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SATURDAY, SEPTEMBER 6, 2003
When last we left our intrepid hero (i.e. me), he was spending his last night at the posh Loch Torridon Country House Hotel and had gone to bed at 11:30pm. This is his story:
Woke up. Went back to sleep.
Just before 7am, I woke again.
We loaded up the car and had breakfast: Apple, Tomato AND Orange Juice. Corn AND Bran Flakes. Croissants w/Apricot Puree AND Strawberry Jam. A big AND morning.
We hit the road for the final leg of our trip, largely making good time, listening to Tup's mix tape again.
From the hotel and Annat we headed northeast on the A896 to Kinlochewe. There we turned southeast on the A832 through Achnasheen. Somewhere along here (I think overlooking Loch Luichart) we stopped at a "Passing Place" to take photos of one of the ubiquitous "Passing Place" signs. We maintained our south-easterly heading past Garve on the A835 and made our way past Tore and onto the A9.
We crossed the bridge that separated the Beauly Firth from the MORAY FIRTH. Seeing the word Moray was the first sign that we were in Macbeth territory. And generally, in Gargoyle territory.
We headed into Inverness. I ate one of the apples I had copped from the Loch Torridon hotel room. Someday, I'd like to spend some time there, but this wasn't going to be the day. We took a few minutes to walk down to a bridge across the River Ness (which leads eventually to Loch Ness). We walked up to Inverness Castle, but we didn't really have the time to do much more than take a quick glance around.
We soon were back on the road. We got caught here and there behind some slow drivers (who didn't pull over as the signs instructed), but generally we made good time. We passed a town called Killiecrankie. And I thought, "I know a lot of people who get Killiecrankie sometimes."
We passed BIRNAM WOOD too. And signs for Glamis Castle. Someday I want to come back for the full-on Macbeth tour of Scotland.
Then we drove into Perth, looking longily at the fast food places. But by this time, I was on a mission: STONEQUEST. Last time I was in Britain the Stone of Destiny was still in Westminster Abbey. I've been to the Abbey at least a half-dozen times over the years, but I didn't (back then) know the Stone's significance. I certainly didn't know it could talk like Frank Welker. So I never took any notice of it. Now, I really wanted to see it.
For those of you who don't know or don't remember, the Stone is theoretically "Jacob's Pillow". The stone that Jacob rested his head on the night he saw the ladder leading up to heaven for the angels to climb. The stone found it's way to Ireland and thence to Scotland, where Kenneth MacAlpin was crowned upon it as the first King of Scotland. After that, all the Scottish Kings, including Kenneth, Constantine, Maol Chalvim, Duncan, Macbeth, Luach and Canmore, were crowned upon the Stone of Destiny on Moot Hill in Scone. Later, the stone was taken to London by the English. And used to crown English/British monarchs. It was briefly stolen in the fifties, but returned to Westminster Abbey in time for Elizabeth II's coronation. (Although some believe that the real stone is still in hiding.) GARGOYLES, of course, posited that this was also the famous "Sword in the Stone" from which Arthur drew Excalibur. In the episode "Pendragon", we showed Arthur and Griff communicating with the Stone at Westminster. But in 1997, the English returned the Stone to Scotland. But not to Scone. Rather it was taken to Edinburgh, so that it could be kept with the Honors of Scotland and the Crown Jewels in Edinburgh Castle. So today, I was determined to drag my dad to Scone Palace to see Moot Hill and the replica Stone they kept there and then later to Edinburgh Castle to see the real thing.
So anyway, we got a little bit lost in Perth. But got directions to Scone Palace from a very nice tourist info lady on West Mill Street. We made our way to Old High Street, Atholl Street and Charlotte Street to the Perth Bridge. We crossed the River Tay and then headed north on A93 to the Palace.
Now Scone Palacce was definitely a place I would love to spend a half day exploring in and out. The Grounds were just lovely, and the Palace itself looked very cool with some cool things inside. And there's a maze! But we really didn't have time if we were going to get to Edinburgh Castle before it closed. So a few minutes later, I was standing on Moot Hill leaning over the faux Stone of Destiny in my Gargoyles sweatshirt (half-hoping someone would come up and make the connection). It was cool. We took some pictures and left.
Back on the A93 (south now) to the A90 to the M90. Down to exit 4, where we pulled off in Kelty. Now most of this trip was planned by my father's assistant Anita Kelty Nitta. So in tribute to her, we stopped at her ancestral home and took pictures near the "Welcome to Kelty/Drive safely" sign. Then it was back on the road until we took the Forth Bridge across the Firth of Forth to Edinburgh. We found, with amazingly little trouble, the Edinburgh Airport Hilton and checked in. Compared to the Classy, Cozy and Posh places we had been staying, the room at the Hilton seemed quite the unpleasant little box. But it did offer a pre-packaged shortbread cookie, which I was happy to eat. It was servicable. It would do.
We drove across the street and returned the Beetle. We walked back to the hotel and called a cab to take us to Edinburgh Castle.
This cab ride took a ridiculously long time and a very circuitous route only to run smack into a huge crowd emerging from the Rugby finals. Hundreds of people wearing shirts celebrating "The Famous Grouse" blocked our path. Our cab driver then explained that he had intentionally taken a circuitous route in order to avoid this very traffic... and that if the game had gotten out five minutes later, we'd have thought he was brilliant. As it is, we were stuck. It took forever to finally get us to the Castle.
