Friday, June 29, 2007


On Marques de Pombal Square is a shop called “Buffet de Gelato”. Ian asked me several times before we left Italy if there was gelato in Portugal, and I said yes, although I couldn't remember for sure if or where I'd seen it. The Ola ice cream sign is everywhere, so you can always get a Magnum bar (the best is Triple Chocolate, which has chocolate ice cream surrounded by chocolate fudge and then a chocolate shell on that . . . although, come to think of it, Caramel, with caramel ice cream and a caramel layer instead of the fudge, is also pretty good) or a Solero bar, which is sorbet around vanilla ice cream (and popular with my mother, whose favorite old-time frozen treat is the Creamsickle). Anyway, I figured even if we couldn't find gelato, per se, we'd have plenty of options for frozen treats.

But, I was pleased to be proven to be not a liar the first afternoon when we walked into Porto Covo and saw the Buffet de Gelato sign. Nevertheless, it was several days before we made it back to town at an appropriate time for ice cream (you see, it's a lot colder here than it was in Italy, so not every time is, in fact, ice cream time.).

Last night, we arrived in the square and realized that our favorite internet bench was directly in the path of the golden setting sun. Furthermore, Buffet de Gelato was open; we saw a family enter as we approached. Also, it was close enough to our bench that we thought maybe the WiFi would work on its patio (it didn't).
So we walked in, and it turns out that Buffet de Gelato means just that—it's a BUFFET of GELATO. Herein lies the danger.

Everything in Buffet de Gelato is self-serve. Of the, oh, 2 dozen or so flavors available, I think we tried 7 between us (small balls! small balls!). I had chocolato, After Eight, and amendoa. Ian had melone, pistachio, doce de arroz (sweet of rice), and something Iglesia, or Ingles, or something like that (meaning either “church”, or “English”), which tasted like spumoni (I liked it; he didn't). There were also several syrups, including forest fruits, coconut sweet, apple sweet, cherry, strawberry, mango, lemon, mint, and probably some others; and other toppings, including jimmies and chocolate flakes and a variety of pralines (cashew, almond, pine nut, walnut, hazelnut), and then hot syrups too, like chocolate and caramel and whatnot (by the time we got to the hot toppings we were suffering from a bit of overload).

I have no idea what toppings Ian used, because it was all I could do to focus on my own. But I had coconut sweet, a candied cherry (which tasted bitter it was so chock full of chemicals), praline almonds, some cherry syrup which was deliciously full of crushed cherries, some hot chocolate sauce, and some mint syrup. The mint syrup was where the system broke down for me—where having all that choice, and all that self-determination became a bit of a problem. I have no idea what it was made of, but it was viscous and clear and turquoise and looked (and tasted, a little) like I'd put mouthwash on my ice cream. But fortunately I didn't use much, and everything else was dangerously tasty.

It's a good thing the ice cream place closes before sunset, because using the internet looking directly into the sun didn't work very well for us and so tonight we've come back too late for the Buffet de Gelato.

PS—Ian points out that his last gelato in Amalfi was Limoncello, which is almost lemone, but better because there's booze in it.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

A few more pictures . . .

Dinner in our yard in the lovely borrowed beach house in Porto Covo.
Our first night here, an accordionist played in the square and people danced.
Sunset on the shore.
The bull of our local herd, with a fly toupee.

Pics from the South

The site of the wedding, at Hotel Caruso. Totally a fairytale setting.
Us, and the Mediterranean behind us.
A grape patch in Ravello.
Mt. Vesuvius, as seen from the freeway. Standing on the freeway. (note: it seems to be a site of disasters)
Me emailing my grandmother in the Marques de Pombal Square in Porto Covo.


Our little car here in Portugal is an Opel Corsa. It has four doors and is a stick shift. It doesn't feel as sturdy as the Ford Focus we had in Scotland (which was, truthfully, quite a fine car). It doesn't have quite the balls that the Focus had, and the shifter feels just a bit like a toy shifter to me. It's silver, so it blends into a crowd and, since I hadn't until this afternoon bothered to memorize even a little bit of the license plate (what I've learned since is the memorable letters BM, which appear somewhere in the middle of the plate), I tend to approach it surreptitiously, as if I'm about to get caught doing something I shouldn't.

