Hebridean Island Cruises

Off the ship and on to Frankfurt…

We woke up bright and early on Tuesday, the day of disembarkation. Bill and I did most of our packing the day before. We also filled out the survey and turned it in before the previous night’s embarrassing incident. I wish I had waited, because the second disappointment came that morning. We had our final breakfast. I went with porridge without a whisky dram, a side of streaky bacon, and some fried bread. I should have skipped the bread, given the long coach ride from Oban.

As we cruised toward the charming town where we’d be ending our cruise, Bill and I spoke to one of the more reticent passengers, a guy who had revealed to me earlier in the cruise that he and his wife live in Oban. When they got off the ship, it was an easy trip for them to go home. I liked his wife, who looked a lot like my friend, Melody, especially in the face. The guy, who told me he was 80 but looked about twenty years younger, said it was his first and last Hebridean cruise, due to the expense. Then he told us how he’d made his living. It had been his job to maintain Scotland’s many lighthouses. Talk about an unusual and interesting career! And he looked so fit. I never would have guessed he was 80. He was also the guy who showed up in jeans to the first gala. While some people appeared to be a little appalled by it, frankly, I thought it was kind of bad ass. He looked great in his jeans, and I was sorry when he changed.

So anyway, I got a few last photos, although we’ve seen Oban a few times. It’s the place where the bulk of Hebridean cruises embark and disembark. Then, when we were called off the ship, I didn’t see our luggage. It seems our young and apparently rather inexperienced cabin steward wasn’t clued in on the fact that he was supposed to bring our bags out of the ship. Remember, we had FIVE of them, and they were heavy. We had to get them up a long flight of stairs. Bill went down to the stateroom to see if we’d left anything, and there our bags were. The cabin steward was in the room, reading something. He claimed he “didn’t know” what we wanted him to do with them. On every other cruise we’ve taken with Hebridean, our bags have been taken out for us and left near the coach.

The day prior, this same guy, who had been very nice, but seemed immature and inexperienced, had specifically requested that I give him nice comments on the final survey, since he was on probation and the staff was “watching him closely”. It didn’t occur to me to say it at the time, but it seems to me that asking for positive comments is kind of counterproductive. Those who do a noticeably good job are going to be recognized and rightfully praised. I can think of at least ten crew members who will never need to ask me for praise. I will give it to them freely, because they are so good at their jobs.

I mostly thought our steward did a good job. When I asked him for an extra blanket, he offered to give us a duvet, which turned out to be a much better choice for us and made the bed more comfortable. However, he was a bit slow in getting the room clean. More than once, I came down at lunch to find it still wasn’t quite done. On previous cruises, the room was always made up much sooner than that. One time, he left us without toilet paper. A couple of times, I found my nightgown cutely laid out on my pillow, which seemed a little weird. He had so neatly arranged my toiletries, yet didn’t know to get the bags off the ship on the last day. Still, I try to be fairly easy going about most things when it comes to service. I’ve done that work and I have empathy for people who do it now.

We spent well over $12,000 on this cruise and it was mostly worth it, despite the seasickness. We really did have a great time. But between the dressing down Bill got the night before and the steward’s lack of a clue, I was left a little deflated as we left the Hebridean Princess. Bill actually hauled three of our bags off the ship himself, which he definitely should not have felt like he had to do. However, when we boarded the coach to Glasgow, Captain David Kirkwood was there to say goodbye and he was very sincere as he thanked us for sailing… and even kissed me European style (on both cheeks). So, although I wasn’t happy about a couple of lapses in decorum at the end of the cruise, I would still happily cruise with Hebridean again (if they’ll still let me back on the ship ūüėČ ).

The ride between Glasgow and Oban takes about two and a half hours, so we had a quick break in Inverary. I was grateful for that, since the fried bread was making me feel kind of queasy. I was able to get ahold of my bottle of Tums, which saved the rest of the ride for me. Fried food and coach rides don’t mix for me.

Glasgow Airport is another thing altogether. It gets a lot of traffic that it can’t seem to handle. Our flight wasn’t until 4:15, but we had arrived at about noon. We had to hang onto the luggage or pay to stow it until 2:15. We paid to stow it, then had lunch in one of the airport’s rather crappy restaurants. As we were leaving, we ran into one of the new stewardesses, Sonia, who is from Portugal and on her way home for two weeks. I think she will do fine on the Princess. She’s very smart, sweet, hard working and service oriented. I enjoyed getting to know her, although I didn’t initially recognize her without her uniform.

As we were leaving the bar, I noticed a group of ladies with Hebridean luggage tags on their bags. They no doubt noticed mine and probably wondered if we were coming or going. We were going, since it was time to check our bags. Glasgow doesn’t have a lounge for Lufthansa, so we used their “Upper Deck” lounge, which business class passengers can access for free. Bad pop played very loudly put me in a mood, although it was worse in the terminal itself. Luckily, our flight was on time and we had a seamless flight back to Germany. I even got a few cool photos of another Lufthansa plane flying next to us.

Once we got to Frankfurt, it was back through passport control, where Bill got the third degree about our status here. Then we collected our bags and, thank God, a luggage cart. Frankfurt is a huge airport and you have to walk your ass off to get anywhere. Doing it with five bags is a nightmare. Then, we had to get to another level to access the parking garage and half of the elevators seemed to be broken. But we did find a couple of them that functioned, managed to find our Volvo, and now we’re home, chilling…

I’ve already hung up our new art, welcomed our dogs home, and done some housework. The laundry is done and my blog is now complete. I’ll probably write one more post to summarize our trip… strictly for those who don’t want to wade through the whole series. I left out some things, like the lovely Scottish gentleman who was a British Army public health officer and musician, and had lived in Rhodesia (Zimbabwe) for twenty years. And the two British/American couples we met, who were charming in their own ways. And the beautiful lady who was always dressed to the nines, no matter what… and the pistol of an 88 year old who managed to keep up with everyone and everything, and told us of her plans to visit the Chilean Fjords soon.