Now, I've been to Edinburgh Castle twice before, so I've seen the sights. And yet I still wish we had more time, because it's truly worth exploring over and over. But we had arrived close to closing, and we still hadn't eaten anything since breakfast (cookies and apples aside), so time was short. We took a few pictures. Another couple shots by a cannon (a running photographic theme on the trip), a picture of me in my Garg Sweatshirt by a lion gargoyle that definitely reminded me of Leo. Then we headed in to see the actual Stone of Destiny. It was cool to see it. But no pictures allowed in there. And I waited to hear if it would talk to me, but I guess there were too many people around. No one commented on my sweatshirt either, but I was still very glad to have seen it.
We started walking down the Royal Mile, but we were sorta past sight-seeing and so we headed down to Princes Street to look for a nice non-touristy place to eat dinner. We passed the Train Station (with it's killer staircase) and Scott's Monument. But nothing presented itself dinner-wise. So we decided to eat dinner back at the hotel and had a VERY late lunch at McDonalds (1/4-Pounder, fries & coke).
We had passed a taxi stand earlier with literally a dozen taxis waiting in line. After McDonald's there were NONE there. But we found one a few minutes later and took it back to the Airport Hilton.
Dinner was Tortelline, Steak (which barely compared favorably to a Sizzler), fries, Mushrooms and an Apple/Blackberry Crumble, all of which might have been better if we hadn't just had McDonalds about a half hour earlier.
We were back in our rooms by 8pm. I talked briefly to Beth. I was tired, but I just couldn't go to sleep until after midnight.
TUNE IN TOMMOROW (or possibly Wednesday) for the conclusion of our adventure. *Here's a preview: "We don't do wake up calls" "The Trouble with Rocks" "Frankfurt, Germany" "McDonalds in three countries" "Shakespeare's Kings"*
FRIDAY, SEPTEMBER 5, 2003
When last we left our intrepid hero (i.e. me), he was staying in the posh Loch Torridon Country House Hotel and had gone to bed after a dinner of Sea Trout at 10:30pm. This is his story:
Woke up. Just flat out couldn't sleep.
Called Beth, Erin & Benny. It was 7:30pm (the previous day) their time, so I finally got a chance to talk to the kids, who had just finished their first day back at school. (Erin in 4th grade, Benny in 1st.) After that, I tried the TV and reading. Finally slept again, on and off.
Woke up, very tired. Showered. This shower was okay, but still not great. The nozzle was difficult to adjust.
Breakfast at the Hotel. Orange & Tomato Juice. Toast, Cornflakes, Oatmeal Porridge with Brown Sugar & Cream.
After taking a few pictures around the gorgeous and gorgeously situated hotel -- and once again putting up with the car alarm -- we were back on the road. This was the first day we weren't simultaneously en route to our next hotel. We were staying a second night in Annat at the Loch Torridon.
We drove from Annat to (the southern) Shieldaig to take a loop from Tornapress to Applecross to Fearnmore to Kenmore and back to Shieldag. That was the plan anyway. But we wound up making a wrong turn. We were still on the loop, but we wound up going in the opposite direction from our original intent. It wound up working out well, if not better. We passed by Kenmore and Fearnmore, driving the high coastal cliffs of the peninsula overlooking the Inner Sound and the Isles of Rona and Raasay. We stopped to take some pictures, and an older couple in a mobile home (coming from the opposite direction, as we had originally planned) pulled over beside us. The man got out and took one of the few pictures we got of the two of us together. He was incredibly nice, with great stories about his distant relatives in America. But the thing that struck me the most was his voice. He had great timber, and an even greater accent. A real Scottish brogue, but perfectly understandable. Very rich. (He was, incidentally, from just outside Edinburgh.) The voice director in me wanted to get him into a recording booth immediately. He warned us that the road ahead was steep quite steep with a number of sharp turns. He said had he known, he'd have never had taken his mobile home there. It didn't have the engine to carry the weight and there were moments when the wind felt like it was going to carry him over the side. He also recommended that we stop in Applecross for fresh baked bread. It sounded really appealing, but the truth was we had just had breakfast. I would like to go back though and have lunch there sometime.
The views on route to and coming out of Applecross were just spectacular. And he hadn't been kidding about the steep winding and very windy roads of the Bealach-na-Ba which rises to 2,053 feet with many hairpin turns. Bealach-na-Ba means "Pass of the Cattle" in Gaelic, and it is an old drover's trail for taking cattle to market. It was a little intimidating even in our little round Beetle. But man... gorgeous. Generally, on the whole trip we had extremely cooperative weather. And today was no exception. We never really got rained on. But the day was a touch misty over the ocean, and from an altitude standpoint, we were pretty high up. It might have been nice to really have a clear day to see forever, but still and all, I have nothing to complain about. And there's something right about the mist and the wind, the sharp, grey day. We stopped a couple times for more pictures.
We completed our loop, again passing Tornapress without ever actually seeing Tornapress. Passed Shieldaig again, stopped for gas and then returned briefly to the hotel. I had another apple in my room. Then we drove northeast on the A896 along Glen Torridon, passing as usual the ubiquitous sheep that move with impugnity around the country. I also spotted a raptor of some sort, almost literally hovering in one place in the strong wind. My dad commented that considering how many sheep were all around, there was surprisingly little lamb on the menus. I don't like lamb, but I tried to come up with some explanation. My favorite was that all the sheep we were passing were pets.
But we also considered the possibility that lamb on the plate ONLY comes from literal lambs, i.e. baby sheep. Maybe these sheep were all too old at this point.
Anyway, we drove along the Glen to Kinlochewe (a town I could never figure out how to pronounce). There we took the A832 north. It wound around the coast of Wester Ross passing near Loch Maree, the more northerly Shieldaig and Loch Gairloch. We passed through Charlestown, Gairloch and Poolewe. Drove along Loch Ewe to Aultbea and Laide. Drove around Gruinard Bay and crossed over to Little Loch Broom, before turning south through the stunning Dundonnell Forest.
