anecdotes, coronavirus, Germany, staying home

This weekend is pretty much ruined…

A few days ago, I was really looking forward to this weekend. The weather looked like it was going to be beautiful. There were several wine centered events going on, to include our local wine stand that takes place in the town square. Before COVID-19 messed everything up, we would have those wine stands every other week during the warm months. They were a lot of fun, and a great way to get to know the neighbors.

There was a wine market in Hofheim yesterday, and a wine festival in Ingelheim, which I really wanted to go to. Fortunately, the fest will continue all week until next Sunday. Hopefully, by then, I’ll be well, and Bill won’t have to work.

That’s right… I am sick this weekend. I don’t know how it happened, but it has put a real damper on our fun. Thanks to a big work exercise, Bill also had to work this morning. He arranged to do a four hour shift early today, so we could have had the rest of the day to do something fun. Unfortunately, I don’t think I’ll be going anywhere today, either.

I spent most of yesterday in bed with gastroenteritis. I don’t know how I got it. I don’t spend time around anyone other than Bill, and he hasn’t had it. It’s possible I ate something that made me sick. It came on Friday night, when I suddenly developed a fever and chills. Of course I was worried about COVID-19, even though I live like a hermit.

As Friday night went on, my stomach started to feel weird. I actually wanted pizza for dinner, though, and was relieved that when Bill made it, I could easily smell it. Unfortunately, the pizza didn’t last. After dinner, the vomiting started. I spent the whole night shivering under two duvets.

Yesterday, Bill made breakfast and, once again, I was relieved that I could smell it. In fact, the aroma of bacon was almost overwhelming. But breakfast also didn’t stay with me. I resolved not to try to eat anything else, other than a waffle syrup cookie, which is pretty bland. I managed to hang onto that and the two sodas Bill brought me. Then I watched movies and took a nap.

This morning, my stomach feels marginally better, but I can’t trust my sphincter. A good sneeze, fart, or cough could make quite a mess, if you catch my drift. So I don’t think we’ll be doing anything today, because I don’t want to crap my pants.

I did have Bill go out and get a COVID test, just to make sure that wasn’t the source of my discomfort. At first, before the diarrhea set in, I thought it might be possible that the virus finally found me. He paid two euros for a Chinese COVID-19 home test. We tried to use it last night, but somehow didn’t do the test right. So I ended up with no result.

I did think to take some photos, though… the directions are in German and include pictures. Bill later said he saw there was a video we could have watched for instructions. It reminded me a little of a pregnancy test, except the sample to be tested came from my nose.

Oh well… I guess I’ll do more reading today. I do feel somewhat better than I did yesterday, at least. I think the fever went away, and I haven’t had to puke since yesterday morning. So there’s some bright news…

SIGH.

I’ll end this post on a positive note. Four years ago, I was also sick. That time, it was with a very nasty cold that I picked up when we cruised in Scotland. I wasn’t surprised that I got the cold, since there was a visibly sick woman on the boat who kept sniffling all week. By the time the cruise was almost over, I had her cold. Although that beat the everloving hell out of the norovirus infection I got in Scotland in March of 2016, having that cold was pretty miserable.

Bill and I came home to our driveway torn up, since our former landlords decided to renovate it. The work wasn’t completed while we were gone. Then, the day after it was done, while I was still sick, the landlords came over unannounced. I opened the door to get the mail, dressed in my nightgown. There they were, standing there on the driveway, inspecting the work. I had an awkward conversation with them, not just because I wasn’t dressed and had a bad cold, but also because by that time, our relationship had gone sour. A few weeks prior to our trip to Scotland, an awning that the landlady’s husband had “fixed” collapsed on a windy day. They tried to blame me for it, and the wife got very irate and screamed at me in my living room, specifically blaming me for other things that were wrong in the house.

The next day, the landlords showed up unannounced and started cleaning the gutters, right outside my bedroom window. I was in bed, still sick with the cold, and FUMING, because it was yet another unexpected visit. I had told them I was sick, and was trying to rest. Of course they never thought to consider my feelings. I was just someone whose husband they were deigning to let rent their house. Clearly, in their minds, I was not entitled to any respect, privacy, or consideration. I literally wanted to throttle them. (I am not the most patient patient) But instead of telling them to come back another day, like I should have, I just tried to ignore them.

