Photo updates

This is where I post updates on the photos I upload.

May in the USA

So, getting through all of Europe’s photos and blogging was a monumental task. Somehow, time’s passage continued. Way back in May, some stuff happened.

We got some more new furniture, including a pair of new end tables to go with the humongous new couch. The old ones I think went to the False Alarm family. Chilkat got a bunk bed. Her old bed went to Les and D’s guest room. Incidentally, now with the bunk bed, I think Chilkoot has slept in his own room twice since the end of school.

Chilkat drew this awesome picture of me. It’s not just an angry dad picture, it’s very specific: I agreed to let Chilkoot have some Nerds, but told him if he spilled any, I was going to take them away. Lo and behold, spillage occurred, and I followed through; that is Chilkat’s artistic rendering of the event: Dad angrily withholding Nerds.

I don’t remember if this is when KrisDi started or finished her painting project — she decided (while her husband was unable to help) to repaint almost all the walls in the house. Chilkoot helped a tiny amount.

Jeez, I just realized the kids were still in school back then! I’m pretty sure Chilkoot started writing “potato” but got distracted or ran out of time.

Chilkoot and I also went on a hike for Cub Scouts, out at Rattlesnake Lake. I took him out for breakfast on the way out there. He ran around screaming with other boys his age, and strolled along chatting with other parents. One of the other dads, basking in the beatific, amplitudinous sounds of my son playing, asked me, “Does he have any other volumes?”

“Yes,” I said. “This is the quieter one.”

Chilkat had her first communion (so there are lots of pictures of that, including rehearsal). Chilkat wore KrisDi’s dress from her own first communion, more than 30 years ago. We had a party at home afterwards. KrisDi made a pretty cake, and had a florist come in and decorate the cake with pretty flowers.

I took Chilkat for a Girl Scout activity at the Living Computer History Museum in Seattle. She made a card for KrisDi using a battery, LED, and conductive tape that would light up when the corner was pressed. She got to see old computers, and actually use them. Interestingly, this museum seems to specialize in keeping old hardware running (or restoring it), and letting visitors actually use it. They also have some more modern oddnesses, like a telepresence device that Chilkat had a good time with.

Mother’s Day had another color run 5k. Mom came down for it, T Dog joined the family, I dropped them off, and I went to drink coffee (and I think work) while most of them walked and got colorfully messy.

KrisDi and I also had our 10th wedding anniversary. We took the day off and went to Sour Beer Festival. I gave KrisDi some crystal beer glasses. We had agreed not to give each other presents, so she was disadvantaged; luckily, my present to her also included beer glasses for me, so everything was fair.

Posted by snaotheus in Family, Photo updates, 0 comments

Ireland Part II / the end

Best Of our last full day in Europe pictures here or on the picture above. Uncut collection of them here.

We had breakfast at our B&B. It was continental, with a nice quiche. We went to Bunratty next — again, lots of little back roads.

We encountered three wayward cows, two on one side of the one lane road, and one on the other. We couldn’t get past them. We honked, they’d jump agitatedly, switch sides, and move 5-10 feet down the road. Repeat. Until finally there was a driveway — except that another car was coming the opposite direction by then. We got around them after about 15 minutes.

We got stopped in traffic a couple times (again, one lane roads), but of course there were some majestic ruins to ogle.

Bunratty Castle seems to be somewhere between “historic castle” and “agritourism“. Aside from the castle, they had a bunch of model domiciles for regular people up, and they even had genuine peat fires burning in a couple (strangely, with absolutely no barrier between unwitting tourists and burning peat). It felt very staged — more so than most of the others. But a cool castle nonetheless. We bought a sheep at their gift shop on the way out.

We drove to Limerick and had lunch at a little place called Bia in the Milk Market. We expected more things to be open, but there were very few. KrisDi had a sandwich and I had smoked salmon boxty.

We walked to St. Mary’s Cathedral. Another gorgeous church. We learned about mercy seats — half-seats high enough for people to sort of rest their asses without looking like they were sitting at a time when it was mandatory to stand throughout church service.

We walked to King John’s Castle. We didn’t go inside. They didn’t answer when I knocked on the door. Odd, because it was just kind of in the middle of the city.