The most notable thing about our Corsa, however, is that it whines. It whines when you turn it off and open the door, no matter how many times you turn the lights and the radio off. It whines, and then just to prove that it's not going to behave the way you expect, it puts its windows up and down (granted, when you're pushing the button. But nevertheless. With the engine off and the door open and the key out of the ignition, in gear or not, parking brake set or not.). It does not, however, lock when you push the button on the remote, asking it to lock. Once in awhile, for some reason, it decides to cooperate and, when you turn it off and remove the key and open the door, it doesn't whine. On those rare times when it doesn't whine, it also deigns to lock when you push the button on the remote (it does lock when you turn the key in the door, reluctantly, and with a great show of irritation.).

For some reason, it whines less with Ian than it does with me. Only once have I opened the driver's door to tractable silence, but almost every other time Ian drives it sits quietly for him and gamely locks all its doors when asked, even from several feet away.

In general, whining doesn't faze me (try it—you'll see). But my fear with the Corsa is that it's whining because I've left something on, or worse, something has been left on without my knowledge, and the battery will go dead while we sleep the sleep of the just. This is not a hugely big deal. One of the last things pointed out to me when I picked up the Corsa was the number to call for roadside (or, I'm assuming, driveway) assistance (an aside: roadside assistance has become the focus of some attention in Portugal recently, and it is now required by law to wear a fluorescent green vest whenever you're outside of your ailing car on the side of a road. There's one in the glove box of the Corsa.). The problem is, of course, that there's not a phone at the beach house, and we haven't been able to get a SIM card for Ian's phone that will work in Portugal. He has one from T-Mobile UK, which would work in a pinch, except that it's prepay and it's run out of money, and we can't “top-up” online without having a credit card registered in the UK. We can walk in to Porto Covo and use the payphone on the square, but it's pretty far in an emergency.

So far though, the whining seems to be just whining, and nothing that's going to require us to use roadside assistance or the fluorescent green vest. I think I forgot to include this when I wrote about Naples and Italy, but it's notable that, when we went to board the bus from Amalfi to Naples, there was some manner of grease monkey poking around the driver's seat with the driver hovering nearby. From what we could tell, it seemed to be a small matter of a warning light or a warning buzzer that was irritating the driver (to be fair, the driver did seem to be concerned that the warning was doing just that: warning. Hence, perhaps, the angry cellphone call just before we pulled over?). The grease monkey poked around for a couple minutes and evidently got the annoying warning to stop; the bus driver shrugged and yelled “Napoli!” out the door, we boarded, and an hour later we were standing by the side of the freeway with the bus on fire.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

The India of Europe

"I read somewhere," Ian murmured in my ear as we stared out the window of our Naples public bus on the chaos in Garibaldi Square, "that Italy is the India of Europe. And I think I see why."

Neither one of us has been to India, so we can't really say, but Naples is certainly chaotic in an order of magnitude larger than anywhere else we've been, or are likely to be, in Europe. Start with our drive from the airport to our hotel--getting on the freeway, the taxi driver calmly and confidently passed another car on the on-ramp, with inches to spare between the other car and the guard rail.

The next morning, the man at the reception desk at our hotel told us that the easiest way to the train station was to catch a bus a couple blocks away. He said it would be 1 Euro . . . and he maybe also said it would take 90 minutes. Of course, I had chosen this hotel online because it claimed to be close to the airport (it was 30 minutes, and considering the airport is basically in the center of town this wasn't, in fact, close) and the train station, and they also had a shuttle to the train station (the man at the reception looked blank when I asked about the train station, before remembering the bus). We walked to the bus along garbage-strew, grafittied streets that smelled and looked much like Nairobi. The bus stop was easy to spot, however, and someone was already waiting for it, so that seemed like a good sign. When it eventually came, we found the process of paying for our rides to be a bit opaque. After a couple of stops, I got up and went to the driver with our two Euro coins, and asked if I could pay him. He shrugged non-committally, and so I left and lurched back to Ian, still holding the coins.

