Blog Archive

Monday, September 27, 2021

Manchester, UK

 On August 26, 2021, we stopped in Manchester for a brief over-night stay on our way back from Scotland. We got to meet up for lunch with a nephew at The Trafford Centre, which is a massive shopping center/theme park. The food court, shown in the photo below, was designed to look like a deck on a massive cruise ship. 

Food Court at The Trafford Centre

We stayed in the central business district of Manchester and did a fair amount of walking around. There are a lot of fantastic restaurants in Manchester including the Corn Exchange where they film the British TV show called Million Pound Menu, which is a reality competition for restaurant entrepreneurs. Sadly, we didn't have the time to try the so many good options.  The photo below shows some of the historic sidewalk dining at the Old Wellington and Sinclair's Oyster Bar which are in a part of town known as Shambles Square

Sidewalk dining at Shambles Square

Just around the corner from Shambles Square, is Manchester Cathedral. This church was celebrating it's 600th anniversary and was founded in 1421 as the St Mary's Church in Manchester. It has a rich history and while we were touring, they were rehearsing for a rock opera. 

Manchester Cathedral

Inside Manchester Cathedral

Now, recall that up in Scotland, I posted about the popularity of deep fried Mars Bars. Well, in Manchester the thing was "Deep fried Oreo" - Wow!   
Deep Fried Oreo at foot cart in Manchester

We also got to meet an long-time family friend up in Manchester at the "Curry Mile". We went to the top-rated Indian restaurants in the area.  The food was okay, but the company was great! 

Will these be enough poppadoms? 

Here are some 360 panorama images.  Remember to click the images to look around and use +/- buttons to zoom in and out. 
Piccadilly Gardens, Manchester, UK - Spherical Image - RICOH THETA

 Piccadilly Gardens

Shambles Square, Manchester, UK - Spherical Image - RICOH THETA

Shambles Square 


Manchester Cathedral, UK - Spherical Image - RICOH THETA

Inside Manchester Cathederal 


Inside the Corn Exchange, Manchester UK - Spherical Image - RICOH THETA

Inside the Corn Exchange 


Exchange Square, Manchester, UK - Spherical Image - RICOH THETA

Exchange Square 


Saturday, September 25, 2021

Isle of Skye, Scotland

Hiking on the Isle of Skye, August 24, 2021

Uig Ferry and Idrigill, Skye

Loch Leatham, Skye

Where is the Isle of Skye?
The largest of the Inner Hebrides. 

First hike was "The Storr" which means big or prominent from old Norse.  While the littlest one got to ride, the other two boys hiked up the trail. It was about 2.5 miles round trip to where we stopped for lunch. They were such troopers!   

This area has been used in several films including Prometheus (2012) and The Wickerman (1973). 

Climbing up to The Big Storr

Stopping for a rest at the foot of Big Storr.

Click to look around on the 360 panorama and use the +/- buttons to zoom. 

The Storr hike, Isle of Sky - Spherical Image - RICOH THETA

Next, we piled back in the big van and found some of the narrowest roads on the island, leading to our next hike: The Quiraing or "Cuith Raing" in the Gaelic. 

Narrow roads leading up to Quiraing

The car took us most of the way up, and the views were spectacular. 
Looking down on the narrow roads. 

This location is so awe inspiring that it has been used in eight different movie scenes including: King Arthur: Legend of the Sword (2017), Transformers: The Last Knight (2017), The BFG (2016), 
Macbeth (2015), 47 Ronin (2013), Snow White and the Huntsman (2012), Stardust (2007) and who can forget The Land that Time Forgot (1975). 

Click to look around on the 360 panorama and use the +/- buttons to zoom. 

Cuith Raing, Isle of Skye - Spherical Image - RICOH THETA


Tuesday, September 21, 2021

Scottish Highlands

 Some scenes from our visit to the Scottish Highlands,  August 23 - 26, 2021.  Our first stop was in a little town called Pitlochry which is in the region of the River Tay and the Tay Forest. This was significant for us, because our favorite fruit from Whidbey Island is the Tayberry, which originates here. We had lunch here and explored the town briefly, but never found any sign of tayberries.  

After whizzing past Inverness, we headed straight to Loch Ness where we stopped at the Urquhart Castle.  Fortunately for us, Kenny had pre-booked our tickets and we had a reserved time-slot. Even though they (sometimes) sold tickets at the door, they were strictly enforcing the pre-booked times when we arrived. Sadly, we saw another family being turned away after a long drive there with no reservation. This castle played a significant role in various battles between the Scottish and the English since the thirteenth century, finally falling to ruin in the late 17th century.  It is one of the most-visited castles of Scotland with over half a million visitors per year. 