Well… I didn’t quite ignore them. I posted on Facebook that I felt like choking them. I noticed yesterday that I had written that. I was really upset. Later, Bill did ask them for more notice, and was met with a rather rude response. But if you know what happened in the end, you know that we eventually came out on top in that situation, although it took some time.

Anyway, it occurred to me yesterday, reading that past Facebook status, that I have much to be grateful for. I don’t get sick very often in Wiesbaden. Bill doesn’t have to travel to Africa, so he doesn’t bring home weird germs. When I do get sick, I can recuperate in private. The landlord lives next door, but he never bothers us, and would never do loud work on our house without planning ahead. And I just really prefer this house on so many levels. In fact, yesterday, it occurred to me how glad I was to be resting in my own bed and using my own bathroom. When I last had a stomach bug, I had to deal with it while traveling. It was awful. So I’m glad to be at home, and glad to be living somewhere where the landlord isn’t an inconsiderate jerk.

And hopefully, the rest of this virus will “run its course”… I just ate a banana, so we’ll see how that goes. Looks like the fever may be done, too.

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whisky distilleries

Whisky distilleries I have known, part two…

In October 2017, when I still had a lot of people reading my travel blog, I wrote a post entitled Whisky distilleries I have known. In that post, I wrote about the eight different distilleries Bill and I had visited on our multiple trips to Scotland since 2012. Prior to August of this year, we had only been to Lowland, Island, and Campbeltown distilleries. But then we took our second Scotch whisky cruise on Hebridean Princess and visited seven more distilleries, several of which were on the other side of Scotland.

Upon looking up the distilleries we visited, a couple of which still had whiskies in development, I’m not exactly sure what region some of them are considered to be from. We visited Old Pulteney, in Wick, Scotland, which is definitely a Highland whisky, but we also visited some smaller distilleries on islands. Thinking about it, I guess most of them would be considered Island whiskies, although they aren’t located in the same part of Scotland as are the distilleries we previously visited. And then there’s Glengoyne, which we visited in 2017, which is considered a Highland whisky, but has part of its operation in the area known as the Lowlands. In fact, the guide pointed out that we literally crossed into the Highlands when we crossed the street to go to the visitor’s center.

Anyway, I thought I’d make a sequel to my original post about whiskies, since writing in my blog prevents me from shopping on Black Friday. Just for the record, in my first post I included discussion on the following distilleries:

  • Springbank
  • Arran
  • Laphroaig
  • Glengoyne
  • Bruichladdich
  • Oban
  • Jura
  • Kilchoman

I have updated that post so that it’s much more readable. A lot of my older posts are harder to read since I transferred my old blog on Blogger to my new WordPress blog and the formatting was all messed up. It’s a tedious process to update the posts, especially since there are over a thousand of them, so I’m doing it as I have time and inclination. That one looks good again, so if you’re interested in any of the whiskies listed above, please have a look. This post will include a brief rundown on the distilleries we saw in August.

Here goes:

1. Old Pulteney Distillery Wick, Scotland

Old Pulteney Distillery is located in Wick, a town in northeastern Scotland. We happened to visit during its “silent season” in August, which is when the distillery’s production shuts down so that workers can have a break and equipment can be repaired. The silent season happens every year, so if you want to visit this distillery when whisky is being produced, be sure to look at the calendar first. Also, since tours are provided on a space available basis and at specific times, you’ll want to book ahead if you’re not with a group, as we were. A basic tour runs 10 GBP, while a tour with extra tastings is 25 GBP.

Old Pulteney’s whiskies are Highland single malts. They also offer a whisky based liqueur called Stroma that many of the ladies on our ship loved and quickly consumed. I didn’t find Wick to be a terribly beautiful or exciting place, but there is an interesting museum there that is worth a visit. Wick also has a lot of history to explore regarding World War II. If you’re a history buff, as well as a whisky drinker, it may be worth your time to visit Old Pulteney’s distillery.

