holidays, Ireland

Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

Today, I received a package I had been eagerly awaiting. It came from County Clare, Ireland, and was decorated with stamps and stickers. The lady, name of Anne, who had sent me my order from Luka Bloom, had drawn little musical notes next to my name, which she had written in cursive that looked a lot like my own… especially after I’ve had a couple of beers.

The mailman asked me in German if we didn’t have a post office box. He was a young lad and I hadn’t seen him before. He’d also caught me off guard when he spoke German to me and I was standing there in a nightie with no bra on. I responded in English and he understood, just at about the time that I mentally translated what he’d said. No matter, since I wouldn’t have been able to speak German back to him. Isn’t it cool that my Irish music got to me on St. Patrick’s Day? Especially since I wrote to Anne to ask her to send it to Germany, even though I have a U.S. billing address and there was no way to add a different delivery address in their order form. It was no problem to make the change– and if I hadn’t, God only knows when the APO would have sent it to me.

So who is Luka Bloom (born Kevin Barry Moore)? He’s a fantastic indie folk musician and the brother of Christy Moore, another great indie folk musician. I was introduced to Christy Moore by an honest to God Irishman with whom I used to work at a Presbyterian church camp in Virginia. Funny thing is, my Irish friend, who lived near Belfast and most definitely not a Brit, was a Catholic. He ended up marrying one of the other counselors, a lovely Black woman from Stafford, Virginia. They have been together now for over twenty-five years and have six or seven children… I’ve lost count!

My Irish friend sent me a mix tape when I lived in Armenia and it had some of Christy Moore’s music on it. I liked it so much that when I got back to the States, I sought it out and stocked up my music collection.

Anyway, Christy Moore recently plugged his brother’s latest album, Out of the Blue. I am more familiar with Christy Moore’s music, so I decided to pre-order the new album, as well as a couple of others that looked interesting. As I’ve gotten older, I often find myself drunken downloading music or buying CDs from street musicians others I don’t know well. I’m very seldom disappointed in the results, but then I have very eclectic musical tastes. Luka Bloom’s new album, by the way, can be downloaded. I decided to get a CD because he was signing them. I also bought a CD that I couldn’t download, and another came with a download I got from the site.

Other than listening to my new CDs, I have no other special plans for today. I might not even have any whiskey or beer, because I’ve kind of been enjoying letting my body go booze free. I’m hoping Bill will be home sometime between tomorrow night and Friday night. After that, I suspect my teetotaling will conclude. I haven’t been totally faithful to the wagon during this latest marathon TDY, but I have found that I’ve not really wanted to drink alcohol so much… which is a relief, given my colorful family history.

I’ve found that I like Luka Bloom as much as I do his brother. Right now, I’m typing this and listening to one of the albums I bought, remembering when Bill and I took our cruise from Scotland to Northern Ireland with a stop in Carlingford, which is in the Republic of Ireland.

Our guide was a local guy named Dermott who bore a passing resemblance to Joel Osteen and had a charming Irish lilt. He told us about how Carlingford has an annual Leprechaun hunt (April 17th) to raise money for the town. Then, he started talking about Northern Ireland vs. the Republic of Ireland.

It turned out Dermott was Irish, but was born and raised in Newry, on the northern side of the border. He spoke of how in the 80s, the border checks were brutal. Guards would literally take cars apart, looking for bombs and contraband. Then he said he hoped one day Ireland would be reunited– it became clear that Dermott had Nationalist leanings. That got a rather disgruntled reaction from the elderly Brits who were on the cruise. Bill and I had no real skin in the game, except for our own Irish heritage. Turns out that other than the Irish surname I got from Bill when we married, I am actually more Irish than he is.

Then, Bill proceeded to annoy the Brits, who just wanted to get away from Dermott (I got the sense they thought he was an ingrate). Dermott was talking about Irish folk tales. Bill happens to love Irish literature and actually studied it in college. And then it seemed that he knew more about it than the guide did… The guide had heard the stories from his father, while Bill had studied it at American University and written papers on it… I got the sense that the other cruisers were irritated with both of them by the time that excursion. Luckily, there was a lot of booze on the boat.