Despite my minor grumbles, we had a very good time. And yes, Bill will continue to wear his kilt. If I have to wear a seatbelt, he has to wear his kilt sometimes… and the idiots who either can’t avert their eyes to avoid being offended by his shorts length knit boxer shorts or are rude enough to comment on it can simply go jump in a lake. I do love Scotland. I love Bill. And anyone who shames him for looking gorgeous in his kilt can answer to me.

Standard
Uncategorized

Every girl’s crazy ’bout a kilted man…

Three months ago, Bill and I were in Glasgow, Scotland, about to embark on our fourth cruise on Hebridean Princess.  While we were in Glasgow, we stopped into a kiltmaker’s shop and got Bill fitted for a kilt of his very own.  We decided to do it because we both love visiting Scotland, especially on Hebridean Princess.  Kilts are very welcome on that ship.  On all of our previous cruises on Hebridean Princess, Bill wore his dress blues on the formal nights.  The uniform, like kilts and tuxedos, has always been well-received on the ship.

Bill retired from the Army in 2014 and there comes a point at which it gets harder to do justice to the Army dress uniform.  I also learned that it might not even be appropriate for a retiree to wear the uniform on a cruise, though I doubt anyone would “bust” Bill on such a British cruise.  On each of our voyages, we have been among a very small number of Americans, none of whom have been affiliated with the military.  In fact, we have found that the Army uniform is quite a conversation starter, especially among the Brits who have also served in the military.  However, I was dying to see Bill in a kilt and kept pestering him to get one.  He finally gave in and indulged me.

While we were in Berlin, the finished kilt arrived.  Our very kind neighbor accepted our box for us while we were out of town.  Bill got the whole package, which included everything except a shirt and a belt and buckle.  Last night, he tried on his new Scottish duds.

Bill decided not to put on the Ghillie brogues (shoes), although they were included.  Below is a video I made of the kiltmaker showing us how the shoes should be tied.  He also didn’t put on the kilt pin, which was included.

 

The tartan used is County Donegal, since our last name is Irish.  Bill’s surname originated in Donegal.  The jackets are made in Donegal.

 

It took just under three months for the kilt to be made.  I think it’s because the tartan we used had to be ordered.  Otherwise, we probably would have had the kilt in late October or early November.  The kiltmaker made the kilt by hand and the quality is excellent.  It set Bill back about 900 GBP (approximately $1300).  But again, everything except the shirt was included in that price, even socks.   And Scots are not supposed to wear underwear under the kilt.  On the other hand, Bill is Irish.  ūüėČ

Anyway, for those who are wondering who made this marvelous outfit, here’s the link to the man responsible.  We are very pleased with the finished product, even though we probably could have had it made faster and cheaper at one of the other, larger kiltmakers.  I would highly recommend James Robertson Kiltmaker if you’re ever in Glasgow and looking to be kilted.

Standard
Hebridean Island Cruises

Scotland and Northern Ireland 2017, Part fifteen…

I think this will be my last post in this series, mainly because it’s always sad to get back to real life after such a fabulous cruise.  Actually, I was a little ready to go home.  Being sick on vacation is no fun and I was missing my dogs.  Also, as nice as it is to be coddled, it can get a little tiresome after awhile.  We had plans to get on the coach to the airport in Glasgow.  Thankfully, this time I didn’t end up with norovirus, so I was perfectly ready to get on the coach after a breakfast consisting of oatmeal with a wee dram and some fruit.

Our waiter, Mariusz very kindly said goodbye and I got hugs from Sergei, the bartender, and David, the purser, even though I was sniffling up a storm. I also bonded a bit with Egita, a fabulous waitress from Latvia who was also on our scotch cruise, and Wioleta, a lady from Poland who offered me hors d’oeuvres and laughed at my jokes.  I will miss them all and probably stalk them on Facebook.  Mariusz even seemed to hope we’d come back.  We’re probably among the easier guests he’s dealt with, my mushroom phobia notwithstanding.

We had nice weather in Oban on the morning of disembarkation, so the drive back to Glasgow was very pleasant.  I wish I had sat on the other side of the coach.  I could have gotten some more photos of the beautiful scenery on the way back.  As it was, Bryan continued advising us of points of interest and when we stopped for a potty break, they broke out the tea, coffee, and biscuits for us.  While we were stopped, we talked to another passenger who was on our first cruise.  She said this was her 26th time on Hebridean Princess since 2002 and she had never cruised on another vessel.  Yes, I’d say that little ship has her fans and we are among them.

Nice morning!
 

We stopped by Loch Lomond for a potty break and some coffee and tea.

 

We arrived at the airport in Glasgow at about noon, which was two hours before check in at the Glasgow Airport Holiday Inn.  After we said goodbye to those who were on the bus and headed for the train station, we picked up our bags and walked to our next hotel.

The Holiday Inn at the Glasgow Airport is super convenient.  You can easily walk to it, which is a blessing when you have four heavy bags and a purse to carry.  There is also a Holiday Inn Express at the airport that is a little further away.  I am left with the conclusion that both properties are a bit mediocre, especially after a week on Hebridean Princess.

