Sunset at Prien Lake Park

Sunset at Prien Lake Park

Saturday, June 23, 2018

Scotland -- Part 2, Glasgow to Glencoe

To celebrate Eric's pending graduation from University of Glasgow (he'll have a Master's in Computing Science, which is how they refer to Computer Science), Bob, Andrew, and I went to Scotland to visit him and enjoy a true family vacation. On our first trip there, last September, (minus Andrew, as he was in school) we focused on Edinburgh and Glasgow, because Eric had orientation that week and we didn't have time to venture far from the city. This time, after a day or so in Glasgow, we rented a car and made our way from Glasgow up through the Scottish Highlands as far as Inverness.

In Glasgow, I was fascinated by the juxtaposition of old and modern.



Eric says the building on the left has the most floors of any multi-screen movie theater in the UK.


Next stop, Glencoe via a crazy twisty-turny road that runs along Loch Lomond and The Trossachs National Park. It was a challenge for Bob, as he was new to driving on the left side of the road (and right side of the car), the road was very narrow, and the drivers coming from the opposite direction drove very fast, especially those driving large trucks and buses. But the scenery was stunningly beautiful.



Along the way, we stopped at Dumbarton Castle . . .



and this charming "farm shop" . . .



Before we got to Glencoe, we encountered a downpour. It was quite dramatic, and the most rain we saw the whole week.



Look at the grip on that wheel!


In Glencoe, we stayed at the Ghlasdrium B&B. I didn't get a photo, but it was a friendly, accommodating place with a terrific full Scottish breakfast made by our hostess, Maureen.

Glencoe is a very small town on the banks of Loch Leven in the heart of the Highlands. We kayaked there the next morning. Many thanks to Stuart (Stewart?) at Rockhopper Sea Kayaking for accompanying us on a great paddle!






Next up, Glencoe to Inverness!


Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Hot Springs, Arkansas -- What's in your Water?

I've lived in Louisiana for over ten years now and have wanted to visit Arkansas for nearly that long. And this past weekend, Bob and I finally made it there.



While I'd love to someday take a week or two and explore the whole state, we had but a weekend getaway, and we chose Hot Springs for our inaugural visit. Hot Springs is not only a town, but a national park within the town, and we love visiting national parks.



I had heard Arkansas is a beautiful state, lush and green, with mountains, rivers, and lakes. In February, it's of course quite brown and, at least on this particular weekend, rather cold. But we nonetheless had a fun time exploring the historic district and learning about the history of Hot Springs.

The park boasts an impressive 40 natural springs where water bubbles up out of the earth's surface at 143 degrees Fahrenheit. You can touch it, but only briefly.

Steam rising from a thermal pool behind our hotel.

For centuries, mankind has considered the mineral water to have healing powers. At the very least, it is relaxing to bathe in. And bathe they did! The town was built around public and private bath houses along Central Ave., also known as "Bath House Row."

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photo by donchilei.com

The park's Visitor Center is housed in what was once the opulent Fordyce Bath House. It is now a bath house museum. The ranger-led tour was fascinating!


Sitz bath on left. Steam box on right. Just your head sticks out.

Needle Shower

The ceiling in the bath house.


We stayed at the Arlington Hotel, a grand old dame originally built in 1875. While currently in need of some renovation here and there, I overheard a couple people say the hotel is gearing up for a 30 million dollar upgrade sometime this year. I recommend it for its sheer gilded-age uniqueness.


Like most of the bath houses and hotels in the town, water from the hot springs is piped into the hotel. We had a room with the spring water coming right into our own private tub! Still so hot, we had to dilute it with cold water from the shower.

You can also drink the spring water from a spigot in the lobby.


The locals also love to drink the water. They line up at the filling stations scattered about the town with as many jugs as they can fit into their cars. One little old lady working in a gift shop told me it's the only water she drinks. I asked her if she felt healthier as a result. "Well, I'm 78 years old and I don't take any medicines," she said. Bob and I filled a couple jugs of our own to bring home.


The historic district naturally caters to tourists, with plenty of restaurants, candy and ice cream shops, art galleries, antique shops, boutiques, souvenir shops, and a couple (no surprise) soap shops.

I had to look up the word caldarium. It means a room with a hot bath, from ancient Rome.



Bob and I liked the Colonial Pancake House so much for breakfast Saturday morning, we ate there again Sunday morning!


Overall, and sadly, the town has been on the decline for decades. I guess the reason would be that modern medicine has replaced the need for thermal healing mineral water. Throughout the town, there are numerous buildings, once stately, but now abandoned and in disrepair. But some folks have done a good job at re-purposing the old grand bath houses. The Visitor's Center is an excellent example; as is the Superior Bath House Brewery. It's the only brewery in the U.S. located within a national park, and they claim to be the only brewery that uses hot spring water to make their beer. They offer an extensive beer menu, and they make a mean Reuben sandwich, as well as the best soft pretzels Bob and I have ever eaten!



Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Scotland -- Part 1

Bob, Eric, and me in front of University of Glasgow

We went to Scotland this past September to help usher our son Eric into the next chapter of his life -- graduate school at the University of Glasgow. (Andrew was not able to accompany us due to school.) We flew from Houston to Manchester, England, (and may I say, we were more than happy with the excellent service on Singapore Airlines), and from there, a moor-jumper into Edinburgh (pronounced Edin-brah, we learned.) Highlights of our time there included the Haymarket District, Old Town, the Royal Mile, Edinburgh Castle, and St. Giles' Cathedral.

Nicholson's Irish Pub

Great beer in Scotland

The average high temperature in Scotland is 51 degrees. It rains approx 200 days a year, and even when not raining, it is often overcast. 

To counter the gloom, you see lots of flowers and red doors.



At a kilt shop. The man purse is called a sporan.

Cheese!

We spent barely a day in this enchanting town, and then on to Glasgow via train. Eric was on orientation the week we were there and had several events he needed to attend, so our adventures were limited to the city, but there is more than enough to see and do in this fascinating metropolis where old world collides with contemporary, a colorful mash-up of cultures, food, and languages.

 University of Glasgow was founded in 1451 and is the fourth-oldest university in the English-speaking world.

This part of campus is called the cloisters.


One of two main lawns.

Murals abound in Glasgow.

Botanical Gardens

Eric walks through this . . . 

or along the River Kelvin every day on his way to campus. Nice, huh!

Outside of City Chambers -- their courthouse.

Inside of City Chambers. All so ornate!

Old World meets contemporary.


Random door.

This was once a church but has been re-purposed as a pub called the Oran Mor, home of A Play, a Pie, and a Pint, held weekdays at lunchtime.


These are a few of my observations while visiting Scotland:

  • The people there are super friendly.
  • Despite that fact that we speak the same language, I barely understood a word they said.
  • Very few toilets work properly (based on my limited experience.)
  • Sunshine is rare, but so appreciated when it peeks through the clouds.
  • Their public transportation system is fabulous. No need for a car. Within the week, we traveled on a plane, a bus, two taxis, a train, a tram, and the Glasgow subway.
  • There are NO water fountains, ie the drinking kind, anywhere. Not even in the airports. ?? That baffled me. 
  • Very few public restrooms have paper towels. Which could be related to the fact that they are... 
  • very environmentally friendly. They are big on recycling, give incentives for people to bring their own bags for groceries, use public transportation, have water savers on all facets, etc.

This trip was but a mere introduction to Scotland. We plan to revisit next August to celebrate Eric's graduation, as well as enjoy a bona fide family vacation. Andrew included.

Please forgive me is this post is a wee bit late. And never mind it's been a year since my last post. I'll refrain from excuses.