Thursday, October 31, 2013

Grand Canyon 2014- first looks

So, next year, Dean and I are going to the Grand Canyon.
I am still trying to decide whether we are going on our April vacation or in July.
April - my brother will be here. He can go with us. ... But I worry it might be too cold. Besides there is one part - the North Rim is closed.
July - Little Brother might be gone and ... it is the rainy season - which brings lightening storms.
I found this information here:
http://www.nps.gov/grca/planyourvisit/things2know.htm

Here is the link to the main site:
http://www.nps.gov/grca/index.htm
I have to go back and figure out how major is the Grand Canyon North Rim - and how great a loss it is not seeing it. I mean, if we are going to go all the way there, we don't want to miss something major - like me missing Paul in London... (idiot!!!)

and here is a link to some commercial sites - for train rides ... I have not spent time on them yet.
http://www.canyontours.net/?ctt_id=1735753&ctt_adnw=Google&ctt_ch=ps&ctt_entity=tc&ctt_cli=11x23045x69402x513836&ctt_kw=grand%20canyon%20attractions&ctt_adid={creative}&ctt_nwtype=search
http://www.canyontours.us/

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Change of plans

Italy plans are off. We are back to our original idea of traveling to the grand canyon. More planning to come.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

UK 2013 - day 16: airport issues on REp. of Ireland again!!!!


Sunday,  August  4, 2013

I'm writing this post from 11279 meters above sea level, seat 12 E of an aer lingus flight to Boston.
Everything looks fine now and lunch is about to be served. But, ladies and gentlemen, nothing was calm about this day except from the time we woke up to the time we were dropped off at the airport.

Well, Travelodge never told us that their shuttle cost £2.00 per person. Well, for that price we could have walked for 5 minutes in that pleasant sunny Scottish morning. But that wasn't the problem. The problem is that Dean and I left the shuttle too enter the airport and Dean was kind enough to go say thank you to the shuttle driver. His reply?
"£2.00 each."
Dean reaches for his pocket while I reply, "I wish someone had told us. We have no I cash."
His reply?
"Then why is he reaching for his pocket?"
I felt like telling him to go do that thing you're thinking about, but I was a nice girl and kept it to myself while my husband showed Mr.Good Manners all the British money we had left - 19p.
"I can give you $10.00." Dean said, showing his wallet wide open with nothing but a ten-dollar bill in it.
He just turned around and left.
Later that day my father-in-law told us that driver was doing that without the knowledge of the hotel. H'm, maybe I should send Travelodge an email.

We had a good hour wait before they opened the check-in counter, so we decided to look for our VAT receipts to get a refund.
If you are a tourist in the UK (not sure about Republic of Ireland), you can get your VAT money back.
The thing is - you have to require from each vendor a VAT claim form.
We didn't know that, so we just collected receipts and took to the Customs office. When we got there we found a note on the door explaining that we should just drop in the claim forms provided by each vendor.
Well, I guess we are not getting our money back.
Can you imagine what a pain to be at a crowded McDonald's and ask for a VAT claim form?
However, it might be worth asking it from your lodging place, from your car rental agency, and from attractions you attend. Those will be quite a lot of money and you already have to spend some time at the counter with them anyway.
Next time we will know it.
So our flight was delayed. That was a problem because, if you remember well, I purchased this flight separately, and not as a connection home. This was due to a number of factors, that upon the time of scheduling this flight, could no longer be changed.
The problem is that, once you land in this lovely Republic of Ireland, you are made to go through customs, unless you have a EU passport.
Funny, I went back and forth from one Ireland to the other, and we don't even know we are entering different countries. We flew from Dublin to London and there was no going through customs. But when we come from Scotland (which is part of the same UK than N. Ireland and England are), we had to go through customs because we don't have a EU passport.
I don't have a problem with the Irish people. I don't really know them much - the R.of Ireland ones. But entry port sucks.
First, their car rentals don't take your credit card insurance. And now this - you have to go through customs. Oh, I wouldn't mind going through customs if they had a working immigration crew and we could get through it at a reasonable hour. We landed at 9:35 and our next flight was supposed to leave at 11:30. With the volume of people and the speed of the immigration officers, we would be out of immigration by 2 in the afternoon.
I ran to the Are Lingus connection flight we passed on our way to the customs line and, literally begged this lady by the name of Julie Fitzpatrick, "I wonder if you can help me, because if you can not I will miss my flight."
At first she sounded like our was hopeless, but then she took my passport, had my husband bring  his as well, as she made phone calls to try to get our luggage picked up and loaded in to the next flight.
Julie simply saved our flight, so I want to make sure I mention her name so that she and the people she mobilized get some recognition.
I am not, however, happy with the ways things work in the Republic  of Ireland:
1- no credit card rental insurance?
2- go through customs when I come from an EU country, even though I don't have to go through customs  when I leave their country to another EU, considering that their immigration&customs office his slower than a sloth?
I'm sorry, do you really want me to come back here? Because I am not sure that I am. I will travel to N. Ireland, England, Scotland, but never to Rep. of Ireland again.
This was a lovely vacation. My only regret is not having knocked at a certain person's house while in London.