We took the A835 north, planning to stop at Corrieshalloch Gorge and the Falls of Measach, but we passed the pull off before we could react. And since we were coming back the same way later, we decided to press on.
We stopped at Ullapool on Loch Broom. We had lunch at the Calley Inn. Tomato Soup and Mussels (again). The food was good. It started to rain a bit, while we were inside. (It had rained some nights, both while we slept or while we dined, and we had driven few small showers here and there along our route, but we had literally never been rained on. My dad never used his umbrella the whole trip.) Walking back through Ullapool, I put on my hat due to the very light rain, but it ended soon enough.
I stopped at a local knitting store that didn't look too touristy and bought Beth a sweater. (I should say, it was really amazing of her not to balk or squalk about this trip. It was not a great time for me to be going. She's a teacher, and she had to spend the week prepping her classrom for this week's start of school. The kids, on the other hand, were off until Thursday. My mom pitched in. But it was still a lot for Beth to cover.) Anyway, I picked out a wool sweater in colors I knew Beth would like. There was no medium available, so I chose a large, knowing that Beth liked loose-fitting clothes over tight. The saleslady, however, really tried to talk me into the small, saying that she thought the large was too big. I was pretty confident I was right, but she really started to make me paranoid about my choice. I stuck to my guns, and the woman surrendered reluctantly, telling me I could come back and exchange the sweater if Beth didn't like it. I thought that would be a nice trick. Though a tad expensive.
We had had some vague thoughts of heading further north, perhaps to Achiltibuie or even Lochinver. But it was already getting late, and we didn't want to push our luck. So we headed "home".
We backtracked to the Corrieschalloch Gorge and the Measach falls. The midges were out in force. Though we had been warned about them, they hadn't been a problem before now. So although I had bug repellant, I had left it at the hotel -- along with our other rolls of film. We got one picture of the Gorge from the swaying suspension bridge that spanned it. But that was it for the day, as the roll was used up. (This hadn't been an issue before, as every other day we were driving from one hotel to another, so we always had ALL of our stuff with us in the car. But today we were returning to the same hotel, so we had brought almost nothing with us.) Anyway, as with everything, the Gorge and falls were truly beautiful. But the back of my neck was getting eaten alive, so we beat a hasty retreat back to the car.
We headed south now, staying on the A835 past the Loch Glascarnoch Dam, the Black Water River and the Strathgrave Forest. Somewhere around here we finished "The Zebra-Striped Hearse". We had both enjoyed it immensely. Ed Asner's last scene as Colonel Blackwell had really been great.
We headed west on the A832 past Lochluichart, Achnasheen and Glenn Docherty, where we ran into a bit of construction on the one-lane road that caused some extremely minor delays. We rejoined the A896 at Kinlochewe and drove back through Glen Torridon to Loch Torridon, Annat and our hotel. I had another Shortbread cookie in my room.
Dinner brought Cheese souffle appetizers, like the little cheese crumpets in "The Great Mouse Detective". Another little teacup of soup, this time Mulagawtany. I ordered Mushroom Soup and Roast Beef with potatos and broccoli. Desert was Apple Pie and berries.
Later in my room, I returned a couple of business calls and talked for awhile with Duane Capizzi (my friend and the writing producer/story editor of such shows as "Men In Black" and "Jackie Chan"). He has a new series at Warner Brothers and was offering me some freelance scripts. I said yes. I don't know whether the project is confidential or not, so I won't say anymore about it at this point.
I talked to Beth and went to bed around 11:30pm.
TUNE IN MONDAY for more adventure. *Here's a preview: "The River Ness" "StoneQuest" "Birnam Wood" "The Famous Grouse" "McDonalds"*
THURSDAY, SEPTEMBER 4, 2003
When last we left our intrepid hero (i.e. me), he was staying in the homey Greshornish House Hotel and had been summoned to dinner by bagpipes. He's about to begin his day on the Isle of Skye. This is his story:
Wake up and lounge in bed. Got 6 & 1/2 hours sleep which is good for me.
Showered. Sort of. There really was no shower in my room. Just a bathtub with a hose that you could hold over your head. Seriously, how hard is it to install a hook or something so that you can open a bottle of shampoo and keep the water on you at the same time.
This is one of the two things that demonstrates America's ultimate ascendancy over the U.K. THE SHOWER. The U.K. has just (largely) not mastered the concept or the essential nature of a decent shower. Baths? Bah!! America is superior because it showers. I may be a Britophile (as opposed to a mere Anglophile), but I am not blind! The showerhead. The combination valve. These are not difficult high-tech concepts. Get with the program!!!!! *end of first rant*
Breakfast at the Hotel. Toast w/butter, strawberry jam & honey, Cornflakes, Orange Juice, Scrambled eggs on toast and that darn vaguely-undercooked English Bacon. (I could easily label their bacon a third proof of American superiority, but I think that's more a matter of taste.)
My dad and I took pictures by the cannon, overlooking the Loch. We talked briefly to Claire from Guernsey, who has a VW Beetle at home. We were trying to figure out why the car alarm kept going off. She confirmed that it was overly sensitive, but that seemed an inadequate explanation. Overly sensitive to what? How does this thing work? It continues to go off randomly. Plus the radio is haunted and the air conditioner sucks too. And yet, we really like the car.
We hit the road, touring Skye.
We head back down A850 to A87. Head north at Portree to begin our loop of the coast of Skye's Trotternish Peninsula. We stopped multiple times to soak in the scenery and take pictures.
