Sunday, June 28, 2015


Bruges is filled with beautiful canals.
We spent five nights in Belgium. The Eurostar took us quickly, smoothly, and quietly from London to Brussels, where we changed trains for Bruges. Through Pasporta Servo, we stayed with Bart, an Esperanto speaker, and his 16-year-old son. Bart hosts people several times a year. And to be sure that his son has contact with other denaskuloj (native Esperanto speakers), over the years they've visited about 40 families in 20 countries, including Canada, Siberia, and Tanzania. They also go to many family get-togethers in Europe; actually, we met Bart and his son two years ago at a family gathering in Xanten, Germany.

These colorful rooflines reminded us of Amsterdam.
Bart, who has lived most of his life in Bruges, spent two days giving us a most thorough tour of his beloved city, sometimes on foot, but mostly by bike. (Bart has 9 bikes!) We felt like natives riding around behind Bart, because Bruges is crowded with bikes. Maybe even more than in Amsterdam, every street has a bike lane, and the rules protect bikes from cars at crossings. Bart had our heads spinning with information about the history, architecture, economy, customs, etc. of the beautiful town. For example, why the citizens take such good care of their swans, and why a certain house has a garage that's camouflaged to hide its purpose.

Bart and me—we biked until my fanny was sore!
Part of the technique Bart used was to lead us through a "murder mystery" that he devised for visiting Esperanto groups. Using about a hundred numbered photos, Les and I had to find a path that passed each one in turn, collecting clues along the way. I'm embarrassed that I could eliminate only two of the four murder suspects, but the hours on the game were very worthwhile for noticing many local details. We visited several hidden-away god house communities, which are actually houses built ever since the 14th century for poor families; they're so attractive and peaceful that Les and I would like to be poor in Bruges and live in one.

Artists were invited to respond to the question, "What if the 5 million annual visitors to Bruges all decided to live there?" We liked all the creative installations, but these tree houses were my favorite.
We took a train back to Brussels, where we stayed with another Pasporta Servo family. This was Sauro, his wife Annalisa, and two sons aged 11 and 13. Sauro and Annalisa are both from Italy, and both work for the EU. The boys speak Italian, French, some Dutch and English and Esperanto, and are learning Latin. I was interested to find out about the several schools in Brussels geared for children of EU workers who might be stationed there for a few years; they have "sections" for various languages, where the curriculum is similar to what it would be in their home country, so that when they move back there, they're at a similar level with their classmates. For instance, Sauro's older son is in an Italian section, where he learns math and history and some other subjects from Italian textbooks.

Annalisa was the ultimate Italian cook. We felt like we were in culinary heaven: marvelous soups, pastas, semolina gnocchi, etc., and jams and pesto made from the produce of their small back garden. Even delicious apple juice that the boys had made from apples as part of a school project. And wonderful cheeses, including a huge wedge of Parmesan made by a friend in Italy from her own cows. We're certainly going to miss those marvelous smells, sights, and tastes in the coming days.

Our hosts in Brussels own this 5-story house, and our room was on the very top floor—69 steps up (our window was above the eaves). It felt special!
As if their wonderful hospitality weren't enough, Sauro is trying to arrange for us to stay with his parents (also Esperanto speakers) in Bologna after our Italian conference in September. (And Les has recently made a new Esperanto friend in Copenhagen, who's invited us there in September, so our "unplanned" final three weeks are beginning to flesh out.) About Brussels itself, we took lots of trams and walked a lot. The weather got about as hot as its been on our trip so far: 75°F.

The Atomium in Brussels was made for the 1958 World's Fair, similar to the way the Space Needle was the centerpiece of Seattle's World's Fair in 1962.
Next we took a train to Hanover. As always, Les liked to clock the train's speed, and we watched it reach 150 mph—a completely smooth ride, as always. What a civilized way to travel! Except that the train suddenly had a failure (the explanation was that part of the train broke, so after failing to fix it, the working part was used to tow the defective part), causing us to arrive in Hanover an hour late—not a problem because we didn't need to make a connection. There were periodic announcements giving status updates, but they were all in German. A Lebanese passenger sitting next to us translated them to English for us. We learned how to say "thank you" in the Lebanese dialect of Arabic.

