Testing, Testing

I got a new camera for the trip to Perú in September and have been playing around.

Fannie and Mabel

Fannie (left) and Mable watching intently

Mabel

Mabel waiting for popcorn

Fannie

Fannie, sure that the camera is going to take her soul…

Buddhas

Buddha statutes and portulaca

Coleus

An interesting coleus

New Front Door

Our new front door

Spring

Things are coming along in the garden.

 

 

clematis

My yearly clematis photo

 

east bed

The east bed – filled in and mulched

 

new fountain

A new fountain

 

northwest bed

The northwest bed

 

northwest corner

The northwest corner

 

passion vine

Passion Vine Flower

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Greetings from Scotland (Part 3 – Isle of Skye and Glencoe)

So after Inverness, the next destination was the über-tourist mecca in Scotland, Loch Ness.  We started the day at Urquhart Castle, which is about as picturesque as it gets. The entrance/visitors center is extremely well situated into the landscape; when you get to the castle, the buildings and the parking lot are completely camouflaged.

 

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Loch Ness, Scotland – 21 September 2016

 

 

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Urquhart Castle, Loch Ness, Scotland – 21 September 2016

 

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Urquhart Castle, Loch Ness, Scotland – 21 September 2016

After Urquhart Castle, we drove counterclockwise around the loch – most people go the other way – until we ended up on the Isle of Skye for our Fairy Pools hike.  This was another nail-biting drive on what amounted to a cart track going up the side of a mountain.  And while the weather started out fine in Inverness and around Lock Ness, the moment we pulled into the Fairy Pools hike parking lot, the rain started.  Coupled with the 30 mile-per-hour gale, it was like straight-line freezing rain right in your face. Most people were fleeing, but we were among the foolhardy (insane) souls that kept trudging on.  (We passed a girl in a wedding dress and a couple who were skinny dipping; such is the apparent allure of the Fairy Pools…)

 

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Isle of Skye, Scotland – 21 September 2016

 

 

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Fairy Pools, Isle of Skye, Scotland – 21 September 2016

After the hike, we were completely soaked.  There is absolutely nothing worse than cold, soaking wet jeans.

After the Fairy Pools, it was on to Dun Scaith Castle.  Another nail-biter, this time on a sheep path.  And once you got there, you were greeted by a pile of rocks.

 

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A sheep by the ‘road’ – Isle of Skye, Scotland – 21 September 2016

 

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Some cows – Isle of Skye, Scotland – 21 September 2016.

After the drive through the pasture, we went to our hotel, Kinloch Lodge.  Greeted with champagne by the fire in the drawing room, it was a nice way to end the afternoon.  (I had a whiskey here – the very definition of ‘fire water.’  My throat’s still burning.)  Dinner was fantastic; a Michelin-starred restaurant essentially in the middle of nowhere.

 

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Loch na Dal, Kinloch Lodge, Isle of Skye, Scotland – 22 September 2016

 

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Kinloch Lodge, Isle of Skye, Scotland – 22 September 2016

After leaving Kinloch, the next stop was Eilean Donan Castle.  It’s supposed to be one of the finest castles of its type in Scotland, but quite honestly, it was way too touristy for my taste.  We had to wait 3o minutes past opening time while a commercial was being filmed.  By that time, the tourist hordes had descended. Too many people…

 

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Eilean Donan Castle, Scotland – 22 September 2016

 

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Eilean Donan Castle, Scotland – 22 September 2016

After the castle was one of the unexpected highlights of the trip – the Glenfinnan Railway Viaduct.  It was a nice little hike to one of the quintessential scenes from the ‘Harry Potter’ films.

 

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Waiting for the ‘Hogwarts Express’ – Glenfinnan Viaduct, Scotland – 22 September 2016

Next, it was on to hiking on Ben Nevis, the highest mountain on the British Isles, but there had been a landslide on the route we were taking, so that got scrapped.  We regrouped and did some hiking in the Glencoe region, near our hotel for the evening.

 

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Glencoe Scotland – 22 September 2016

 

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Waterfall – Glencoe, Scotland – 22 September 2016

 

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Glencoe, Scotland – 22 September 2016

And then we arrived at Glencoe House.  This was a manor house built in the last quarter of the 19th century.  In the 1930s, the house was given to the National Health Service and converted into a hospital.  In the last few years, it was purchased and repurposed into an hotel.  This was the best place we stayed – right out of ‘Downton Abbey.’  (I highly recommend Suite 1 – it has one of the few working fire places.  Apparently, the when it was a hospital, they poured concrete down most of the chimneys.  Criminal.)  In total, the suite was three rooms – a huge dining room/drawing room; a very large bedroom; and a fantastic bath.  Suite 1 also has a private terrace with a hot tub.  There were even deer on the lawn!

There is no dining room at the hotel so all the meals are served in the suite’s private dining room.  Probably one of the best meals we had – created by Brian and Fionna Gunn who run ‘Bayleaf Catering.’  Brian was clearly passionate about what he does and it really showed.  A coursed meal – five or six, I think – in the dining room by a roaring fire.  It was decadent off the charts.

 

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Glencoe House (Suite 1 w/terrace on lower right), Glencoe, Scotland – 22 September 2016

 

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Loch Leven from Glencoe House – Glencoe, Scotland – 22 September 2016

We had to leave very early the next day – and I had to be practically dragged out of the place, but it was on to a boat ride, a potential resting place for the Holy Grail, and another ruined abbey.

Paradise Lost

So, my neighbors put in a pool.  My outdoor sanctuary is gone.  Partly it was a self-inflicted wound; they needed our permission to tear down the fence and destroy a good part of the yard so they could get the backhoe in.  Every lawyer I know told me I should have said no.  I knew I should have said no.  But I didn’t say no.  The construction was bad enough, but I knew worse was coming and it did.  My outdoor sanctuary is gone.  I guess I already said that.

There’s now a pool party almost every night.  This one from four days ago was the worst.  We counted 42 place settings at this table.  42 women showed up about 7:30 for cocktails.  42 women sat down to dinner at 8:45.  42 women jumped into the pool, screaming like 8-year-olds at 11:oo.

The Party

Aftermath of the Party

 

We used Perfect Lawns to clean up the damage.  I still haven’t presented the neighbors with the bill; they typically use a guy with a pick-up truck and some shovels.  Things are finally getting a little bit back to normal, but the new normal, I guess.

We put in a ‘wall’ of crepe myrtles and Cherry Laurel for privacy.  We also did a more professional job on the firewood placement.

Privacy

Crepe Myrtle and Cherry Laurel Screen

 

The puppies are glad to have their yard back in tact.  In April, Brian got two Pražský Krysaříks (‘Prague Ratters’ in English – I don’t even try it in Czech.).  Fanny and Mable.

Fanny and Mable

Mable and Fanny in a rare ‘still moment.’

Mable and Fanny

Mable and Fanny – Fanny’s daring me to take away whatever rubbish she’s found in the yard.

New Flag

A new flag in honor of the Fourth

An Owl

Three weeks ago, the City of Austin cleared out some of the dead trees and underbrush directly behind the house.  That also cleared out a substantial area surrounding the two giant live oaks behind us and created a perfect space to hang the owl house.

I’ve had this owl house for five-or-six years, but apparently didn’t have the right conditions in the yard proper to entice any residents.  So I installed it in the newly cleared area.

Low and behold, we have an owl!  This is the best picture I can manage since it won’t let me get too close.  Maybe after some trust is gained, I can capture something less grainy.

Owl - March 2016

Owl House and Occupant – March 2016