Sometime later, as we approached the center of town, we came upon a march or demonstration blocking several streets, and piles and piles of trash everywhere else, as if there'd been a garbage truck derby sometime overnight. The driver went, evidently, off course, because suddenly people were standing up, distressed, and pushing the stop button time and time again.

About 20 minutes later we made our way another block or two to Garibaldi Square, where most of the rest of the people got off huffily. Ian and I could see, eventually, though the chaos, the train station across the square, separated from us by about 20 or 30 lanes of traffic that clearly was dying to careen about the huge roundabout recklessly, but couldn't because of the volume of cars. A couple police officers waved their hands around ineffectually, "directing traffic." We conferred briefly, and decided we had a much better chance of arriving at the train station alive if we stayed in the bus.

30 minutes later we arrived at the train station (never having paid for our bus ride) and then we had the pleasure of trying to find train tickets to Amalfi. I'd read somewhere that the best way to get to Ravello, which was our ultimate destination, was to take the train from Naples to Amalfi and then take the local bus up the hill to Ravello. We tried several times to buy tickets to Amalfi, and were eventually put on a train to Salerno, and told we would transfer there to Amalfi. It turned out, of course, that the reason we couldn't get a train directly to Amalfi from Naples is that there isn't one. That is, Amalfi doesn't have a train at all.

In Salerno, we found a bus ticket office, and they sent us out to an island in front of the train station. "You can buy the tickets on the bus," we think they said. Things were looking bleak indeed, though, as bus after bus wasn't the one we wanted, and the drivers looked dismissively at us in the way of people who are bored with you because you clearly have no idea what you're doing, until Ian pointed out that we hadn't had any food, or more to the point, any coffee yet that day and dragged me back into the station to a cafe where I broke my fast with an excellent spicy salami sandwich and a cappucino.

It turns out you can't buy tickets on the bus; fortunately, no one ever asked for ours so it didn't matter, and about an hour and a windy, windy, sick-making narrow, cliff-top road later, we had arrived in Amalfi. We had time to get our first of several gelatos (Malaga for me, limon for Ian) before another sick-making ride up to Ravello.

Ravello was gorgeous, and hot, and steep, and friendly, and the wedding we attended was like a fairytale with friends and family from the US and Taiwan and a lot of excellent food on two warm nights at clifftops on the Amalfi Coast, and then we headed back to Naples.

Someone at a tourist information booth in Amalfi said that there was a bus every afternoon at 3 from Amalfi to Naples, so we decided to do that rather than go to Salerno and take the train back and retrace our steps. Of course, when we actually arrived from Ravello to Amafi, nowhere could we see any sign (posted, that is) of a bus to Naples in the afternoon. It was the first day of the new posted bus schedule, so we weren't terribly surprised to see that the tourist office info was out of date.

So we had our last of several gelatos (I had Melone and Schiocolato, Ian maybe had Lemone again), and decided to take the bus to Salerno and then try to get a bus to the airport from there (we had seen one on our way to Ravello, so it seemed not completely unlikely that we could catch one ourselves). Around 3pm we wandered over to the bus stop, and saw, of course, a bus to Naples. So we got on.

Things were fairly uneventful, aside from the glorious, soaring, sick-making clifftop roads along the Amalfi Coast, until we were about level with Pompei, just southeast of Naples. And then, on the motorway, the bus caught fire. We noticed at first that the bus driver was talking frantically on his phone, then we noticed that people were looking out the rear window. Then suddenly things smelled very, very hot, and the bus was pulling over on a flyover on the motorway and everyone was pushing (and I mean really pushing) in a panic to get off.

We all made it off safely, smelling of burnt brakes or clutch or whatever it was, and I started to laugh. Of course, because this is the way of this sort of world, the driver was able to contact another bus going the same way and within ten minutes we were picked up and on our way back to Garibaldi Square.