Afterward, we drove to the Rock of Cashel (with a little squabble with Google Maps, and a short chat with Chilkat on Google Hangouts). It was big, up on a hill, half-ruined. It had wonderful views of the landscape, including a nearby ancient Hore Abbey. There was a cemetery on the grounds, and lots of people taking selfies in it. There was also this incomprehensible sign. Before we left, I damaged my shin on a bench (bad enough to make my knee ache from the collision).

We drove to our final room in Kilkenny, Auburndale B&B. We couldn’t get in the guest door, no one was answering the doorbell, and the owners’ door was open, so I yelled into it until someone came and let us in. Turns out, he was an Irishman who had enlisted in the US Navy for a period of time, and had been a Seabee, near and dear to us due to our time in Port Hueneme.

We decided to take a fairly long walk into Kilkenny for the evening. We walked through the park in front of Kilkenny Castle. Then we had a beer at Kyteler’s Inn. It was a weird hodgepodge of nearby, unrelated buildings that had been glommed together into a weird, confusing complex. We had gone in thinking about trying to take in some local music, but decided we didn’t want to deal with it.

We decided to have Italian for dinner and went just down the block to La Rivista. We drank a bottle of wine, ate cheesy bread, pizza, and pasta. Dinner was really delicious — we didn’t have a reservation, and we were neither classy enough nor classy-looking enough to be there. She let us come in and eat as long as we could be done and gone in like 2.5 hours (I could eat like ten dinners in that time).

Afterward, we walked across the river to the Wine Centre with the hope of buying beer, and discovering there was a brewery in the back. So we had beer, and we bought beer. On our way back, we stopped at a whisky bar.

On the long walk back to the room, we stopped at a convenience store and bought some water. As we approached our room, we watched the sun set (not as hilarious as the Cliffs of Moher, but prettier). We drank some more beer in the room, and I think we went through pictures.


We had the big ol’ Full Irish Breakfast the next morning. We got to the airport without a lot of trouble, but we took about forty u-turns and/or wrong turns to get to the actual rental car return place.

Once we got in, we had some beer, I had an Irish Coffee finally, we sat at a table by a broken down outlet that I could only use if I propped my charger up with a chair. We had mediocre sandwiches and went through pictures some more.

Our flight from Dublin to Reykjavik boarded late or departed late. It was another case where they waited until it was time to board to tell us where our gate was. The flight wasn’t particularly special.

Because it was late, we had like a 45 minute connection in Reykjavik. We walked to our gate and got in line. I went to go buy us sandwiches, but they wouldn’t sell them to me without showing my ticket (for international passengers only — wtf, it’s god damn sandwiches!). While I was in the store, KrisDi got paged to go to the customer service counter, so when I went back to her to get my ticket, I had to stay in line while she went where she was told.

Turns out she had been picked for extra security screening. She had to wait until all the other lucky screenees arrived; they assured her that she wouldn’t be late for the plane (had it actually left on time, she would have been late). They took her into a room, made her take off her shoes, checked them and her hands, asked some questions, and eventually sent her on her way.

While she was gone, Icelandair actually started boarding their flight; when she got back, I raced back through the store to buy sandwiches with my recently recovered ticket, and got back in line before boarding.

We got to watch something amusing: They were using the PA system to remind people that there were two Reykjavik-Seattle flights within 5 minutes of each other, so pay attention to your flight number and make sure you go to the right gate! OK, that’s fine. We were at the right gate. An old woman was having trouble getting her ticket to scan to let her board…turns out, her wheelchair pusher (an Icelandair employee) had pushed her to the wrong flight, in direct disobedience of Icelandair’s public warnings.

The flight from Reykjavik to Seattle was pretty nondescript as well. Just a long flight. We got our bags, our slightly illegal quantities of alcoholic liquids intact and untouched, and had no trouble leaving.

Les picked us up and took us home. The kids were excited to cuddle with us (and to receive the various presents we got them). It was nice to be home.


Overall, it was an excellent vacation. Everything was awesome, and it’s impossible to choose favorites. Everything was worthwhile. But, it was exhausting. We didn’t plan enough downtime — it was go-go-go pretty much the whole time.

Driving on the wrong side of the road was stressful and nerve racking, but not as much as the one lane roads or the two lane roads where the lanes were so narrow you couldn’t fit the word “SLOW” in one lane.

Posted by snaotheus in Photo updates, 1 comment

Ireland Part I

We didn’t have a plan for our first day in Ireland. We were staying in Dublin, and decided to just walk for the day and see what we saw.