Hanover is just a way station to catch up on things; we chose it because it didn't seem to have a lot of attractions. We've found we need to allow one day a week of "down time" just to get caught up, work on future plans, and decompress. We're in a nice hotel, but since leaving Britain we miss the ubiquitous hotel teakettles.

By the way, one of our hosts gave us the nicest compliment. He said, "You appear elderly, but you act youthful." My translation sounds a bit stilted, but in Esperanto it came across as spontaneous and natural.

Sunday, June 21, 2015


In my last posting we were about to leave Scotland. I had mentioned how we really liked Stirling, and as we were leaving I discovered yet another reason to like it. I had been told that some inconspicuous doors off the pedestrian plaza were entries to a shopping mall, and we had a few minutes to spare, so I thought I'd check it out. Ha, ten minutes were not enough to even race through it. It was huge, with over 80 shops. And yet so tastefully hidden from sight that I didn't know it was part of the downtown area I'd traversed several times. Congratulations, Stirling, for camouflaging these modern stores so as to maintain the charm of the old city.

On the train trip to York, Les managed to photograph the Falkirk Wheel. This engineering marvel lifts boats from one canal to another.

We spent three days in York. It's a historic town founded by the Romans, with many attractions. We should have liked it, but somehow it didn't grab us. The main reason we went was for the National Railway Museum; it was huge and had excellent displays, the kind of thing Les usually loves, but the British trains didn't evoke childhood memories the way Canadian and U.S. trains do, so even that was a bit of a disappointment.

It probably didn't help that we were staying in a dubious hotel. We were forewarned by the reviews: some of them said it was a good value for the money, while others warned "If you're thinking of staying here—don't!" It was the Ryanair version of a hotel, cheap with a lot of extras you pay for. Want a towel? You can have that for a price. You can either make your bed and unmake it at the end, and sweep the room, or you can pay us to do that for you. It was far from the train station and the old town, so we did a lot of walking. As in other cities, we also walked many miles in the residential neighborhoods that most tourists never see. (CityMaps2Go shows pedestrian paths that don't usually appear on regular maps.)

Our luck seemed to turn sour in York. The laundromat we went to was crowded and seedy. When I used my umbrella that Les had fixed with dental floss (the umbrella that broke in the wind at Luss), it broke again. From so much tightening in the winds of Scotland, the backband of Les' cap broke, so we bought a tiny sewing kit, but the thick fabric immediately broke the needle! Several efforts at getting cash from ATMs didn't work, for various reasons. I stepped off a curb to get around a car poking out too far in a driveway, and got the finger from a motorist who had to swerve a bit around me. My hand brushed against some bushes encroaching on the sidewalk, and it must have been something akin to stinging nettle, because my knuckle hurt for an hour. You get the idea—no catastrophes, just many annoyances in York.

The Leeds librarian helped me find old maps showing where my relatives lived.
So we said good riddance to York and took a bus to Leeds. As in Denny, this was a genealogical quest. My great-grandparents moved from Lithuania to Leeds and married there, and my grandmother lived there almost thirty years until moving to New Jersey. The family lived in about ten places while working in the tailoring trade, and my quest was to find some of them. The library cheerfully provided us with a dozen maps from that period, and our new friend from the Scotland Esperanto meetings helped with research, so we traipsed around to where the addresses used to be, and found (as expected) that the locations were now parking lots, highways, and new buildings. We couldn't even visit the cemetery to look for gravestones, because it was closed a few years ago after the ground starting caving in due to a labyrinth of coal mining tunnels underneath. But lots of old buildings still remain, and I liked to imagine my ancestors passing by them.