Bill and I have been to Ireland a couple of other times. We went in 2016 for our 14th anniversary. One of my funniest memories from that trip was running into a bunch of 12 year old boys on a crowded train to Kilkenny, where we were going to tour the Smithwick’s Brewery. The kids were hilariously witty. When they found out Bill had been to Iraq and we were from America, they asked all kids of cheeky questions. The poor beleaguered “den mom” who was with them kept giving the look. But I swear, we about died laughing when one of the kids said, “Nobody vacations in Ireland! It’s AWFUL!” Then, a few minutes later, he asked us if we considered Canada our “goody two shoes neighbor to the north.”

The third time we went was to Dublin, to attend a marathon concert featuring Paul Simon, James Taylor, and Bonnie Raitt. The six hour concert, in and of itself, was reason enough to love our visit. But we also stayed in a fabulous hotel– the Merrion– and we had high tea. It was a marvelous time. I really miss travel… especially carefree travel. Here’s hoping that COVID-19 will be arrested soon, so we can go back to Ireland and raise a pint with those lads who were on the way to Kilkenny, who are now closer to 18. Seems like whenever we go to Ireland, we make at least one new friend and many new wonderful memories. At the very least, I come home with new stories… perhaps more than I do in some of the other places we’ve been.

From Luka Bloom’s latest album, Out of the Blue. I’m listening to this as I type this.
And one by Luka Bloom’s brother, Christy Moore. Believe it or not, this was the first version of “Fairytale of New York” I ever heard. It’s a cover… but it’s a damn fine cover!

Well, that about does it for this wistful post. I sure am ready to fast forward to our next trip. But barring that, I’d just like to fast forward to seeing Bill again. I have really missed him.

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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 😉 ).

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.

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Hebridean Island Cruises

Whisky at Torabhaig Distillery… then church and dolphins!

Sunday morning found us in lovely Armadale on the Isle of Skye. This was a very attractive area, not quite as remote as some of the previous stops we made on this cruise. Because Isle of Skye is a bit more populated, Princess guests had a couple of options on shore. We were offered a chance to visit the brand new Torabhaig Distillery or Armadale Castle. Or, as always, we could take walks. Naturally, Bill and I opted to visit Torabhaig Distillery. This distillery, like the two before it, is new. Investors bought a beautiful old farmstead called Torabhaig and spent four years restoring it to its present glory.

I think this distillery might have been my favorite. The architecture of the building is so beautiful. Also, I enjoyed hearing the story of how this new distillery came to fruition. Torabhaig is the second licensed distillery on the Isle of Skye. Owned by Mossburn Distillers, which previously had no official distillery of its own and had to use other facilities to make its whiskys, Torabhaig is not quite ready to roll out its own label yet. But visitors can try Mossburn whiskys, which are available in a variety of types.

Our tour guide, Hans, was a very charming Dutch man who speaks French, German, English, and, of course, Dutch. He presided over our tour like a college professor might. Of all of the tour guides, he was my favorite because he was genuinely interested in the product. I wore my new blue Isle of Raasay Distillery sweatshirt to the distillery, mainly because it was cold and rainy. I also wore my Isle of Aran sweater, which I hung up on a coathook because it was warm in the distillery.

After we walked through the distillery and learned its story, we sat down to taste a couple of drams of Mossburn’s whiskys. We had a Speyside and an Islay whisky. They came from different parts of Scotland because they were no doubt made at different distilleries. Now that Torbhaig exists, Mossburn can be made on its own site. The Danish guy, once again, was amused by my expression when I tasted the Speyside whisky. It kind of blew my brains out.

In fact, I was so distracted by the whisky and the new Harris Tweed purse and keyring I bought in the gift shop, I forgot to retrieve my sweater. We got all the way back to the pier before I remembered it. Fortunately, the minivan driver was a kindly sort of man and he willingly drove me back to get my sweater. His name was Kenny, and he was really nice to talk to. We ended up talking about Mormonism, of all things. I was explaining that Bill was a teetotaler when I met him, because he and his ex wife had converted to the LDS church. But when we started dating, Bill was happy to lose the Mormon church.