There weren’t any rooms open when we arrived at the hotel, so we sat in the lobby and surfed the net. We had lunch… I had a cheeseburger and Bill had a sandwich of some sort.  We both had beers.  Once we were finished, we were able to check in.  I had booked an “executive room” and it wasn’t cheap.  However, I can’t say that the executive rooms at the Holiday Inn at the Glasgow Airport bring to mind an executive class.  The room was tiny… smaller than our room on the ship.  And the bathroom floors had cracks in the tile.  I couldn’t even get the shower to work, although Bill managed to after fiddling with it a bit.

The bed, which was adequate.

A chair Bill couldn’t sit in because I really needed a nap and every time he moved, it squeaked and made a terrible racket.

The bathroom floor.

The shower was the same kind we had on the ship, but I never could get the water out of the sprayer.  I took a bath.  Bill got it going later.

And the real kicker…  the minibar, which we couldn’t use if we wanted to, because we couldn’t get the damn thing to open.  I don’t know if it had a key or what, but it wouldn’t open for us.  We did get two bottles of water (one sparkling, one still) and a Mars Bar with the room.  That was nice.

After I took a two hour nap, we went to the airport for dinner because the Holiday Inn’s restaurant was packed.  The airport had a few other options besides what the Holiday Inn had, as well as a few different beers.  I will say that their breakfast was impressive and run by a very cheerful lady named Pat who made me smile.  She was probably my favorite part of the whole experience.  I think next time, we’ll just get a cab and stay in Glasgow or go to Edinburgh for a couple of days.

I did leave a somewhat negative first impression on Expedia.com and the general manager responded promptly.  I believe they are going to renovate the Holiday Inn, which is good news.  It badly needs renovation.  At least the WiFi worked well and we could watch TV.  I think the inn has a good staff, but it needs to be brought into this century.  But if you need a hotel close to the airport, it’s definitely an option.

Bright and early Wednesday morning, we checked into British Airways and went directly to the lounge at the Glasgow Airport, which was the nicest of the three we tried.  It was bigger than the one in Stuttgart, but a whole lot less chaotic and obnoxious than the one in London at Heathrow.

A couple of shots of the Glasgow British Airways lounge.  It was a lot less crowded and annoying than the one at Heathrow.

We had a good flight to Heathrow and went to the lounge, which was marginally less zoolike than it was on September 9th.  We spent a couple of hours there, got on our flight to Stuttgart, and landed safely at about 6:30pm.  Fortunately, we told Max that we’d get the dogs on Thursday morning.  There is no way we could have gotten them before he closes at 7:00pm, even though he’s close to the airport.  It took forever to get the car.  Once we got back home, the driveway was torn up because our landlords decided to redo the bricks.  The work is done now and it looks really good.

Ah well.  We had a very good trip.  I am now eyeing future cruises on Hebridean Princess and we’re also looking at barge cruises in France on French Country Waterways.  We’ll see where life takes us.  For now, I’m here to say we had yet another wonderful time in Scotland and Northern Ireland and it’s largely due to a great, underrated cruise line.  I hope it won’t be long until we’re back onboard lovely Hebridean Princess again.

Standard
Hebridean Island Cruises

Scotland and Northern Ireland 2017, Part five…

We walked around a bit to burn off lunch, then headed to the drug store to pick up some necessary items for yours truly.  I never got around to visiting the store before we left Germany, so we needed to go to Boots, which is the well known drug store in the United Kingdom.  I bought razors, toothbrushes (complete with vibrating brushes), toothpaste, shampoo, conditioner, and mouthwash.  I really needed to go shopping, right?  One thing I did bring, thank God, was feminine hygiene supplies.  Sorry for those who think this is TMI.  I know it is.  It’s also a big part of the story, though, so bear with me or just skip the next paragraph or two.  I will add a red asterisk to signal when it’s safe to read again for those who are squeamish.

Another one of Britain’s polite nanny signs.  I notice the Brits use more words on their signs than Americans do.  They also seem to use please and thank you more.  

Still with me?  Okay…  On the last night of our back to back Hebridean cruise in 2012, I unexpectedly started my period.  Since we had just bought new luggage, I had also somehow forgotten to stock it with the usual sanitary supplies.  We also got devastating news about our dog, MacGregor, who had, unbeknownst to us, been suffering from cancer.  The people at the kennel where he was staying had taken him to our vet, who had recommended euthanasia.  They had communicated that advice to us while we were on the ship.  Naturally, I was very upset about the dog, only to have Aunt Flow show up, too.

Fortunately, the fantastic assistant purser, Valeria (who was also on this last cruise with us), very kindly collected a few supplies for me from some of the staff members, since most of the people who sail on Hebridean Princess are well beyond the age of menstruation.  Anyway, it’s been my luck that I typically have my period when I travel.  Somehow, that’s just how it works out.  I swear I only have it for a week a month, and yet I seem to always get it at the worst times.  To date, I have not yet been on Hebridean Princess and not been menstruating part of the time.  It was the case last year, too, when I got really sick with norovirus (which was totally my fault and not due to poor hygiene on the ship).  But hopefully, God willing, Mother Nature will take pity on me soon.

* Gross part is done now.

So, I was fully stocked for our cruise and feeling pretty safe about things.  We stopped by the hotel, where I unloaded my supplies.  We were both still pretty full from lunch at dinnertime, so we decided to go looking for a bar.  On the way out of the hotel, we ran into another American couple.  They had just finished a trip around Scotland by car and stopped to chat with us as we were waiting for the elevator.  They were super nice to talk to, although I couldn’t help noticing the guy’s fly was down.  I hate it when stuff like that happens, because you almost want to say something, but people tend to shoot the messenger when you speak up in such circumstances.  So I kept my mouth shut and we walked around looking for a spot for a couple of drinks.