The hotel didn’t provide any breakfast, but they did provide a “HandyPhone” — a mobile phone with a data plan free for us to borrow for the day. We brought it with us, but we didn’t end up using it at all.

We Googled around a bit to find a breakfast place and a path there; we stopped for coffee on the way. Breakfast at Beanhive was very tasty, although it’s a tiny little shop and we ended up sitting at a table outside. KrisDi had the Irish Plate, and I had scrambled eggs. I asked for hot sauce, had to work a bit to explain the concept, and then the proprietor said, “Let me go ask the ladies downstairs.” He came back later with a pickled/dried/oiled pepper mixture familiar to me as a Chinese condiment. I had coffee, KrisDi had tea, some stranger had a cappuccino with an impressive likeness of herself in the foam. It was a nice breakfast.

We walked from there to Dublin Castle. On the way, we passed by an interesting donut shop. We didn’t go into the castle, just walked around it. We did stop and get Mom some earrings at their gift shop. Then we headed to the neighborhood magnificent cathedral — Christchurch.

It was, of course, beautiful and historic. This one let us into the crypt, where they had lots of neat stuff including a mummified rat and cat that (it is thought) fell into the pipes of the organ, died, desiccated, and stayed for centuries before being found during maintenance or cleaning or something. KrisDi bought hats for the kids from their gift shop.

We meandered on to the nearby River Liffey. It was fairly boring. We decided to head to the Guinness Storehouse, but ran across the Brazen Head, the oldest bar in Dublin (claiming to have been a pub on that site since 1198). We decided we should stop in for a pint. Then I failed to order an Irish Coffee, instead getting an Irish Whiskey, which was nice — Teeling Single Malt.

On our way to Guinness, we encountered a wacked out local. Apparently he saw me walking with the big camera in my hand, and came up behind me and started posing with a huge smile and two thumbs up and saying, “Take my picture!” I didn’t notice him until KrisDi nudged me. Luckily he wasn’t mean or aggressive or anything like that — just weird. We did end up taking a picture of him.

When we got to Guinness, we decided it wasn’t worth going on a two hour tour just to see the gift shop. Seems weird that they would require anything aside from interest to enter a gift shop.

We picked a destination for lunch and got drawn in by a place named the Beer Market on the way (great beer marketing, right?). We stopped in for a pint, and ended up having two plus lunch. Talking with staff, we learned it’s owned by Galway Brewing.

My IIPA was really good. KrisDi’s beers were pretty good. They disappointed me by being out of chicken schnitzel, so I got a pork burger instead. KrisDi had braised beef shortrib philly with onion and cheese on a baguette. All the food was good. The staff was really friendly, knew a lot about beer and the local scene. A film crew came in to make an advertisement, and our waitress was less than delighted to be filmed.

I found Molloy’s on Google and thought it would make a good stop. Independently, our waitress recommended it, which finalized the decision. We bought six bottles there to take back to the room. We stopped at Rolling Donut to pick up the next day’s breakfast. We chilled at the room for a while, put the beer in the fridge with the chocolate from Talisker. I made some work phone calls, and we went through photos from previous days to post on Facebook, searching and planning our next day.

We had dinner at the Chop House. I had lamb rump medium rare — very good. KrisDi had 35 day aged prime limousin 10oz Ribeye, which was not as good as it sounds. We went back to the room to drink beer and go through pictures some more and juggle the contents of our luggage again.

We put the HandyPhone back where it came from and went to bed.


We got up at six, checked out before seven. No breakfast was provided, just the donuts we bought the day before. We had a two and a half our drive to Galway. We stopped for coffee. Google Maps tried to take us on a nonexistent road. We parked on the street in Galway. Stopped for coffee and a sausage roll at a local shop. We went to see our first destination, Lynch’s castle. Disappointingly, it was basically just a bank on a street corner. We walked around a nearby park (Eyre Square) and then we went to a knitcraft store across the street, where KrisDi bought herself a hat and I had to loiter outside because my coffee wasn’t allowed inside.

Then we went to Saint Mary’s cathedral, which was beautiful and ornate on the inside. We walked to the Spanish Arch, which was boring and disappointing. We went back to the car to feed the parking meter and have lunch across the street at Dail. It won a coin flip against a kebab place. But, we had to kill time until noon, so we went to a nearby chocolate shop, where KrisDi scalded the inside of her mouth on her hand made hot chocolate, spitting a nontrivial amount of it on the ground. Mine was mint chocolate, and hers was praline space. Very tasty.