Kenny told me he had a friend who had been recruited into the church via the “baseball baptism” program the church used to run in the 70s. The church formed baseball teams and, oftentimes, people on the teams would wind up joining the church. Sadly, Kenny told me that his friend, the LDS convert, ended up committing suicide. I’m not sure the church had anything to do with the man’s suicide… but it sounds like it wasn’t much of a help, either. I ran into the distillery and got my sweater. On the way back to the pier, we commiserated about the strange state of U.S. and British politics these days.

Here are some photos of our trip to Torbhaig Distillery. It’s well worth a visit!

My ever faithful husband was waiting at the pier for me to return. He really looks after me, which is kind of a strange thing. I grew up with “underprotective” parents who pretty much let me do whatever I wanted and didn’t dote on me at all. Bill is, by contrast, living up to the meaning of his name, which is “determined protector”. That, he is.

After our distillery tour, it was time for the weekly church service offered by Hebridean Princess. Bill and I usually skip them because we’re not particularly religious as much as we are spiritual. However, this time we decided to attend, because one of the guests was a British Navy Chaplain and he struck up several conversations with Bill, whom he immediately recognized as a fellow Brother in Arms.

The chaplain also had his twin brother with him. They were clearly fraternal twins, though you could easily see a resemblance. The chaplain’s brother was decidedly un-military, but a nice enough fellow, just the same. The service only lasted about ten minutes, but it was pleasant and kind of interesting. I gave thought to taking communion afterwards, but decided not to when I saw that everyone was drinking out of the same cup. I might have been braver had I not gotten sick with norovirus after our first whisky cruise in 2016. That’s an experience I never want to repeat!

After lunch, guests were allowed to go for walks on the beach and/or visit the Old Forge, which is said to be Scotland’s most remote pub. I had every intention of at least visiting the pub, but it was raining and, you guessed it, a nap was calling. I started reading my latest trashy celebrity tell all and, before I knew it, was fast asleep. I don’t usually sleep this much on Hebridean Cruises, but it was rather wet and rainy and that kind of weather does make me want to hibernate. Bill did visit the pub. He said it wasn’t really “special” in terms of anything more than being in a remote area. It sounded like missing it wasn’t such a bad thing. If it had been sunny, I would have been up for a walk there.

All week, we looked for dolphins, puffins, orcas, and other wildlife. I did manage to catch a glimpse of several orcas playing in the mist early in the cruise. I didn’t have a camera ready at the time. Even if I had, it was foggy and I was sitting by a window that wasn’t very conducive to picture taking. However, on Sunday night, I got lucky. I was sitting near the front windows of the Princess when two dolphins suddenly started leaping right next to the ship. I had my iPad ready and managed to score these pictures!

It was a little sad to realize, Sunday night, that Monday would be our last full day on the Princess. On one hand, I was a bit ready to come home, do laundry, and see my dogs again. As much as I need breaks from the beagles, I do miss them after a couple of days. A week is almost torturous, especially as they get older and I read tragic stories about people who lose their dogs unexpectedly, such as those whose dogs were exposed to blue-green algae and died hours later. On the other hand, this time, our cruise was full of a great group of folks and a mostly fantastic staff. I mean, Hebridean’s staff is almost always perfect anyway, but some people mesh better with me than others do. We really had a good time on our trip.

Read about the last full day onboard in the next post.

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Hebridean Island Cruises

Harris Gin, Harris Tweed, and the promise of a new economy…

Although I had mostly recovered from Thursday morning’s seasickness, I woke up Friday with terrible back pain again. I’m not exactly sure what causes this pain, which strikes occasionally and makes standing in one place torture. I just know it hurts. It helps when Bill steps on my back, but as we were in a tiny cabin, it wasn’t really possible for him to do that. Consequently, I started the morning with ibuprofen before breakfast. It helped somewhat before we visited Harris Distillery, a new player in Scotland’s whisky market. Harris Distillery currently sells gin, and we first tried it during our Spirit of Scotland cruise in March 2016. At that time, we were told that they were making whisky, but it would not be ready for three years. In Scotland, whisky must be aged for at least three years before it can legally be called whisky. Harris Distillery’s earliest whisky is now barely old enough to be marketed as whisky and they are focusing on quality. So, for now, there’s still just gin. But, I’m getting ahead of myself. First, we had to have breakfast.

