Kicking Off Tour of Honor 2020

Like everyone else (I think), I have been staying close to home and haven’t seen much on my bike so far. I got a lot of riding done in January and February, but March brought the big slow-down. I think my bike thought it had done something wrong!

Restrictions are now being relaxed in my state and in states surrounding us and I have made a few day trips to visit things reasonably close to home. Tour of Honor 2020 had a delayed kickoff but is now in full swing. I suppose the biggest adjustment I have noticed so far is that I have to plan my food and bathroom breaks a little differently. I bring my own lunch and snacks, and bathroom breaks can be managed pretty easily in my tree dominated environment. I carry hand sanitizer, latex gloves and a roll of toilet paper, and now also pack a mask in case I need to go inside without my helmet on. All in all, not too bad and many others are certainly seeing more drastic effects. I can’t, and won’t, complain too loudly.

So far I have made short day trips to see memorials in Forks, Oak Harbor and Moses Lake in Washington, Athol in Idaho and Clatskanie in Oregon. The memorial in Forks, WA is one of the Gold Star memorials that are popping up all over the country – it was very cool to finally see one in person.

Here’s a link to a page that will tell you more about the Gold Star Memorials.

Oak Harbor, Washington – my first visit of 2020 and the closest one to home. This memorial is located near Whidbey Island NAS.
Forks, Washington – more than just a vampire movie setting! This Gold Star memorial is very new.
Clatskanie, Oregon – I visited this nicely done memorial on Memorial Day weekend. Gold boots and small US flags were placed to honor those from the area. Very nice, very moving.
Moses Lake, Washington – this memorial honors those lost in a tragic pane crash of a plane bringing soldiers, airmen and seamen home for the holidays.
Athol, Idaho – Located in Farragut State Park at the location of a Navy boot camp. Interesting history in this area. Behind me was a former Navy Brig that is normally open for tours. I’ll have to go back.
Tonasket, Washington – My second visit to this very nice memorial in an area of the state that is just about perfect for motorcycle riding.

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Snowshoeing in Crater Lake National Park

Here’s a link to more pictures from our trip. Navigate to the bottom to see the snowy pictures from this trip πŸ™‚

One of my Christmas gifts this year was a trip to Crater Lake to snowshoe with my son. We were able to set a date and the weather worked out this past weekend. To say it was spectacular would be the understatement of the year!

We drove down to Medford, Oregon on Friday to stay the night and make a morning trip up to the park possible. The drive down was uneventful – lots of traffic, but not too much drama. Thank you, Waze, for routing us around the I-5 nonsense in Portland. If you have made the drive down I-5 in Oregon you know that it is pretty boring until you make it south of Salem. After that it is rolling hills turning into mountains and lots of forested areas. Our hotel was pretty nicely located around lots of eating options, but Cracker Barrel was calling our name.

Saturday morning was a quick breakfast at the hotel and back in the car. It is a beautiful drive up to Crater Lake on OR-62. We hit snowy and icy roads well before the park and my Crosstrek handled everything really well! We were constantly amazed by how deep the snow was getting alongside the road. The remainder of the trip up was pretty easy and we arrived at the visitor’s center around 10:00 – not many others were there, yet. The cafe and gift shop were virtually deserted. The park service does a good job keeping the road up to the visitor’s center plowed and safe.

The snow was really starting to pile up on the side of the road as we turned towards the park.

It took a little while to gear up and head out and we were on our way around 10:30. My car said it was around 20F but it didn’t really feel that cold. Both of us layered up pretty well, and we both eventually ended up opening zippers to let some heat out.

Getting ready to head out. Beyond the rope is the lake – just kind of visible at the beginning of our hike.
Wizard Island is visible but the opposite side of the lake…not so much.

We considered ourselves lucky because the lake was visible when we started our hike. The park service says it is only visible about 50% of the time this time of year. The weather slowly improved throughout the hike and we could clearly see across the lake when we wrapped it up. Snow conditions were pretty crusty with some patches of deep powder. Mostly it was like trekking on a hard, crusty surface layer that didn’t give too much under our snowshoes. I was fascinated with how the snow and ice deposited on tree branches – it was pretty clear how the prevailing winds blow up there during a storm.

The lake was entirely (and beautifully) visible by the time we reached our turnaround at Wizard Island overlook.
My attempt at an artsy shot of Wizard Island πŸ™‚
Danny dug this sign out. It would typically be at about waist level. Somewhere under us was a parking lot.
It had warmed up to a whopping 24F by the time we returned. The road was improved.
This was the entire hike.
A look at the Avenue of Boulders on the Rogue River on our way home.

We enjoyed a warm lunch in the cafe before heading back to Medford for the night. We both decided we had burned enough calories to go enjoy some pizza and beer, so we jumped in a Lyft and enjoyed a local pizza place with very good reviews. We enjoyed a good night’s rest and then headed home on Sunday. We wanted to make a pit-stop in near Salem to grab lunch at the newest In-N-Out…bad choice. It is still too new and the lines were bonkers!

All-in-all, a very good trip. I really enjoyed spending the weekend with Danny and we had a great time. Seeing Crater Lake in the winter like this was a bucket list event for sure!

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Quick Trip to NYC

Rockefeller Center ice rink and Christmas tree.

Jeannette, Danny and I travelled to New York City to celebrate Melissa’s graduation from nursing school last week. It was a quick trip out and back and we had a great time. The weather was mostly clear but very cold! We stayed in a hotel on 37th Street and used the good location to our advantage the evening of Melissa’s ceremony. She guided us up to Bryant Park to enjoy the ice rink and tree, and then we wandered up to Rockefeller Center to see the big Christmas tree and skating rink. Lots of people out and about as you might expect, but a lot of the streets were closed to car traffic around the area, so walking around was not bad.