But I don't need to travel back to this southern part of the Irish island. If I do it will not be by plane. I'll spend "me" money in the UK.

Delaware North Companies - £2.10(credit) (coffee)


Sunday, October 20, 2013

UK 2013 - day 15: Highland games

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Scotland was mad that we were leaving the next day, so it tried to freeze me to death - this way I would have to leave.
What? No, I didn't pack gloves for my summer vacation! That would be considered over-packing!
We met another fellow guest today - a man from Bolton who was on its way to North-Eastern Scotland. He was much older than us, and told us very interesting stories of his trip to the US many many years ago - especially about switching driving sides.
After gathering more information on Google maps about Dean's family place, and getting some directions from our hostess, we checked out of our beautiful B&B and headed to the town of Tomatin. They had ONE  general store. There, the lady from the store, Tanya gave us some idea on what that area was, and who we could talk to to get information about Dean's family, but as we were leaving, someone named Mark came by and Tanya asked him if he could help us. He directed us to a church from the area, church of Scotland, which had a graveyard, and did confirm to us that there were McBeans in the area.
Sure enough, there were many McBean gravestones, and many that registered intermarriages with the McIntosh family.
It was cold and the wind wouldn't give in. The wind was cold too - nothing mild for a Brazilian skin.



After looking up those graves we headed back to Newtonmore - for the highland games. We got there just as the marching band was about to start its march through town. That was an impressive thing to see. All thosen people in their kilts playing drums and bagpipes.
The games were fun, we stayed for the whole afternoon. The rain held up. The problem was the non-stop wind and the uber cold temperatures. I was frozen - feeling like a fish out of water every time I looked around and saw people acting as if they were out in a 28°C weather and a slight breeze was blowing. ... Am I just weird?
When we decided to walk back to the car, it started to rain, so we walked in the rain from the games field all the way back to the cooperative store where we had left the car. And boy, were we happy to be back inside something warm and dry again.
We went for dinner at the Tipsy Laird again. I got fish'n'chips, but I should really have only gotten a soup. It was too much food for too early in the day. Dean was hungry, but I wasn't. But then again, look at his size and look at mine.

Finally, the cherry on the top, the icing on the cake - We drove down to Glasgow airport, through the Glen Coe route (A86 to Fort William then to Glasgow Airport). That was pretty much one of the most amazing, breath-taking, mesmerizing drives I have ever taken. I feel like nothing else in this world will impress me. It's like going on the front seat of the Bizarro Roller  Coaster, and then going on another smaller coaster ... was that a coaster?





If we get to America and blood is not being pumped in our veins, tell the doctor to pick up our hearts in Scotland.

