On the Scottish Highlands

Beautiful mountains, valleys, and rolling hills of the Scottish Highlands sets the stage for this post. After a day in Greenock, Scotland (on the west coast), we had a cruise day – and oh what beauty Scotland provided as we cruised.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

The following day we docked in Invergordon. Months before going we discovered that Invergordon itself doesn’t provide much, so we booked a tour with Gavin at Invergordon Tours –  and he provided a wonderful day that included quite a variety. He’s also quite the personality – and a very tall bald guy wearing a kilt.

Millionaire’s View provided our first scenic view of the area.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

The Falls of Shin was a scenic stop, but we didn’t see any Atlantic Salmon leaking the falls on their spawning journey. The water does drop again below where we took this picture.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Dunrobin Castle is a 189-room castle overlooking Dornoch Firth with beautiful gardens below the castle on the way to the water.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

The castle tour was OK, but we loved the falconry demonstration.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

We spent lunch time in Dornoch, a quaint town. Dornoch Cathedral (Church of Scotland but originally Roman Catholic) is part of the town square.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Scots are serious about their whiskey – so the tour included a stop at Glenmorangie distillery – famous for their single-malt whiskey, which stays barreled for 10 years. They also produce long-aged whiskies, plus other varieties that included 2 years in a different type of barrel – such as sherry, port, and sauterne. Good stuff!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

A video of images from the land to the strains of Scotland the Brave done by pipes and drums is a fitting way to end this post.

We recommend Invergordon Tours – so a shout-out to Gavin for a wonderful day.

Next Stop: An evening in Edinburgh

For other posts about our time in the British Isles, click here.

Advertisements

On Belfast

I describe Belfast, Northern Ireland as beautiful, interesting, and gut-wrenching – and we were only there for a part of one day. On one end is the natural beauty, architecture, vibrancy, and history – and the other end The Troubles – the Northern Ireland Conflict (1968-1998).

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Belfast’s history is long and complicated. With its Bronze Age beginnings on the hills above, Belfast formed as a small settlement along the River Farset near where the river joins the River Lagan very close to its mouth at the Irish Sea.

A castle stood along the river during the Middle Ages. After a fire (1708), the owners rebuilt on a slope above the city where it still stands today.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Today, Castle Street serves as a reminder of the original while the River Farset is enclosed below High Street.

Belfast’s population boomed during the mid-to-late 1800s as industry flourished: leading the way were processing tobacco from the New World, shipbuilding, rope making, and producing linen. Those industries are gone today, but toasts of its past remain – including the Titanic Museum located on the shipyard that built the Titanic.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

We took the Belfast Free Walking Tour – a 3-hour walk with a guide who encourage at the end. (We’ve done these in a few other European cities). Our guide was a local, and old enough to know The Troubles. He holds hope in today’s young generation because they are the first generation in 150 years that have not been involved in conflict.

Issues around The Troubles still simmer.  Physical scars still exist. Over 90% of children still attend segregated schools. Inhabitants are still divided by physical walls. The Peace Wall- which is anything but peaceful looking – still has gates that open and close daily. Politically-motivated murals decorate the wall. Memorials dot the neighborhood serving as a constant reminder of the past and the divisions.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Since the Good Friday Agreement (1998), Belfast has undergone a social, economic, and cultural transformation.

Belfast is known for its many murals that tell its story – many (possibly most) are politically based. For mural enthusiasts, Belfast is a wonderland.

The Cathedral Quarter contains a courtyard (Commercial Court) that is a wall-to-wall-to-wall collage of images. Simply awesome! Although I hope to feature this area in its own post, here’s an interactive video allowing viewers to click-and-drag the image for a 360 degree view. The beginning includes some instructions, but not how to rotate the image.

FYI: Games of Thrones fans know Belfast as an important location for the show .. and yes, special tours exist.

Thanks to the Free Walking Tour and one of the hop-on hop-off bus lines, we saw and learned a lot in our short time in Belfast – a fascinating but gut-wrenching place. From the range of emotions of Titanic and The Troubles to the pride of its own as flutist James Galway, philosopher/author CS Lewis, and musician Van Morrison.

Here’s a promo video from one of the tour lines that will take you throughout the city.

I end with this song and video by Simple Minds (from Scotland) – Belfast Child – as it haunts me in a way Belfast did.

Next stop: The Scottish Highlands

For other posts about our time in the British Isles, click here.

On a Box Now Checked

Embed from Getty Images

Some people call it a bucket list – others prefer to say wish list, dream destination, or whatever. On 23 August 2015 I posted about a place that was on both mine and my wife’s list. After monitoring the website at various points before our journey, on Wednesday, the 9th of August 2017, we checked the box.

About a month earlier at the golf club where I work, I met an English couple who were new members. I told him about our upcoming trip, including our plans for this location – to which he replied, Why? Once I mentioned the reason, his inquisitive frowning face changed to a smile.