We wandered through a nearby shopping center until we went to lunch at Dail, which was disappointing.

We drove toward the Burren, somewhat confused by the multiple similarly labeled destinations on Google Maps. On our way, driving across scary single lane roads, we ran across Kilmacduagh, a 1400 year old church now a cow pasture and cemetery. It seems ludicrous to just run into this kind of thing — and for it to have turned into an every-day pasture.

We continued our drive, and found the head of several hiking trails. We followed the easiest. It rained on us a little bit. The Burren is fascinating territory to look at. Barren, rocky, rugged. All over Ireland are these super cool walls made of piled rocks, and there are lots visible in the Burren.

We drove to a different Burren site, closer to the ocean, and walked through crowds of other tourists there. Rocky cliffs over the sea. It was really cool. Some clearly expert climbers were on the cliffs, and some clearly idiotic tourists were running and jumping across the rocks.

Our next stop was the Cliffs of Moher, probably most famously known as the Cliffs of Insanity (but also having some cameo in Harry Potter somewhere). This was beautiful and fascinating. We read or heard somewhere that there were puffins, but we couldn’t see any. Until we used the megalens — then we saw that there were thousands covering the rocks and cliffs. We spent a fair amount of time wandering around and taking pictures here (which is part of why we have 700+ pictures on this day alone).

After a while, we went to check in to our room at Island View. The room was big and nice, the bathroom was huge. We had unknowingly driven by and admired that specific house on our way to the Cliffs of Moher a little earlier. We were the only guests that night.

We headed down to the village of Doolin to one of the recommended places for dinner, I think it was called Gus O’Connor. A parked car leaped out and attacked our Qashqai (I got too close to the left side and rubbed against someone’s Toyota’s mirror). We parked, got out, and inspected both cars, but couldn’t find any visible damage on either one. There was, of course, a smirking witness, smoking outside of a nearby bar. We eventually decided we were going to pretend it never happened (I don’t like to do that, but weighing the pain in the ass of a potential international insurance incident against the fact that I couldn’t find even a smudge in the dirt on the car had a pretty clear conclusion). Not proud, but I stand by my decision.

We had a beer (they had Coors, but I didn’t order it). We ate garlic bread, salmon, and bangers & mash.On our way out, we saw a woman strolling happily in the general direction of the car we bumped. We joked that it was the owner, and then she unlocked the car. We immediately started whistling innocently, looking in any direction but hers, and strolled right past our car. She drove away, and we skulked back to our car.

We headed back to the room, ogled some more majestic ruins on the sides of the tiny roads, drank our last beers while going through photos again, and then went back out to the Cliffs of Moher in the hopes of seeing the sunset (scheduled for 9:59:14 PM). It was wet, gray, cold, and we had a lot of fun. We talked with a woman from the US who loved puffins, but hadn’t seen any. We let her look through our camera with the big lens, and we made her day.

We watched the clouds roll in, we took pictures and waited around and became increasingly damp, and then we started taking a picture per second, capturing the full magnificence of the Irish sunset over the span of 18 pictures.

We quickly fled back toward our illegally parked car as the rain picked up. We ran into a weird, slightly creepy, black clad dude reading a sign alone in the darkening night. He asked us how far up we went. Talked a bit, and we mentioned puffins. He lit up, yelled “Puffins!” and I guess he thought to himself, “I guess axe murdering this American couple can wait until I go see puffins!” He literally ran off. Which I guess might have been reasonable considering the increasing rain.

The puffins seemed more active in the evening (or the rain).

We went back to the room and went to bed. The wind and the rain was super, super loud at night.

Posted by snaotheus in Photo updates, 3 comments

Scotland Part III

We got up and had breakfast with a Swiss couple. The woman spoke almost no English, just French. I spoke even less French. KrisDi had cured meats and cheeses, and I had the full Scottish breakfast. Agnes chatted with us for a little while after breakfast (I think I was asking her if she spun her own yarn, since she had some spinning wheels about the house). A little bird came along and was hopping outside the window, and Agnes expressed some remorse that she didn’t have anything to feed him. Then she looked at my plate, and looked at me, and said, “Are you going to eat that?” and proceeded to take food from my plate to feed to the bird.

We tried again to go see Dunvegan (after some research revealing a public access location you could see it across the bay). We stopped at a cute little bridge during the ~20 minutes drive there.