We made it home to record breaking rainfall in Seattle (imagine Seattle with record breaking rain – that’s saying something!). We are ready for another crazy Christmas with all the kids at home πŸ™‚

Melissa and very good friend (and fellow nurse graduate) Allison enjoy the moment πŸ™‚
Bryant Park Christmas tree and skating rink.
It had been a little cold while we were there…
A little taste of the building decorations at Saks Fifth Avenue. It was accompanied by pleasant holiday music.
More Christmas decorations near Radio City Music Hall.
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Reflection Lake…Almost

If you want Mt Rainier reflected on a lake surface in a picture, you need to go to Reflection Lake in Mt Rainier National Park. It’s kind of a big deal.

I have wanted to get up there for a few weeks – I am thinking I only have a few more weeks of decent weather to play with. I tried last week and found the road closed for the season. No worries, I thought, I will just park and hike over. It is only about 1 1/2 miles, and since the road is closed, I can just walk along the highway safely. I didn’t do the walk last week because there were clouds shrouding the mountain.

I headed out this morning at a reasonable hour and made my way to the park. The roads were icy but mostly clear all the way up to Paradise, but I suspect that won’t last much longer. The weather was more promising today with sunny skies and no wind, so I was getting excited. I headed out on my walk after parking my car and made good time to Reflection Lake. Sadly, the lake is frozen over already! Kind of hard to get a reflection shot off of that surface. I still had a good time and got a few pictures, and I even made my way to Myrtle Falls for a few shots. That hike was more challenging with snow and ice over most of the trail.

I guess I will have to wait until next summer to get that shot.

Mt Rainier National Park
The mountain was out in all its glory this morning πŸ™‚
Mt Rainier National Park
Here’s a little closer view of the south side of the mountain, still bathed in early morning sunshine.
Mt Rainier National Park
Here’s my “reflection” shot – you can make out a little mountain in the ice, but not enough to be satisfying.
Mt Rainier National Park
Ruby Falls near Paradise.
Mt Rainier National Park
Myrtle Falls at the Paradise area.
Mt Rainier National Park
There is some snow, but not too deep, yet.
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Mt Rainier…Another Trip

I really wanted to make the trip up to Mt Rainier National Park, specifically Reflection Lake, to get some pictures of the mountain reflected on the calm morning waters of the lake. This week was supposed to be great weather, so I loaded up the car and headed out for the 2 hour drive up there. It was an early start, but not as early as my last sunrise trip. Sadly, early season snow has most of the secondary park roads closed already, and Reflection Lake was only accessible by foot. There was a foot of snow on the roadside as I approached the visitor’s center, but the roads were clear and mostly dry.

I made it to the Paradise visitor’s center around 7:30 and decided to hang out and watch the sunrise there. It turned out to be a non-event as the mountain was shrouded in a cloud cap. After hanging out for a little bit, I turned around and made my way back down the mountain. My first stop on the way down was Narada Falls. In a theme that was common all morning long, I was the only person in sight πŸ™‚

It was cold and icy on the way down the path. Keeping one hand ready to catch myself, I slowly made my way down the trail to the observation area. The path was covered in ice. Fortunately, the ice covered a rocky terrain and it wasn’t as slick as it might have been on smooth pavement. The falls were covered in ice. It really jazzed them up a lot and made the flow seem much heavier than it actually was.

An icy Narada Falls.
A long exposure shot of the Paradise River upstream of Narada Falls.

I took some time to warm back up and then headed to my next stop – the Nisqually River and a trail to Carter Falls. I have hiked this trail before, but it has been a few years. This trail starts out along the river bed and over the Nisqually River on a foot bridge before climbing a bit into the trees along the Paradise River. Carter Falls is a pretty impressive drop but it is mostly shrouded by trees and difficult to get a good picture. The crossing over the foot bridge was exciting as the entire log was covered in ice! 2 feet on the log, 1 hand on the rail…take it slow. The hike was not too arduous, and I again saw no one else πŸ™‚

Looking down the Nisqually River – a solitary tree changing colors amidst evergreens.
An icy foot bridge over the Nisqually River.
Mt Rainier remained shrouded in clouds most of the morning.

All-in-all, it was a good way to spend the morning. I will try Reflection Lake again. I saw a few signs on the trail to Narada Falls that indicated it was only another 1.5 miles to get to the lake by foot, so maybe I’ll try that soon. The possibility of mountain reflection shots is fueling my curiosity.

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UK Cruise – Part 3 (Ireland and England)

Finally, the end of the journey! I have been making my way through my pictures and slowly writing down some thoughts about the end of our vacation.

Day 9 & 10 – Dublin, Ireland

We had been looking forward to Dublin, Ireland for a while because it was planned as an overnight port call. We had 2 days to explore and had decided to not book any excursions – we just planned to explore the city on foot, bus and Uber, if neccessary.

The port of Dublin as we pull in on a nice, sunny morning.

We pulled in on a Monday morning and decided to get started at a reasonable hour to allow the crowds to clear away from the gangway. The pier was inside an industrial area at a shipyard and we had to use a bus to get outside the controlled area. It was a pretty nice day and we made good time into the more commercial section of Dublin. Our first stop was going to be the Book of Kells at Trinity University. I will be honest, I didn’t know much about it before visiting but was very impressed.