We checked into our Travelodge hotel by the airport. They have good service but they charge you for everything! Will you want breakfast? £7.65 a person. Will you park your car? £4.00 a night.
But they did have a shuttle to the airport that ran from 4am to noon.
What did we do? We returned the car to Europcar, and walked back to the Motel. It rained again, and were we happy to get to our dry warm room. Scotland is crying, because it is sad to see us go. I know, I like you too... but there is something called a real life on the other side of the pond and unfortunately I have to get back to it.

I loved everything about Scotland - their accent, their traditions, their land, their people...  Dean mentioned how impressed he was at the pride  of the Scottish people. Well, when I think about it, what do they have not to be proud of?

This time, I've learned it from our last flight, I packed and weighed everything ahead of time. As a matter of fact, I did it at the B&B in Newtonmore, the night before.
video

I will miss the whole being waited-on thing. Back to real life I have to cook my own meals, do my own grocery, wash my dishes ...

Alvey Hotel - £180.00(credit)
petrol - £42.09(credit) 47.5mpg
petrol - £12.78(credit)
the tipsy laird - £20.65(credit)

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

UK 2013 - Day 14: finding family roots

Friday, August 2, 2013

We met a fellow guest at breakfast today. He is from Sweden - IKEA! - and has lived in the US for a few years.
He is here for the highland games that we plan on going to see tomorrow. The McPhearson's highland games.
We did a lot of driving today. The weather was beautiful and sunny, so we did a lot of walking around. Our hostess, Julie, helped us figure out where to go.
It was supposed to be a "scenic route" without much commitment to time or destination - so we just went. First, up to the town of Cromarty, to hopefully catch dolphins jumping around. They were not there. We waited for a little while, but Dean didn't want to sit around all day and wait, so we just didn't see them. We figured wild life is just very unpredictable to count on when all you have is day. Up on the route toward--- there is a waterfall trail. We stopped and followed it, and boy, that was worth going to. We did see salmon trying to get upstream after sticking around for a little while.
Back on the road, we stumbled upon Strathpetter - a Victorian spa town. We had no idea it was there. We just thought the place looked lovely and stopped for a walk. We found a neat enchanted  passageway that lead us to ... the back street up the hill. We walked our way back down along that street, stopped at the local pharmacy for more shaving supplies ... (I think I will take up old-style shaving, he said. It will save us tons of money, he said).
But then we realized that the town was sprinkled with fancy hotels and a tourist bus filled with older people had just stopped by.
"Where are we?"
That was when we found a city info board and learned about the city's touristy past as a famous spa town. Today the city banks on its past, since the spa trend has long faded.

I didn't care for Inverness, just your typical big city. If we had known anyone there, or if had known that they had a library that we could gather info on Dean's family, we would have stopped by. But there is something about big cities that doesn't draw us much. Not quaint enough? Feels too much like home? Or maybe just lack of info on it.... In big cities, you have to know where to go and what to do. In small towns you just walk around, and everything is a story.

On the way back we tried and tried to find Dean's McBean's family estate. We drive into this place called Moy, which was more like a group of houses than a town. Needless to say we could not find what he was looking for, but I told him he could drive up and down those roads as much as he wanted - I could never get tired of looking around. Scotland is breathtaking. The mountains are so awe-striking... You are driving along and, boom! There it is! The giant right next to you! They also I have a different kind of vegetation on them, some sort of shrub. Everything about it just makes me want to go on it and touch it... Touch!











Scotland is a truly mesmerizing place. I don't want to leave here.
Dinner in Kingussie - not bad. The name of the place was The Tipsy Laird. I had a lasagna made with a local cheese and nDean had a haggis-stuffed chicken.
Today we listened toma radio in Gaelic. ... Not very enlightening.
Oh, some toilets are paid. Yes, toilets is the right word to use, not bathroom. Some toilets are paid. Others are free. You can ask around tom find them, but if you see the letters WC - water closet - you've found them.
Same thing we parking. Some are free. And in Scotland, they point out the free ones.
Getting home before 9pm was priceless - and unusual. What shall we do with all this time on our hands? ... in our bedroom ... I have an idea. Goodnight.