We finally settled on the Shilling Brewing Company, a pizza joint in a former bank that makes its own brews.  Sadly, they had none of their brews available on the night of our visit, but they did have some interesting local beers and good music playing.  We were on our second round when the American couple we met at the hotel came in.  They noticed us immediately, waved “hi”, and sat at the bar.  I noticed that the bar was full of young folks, which made me feel ancient.  The other couple was older than we were and I noticed they didn’t hang around for long.

At our table at Shilling Brewing Company.

This was dinner on Monday, September 11th… a special anniversary for us, since Bill was in the Pentagon on the day it was hit by a jetliner.  

Outside of the brewing company.  

 

The next morning, we had our last breakfast at Carlton George Hotel.  Bill went with an omelet, which was very large…

This was to be a theme for the week!

I had the much more manageable French Toast.

We had some time to kill until we were to meet the ship.  On our other Hebridean cruises, we’ve had to meet the ship’s representatives at Glasgow’s Central Train Station at about 4:00pm or so.  That’s because the ship was docked at Greenock, which is pretty close to Glasgow.  This time, we would be meeting the ship in Oban, which is about three hours north.  Consequently, we were to meet our guide and the bus to the ship at 2:15pm.  Checkout at the hotel was 11:00am.  We usually carry our bags from the hotel to the station, since it’s only a few blocks away.  This time, I demanded that we get a cab, since we had four bags that were pretty heavy.  Bill was reluctant, but eventually conceded.

This guy took us to the station…  I think it cost about 6 GBP, but it was worth every pence.

The Carlton George does not have a large left luggage room, so we decided to use the one at the train station.  It cost 6 GBP per bag, each of which were scanned by an x-ray machine like the ones you might find at the airport.  Given that there was a bomb left at a tube station in London last week, I can see why they’re careful.  The left luggage office serves as a lost and found and they’ll also wrap your luggage for you for a fee.  Our bags successfully ditched, we went searching for a place to spend our last hours in Glasgow.

Religious ad in the station.

I see another American export is turned into a joke.

 

We walked around Buchanan Street and I found the shop of my dreams, Hotel Chocolat.  We stopped in and I loaded up for some treats to soothe my “least favorite auntie”.  Hotel Chocolat is a chain, so if you happen to be in another UK city, you’re liable to find it.  And if you love chocolate, I highly recommend stopping in.

We left with a small bag of goodies.

Afterwards, we spent some time wandering around the city, working off breakfast.  I’m afraid it would have taken longer than we had.

But at least I got a few nice photos of Glasgow, which seems somehow more authentic to me than Edinburgh does… although I love both cities.

Finally, it was lunchtime, so we stopped at one of Glasgow’s many burger restaurants.  This one was called Handmade Burger Co. and it’s located near at least two other burger places, including Five Guys.  This is another UK chain and it does offer some interesting interpretations of burgers.  They have the usual beef burgers as well as veggie and chicken burgers.

Bill studies the menu.

I wasn’t too impressed with their beer selection.  Everything was in a bottle and there weren’t a lot of choices.  But we did manage to find a couple we hadn’t tried.

This is a normal sized burger– the HBC Cheese and Bacon, which I had without any fries.  I wasn’t all that wild about the beef on this, which was very seasoned and reminded me a little of sausage.  They also used a “relish” that was kind of sweet.  

Bill had a “small” burger, a Junior beef classic.

The outside of the restaurant.

 

Just before 1:00pm, we stopped by the Drum & Monkey, a pub we visited during our first visit to Glasgow in 2012.  To be honest, we probably should have had lunch there, too.  The atmosphere was a bit more to our liking.

The Drum & Monkey.

Bill was being responsible and watched me suck down a porter.

The Blackout Porter listed on the sign below.

The inside of this pub is very grand, with lots of dark wood and plenty of cask ales and whiskies.  The menu is traditional and it seems to be a popular place for businesspeople.  

I could have spent a couple of hours at the Drum & Monkey, but we didn’t have time.  The witching hour was getting close.  We made our way to the train station, picked up our bags, and waited by the big clock for the rest of our cruise mates to arrive.

Standard
Hebridean Island Cruises

Scotland and Northern Ireland 2017, Part four…

By the time we got back to Glasgow, it was late afternoon. ¬†It was still kind of cold and wet outside, so we went back to the hotel and got cleaned up. ¬†Later, we ventured into the “Executive Lounge”, a privilege granted to us because we booked a “Club Room“. ¬†Every time we stay at the Carlton George, I upgrade our room.

The first time, we stayed in their “Superior Room“, which is their most basic model. ¬†It’s a pretty comfortable place to stay, complete with a free mini bar which includes decanters of vodka, scotch, and whisky, but you don’t get to use the lounge with that room. ¬†You are also pretty much bound to have a view of an elevator shaft or something like it.

Last year, we visited in March and I got us an “Executive Room“, which is a larger room with a free mini bar and access to the lounge. ¬†But again, you’re likely to have a view of the elevator shaft.

There is only one category higher than the Club Room and that’s the Club Room with a balcony. ¬†Given the weather in Glasgow during our stay, it was probably good that I didn’t go that far. ¬†Maybe next time I’ll pull the trigger. ¬†Here are a few pictures of our Club Room.