Back at the train station, we asked at information for the best way to get to the airport and were given the name of a bus, and told to pay onboard. At the bus stop we could see that two different buses went to the airport, so we got on the first one. Which was, of course, another city bus that you had to buy tickets for somewhere else. Which only one person, of all the other riders on the bus, did. There was a lovely middle-aged Italian woman who got on with her suitcase when we did, who was clearly uncomfortable with the idea of a free ride (we, at this point, had realized no one paid), and she went around to every other passenger on the bus and asked if she could buy a ticket. Mostly they looked baffled--like why would she want to?--but some also looked amused. And then we arrived at the airport, and checked in, and took our cribbage to the outside deck of the business lounge, and breathed big sighs of relief.

Since we were only in Italy for 3 nights, for an event that was very well-organized, we hadn't bothered to buy a guidebook, or even a map, or even look at a map of any part of the area we were going to be in (aside from the partial map of the Amalfi Coast included in the invitations). And it was fun--to find our way around by feel, and by instinct, and by luck. Naples is a crazy, crazy place--it's as if, being in Italy, the EU decided it must not need money or programs or assistance of any kind, and as a result it's the most 3rd world city, by far, of any I've ever seen in Europe, even including Athens. It was the perfect adventure for the middle of our, really, remarkably staid and safe summer of nomadism. But I can't say I really recommend it.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Never Enough Time, Too Much Time

There are so many things I want to say here about the experiences we've been having, the foods we've been eating, the people we've met for the first time or again, the places we've seen for the first time or again, rental cars, airport lounges, briny grilled fish, surprise breakfast buffets, strange clinical modern libraries, ice cream. But there never seems to be enough time, when we finally find a computer to use.

The last few days have been hard for me. We're almost to the middle of our trip, so we've done the exciting "oh we're on vacation!" part, and now we're looking more seriously at what it means to be nomadic for several months, particularly when you were pretty well established in the material world before you became nomadic.

There are so many things I'm missing, first and foremost being my community. I miss my friends, I miss my family, I miss my dog. I miss being able to call people up at 4pm and have them show up for dinner, or cook me dinner, for 6pm the same night. I miss the cameraderie of a group of people who know each other so well that they can completely transform a backyard from a wild weed heap to a slate-paved oasis in a few hours--without swearing at each other. I've met great people here, and even seen members of that home community, but I also miss the home context--I miss having a home that I don't have to vacate by 10 am, even on weekends.

I miss having my computer. Ian and I discussed before we left what we were going to carry with us in the way of communication devices, and decided on his two computers. I would be able to use whichever one he wasn't using. This worked only moderately well--I missed my own computer, because a personal computer is, to me, very personal. But then his older computer (5 years old!) died about 10 days ago. And so now we only have one, and he has to use it for work that he's legitimately doing, and so if I am going to have uninterrupted computer time it means we spend twice as much time apart during the days, and one of us works at a time when we'd rather be taking in the sights of this amazing world we live in.

Here is another thing I'm struggling with--Ian has a purpose to his days, a known purpose, and one which he is fulfilling. I don't have a specific purpose, and by leaving my computer behind, I basically discounted all that I do with it, not all of which is simply filler for vacant hours. With my computer, I could be writing more regularly in a way that didn't give me carpal tunnel, in a way where I, more or less, can get my thoughts out as I have them. Writing longhand hurts, and is slow. And so I get frustrated, and instead of anything meaningful, I do the laundry (oh, to completely redo my whole wardrobe, and I'm only halfway done with it!), and feel like I'm missing out on something.

I realize that this is partly just that we're tired. One doesn't really understand how exhausting endless travel can be until one tries it. And we've been on the road for awhile, particularly the last week. We're just beginning 10 days in once place, though, in our own little (borrowed) house with a kitchen and a washing machine and no check-out time (I'm sure, soon enough, I'll be resenting the fact that I have to make my own bed and wash my own towels, as is human nature), in a Portuguese community where I can practice my language skills and, probably, do some more riding (there seems to be a stable just down the road). But I've found that thinking, as I maybe would have in the past, "halfway done and then we're home!" doesn't actually help all that much, because we don't know where we'll be going in another two months.