The Tipsy Laird - £22.45(credit)
Tesco - £8.24(credit)
The royal mail - £2.60
The royal mail - £1.20

Sunday, October 13, 2013

UK 2013 - day 13: Castles and the Discovery of Captain Scott

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Today all my dreams of becoming a princess were definitely shattered ... well, not that Princess Kate hadn't already done it when she married Will. But today I learned why Will chose her and not me.

We visited Glamis Castle - the childhood home of Queen Mother Elizabeth (wife of King George), and birthplace of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II. Just by looking at their possessions, and learning about their lifestyle and their history of generations after generations of life in that castle, I understood that this thing called aristocracy is not about how much money you have. I could probably work hard and get rich someday... but you can not buy finesse and class. This is something you learn from birth... I guess I will just keep working my butt off, try to make good money to live comfortably, but forget these silly princess dream... I mean, look at their wardrobe and look at mine.

Glamis Castle is very organized and it takes credit card.

Before Glamis we visited Castle Fraser - which no longer belongs to the Fraser family. It was sold in 1921, then restored and given to the National Trust of Scotland by a certain Mrs. Smiley - I forgot her first name.

Now at castle Fraser I found out that Brazilians are some sort of plague that haunts the world.
The Castle has so many guides, that just stay located on each floor to help you with questions or information.
Suddenly something about the 2nd floor guide sounded awfully familiar.
"Where is your accent from?" I asked.
"Brazil."
"Ai, meu pai! Brasileira!"
Castle Fraser doesn't take credit cards - bring cash.

This day had forecast of rain. As i've said before, we've been lucky. But today it rained for the first part of the day. This would have been a problem if we had not planned on spending the day inside castles. The only real problem was to get from the car park to castle Fraser - our first stop. It was raining.



I wonder if you ask a child here in Scotland what color the sky is, is he going to say gray?

But at the end of the day, when we drove to Dundee to meet Dean's shaving group friend Scott, the rain held up.

Scott met us at his favorite shaving store, where zdesn, of course, bought something. Then, he took us for dinner, took us tom the EE store, took us to see the Discovery, which is actually docked in Dundee permanently, then he took my book with him as well.

So I have learned today that Scottish people are pretty nationalistic, to the point that they will soon be voting on a referendum to separate from England.

On the ride to the castles we saw some enchanted forests.
We also saw an interesting fixer-upper. A house with only one wall left standing. We should buy that.

We have noticed that some of the pavement here is red, and some is yellow. we don't know why. We also don't know why some card have L or R stickers on them.









Today's expenses
castle Fraser souvenirs - £2.00(cash)
shore terrace car park - £1.70(cash) Dundee
EE - £5.00
Glamis castle - £19.00(credit)
castle Fraser - £20.00(cash)
castle Fraser park - £2.00(cash)
The Gentleman's Groom Room - £10.95(credit)

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

UK 2013 - day 12: Edimburgh

Wednesday, July 31, 2013
When I got to our B&B tonight I could still hear bagpipes in my head. Yes, we spent the day in Edinburgh.

And truth be said, today could have been a complete disaster. But it wasn't.

Why? Well, nothing upsets me more than the thought that I have screwed up things. When it is something that is out of my control, I get mad, I swear , I punch, I throw things. But when it is my fault ... shoot me. I want to die. I could have done things right and I screwed it. Dig a hole and bury me alive, please.

And that is what I thought had happened at around noon today. Notice that I said "I thought!"
Really, I hadn't done anything wrong ... I mean, other than leaving the Lake District 1.5 hours past the established time of 8am. But that wasn't going to ruin anything.

 As usual I can't ever stick to established times. Dean had driven all day till past 10 last night and felt bad waking him up so early. But on this day not much could go wrong... or could it? Than I had to wash and blow dry my hair, which was a greasy mess. Our hostess was surprised to see us walking out at 9:30 AM. Oh, well...

By the way - the shower! it was a hand shower. Be careful when the website says that. A hand shower means you hold the shower in your hand... or like me, you sit on the tub and   do your own thing (of course, by "do your own thing" I mean "take your shower", but you can really do anything you want, I don't care, and it is none of my business).