While we were ogling the castle from afar, we saw some seals in the water. I slipped and almost fell on the seaweed. We watched interesting light and weather patterns. Then we got in the car to drive to Carbost.

We stopped near a bridge over a river (later identified as the Amar river). We stopped on the way at a ruined church with a cemetery because I saw some boats. I ran into another guy walking out of the field adjacent to the wrecked boats, chatted briefly with him, and learned he was the owner of the land. He let me go in and take pictures as long as I closed the gate on the way out. This was one of my favorites.

We got to Carbost, wandered a bit to kill some time, walked out to the pier, and went to a little coffee shop where we had “millionaire shortbread“. The coffee shop was named Caol Babh, I think, meaning “black sheep”.

Then it was time for our tour at Talisker. This guy, Gordon, finally explained why photos aren’t allowed in certain parts of the distillery tours. It’s nothing to do with secrecy — a lot to do with the possibility of an inordinate amount of alcohol vapors and the potential exposure to sparks or heat from cameras / flashes.

Gordon got to kick out some angry people who were in the wrong tour (they were supposed to be in a later time slot), and he got to yell at someone for ignoring the no photography rules in spots.

Talisker used wooden fermenting tanks, peat, they had different grist ratios from Aberlour; their fermentation is about 64 hours. Lots of similarities and some differences.

We saw that Talisker has a couple barrels from 1979 that they’re getting ready to open to make a 30 year bottling. We learned that Talisker is by the sea basically to allow shipping ingredients in and shipping whisky out (there being a surfeit of roads in the Isle of Skye at the time of their founding). Gordon told us that the slight salt flavor many people detect in their whisky is not environment, but they’re not entirely sure how it comes about.

The tasting was a chocolate pairing. The chocolate was made special with less sugar to work better with the whisky. We tasted Storm (with no pairing), 10 year (with just chocolate), Distiller’s Edition (with sea salt caramel) and the Distillery Exclusive (with a chili chocolate). Afterward, we bought samples of Port Ruighe (pronounced “portree”, and which we subsequently bought), and Neist Point. We also bought two boxes of the chocolates, which I would later crush in Ireland. Oh, and we bought a little (200ml) bottle of Clynelish 14, which we intended to drink in our room that night.

After our tour, we walked up an interminable hill (which Google described as “mostly flat”) to go to the Oyster Shed. We had oysters, langoustines, and the best scallops either of us has ever had. It was KrisDi’s first time trying oysters. The langoustines were very good, but a pain in the ass to eat. Very high shell-to-food ratio.

We drove to the Glenfinnan Viaduct (probably most famous for the scene(s) in Harry Potter where the Hogwarts Express drives across it). It rained on us the whole time. It was cool — we probably would have looked around a bit more if it wasn’t raining and we had more time to spare.

KrisDi made me laugh because she kept trying to dry the camera lens in the rain, and then turn the lens up to look at it and check if it was dry — so it would catch some more rain, and she would repeat the process.

We headed on toward Oban, stopping at Castle Stalker, a little castle on a little island. It looked like a play castle. We later learned that it also served as the Castle Arrrrrgh in Monty Python’s Quest for the Holy Grail.

We stayed at Adelphi Via in Oban. I nearly gave our host Vincent a heart attack by parking incredibly close to another guest’s car. The room was nice, it had a big shower, but the showerhead looked like a repurposed pepper grinder. We went straight to dinner at a nearby Indian restaurant, where the food was very satisfying but the floor was alarmingly slanted.

Then we went back to our room to rebalance suitcases and drink the Clynelish, which was quite tasty — sweet and smooth.


Adelphi didn’t offer any breakfast. We went to a place called Abbie’s for breakfast. It was unreal — a scene that might have been cut directly out of a movie. The place is named after the owners’ six year old daughter. A hired window washer was arriving when we got there. The owner gave money to Abbie to pay the washer, who made a big production out of accepting the money. They were adorably formal. After a little while, the window washer announced, “Abbie’s taxi’s here!” After a short period darting about hugging and kissing and getting ready, Abbie left for school on a cab. The owner and the washer proceeded to banter incomprehensibly with Scottish accents.

Then a stream of Asian tourists flowed in, doing all the typical tourist things, debating at length in their own language, and then one person haltingly communicating in English about menu items and orders.