The all important free booze.  I think I tried the whisky, which naturally was decent quality.

 

Nice coffee set up.

The ever important bed.

And the bathroom.  Once again, I was tickled by the need for instructions on the wall for using the shower.  The Holiday Inn at the Glasgow Airport needs to take a memo.  More on that later.

 

We decided to have a drink in the lounge, then got really lazy and had dinner in the hotel’s restaurant, Windows. ¬†We had not eaten there on previous visits, so it was good to try it. ¬†Now that I’ve tried it, I don’t know that I’ll try it again. ¬†That’s not because the food was bad; it’s more because Glasgow has a lot of great restaurants and Windows, while not bad, is not among the best there are in Glasgow. ¬†In any case, here are a few pictures of our Sunday night repast at the hotel. ¬†One of the nicest aspects of a dinner in Windows Restaurant is that you do, indeed, get a nice view of the city… which is a great thing when the skies are clear. ¬†We did experience that at breakfast.

A nice bottle of red to go with dinner.

Bill went with a sirloin steak, which was served with tomatoes on the vine, chips, and a mushroom.  He said the steak was cooked very well.  As many readers may know, mushrooms give me the creeps.  

I went with seabass, which was served in parchment paper. ¬†It came with a slice of white bread and lots of vegetables on the side…¬†

It was also stuffed with lots of fresh vegetables and was very healthy.  Looking at my figure lately, I realize I probably should eat more fish.  If you like fish, Scotland is a great place to be.  

 

Unfortunately, my disdain for mushrooms got the better of me when the lady sitting at the table behind Bill ordered a vegetarian dish that smelled like it was loaded with mushrooms or truffles.  The aroma was overwhelming to me.  People who love the smell of truffles, like Bill, would have been enchanted by it.  As for me, you would have thought I was pregnant or something.  I had to beat it.

After a good second night’s rest, Bill and I awoke Monday morning with big plans. ¬†We were going to get Bill fitted for a kilt! ¬†I am very excited to get this done, since I have been nagging Bill to get a kilt for years now. ¬†Granted, he’s more of an Irishman than a Scot, but there are only so many years a man can get away with wearing the Army Service Uniform post retirement… especially a man who enjoys food and booze as much as Bill and I do. ¬†Aside from that, I think kilts are pretty damned sexy, especially when they are worn “properly”.

Bill was originally going to visit a kilt maker called MacGregor & MacDuff. ¬†He chose it because it carried the Donegal tartan, which is the Irish county where Bill’s people come from as evidenced by our surname, Crossen. ¬†MacGregor also happens to be the name of our very sweet dearly departed “bagel”, whom we lost to canine cancer a few weeks after our first Hebridean Princess cruise. ¬†I ended up talking him out of MacGregor & MacDuff because it appeared to be a large operation. ¬†Instead, we visited the much smaller James Robertson, Kiltmaker. ¬†I am so glad we did. ¬†We spent a couple of hours there with the delightful proprietor.

He has a tiny little “hole in the wall shop” next to a tattoo parlor!

Bill gathers his gumption for the fitting.

We settled on the Donegal pattern displayed above. ¬†There was another Donegal pattern that was mostly oranges, greens, and reds, but the blue, green, and red seemed to suit Bill better. ¬†I could wear tartans for a few Scottish clans myself due to my heavy ancestry, but if I ever get a stole, I’ll probably get one to match Bill’s new kilt.

The tartan Bill is wearing is not the one we’re getting, just to be clear. ¬†However, I was impressed by how well it matched his shirt!

Bill ordered the whole “kit”, which set us back about $1200. ¬†However, it includes everything but a tuxedo shirt and the kilt will be handmade. ¬†Aside from that, the jacket comes from County Donegal. ūüėČ

I get excited just thinking about it.

Bill tries on shoes.  The proprietor even asked me to film him showing how to tie the laces.  See below.

 

This is how you do it, guys.

Bill checks out the rest of his accessories.

First time I’ll ever get him to wear a purse… ¬†ūüėČ

Settling the bill… ¬†We noticed a bottle of whisky sitting by the desk. ¬†I have a feeling if it had been later in the day, we might have shared a wee dram with the kiltmaker.

On the way out…

 

Edited to add:  This was the finished product.  It got to us in time for Christmas!

The kiltmaker advised us to visit The Pot Still, a very cool pub that serves food, beer, and, most of all, lots of whisky. ¬†Apparently, it has one of the best selections of whiskies in Glasgow with over 700 varieties. ¬†And though it wasn’t quite noon, we decided to stop in to try a few.

A rather unassuming looking place, isn’t it?

We started with a Longrow from Campbeltown’s Springbank Distillery, a place we’ve visited twice, thanks to our Hebridean cruises.

A look at the loot.

We tried a couple of others, included blends we had not heard of prior to our visit. ¬†The proprietor looked to be about my age and was busy with inventory, but he was very friendly. ¬†We shared a moment when he started whistling a tune and I quickly identified it as “Can You Feel It” by The Jacksons. ¬†Every time I come to Scotland, I’m reminded of just how strong the musical vibe is there.

A look at the dining room.  I was tempted to stay for lunch, but it was still a little early.  We decided to walk around a bit more.

At around noon, my nose caught a whiff of something delicious. ¬†We happened to be standing in front of Iberica, a Spanish restaurant chain in the United Kingdom. ¬†Since we knew we’d be eating a lot of Scottish food on the boat, we decided to stop in for a Spanish repast. ¬†It was a good decision. ¬†We split a couple of tapas and paella for two, then had lovely desserts.