A plaque in the Leeds City Museum describes the situation for my grandmother's family.
A stall in the Kirkgate Market in Leeds, the largest covered market in Europe; Marks and Spencer started here
We really liked Leeds. It's a gritty city, but that was part of the appeal. No tourists, it seemed. Les doesn't feel sorry anymore for my family who had to live there. We needed two trips to see even part of the Royal Armouries Museum with its huge collection of weapons from every period. Les fulfilled a lifetime dream by shooting a crossbow there. Les bought some good needles and was finally able to repair his cap. The only downsides to Leeds were lots of litter and lots of smokers on the streets.

Les shot a crossbow at the Royal Armouries Museum in Leeds.
OK, call me unsophisticated—this was my favorite exhibit at the Armouries.
Then came the day we've both been anxious about for months: the first time driving a car on the left side of the road. We rented a small car for two days to see the cluster of Yorkshire towns where Les' mother's family came from. (This was the last of our three genealogical quests.) Les found that he didn't mind driving on the left, nor controlling the gear shift with his left hand (from his flying years as a teenager that seemed pretty natural), but the freaky part was the narrow two-lane roads, no shoulders or sidewalks, with stone walls on both sides, and cars often parked partially in the roadway (effectively creating a narrow one-lane road). But we survived our 121 miles of driving (which felt like 500), and now know what it might be like if we rent a car while in New Zealand.

I hadn't done my research well, so we were thrown by the first town we explored: Huddersfield. I expected a small village, but it was much larger, with lots of confusing traffic. We got lost, but serendipitously ended up in the area where Les' great-greats had lived, and then got out of town as quickly as we could. The next day we ventured for an explore of Meltham, which turned out better. We saw the neighborhoods where Les' grandparents had lived, and the town is still small and unspoiled by progress. The scenery in this area is terrific: high hillsides filled with neatly organized fields of all shades of green, separated by stone walls, with the occasional town that seems to be suspended in time.

Cars trying to pass on the main street of Heptonstall
For the first time on this trip, we stayed with an Esperanto speaker via Pasporta Servo. This turned out to be the best part of the Yorkshire foray. Our new friend Michael lives in Heptonstall, a village straight out of an 18th century novel. Way up on a hill, cobblestoned narrow main street, one-lane dirt side streets, the requisite old pubs and churches, etc. Michael's house was a stone barn built in 1830, converted to a house in 1990, tastefully furnished, complete with a profusive perennial garden. The nearby town of Hebden Bridge is also charming, with not a single modern chain store. Michael told us that many visitors come to visit Sylvia Plath's grave in the vicinity. We learned a lot about Britain from talks with Michael; for instance nobody in Europe uses the term "chunnel". So between this wonderful stay with Michael, and surviving the driving experience, these two days in West Yorkshire are very memorable.

Big Ben struck the hour of 8 as we walked by on our first day in London.
Next stop was London for three nights. Neither of us was looking forward to this; I felt like I'd seen it already during my ten days here fifty years ago, and neither of us likes big cities. We didn't even download a map beforehand. As a consolation for having to spend the time here, we sprang for a luxurious place, at least by our standards: a DoubleTree in Pimlico. Another consolation was that there are several Whole Foods in London, and our big goal the first evening was the branch a half hour walk from the hotel. I bought food for three days of meals for less than one dinner at our hotel would have cost (and better nutritionally); what joy to select quinoa, grilled tofu, and steamed kale from the salad bar! Along the way on the long walk, we happened to pass by many famous landmarks: Buckingham Palace, Parliament, St. James Park, Big Ben, Picadilly Circus, Trafalgar Square. Somewhere along the walk Les discovered that he actually was enjoying the city!