Incidentally, our steward, Sergej, from Latvia, was outstanding. He joined our cruise a couple of days in. Prior to his arrival, his Latvian colleague, Piotjr took care of us. I had seen Piotjr before. He’s hard to miss, because he’s probably about 6’5″ and he’s a total pro at what he does. Actually, almost everyone on the ship is a total pro… with only a couple of exceptions, which I’ll get to later. For now, I want to focus on the positive as much as possible.

Sergej and Piotjr quickly learned our likes and dislikes. For instance, I don’t remember ever specifically telling Sergej how much I hate mushrooms, but somehow he knew. He also knew I prefer sparkling water and, at breakfast, I drink hot tea instead of coffee. Actually, I rarely drink hot tea off the ship, unless I’m in the United Kingdom. I really only drink tea on the ship because they use French presses and sometimes grounds escape into the cup. I have a very sensitive gag reflex and coffee grounds accidentally swallowed have a habit of making me vomit. Since I’m already drinking booze on occasionally rough seas, I figure it’s better to avoid coffee grounds. Also, the Brits just do an excellent job with their teas. I can have good coffee anywhere, but it’s a treat to have tea in Britain.

We docked in Tarbert, very close to Harris Distillery and Harris Tweed, which allowed us to walk to our destinations. Harris Distillery had a very inviting interior, with a fireplace as its centerpiece. The fireplace is an unusual sight at a distillery, since alcohol is so highly flammable. But the founder of the distillery wanted it that way… just as he wanted to create jobs for people on the Isle of Harris. This was not the only new distillery we encountered during our tour. It seems a lot of people want to bring more business to Scotland’s majestic islands so more young people might stay and keep the population going.

Our guide, Kate, was a trained chef who, I think, came from South Africa. She liked the Isle of Harris and stayed, where she pitches Harris Gin. When the whisky is available, I suspect she’ll pitch that, too. I thought her presentation was very professional. After a few distillery tours, you start to compare guides. Kate was one of the best, if only because I could easily hear and understand her. She was confident, friendly, and competent. She sold us a bottle of gin, along with sea kelp botanicals, hand soap, balm, and hand cream.

Harris Gin has limited availability at this time. I can get it in Germany, but I have to order it from one of the few distributors in Germany. It’s not something one can find in just any liquor store at this point. Kate was quick to tell us that Queen Elizabeth II regularly orders Harris Gin for her private collection. She likes her gin and tonics.

Really, though Harris will eventually have its own whisky, this was a gin tasting… Here are some photos.

My back was really hurting during our Harris Distillery tour, so I decided to walk back to the ship. Bill attended the Harris Tweed weaving demonstration, and did a little shopping. He picked up some Harris Tweed cufflinks and little booties for his new granddaughter, Clara, who was born July 4th.

For lunch, we opted for sandwiches, which are offered every day for those who don’t want three courses.

As we left Tarbert, the seas got a bit rough again. I was glad to have food in my stomach this time, as I took more seasickness pills. We cruised the Minch, but I was napping the whole time. Bill opted to listen to whisky expert Jim Allan give his talk called “Islay– Queen of the Hebrides”. Bill said it was a very good talk, even as he fought off drowsiness from the meds.

Jim Allan was a last minute addition to the cruise. We were supposed to have Charles MacLean aboard. He was on our Spirit of Scotland cruise in March 2016 and is considered one of the world’s foremost whisky experts. To be honest, though, I wasn’t all that impressed with Charles MacLean. I found him pompous and snooty. I wasn’t at all sad that he wasn’t on our cruise this time, even though I know at least one other passenger who had also been on our first whisky cruise was sad that Mr. MacLean hadn’t joined us.

I didn’t actually attend any of Mr. Allan’s talks, since they were given in the afternoons instead of during cocktail time as MacLean’s talks were. The fact that Allan gave his talks during the afternoon immediately made me like him a lot more. That, and he and his wife just seemed like much nicer and more approachable people. They were down to earth and relatable, rather than cliquish. I managed to get some pretty photos during our cruise through the Minch.