The Old Man of Storr is 49m pinnacle adrift from its parent cliff.
Kilt Rock is a cliffside formation that looks like the pleats of a kilt. Mealt Falls is stunning.
At Kilt Rock, I bought a couple of souvenirs for the kids. Rocks actually, handpainted to look like quaint Scottish cottages. The guy hand-painted Erin & Benny's names over the doors of the cottages. He was so sure-handed, I found it very impressive. He told me that I could now say I had bought my kids a cottage on Skye. I've been using variations on that line ever since.
We continued around the Trotternish to the ruins of Duntulm Castle. There's not much there. A few walls, a window. A cellar of some sort that's been gated off so that no one dies down there. But I love this kind of thing. Of course, the stunning cliffside location reminds me of Wyvern (or Tintagel) though this site isn't big enough to be a model for Wyvern, which in any case is theoretically on the mainland. But I just love climbing around these places.
We made our way back down the Peninsula, taking the B8036 back to the A850 to make a loop of the Waternish Peninsula. We passed Greshornish again, but our first stop was Dunvegan Castle. In contrast to Duntulm, this is no ruin. It's still inhabited by the Chiefs of the Clan Macleod. It was the single most touristy place we visited until the last day of our trip. It was also the most disappointing. Although it's location is unsurprisingly (at this point) stunning, the castle itself is unimpressive. The gardens are nice enough, and there was one truly bizarre tree that one could easily expect to see on an alien planet. But touring this kind of place just wasn't the point of this particular place.
We did get to see the Fairy Flag. There are a number of legends connected to the flag. Some say that it was a gift to the 4th clan chief from his Fairy wife. Others that a nurse who was supposed to be looking after a long ago heir, left the boy alone to attend a party. When she returned, he was wrapped in the fairy cloak. Science tells us that the silk was made in Rhodes or somewhere around there. So it may be a prize from a crusade or something. All things are true though.
We headed around Waternish on the A863. Got back on the A87 at Sligachan.
Back in Broadford, we stopped for lunch. The "chips" were good with salt and vinegar. And I had this amazing Peach Ice Cream Sundae for dessert. Plus a coke and some still (but not tap) water. But the hamburger....
The WORST HAMBURGER ever. We saw someone else enjoying one from a distance and both of us ordered burgers. But I had forgotten that the U.K. makes lousy hamburgers. When I was living in Oxford in 1984, the only place where you could get a decent burger (until the first McDonalds opened there right before I returned to the States) was a mini-chain called Bretts. There was a Bretts by the Train station and one just on the edge of town near where we lived at 65 High Street. I think us Yanks kept that latter Bretts in business. Even in London in those days, there were only two places besides American fast food chains like Burger King and McD's where you could get a good burger. One was Wolfs or Wolfies. The other was the Hard Rock Cafe.
Now you need to understand, I love hamburgers. And I'm not picky. I love everything from big thick restaurant burgers to crappy fast food burgers and everything in between. But what we were served in Broadford was inedible. I literally couldn't finish it. My dad says it's because they press the meat instead of grinding it. Maybe he's right.
But unlike the bacon, this can't possibly be a matter of taste. I'm now convinced that America is the world's lone super-power because we shower and know how to make a decent burger. *end of final rant*
Back on the road, we crossed over the bridge to the Mainland at Kyle of Lochalsh. We drove north-east up the coast of Loch Carron. And we got lost in Plockton. We missed a sign and found ourselves driving up a residential road that dead-ended. (Thank God. If it had been open-ended, we might never have figured out we were headed the wrong way.) We doubled-back and thought we got on the right road, only to find that this one literally dead-ended in a parking lot. We double-backed again, and finally admitted defeat, stopping at the train station. A very nice couple eating in the cafeteria set us back on course.
We took the A890 to the A896 past Lochcarron and Tornapress (though I never actually saw Tornapress). Another little bit of confusion was caused by the fact that there are two small villages named Shieldaig (one off Loch Torridon and one off Loch Gairloch). But we managed to find our way to Annat and our second-to-last hotel. This was the extremely POSH Loch Torridon Country House Hotel. If our first hotel (Castle Inverlochy) was classy, this one was Posh. Less elegant, friendlier, but WOW!
Again, my room and bathroom was huge. Their was a lovely Waterhouse print of Echo and Narcissus hanging over the bathtub. (You can see it at http://www.artmagick.com/paintings/painting1399.aspx) Echo just seems so lovely and forlorn. I really liked it.
And there was a separate shower, thank god. The grounds, which included a pasture for castle, looked over the Loch with the Moutains of Wester Ross rising abruptly above it. They had fresh apples and shortbread in the room, so I partook of both.
Dinner was formal, but no coat and tie required. I had sparkling water and a free appetizer: a little teacup of Pea Soup. I also had Potato Leak Vichyssoise. Then I took a chance and ordered the Sea Trout. As I've mentioned, I like trout, but I don't like other (non-shell) fish. I didn't know whether SEA trout would taste more like trout or more like fish. But I loved it. Trout rules. Sea or river or whatever. It came with potatos and green beans. Dessert was Apple Cider Sorbet w/a few berries.
Talked to Beth.
Went to bed. Just nothing on television, you see.
TUNE IN TOMORROW for more adventure. *Here's a preview: "Oatmeal Porridge" "Raining in Ullapool" "Midges in the Gorge" "Bealach-na-ba" "I want to get that guy in a recording studio."*
WEDNESDAY, SEPTEMBER 3, 2003
When last we left our intrepid hero (i.e. me), he was staying in the stunning Inverlochy Castle and forced to wear a coat and tie to dinner. Life is hard. He's about to begin his first full day in Scotland. This is his story:
I woke up to geese honking. Dozed a bit longer.
