Monday, December 25, 2017

USA 2017: Death Valley & Mount Whitney

Sunday we left Yosemite; mah crew went home to San Diego while I was unceremoniously dumped at the airport in Bakersfield to fend for myself. Ok, not really. Anyways, I drove up to Ridgecrest and then Monday on to Death Valley, as far as the sand dunes of Mesquite Flats. Then, I drove CA-190 and CA-136 from Panamint Valley, over the mountains into lovely, quaint, cozy, snug, little Lone Pine. After lunch at the country's purdiest McDonald's, I drove up to the parking lot under Mount Whitney and then down to Ridgecrest again. The route is as close to a pilgrimage as I'll ever come.

I took this video on the way from Ridgecrest to Death Valley, just to give y'all an idea of how barren and lifeless it all looks.

I am skeptical of the sand dunes.

Video of said dunes.

Video from the vista point where the road starts to descend into Owen's Valley. It is a view that never fails to lift the spirit... and make me dance around, while reciting from The Sound of Music. Again, not really, but I had you going there for a second? Eh? Eh?

Video of the mountains as seen from the valley floor.

Mount Whitney in all its glory.

The aforementioned McDonald's in Lone Pine. One could do worse than stuff face with a double quarterpounder with cheese there.

The stream was frozen, but you could hear water run underneath. The air is so crisp and clear up there, every breath is pure bliss.

The light patch of asphalt is where I'd witnessed the rock slide with mah San Diego crew back in the winter of 2014.

Owen's Valley as seen from a vista point halfway up Mount Whitney.

Video from the same spot.

Saturday, December 23, 2017

USA 2017: Yosemite

I returned to the good ole' US of A on Dec 21, then spent Friday making my way from LA up to Fresno with mah San Diego crew. Saturday, we drove up to Yosemite; I think it was the sixth or seventh time for me. I'd expected the area to be covered in snow, but fortunately there were just a few white dots on the landscape here and there and the roads were bare, except for a couple of icy patches along the way.

There were areas where forest fires had done damage. The blue paint on some of the trees means those trees are marked for felling.

Tunnel view, a sight I hope I shall never grow tired of. The road to Glacier Point was closed - not because of snow I think, but apparently there'd been a serious landslide, so even the distance into the ski & snowboard area was closed.

The water was still running down Bridalveil Fall.

Iconic Half Dome.

Tranquil waters and a slowly bending pine.

Upper & lower Yosemite Falls.

This pillar, which you really have to look closely to see, is called Lost Arrow.

Dead tree.

Ah wuz given goodies at breakfast down in Fresno, by my old friend Roz. Not sure if it's visible, but the glass is a drinking glass, shaped like a boot. If you press a button under the heel, it lights up in all sorts of festive colors. The glass has already been met with great acclaim in the teacher's lounge at work.

Naturally, I was skeptical of Yosemite.

Happy Festivus!

The ways in which the world has disappointed me this year are too numerous to list in detail, so I'll just state that I'm not angry, just very, very disappointed and leave it at that.

Saturday, October 7, 2017

Scotland: Duffus Castle

The last touristy thing I did here in Scotland was to drop by Duffus Castle, just north of Elgin. It's where my old pocket camera died last year *sniffles*. Not much to say, 'cept its a fairly handsome ruin and the short visit there was only partially interrupted by a family of fuckin' Krauts who insisted on making as much noise and wreak as much havoc on the ole' stones as humanly posssible. One of the young 'uns even tried climbing on the stone walls.

View from the parking lot. The keep was erected around 1305.

A great hall once stood here. This was a later addition.

A stone wall enclosed the keep and other buildings.

The inside.

Parts of the castle starting sliding due to subsidence and the site was abandoned in 1705.

Scotland: Glenfinnan

After the long ass boat ride, I got in my car, which, despite standing in a clearly marked 2 hour restricted parking space had not gotten a parking fine on it, and drove away. The next morning, up near Ft William, I set out to Glenfinnan, home to a grand Memorial and of course to Harry Potter fame; the famous train to Hogwarts makes a very scenic journey through these parts.

Glenfinnan's claim to fame is that it was where that moron, Bonnie Prince Charles raised his banner and started the Jacobite uprising in 1745, which ended in glorious defeat a year later at Culloden. The Monument was erected in 1835.

They have a couple of displays in the visitor center. The only reason why there aren't toys scattered all around was that it was under glass. Bastards.

Ze monument.

You had to walk up this steep, narrow flight of stairs, then squeeze through a frighteningly small opening at the top, which was actually closed with a fucking hatch.