Bill checks out the menu…

While I check out the bar… ¬†Our waitress was beautiful. ¬†She looked like a young Rachel Hunter circa 1990 or so… ¬†She recommended we order a couple of tapas to hold us over while the paella was being prepared. ¬†It takes awhile.

Bill picked the sausage and cheese tapas which came with bread and fig jelly.

I had the crispy chicken, which was absolutely delicious.  I could have enjoyed a whole lunch of this.

Seafood paella.  It was very good, although I liked my chicken tapas even more.

This was just the beginning of our week eating seafood…

For dessert, I had churros, which were so good… but man, my ass didn’t need that present!

Bill was a bit more sensible and had something lighter. ¬†Looks like it involved apricots. ¬†I remember the waitress told us about a dessert that involved Parmesan cheese and strawberries. ¬†I wrinkled my nose at first, but then realized it was a pairing of sweet and salty. ¬†And given the time of the month, that was kind of appealing. ¬†I’m glad I went with churros instead, though.

Standard
Hebridean Island Cruises

Scotland and Northern Ireland 2017, Part one…

If there ever was a time when Bill and I badly needed a vacation, I think September 2017 might go down as one of those times. ¬†I can think of a few other times when we needed a break. ¬†Oddly, they were also in September. ¬†I remember September 2008. ¬†It was the first time we lived in Germany together and Bill had been working very hard on some stuff for EUCOM. ¬†Later, he was surprised by a mandatory trip to the Republic of Georgia. ¬†He was burned out and pissed off and he sent me an email that read simply, “I think we should go to Belgium and see Mannekin Pis.” ¬†And we did. ¬†We went to Brussels and spent that Labor Day weekend completely loaded on Belgian beer and we visited Mannekin Pis.

The other trip that comes to mind happened over Labor Day weekend in 2005, right after Hurricane Katrina decimated New Orleans.  Again, Bill had been working hard and was totally exasperated with his job.  He decided to take me on my first (and at this time, only) trip out west.  We worried that the trip would have to be cancelled due to the hurricane and the fact that Bill was in the National Guard at the time.  Fortunately, we were able to go on our brief trip to Anacortes and Seattle in Washington State and we had a fantastic time.

2017 is different. ¬†Bill has been working very hard. ¬†It’s been a pretty stressful summer. ¬†Lately, we’ve had to travel with our dogs because it’s hard to find good doggie care nowadays. ¬†Over a year ago, I booked us a cruise on Hebridean Princess, a wonderful Scottish luxury cruise vessel that we have had the great pleasure of sailing on three times before. ¬†For months, we’ve been wondering if Bill would get to go on the trip, since his company changed and he hasn’t built up any leave yet. ¬†We’ve had a number of other recent nuisances and mishaps that made us yearn for a vacation. ¬†It was with great pleasure that we boarded our British Airways flights to London and Glasgow for this year’s cruise, which will take us round trip from Oban to Northern Ireland. ¬†Neither Bill nor I have ever been to Northern Ireland, although we did visit Ireland last year for our anniversary.

Hebridean Island Cruises owns just one ship, the tiny Hebridean Princess, which hosts just 49 passengers at a time. ¬†Hebridean cruises are quite expensive, however; once you have paid your fare, you don’t have to pay for anything else. ¬†You don’t pay for booze, excursions, entry into attractions, or tips. ¬†You can spend money on something from the ship’s tiny shop or if you want an expensive wine or something, but really, once you’ve paid, you’re done worrying. ¬†They even pick you up in Glasgow and either take you by coach to wherever Princess is leaving from or fly you to where you need to be on a chartered flight.

I should mention that Hebridean also leases the Royal Crown river boat and they offer several river boat cruises in the summer.  But, for the most part, the Princess, which was built in 1964 and was originally a car ferry, is where the action is.  The staff on the ship consists of many Scots, along with crew from Latvia, Lithuania, Poland and the Czech Republic.

For this trip, I decided to go all out and booked business class air on British Airways. ¬†It was our first time flying on British Airways, so we had no idea what their business class would be like. ¬†After experiencing the hell of Heathrow Airport, I will say that it’s probably worth it to shell out the extra bucks, if only because you can use their lounge. ¬†The lounge is probably going to be crowded, but it won’t be as bad as the rest of the airport.

We are currently staying in the Carlton George Hotel in Glasgow. ¬†We have stayed here twice before. I keep coming back because the rooms feature “free” minibars. ¬†I got us an executive “Club” room, which allows access to the hotel’s executive lounge.

We have been in Glasgow for three days now and will leave for our cruise tomorrow.  I already have lots of material for posts to come.  I look forward to writing the story of this trip.  For now, I just want to say that my posts may or may not be regular since we will be on a ship.  When we get back to Stuttgart next week, there will be plenty of updates.  Stay tuned!

This is one place we’ve visited…
Standard
Uncategorized

Part 12… An unplanned night in Glasgow and off to see Avenue Q…

Despite my stomach bug, I still love Scotland.  I was inspired to make this video with pictures from 2016 and 2012.

I mentioned in prior posts that we meant to head to Stoke on Trent the day our cruise ended. ¬†I didn’t plan for getting a stomach bug. ¬†Sometimes your best laid plans don’t work out and by the time we reached Glasgow after our messy ride in a taxi cab, I knew I wasn’t going to be able to go anywhere in England that evening. ¬†Our cab driver dropped us off at the Hertz rental car office near the Glasgow Central Train Station.

