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Thursday, January 31, 2008


We’re almost at Edinburgh on our Ireland/Scotland travels. That will come next month. I only wish I could share everything with you, but it was too much, too good, and simply impossible to include everything. This definitely is a part of the world you’ll enjoy visiting.

You’ll notice in the left column some new choices. Please rate this blog for me. Once again, please comment by clicking on “comment” at the bottom of a post, and don’t hesitate to head over to TATravel to check out your next trip.

See you next month. Enjoy.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008


Scotland—Day 12

Scotland takes the breath away! It’s rough and wild with high, craggy mountains and planted forests which support a soft wood industry.

The pine trees are green except for the European larch which looks like pine but has turned brown in the fall. So wet is the land that it is fern covered. The fern, too, is turning brown with the season’s change, and in this color it is called bracken, a word I always read in British novels but neglected to look up in a dictionary.

We hear tales of the clans almost incessantly fighting each other—stealing cattle or sheep and driving them over mountains to their own lands. The clans were proud, fierce fighters and not above trying to wipe each other out through battle. Goodness knows they tried often enough.

These mountains are practically vertical. They’re high enough to make the sheep grazing on their slopes appear as white pebbles on a brown beach.

Population in the highlands is still sparse, so one has to wonder about man’s nature and its promptings. If man’s nature is wild, Scotland mirrors it.

Waterfalls rush down craggy cliffs, and streams cut deep into the land. Sometimes we pass turf ditches where peat clods are still drying in preparation for the winter.

The lochs are beautiful. One can sail or motor across the country moving from one loch to the next. Sometimes the water is so still, mirror images of sky and clouds are what you see. It’s magnificent and mysterious. It’s Brigadoonish!!!!!

Some roads we drive will be closed this winter as six inches of snow cover them. Scotland is on the same latitude as Moscow yet the Isle of Skye has a temperate climate and people visit all year. It is a country of contradictions.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Scotland--Day 13

As we travel today, I get to see the Loch Ness Monster. Just look at his photo! It proves it.

Suffice it to say that all the lochs are beautiful. Loch after loch flows through the magnificent Highlands affording visitors unparalleled vistas of all heights and hues. Boaters cross Scotland this way. It’s also easy to see why the Scottish Highlands has long been a hiker’s paradise.

Yesterday we took a cruise on Loch Lomond, and today from the shores of Loch Ness, my tour coach friends and I spotted that which has eluded other less savvy and observant travelers. The Loch Ness Monster.

Loch Ness is beautiful. It’s 23 miles long, but its real depth is unknown. Down deep in the unknown is where Nessie has his den. Boats enter Loch Ness, motor or sail its length, and then take the Caledonian Canal to the next loch. It must be a beautiful way to cross Scotland.

The absolute highlight of the day, however, is not Nessie. It is a visit to a sheep farm for a Scottish sheepdog demonstration.

You’ve seen my photos of the mountains and the open land. Sheep may graze over 12 miles of fields, and they must be rounded up. The dogs, which begin their training at the tender age of six weeks, travel the ranges responding to the whistled commands of the shepherd. Each dog answers to different whistles, so the shepherd becomes a conductor, orchestrating the gathering of the flock. The shepherd needs to use his dogs wisely, preserving their energy to finish this task which may take up to five days.

Our shepherd manages ten dogs at once. Dressed in his wellies and with his shepherd’s crook nearby, he demonstrates his dogs’ skills in corralling and moving herds of sheep across the fields, directing them through “gates” formed by other dogs, and performing different movements in response to his whistled commands. It is absolutely fascinating.

Then we watch him shear a sheep, and we have an opportunity to feed the sheep and play with the dogs and the puppies. Hmmmm A puppy would have been a good souvenir.

I am also adding this video clip. Watch the dog as he maneuvers the sheep through "gates" formed by the other dogs! The sound isn't so hot, but you can hear the shepherd directing the dog. It was quite amazing to witness.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

THE GOOD HUSBAND OF ZEBRA DRIVE--another #1 Ladies Detective Agency triumph!

I finally got back to Precious Ramotswe and Alexander McCall Smith’s #1 Ladies Detective Agency series, and I was not disappointed. But here I am at the last novel, The Good Husband of Zebra Drive, and I am saddened that it’s all over—at least for the time being.

I love these characters. Precious has been constant throughout the series, a base for the other characters as they grow.

Her marriage to Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni is progressing nicely, and in this novel their relationship is even put to a kind of test. Sorry, I can’t give you hints. Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni also has what might be called a mid-life crisis or, at least, a moment where he pauses and questions himself.

Mma Makutsi has not yet married, but her character has taken a turn. Coming from her small village and being educated at the Botswana Secretarial College and then making her own way in life, she has emerged as a strong woman, opinionated and sometimes unattractively domineering. She’s the character who has come to believe her own press, and the result is arrogance. She has something to learn. Life is more than the shoes you are able to buy.

Even the apprentices are growing, and Charlie wants to strike out of his own. Throughout the earlier novels, Charlie’s character emerges as it is seen through the eyes of Precious Ramotswe, Mma Makutsi, and Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni. In The Good Husband of Zebra Drive, Charlie comes into his own. We learn about him through his own actions.

Oh yes, the #1 Ladies Detective Agency takes on some interesting cases, and once again we see them solved with intelligence and compassion. Through these cases, sometimes more than through any other source, do we see the qualities in our heroine that no doubt have propelled this series to such prominence.