An elderly couple came in, and asked “Are your parking attendants clean here?”

“Yes, very!”

“Then we better go feed the meter!”

After breakfast, we walked to the pier, had coffee, and went to the distillery. The guide was a Cuban woman. Oban also used wood fermenters, but they ferment for ~six days, swearing this is how they generate the citrus flavors they’re famous for. Unlike most other distilleries, Oban was built in an empty spot and the town grew up around it, rather than being intentionally located near an existing town. This ended up boxing them in — all the land adjacent to the distillery is owned, so they can’t expand. Consequently, they’re one of the smallest distilleries in Scotland.

Unlike Talisker, Oban claims the salt flavor their whisky boasts is most definitely due to proximity to the ocean. The Cuban also told us that the UK government taxes 79% on all whisky sold. She also told us a fantastic story of her first experience with Scotch, which was not available in Cuba: “I started dating this Scottish man, now my husband, who loves Lagavulin and who knew that rum was very popular and Cuba. He figured, if rum is popular, it must be good, and if it’s good, it must be like Lagavulin! So, when he introduced me to Scotch, he merrily handed me a huge glass of Lagavulin and told me it was like rum, expecting me to love it, and I nearly spat it out.”

Our samples here were Little Bay and 14 Year. We got to keep the little thistle glass they served the samples in. We had to wait a bit for the bar to open after our tour. We tried the Distiller’s Edition and the Night’s Watch. They were out of the Distillery Exclusive, which we wanted to try based on the description. They expected to get some later in the day, so we stalled a bit, hoping they’d have it before we left town so we could try it and maybe buy it.

So, we walked to McCraig’s Tower (again, Google Maps called the interminable slope “mostly flat”). We couldn’t figure out any actual purpose for the tower. But, we could see a castle across the bay (apparently Duart Castle). And a lighthouse. We walked back down the hill to the pier again and had lunch at Waterfront Sea Food.

I had mussels (very good) and smoked mackerel (excellent). KrisDi had crispy cajun prawns (okay) and rainbow trout over salmon and leek risotta (really good). Based on photos, apparently we had sticky toffee pudding (evidently not very memorable).

After lunch, we walked back toward Oban, and decided to stop in a random “necessities” store to see if they had a luggage scale, and stumbled right into one that cost like four dollars. We had to borrow their scissors to get the blister package open, though. This was surprisingly serendipitous — I expected this to be a “stop in at a dozen shops and then pay outlandish sums of money” kind of thing.

Oban still didn’t have the Distillery Exclusive, and I wasn’t interested in paying 450 euros for a bottle of 35 year old Oban, so we bought a bottle of the Night’s Watch. We walked back to the room, and using the new (and wildly inconsistent!) scale, shuffled luggage in the driveway to try and reach a balance within the weight limits. My back hurt significantly just from repeatedly lifting the bags a few inches to try to weigh them.

On our way to Glasgow, we stopped at a gorgeously calm little lake with a waterfall, and then at Castle Inveraray. Here, they had a big ass garden in the back, pictures of modern and ancient dukes that had (or still did) live there, lots of museum-type stuff like old weapons, dishes, and clothing. There appeared to be some relationship with Chivas Regal, based on the large amount of Chivas Regal regalia. Inveraray is more of the “palace” style of castle than the “fortress” style. Apparently, it was a summer home for the queen.

Our rental car was low on gas, but I didn’t want to make two stops (one soon just to fill, another one just before the airport to return the car with a full tank). So we pushed our luck…mentally chewing my fingernails in suspense the whole time. The “low gas” alarm dinged (which is much more alarming in a car you don’t know well versus a car you know well).

We made it, and after 736 miles on the wrong side of the road, we finally bid adieu to our Insignia. Only two contacts between car and curb.

Our flight out was Aer Lingus. The check in woman looked like a Saturday Night Live actress. She laughed at us for attempting to take one of our bags as carry-on (apparently it was ridiculously large, but surprisingly didn’t charge us to check it (which clearly policy would have mandated).

We got through security, started looking for a restaurant, and just as we approach one, fire alarms started going off. We were evacuated right back outside security, went straight back to security again (and had to explain to the security guy why we were going through security a second time). Once we got back through, we had to wait while security first cleared the area, then allowed employees back in, then allowed normal humans back in.

We sat and had dinner and a couple of beers. I had a disappointing chili of some kind. KrisDi had wings that were pretty good.