 
 

Back to us on our way out - We only had to make it to the Edinburgh castle before 1pm to enjoy the 1 pm canon shooting. Even with possible delays on the road, we could still  make it by 12:30.

Just that we got to the car park and every pay&display machine was broken. Besides they only took coins and we wanted to pay for quite a few hours. I realized we could pay with a credit card using a cell phone. I called, but the phone services for the parking authority (as well as for most services we have needed here, such as Aer Lingus) stink into high heavens. There isn't such a thing as a "go back" option, or a "I don't understand - please repeat or type in your choice". it is always hang up and call again, and don't screw up this time. Well that might work if you don't happen to be running out of credit and have no idea where to top it off. We then took off towards the castle in order not to miss the canon shot, but when I asked for directions the person said the castle was about 3 miles away - which was incorrect,m it was only 1.5 miles -  less than a 25 minute walk. So that was when I figured I had screwed up and ruined everything. After all 3 mikes is quite a walk to go anywhere on a tight schedule.
I was  almost a quarter to 1 by then and we still had to figure out how to pay for the car park.
Technically a payphone would do the job, but the phone service did not understand neither mine nor my husband's voice. It kept sending us a trext message for us to reply to - which we couldn't because there was no credit left oin our phone!
That is about when I broke down and started crying.
But this time there was no one to save me and usher me into the castle. Crying would only make my husband upset, and ruin the rest of our day;  so I remember the line from Hazel and Gretel - crying is no use, you have to act.
I assumed we'd miss the canon shots, and simply decided to walk back to the car, move it to a closer car park - even if a bit more expensive.
Assuming we would  also have to cancel our scenic drive along the Aberdeenshire coast, we walked to the Castle, walked in and enjoyed it. I had printed up an intinerary from their website, but we really did much more than what was the itinerary. You can also buy the guided tour, but we didn't care for it.

We ate a quick lunch at their café before starting the tour. We tried to eat at places outside the castle, but they were all cash-only places, and we are desperetly running out of paper money. We had to use a credit card.
I had a rose lemonade soda. Here they call soda a fizzy see drink. And bottled water can be fizzy or still.

Before going inside the castle we also booked a time at Mary King's Close. It is a tour through an underground close (an alley). They are underground because the new city was built on the third floor level of the old city, simply by decapitating the old houses. Our guide was very funny and told us stories of the people that lived in those places, as if she herself was one of them. I think her name was Kara. All the stories are real. it is very entertaining and informative.
I think Mary King's Close was one of the best things we've done so far. I really enjoyed it. It something new -different than anything we had done before. Everything so far has felt a bit like a re-run, except formnthe family search and meet&greet part. But Mary King was different.
Everyone keeps telling us how lucky we have been with the weather. It usually only rains when we are in the car, or at night. Our first nights in Ireland and England respectively it rained during the night.
At Edinburgh, it started raining on our way back to the car. We made it to our new place, in New to more, at 10:30pm. Our hostess Julie, had received an email from us, as soon as I could get internet at a rest spot, letting her know we would be running late and could not call her, for lack of credit.
She waited for us.
Free WiFi internet here is  complicated - you have to be ready to enter your address and email and phone number every where that says free WiFi.
One thing that saved us today was the 6-pack generic red bull from Tesco. Its around £1.30 and it tastes almost the same as red bull. We needed it to get through the day - and through the drive.
And as we drove Dean noticed that this country really is made up of farms - we have the city and then as soon as you drive out of the city, tadahhh - farms ! There is no in-between, no transition, it is farms. Pretty interesting.