Let me just say that both the cab driver and the folks at Hertz were just wonderful to deal with.  I looked like I had been run over by a truck and felt even worse.  I had a bag of soiled clothes (explained on my main blog) that needed to be disposed of and a sour look on my face.  My stomach was cramping; I had diarrhea; and probably stank of shit and vomit.  But they all treated me with great kindness and compassion and for that, I am very grateful.

Bill explained to the folks at Hertz that we needed to delay our rental for a day because I needed to go to bed. ¬†The manager of the Hertz office took one look at me and concurred, then helped us book a hotel room at the Hallmark Hotel, a place just around the corner. ¬†One of his co-workers drove us to the hotel; the Hertz guy had even tried to haggle the price on our behalf (that old Scot thriftiness at work). ¬†Unfortunately, the Hertz guy had booked us using his phone, so he got the dates wrong. ¬†They didn’t have a record of our booking and there were no standard rooms left. ¬†We ended up paying a lot for our one night stay in a mediocre hotel. ¬†At the time I didn’t really care much, though. ¬†I just wanted to go to bed. ¬†Besides making me erupt from every orifice, the virus also made me very sleepy.

We were on the first floor, but I barely made it up there even using the elevator. ¬†Once we got into the room, I decided to take a shower. ¬†The only towels in the bathroom were hair towels. ¬†I didn’t care. ¬†I turned on the water and sat down in the tub while the water came down on me. ¬†And then I hurled again.

Once I was finished cleaning up, I crawled into bed and fell asleep. ¬†Bill went out to find me fluids and ended up at the Glasgow Central Train Station, where new cruise passengers were waiting like we were the week prior. ¬†He came back with Milk of Magnesia and very strong ginger beer. ¬†I didn’t try the Milk of Magnesia, since I read that it was a laxative and I sure as hell didn’t need one of those. ¬†Later, he went out and got me some Coke and 7Up, then took himself to dinner while I snoozed. ¬†He also emailed the folks at the Shawgate Farm Guest House¬†in Foxt, which is where I had originally booked us.

Our room at Shawgate Farm Guest House.

The toilet and shower were a little tricky.

I’m pleased to say that I felt a whole lot better the next morning, though I still had stomach cramps and diarrhea. ¬†Bill walked to the Hertz office and came back with a nice car for us. ¬†The manager had upgraded us to a larger car with an automatic transmission and even took off 35 GBP because of the hotel error. ¬†We were blown away by and grateful for how kind he was to us. ¬†If we ever need another rental car in Glasgow, he will definitely get our business.

Once we checked out of the hotel, Bill set about driving on the left for the first time. ¬†I think we were both surprised that he handled it seamlessly. ¬†It took several hours to get to our hotel near Stoke. ¬†As long as we were there in time to see Avenue Q at the Regent Theatre, all would be okay. ¬†Driving from Scotland to England gave me an odd sense of deja vu. ¬†At times, I felt like I was on either I-95 or I-81 in Virginia. ¬†It’s easy to see why my family ended up settling there once they left the British Isles.

Shawgate Farm Guest House…

Our lodging near Stoke turned out to be further away from the city than I’d originally realized. ¬†It took awhile to get there, mainly due to us getting to town as school was letting out. ¬†It was interesting to see all the kids walking home alone or with their parents. ¬†One little girl looked upset as she handed her dad a note. ¬†Maybe it was from her teacher?

Kids coming home from school.

I saw a cheeky ad for a hand car wash. ¬†Its slogan was “Best hand job in town.” ¬†Sex sells.

Our hostess at the Shawgate Farm Guest House was a pretty lady named Nina who had a five month old infant.  She lit up when we told her we live in Germany.  It turns out she is German and hails from Frankfurt.  She showed us to our room with its charming canopy bed and bidet.  The Shawgate Farm Guest House also had lots of mama sheep outside, guarding their babies.  I got a kick out of how they all bravely came forward, bleating at us indignantly, even though we were well behind the fence and were no threat to their lambs.

These were some protective mama sheep!

We ended up skipping dinner because we didn’t really have time to eat and I still had no appetite. ¬†But we did get “blue boxes” at the theater, which offered snacks and cheap wine. ¬†I drank one cup of wine and gave the other to Bill.

Avenue Q was fabulous! ¬†I related to it on many levels. ¬†Not only is it a wickedly funny show, especially for overeducated housewives like me, it’s also got kind of a nice moral to it. ¬†We’re reminded that tough times don’t last. ¬†At the end of the show, they even threw in a hilarious reference to Donald Trump. ¬†We also ended up with front row seats, which was awesome. ¬†For once, I didn’t have a tall person sitting in front of me. ¬†I had been worried about parking and it was a bit of a challenge until Bill found a nearby parking garage. ¬†Then he spent several stressful minutes trying to figure out how to park and pay.

Our view of the stage.

 

Our breakfast at the guest house was very good, though I was still a little fragile and could barely manage half of it.

On another day, this would have been awesome!

 

I wish we could have spent the second night at the B&B. ¬†Though Stoke is not a very pretty town, the B&B is located in a lovely rural area. ¬†It would have been nice to take a couple of walks around there. ¬†They only charged us half of the first night’s rate, because they couldn’t rebook it due to our late cancellation. ¬†I wasn’t expecting them to give us a break and really appreciated it. ¬†Not all innkeepers are that understanding.

Unfortunately, Bill started showing symptoms of the virus early Thursday morning, so we beat a hasty retreat and made our way to the town of Watton in Norfolk.  We would be staying there for three nights so I could explore Mildenhall, the town where I lived when I was very young and where my first memories were formed.