We planned the day in advance. We knew when the ship docked in Liverpool, the location and distance to the train station, the train schedule, return times, and the essential information about our destination. We were on a mission for our time of dancing on one of the most famous ballroom floors in the world – the Blackpool Tower Ballroom in Blackpool, England.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Blackpool is on England’s west coast, about a 90-minute train ride to the north from Liverpool. It’s a seaside resort that is very popular with commoners. Madame Tussauds, water parks, a carnival atmosphere, and more aren’t on my favorite things list, but the famed ballroom was our attraction.

Given the floor, the historic significance, and the ornate surrounding – absolutely Bucket List for us. Our ticket included a 90-minute tea with sandwiches, fruit, and tarts.

Image from Blackpool Tower website

Architectural elegance and charm from a time that has past define the Tower Ballroom (which dates back to 1894).

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Surrounding the large floor were the organists on a stage at one end; tables to sit at the opposite end; and settings for tea along one side.

Dancing to an organist (instead of recorded music) was a new experience. Two organists shared the duties, so music was continuous. One organ, the mighty Wurlitzer, makes a grand entrance being lifted to the stage from below … then lowers out of sight when the player’s shift concludes.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

We already knew to expect a different style of ballroom dance at Blackpool (American vs. International). Amazingly, for at least the first three dances we simply sat at our table thinking, We can’t do that! We never get a chance to dance because everyone on the floor is doing the same thing … the same steps/pattern.

I approached a couple near our table about what we were observing. They explained that the English and many Europeans dance sequences, which are set patterns that every does. The clue would be to listen to the organist because he would announce the name of the sequence and dance, so we should listen for the terms traditional or ballroom that will signal an non-sequence dance.

Sequences are fun to watch, but not if you are there to dance and you don’t know the sequence! We were surprised by the number of sequences … and dancers sat down if they didn’t know the sequence.

This is the Engagement Waltz.

We finally made it on the floor … and the first thing that we noticed was the amount spring in the floor – especially in the center. Our tea-table was almost in the center, and the movement made photography difficult – and of course I started wondering about potential motion sickness. Yes – the movement was that noticeable!

We stayed for almost 4 hours, and we were glad to check the box on our Bucket List. With the ship departing at 8 pm, we were fortunate to have a few hours in Liverpool (the previous post).

Here’s a short (90-second) promotional video showing the Blackpool Tower Ballroom. Enjoy … and you notice sequence dancing.

Next stop: Belfast, Northern Ireland

For other posts about our time in the British Isles, click here.

My past post about Blackpool’s Tower Ballroom

On the Liverpool

Founded in 1207 along the River Mersey, Liuerpool (meaning thick/muddy creek) grew from a fishing village to an important location for the English military, an important seaport in the 1600s regarding trading with the new world, followed by an important industrial center.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Today’s Liverpool is a vibrant center of culture and urban rebirth that also embraces its heritage. After all, look who we saw along the waterfront. Sorry to say that we missed their local tour that includes real places as Penny Lane, Strawberry Fields, their childhood homes, and more.

Today’s downtown is a modernized center popularized by Liverpool history with music, the arts, and nightlife. The Beatles, Gerry and the Pacemakers, The Searchers, A Flock of Seagulls, and others are rooted in Liverpool’s fabric and heritage.The area around Temple Court, Mathew Street, and Ramford Square is highlighted with music venues, historic landmarks, and other stores boosting its heritage.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

City Center is multiple-block, pedestrian shopping area with a wide variety of stores a short distance away – and not far from the waterfront and the cruise terminal. Today’s waterfront bustles with food, entertainment, shopping, hotels, amusement, and museums.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

… and yes – including a ferry to cross the Mersey.

For other posts about our time in the British Isles, click here.

Next post is a surprise. Hmmmm … Wonder what/where?

On Back in Cobh

Cohb is along Ireland’s southern coast. Given its large natural harbor, it serves the entire area, including Cork. After a day in Guernsey in the English Channel, the Caribbean Princess docks in Cobh to give passengers access to Cork, Blarney Castle, and the rest of southern Ireland. After time in Cork, we spent our remaining time wandering Cobh.

Although the area’s history goes back to 1000 BC, Cobh was first called Cove, but from 1849-1920 it was known as Queenstown, then the name change to Cobh (which is Gaelic for cove).

The first striking figure that is more than obvious is St. Coleman’s Cathedral (Roman Catholic) – a neo-Gothic structure towering over the waterfront.

Embed from Getty Images

A statue of Annie Moore and her brothers greeted us at the dock. Annie Moore was the first person admitted into the US through the new emigration center at Ellis Island on January 1, 1892. Besides the Moores, between 1848-1959 over 2.5 million emigrated from Cobh in their search for new lives in new lands.

The town square is a short walk from dock – and an ominous statue greets visitors – the Lusitania Memorial Monument. On 7 May 1915 a German u-boat sunk the RMS Lusitania as it was en route to Liverpool – 1198 died and 700 survived. Because Cobh (then called Queenstown) was a base for British and American naval forces, rescuers brought survivors and recovered dead bodies to Cobh – therefore 167 are buried in Cobh.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Three years before the Lusitania disaster, Cobh was the final port-of-call for the RMS Titanic (123 passengers boarded). The Titanic Experience is an attraction located in original White Star ticket office. When we arrived, tickets were sold out, but we heard good comments about it.

