amy, Jill, Catherine and Johnny
 WHAT?  This place closes at 1:00 AM?  But, our party was still going on.  WHAT?  There is a place round the corner that stays open till 3:00?  Get your coats!  Yes, Johnny led us round the corner and down the stairs into a nightclub of some sort.  Our crew now numbered seven members and we found a wee tiny stone alcove off the main room where we could hear the band and still have conversation.  I must admit that vintage Black Sabbath is not my cup of tea, but God, we were having fun.  By now, we were all writing out our Facebook names and email addresses.  No one wants to miss the opening of Nicki and Johnny’s Inn!

The evening finally ended with Catherine, Amy and myself sharing a cab back to our hotel.  Amy and I made some sort of plan to set our alarm and throw everything into our suitcases in the morning for our train ride to London.  We must get some sleep.

Sunday, November 6, 2011


Did I really eat haggis?  Read on.

Needless to say, Amy and I have arrived in Scotland.  It was a long flight, sitting in steerage, but we managed. I managed a bit more easily than Amy because I had the aisle seat and she didn't.  I won't name names, but  she did tell me a dozen or more times that the large man next to her was taking up more than his fair share of air space.  He wore his Bose headset and then laced his fingers together across his chest, pushing his beefy elbows out to the east and the west.  I know they were beefy elbows because Amy reported many times that it was like sitting next to a pot roast that was cooking away in a 350 degree oven.

We made our connecting flight in Amsterdam with no trouble.  Customs in Edinburgh was a breeze.  Our first order of business was to hit the currency exchange and load up on pounds and pence.  I had a stash of unusable kroners that were the result of an unfortunate run in with an ATM in Denmark a couple of years ago.  Seems I had not read the instructions very carefully and debited my US account for $800 worth of kroners rather than the intended $80.  The service fee that the Scottish clerk charged me to change kroners into pounds was painless.

A short bus ride brought us to our little hotel in the Haymarket area of Edinburgh.  The Lairg consists of several town houses under the watchful eye of our Lithuanian concierge, Lurch.  Well, his given name might not be Lurch, but he looks and acts the part to perfection.  I'm pretty sure he played for the former Soviet Olympic Basketball Team in the '50s.  Upon completion of our registration, Lurch pulled out a small map of the city to explain a few simple rules.  "Dis restaurant no good.  You eat in dis vun. You want tour, I set up for you.  Herz key.  Open tree doors.  Iz good.  No?"  We swore to obey and breathed a bit easier once we were in our room. 

A plan was taking shape.  It was agreed that Amy would keep her iphone set to US time and I would switch to UK time.  It was now early afternoon and we  decided that a wee nap would be just the ticket to set us up for a bit of exploring later.  We freshened up and then hit the sheets.  Lights out for three hours.

Down just a block from the Lairg we found a lovely pub and felt that a light dinner was just the ticket before we ventured into the city center for an evening walk-about.  The pub was cozy and we were shown to a quiet upstairs dining area.  When our waiter, William, asked what he could start us with, we quizzed him on the local beers.  Amy choose a pint of the moderately dark Bellhaven Best while I went with a smooth lager, Tennents. We then selected a lovely meat and cheese platter to share.  Needless to say, that first pint went down beautifully.  Since it had been a long day, we had to have a second pint each.  Meanwhile, Waiter William proved to be a great help in our planning for the rest of the evening, finding us a "Gig Guide" that listed all the pubs in Edinburgh, the genre of live music to be found in each and a detailed walking map.  What more did a girl need?  Off we went to find a taxi.  "Top of the castle, please."  In less than ten minutes we were standing at the top of a hill, in front of Edinburgh Castle, with our mouths gaping.  What a sight.  The castle is lit magnificently and gives you a breathtaking view of the city below.  Now, all this would be spectacular in and of itself, but it was the night of the Guy Fawkes celebration!  There were fireworks exploding in every direction.


We started down the Royal Mile.  And, here is the problem with starting DOWN the mile.  We walked all the way to Holyrood Palace, at the bottom of the hill, but all the pubs had been passed and we would now have to walk UP the hill if we wanted to hear any of that music that the Gig Guide promised.  So, up we started.  Now, as you must know, this can make a girl thirsty.  We managed to climb the eight blocks back to the Whiskibar and found ourselves two lovely stools at the bar.  It was now about 8:30 and the music wasn't scheduled till 10:00.  Remember the thirsty part?  Ok, another pint for each of us please.  And, since a bird can't fly on one wing, we had to have a second.  We were staring into our empty glasses and still had 20 minutes till the music began.  I decided to act responsibly and suggested that we only have a half pint for the next round.  Rats.  The band was still setting up at 10:00, and our glasses were empty again.  What better way to finish the evening than to slowly sip a glass of whisky?  I'll have the 12 year old Glenfiddich please.  Ahhhh.  The band sucked.  All the time we put in and then the band was no stinking good?  Well, we had best be heading back to the hotel anyway.  Now, we weren't exactly sure of the address to give the driver, so the simplest thing to ask for was to be dropped back at the first pub, from which we could walk the block back to the hotel.  What?  There is music coming from the pub?  Is that our favorite waiter, William, standing in the door?  Is he waving to us?  How could we not go and say hello to William?  Come in for another fine pint?  Why not?  Ah.  It was a fine evening, indeed.  We giggled all the way back our hotel and, no surprise, went straight to bed.