2. Highland Park Distillery Kirkwall, Orkney, Scotland

Highland Park is located in Kirkwall, on the of Orkney Island Mainland in Scotland. Orkney has the distinction of once being part of Norway. Of the distilleries we visited on our last whisky cruise, I think Highland Park’s history was the most interesting. We had excellent guides to tell us all about how the distillery got its beginnings, all the way back in 1798. The buildings at the distillery show the signs of age– blackened by the centuries of angels’ shares wafting overhead.

Highland Park Distillery is one of Kirkwall’s most popular tourist attractions and has the distinction of being Scotland’s northernmost whisky distillery. Indeed, the morning of our visit, we were joined by a Silversea ship, as well as Oceania. The tour bus from Silversea arrived as we were leaving. Highland Park was also having its “silent season” during our visit, but that didn’t stop us from enjoying a few drams and taking home some souvenirs from their very nice shop. As Highland Park is a pretty major distillery, they have several tours available ranging in price and intensity from 10 GBP to 250 GBP a person. Of course, if you spring for the most expensive tour, your group size will be limited to six people, you’ll get three hours to visit, and you’ll taste some amazing spirits from the 60s and 70s!

3. Scapa Distillery Kirkwall, Orkney, Scotland

Like Highland Park, Scapa Distillery is located in Kirkwall, but it’s on the on the shore of Scapa Flow, giving it a beautiful natural setting right by the water. Scapa, located a half mile south of Highland Park, is Scotland’s second northernmost distillery. Scapa is currently owned by the Pernod Ricard, though it was founded in 1885 by Macfarlane & Townsend, and was later acquired by Hiram Walker & Sons Ltd (now part of Pernod Ricard). In 1994, Scapa was “mothballed” and it remained so until 2004, when there was talk of closing the distillery for good. The decision was instead made to resume production, so the first whisky since 1994 began production in November of 2004.

Scapa Distillery offers three different tours ranging in price from 12 GBP to 45 GBP and running between 45 minutes and one hour. Pre-booking is highly recommended.

4. Harris Distillery Tarbert, Harris, Scotland

Located on the Isle of Harris, Harris Distillery is currently making a name for itself by producing gin in beautifully designed etched bottles. Indeed, Bill and I were introduced to Harris Gin on our first Hebridean whisky cruise, the Spirit of Scotland, in March 2016. Harris is a new distillery and, by law, whisky cannot be called whisky until it’s been aged 3 years. Harris Distillery’s whisky is just at the point at which it can be legally considered whisky, so for now, the emphasis is more on the gin. Still, I think this distillery is worth visiting because it’s visitor center is so beautiful with its fireplace (around all that alcohol, no less!) and it’s right next door to the Harris Tweed store. Visits costs 10 GBP and include gin and whisky tastings. Children between the ages of five and 18 may take the tour for 5 GBP, without tastings. Children under five are not allowed on the tour.

5. Raasay Distillery Kyle, Isle of Raasay, Scotland

Raasay Distillery, like Harris Distillery, is a new business and is still developing its whisky. Gin is being produced for now, and there’s also a single malt available called While We Wait, which was made by blending two expressions from one distillery– one peated, and one unpeated. Raasay’s whisky will make its debut in 2020. Raasay Distillery also offers accommodations which overlook the beautiful grounds. Tours can be booked for 10 to 15 GBP and run for about an hour.

I think this may have been my second favorite stop on our whisky cruise. I enjoyed the staff at this distillery and the strong sense of community they shared as they spoke of revitalizing the economy in stunning Raasay. I also really enjoyed their gin. I wish I’d bought a bottle. Right next door to the distillery is Raasay House, a historic hotel which offers accommodations that may be somewhat less fancy than those at the distillery.

6. Torabhaig Distillery Armadale, Isle of Skye, Scotland

This was another interesting stop on our cruise. I enjoyed hearing about Torabhaig’s fascinating story– basically, it was a partnership between investors and whisky makers who spent four years turning a historic property into a new business venture. Our guide, Hans, was a great speaker. Originally from the Netherlands, Hans is fluent in several languages and conducted himself like a college professor. This tour edged out Raasay just slightly, in part because I ended up bonding with a really kind taxi driver during our visit. I forgot to collect my sweater after our tour and he was kind enough to take me back to the distillery to pick it up. We had an interesting talk about religion and politics.