Up the hill we went to see the cathedral. The barricades are for a balls-racing-down-the-hill event, a fundraising effort we unfortunately missed.

It took 47 years to build (1868-1915) St. Coleman. An outstanding structure with a grand organ having 2,468 pipes and a tower including a 49-bell carillon.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

The plaza around St. Coleman provides excellent views of Cobh and the harbor region.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Because of its maritime heritage, here’s a song by the Clancy Brothers & Tommy Maken about Cobh meeting the needs of sailors. Next stop: Dublin, Ireland

On Time in Cork

After a relaxing day in Guernsey, we arrived in Cobh, Ireland – the port for Cork – the main city in southern Ireland. We initially planned to visit Blarney Castle, but those plans changed (the night before) after discovering the day was a holiday. (A good decision because we eventually learned that Blarney Castle was packed with people!)

Cobh, Ireland is one of the main ports in southern Ireland. We initially planned to travel to Cork (by train) to catch a bus for Blarney Castle. However, we heard that the day as an Irish bank holiday, so we scratched Blarney because we thought it would be extra crowded. (We heard that was true).

Cobh’s train station is beside the dock, so a 20-minute inexpensive train ride took us to Cork.

Given the holiday, it seemed many of the 125,000 inhabitants we either elsewhere or inside. Many businesses were closed and the city wasn’t bustling with people. Although a quiet day, we still had a good day walking in the city founded by the Vikings in the 6th century A.D. along the River Lee.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Because we suddenly changed our plans for this day, we stumbled across this gem early in our day. A church on a hill caught our attention, so we migrated that way – and oh what a treasure would await us.

Built in 1722, Church of St. Anne (Anglican, Church of Ireland) with its towers provides a striking landmark above the city. We walked the 132 steps to the top for a beautiful 360-degree view of the city and surrounding region.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

The Firken Crane is directly below – a name that caught my attention. 🙂 It’s history is tied to the butter industry, but today it the the Institute of Choreography and Dance.

St. Anne’s tower is well-known for it’s bells. Given its location within Cork’s Shandon district, the bells are also known as The Bells of Shandon. Famous enough to have a song written about them.

For us, the trip to the tower’s top provided an added bonus. The first stop along the narrow corridor was the bell ringing station – actually known as change ringing. They provided a songbook for visitors to ring. After ringing, we continued our journey to the top, which included passing very close to the bells – as they were ringing! – so visitors are required to wear devices to protect their hearing.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Saint Fin Barre’s Cathedral (Anglican, Church of Ireland) is one of Cork’s must-visit locations. This gothic-styled cathedral built in 1879 is impressive.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Elizabeth Fort sits on a hill south of the medieval town near St. Fin Barre. Built in 1601, its history includes time as a fort, military barracks, prison, police station, and tourist attraction. Actually unimpressive, but it has a historical role in the region.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

St. Patrick’s Street is a downtown shopping district that now includes pedestrian friendly streets. Unfortunately for us, many businesses were closed due to the holiday. That gave us time to return to Cobh to examines the quaint setting near the dock, which will be the next stop on this tour. Meanwhile, enjoy this 4-minute walking tour of Cork.

On London

We started our vacation with 4 days on our own in London, England. Because of its activity, offerings, and place in history, I previously described London as “the most grand” of the cities on our trip. This post features some random thoughts about this wonderful city with images that may or may not go along with the statement. Enjoy!

London is a blend of many cultures – especially white, Middle Eastern, Indian, and Black. Although I’m sure issues and bias exist, successful integration is obvious. The thought of over 300 different languages being spoken by its inhabitants is mind boggling.

London Bridge and Tower Bridge are not the same. Since 1209, 3 different London Bridges have existed – but none of them had towers. (In this image, London Bridge is behind Tower Bridge)

The River Thames has always played an important role in London’s economy and history. Once lined with warehouses, today many of the warehouses have turned into luxury condominiums and apartments or have been destroyed and replaced by upscale buildings for residents. I never realized that “wharf” as an acronym – warehouse at riverfront.

Big Ben is the bell – not the tower – not the clock – not the building. For the record, it sounds in the key of E.

Although Westminster is home to many buildings we associate with London, today they are separate burroughs – and the occupant of the throne (who resides in Westminster) must ask London’s Lord Mayor for permission to enter London.

London was the first city in the world to reach a population of 1 million – today’s population is approaching 9 million.

 

When visiting Buckingham Palace, look for the flag being flown to know whether or not the Queen/King is present. With the Union Jack flying above, we knew Queen Elizabeth was not in the palace as we watched the changing of the guard.

London offers much to see, but many come at a cost $20-25 per person (so married couples thing times two).

London is home to 13 professional football teams: of which 5 are in the Premier League.

Greenwich is a London borough a pleasant ferry ride down the River Thames. The Royal Observatory provides a wonderful view of the Maritime Museum and the Old Royal Naval College below with the city looming in the background.

A toast to London till we meet again.

4026