Remains of Urquhart Castle on Loch Ness

View of Urquhart Castle from the Citadel

Here are a couple of my spherical 360 panoramas of the area. (Click the image to look around and the +/- buttons to zoom.) 

Urquhart Castle on Loch Ness - Spherical Image - RICOH THETA


On the shores of Loch Ness - Spherical Image - RICOH THETA

On our way to Loch Ness, we tried to expain the legend of the Loch Ness Monster to the kids. We could tell their imaginations were charged as they asked many questions. Jacob, who is our nature lover and says all the animals are his 'friends', informed us that "Bessie" as he called her, was his friend too. We didn't get a chance to see Bessie (or Nessie), but we did see plenty of tour-boats out on the water looking for her. 

Tour boat on Loch Ness

Skipping stones on the beach of Loch Ness

On the beach of Loch Ness

After Loch Ness, we drove to our next stop, which was our vacation rental house with 4 bedrooms in a small village named Dornie. The house faced the water which provided a very peaceful view of what we'd call a cove, that connects to the sea. The house was perfect for our group and had a spacious kitchen which turned out to be a big blessing as most of the nearby restaurants were restricted to pre-booked tables and couldn't take walk-ins due to COVID restrictions and lack of staff.  

A view of Loch Long from the beach in front of our rental in Dornie, Scotland

A short walk from our rental, we discovered one of our most favorite castles yet: Eilean Donan Castle originally of the McKenzie clan. This castle is a private residence and offers tours through a private foundation. The history dates back to the sixth century, but around the 13th century it became the castle of Kenneth MacKenzie or the MacKenzies of Kintail. Now if you watched the TV series called Outlander, you might be familiar with some of the MacKenzie legends and characters. I know I've seen this castle on the screen before and perhaps you have too. It's been included in many movies including these: 
Bonnie Prince Charlie starring David Niven (1948)
The Master of Ballantreee starring Errol Flynn (1953)
The New Avengers (1976)
Highlander (1986)
Loch Ness (1996)
James Bond – The World is Not Enough (1999)
BBC One Television Idendity (1997 – 2002)

At Eilean Donan Castle on Loch Duich

Eilean Donan Castle in the evening

During the time of the MacKenzie clan, they employed a family called the McRae to be their bodyguards and provide protection. Long after the castle fell to ruin, the McRae family purchased the island in 1911 and began restoration of the castle. It is this family who owns it today and still uses it for family events.  

We enjoyed a private tour inside the castle and learned much about the history and families involved. Because we were the first tour of the day, the boys got special treatment by the tour guides and were taken back into areas normally not accessible by visitors where they got to see the back side of the peep-holes of the main Keep, where the bodyguards watched over the MacKenzies when visitors came. 

The tour was different than most old stone castles, in that this castle is actively used as a residence and is fully operational. In the main keep and kitchen, they had wax figures and plenty of old artwork, arms decorating the place. (Unfortunately, no pictures were allowed inside.)

Eilean Donan Castle in the morning fog. 

Painting of Eilean Donan Castle by Jonathan Wheeler

Castle map

Here are a few of the spherical 360 panoramas of the castle in the fog. (Click the image to look around and the +/- buttons to zoom.) 

Eilean Donan Castle bridge - Spherical Image - RICOH THETA


The Great Wall Walkway at Eilean Donan Castle - Spherical Image - RICOH THETA

After our time exploring the Isle of Skye, we headed back down through the Highlands and passed through The Trossachs National Park and Loch Lomond. We decided to stop at Firkin Point and spent some time on the beach just relaxing and enjoying the beautiful scenery.  There is something magical about being in the far northern latitudes on a lake in the summertime. The water, the skies and the hills take on a magical glow. This feeling can be similar to the feeling one gets from being at Glacier National Park in Montana, or Denali National Park in Alaska, or even Iceland, Norway or Sweden during the summer months.  

Enjoying the sunshine at Loch Lomond

On the beach of Loch Lomond and Firkin Point. 

Another view of Loch Lomond from Firkin Point. 