Dublin musician, activist and actor Luke Kelly – giant marble head with over 3,000 strands of metal hair attached. Impossible ot pass by without admiring.

The Book of Kells is a 9th century book containing the four gospels of the New Testament. While photography wasn’t permitted in the viewing area, I was able to get a few shots of the inside of the library. I am still in awe thinking about how something like this artifact could have survived so long!

Inside the library at Trinity University on our way to view the Book of Kells.
Several marble busts of famous individuals line both sides of the library.

After leaving Trinity University we headed off for Dublin Castle (of course!). It was fun to stroll through Dublin on foot and experience the environment instead of looking through a bus window. My biggest struggle was not stopping every block for coffee and a treat!

Dublin Castle was an interesting mixture of new and old. We enjoyed walking through the castle and learning a little bit about Ireland’s history since they gained their independence from Great Britain in the early 20th century. Ireland has had a difficult history but seems to be doing pretty well now.

The “old” part of Dublin Castle.
Karlene couldn’t believe they would do this to a castle!

After leaving Dublin Castle, we all decided that it was time to find something to eat and drink. We wandered a little and found a nice little pub called the Stag’s Head. Lunch was good, the beer was cold (this time) and the atmosphere was pleasant. Also popping up in my Google search…the Stag’s Balls. We did not give that one a try .

Our lunch stop – the Stag’s Head.

Next stop – the Jameson Whiskey Distilery. I admit that I am not much of a whiskey fan. Never have been. But when you visit Dublin, two stops seem to be required – Jameson and Guinness. We paid for a package tour that included a history of the distilery and a tasting. The tour was awesome! We had a very knowledgable and entertaining guide who really made the experience a lot of fun. The tasting compared Jameson against a Scottish whiskey (Johnny Walker) and an American whiskey (Jack Daniels). I really didn’t care for any of them, but admit the Jameson was smoother than the other two. I did find that it was a lot better when mixed with ginger beer πŸ™‚

The Jameson whiskey distillery.
Jameson in the middle, Johnny Walker on the left, Jack Daniels on the right.

The rest of day one was spent meandering back to the ship on the streets of Dublin. We made it back to the ship after about 12 miles of walking in time for dinner and drinks.

Day two comes and we decided to pay the money for the bus ride into town. Our main destination for today is the Guinness Storehouse. We spent a fair amount of time there eating lunch, taking a tour and going up to the Gravity Bar. I have never really considered myself a stout beer fan but have changed my mind after the trip. I enjoyed the beer and even had it a few more times later in the trip.

The Guinness Brewery is a must stop in Dublin.

Over all, we really enjoyed our time in Dublin, and I would add it to my list of places that we need to revisit in the future. There was so much we didn’t see and it would be great to have a car to get around and cover more ground.

Lighthouse at the entry to Dublin Harbor.
Captured a cool sunset on our way out of the harbor.

Here’s a link to more pictures from our stay in Dublin, Ireland.

Day 11 – Cobh, Ireland

Cobh (pronounced “cove”) is the port city closest to Cork, Ireland. It was kind of a dreary day when we arrived, but the rain held off long enough for us to enjoy our trip to Blarney Castle and Gardens. I’m guessing the most famous aspect of the castle is the Blarney Stone, but that requires a wait in line and a trek up a narrow set of stairs to enjoy it, and I decided to go walk through the large garden area instead. Karlene & Ken went up kiss the stone and I think they enjoyed the experience based on the picture I saw of Karlene!

Blarney Castle.

As you might guess, Blarney Castle is a busy attraction and the crowds were thick, especially around the castle. The gardens were a lot less crowded and Jeannette & I enjoyed ourselves. We walked around for an hour or so before heading to the gift shop and cafe for our free Irish coffee. Hey, there’s another use of Jameson that I could tolerate!

Blarney Castle House on the grounds.
A small portion of the garden areas around Blarney Castle.
More Blarney Castle gardens.
Looking at the outside of the carriage house, now a gift shop and cafe.

Cobh and the Blarney Castle were pretty cool attractions. I think I would like to spend some extra time in that area exploring. I think Ireland was my favorite country we visited on our cruise. It is a beautiful country with friendly people and lots of history. Ireland is also a part of Jeannette’s heritage as her mom’s side of the family is Irish.

On a whim I decided to take a look outside our stateroom while we were leaving port. I wasn’t expecting much since it had been kind of dreary all day long, but I was pleasantly surprised by the colorful houses hugging the terraced hillside around the waterfront centerpiece – St Colman’s Cathedral. I am so happy I opened that door!

Colorful homes line terraced streets.
St Colman’s Cathedral dominates the skyline near the water.
Camden Fort Meagher sits high up on a bluff overlooking the harbor.

Final Days – London, England

Our final port call in Dartmouth was cancelled by poor weather and the possible impact on tendering operations. To be honest, I was relieved because I dreaded having to use Spirit’s tendering “service” again, and we were pretty tired from the busy itinerary anyway. I think it is safe to say all 4 of us were happy to enjoy another at sea day.

We had one final excursion planned one our final cruise day – Stonehenge. We headed off to the theater one last time to wait for our tour to be called and made our way off the ship and on to the bus uneventfully. We had a great guide for this trip and he kept us entertained all day long.

Our first stop along the way was at the Salisbury Cathedral. Dating from the 13th century, Salisbury Cathedral is the tallest church in England. The spire can be seen from miles away! The cathedral is an active church that also allows public access. One of the highlights of this stop was being able to view one of 4 known surviving copies of the Magna Carta. There is also an exhibit inside the room that shows the evidence from a fairly recent attempt to vandalize the document.