After dinner, we hung out in the Tiree Lounge, where I got rather friendly with the bartenders, John and Louis. They had very different styles, but both were equally charming. John hails from Glasgow and has a thick Glaswegian accent. He has sort of a cuddly quality to him, like a big teddy bear. He’s very friendly and kind and I really enjoyed getting to know him.

Louis is also friendly, but has his own unique charm. He’s originally from southwestern France, but was raised in Scotland. If I hadn’t noticed his lapel pin that had the French and Scottish flags on it, I wouldn’t have known. He has a Scottish accent, but is yet very, very French. Like the rest of the staff, he quickly learned my likes and dislikes and he surprised me by knowing my name almost immediately after we boarded. I must admit, it was a thrill having a dashing young Frenchman with a Scottish brogue bringing me my favorite champagne on demand. He also introduced me to the wonders of Janneau Armagnac. Just what I need! Another brandy to add to my favorites!

If you like to try different alcohols, Hebridean Island Cruises is a great place for taste testing. I sampled several different gins, as well as brandy and Calvados. I’ve had Calvados before, but Louis kind of reacquainted me with it.

Next up, Isle of Raasay.

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Hebridean Island Cruises

Welcome home… Hebridean Princess sure feels like it!

Awesome purser David Indge came on the bus to welcome us all to Hebridean Princess. It was raining, and we were informed that some of us had to have a bag randomly searched. Naturally, Bill and I were selected. It appeared that anyone not from the U.K. was required to go into a little guardhouse and have a bag searched. Two adorable little Scottish ladies dealt with me. I had to open one of my bags for them and answer security questions. They were very sweet and apologetic, which I have to say was a nice change of pace after the Frankfurt Airport.

“Dirty underwear.” I helpfully explained when one of them looked in a side pocket. She laughed; they wanded me and I came up clean, so they sent me on my way.

Every Hebridean Princess cruise begins with being piped on board by a real live Scottish piper. Years ago, Hebridean owned another ship called Spirit, which sailed all over the place. We spoke to one couple that took several cruises on Hebridean Spirit and they said they were piped on even when they boarded the ship in Oman! Sadly, Hebridean was forced to sell Spirit and all the wild adventures that could be had on her in lands beyond Scotland, Norway, Ireland and northern France. I’m sorry we missed out on that.

I never manage to get great photos of the piper.

As we walked on the ship, someone told me that they’d show me where my room was. I laughed and said, “Unless you upgraded us, I know exactly where to go!”

She laughed, too, and assured me no changes had been made. Back to the bowels of the ship we went. But if you have to be in the bowels of anywhere, Hebridean Princess is not a bad place to be! We were escorted to Loch Torridon and our bags were brought aboard for us. Then we went to the Tiree Lounge, the living room of the ship. I spend a lot of time there, since it’s where the bar is. I was handed a glass of my favorite champagne, Taittinger, which Hebridean started pouring last year, according to Egita, my favorite Food and Beverage Supervisor. On our last cruise, she handled pouring wines, but she got promoted. It was a well-deserved promotion, too.

Wioletta was there, too, and she remembered me and gave me a big hug. So did Egita. In fact, I was amazed by just how many people remembered us from last time. One gentleman in the kitchen even remembered me from our 2012 cruises. I don’t think he was faking it, either, since he told me he remembered me in 2016, too. It’s my laugh, I tell you!

I mentioned Queen Elizabeth II in a previous post. She once had the Royal Yacht Britannia at her service, but it was decommissioned in 1997. She’s since sailed twice on Hebridean Princess, including for her 80th birthday in 2006. She enjoyed chief purser David Indge so much that she made a personal request for him to be the purser on her second cruise. She left a signed portrait of herself and Prince Philip, which is proudly displayed at the reception desk.

There are royal touches all over this ship.

I can’t blame Queen Elizabeth for loving Dave. He’s truly a rare and special breed. He’s never met a stranger and is always smiling. Again… I would love to have a personality like his. Alas, I was born a crank.

We unpacked our bags, had our muster drill, and were soon on the way to our first port of call, Wick… where we would enjoy Old Pultaney whisky and Stroma, Old Pultaney’s sweet liqueur. More on that in the next post.