The second day we went by boat to Greenwich, which had been our only sightseeing goal. It felt like a pilgrimage to Les, and I enjoyed the village. Les had fun turning on his GPS and photographing the displayed longitude of 0°0'. Getting off the boat back at Westminster, we found ourselves in the middle of an anti-government demonstration. There were about 25,000 protesters, and 7,000 police officers. The next day we went to the Tower of London and the  British Museum, and walked about six miles. We accidentally came upon a parade in honor of the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo. (The Royal Armouries had had a good exhibit on the battle.) More and more we're discovering that what we really like to do in cities is just walk around in the quieter areas, away from the crowds.

An anti-government protest
Unfortunately Les has developed hay fever in this past week. This was surprising, until we read that southern England is experiencing soaring pollen levels. But the symptoms responded well to antihistamines.

A new experience this week was mailing a package home. In the interests of weight, we've disposed of most papers we get at conferences and such, but some items we want to keep. Buying a sturdy envelope for the one pound of stuff and sending it by surface mail came to about $10. Another new experience was more important, because it was something we'd been anxious about: haircutting. We've cut each other's hair for more than 40 years, and I hate the idea of anybody besides Les doing mine. And yet we couldn't bring our scissors (security issue) or our clippers (weight issue). So we did haircuts with the pair of children's scissors we purchased our first week, plus the trimmer feature of Les' shaver. Amazingly, we're both very happy with our haircuts.

Oh, and that reminds me that I discovered a new way of cooking. My digestive system needs lots of vegetables; a slice of tomato and piece of lettuce on a sandwich just doesn't do it. (I miss the green smoothies I often made in Seattle.) So I buy packages of precut vegetables (carrots, broccoli, string beans, etc.) Problem is that I'm not fond of raw vegetables. I came up with a solution when I realized that every hotel in the UK (yes, even our "Ryanair" hotel in York) provides an electric kettle. I use the paring knife we bought early in the trip to cut up the veggies into ½ inch pieces, put them into a ceramic cup, add boiling water, and cover the cups. Sometimes I add a vegetable bouillon cube. After ten minutes we eat our "soup", with the al dente vegetables.

One advantage of our relatively swank hotel is that for the first time we have high-quality loudspeakers at our disposal, which means that we can hear music from the playlist on our computer. We've both missed having our favorite music playing in the background. (Earbuds or headphones just don't cut it.)

When we were initially planning our trip, Les really wanted to have a central location for several months, and do all our traveling from there. That wasn't really practical, with the conferences in such far-flung areas, so we adopted the method we're using. Les has discovered, to his surprise, that he actually likes being on the go all the time and living out of a backpack. We're just past the one third point of our trip. Tomorrow we head to continental Europe.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Helensburgh, Stirling, and Edinburgh

Our bus trip on Friday from Fort William to Luss more or less paralleled the railroad, and yet was somewhat different, so we were glad to see the same beautiful scenery again from a slightly different viewpoint. At Luss we waited 20 minutes in the rain for our next bus to Helensburgh, the site of our Esperanto meeting. Helensburgh, a half-hour west of Glasgow, is a pretty town on the Clyde River.

This was the annual meeting of the Scottish Esperanto Association—like Toronto, a 3-day event. It was held at a lovely old hotel. About 25 people were there, including several from Ireland and England, one from Armenia (the president of the Armenian Esperanto Society), and a group of five from Bialystok (the birthplace of Zamenhof, the creator of Esperanto). We were interested to find out that the EU had paid the travel costs of the Poles, as part of a program to encourage cultural exchanges among the various nations in the union.

Having fun at the Kongreso
The meeting was a combination of interesting talks and two long excursions. We had a chartered bus to Luss on Loch Lomond, and again (like the previous day when we waited for our bus transfer) it was pouring there. So, instead of spending our three hours enjoying the scenic village and the loch, we mostly huddled in souvenir shops and in our bus, venturing out each time there was a break in the rain. Les, who always enjoys a good storm, was probably the only one in our group who didn't mind the weather.

Les' favorite moment of the trip so far was this piper playing in front of the old church in Luss where a wedding was taking place inside.
Some hardy swimmers jump into Loch Lomond on a cold, wet, and windy day. Note my blown umbrella.
Another excursion was to Hill House, a place famous for its architecture.