We have no idea at all.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Another Appreciated Delay

In addition to getting a couple extra hours' sleep on an overnight train, it's good to have your travel delayed when
1. You're kept in Hampstead eating rich, buttery, mushroom and ham and cheese crepes on the street until just over 2 hours before your flight from Gatwick, and you still need to haul your bags to Victoria Station and leave them in Left Luggage (because you only need a small amount of warm-weather clothes for the wedding in Italy and really, 4 months' worth of stuff is heavy).
2. It's at least 20 minutes (probably more) to Victoria Station from Hampstead.
3. It's at least 30 minutes to Gatwick from Victoria, once you've left your luggage, and boarded the train.
4. You've technically checked in, but you don't have your boarding passes and you do have to check a bag, because it has liquids and the ever-important but dangerous Swiss Army knife in it.
5. You still have to go through security.
And the you arrive at the airport, breathless, a little sweaty, and find that not only is your flight delayed, but your airline miles had actually bought you a business class ticket and you can spend your extra 1 1/2 hours unwinding in the BA lounge! Where (and yes, D, this is awesome) you can pour your own drinks--and not just wine. I had a Jack and Sprite.)

Hey folks--we're off to Portugal tonight (in yet another fancy BA lounge using the free internet), and will presumably be having regular internet access for about the next two weeks. I intend to post lots of new stories!

Saturday, June 16, 2007

In London

Generally when a trip takes 1 1/2 hours more than expected you don't consider it a boon, but in this case our overnight sleeper train arrived in Euston station from Aberdeen at 9:00am instead of 7:30 and we were grateful. Sleeping on a train does have its charms (although those don't include the shunting around from track to track in the middle of the night, banging into, evidently, other trains as well as tanks and mountain sides and any number of other large immovable objects), and the Caledonian Sleeper is no exception. We had our own teeny cabin complete with two bunks, four pillows, four blankets, and four fresh clean sheets, two towels and a sink. We also each had a teeny toiletry kit of toothpaste (somehow formulated to be particularly foamy but not particularly minty), disposable toothbrush, floss-pick, and tiny bit of water and plastic straw for rinsing. As you might imagine, there really wasn't all that much room left for us with all those luxuries, and particularly not for our giant, giant bags. Once we were safely in our beds, bags piled onto the floor and perched precariously on the shelves over our feet, we didn't even attempt a midnight trip to the loo.

And now here we are in London, staying with friends at the Quaker Meeting House (she's the Quaker in Residence in a lovely, light-filled basement apartment--sounds like a contradiction in terms but I swear it's true) in Hampstead.

I realize there are lots of things to see in London that I've never seen (the Docklands for instance--would that be interesting? I don't even know.), but I've been to London so many times that I forget that I don't know the city intimately, inside and out. And so instead of sightseeing we accomplish things--for example, Ian dropped off a pair of shoes at a cobbler to be stretched. And I saw a Neurolink specialist/Osteopath for a tune-up (he said my energy was very healthy and was impressed that I had no lurking viruses or bacteria or fungus after all the planes I've been on recently).
Today we're getting passport photos and Monday we're seeing other doctors for Ian's new application for a New Zealand visa--this application for residency directly.

We're also having dinner with friends, doing our laundry, and appreciating the use of a living room and WiFi, all at the same time.

I must apologize for a gap in our photos for the time being--Ian's older laptop decided it was tired of being lugged around and gave up the ghost a couple days ago. Most of our pics so far have been backed up in several places . . . but not the 200 most recently loaded up there. Which means that there's no more Edinburgh, and nothing else until Orkney. Pics would've included Highland cattle and calves, steep hill-sides with tea-colored streams racing and crashing down them, me talking on a cell phone to my mother standing at the base of a ruined castle in Tongue, and lots and lots (and lots) of sheep in green fields. And maybe an oreo cow or two, and maybe even a mime cow.

One thing I forgot to mention before when I talked about the Old Pulteney distillery tour--I'm going to grow some barley on Orcas, and see about making some. Of course, I shouldn't probably post this in a public forum. (While I'm typing away here Ian is hanging out the laundry--good man.)

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Scotland Pics

It rains fast and furiously in Edinburgh.
And then it stops. Really a gorgeous city.
A loch.
A closed "road".
Many of the highways go through range land.