All Day Breakfast

Here we are again in my small kitchen waiting to embark on another food adventure. Today we are going to try a canned product called, "All Day Breakfast." Yes, that is right, I said canned product. Who knew you could find breakfast in a can. Maybe this is a leftover from war rations or food rations stored in a bomb shelter but either way, I found it while on a trip to one of our local food stores. 

"All Day Breakfast" in a can.

At first, I walked past it hardly even noticing it. I then found myself circling back around to have a more thorough look. At the time, I thought that this was curious but probably not good eating so I put it down and left the store but after thinking about it for a couple of days, I couldn't get over my curiosity and headed back to the store and bought a couple for David and I to try.

So today my blog is going to be a bit different. In the past, I would make some food and then write about the experience. Today, I am going to write as we go. Right now I have my oven heating, once again making a guess as to which setting on the oven is correct. As I read the ingredient label, hoping to get a sense of what we will be eating, I am a bit perplexed at the ingredients. It says, "Cumberland Sausage (5%), Bacon (5%), Black Pudding (3%), and Beans (7%) in a tomato sauce, topped with pastry". Now stay with me here, but if you do the math that is only about 20% accounted for and the other 80% is a mystery. Can't Wait!

Oh look, the oven is ready so let's go!

I just used the can-opener to open it. I am not sure I will be able to use this hand again for several days. Let me put it this way, if you are an elderly person whose only food source is this canned breakfast, and all you have to do is use your can-opener to get to this goodness then you might starve. It was really difficult to open. Maybe it was my can-opener but couldn't they have made it a pull top? Anyway, it is in the oven at 200 C/fan. It says 25 minutes but I think I will keep an eye on this.

Lids off, ready to bake. 

You know, the British never cease to amaze me. I haven't tasted it yet but look at the pastry. I looks like a puff pastry and as it tested it with my finger it was just that, flaky. It smells a bit like a can of heated SpaghettiOs, that I would often eat as a child. Whether this is a good thing or not I am not sure. I certainly hope that it is not SpaghettiOs with a puff pastry.

Right from the Oven 

Where to start? I just tasted it. Now I know that I am a foodie and often critical of food. If you take me to a restaurant, I will enjoy the dinner but I often find that I am making food notes in my head of what I would or would not have done in preparation of my food order. I don't think that I will buy this particular food product again unless the Zombie Apocalypse is upon us and I am getting ready to hide in my bunker with enough food supplies to sustain me for a long period of time.

While the crust was flaky on the top, it was mushy closer to the sauce. The meat was indistinguishable. I couldn't find any bacon, the meat I was looking forward to eating, and there was only a scattering of beans in a loose tomato sauce. David and I both only took a couple of bites and decided that the science project was now over. 

The only issue now, we were both excited for a second breakfast so I think that I will be making us another version of "All Day Breakfast", for lunch. Maybe one that includes eggs and bacon.



Sunday, September 12, 2021

Edinburgh, The City

 August 19 to 23, 2021.  

When traveling, I'm not normally one that is attracted to big cities, in fact I tend to avoid them. Perhaps this is due to the fact that most of my experiences traveling to big cities has been in cars, where driving and parking are difficult and stressful. 

OTOH, when we've traveled by cruise ship and have been dropped off in older European cities that we explored by foot, I found them very enjoyable. Edinburgh is a big city, yet I found it very enjoyable!  Rich in history, culture, art and friendly people who (mostly) speak English. It is a very walkable city, and we parked the car and didn't use it again until we were ready to leave. The only public transportation we needed, was a tour-bus that gave us an overview of the layout.  

The brightly painted facade of Old Victoria Street

The image above is of the shops and restaurants on Old Victoria Street. Cars do go on this cobblestone street, but not so many.  

Nearby was the historic Grass Market area of Edinburgh. This was on our daily route between the main part of the city and our rental flat. This area is filled with sidewalk cafes, pubs, shops and an outdoor market. 

Pedestrian outdoor malls and sidewalk cafes of The Grass Market

Not all the streets are so wide nor flat.  The town is centered on the big hill that is topped with the castle, so many streets, alleyways and walkways are very steep and are covered with stairways.  These pedestrian routes save time making a more direct route up the hills, but they are not very friendly for strollers (prams), wheelchairs or those with limited mobility. 

Narrow side streets (alleys) with steep stairways

Most places around town have some view of the castle. This serves as a landmark that helps with navigation and general orientation.  

The grandeur of the big castle on the hill is visible from most everywhere. 