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Hebridean Island Cruises

Rocpool Reserve, a nice place to get in the luxe mood…

I really wish we’d gone straight to Inverness. It turned out to be a cute little town with lots of shops and restaurants. I also scored us a nice basic room at Rocpool Reserve, a twelve room property in a residential area of the city. Rocpool Reserve is also home to Chez Roux, a restaurant that uses Scottish ingredients with a French twist. I only booked one night at this hotel, but I could have happily stayed a couple more. In stark contrast to the Kimpton property in Edinburgh, our room at this hotel had air conditioning that worked and a really comfortable mattress.

A nice gentleman checked us in, took our bags, and invited us to go to the bar, where food is served all day. I was glad to hear that, because after our long train journey, I was hungry! Turns out Rocpool Reserve is popular with Americans. We noticed the same American couple who had been on the train with us and complained about the backwards seating were also booked at our hotel. There were also two American couples from Florida who had just done a trekking tour. Inverness seems to be a popular jumping off spot for tours.

I had smoked salmon with a buckwheat pancake and a glass of Sancerre to start. Bill had a really delicious ham and cheese sandwich that was impregnated with a sinful amount of butter. Once again, I ordered the wrong thing! The salmon was good, but Bill’s sandwich really ticked off the comfort food rating. After lunch, I decided to take a much needed nap. Actually, naps were a predominant feature on this trip. I took tons of naps! The weather helped put me in the mood.

I booked our table at Chez Roux for 7:00pm, but we were told to go to the bar, where we would be served canapes and have aperitifs before dinner. I’m not sure why they do it this way, but I kind of liked it. The two American couples from Florida were there at the same time we were, so it kind of made for good socializing.

Here are some photos from Rocpool Reserve and Chez Roux restaurant, where we enjoyed a beautiful dinner.

After a restful night, we had breakfast, which is included in the room rate. As we were eating our Eggs Benedict and pastries, I noticed a girl sitting at a nearby table wearing a t-shirt advertising The Inn at Tabb’s Creek, a bed and breakfast in Mathews, Virginia. I grew up in neighboring Gloucester. Neither Mathews nor Gloucester are well known outside of the Tidewater area of Virginia, so I was very surprised to see someone who had been there in Scotland.

We hung out at the hotel until about 11:00am, then checked out and got a cab to the Royal Highland Hotel in Inverness. This hotel is where we would be meeting our coach to the ship, and we were allowed to drop our bags there and have refreshments if we wanted them. I was delighted to find Bryan Hogge, one of two guides on our cruise. Bryan was our guide on our last Hebridean cruise to Northern Ireland, so I knew we’d be in great hands. During the winter, he teaches people how to ski. In the summer, he does tours for Hebridean. I also saw Mariusz, the Polish steward who waited on Bill and me on our September 2017 cruise. He didn’t quite remember me at first, but then I laughed. My laugh always jars people’s memories. As we talked, he told me his beautiful wife Wioletta was also going to be working. I was glad to hear that, since we bonded on the last cruise.

After we dropped our bags, we walked around Inverness, where we were charmed by two buskers. One was a cute blonde girl who appeared to be doing some kind of Japanese anime thing. She was wearing a pink tutu and dancing and singing in the town square. I thought it took a lot of guts to do what she was doing, so Bill left her a tip. She beamed at us as we continued on our way and ran across a pint sized bagpiper. He was adorable and really raking it in, despite not being the most competent piper I’ve ever heard. Actually, for his age, he was very good. Give him a few years and he’ll be a star… and probably a stud, too.

As I was getting a clip of him playing “Scotland the Brave”, some old biddy came over and chastised me for where I was standing, since I was getting people passing in front of the camera. I told her it was okay and she said it wasn’t okay for her. I probably shot “fuck off” lasers at her with my eyes… I’m really good for a dirty look, and she quickly beat it after that. She still ruined my clip, though, so I had to start over.

After we finished watching the cutie pie on the bagpipes, we went into a shop and picked up a proper shirt for Bill to wear with his new kilt. We also got him a bow tie, which requires actually tying. That was a new skill he didn’t quite master this trip. We forgot to get cuff links, so that was something he bought during the cruise.