This is the statue of a Highlander on top of the monument.

Grand views.

The railroad. The weather was just too nasty for me to climb up to the viewpoint to get better pics.

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Scotland: Iona

After the nice trip to Staffa, we were sailed over to Iona with instructions to take a regular ferry and a regular bus and then a regular ferry back to Oban again. Iona is a very famous island in Scottish history, mainly because it played such a very important role in the spreading to all of Scotland of that cancer upon humanity; Christianity. Peak interest was actually achieved fairly briefly into the three hour stay there, when I found out that an otherwise ancient and sacred and blah blah cemetery also housed the grave of former Labor Party leader John Smith. Now, I wouldn't vote Labor in a thousand years, be it old or new, Corbynista or Blairist. But John Smith always seemed to me to be a basically decent guy and he died too young. My TripAdvisor review of the cemetery:
"I normally like cemeteries and this is a very old and historical one. However, there was no information that I'm aware of on all the "famous" people buried here, you have to wander through way too high grass to find an individual grave. Is a weedwhacker really impossible to find on the whole island of Iona?"

Anyways, from there on out it was pretty much a dutiful walk through the ruins, taking photos of stuff I would just as soon burn and pillage. Incidentally, I wasn't the first Norwegian to have that idea; my interest was slightly piqued when I read about the numerous viking incursions over the centuries. Sadly, they never managed to wipe the disease away and were instead integrated in it; I wager that a fairly high proportion of the population in these parts have some Scandinavian in them (insert much wiggling of eyebrows, leery looks and nudging here). TripAdvisor:
"Some mildly interesting stuff about the history of the place, but it was usually intervowen with so much religious rubbish it was hard to distinguish fact from fiction. I'm sure it's a much better experience if you're already into the mumbo-jumbo peddled as facts here."

John Smith's grave.

Mumbo jumbo.

Modern mumbo jumbo.

Ruins of an old nunnery.

One slightly interesting feature is the swords you can find on many of the graves on Iona. In addition to the many monks, priests and nuns, there were a fair amount of Highland warriors buried here.

The priory.

This was the road where they carried the dead from the harbor to the priory and the cemeteries.

I believe this building was erected on the site of a previous wooden chapel that held the remains of St Columba. Apparently he was very holy and very important. I fart in his general direction.

The open courtyard in the middle of the priory.

You can just make out the longship at the bottom. Vikings fuckin' ruled.

One of the aforementioned warriors. Probably badass too.

These two beauties were tied up outside a shop. I'll take live dogs over dead monks any day of the week.

Scotland: Boat trip to Mull, Staffa and Iona

A couple of weeks in advance, I'd booked a sailing with Staffa Tours, on their Early Bird excursion. I got up bright and early for the ferry from Oban to Craignure on the Isle of Mull. TripAdvisor:
"Took a trip on a CalMac ferry over to Craignure on the east coast of the Isle of Mull (appx. 50 minutes). Nice trip on a solid, if unspectacular ship. Staff were polite and friendly. The grub in the cafe is also solid and unspectacular. Great views from the observation deck, especially of the sunrise as we headed out of Oban."



I have video:

Over on Mull, I got on a bus to the west end of Mull, called Fionnphort. As for Mull itself, I will simply paste this excerpt from my review about Staffa:
"You should be aware that different parts of the trip seem to be organized by different companies, something I wasn't aware of when booking. There was no commentary from the bus driver on the 75-80 minutes tour across Mull, although a ton of deer, highland cattle, some spectacular scenery and I'm sure quite a lot of cultural history flew by. Not one peep from the driver."

Some Shaggy Coos along the way.

I believe this was a hawk of some kind.

At Fionnphort, we were loaded into a small boat and taken out to Staffa. Before landing, we were given a short talk on the geology and history of the island. It is part of the same volcanic eruptions that created Giant's Causeway over in Northern Ireland, and the scenery here is a condensed version of that place, though not nearly as much visited by tourists.

Video with some sound of what we were told.

It looks like a giant went crazy with lego.

Just ga-ga.

Video of the area just beyond the landing site, on the opposite side of the way to Fingal's Cave.

There was a tiny island right next to Staffa, with a narrow channel between them. Here, the basalt blocks seemed to lie diagonally.

Sometimes, the water made a noise and rushed down the narrow channel faster and with more force than normal. I got video.

More video.

For parts of the way to Fingal's Cave, you had to hold on to a railing.

Said Fingal's Cave. It has inspired composers and poets and painters throughout the ages.

Here be dragons.

Video from Fingal's Cave.

Naturally, I was skeptical of Staffa.