Wake up call came in. I went to take a shower and like my father before me found that the darn thing was too complicated. Couldn't for the life of me strike a balance between frigid and scalding water.
Room service brought me the breakfast I had ordered the night before. Scrambled eggs on toast. That English Bacon which really is more like ham and way undercooked for my tastes, despite the fact that I had asked for it "crisp". Wheat toast, a chocolate-chip croissant and a regular croissant. Corn flakes.
We hit the road... w/ a couple of problems.
1. While walking to the car, the sole of one of my great old hiking boots split away from the boot itself. I'm now clomping along, with every step. This is actually very upsetting to me. I've had these boots for twenty-five years and they fit like a glove. I've had them resouled once before. But the opportunity to have them fixed doesn't look like it's going to present itself here.
2. As we're driving away in the Bug, its car alarm goes off. Now, let's just consider the wisdom of putting a car alarm in a rental. Now let's consider the wisdom of not having any kind of owner's manual in a rental with a car alarm that seems to go off for no reason whatsoever. This becomes a daily problem for us. Usually in the mornings, but frankly anytime we turn off the engine, we run the risk of the car alarm going off again when we restart the car. And not just once, but usually two or three times. It takes us multiple trial and errors just to figure out how to turn the damn thing off. But we can never quite figure out why sometimes it goes off and sometimes it doesn't.
Our first stop is Neptune's Staircase. A series of locks on the Caledonian Canal. We watch a large boat traverse a couple of the locks. It's really kind of impressive. Cool, slow and impressive.
We leave Torlundy and drive back through Fort William on the A82, unaware that we're also driving through our best chance to fix or replace my boots. We head back along Loch Linnhe and catch a small ferry at Corran across the Loch.
From there it's the A861 past Strontian (the town that gave its name to the element Strontium). The roads now begin to take on a single lane character. That means that when a car's coming in the other direction, one of you needs to pull over. There are plenty of passing places, however, so it's never really a problem for us. But I do think that had we been travelliing in July or August, when there were more tourists about, it might have been a different story.
At Salen, we detour down the B8007 into the Ardnamurchan Penninsula. Our hope is to take this to the Point of Ardnamurchan, the westernmost point of mainland Scotland so that we can see the Egyptian lighthouse there. But we have a time constraint. We need to catch a 2:40pm ferry at Mallaig, and we want to get to Mallaig a bit early, so that we can see about repairing or replacing my boots. So we stop at Ardslignish, look around and take some pictures of the Inner Hebrides in the distance where the Loch turns into the Ocean. Then we turn around without making it to the lighthouse.
From Salen, we head north to Mallaig. We stop at a Tourist Info Center to get boot advise. They send us to the only store they can think of that might have boots. At this store, they literally only have one pair of boots, which are a size too small for me. We ask where else we might go, and the guy suggests Fort William. That's the exact wrong direction for us at this point, so I'm still clomping around. D'oh!
We grab some lunch. I have an amazing plate of Grilled Split jumbo prawns with Goat Cheese. And a coke. One of the best meals of the trip.
Then we board the Ferry to the Isle of Skye. While we're up on the deck, we hear a car alarm go off, and afraid that it's our car, we go to investigate. It's not our car, but it's a good thing we checked. My dad left the parking break off. Woops.
The Ferry ride to Skye takes about a half hour, and the view crossing the Sound is wonderful. (I'm gonna start to sound very redundant about the views. But it truly was gorgeous about 99.9% of the time.)
The ferry lands at Armadale. We try another store for boots there. It's another no go, but the lady recommends a store called Walker & Welles in Broadford, which is at least in a direction we're heading.
We head south a half-mile to stop in at Ardvasar, which is the traditional home of the Macintyre clan, the clan of my good friend Tuppence Macintyre. We stop by the hotel that I believe the Macintyre's used to run (for centuries). Then we head north again on the A851.
Tuppence had recommended another detour, an inland loop toward the northwest coast of the Sleat Penninsula in order to see Dunsgaith Castle. So we headed toward Tarskavaig. Took a right turn there and headed toward Tokavaig. The castle was supposed to be between Tokavaig and Ord. But we hit Ord without spotting either the castle or even a sign for the castle. We thought about turning around, but we had no real hope that we'd find it the second time, so we just kept going and reconnected back up to the 851.
I know it sounds like the day was full of abortive failures. No lighthouse. No castle. No boots. But we didn't really feel that way. We saw so much beautiful scenery. And we just were enjoying the trip.
By this time, we had finished Tup's mix tape. So I popped in the beginning of the KCRW unabridged production of Ross Macdonald's "Zebra-Striped Hearse". This is a Lew Archer novel, directed and starring Harris Yulin, who was great. It also featured Ed Asner as Colonel Blackwell. Plus Jennifer Tilly, Tyne Daly, Kathryn Lloyd, Jodi Thelen, Joey Pants, etc. I had read the book some time ago, and although I remembered the gist of it, it was great to hear. And my dad really enjoyed it too. It's a six cassette tape production, so it would last us nearly the entire trip.
At Broadford we found Walker & Welles. As promised, they had plenty of boots. I found a pair that fit very nicely right off the bat. (And they had many other options.) So I got 'em. Then I... I... I toss my great old boots in a dumpster that stinks of fish. They truly deserved better. I still feel guilty about it. I hope someone found them and salvaged them before they got too smelly.