Salisbury Cathedral claims the tallest spire (over 400 feet) in all of England.
A look at several of the statues of saints at the west entrance.
A closer look at the Virgin Mary.

Stonehenge is not too far from Salisbury, so back on the bus for a short trip to the monument. I think it is fair to say that almost everyone has at least heard of Stonehenge, but I was interested to learn that “Stonehenge” is not a place name in the formal sense. It actually is a description of the grounds – “henge” refers to a ditch with an earthen berm, and “stone” refers to the material used for the interior. You could also see a “Woodhenge” or just a “henge”.

As expected, the visitor’s area is packed with tourists. The actual area is about a mile from the visitor’s center and not visible from the parking area (we found out later that it is visible from the surrounding roads). They have a shuttle that runs back and forth, or you could just walk if desired. We elected to ride the bus to maximize time spent walking around and exploring.

The area is roped off and you cannot gain access to the interior of the area. A nice audio presentation is available using handheld receiver and markers around the site let you know what you are looking at. I suppose it would be easy to just say it was “awesome”, but that wouldn’t do it justice. I can’t describe the effect this ring had on me – I felt similar feelings when we visited the Ring of Brogdar earlier during our cruise. The sheer scale and execution boggles the mind. Theories abound for why/how the stones were situated in the manner that exists today.

Even with the large crowds at the visitor’s center, we found it not too bad once we got to the site. This section was the closest to the stones and thus, the most crowded.
A better view without all the people in the way.
Yes, it was a little breezy the day we visited πŸ™‚
What an amazing classroom these kids have πŸ™‚

Our bus dropped us off at a bus depot in central London and we managed an Uber to our hotel near Hyde Park. After getting checked in we decided to head out on foot and explore a little while looking for a good dinner spot. We strolled through Hyde Park, walked around several embassies and looked longingly at several totally full English pubs. We finally found a burger and lobster (weird combo, I know) place and had what might have been the best burger I have ever had. I had initial reservations about the place because of loud music and because were the oldest people there by a few decades, but it worked out.

We had planned our trip to have a full day in London to explore and headed out after breakfast. Using an Uber to get close to London Tower saved our feet. London Tower was a very cool structure that is still used by the government today. In fact, the crown jewels are stored here. We were able to enjoy a lot of the tower and did get to see the crown jewels. London Tower includes a great deal of history that was a lot of fun to explore. Definitely worth the price of admission.

We headed towards the River Thames and just kind of wandered back and forth. Our lunch stop finally found us at an English Pub for traditional fish and chips with a pint of Guinness! Other great stops included Trafalgar Square, Buckingham Palace, Tower Bridge, London Bridge and back into Hyde Park. By this time were a bit foot weary and decided not to stray too far for dinner. Jeannette and I had a fairly early ride to the airport for our flight home.

The Union Jack flies over London Tower.
Tower Bridge over the River Thames.
An interesting art display on the River Thames.
Trafalgar Square.
Buckingham Palace.

The entire experience was pretty awesome. I never dreamed I would be walking around in Great Britain and Ireland enjoying the sights and history.

Here’s some more pictures from our time in and around London.

A Few Thoughts

Itinerary – in a word, busy. Lots of good port visits, but very little time to rest and recoup. One at sea day planned on day 1 and no others. I found that I enjoy a few more at sea days sprinkled in to make sure I get the “relaxation” part right.

Ship (Norwegian Spirit) – disappointing. Worn, tired, weird smells in bathrooms, ship’s staff weirdly distant, tendering experience horrible. If I see the name Spirit, I will not book. I’m willing to give Norwegian another try, but not Spirit.

Excursions – Good destinations, but no real appreciation for how much bus time was involved. It was not uncommon to spend more than twice as much time riding the bus as was allotted at the destination. Our plan to explore Edinburg and Dublin on our own was successful. The guides were all good.

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UK Cruise – Part 2 (Scotland, Northern Ireland, Wales)

I am finally home and finding some time to go through pictures. This post covers one last Scotland visit as well as visits to Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.

Day 6 – Greenock, Scotland

Greenock is a port close to Glasgow, Scotland. Our excursion moves down the coast of Scotland to Culzean Castle and the surrounding grounds. Culzean Castle is a 16th century castle located on the west coast of Scotland on the Firth of Clyde that has been turned over to the government trust for caretaking and the grounds are open to the public.

The first glimpse of Culzean Castle is through the entry gates.
Culzean Castle.

Our trip begins later in the day since we pulled in around noon. I think we all enjoyed the opportunity to get a few extra hours of sleep and not feel rushed in the morning. We arrived at the castle around 3pm and had a couple hours to explore the castle and some of the grounds. The castle is very well maintained and there is a lot of the inside that is accessible to the public. One of the first rooms you experience is decorated with hundreds of guns, swords and knives. You don’t really realize what you are looking at until you search the details. I also enjoyed the place settings in the formal dining area and the tea setting in a different room.

The family crest surrounded by guns!
Formal place setting.
Tea setting.
Looking out on the grounds surrounding the castle.

We decided to head down to the Swan Pond after enjoying the castle. It was roughly 20 minutes of walking to get there (we could have taken a shuttle but had lots of cruise ship pounds to work off!), and a little longer to get back as we wandered through the gardens. One funny thing that happened – I saw an ice cream shop at the pond and started to get excited…and then the shop keeper closed and locked the door while making eye contact with me 😦

Swan Pond.
This swan was just chilling out on the edge of the pond.