The End of the Information Superhighway

Regular readers will notice that I’ve been pretty quiet lately. Some have emailed me privately, concerned that perhaps my idyllic summer of nomadism with my lovely (I mean dashing) husband hasn’t, in fact, been so idyllic, but that’s not the case at all. The case is that internet outside Edinburgh is, simply, difficult to come by. We have had some access—most public libraries allow visitors to use the internet, but it’s generally only for 30 minutes, which is barely enough time to complete the necessities and unfortunately there have been more pressing commitments than this blog . Occasionally a coin-op system is available, but those don’t allow more than one window to be opened at a time (!), and are very expensive. Finally, this afternoon, we pulled into a tiny coastal town, Findhorn, on the east coast of Scotland, somewhere a bit north of Aberdeen, and happened upon one of the charming small hotels we’ve become so enamored of (rooms, dining room for guests where breakfast is served, restaurant, and pub), and saw that it had WiFi! Turns out the bartender plays a lot of World of Warcraft, and so he understands the addiction to instant international feedback.

So I’ll give you a list of places we’ve stayed, and some highlights from each. We’ve traveled anti-clockwise around almost the entire country of Scotland, skipping the Borders and heading northwest from Edinburgh.

Our first night we spent in Kinlochleven, which boasts the world’s largest indoor ice climbing wall. We didn’t visit it. Loch Leven is a sea loch, so has a tide. It looks like a lake, though, so the tide surprised us (not in any serious way, like stranding us on an island or anything), as did the shellfish farms. Scotland also farms a lot of Atlantic salmon (at least this is where it’s from, unlike the Atlantic salmon farms in Chile. But I digress onto a soapbox I’m not really all that stable on).

The next night we stayed in Plockton, a small village near Kyle of Lochalsh, where the ten-years-old-but-still-reviled-bridge connects mainland Scotland with the Isle of Skye (which, incidentally, was supposed to get a new [old] Gaelic name as of 1 June . . . but everyone still calls it Skye). Plockton has a castle nearby that we walked to, which also evidently has its own railway station.

Nights 3 and 4 we were in Kinlochbervie, one of the most important North Sea fishing ports in Europe. Every few days big fishing boats come in and deposit their catches into a huge warehouse and giant lorries carry everything off to the continent (on the one lane roads). As our hotel owner said, “the boat that’s in harbour right now has been doing some deep sea fishing. There’s probably lots of squidgy things that we don’t eat. Those’ll go off to France or Spain.” Sure enough, when we toured the huge crates of ice and fish, we saw some things that I, at least, would categorize as “squidgy”. We also saw a Greenland Halibut bigger than either of us.

Night 5 was in Tongue. I believe they have a pageant there, every year crowning a “Tongue Queen.” In the hotel bar, where we enjoyed a tasty lunch and a coal fire, we saw posted a photo of three blonde girls wearing T-shirts saying “I love Tongue.” It was a lovely place.

I should point out that the roads we were driving on (well, I was driving on because it would’ve cost $280 to add Ian as a driver . . . or, I suppose . . . to add me as a driver but I really like driving and, um, I know how to get my way), pretty much between Plockton and Scrabster where we left the mainland, were generally one lane with “passing places.” This works surprisingly well. I imagined myself, gibbering and chewing my fingernails to bits, just parked in one of the passing places, deciding never to go on, after a close shave with a caravan (RV), but I never did have the close shave, and gibbering isn’t my style. So I drove along as quickly as ever any Scot did, and enjoyed myself immensely.

After Tongue we drove to Scrabster and caught a car ferry to Orkney.

Orkney was fantastic. It made me question whether or not we really want to move to Orcas someday, or if we’d rather just move to Orkney. Our first night we attended the open rehearsal of the Orkney Accordion and Fiddle Club. Ian was, of course, in heaven. But I was too--the kind of heaven where you're just so thrilled that something so awesome exists that you find yourself tearing up, just at the fact of the thing. Of course most of the members were ancient, but there were at least a couple musicians of each instrument below 50. Ian noticed in particular the difference between having a national music and not—of the 15 or so people present, all of them knew all the songs they played for 2 and ½ hours. One person would call out a song and say “oh, in D and G”, play a few bars, and the rest would join in. It was really cool, and not something we'd expect to see, even on Orcas.