Back on the road (the A87 now) we drove through Sligachan and headed north to Portree. Now this trip was almost entirely planned by my father's assistant Anita Kelty Nitta (with a few recommendations from Tuppence and Carol Wagner). Anita provided us with directions, and a map that highlit our route and had stickers for all the hotels. But the sticker for our next hotel was in the wrong place. Horrors! We'd have to figure this out for ourselves for once. Fortunately, finding the hotel wasn't a problem. We took the A850 past Skeabost, Flashader, Edinbane and Blackhill and found the Greshornish House Hotel off Loch Greshornish. Dad was given "The Clydesdale Room". I got "The Palomino Room". It's not quite Castle Inverlochy, but it is a big room with a lovely view of the Loch. The people are very nice, as is the short bread cookie.
After checking in, Dad & I went for a short walk. The Midges make their first appearance, but a wind is blowing and they don't bother us much.
We went back to our rooms briefly. I talked to Beth and left a message for the kids.
We head down to the lounge, but cigarette smokers drive us back upstairs until Campbell, the son of the owner, begins playing his bagpipes to summon us to dinner. It's fun. He's standing out by the old cannon in full regalia, playing. Campbell's a very nice, self-deprecating guy.
Dinner is Mussels, Venison, Potatos, Broccoli, Rolls, Chocolate Mousse.
After dinner, we meet some of our fellow guests (the non-smokers) in the Lounge. An older couple from Lincolnshire and a family from Guernsey.
I stayed up that night until 11:45pm watching "Sex and the City". Then went to sleep.
TUNE IN TOMORROW for more adventure. *Here's a preview: "The Old Man of Storr" "Duntulm Castle" "Two reasons why America is ascendant" "The Fairy Flag" "Posh"*
TUESDAY, SEPTEMBER 2, 2003
When last we left our intrepid hero (i.e. me), he was suffering through an airline trip from LAX to Heathrow Airport in Business Class. He had just changed his watch to match London Time. This is his story:
I read the L.A. Times over a glass of Tomato Juice.
Dinner was soon served. Sourdough rolls & butter, Prociutto & Salmon appetizer (though I didn't eat the Salmon). Prociutto & Shrimp maincourse. There was also a Salad, but the dressing was Ginger, which I'm allergic to, so I skipped that too. Skipped the Rice and Broccoli also. Ate the tomatos. Dessert was Apple Pie with a glass of milk.
Sitting next to me, was a woman flying with her husband. Her daughter and grandson were also on the flight in the first row of coach. They were all on their way to explore London, Oxford, etc. The woman and her husband were both retired professors from UCSD. (He was physics; she was bio-physics.) They were all quite nice. For awhile, Alex, the grandson switched seats with her. He was pretty cool. And I'm not just saying that because both he and his mom were fans (or at least appreciators) of Gargoyles. Though, heck that didn't hurt. Seemed like another good omen. Alex was a bigtime STAR WARS fan, who was writing his own comic book.
Watched three movies on the flight.
IDENTITY - I had seen commercials for this and had predicted the big twist from the commercials. This movie had a great cast led by one of my favorite actors, John Cusack. Rebecca DeMornay was in it too. At first I asked myself if that was her, then I decided it wasn't. Then I found out it was. Weird.
THE ITALIAN JOB - I'd heard good things about this, and I guess it was okay, but I wasn't particularly impressed. Still, the Mini-Coopers were fun. And since the plan for our trip was for my dad and I to rent a Mini-Cooper in Edinburgh and tool around Scotland in it, it seemed to be another good omen that this was on. Best laid plans, as you'll soon see...
ROUTE 60 - A quirky little film that alternated between being annoying and fun. Still, I love allegory and you don't see much of it these days. So I'll thumbs up it.
I tried to sleep a few times, but basically couldn't.
I started reading "SANCTUARY" by William Faulkner. A brutal little pot-boiler that he wrote for the money, then initially couldn't get published because it was too, well, everything. Of course, being Faulkner, even his pot-boilers are high literature. A tough read.
Drank a lot of water.
Eventually, they served breakfast: Grapes, three types of melon (honeydew, cantalope, water), kiwi, croissants w/butter, Peach yoplait, Orange Juice.
We landed at Heathrow in London and had a considerable trip (both by bus and on foot) to change terminals for our connecting flight to Edinburgh.
While waiting, I had an Apple Juice that had the unique taste of the apple juice in the U.K. It's different than in the U.S. It reminded me immediately and viscerally of my semester in Oxford.
Boarded our flight to Scotland. Business class again, bulkhead seat. Don't like the bulkhead, but at least it was Biz.
Fortunately, I was able to sleep. Slept through most of the flight, which was only an hour. So I was still pretty tired.
We arrived in Edinburgh and went to the rental car desk to pick up our Mini-Cooper, which my father had special ordered in advance. It wasn't there. In fact, they had no car for us. Major screw up. My dad was furious, and I just felt bad for him.
But the good news was they had a Grey Volkswagon Beetle available for us. And since it wasn't a special order it cost CONSIDERABLY less. It wound up being a terrific car for us (with a few minor exceptions I'll get to later). So all was for the best. And when I told my kids about it, they got very excited. "Grey punch-buggy, no punch backs," they yelled!
We started our drive. My dad behind the wheel. Me navigating.
We passed through Stirling, the only other Scottish town (besides Edinburgh) that I had ever been to before. But we didn't stop. It was already late afternoon, and we had a ways to drive before we got to our hotel.
We entered the Trossachs area (home to Rob Roy), passing numerous Lochs.
We passed through Glen Coe. My dad is from Glenco, Illinois, and we tried to imagine how Scottish trappers might have seen Lake Michigan and felt like it was home.