Our stop in Greennock was a lot of fun and we enjoyed the nice weather. It was another long bus ride to get to the excursion. The castle is worth the stop.

Here’s a link to more pictures from our stop in Greenock, Scotland.

Day 7 – Belfast, Northern Ireland

Our stop in Belfast promised to be a good one that included a trip to another World Heritage Site – The Giant’s Causeway. We were greeted with clear blue skies as we made our way to the bus for another long ride. Our excursion included a lunch stop at a scenic location overlooking the Royal Portrush Golf Course (2019 British Open golf championship) on the Atlantic coast.

Looking over the Royal Portrush Golf Course on the northern coast of Northern Ireland. This course hosted the 2019 British Open golf tournament.
It looks like a nice beach day, but it was actually cool and windy.

I am always a little anxious about the lunch stops on shore excursions. Feed 50 people in less than an hour? Am I in boot camp again? Do they want me to shout, “Last man sitting, 5 minutes left” when I get my food? My worries were unfounded as the hotel was ready and we were efficiently seated and fed, and I never felt rushed. It was a nice stop.

Our stop for lunch on the way to the Giant’s Causeway.

On to The Giant’s Causeway. Our guide entertained us with a brief history of the site that included a folk tale about how the causeway came to exist. Here’s a link to a website that tells the tale of Finn MacCool and The Giant’s Causeway. The Giant’s Causeway was designated a World Heritage Site in 1986.

You can either walk down the path to the site or take a shuttle. It was a busy weekend day, so we decided to walk all the way down and back up again. It was good to stretch our legs and burn some cruise ship calories off in the process. The area was crowded but still enjoyable. As Ken & Karlene discovered, all you really needed to do was walk a little further and all off the crowds disappeared.

Looking down on the Goat’s Causeway from near the visitor’s center. Take a walk or take a shuttle – we walked!
The Giant’s Causeway – World Heritage Site since 1986.
Looking at The Goat’s Causeway from the bottom of the hill.
It was a little crowded, but not too bad.
A portion of the many basalt columns making up The Giant’s Causeway.
Looking back at a portion of the area.
A closer look at a rare quiet area of the basalt columns.

After a brief stop in the gift shop and cafe, we got back on the bus for a long ride back to the ship. Our trip was broken up briefly by a stop overlooking the Carrick-A-Rede Rope Bridge to a small island – very cool!

Carrick-A-Rede Rope Bridge from Portaneevey Cliffs in Northern Ireland.

Here’s a link to more pictures from our day in Northern Ireland.

Day 8 – Liverpool, England

Next stop on our trip was Liverpool, England and an excursion to Chirk Castle in Wales. Our excursion to Chirk Castle was another long day on the bus, but this time we had several stops sprinkled in to break up the ride. First up, Llangollen – a small town on the River Dee. We were given some time to stretch our legs and do a little shopping, and our bus driver mentioned that the best ice cream in all of Wales was located just across the street! Of course we tried it, and it was good.

The River Dee flows through Llangollen.
The “best ice cream in all of Wales”.

We made our way to a short ride on a steam train followed by lunch at a nice little place near Llangollen. The train ride was OK, but very short, and since it was a little wet outside, we had trouble seeing anything outside the train.

Ken & Karlene on the steam train.

The last stop on our excursion was Chirk Castle, a 13th century castle now owned and maintained by the National Trust and open to the public.

He played the grumpy role pretty well…maybe not an act.
Chirk Castle from the gardens.
The entrance to Chirk Castle.

We made it back to Liverpool with an hour or so to spare, so we decided to stroll the waterfront and visit the Beatles museum and statues.

Along the Liverpool waterfront.
Jeannette & Karlene with The Beatles.
A nice memorial to mariners on the Liverpool waterfront.
Seems like they had a few design changes…

Our excursion and stay in Liverpool was enjoyable. I think I enjoyed the time in Llangollen the most, and the castle was very cool. The steam train could have been dropped without any loss, to be honest.

Here’s a link to more pictures from our day in Liverpool.

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UK Cruise – Part 1 (Scotland)

Poor internet connections (I’m not paying the cruise ship!) have meant no updates along the way during our cruise. We are now sitting in Dublin for an overnight stop so I thought I’d at least get an update for most of our stops in Scotland posted.

Day 2 – At Sea

We left Southampton after a very smooth embarkation and our first day was spent at sea (our only at sea day the entire cruise!). We took it easy and used the time to relax, adjust and play cards. The highlight of the day was when Ken was selected to play “Deal or no Deal” in the theater! Good times. We also made our way to the lounge and got to play a game called Majority Rules – also a lot of fun.

Ken and the cruise director, Vincent, playing Deal Or No Deal.
Jeannette & Karlene cheating by using the elevator! No desert for them!

Day 3 – Invergordon, Scotland

To say that this stop was on Karlene’s radar would be like saying The Beatles are kind of famous…the Dunrobin Castle was our excursion destination for the day, and this castle is featured in Karlene’s books as the setting.

First stop is the end of the gangway where there is a Scotsman playing bagpipes. I’m thinking we may never make it to the castle, but we escape with only a few pictures and board our bus. The drive through Invergordon is quick and we make it to the castle in pretty good time. Norwegian has a pretty decent system set up to get excursions off the ship.

Karlene stalking the bagpiper πŸ™‚

Dunrobin Castle is amazing, inside and out. The National Trust has taken over many of these historic properties and they maintain them quite well. The castle and surrounding grounds were in very nice shape. We spent a couple hours exploring the castle and the gardens before enjoying a falconry demonstration in the back of the gardens.