Every town has the oldest pub. The White Hart Inn claims that title in Edinburgh, but there are older buildings that were operating as pubs or taverns before this, but there is the old debate about continuously operating, versus continuously licensed, versus continuously held by the same family or company. You should probably have a few pints and discuss this further with the locals. 

Every town has it's oldest pub. The White Hart Inn was established in 1516

If you admire the medieval Gothic style architecture, there are plenty of great examples here. The St. Giles' Cathedral (below) has a fascinating history. It was founded by Catholics in 1124, was converted to protestant in the Calvinist tradition under John Knox, who had studied under John Calvin in Geneva and was named the first protestant minister at St. Giles in 1559. 

Today, the public square in front of the cathedral is used for various street fairs, celebrations and gatherings.   

St. Giles' Cathedral (Presbyterian) Square

Another dramatic example of the Gothic style is the Tolbooth Kirk which has the highest tower in Edinburgh (240 feet) and another recognizable landmark. It's not actually medieval, but was built in that style during the Victorian era. It is no longer operating as a church, but has a cafe.  

Tolbooth Kirk, built in 1844

Visible from the other side of the Tolbooth Kirk, you can see the sign for The Witchery (below).  This was a highly rated restaurant we wanted to try, but was all booked up on the days were were there. 

Sign for The Witchery restaurant

The main street (Lawnmarket) that goes up to the castle is a called the "Royal Mile" and is a center for pedestrian traffic, shops, cafes, markets and many street performers. Park your car and walk this street, to get a real feel for Edinburgh. 

Pedestrian area of the Royal Mile

Among the various street performers you might spot on the Royal Mile include magicians, jugglers, singers, balloon artists, characters from Harry Potter, of course there will be bag-pipe players and you might even spot Elvis Presley!  This is a party place, so expect to see a party.  

Even the walking tours of Edinburgh are a party.

Click to hear the bag pipes of Edinburgh

Click to hear Elvis! 

Now there are plenty of great food choices in Edinburgh. The trick is to find something unique to the area, and not just your usual British fare.  We noticed that the fish and chippies often featured fried bananas or even deep-fried Mars bars!  We didn't feel like clogging our veins with this stuff, but it was interesting to see and might be fun for the youngsters.   

Deep Fried Mars Bars!  

Something that is local to Scotland is the haggis.  We tried some at one of our restaurant stops and really enjoyed it.  But you know the British fascination of making meat-flavored crisps still applies, so we found some haggis-flavored crisps too!  

Delicious meet-flavored potato crisps! 

There was one bar that was on our way back to the rental flat that always had a very long line of customers queued up down the street. Of course any place that serves hand made chocolates and fresh churned Gelato and has a line down the block must be on our list. One day as we were passing, light rain was falling and the lines were shorter than usual, so we took advantage and went in for treats. 

Gelato flavors for the day of our visit

Two happy boys enjoying nothing better than a cone on a rainy day

Another somewhat surprising fact about Scotland is they have their own currency. It is still denominated in pounds sterling, but the bills are printed by various banks in Scotland with their own designs. I found three different £10 notes, from different banks with different designs.  While it is supposed to be considered legal tender in all of UK, we found that many shops in southern England refused to accept it!  

Bank Note from Royal Bank of Scotland

There are many famous Scotsmen besides the royalty who lived in castles. Edinburgh has long been a focal point for culture, science, economics, philosophy, engineering and invention. Adam Smith (1723-1790) is commemorated with a statue on the Royal Mile.  

Statue of Adam Smith

Scottish philosopher David Hume (1711-1776) is also commemorated with a statue on the Royal Mile. 

Statue of David Hume

In modern pop culture, we saw that J K Rowling, author of the Harry Potter series lived and wrote much of the popular works from Edinburgh. As a result there are many active tributes to the characters and locations of the books throughout town. 

Harry Potter's invisibility spell

Traditional Scottish bag pipe performer

The White Unicorns

Statue of James Watt
Another Scottish Engineer and inventor was James Watt, inventor of the first commercial steam engine.  Statue is located in the Scottish National Museum.  

Oldest Color TV in the World: GE950

Scottish engineer and inventor John Baird invented the first color television and the first 3D television systems. We saw this historic color TV in the Scottish National Museum. 

Finally, I end with a few of my 360 panoramic images.  

Edinburgh, Royal Mile - Spherical Image - RICOH THETA


Edinburgh, Royal Mile - Spherical Image - RICOH THETA


National Museum of Scotland, Edinburgh - Spherical Image - RICOH THETA