Today's expenses:
Mary King's Close - £25.90(credit)
Mary King's Close - souvenirs - £14.97(credit)
Edinburgh Castle - souvenirs - £7.90(credit)
Benugo - £18.90(credit) lunch
Edinburgh castle - souvenirs - £10.00(credit)
Princes exchange multi-storey car park - £9.00(credit)
petrol - £38.33(credit) 42.21mpg
Burger King - £8.18(credit)




Sunday, October 6, 2013

UK 2013 - day 11: Lake District

Tuesday, July 30, 2013
Today I found myself falling down on my knees and singing praises. How can anyone see that wonder and not? Yes, we were in the Lake District.

We left Lu's house at around 9:30 - if I had had it my way it would have been 8:30... I try to be the schedule Nazi, but I always end up making concessions here and there.

It was nice hanging out with a former student... we talk on Facebook, but hanging out in person is always different. And breakfast was our time to catch up on conversation.
We got to the Lake district at around 11 and stopped for gas along route A590, in the direction of Ulverstone.
42mpg is just too good.
I let Dean choose the scenic route and chose the less busy one, which made for a nicer driving experience. And beautiful views. We took the Coniston Water route (A5084 toward Hover, then A593 toward Ambleside).
There are stopping points along many of these scenic roads, so the drivers (and the passengers) can get out of the car and enjoy the view.


 We then drove up to Cockermouth ... (yeah... who named this town? ... I know you're thinking the same thing I am. Or am I such a dirty mind?)


Anyway, they had a Wilkinson store there, and Dean wanted to go buy some stuff. We had been to the one in Wigan, but couldnt find the stuff he needed; there was no time to go to the Liverpool one.And Cockermouth was just half an hour away from Keswick.

We took a more scenic route on the way back. B5292.

We had to stop a few times, because everything was just too beautiful to just drive by.
Beautiful, awe-strucking, wonderful ... anything you want to call it. I looked around me and all I could do was to fall on my knees and worship. How can a God who creates something so great  care about some one so small like me. I wanted to cry. I wanted to stay there forever.

The route was beautiful, but scary.

Dean enjoys the back road driving, and he looked forward to those for our vaca in the UK, but why are those roads two-way? Who ever thought that to be a good idea? He can't have been much of a genius. Worse! There were tourist coaches coming our way as well.  According to Dean - the trip's official driver - it is extremely stressing encountering oncoming traffic on such roads - especially coaches.

Oh, we saw sheep on the road!!!!!!  I always wanted to see sheep on the road!
video

England - well, all of the UK - is very much a farming country - I mean, kingdom. Very much like Thomas Jefferson's ideal for America, if my learning was accurate. There are farms everywhere. So different from everything I've seen in my other travels in the US or in Brazil.

It is very fun to look around and ... this is me being me ...in a kiddie voice I squeak, "Look! Sheep!" or "Cowsies!" And Dean, of course, goes along with me , "Meh!"

At Keswick  we walked around the town, had afternoon tea in one of its many tea houses and visited their parish Church - St. John's.
I try to avoid the graveyards. They always make me cry - especially the baby gravestones, but also the unreadable ones - forever forgotten in time - the ones of spouses that outlived each other, and parents who outlived their children.


At our B&B, we realized the owner had never received my email  response that we would be staying one night and not two hadn't been received. So here is a good tip - if you don't receive a reply from your B&B, resend it. It is also good to bring as print out of everything -including car parks and prices and hours.
From our beautiful B&B we tried doing the two walks I had selected, but we really couldn't find the opening in the wall from the longer one and the duckboard walk got canceled because of the rain.

We went for dinner - back to Keswick. I had this yummy smoked trout and then undecideds it was time to have pudding. Yummy, but I will never do it again - it is too much food for me.
Keswick , along with Ambleside, are very busy towns. If you don't like the crowds, stay away from them. we are not fond of it, but our B&B was further away either way. We went there to eat and that was it.
Keswick is not as bad as Ambleside. I thought that Ambleside had more tourist groups.
Well, that was it for us. Bedtime came early tonight.


Today's expenses
petrol - £39.93(credit) (42.68mpg)
Wilkinson - £3.78 (cash)
Keswick central car park £2.60(cash)
Oddfellow Arms - £24.75(credit)
Wild Strawberry - £10.45(credit)