This distillery, like Harris and Raasay, is also just now developing its spirits. However, while the spirits are being aged, Mossburn Whisky is available– these are whiskies that were made before the distillers had a home in Torabhaig Distillery. Because the brand’s whiskies were made at different locations, they have different types available, since as Islay and Speyside varieties. This distillery also has a gorgeous gift shop selling lots of Harris Tweed items. I bought a beautiful bag there.

Tours can be booked between 10am and 4pm Monday through Friday. The distillery doesn’t offer tours on weekends. Children under 12 are not allowed, and the tours run 45 minutes and cost 10 GBP.

7. Ardnamurchan Distillery Glenbeg, Scotland

Beautiful Ardnamurch Distillery is Scotland’s westernmost distillery, located on the Glenmore River. This distillery was founded in 2012, so its whiskies are still developing. Still, the distillery is located in a beautiful area, and I quite enjoyed our guide, who told us he’d moved from Glasgow because he liked the island life. Having looked around at Scotland’s stunning islands, I can’t blame him in the least! If I weren’t so old and crotchety, I might consider getting a job at a distillery myself, so I can enjoy the beautiful scenery and good nature of the Scots. Although this is a new distillery, it might be worth visiting just to stay in one of the many beautiful, historic hotels nearby.

Tours at Ardnamurchan Distillery can be booked in advance, range in price from 8 GBP to 40 GBP, and run from 45 to 90 minutes. I can attest the visitor center is rustic and charming, if you like looking at deer heads mounted on the walls.

8. Tobermory Distillery Tobermory, Isle of Mull

I must confess that I wimped out on visiting this distillery, which was the last on our whisky cruise. Bill went on the tour while I hung out on the ship, mainly because there was horizontal rain that day and I was simply “whiskyed out” at that point. It turned out the tour was more of a tasting anyway. The guide was a retired police officer and singer-songwriter who took a job at the distillery and offered stories and songs over a wee dram or two. When Bill told me about his visit, I wished I had sucked it up and gone with him. Tobermory also looks like an adorable town and is probably even more so when there’s no rain. The distillery is open every day from 10am til 4pm. Call them for more information.

So… that makes a grand total of 16 distilleries we’ve seen courtesy of cruising on Hebridean Princess. Personally, I think whisky cruises are an ideal way to visit distilleries. You don’t have to worry about driving anywhere and a lot of times, the ship arranges more in depth tours than you might otherwise get. But I can also see the appeal of arranging these tours on your own, taking your time, and getting to know the delightful locals. And even though there are a bunch of new distilleries on this list, they’re still worth a look. A lot of them make wonderful gin and may soon make a whisky you can’t live without. Scotland is one of my favorite places on earth, even though I seem to have bad luck when I go there. But that’s a rant for another day.

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cruises, Scotland

Ten things I learned on our latest trip to Scotland…

I usually like to summarize our trips with a “ten things I learned” post. I usually only do them when we go to new places. We’ve now been to Scotland four times and I know I’ve done at least one “ten things I learned” post for one of those past trips. However, this time, we did explore new territory, and I never did get around to writing anything yesterday. I usually update my travel blog on the weekends, too. So… here’s a new “ten things I learned” post, for the curious.

10. It pays to check the calendar before booking a stay in a city like Edinburgh.

I wish I had known about the Fringe Festival. It was kind of cool to experience it, but if I had known about it in advance, we might have made different plans. On the plus side, I was glad to visit Edinburgh again and pick up new art by Matylda Konecka.

9. Bill needs to practice sitting in his kilt.

Seriously, I have tried to teach him about how to sit in a skirt, but it’s hard to undo 55 years of habitually sitting as a man typically does. At least he was wearing underwear. He still looks gorgeous in his kilt, though, so I will keep trying to teach him how to sit like a lady.

8. Eating fried bread before a long coach ride is a bad idea.

For me, anyway, it is… I shouldn’t be eating fried bread anyway, but I have to admit to liking it. It must be that 78% British/Irish ancestry I have. 😉

7. First class on ScotRail isn’t a luxury experience.

If there is a next time we need to get to Inverness from Edinburgh, we’re renting a car.

6. Inverness is a very charming city.

I definitely want to go back there for another visit and stay longer than just a night.