Our plane was a little prop jet, not very full. The woman from the ticket counter also came and worked the gate. They also were late boarding, late takeoff, and they charged even for a soda on board.

We made it to Ireland. We landed in Dublin around 9:40 PM. Bags came out very, very slowly. Passport control was very, very easy. Customs was just a walk through. A van took us to Alamo, where we met our Nissan Qashqai (which we pronounced “cash cow”). A 2016 SUV, diesel, with like 26,000km on it.

It was dark and rainy, and we took wrong turns all over the place on the way out. Getting to our room that night was stressful. Google Maps told us to take a left, which was really a right and then a left; we dubbed this an “Irish Left,” which came to mean any incomprehensible computer-generated driving direction.

When we finally found the block the Roxford Arms Hotel was supposed to be on, there was no place to put our car. At all, as far as we could tell. So I dropped KrisDi off at the front, and went and waited in an alley. She rang the bell, waited, was told to walk around to the back (which is great — late at night in the rain, telling a confused and stressed foreign woman to walk a block and a half to go through an alley to find an unmarked door in the dark). Eventually, we got our car in the parking lot and ourselves inside the building.

The room was big, with a weird layout. It’s one of those rooms where the key card turns power on or off for the whole room. When the power was on, the TV was on. We asked the woman how to turn the TV off.

“It’ll turn off when you leave the room.”

KrisDi and I exchanged a glance and telepathically said in unison, “…but we want it off while we’re in the room…”

Basically, we went to bed as soon as we could.

Posted by snaotheus in Photo updates, 1 comment

Scotland Part II

Click here or on the photo above for the “best of” our pictures. Click here for all of them.

We woke up early (4 AM) to see the sunrise. We saw a deer or an antelope. It was cold. It was pretty. Then we went back to bed for a while.

We got up and had breakfast with other guests, a family of three from Florida. I noticed a certificate on the wall that said something like “Thank you for your participation in the 1984 Olympics!” with our hostess’ name on it. Sure enough, she’d gone to the Olympics twice for pistol marksmanship and gotten 12th place once.

We packed our bags and then wandered around the area a bit, seeing little of interest, before getting back in the trusty Insignia and driving to the Aberlour distillery. We were early, so we loitered, chit-chatted with staff (learning that Aberlour rhymes with flour, not with floor), perused the gift shop, and grumbled as apparent frat bros accumulated to join us on the tour. We marveled at the selection of whiskys available, and bought “ZeTol” — a box of empty bottles in which I could take my whisky samples to-go, since it was morning and I had a lot of driving to do that day on the wrong side of the road.

The tour was great. Our guide, Emma, was awesome — she’d spent her entire career working for distilleries; her father had worked for Aberlour (and broken his shoulder on his second day when a barrel rolled into him). I enjoyed confirmation of my ridiculously simplified whisky making process: “Make beer; distill; age in wood barrels.” This is exactly how whisky is made.

I was surprised that the “ferment” step was super fast — less than three days, to create a 9.5% abv beer (with no hops), which I believe they call the wash. I was also surprised to learn that Aberlour produces more whisky than Talisker (barely) or Oban (by a lot), since I feel like it’s lesser known. I really enjoyed an extension of something I hadn’t consciously thought about in brewery culture: Whisky makers are fans of other whisky makers. They talk about what others are doing that they like or find interesting, and for the most part have positive words about their competitors in the industry.

We also learned that the UK taxes distilleries 79% on all whisky sold, and has an arcane law dictating that the stills’ output must go through a “spirit safe” which belongs to the government and can’t be opened by the distillery — consequently, if something breaks, the distillery is shut down until the government sends someone out for repairs.

As far as the tasting goes, they gave us a sample of the Aberlour 12 year at the beginning of the tour, let us dip a finger in the “wash” and taste the beer during the tour, and gave us a sample of the raw spirit, Aberlour 16, Casg Annamh, American Oak, and a distillery exclusive single cask. KrisDi learned she liked some whisky. We packed my samples up in the ZeTol bottles, bought a bottle of the American Oak and the distillery exclusive, and walked into the town of Aberlour.

We went to lunch at the Mash Tun. KrisDi had steak, onion, and cheese on a baguette with chips and “dressed leaves.” I had chorizo stuffed chicken wrapped in serrano ham, covered in a cream sauce. Both were very good. However, the sticky toffee pudding was one of the best things we ate on this whole trip.