Standard
anecdotes, Military

On being a young American kid in Europe…

My very first passport photo before we moved to England.  I was about three years old and two feet ten inches tall.   I was born in Hampton, Virginia and my parents moved us back to that area when I was eight.  I grew up in Virginia and it’s now “home”, but I don’t miss it that much. 

As I was watching the dogs outside this morning, I had a sudden thought about being an American kid in Europe.  I spent part of my early childhood in England at Mildenhall Air Force Base.  We lived on the base, but I went to a British school instead of the American school.  My sisters went to the American schools.  At the time, living in England was perfectly normal to me.

I didn’t know I was in a foreign country, although I do remember my mom and sisters explaining to me that we were Americans living in England and that it was a “different country” than where we came from.  At that time, I didn’t have a concept of countries, though.  England was simply “home”.  I still have vivid memories of the primary school where I attended kindergarten with British and a few other American kids.  My mom told me she sent me there because the school day was longer and it kept me out of her hair.

Our backyard in England on Mildenhall Air Force Base bordered a big field with cows in it.  I was fascinated by them.  To this day, I still hate wearing shoes… and I love livestock.

We moved back to the States in 1978, when I was six years old.  At that point, I had spent half my life in England and it was really the only place I remembered.  I have only the vaguest of memories of our time at Wright Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio.

Even though I’m American and was finally back in the United States after three years abroad, it didn’t really feel like my home.  It felt like a foreign country.  The time I spent as a small child in England changed me somehow, even though I am very much an American.  I guess living in England made me more aware of the world around me.  It definitely gave me a perspective that a lot of my peers didn’t have, although quite a lot of my peers were also military brats and a few of them had also lived abroad.

 

Me and my mom going to high tea at the Swan Hotel in Lavenham, England.  This photo was so fascinating to me that I used Google Earth to figure out where we were.  This hotel is still open and there’s a chance Bill and I might book a room there in March.  It depends on how nervous he is about getting us to the airport on Easter morning.

For some reason, I was thinking about kids who are born abroad and spend their formative years in another country.  They go to school with host country nationals, probably learn to speak the local language.  It’s “home” to them.  Then they move back to the country where they’re really from and it somehow feels “foreign” to them.  Even though they are among their people, they are different.  They were different when they were abroad, too.  They weren’t locals and weren’t likely to stay there longer than a few years, but they were mingling among the locals and got to see things through their eyes.

I think sometimes the first place you remember as a child is a place that really leaves an imprint.  I have always been kind of fascinated by England, though I haven’t spent a lot of time there since we moved back to the States in 1978.  We went to London in 2009 and I remember being questioned by the customs people.  They wanted to know if I’d ever been there before.  I told them I used to live in England.  That piqued their interest, until I told them I lived there as a young child in the 1970s.  Then it was okay.  I suspect there are a lot of Americans like me, people who lived abroad when they were kids and kind of feel like their childhood home is actually “home”.  I think my mom thought of England as home, too.  She said she cried all the way back to the States when we had to move.

My parents kept in touch with my dad’s British secretary from when we lived in England.  Before my dad died in 2014, they went back to visit her a few times.  She visited them, too, and even became friends with my Granny.  In fact, I saw her right before Bill and I got married.  I remember her fondly.  Before we left England, she asked me when I’d be back to visit.  I told her I wasn’t coming back until they built a bridge across the Atlantic Ocean.  She reminded me of that when I saw her last.  I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve flown across the Atlantic Ocean since 1978… or really, 1995.  I never took another trip abroad until I joined the Peace Corps.

My sisters cautioned me against marrying a military guy.  They saw my mom’s life as an Air Force wife and how it didn’t make her very happy.  I mostly enjoyed being an Army wife until Bill retired in 2014.  The lifestyle took me in a direction I wasn’t expecting, but I’ve been around the military my whole life.  It’s kind of second nature to me.  I didn’t have the globe trotting experience my sisters had because my dad retired from the Air Force when I was six years old.  But I definitely made up for that as an Army wife.  I eventually had roots when my dad retired, but now I’m not sure if I’ll root anywhere else.

Hebridean Princess in November 2012.  We’ll be back aboard in March.

In March, Bill and I will be going to Glasgow, Scotland to catch a cruise through the Hebrides.  We have decided that after the cruise, we will visit my old childhood stomping grounds, possibly with a stop in Stoke On Trent so we can catch a performance of Avenue Q.  If we do make it to Suffolk, Bill will probably have to acquaint himself with British driving.  I know it makes him nervous, but I feel confident he can do it.  If my parents could do it, he certainly can.  And who knows?  We may even move to England at some point.  The expat life definitely suits us.

I spotted this sign in Edinburgh.  My maiden name is Tolley.  My married name is Crossen.  Seems like a clue from the past.

I always thought I’d put down roots somewhere and raise a family.  That lifestyle is apparently not in the cards for me.  My expat career started with my being a very little kid in England and mingling among Brits.  Then I went to Armenia as a young woman and worked with others who also later became expats.  Seriously, a lot of my old Peace Corps friends are living abroad.  Now I’m on a second Germany tour.  I have no burning desire to move back to the United States anytime soon.  If I could, I think I’d stay abroad for the rest of my life.  We’ll see what happens.

For now, I’m really looking forward to going back to England and seeing somewhere other than London.  London is amazing; don’t get me wrong.  But it’s not what I remember about the first childhood home I actually remember.  Besides, England, Ireland, Scotland, and even Germany is where my people were from in the first place.

We lived in England when this happened…  

Standard