5. More people should take time to speak to the elderly.

One of the things I like most about Hebridean Princess is that there are typically a number of elderly people on board who are still very much “with it” mentally and even pretty spry. And if you’re lucky, they’ll talk to you about their lives. Every single Hebridean cruise we’ve enjoyed has had at least one or two of these charming folks who remember what it was like in the past and want to share their experiences. It’s fascinating.

4. Bill likes whisky more than I do.

While I did a lot of whisky drinking on our first whisky cruise, I did a lot less of it on this cruise. Maybe it was the time of the year, or maybe I’m just getting too sensitive. I probably should stick to beer and wine.

3. There’s a good reason why Cape Wrath is called Cape Wrath.

’nuff said.

2. Seasickness pills are a God send.

’nuff said about that, too, except to add that I prefer the kind you swallow as opposed to chewable Bonine pills, which taste horrible.

And finally… 1. It’s time for a French barge cruise.

I hope we can finally arrange one this year.

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Hebridean Island Cruises

Tasting whisky at Ardnamurchan Distillery, hitting the wall at Tobermory, and wanting to hit a guide…

Monday morning, we visited Ardnamurch Distillery, Scotland’s westernmost distiller located on the Glenmore River. This distillery was founded in 2012, so like many of the others on this cruise, it’s very new. I have to admit that by the time we reached this distillery, I was a bit whiskyed out. I didn’t even drink a lot of it on the ship. However, I am glad I visited this distillery if only because it’s located in such a beautiful place. We took the tenders to a floating pier, where we were met by a man with a thick Scottish brogue who came up from Glasgow because he liked the island life. Can’t say I blame him.

Here are some pictures from Ardnamurch Distillery, whose parent company is Adelphi Distillery. I found it very interesting when the guide told us the casks from Jack Daniels in Tennessee were “rubbish”. This distillery gets them from Woodford Reserve instead. I noticed Jack Daniels casks at other distilleries. He told us that the focus was on perfection, since they are not able to produce as much whisky as the really big distillers.

After our tour, we went back to the ship for lunch, then sailed to Tobermory, Isle of Mull. Lunch on Sunday was the cold ham buffet, which also has always happened on every Hebridean cruise I’ve ever taken. It’s basically a buffet with the beautifully carved ham, oysters, smoked salmon, and lots of fresh vegetables.

I confess, although Tobermory looked like a very charming town and the Tobermory Distillery was very close to the ship, it was raining horizontally and I didn’t feel like going out in it. Bill visited Tobermory Distillery, which turned out to be just a tasting… the man doing the tasting was a former police officer turned whisky hawker. He was also a singer-songwriter and he performed a few songs. Dammit… I missed another musical experience. Oh well. I came home inspired to make my own music!

It was just as well that I missed the tasting, since I caught rainbows. I’d been waiting for them all week. Scotland and Ireland have never not delivered on rainbows. Here are a few photos.

Monday night was also the evening of our farewell gala. This is where, unfortunately, things went a little south. I apologize to anyone reading this and thinking I shouldn’t mention it. I like to be truthful as much as possible and, I have to admit, we were let down in a big way on the last night. We had a wonderful dinner after the last champagne reception. I wore a somewhat less matronly purple velvet dress… I know, weird in August, but it was chilly and beat the alternative. Bill wore his kilt again. Right before dinner, a passenger commented on Bill’s tendency to sit with his legs slightly apart. He’s a guy, after all, and doesn’t often wear skirts. But, bucking the tradition of not wearing underwear under the kilt, he did wear thigh length underwear. It was kind of embarrassing that someone commented on the way he was sitting, but he shrugged it off. Practice makes perfect.

We had our haggis, neeps, and tatties. I had turbot filet and Bill had lamb. After we ate, we visited the galley and thanked the kitchen staff. Some readers might remember that I didn’t visit them in 2017 because in 2016, I was a bit traumatized by a fellow passenger who barged in as I was talking to the staff. I had suddenly felt really intrusive, even though I knew I wasn’t being intrusive. I just happen to be very sensitive to certain things and I noticed annoyance on the faces of some of the staff, though it probably wasn’t necessarily because of me. In fact, one kitchen staffer in 2016 remembered me from 2012.