Dunrobin Castle from the seaward side.
Formal dining area inside Dunrobin Castle.
A peek at the gardens (through leaded glass windows in the castle).
Another view of the castle with more of the gardens included.
Our falconry demonstration was entertaining and informative.

After the castle we made our way back to the ship and still had a few hours left, so we decided to wander into the small town of Invergordon and check out some of their building artwork. There are an amazing number of murals painted in such a small town, and they are all very enjoyable.

Karlene poses in front of one of the many murals in Invergordon.

Our cruise pacakge purchased through Costco included 4 night of premium dining, and our first night was spent at the steakhouse on board. Very good food – better than anything in the dining room (which also was very good). I wonder if cruise lines are making the dining room experience a little less enjoyable in the hope that customers will spring for the $75+ meal for two in the specialty place.

Here’s a link to more of our day 3 pictures.

Day 4 – Edinburgh, Scotland

Day 4 found us arriving in Edinburgh for one of our planned “do-it-yourself” excursions. We purchased tickets for a city bus that allowed on/off all day long and started making our way to our first destination – Edinburgh Castle. Edinburgh is a busy city! Built on a hillside at the sea, it is tight and crowded, but clean and felt safe. The bus system we booked included some headphones and we enjoyed listening to some of the city’s history during the ride.

Enjying our ride to town on the tender.

Edinburgh Castle sits high up the hillside and overlooks the city. It is an imposing structure that has been weathered dark and looks forboding. Our bus tour included the castle, so we headed there and walked through the grounds. The perch high up the hllside makes for some impressive views!

Edinburgh Castle.
Looking out on Edinburgh from the castle.
The chapel – oldest building on the grounds.
Canons of Edinburgh.

After leaving the castle, we decided to grab lunch and found our way to a place we thought we had heard about. Turns out, our “Mum’s” wasn’t the same as the Mum’s we had heard about and we wound up at something like a Scottish Denny’s. The food was still good and it was nice to take a break. After lunch we decided to head towards Holyrood Palace. Fans of the British Royals might recognize the palace and surrounding cityscape as the setting for a recent royal wedding.

The palace was a fantastic stop. It amazes me the extent to which these types of buildings are open to the public in Europe. We would never dream of this kind of access in the States.

Holyrood Palace.
Inside the remains of Holyrood Abbey.

Back to the bus and the tender port for the ride back to the ship. Norwegian Spirit tender operations require patience. They seem disorganized and there were frequent long waits. Other cruise passengers with more experience than me commented that this tendering experience was the worst they had experienced. I hope so, because I can’t imagine doing this willingly on every cruise.

One insteresting thing we saw in the harbor was the way they “moor” their boats. Low tide = beached, and high tide = floating. Pretty interesting.

Low tide parking…
And high tide.

Here’s a link to more pictures from our day in Edinburgh.

Day 5 – Orkney Islands (World Heritage Site)

Our morning starts early as we get ourselves ready to tender in to port again. Kirkwall only has one cruise ship port (we are told), and the Spirit has been aced by a Princess ship (seeing a theme developing). Luckily, if you are departing on a Norwegian booked shore excursion, you get priority tender rides and our trip to port was pretty smooth.

We meet up with our guide for the day and quickly realize we have a real treat in store for us. He was lively, personable and very well informed – dude had an advanced degree in archeology, had worked in the field for a few decades and had actually examined portions of the areas he was going to show us! Our first stop was one of the ancient stone rings found in the UK – the Ring of Brodgar. We are told that we will β€œenjoy” typical Orkney weather with low 50 temps and rain/mist blown sideways by 20+ mph winds – a β€œgood day” according to our guide. He has a lot of good information about the Ring and I felt like he presented it in a way that made me want to learn more about it.

A portion of the Ring of Brogdar – one of the largest stone rings in existence.
A closer look at a few of the stones that have been here for 3,000+ years!

After the Ring we make our way to the main attraction – Skara Brae. Skara Brae is a neolithic settlement dating back some 5,000 years that is in amazing shape. Lots of good stories were told about this location, including how it was originally discovered by the landowner’s young sons digging through the sand! Hard to fathom when you consider the area is now a World Heritage listed site. The few pictures (it was very damp there) give an impression of the area and what is located there.

World Heritage Site – Skara Brae.
Skara Brae – a closer look at one of the better preserved homes. Beds on the left and right (made of stone, probably lined with dried seaweed or similar material), fire ring in the center, storage on the far wall. The roof would have been timbers and turf.

Back to Kirkwall to enjoy the tender ride back to the ship and, eventually, lunch. Not so fast…

Hmmm…should have hung out in the bar for a bit.

We show up at noon and the line for the tender is stretched all the way down the lane and around the corner. We walked about 0.5 miles to get to the end and waited well over an hour in the cold, windy and wet weather before finally boarding a tender, and then the tender we were on had an engine failure and had to dock with only one. To say it was frustrating and a little stressful would be an understatement. Anecdotally, a local security guard commented that the only time they saw these kind of long lines were when the Norwegian Spirit was in town. Bummer. We have one more tender port coming up (not sure which one) and now I am not looking forward to that event.

I wish I could say the Orkney stop was great – it was, but the ship’s problems continue to dog us and made today only OK. We have a sprint down to Glasgow tonight (the ship departed 2 hours late on an already tight itinerary because of the tendering problems), and I am looking forward to our time there.

More Orkney Island pictures are located here.