We crossed Loch Leven and then drove up the coast of Loch Linnhe, passing through Fort William. The scenery was just gorgeous. And that's exactly why we came. This wasn't going to be a museum trip. With very few exceptions, we weren't here to see anything man-made. My dad's plan for the trip was to see Scotland's natural beauty. Since he was footing the bill, I wasn't complaining. But in truth, I wasn't complaining, cuz it was just terrific. Driving past Linnhe, God parted the clouds and put a spotlight of late afternoon sun on the water. I watched it intensely, half-expecting to see a Selkie or something emerge. No luck. But it was still very gorgeous.
My good friend (and Gargoyles researcher) Tuppence Macintyre had provided us with some travel tips and a mix-tape of Scottish music (modern and otherwise) and even a Robin Williams comedy routine. We played the tape on the way to our hotel. It was great. Only one problem. I couldn't figure out how to get the thing to eject. It literally took me two days to manage it. The stereo was very strange. Every once in a while, for no apparent reason, it would switch off the tape and start playing the radio instead. Other times, when we had it switched off, it would just turn itself on. We'd turn it off again, and it would turn on again. I have no explanation, beyond gremlins. The air-conditioner also sucked. The worst was... well, I'll hold off on that... but those three things were the only problems with the bug. Otherwise, we liked it. In fact, my dad liked it so much, he's considering getting one.
We passed many, many animals. You don't see a lot of sheep alongside the 405 or the 101, so it was kinda novel to us. The sheep in Scotland are nearly ubiquitous. We also saw cows and other "robust cattle", which look almost like Oxen or Yaks or something. We saw rams, swans, horses, geese, etc. No shetland ponies though.
As we got closer to our hotel, my dad, who's only been to Scotland once before, began to say how it was starting to look familiar. Then when we arrived at our hotel, he realized that he had been here before to this hotel. (Don't ask me how he didn't realize it before that moment. It's not surprising if you know him, but it's still goofy.) We were staying at Inverlochy Castle. An actual castle that had been remodeled into a hotel years before. It was, to say the least, an extremely classy joint. (One of the advantages of traveling with my dad is that he tends to go first class all the way.) Dad remembered it as the place where he had a fight with his shower. Being unable to work it, he had started yelling at it. (Now you guys can see where I inherited my limited technical abilities. My dad doesn't even have e-mail.)
My room was amazing. HUGE. With a bathroom bigger than most of the hotel rooms I've ever stayed in. I changed for dinner, as this place required a coat and tie in the dining room. I also left a quick voice mail for Beth to let her know we had arrived.
For Dinner I had sparkling water, mustard seed rolls w/butter, a Lobster cocktail, terrific Potato/Leek soup and Sea Breem with Mussels, shrimp and spinach. Now, the only non-shellfish I really like is trout. But I also don't like lamb which was the other option, so I tried the Sea Breem. Nope. But the mussels, shrimp and spinach were great. Dessert was an Apple tart served with apple puree and fresh pressed apple jus.
Back in the room, I called the kids and talked to them and my Mom, who was baby-sitting. I also called Beth again and talked to her. There was a toffee on my pillow. So, what the heck, I ate that too.
Finally, I went to bed...
TUNE IN TOMORROW for more adventure. *Here's a preview: "English Bacon..." "Neptune's Staircase..." "They deserved better..." "The Zebra-Striped Hearse..." "Campbell on bagpipes..."
I'm back from Scotland. As some of you might know, my father (who without exageration has nearly a half-million frequent flyer miles from years and years of business travel) was going to Germany on business and decided to take advantage of the free trip to spend a week in Scotland. I offered to go with him (cuz I'm SO generous), and as my 40th birthday is coming up, he agreed to use some of his miles to take me along.
Thought you might like to hear about my trip. So I'll put together a little Scotland journal. Cover a day per day, that sort of thing. Mostly, I'll talk about what I ate.
And if you're not interested. Well. Then don't read it.
MONDAY, SEPTEMBER 1, 2003
Wasn't going to work, so I got up late (10am). Very slowly showered and shaved. Wasn't even bringing a razor on the trip, so this would be my last shave until today. (For those who haven't seen me since the con, I've shaved off the beard.)
The only problem was that I shaved with a "dead" razor and really cut up my face.
12pm - Walked into Larchmont Village to get a haircut. As an experiment -- and since I wouldn't be seeing anyone but my dad for a week, I got a complete buzzcut. #1 Plastic clippered the whole thing. I think I looked damaged. But Beth and the barber liked it. Though my kids did not. It's still VERY short and takes some definite getting used to.
I went home and packed my duffle bag. And the zipper ripped. Not a good omen. So I repacked in Beth's duffle. Packed my briefcase. Checked the internet briefly.
3pm - The car arrived. I said goodbye to my wife and kids and left.
3:30pm - Arrived at the airport. Checked in. Grabbed some food at McDonalds. Quarter-pounder with cheese, fries, Coke, bake apple pie. Started eating at the gate.
My dad met me there. He saw my haircut and liked it. I was able to upgrade to Business Class at the gate, which was a GOOD omen. Then he and I sat and talked.
5:30pm - We boarded. He was in First Class (payed by the German company he works for). I was in the last row of Biz. The seats are almost too high tech to figure out, but man biz-class rules. Had a glass of water and we took off.
Immediately, I reset my watch to Scottish time. Which means that's it for Monday.
Read about Tuesday tomorrow... (Here's a preview: "sourdough..." "Route 60..." "No punch backs..." "Inverlochy Castle...")
Just a quick note to let you know I won't be answering questions here next week. I'm off to Scotland with my dad. We're renting a car and driving along the west coast and the Isle of Skye.
I'll keep an eye out for Wyvern Hill.
And I'll be back in the office, answering questions on September 8th.