Anyway, this time, we did go in and thank the staff and the same dude who remembered me in 2016 said it was nice to see me aboard again. That really delighted me, so I was in a great mood when we went to the Tiree lounge. We were at the bar enjoying our last evening on the ship. Bill and I were in fine spirits. At that point, one of the guides came up to Bill and started talking about his kilt. I didn’t immediately notice it at the time, but the guide seemed like he might have been a wee bit drunk. Or, at least that’s how he appeared to me. It’s the only way I can explain his behavior.

He leaned over and whispered to Bill about his tendency to sit with his legs apart. That was embarrassing enough, but would have been easy to shrug off. But then the guide seemed more emboldened, and suddenly went off on a strange tirade about how he didn’t want to see anyone’s “knickers” or “balls”. He wasn’t whispering, and I could tell that Bill was humiliated by his comments, especially since he’d already gotten the point and Bill was wearing knit boxers that reached to his mid thighs. I can assure everyone that no one saw anything private. Bill is a sensitive man, and he’s easily embarrassed, yet much too polite to tell anyone who deserves it to go take a flying leap. Besides, the guide’s very nice wife was sitting nearby and Bill would never swear in front of a lady. I’m no lady; I’m his wife, so he does swear in front of me.

I told the guide that he was doing his best to ensure that Bill never wore his kilt again, which would be a real shame. I worked hard to get him in that kilt, and he looks gorgeous in it. Or, at least I think so… and my opinion is the only one, besides Bill’s, that really matters. In retrospect, maybe I should have snarled at the guy… but then, too many people already seem to think I’m a bitch when I stand up for myself.

Bill was visibly upset when the guide finally went away. I was also a bit pissed… both in terms of annoyance and drunkenness, since my bartender friend Louis had kept me in Armagnac and Calvados. I was trying to talk Bill down, reminding him that the guy had seemed pretty intoxicated to me (which he may not have been). I have a feeling one of the staffers heard me and clued in the excellent purser, who did ask Bill if he was alright the next morning. There wasn’t time to really address the issue. I’m wondering if maybe they should get one of my trademark letters… but maybe it’s best to just let the incident go.

We did end the night on a good note, though. The Danish guy came to the bar and we had a nice chat. At the Danish guy’s suggestion, I ended up singing to Bill, which may not have been as beautiful as it could have been, since I’d been drinking. He does love it when I sing to him, though.

Last post is up next.

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Hebridean Island Cruises

Old Pulteney whisky in Wick and the first “gala”.

On Tuesday, August 6th 2019, we arrived in Wick, Scotland for our very first port of call. Wick does not appear to be the most exciting place to the uninitiated. I noticed the waters around the port were brown and kind of sludgy looking. But we stopped there, not because it’s a beautiful town, but because the Old Pulteney distillery is there.

This cruise was called Westering Home and Whisky Galore. It focused mostly on whisky distilleries, but there were alternatives for those who didn’t want to try whisky. I had not heard of Old Pulteney before we visited the distillery. Truth be told, Bill is more of a whisky fan than I am. I’d rather drink beer and wine. And thanks to our Spirit of Scotland cruise in 2016, I know very well how whisky is made. Still, it’s interesting to visit the distilleries because each one seems to have slightly different methods to their madness.

Our visit to Old Pulteney’s distillery required a brief ride on the tender and a short walk. I was really happy to see that this year Hebridean Princess has new life jackets. On previous cruises, we were forced to wear these huge, uncomfortable monstrosities that were kind of suffocating. This year, they had devices that were much smaller and easier to wear. Basically, they were like little inflatable stoles rather than jackets. The only thing I didn’t like about them was the crotch strap, which was kind of awkward. However, it was much easier to get in and out of them and they’re way more comfortable.

The area where the distillery is in Wick appears to be solidly working class. I didn’t see a lot of industry there, save for a casino and bar and the distillery. There’s also a museum, which Bill visited on his own while I took a nap. Here are a few photos from the distillery tour. It didn’t amount to much, since August is part of the “silent season” for Old Pulteney. This is the time of year when the distillery takes a six week break for maintenance and staff vacations. This year, Old Pultaney’s silent season ends on August 19th.