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Headed to Great Britain

We are headed off on a 2 week UK cruise! Our cruise starts and ends in Southampton, England. This cruise is a little different for us because we spend less time at sea and more time in port. For example, we spend 2 nights in Dublin and only have one full at sea day. This promises to be a cruise filled with castles and lots of walking. We are travelling with long-time friends Ken & Karlene – the same couple we cruised the Med with a few years ago.

I am going to try to keep this up every couple of days (assuming I have internet access from time to time), so keep checking back if you want to follow along on our adventure.

Day 0 – Flying to London and Embark Day!

I suppose I would have liked to have said it was a breeze, but British Airways tried to make life exciting for us. We somehow managed to pick a day sandwiched by their Pilot’s Union “labor action”, so I have spent the last few weeks leading up to the flight worried about whether our flight would be impacted. Fortunately, we made it to London without issue and with all of our luggage πŸ™‚

We waited for a few hours at the airport after landing to wait for Ken & Karlene who flew in from Denver on a slightly later flight. The airport was very busy with cruise passengers going to other ships, but we managed to find a few seats out of the way and settled in for the wait. Ken & Karlene arrived a little early and our car was there a little early, so we headed out for Southampton and our hotel. It was all pretty smooth.

There are several options we explored to get from the airport to our hotel, and the hired car option proved to be the most efficient, least complicated way to go. The national train system takes passengers from the airport to a location in central Southampton, but then you would have to get a taxi big enough (or maybe 2 taxis) to get to the hotel. I was able to pre-book a hired car (actually large van in this case) to take all 4 of us, and it only cost a little more than we would have paid for the train and cab option.

Southampton, England

Southampton is a major port city along the southern coast of England. We enjoyed several hours of walking around, eating a pleasant dinner of Tapas and enjoying a little gelato before going back to the hotel for the night. Our goal was to make it to 8pm to try to get into the time zone. It was painful yesterday, but I think it will pay off now πŸ™‚

Southampton was an interesting mix of old and new, sometime displayed on the same building. It is a port city so water is a main feature, and it felt pretty safe and inviting. We enjoyed stretching our legs and when the hunger pains started to show up, we were fortunate to find a nice little place that served cold beer, good dirnks and great food.

Along the Southampton waterfront.
Karlene found her tardis…actually, they were quite common πŸ™‚
A cross sits atop General Gordon’s memorial in Queen’s Park, Southampton.
An interesting blend of old and new.

Here’s a link to all day 0 pictures if you would like to browse.

We head to the ship on Sunday afternoon and the first (and only) day is spent at sea.

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The Trip Home

Warning – this is going to be a long post. I planned to update along the way but just didn’t find the time, so here it is, all at once πŸ™‚

6,287 miles – that’s the final number. About 1,500 of that was for the rally, the rest was spent exploring. If you discount the rally miles, and account for the 2 days I did no riding, then I averaged about 480 miles a day. Not bad for a flower sniffing, picture taking ride.

I visited 21 Tour of Honor memorials along the way and now have a total of 49 sites visited in 10 states (I have visited all 7 in 5 states – Washington, Oregon, California, Idaho and Wyoming).

Monday (August 12th) – Denver, Colorado

The first day after the rally, and I want to make sure I ride along without feeling the stress of being “on the clock”. I purposefully set this day up as a relatively low mileage day that ended with a visit with friends near Denver. You really can’t go wrong in Colorado, so picking a route was not too difficult. I chose to cross Monarch Pass via US-50. High points included a visit to the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park (I know, I never heard of it either) and a stop at 11,000+ feet.

Black Canyon is a real gem. The park sets above 8,000 feet. I discovered it is best viewed in the afternoon because the sun tends to make any canyon shots tough to capture in the mornings. The best views were looking towards the east…into the sun in the morning. Totally worth the trip!

Looking east over the Black Canyon.
Looking down into the canyon at the Gunnison River.

A quick stop near Blue Mesa dam was a nice treat and then I was off for the most anticipated point of the day – at least for a motorcycle rider – Monarch Pass. At 11,312 feet, it was the highest pass of my entire trip. I was fortunate and did not encounter much traffic on the way up. Without traffic, this road is a motorcycle delight. With traffic, it would be tedious because there were not many passing areas.

My final stop before arriving at my friends’ house was a Tour of Honor memorial in Colorado Springs. This stop turned out to be special as I bumped in to a couple also chasing TOH memorials. This was the first time I have met another rider at a memorial in the 3 years I have participated in TOH.

A quick trip north on the interstate and I arrived for the night, just ahead of some thunder storms (a common theme over the next several days).

Tuesday (August 13th) – Sidney, Nebraska

Rain, rain, keep away…that was my theme for Tuesday afternoon. I had already altered my plans to skip a site in eastern Colorado and now decided to drop a location in western Nebraska. I was riding towards a major storm on the plains and made the decision to call it a day and head towards my hotel early. Turned out to be a good decision since that storm had produced severe thunder storms, large hail (like baseball sized!) and tornado activity. Crazy! I did visit 3 Colorado TOH sites and 1 Wyoming TOH site before making my way to my hotel.

This was the cloud formation I kept riding towards.
This is the weather system on radar. It was on top of my desired destination for the day 😦

Wednesday (August 14th) – Badlands and Rapid City

More storms, more rain. I needed to head north to get to my planned stops in Badlands National Park and, eventually, Rapid City. After looking over the weather reports, I decided to pick up one of the Nebraska stops before turning north. I picked my way around several smaller systems and did some riding in the rain, but by the time I made it to Badlands National Park the rain had stopped and the sun was out!

