kayaking on Loch Leven near Glencoe, Scotland, 2018

kayaking on Loch Leven near Glencoe, Scotland, 2018

Saturday, October 6, 2018

Germanfest, Robert's Cove, Louisiana

All my life, from the time I was a child, I knew I was German. 100%, through and through. My ancestors on both my mother's and father's side immigrated from Germany to the U.S. So naturally, I assumed I was German. Until a year or so ago, when I took an Ancestry.com DNA test and discovered I'm actually 47% English/Wales, 22% Swedish, 20% Scottish/Irish, and a whopping 11% Germanic Europe. Hmm.

But that new knowledge has not lessened my fascination with all things German. And when I learned there is an annual Germanfest in the small rural farming community of Roberts Cove, La., just an hour east of Lake Charles, I knew I had to go!

Roberts Cove is home to a mere 175 families, yet each year, they host this festival and welcome thousands over the two-day event. Eric and I were among the throng today and we had a fun time.

Under the Main Tent, we heard German bands with their lively oom-pah-pahs and yodeling . . .

Reminds you of an authentic German Biergarten, no?

and watched German dancing . . .

We ate German sausages, beef stew, potatoes, sauerkraut, fresh soft pretzels, and apple cobbler. And while Eric and I abstained due to driving, beer was definitely one of the main attractions.

There was also a display of antique tractors, a blacksmith demo, and a fun children's area.

The festival site is a cultural center that is home to the beautiful St. Leo IV Catholic Church . . .

 . . . a small chapel, a gift shop, and the community's German Heritage Museum.

Thank you, Roberts Cove. We had an enjoyable afternoon!

Sunday, August 26, 2018

Scotland, Part 2b, Glencoe to Inverness

Just pretend it wasn't two months ago that I posted Scotland, Part 1. I'm a procrastinator, I know. This blog post documents the second half of my family's trip to Scotland in June earlier this year.

We left Glencoe and continued north. There aren't many highways in Scotland, but we would have taken the back roads anyway. The scenery was spectacularly beautiful.

We drove through small towns like Fort William. And unexpectedly found the Glenfinnan Viaduct, also known as the unforgettable railroad bridge that Harry Potter crossed on his way to Hogwarts.

A slight detour took us to Malliag, a sleepy little seaside village on the Atlantic ocean.

A common sight in the Scottish Highlands.

Boats in Mallaig harbor.

The Jacobite steam train in Mallaig.

Next day, destination Inverness. But we naturally made stops along the way. The highlight of the day was a hike through Glen Nevis Gorge. We followed this trail . . .

to the spectacular Steall Falls.

And then our final day of sightseeing in Scotland. We all agreed, Inverness was our favorite part of the vacation. It has a fabulous old world vibe.

Inverness Cathedral

Inverness is situated on either side of tranquil River Ness. Several footbridges cross the water.

Inverness Castle, which is still used today as a municipal building.

The seagulls are rather tame. Apparently, tourists provide a food source.

The unicorn is the official animal of Scotland.

We planned our entire day around a trip to Chanonry Point on Moray Firth. Supposedly, this location is one of the best places to see dolphins in the world (according to tripadvisor.com). As the tide comes in, so do the dolphins, and usually, quite a lot of them. They come in very close to shore and are known to leap and play and put on quite a show. Better than Sea World, right! That was the plan, anyway. We arrived early, so as not to miss the spectacle. A throng of people were already there, waiting, cameras ready. We sat on that beach -- and it was very windy and surprisingly cold -- for two hours, waiting to spot even one dolphin. Eventually, two or three dolphins moseyed up. No show. Most days they come, and some days they don't, it seems. It was the only disappointment of the week.

I suppose because it rains a lot and it is not scorching hot in the summer, the flower gardens in Scotland are stunning.

Urquhart Castle, on the lovely Loch Ness, was the best preserved and most interesting castle we visited in Scotland.

The following day, we took four trains all the way back to Manchester, dropping Eric off in Glasgow. Playing cards helped pass the time. Until next time, Scotland!

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."

Image result for photos of bathhouse row, hot springs
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!