In every distillery tour I’ve ever been on, we’ve heard about the “Angel’s Share”, which is the 2% of alcohol that evaporates per year. Near every distillery, a black fungus grows on trees and buildings. It’s due to the evaporating alcohol. Old Pulteney is no exception. Looking around the distillery, I could see the blackness from the whisky production. I have to admit, though, the whisky is good… and they were generous with their pours. A lot of the ladies on the cruise particularly enjoyed Stroma, a sweet whisky based liqueur made by Old Pulteney. One passenger liked it so much that one of the guides went back to the distillery to purchase a couple of bottles for the bar. They were quickly consumed before the cruise ended!

After the tour ended, Bill and I walked back to the ship. I took a moment to take a few photos of the area. Again… Wick isn’t necessarily a city I’d visit on my own, but I’m glad we got to visit the distillery. I missed the museum, but Bill said it was very interesting, as Wick played a very important role in Britain’s defense during World War II. In 1940, it came under fire after the defeat of the Netherlands and Denmark and the occupation of Norway by German forces. Supposedly, 222 high intensity explosives were dropped on Caithness during that period. On July 1, 1940, the most serious bombing occurred during daylight hours. Children were outside playing. Fifteen people were killed; eight were children. Bill said that while he was in the museum, there was a lady there who was actually present when the bomb fell.

I kind of wish I’d made the effort to visit Wick’s museum, but after lunch, I was really needing a nap. I also didn’t feel like riding the tender again. I probably needed to rest up for the first “gala”, in which the captain welcomes everyone. While guests are encouraged to “come as they are” to dinner on the first night of each Hebridean cruise, the second night is for dressing up in your glad rags. On previous cruises, Bill has worn his dress blues. This time, he wore the beautiful kilt he had custom made in Glasgow in 2017. Bill always looks prettier on the cruises than I do…

Although guests are encouraged to dress up for the gala, and most do just that, officially it’s just the crew that absolutely must dress up. I’ve seen some guests dress as if they’re going to church, though most people choose formal wear. One man wore jeans and made a hasty retreat to change into a suit when he saw all of the ladies in their finery. I myself chose my trusty black dress, crystal statement necklace and earrings, and a bright red cashmere and wool wrap.

I think the kilt came off very well, although Bill needs a few more lessons on sitting properly while wearing a skirt. I have to admit to missing seeing him in his dress blues, although I think the kilt was more comfortable for him. Maybe it’s time to get a pair of matching trousers.

Here are some photos of the food from the first gala… which did not involve any dancing, just lots of food and after dinner cocktails.

I mentioned before that Hebridean Island Cruises is an all inclusive experience, which means that virtually everything is included… including all the booze you want, excursions, Internet access, and entry fees. You don’t even have to present a credit card when you board, nor do they make you an ID card. Instead, you have a brass tag that you take with you when you’re off the ship. Slip it on the lanyard you’ll receive when you board. It’s refreshingly low tech.

Next post.

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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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Sweating for $600 a night…

Temperatures in Edinburgh were comfortable, particularly compared to Germany’s recent heatwave. Our cab driver was slightly confused when I gave him the name of our lodging, the Kimpton Charlotte Square Hotel. That’s because the name just recently changed, as the Kimpton chain purchased what used to be called The Principal Edinburgh Charlotte Square. I chose it because Bill and I have stayed in Kimpton hotels in the States and liked them. I didn’t realize that the chain had been bought by the InterContinental Hotel Group, otherwise known as IHG. IHG owns a number of popular hotel brands, including Holiday Inn.

Our cab driver got into a brief altercation with the guy in front of him, who slammed on his brakes in a traffic snarl. The cab driver got out of the car and started shouting at the guy, telling him “You’re on camera, mate!” The guy started yelling back at the driver as everyone else started laying on their horns. Yep… definitely NOT in Germany anymore. As the traffic oozed forward, an ambulance blew by with its siren blaring. It should have been a clue as to the theme for the weekend.