This is a day to scratch something off my bucket list.  We had done our homework and found a tour that would take us to Stirling Castle and a chance to see a part of family history that I had always heard about.  Somewhere in the past was a relative who had been born a Stirling, so I was certain that all of Scotland had been waiting for my triumphant return.  As we headed in for our "Real Scottish Breakfast" we asked Lurch to book us on the tour we had selected.  "Vat?  You no listen to me?  I tell you dis tour no gute.  You vill go on THIS tour.  Go eat.  I vill book dis for you".  Holy crap and "yes sir".

Well, seems 'ole Lurch knows what he is talking about.  We were disobedient, bourgeois tourists.  The tour bus picked us up in the exact spot that Lurch suggested and we then enjoyed a lovely day.  Our route took us into Glasgow and then on to Loch Lomond.  Unfortunately, the mist was too great to see much of the Loch.  Then it was on to a small town for a lunch stop and the expected mill shop.  As Amy and I went through the friendly cafeteria-ish line for our plates of lovely chicken curry, a woman approached me. "Excuse me", she said.  "Is your sweater knit with MadelineTosh yarn and is your scarf knit in the hitchhikker pattern?"  Now, if you are reading this and you are not a knitter, you will think that this woman is speaking jibberish.  If you are a knitter, you will understand and I need give no other explanation.  We don't have a worldwide secret handshake, but the last thing she asked me was if I was on Ravelry.  Again, no further explanation.

After lunch, it was back onto the bus and we were instructed to buckle up.  Things were about to get exciting.  We were treated to a hair raising drive through the eye of a needle.  Every hairpin curve opened up a new mist covered meadow, a wee waterfall and visions of Braveheart behind every tree.  We were in the Queen's forest.  November means the stags are in rut and Amy and I  actually spied a doe with her young suiter in full chase.  He was only a four point buck, but it was thrilling to see.  He sure wasn't thinking about our tour bus at that moment.

Stirling Castle is everything I had hoped it would be.  This past summer the Queen rededicated the castle following a massive restoration.  The interior rooms were hosted by costumed guides and a master storyteller took us on a spellbinding hour long trip through the last 600 years.

The drive back into Edinburgh was lovely in the early evening light.  The air was chilled and we were looking forward to an early evening.  The driver dropped us off at our corner and we decided to have a quiet dinner before calling it a night.  We selected another promising pub and were delighted to find it warm and welcoming.  Our waiter brought us the menus and a nice glass of pinot noir.  Oh, what a wonderful menu and it was chocked full of Scottish fare.  Oh.  They offer an appetizer size serving of haggis.  MUST TRY IT!  So, we sipped our wine and waited.  Jimmy brought us a lovely plate of haggis served with taddies and nups.  Now, I knew what taddies are because I have watched all the episodes of Monarch of The Glen.  Turns out that nups are turnips.  OK.  We both picked up our forks and took a taste of the haggis.  Um.  Well.  Um.  I think I will order the full serving tomorrow for dinner.  It is wonderful.  No, they don't serve it in sheeps stomach any more.

Tomorrow holds a train to Glasgow and some exploring on our own.  In fact, we stopped at the train station to pre-purchase our tickets for tomorrow.  However, we have learned our lesson with Lurch.  We have hidden our tickets in our wallets.   When we go to breakfast in the morning and Lurch asks, "So, vat you ladies do today?" we will lie to him and say we are simply going to walk about a bit.  We can't take a chance on him raising his eyebrows and looking down his Lithuanian nose at us to tell us "Vat?  Dat train no gute".

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Testing. One, two, three. Testing

     It has only taken me two hours to reset passwords, enable cookies, and to click my way back into Jodysoup.  This must be the reason that real bloggers write regularly.  Those of us who are mearly drop in bloggers must clear a lot of cobwebs from our data bank brains in order to fire this thing back up.  Since my last posting I have changed my most used email account and been through a zillion password resets.  So, the only grownup thing to do is to take this thing on a test drive and then pray that in the morning I remember just how I got here.
     The real countdown has begun.  The only fly in my ointment is the failure of the rail tickets to arrive today.  They are somewhere on a UPS truck between here and Jacksonville, so there is hope that the driver will arrive before I head out of Dodge. 
     Just to give you a look at what lies ahead, here is a brief look at my itinerary for the next two and a half weeks....

     THURSDAY:  Fly to Detroit.  Why?  Well, I want to start this trip with Amy.  Seemed logical to meet her in Detroit and then we could sit together as we cross the Atlantic.
     FRIDAY:  Amy and I fly from Detroit to Amsterdam for a connecting flight to Edinburgh where we will, once and for all, put to rest the question of what a lad wears under his kilt.  Four nights in Edinburgh.
    WEDNESDAY:  Train to London.   Four glorious days and nights of exploring.
    SUNDAY:  Amy returns to Michigan.  I meet my old school chum and we take the Chunnel to Paris!!!!!  Two nights in the City of Lights.
     TUESDAY:  Train to Frankfort.
     THURSDAY:  Train to Bruges.  This has been a dream ever since seeing the movie In Bruges. 
     SATURDAY:  Train back to London for our final night.
     SUNDAY:  Fly back home

WHEW!  Sit tight, my peeps.  We going on a trip.