We liked the fact that not every minute was filled; rather, there were lots of scheduled coffee breaks. These, along with the fact that a few others, like us, stayed an extra night at the end, meant that we got to know several people quite well. I was glad to see that, even though most participants had English as a native tongue (not the Armenian woman and the Poles), everyone spoke Esperanto all the time, and at a very high level. The funny thing is that even though many spoke Esperanto with a Scottish accent, I had little trouble understanding them, whereas occasionally when I'd hear them speak English (such as ordering in a restaurant), I missed many words.

One talk was on language rights, another on the history of Esperanto films. A woman gave a talk about her grandfather, John Logie Baird, who lived in Helensburgh and was one of the inventors of television. I gave a 30-minute talk about living on a houseboat. Les created the "slide show" for this over the past few months. I'll be doing my talk at least once more this summer.

For those of you new to this blog who want to know more about Esperanto, I discussed it in a previous posting. Or look at a recent article. The article mentions Duolingo, a popular free site for learning a foreign language. Since Esperanto became Duolingo's 13th language a couple of weeks ago, 20,000 people have signed up for its Esperanto course. (Certainly most of those just want to check it out, and won't continue for long, but it's nice to see so much interest.)

Monday we took a local train to Glasgow, traveling with two Esperantists returning to England (yes, even then we continued to speak Esperanto with them—it seemed more natural that way), and then a fast train (Les clocked it at 100 mph at times) to Stirling, where we stayed a few days in a friendly B&B. The first day we went by bus to Denny, where Les' great-great-grandfather emigrated from when he settled in Montreal. That man's son (Les' great-grandfather) kept a journal most of his life, and especially interesting is his trip to Scotland in 1893 to see where his father had come from. The journal, plus our genealogical research, gave us clues about where the family lived in Denny, so it was fun to see what the places look like presently. In the cemetery we found a stone for a whole generation of the family in the 1800s.

King Street in Stirling. The Golden Lion Hotel is on the right, our B&B is immediately opposite on the left.
Tuesday we explored Stirling on foot. It was once the capital of Scotland, and is famous for its castle. I was surprised to see that the town library was built by Andrew Carnegie, who was born near Stirling; I had thought that Carnegie only built libraries in the U.S., but a web search showed me that he did it in many countries. We also checked out a hotel (the Golden Lion, built in 1786) across the street from our own lodging, because it's where Les' great-grandfather stayed during his 1893 visit. (And he would have seen our B&B, because the building was there also in 1893.) As we walked around, we noticed many elderly people using canes; it seemed strange until we concluded that, whereas in the U.S. people get a knee or hip replacement as their joints deteriorate, here the people just buy a cane. The train station ticket booths thoughtfully provide an attached "walking stick holder". (Turns out we were wrong. Our kind B&B host tells us that hip and knee replacements are common procedures here also.)

Although Stirling wasn't in our original plan, we're very glad we ended up spending a few days in this attractive town. It probably helped that the sun finally came out; now it's sunscreen and sunglasses instead of long underwear and rain jacket. It's about 70 degrees, a lot better than the high 80s it's been in Seattle this week!

These chimney pots are iconic in Scotland.
Today we took the train to Edinburgh and back. We spent four hours there, walking almost the entire timealong Princes Street and the beautiful parallel gardens, the Old Town, and the Royal Mile. The place was teeming with tourists. We were almost always within earshot of a corner bagpipe player, and at noon they did a 21-gun salute from the castle. I'm sure that some people who've been there will think, "That's a crime, to devote such a short time there", but we felt quite satisfied with our day. The way Les sums it up is: "Glasgow is fun, Edinburgh is breathtaking, and if I had to choose between them, I'd pick Stirling."