“The world, Mma Ramotswe believed, was composed of big things and small things. The big things were written large, and one could not but be aware of them—wars, oppression, the familiar theft by the rich and the strong of those simple things that the poor needed, those scraps which would make their life more bearable; this happened, and could make even the reading of a newspaper an exercise in sorrow. There were all those unkindnesses, palpable, daily, so easily avoidable; but one could not think just of those, thought Mma Ramotswe, or one would spend one’s time in tears—and the unkindnesses would continue. So the small things came into their own: small acts of helping others, if one could; small ways of making one’s own life better; acts of love, acts of tea, acts of laughter. Clever people might laugh at such simplicity, but, she asked herself, what was their own solution?”

I sincerely hope that Alexander McCall Smith has not given up on Precious and her friends because there is so much more to learn about them.

“That engine I’ve been working on will run so sweetly,” he [Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni] remarked as he poured his tea.
“Like life,” she said.

Monday, January 14, 2008


Hank’s Smokehouse and Southern Grillery
49 Bloomer Springs Road
McGaheysville, VA 22840
(540) 289-7667

Our two visits to Hank’s Smokehouse in McGaheysville while we were staying in Massanutten, Virginia are really visits numbers four and five. Robyn and Neal stumbled upon this hidden treasure of a restaurant when they stayed at Massanutten and practically insisted that we go there for the best ribs imaginable. You know that Rob and I are rib fans, and you know that we hunt out the rib places every time we head south. On rare occasions we are able to get past the rib section on the menu and try other possibilities, and we have done that at Hank’s. It’s almost impossible to say what is the most mouth-watering, most tempting, most delicious and most unforgettable offering because everything at Hank’s is about as good as it gets.

You just have to go to Hank’s website! There are photos there that stimulate your salivary glands. They’re not touched up at all. That’s how good everything really looks.

Hank’s has a very unpretentious exterior—a cabin look. Inside there’s a bar and then a big dining room. Lots of wood and no fancy decorations, just a lot of room to accommodate a lot of hungry diners.

Almost as soon as we were seated, a basket of hot, delicious, freshly baked bread is brought to the table. Be careful to pace yourself; that’s only the beginning.

The first night, all four of us actually resisted the ribs in favor of the All You Can Eat BBQ Special. I know that sounds devilishly tempting, but at $13.95 it was irresistible: Hank’s original pork BBQ or Texas style beef barbecue served with cole slaw and a side. We all chose the pork BBQ, and no one was sorry! Two of us had red skinned mashed potatoes, one chose macaroni and cheese, and one chose Colorado baked beans. Everything was beyond great.

One night Hank had a Prime Rib special, and we went back for that. BUT even the lure of this lovely cut and the lovely price that accompanied it seemed weak next to the lure of those ribs. Rob and I had Hank’s ribs twice before, and heading back home without sinking our teeth into them seemed like a bad idea.

As we were two couples, we placed two orders of Ribs for Two—wet ribs (finished with a brushing of Hank’s Whiskey Barbecue Sauce which you can buy online) served with cole slaw, two sides and two house salads for $32.00. See why we couldn’t resist?

Desserts are homemade at Hank’s, but there just has never been room. Sorry I can’t report on them.

If you had been there with us on these two nights and tasted Hank’s Smokehouse at its best, you would know why Rob and I have taken advantage of Hank’s on trips up and down Rt. 81 if the time is right. If you drive down that way, get off in Harrisonburg, and make a beeline for Hank’s. I guarantee you won’t regret it!

Sunday, January 13, 2008


Many, many years ago Rob and I dreamed of hiking the Appalachian Trail in sections over a period of time. However, as Scottish poet Robert Burns said, “The best laid plans….” Author Bill Bryson had the same plan, and in his unusual book, A Walk in the Woods, he talks about those plans and about actually hiking the Trail. This I learned—the AT hiker has no resemblance to me at any time in my life!!!!!

Lesson #1: The Appalachian Trail is NOT a walk in the woods. It is an arduous trek meant for a particular breed of fit people who refuse to step away from a challenge.

Bryson writes of the preparation for the hike. One must be physically fit in a way he could not imagine. He was not there. Equipment is expensive and extensive. He writes of buying and subsequently disposing of most of it, including food! Everything gets carried on one’s back—about 40 pounds, and that weight is something a hiker never quite forgets because the trail goes up and down mountain ranges. There are also dangers involved—bears, snakes, crazy murderers (about nine people between 1974 and the 1998 copyright date), diseases, accidents, lightning, crazed animals, mountains, etc.

As he hikes the trail, Bryson proffers a great deal of information on the history of the Appalachian Trail, nature, scenery, the existential quality of confronting real wilderness and a challenge of this magnitude, a lot of opinion on people, places, government and anything else that crosses his mind. There’s quite a bit to interest any reader. It definitely gave me a sense of the experience—something I prefer to experience vicariously.

Newspapers like the Washington Post, New York Times and Chicago Sun-Times reviewed this book as “Choke-on-your-coffee funny.” I’m not in agreement with this evaluation. I found his humor based on making fun of people and places—individuals and types—including the childhood friend, Stephen Katz, who hiked with him. If you like that type of humor….

What Bryson does beautifully is describing his own feelings of leaving behind our modern, illuminated, boisterous, frenetic world and stepping back in time into wilderness where he is alone with himself and his own thoughts in a natural setting so dense that he feels as if he is in another world. His comments on nature and the facts he offers that make up a significant part of his discussion are often outstanding.

He deserves a lot of credit for doing as much of the AT as he did and for recognizing that those who do finish have achieved something very special. As for me, even if my time had not already passed, Bryson’s travails would have talked me out of it. I’m one of the people he detests; I like to drive Virginia’s Skyline Drive and stop at the overlooks.

Saturday, January 12, 2008


The time to think about cruising is now. Cruise lines offer their deals with the idea of booking to capacity, so there are often incentives to book early. If you’re thinking about cruising this year, start looking now for the special bargains available. Don’t forget to go to for some good deals!