The driver dropped us in front of the hotel, where a very friendly bellman grabbed our bags and helped us check in. I’d say he was the most impressive of the staff at the Kimpton Charlotte Square Hotel. I’d booked us a deluxe king room and it had cost a mint. In addition to the $400 worth of credit card points I redeemed, I paid an additional $800 for two nights in this hotel. It’s probably the most I’ve ever spent on any hotel room anywhere– even in Switzerland– but it seemed to be par for the course in Edinburgh for “comfortable” accommodations in August. Yes, we could have stayed in a cheaper place on the outskirts of town, but I wanted to be in the city center. I trusted the Kimpton brand, which again, I didn’t know had been taken over by a different company.

The bellman helped us get our bags to our room, which was in the “Wee House”. It seemed like an okay room at first, albeit sort of small. We had our king sized bed, a fridge with free water, and a “tuck box”, which is basically a tin box with free snacks– chips and some kind of candy. Things went downhill when the bellman attempted to turn on the air conditioner. Although it wasn’t hot in Edinburgh, the room was warm. I suspect the building retains heat and there had been recent warm temperatures which the building was still hanging onto. The bellman looked at the display on the air conditioning controls and said it wasn’t working. But he got a housekeeper to bring us two fans, which did help somewhat.

What would have helped even more would have been the ability to open the window more than two inches, but that was impossible. There was some kind of lock on the window that prevented it from being fully raised. Even if we had been able to open the window more, we would have then been dealing with the noise of traffic and drunken partygoers out in the wee hours of the morning. Consequently, it was rather uncomfortable in our very expensive room… but the hotel was completely booked and paid for in advance. We also expected that they’d eventually fix the air conditioning, which, unfortunately, never happened. In any case, here are a few photos of our room in Edinburgh.

On the plus side, I liked the shower, which had a rainfall head, and the toiletries. The WiFi worked well and, I suppose I would have enjoyed the pool and spa if we’d had time to try them. I liked that they were available. The bed was a bit too firm, but that wouldn’t have been as much of a problem if the room hadn’t been so warm. Bill did complain to the front desk about the air conditioning issue and was told that the building was very old and when other guests use their AC, it makes the air conditioning in the “Wee House” break down. I don’t know about you, but when I spend $600 a night on a hotel room, I expect things to be in full working order. $600 is more than the rent I paid on my first American apartment!

On our first night, we walked around the corner and had dinner at Badger & Co., which had a very inviting looking “garden” out front. After we dined there, Bill looked up the restaurant and discovered that it’s themed on The Wind in the Willows. I really enjoyed the music in this place, which was decidedly funky, if not a bit too loud. Bill had a cottage pie and I had the lobster roll special, which came with a glass of rose wine. I must admit I was kind of tempted by the Golden Cock Pie, if only because of the name. Maybe I would have tried it if the weather had been slightly cooler. We also enjoyed a couple of beers while we waited for our table.

You can see the Oor Wullie sculpture in the above gallery. Artists have been individually commissioned to design the sculptures, which are raising money for children’s hospitals. I read about a seven year old girl who traveled over 1000 miles to visit each of the statues, which are located in Edinburgh, Inverness, Dundee, Aberdeen, and Glasgow. She must have very game and dedicated parents!

After we dined at Badger and Co., we went back to the hotel and tried out their bar. Again, I was kind of disappointed in it, as it was basically their greenhouse inspired breakfast room and didn’t have an actual bar where a person could sit and chat up the bartender. They were also playing cheesy pop music that put me in a bad mood. Generally speaking, the pubs in Scotland play good music… but the hotel bar was lacking in that respect.

I didn’t book breakfast at the hotel, so we went looking for it elsewhere… and ended up in a cheaper hotel that had a simple continental arrangement for five GBP a person. My back was giving me trouble, perhaps due to the hard mattress, so before we started to explore Edinburgh in earnest, we stopped by Boots, a UK pharmacy chain, and picked up some essentials for our cruise, as well as painkillers for my back.

During our last Edinburgh visit, we stayed at the Chester Residence, which regularly tops Trip Advisor’s list of Edinburgh’s best accommodations. Maybe if we go back to Edinburgh, we’ll stay there again. I don’t think we’d stay at Kimpton Charlotte Square Hotel again… at least not unless they really dropped the price of the room or we visited in a cold month. It’s in a very good location, but for what they’re charging, they really need to step up their game. At the very least, they need to get the air conditioning fixed.

Part four

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cruises, Hebridean Island Cruises, Scotland

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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cruises, Scotland

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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