Sorrowful Jones! How could I forget to mention Sorrowful Jones?!
Those are probably my two favorite Bob Hope movies, "The Lemon-Drop Kid" and "Sorrowful Jones". Of course, as some of you know, I'm a sucker for a Damon Runyon story in general. Many members of my family were Damon Runyon characters.
Also, today my brother was kind enough to plug ASK GREG, so it's more than high-time that I return the favor.
If you like Baseball -- and especially if you like the Dodgers -- you might want to check out his website, where he writes a daily column about dealing with the emotional trauma, the highs and lows of being a baseball fan. I never miss a day.
(I wish I knew how to make the above an actual link. But you guys all know how to cut and paste.)
When I was a kid, my grandparents lived in Palm Springs. My brother and sister and I had been staying with them (without our parents), but it was time to head home to L.A.
We were flying. A short flight, a small plane. We got to preboard, because we were unaccompanied minors. One other guy got to pre-board. Bob Hope. Cuz, well... cuz he was Bob Hope.
My grandmother, Sue Weisman -- who is now a healthy 93 years old -- approached Mr. Hope and without hesitation asked him to watch over her three grandchildren during the flight. Keep in mind this was about three decades ago. Bob Hope was a HUGE star. I have no idea what he thought of the request, but he was very gracious and agreed.
The plane had two seats on either side of the aisle. So my younger siblings, Robyn and Jon, sat next to each other in the front row to the right of the aisle. I have no memory of who got the window seat and who got the aisle seat between them. But I know where I sat. I sat in the front row aisle seat across from them. (I was the oldest, so I was the one sitting alone.) Sitting next to me was Bob Hope. Now, this was a night time flight. And not crowded. I remember very clearly that I was kinda annoyed by the seating arrangements. I had flown before, but I had never flown at night and I was young enough to think I'd have a better look at the stars and the moon. So I had really, really wanted a window seat. I also can't imagine that Bob Hope's first choice would have been to sit next to a bunch of kids.
But we both made the best of it. I told him that I had actually seen him on tv twice the previous day. (Again, remember, he was a huge star then, so this was not unusual.) His golf tournament was during the day, and he had been on a Dean Martin Roast the previous night. He explained to me that the Roast had been recorded weeks before.
That's about all I remember. And I'm sure in the next few days you'll see and read a bunch of much more efficacious and worthwhile tributes to the man. There are a couple movies of his, "The Lemon-Drop Kid" in particular, that I truly cherish. And his work with the USO is unparalleled.
But I just thought I'd add this: He was a man that my grandmother could trust with her grandkids. And I think that's saying something.
Rest in peace, Bob.
WEDNESDAY, JULY 2, 2003:
I got up to pack. My poor little duffle was really busting at the seams given how many books, t-shirts and videotapes I had picked up. But it held.
We had time to go into town for one last round of Tacos and Ice Cream.
Then we took our Cape Air flight to Boston.
Had a layover, so, well, of course, I ate again. Airport Whopper and an Orange. An actual orange.
Got on a flight to Los Angeles. The movie was "Chicago". We had been debating as to whether or not to take the kids to see this film, so we just let them watch. I liked it. So did they.
When it was over I started reading William Faulkner's "As I Lay Dying". Great book.
We arrived home very late. Put the kids to bed. Then I started to read/skim about two weeks worth of newspapers.
Finally went to bed.
THURSDAY, JULY 3, 2003:
Went to my local bookstore and retreived our pre-ordered copy of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. We still hadn't finished rereading Goblet of Fire to the kids, so we wouldn't end up starting Phoenix for a bit. We've since started it. We just got through the Hearing. Good stuff. But man, this series has grown up some, huh?
We had vague plans to meet some old friends at Disneyland, but we were just to beat to face the traffic down to Anaheim. So I didn't see my friend Iris. Didn't see Bruce Cranston in New York. Or Paul Lacy. Or Dan Raspler. Or my NY cousins. But I didn't feel ripped off. I saw Lianne and Doug and I've made so many friends among the fandom, that my time was full.
FRIDAY, JULY 4, 2003:
Independence Day. We had two parties to go to. First the Ehrlich's, then the Resnicks. Ate a ton. I mean, a ton. Steak, multiple pies. And a lot more too. Saw some fireworks. Finished reading Faulkner.
SATURDAY, JULY 5, 2003:
I've now grown a bit obssessed with LXG. So I went out and bought a trade paperback, "Heroes & Monsters" at Golden Apple Comics (a place I used to go into weekly, but which I haven't entered in years) that annotated Alan Moore's series. Still haven't seen the movie.
Benny bought some English translation of some Anime cartoon. CardCaptors, I think. Erin bought an Archie digest. She's now addicted to Archie digests.
That night we had guests over for dinner. One Thom Adcox. Plus the wife and daughter of Josh Silver, Keith David's manager. This was a get together we had planned weeks ago, but Josh couldn't make it because he "had" to fly to London to spend time with Keith, who's there shooting Cody Banks 2.
It was a very nice evening. And great to see Thom again. I have got to see him more often. We walked into Larchmont Village for Baskin Robbins. I had a chocolate chip milkshake with bannannanna.
SUNDAY, JULY 6, 2003
Erin and Benny had a play date at our house with the two Sperling kids. I hadn't seen Carol yet, so I didn't have the card for them that you guys all made.
Their mom rejoined us and we all went to Sinbad. Which was truly mediocre, I thought.
One week later, I took the card and the Radio Play script over to them. They were VERY appreciative. Gary's son immediately sat down to read the script. And they liked all the pictures on the card. So you all did a nice thing. Thank you.
And, well, that's my summer vacation...
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