Orkney has a dairy that makes ice cream, lots of sheep and cows, and about the densest Neolithic ruins of anyplace on earth. Everywhere you look are 5,000-year-old settlements (it was warmer then and things grew a bit better and didn’t ice up so much in the winter), standing stones, chambered cairns, and regular grass-covered mounds that no one can be bothered to excavate. I went for a horseback ride with a girl who’d grown up on Orkney and she speculated that farmers uncovered things all the time while tilling their fields and just covered them back up again because it’s such a bother to have an antiquity on one’s land.

We stopped one afternoon at a place called The Wool Shed, and bought some yarn from the woman who runs it, yarn from North Ronaldsay sheep (one of the outer islands), which feed almost exclusively on seaweed (I'm not sure what this does to the wool, but it evidently gives the meat an interesting color and texture). Neither of us had brought any knitting needles, but I at least was itching for a project (in Tongue we'd watched the ridiculously bad "Slap Her She's French" and I'd really missed having something meaningful to do, because clearly turning off the TV wasn't an option), and the lady offered to give us some needles that would work with her wool. "I suppose it's a bit morbid," she said, "but not really. It's just that, whenever anyone dies around here, their children give me their knitting needles. They assume that, since I knit, I can use them, I guess. It's really rather sweet."

We spent three nights in Stromness, on Mainland (what “Orcadians” call the largest island in the archipelago), at the Orca Hotel (we couldn’t resist), then two nights at the Pierowall Hotel on the more remote island of Westray, staying in one of those charming hotels with all the different rooms to eat in and the rooms to sleep in upstairs. One of my favorite things about the Pierowall hotel was the “snug,” a sort of parlour behind the pub downstairs, where we lounged on overstuffed leather couches and I beat Ian at cribbage while we sipped Highland Park 12 Year single malt scotch (made in Kirkwall, on Mainland).

We tore ourselves reluctantly away from Orkney and came back to the rest of Scotland, where we visited John O’ Groats, a tourist trap and one end of the End to End cycle route, then stopped by the Old Pulteney distillery in Wick, where the samples at the end of the tour were generous indeed.

Last night we stayed in the lovely town of Helmsdale (I keep wanting to say “Helm’s Deep”), which looked like any little inland river valley town until you saw the sea, and tonight we’re here in Findhorn using the internet.

I have to say, having looked up all the hyperlinks for all these places, it does seem that the Information Superhighway didn’t end before it got to Scotland . . . but all the same, it’s not all that accessible to visitors.

So I’m almost at the end of the second pint (that’s an imperial pint, you realize) of whatever strong tasty ale it was, and I can’t remember right now if there was anything else specific I wanted to write about. So I’ll stop for the time being, post this entry, and get some pictures up. We’re only in Scotland two more nights, then on an overnight train, then three nights in London, three in Italy, one in London, and an unknown number in Portugal. Maybe we’ll have ale breakfast tomorrow, which would allow me to add more stories . . . but that would probably be a bad idea. Kippers, porridge, mushrooms, tomato, etc etc seems like quite enough. Cheers!

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Fast Scotland Grab Bag

Okay, I've got six minutes left at the library here in Kirkwall, Orkney, Scotland, so I'll just do some quick impressions.

1. Landscape in the Highlands? Surprisingly much like Greece. Rocky, some shocking hills, hardly any trees. A tendency toward sheep more than goats, but still a lot of bleating. Everyone's lambed recently, so there are lots of little snowballs all over the green hills (okay, yeah, that's not like Greece).
2. I love driving on the left! It brings back all the thrill of first learning how to drive. And shifting with the left hand is fun, too!
3. Frequently, I just drive in the middle because the roads are--literally--one lane. And this is major highways. There are frequent "passing places". I love this.
4. Tea-colored lochs everywhere. Beautiful. And tea-colored streams and little waterfalls everywhere.
5. Porridge. YUM.
6. Sausage and bacon and egg and beans and tomato andmushrooms and hash browns and cereal and tea and grapefruit--for breakfast!