We then walked around town, along the river, across the footbridge that Aberlour’s founder and commissioned. Found this rickety little bridge which rocked and wiggled as I walked across it.

We walked back to the distillery and picked up our car and drove to Inverness. We stayed at Ardentorrie Guest House. After we checked in and parked our car (with maybe less than an inch between ours and the next car over, requiring brokeback snaotheus to crawl over the stickshift to get out the passenger side), we walked to Inverness Castle and paid 5 pounds to got to the top of the tower, where we took pictures of the town. We walked around and perused local tourist shops for a dress for Chilkat and a sporran for Chilkoot. We ended up getting it custom fit — the guy behind the counter was super dedicated to getting us a sporran that we thought would fit our five year old. Busted out pliers and cutters to custom size the chain. We also picked up a purse for Popita.

We had dinner at the Castle Tavern. I had risotto, KrisDi had haddock and chips. It was very good. We of course also had some beer.

Then we went back to the room to drink our Aberlour ZeTol thing.


We got up at 7 and had breakfast (smoked haddock, fried eggs, and tomatoes). We drove to the Loch Ness visitors’ center and learned of all the exciting ways people have possibly been fooled into believing they saw Nessie. Waves…a swimming deer…an unusual fish…a stick… It was interesting, but mostly because of the surprisingly large effort that went into ruling something out.

Then we went to Urquhart Castle. Formerly a huge structure, blown up by its occupants (the Grants)in the 1600s or something by packing the tower with kegs of gunpowder and igniting it, leaving cool semi-ruins for us to look at (and a trebuchet!). The touristy intro video taught us (nearly quote), “It’s really easy to take a castle, and really hard to keep it.” Which seems a bit counter-productive. The Grants decided to blew it up so they’d stop losing it and having to retake it.

We left for the next castle, but stopped at a random roadside location (later identified as Eas Nan Arm Bridge) because it was convenient and beautiful. We talked briefly with a Norwegian travel photographer; I’m not sure if he had planned to stop there, or like us, took it as a target of opportunity.

We got to Eilean Donan Castle, which is super cool and in a beautiful location. We ate in their cafe. The tour was really guided, and they didn’t allow much photography. If I remember correctly, this castle is still owned by an individual, and there were pictures up in some of the rooms of her nieces and nephews and grandkids.

We drove on to the Isle of Skye. We saw lots of sheep, including some cute lambs, and road quality declined rapidly. We hit the end of two-lane roads with 8 miles to go to our room. Luckily, they had lots of passing places (outdents in the road to allow one driver to pull over and let the other pass), so we rarely had to back up. But, there was a surprising amount of traffic. I remember when we first found the road, we pulled over to take pictures, and there were like five cars headed our way. I thought, “Let’s let these folks pass, and then I’m sure the road will be clear and we can drive on uninterrupted.” But more came. And then more. And then more…

Eventually we got to the room. I didn’t get to sight see, because I had to pay attention to the road. Our B&B was named Hazel Bank. Agnes was our hostess — an elderly but feisty Scottish grandmother whom I want to adopt. One of those people who is immediately super comfortable to be around. Also, this room had maybe the best bed we slept on during the whole trip (if you ask my back).

It seems like everyone in the Isle of Skye is running a B&B out of their home. But there are only like four restaurants. Consequently, you need reservations. We tried to make reservations at a place, but they never responded. Agnes advised us to go to Edinbane Inn and sit at the bar, where we could get seated without a reservation, but still get the regular menu. She even gave us some handy GPS code that took us to a completely wrong location, only a few miles from our actual target.

30-40 minutes of harrowing one-lane-and-passing-places to get there, forty-seven u-turns to figure out the incorrect GPS code, and we made it. Dinner was good. Pork Pie for KrisDi, Scottish Beef Roast for me. And beer. Weird cooked pear and sticky toffee pudding for dessert. Good, but not Mash Tun.

After dinner, we attempted to visit Dunvegan Castle, but failed because it was closed.

The we followed more of Agnes’ advice (but not GPS codes) to go visit Neist Point — a light house under a cliff — another 45 minutes of harrowing country roads. It was beautiful and awesome, but muddy, windy, cold, and it started to rain pretty heavily before the sun could set. We fled.

15 more minutes back to the room, and we pretty much went straight to bed.

Posted by snaotheus in Photo updates, 1 comment