We didn’t really want to hang around in the hotel lobby, since it was full of both cruise passengers and actual hotel guests. Instead of taking the ship’s offer of refreshments, we went to the restaurant next door, Filling Station, and had lunch. Filling Station is a chain restaurant, but they have good roasted chicken there. Bill went with some kind of salad with sheep’s milk cheese in it. He’s always got to show me up by eating healthy.

Finally, at about 4:45pm or so, we were invited to board the coach. We were scheduled to leave the hotel at about 5:00pm, but ScotRail was delayed. Big surprise! But finally, at about 5:15 or so, we were on our way to Invergordon, a town that isn’t known for its beauty. Since it hosts a lot of cruises, they’ve been trying to make it more inviting for tourists. The guide pointed out some of the murals local artists have painted. We saw a huge German AIDA ship in port and were grateful to be boarding tiny Hebridean Princess, where we were to be coddled and cosseted to an amazing standard. On the other hand, my husband coddles and cossets me the same way on the daily. My lifestyle is a study in ridiculousness.

Next post… boarding the Princess after almost two years. Gee, it’s good to be home! Indeed, a couple of the staff members immediately remembered me and reacted with pleasure and hugs hello, which is always a pleasant surprise!

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Hebridean Island Cruises

Cruising Scotland for the fifth time! Hebridean Island Cruises does it again!

We’ve got spirit! Yes, we do!

It’s hard to believe that less than 24 hours ago, I was still aboard Hebridean Princess enjoying the last precious moments of coddling that keeps Bill and me coming back to Scotland again and again. We just spent eight glorious nights aboard the tiny luxury ship. The cruise, which originated in Invergordon and ended in Oban, was fully booked. That means there were 47 other passengers sharing this experience with Bill and me. I like to think of the Princess as the anti-mega ship. I’ve got no use for huge floating cities so popular these days. Give me a little vessel with lots of good food, flowing champagne, superb service, beautiful scenery, and like-minded guests.

Bill and I decided to book our cruise in April of this year. Because Hebridean Princess is an all inclusive luxury experience with matching luxury prices, we usually plan much further in advance. Because we booked just four months out, I got us a “cheap” room on the Hebridean deck, in the “bowels” of the ship. Each stateroom on Hebridean Princess is named after a special place in Scotland. I knew what to expect, since we always book the “cheap” rooms. To date, we’ve stayed in all three of the double sized “cheap” rooms: Loch Torridon (three cruises), Loch Crinan (one cruise), and Loch Harport (one cruise). I’m hoping to upgrade us to a higher deck the next time we cruise, although there is absolutely nothing wrong with the “cheap” rooms. They are very comfortable, even though they lack windows or portholes and require a steep climb up and down stairs. At age 47, I was still among the youngest of the passengers and, at least for now, my knees can take the abuse.

We began our trip on the second of August, flying from Frankfurt to Edinburgh. This was the first time I’ve ever managed to score direct flights to and from Scotland. Although Frankfurt is an incredibly obnoxious airport, living close to it does have its advantages. We could have flown to Inverness, but that would have required a layover. I had never been to Inverness before this trip, but I’d heard it wasn’t all that exciting. I also wanted a “do-over” of Edinburgh, which we last visited in 2012 after our first Hebridean experience– two back to back five night cruises in November, during which we celebrated our tenth wedding anniversary.

We loved Edinburgh when we visited for four nights in 2012, but our time there was shrouded in sadness. On our last night of the second cruise, we learned that our sweet dog, MacGregor, had collapsed at the dog hotel. Unbeknownst to us, he had a highly aggressive malignant tumor invading his spinal column. Before we left for Scotland, we had been led to believe that he’d had a much less serious condition. We’d had him on prednisone and he was being weaned off, when the tumor suddenly got worse.

The hotel staff took MacGregor to see his vet, who suspected he had a malignant tumor and had recommended euthanasia. We were thousands of miles away and there was nothing we could do but worry. However, the situation was not so dire that we needed to rush back to North Carolina, where we lived at the time. The vet loaded MacGregor up with painkillers and the dog hotel staff took excellent care of him. We finished our vacation, came home, and took MacGregor to North Carolina State University, where he eventually had a MRI that confirmed the vet’s diagnosis. We said goodbye to him on December 18, 2012.