Badlands was awesome! The road through the park is in great shape and there are plenty of places to pull over and enjoy the views. I made my way east to west and exited the park near Wall, South Dakota. A short ride on the interstate and I arrived for my TOH stop in Sturgis – my first time there, and thankfully after the rally had wrapped up. You could still see the signs of the rally everywhere, but most of the bikers were gone.

Sturgis TOH stop.

Thursday (August 15th) – Wyoming Highways and Memorials

Another weather system changed my plans to ride through the Black Hills, so I made my way south and east of the hills and avoided most of the rain. I was disappointed, but mostly dry. One of the sections of road I had most anticipated was US-14 and US-14A through the Bighorn National Forest.

This sign is posted at the top of the pass, and all vehicles towing must stop to read it!

This road did not disappoint! I think I may have taken a good 1,000 miles off my tire’s remaining life πŸ™‚

The rest of the day was spent visiting Wyoming TOH memorials in small towns all over the central part of the state and playing a game of chicken with a thunder storm as I approached my hotel. I guessed (correctly) that I could make it to my hotel without finding shelter as the very dark clouds approached. At this point I have become pretty good at interpreting my radar display. I rolled into my hotel under the canopy and within minutes the wind rain and lightning hit with a vengeance! I enjoyed the show from the safety of a dry hotel lobby and marveled at my luck in finding the one protected spot under the canopy πŸ™‚

Friday & Saturday – Rigby, Idaho

Friday was the first day that I left my hotel in the morning with no threat of rain or storm activity. I was making my way through Wyoming to Idaho to make a stop and visit friends in Rigby. I stopped at my final Wyoming memorial and also visited 2 Idaho memorials. We spent Saturday relaxing, going to a car show and catching up.

Sunday (August 18th) – Yellowstone National Park

Early start = low sun.

To say I was excited about Sunday’s destination would be an understatement of historical proportions! I was eagerly watching the weather for signs of thunder storms and hoping that everything would work out. It turned out to be a fantastic day.

My initial plan was to leave Rigby pretty early and catch some breakfast on the way. I wanted to get to the park early because it was a Sunday and I knew crowds would be heavier. I took off before the sun came up and headed north on US-26 towards West Yellowstone. I had time for a quick stop at an Idaho TOH memorial in Ashton and breakfast at a little cafe near the highway. It was well times since the temperatures were a bit cool – in fact, this was the first (and only) time the entire trip I needed my heated gear.

My early start meant arriving at the park around 8am, and crowds were pretty light as hoped. I entered the West Yellowstone entrance and made my way across the park through Norris towards Canyon Village. I had decided to ride the north loop since I had never seen this part of the park before. After several stops I made it to Canyon Village and decided it was time for some food – I didn’t know where the next meal would be. They were still serving breakfast, so I scored twice in one day with my favorite meal πŸ™‚

I continued north from Canyon Village and made my way towards the north end of the park. At this point I am thinking I have seen very little in the way of wildlife. No sooner had this thought settled in my head then the traffic ahead of me stopped in both directions – in Yellowstone this can only mean one thing…wildlife! I have made trips to a number of national parks and seen lots of wildlife, but aside from one distant view of a bear in Mt Rainier a few years ago, I have never seen a bear close enough to make out any detail. This was an adult black bear and it was just looking for food near the roadway.

I enjoyed seeing the bear but was mindful of the warnings to not get too close, and as the bear made its way along the line of cars I started getting a little nervous about my lack of protection! About the time I was ready to start splitting between the cars we all started moving and I survived πŸ™‚

Mammoth Springs was another highlight, even though it was very busy. I figured out that you could drive to the upper section of the area and there were fewer people and better views. I spent a little time walking around and enjoying the sights before heading out of the park to the north, and eventually to my hotel in Bozeman, Montana.

Monday & Tuesday – The Final Days

The last few days of riding to get home were uneventful and familiar. The only real excitement came on Monday morning as I picked my way west using Montana highways to avoid the interstate. I wanted to meet up with US-93 at the top of the Lost Trail Pass and used this little Montana highway, MT-569, to go from Anaconda to Wisdom. It turned out to be little more than a goat path with rough pavement and a stretch of about 10 miles of road construction that was mostly mud from recent rain showers. The traffic control person told me that motorcycles were invited to go to the head of the line because the road was in pretty bad shape and it would be “safer” for me to go first. “Safer”? What the hell? Just how bad is the road, I wondered? I asked her if it was safe for me to go, or if I should just turn around, and her response was “most bikes don’t have any problems”. Hmmm…I guess I’ll give it a try because turning back would make an already long day a lot longer. It turned out OK, but my bike is covered in mud now 😦

I eventually made my way to US-93 and headed down the pass to US-12 and Lolo Pass. US-12 is famous for its 100 miles of curves, and I seldom pass up an opportunity to enjoy it.

My only TOH stop for the day was my final Idaho memorial location in Riggins. My ride plan had me arriving at the hottest part of the day in an area known for heat (it is called Hell’s Canyon, after all). It was still a nice ride and it only hit 106F…

My hotel in Clarkston, Washington was a welcome respite from the heat of the day.

By the time Tuesday arrived I really just wanted to beat the heat and get home, so I opted for I-90 and made it home by early afternoon.

It was a fantastic 2 weeks and I enjoyed almost every minute of it. It was also a good primer for next year and the 2 weeks I will spend traveling to/from and participating in the Butt Lite X rally in Kansas.

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