Anyway, because our first visit to Edinburgh was marred by personal tragedy, we decided to go back this year. I’ll go more into detail in the next post, but let me just comment that next time, I’m going to check the calendar more closely before I decide on pre-cruise cities. Edinburgh was teeming with people who had come to to the annual Fringe Festival. It started on the day of our arrival and made the city even crazier than usual! I’m surprised we managed to get a hotel room! I’m glad we were able to experience the festival, but I think I prefer Edinburgh in November, when the city is not so crowded.

We took ScotRail to Inverness on August 4th and spent one night at the lovely Rocpool Reserve Hotel. In retrospect, I wish we’d come directly to Inverness. It’s a very charming city and I would have liked to have spent more time there. If we ever do another cruise out of Invergordon, we’ll suffer the layover required to get to Inverness. It deserves to be explored.

Our cruise began on August fifth and ended yesterday morning. As I finish this post, I realize that it’s still been less than 24 hours! How am I going to get used to life without my daily dose of champagne? Writing helps me prolong the joy. I hope you’ll join me as I digest our latest spectacular trip to Scotland!

Part two

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Uncategorized

Yet another Scottish whisky cruise…

Well, we finally did it.  We booked another proper vacation, the first one we’ve had since September 2017, when we visited Scotland the last time and cruised to Northern Ireland.  A lot has happened since that cruise occurred, although there have been a few things that are still the same.  For instance, we now live in Wiesbaden instead of Unterjettingen… but lingering issues that actually occurred right around the last time we were on the Hebridean Princess conspire to keep us connected to our old stomping grounds near Stuttgart.  That, and we kept our dentist down there.

Anyway, lately I’ve been feeling a bit crabby about life in general.  I will be the first to admit that everything that troubles me is, for the most part, a first world problem.  I still need a break sometimes.  So does Bill.  So in the past few days, we decided to book our vacation for 2019.  We gave some thought to going on a French barge cruise, which I’ve been wanting to do for ages.  But when we called about the specific one we were considering, we were told it was fully booked for when Bill had time off work.

I also want to go to Armenia… but Armenia in August is not the best idea, even though it looks like they are now embracing air conditioning.  It’s really hot there in the summer.  I’d rather go in late September or October.

So that led us to Hebridean Island Cruises again.  Although I’ve had a mishap every time we’ve been on that ship, it still remains my favorite of the ships I’ve tried so far.  It costs a mint to get onboard, but once you’ve paid, you’ve paid.  On four previous cruises, we’ve never had a bill at the end of the voyage.  And the voyage we booked is one that will take us to parts of Scotland we haven’t yet seen.  It will start in Inverness, when the coach picks us up and takes us to Invergordon.  Then, we’ll sail to Wick, through the Orkney Islands, and over the top of Scotland back to Oban eight nights later.

The cruise departs on August 5, 2019, so we had to pay for the whole thing yesterday.  It was a bit of an oucher… but they gave us a good discount.  We’ll be visiting eight distilleries.  Hopefully, this time, I won’t get norovirus like I did at the end of our first Scottish whisky cruise in 2016 (which, by the way, I think I picked up at a tasting off the ship).

This may be our last Scottish cruise for awhile, because I am really wanting to see some other parts of Europe.  We’ve been here for several years now, but the first time we lived in Germany, we made an effort to see more of the continent.  This time, we’ve stayed pretty close to Germany, with trips to Italy, France, Slovenia, Czech Republic, Belgium, Ireland, Scotland, and the Netherlands.  I’d like to visit Spain, Scandinavia, and more parts of eastern Europe.  I’ve been trying to do a real trip to Croatia for years.

Here’s a video about this awesome ship that started out as a car ferry in 1964, and for the past 30 years, has been the ultimate luxury experience.  Queen Elizabeth II and her family have sailed twice!

Prayers that this time, nothing bad will happen… I will come home healthy.  Bill will be healthy.  The dogs will be healthy.  And we won’t be too broke or inconvenienced!

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Scotland, shopping

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.  😉

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.

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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.

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