Edinburgh Castle
Edinburgh's "Royal Mile"
I've been reading about a book a week since we left, the same as usual. A friend asked me whether I was buying books for my Kindle, and the answer is no, I get them from the King County Library System, just like when I'm at home. I made a list beforehand of about 20 books that looked good and were available from the library in electronic format, and Les downloads one to the Kindle each time I need it.

I've gotten used to looking right first before crossing streets (Les adapted a railroad safety mantra for me: "Cars can come at any time, in any lane, from any direction"), but I'm having trouble remembering to walk on the left side of sidewalks and staircases. Also, I can't seem to internalize that 07/06/15 means June 7th, not July 6th.

We've had a great two weeks in Scotland. Tomorrow we'll be on the train to York for our new adventures in England. Stay tuned.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Glasgow and the Highlands

We've had a lovely first week in Europe. We flew from Toronto to Glasgow. During our four-hour layover in Reykjavik, I pondered the best way to spend the $10 in krónur left over from our trip to Iceland two years ago; with the exorbitant airport prices, I was able to get a Coke, a small juice bottle, and a chocolate bar.

I tried sleeping pills for the first time, before we took off from Toronto, but they had no effect, and I was awake for 31 hours. That first night in Glasgow I slept 12 hours, then 10 hours the following couple of nights. We were surprised that neither of us had jet lag, maybe because it was only a 5-hour difference this time, instead of 8 or 9.

Although we had all the details of our trip planned until that point, we had decided to retain flexibility in Europe, so for our entire long stay in Scotland, we had only signed up for the Esperanto meeting in the middle, and reserved a room for the first night in Glasgow. That turned out to be a problem, because there was a big football match going on (the Scottish Cup), and most places were booked solid for the following nights. But we lucked out and snagged a place at a lovely guesthouse for three more nights. We discovered later that their breakfast choices were typical, though more extensive: fresh fruit salad, baked beans, scrambled eggs, sauteed tomatoes and mushrooms, tasty porridge with nuts and seeds and dried fruits, toast with Nutella, pastries, orange juice, and tea. When we finally got hungry again hours later, we got to enjoy the many vegan pubs—we tried three different ones, and liked them all. The pubs allow children and (sometimes) dogs, so they have quite a different atmosphere from Seattle pubs. Les adapted well to the local customs: every day for six sequential days he had a pint (different brand each time) at a pub!

We loved Glasgow's vegan pubs
Our transportation in Glasgow
We spent two solid days riding around on a "hop-on-hop-off" tourist bus. We saw several nice museums, of which Les' favorite was the Riverside Transport Museum, better than any we've seen in the States. The Kelvingrove Art Museum had a feature I've never seen in the U.S. (although I'm sure it exists): a room devoted to art appreciation; it was geared to teenagers, probably, but we found quite interesting the analysis and commentary on 25 or so paintings and other objects.

Everything we'd heard beforehand led us to expect little of Glasgow—that it's an industrial, sooty city, only good for shopping, not anywhere as beautiful as Edinburgh, etc. But it turned out that we both fell in love with Glasgow. The vibrant feeling downtown, the festive atmosphere in the huge pedestrian mall, with lots of buskers, the architecture, the university, the diverse museums (all free!), the friendliness all around, it just won our hearts. Our bus entering downtown one day had to stop for five minutes to let a marching band go by; I asked the guide whether it was some sort of holiday, and he answered, "No, they just like to amuse themselves." I like a city that doesn't take itself too seriously. :-)

Les admired the organ at the Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum
The only problem was that we felt we were in a foreign country whose language was only slightly familiar. Often we couldn't understand a word of what was said to us, so thick is the Glaswegian accent. For instance, Sauchiehall Street is pronounced "Sohkeehoh". But we got somewhat used to it, and we did learn that we had to introduce ourselves as "Care", not "Cur"; the people here obviously are the experts on a good Scottish name.

The very first item of business in Glasgow was to get a SIM card for our cellphone. Now we have a UK phone number that we can give to our Esperanto hosts over the next few months, in case they need to reach us. When Les filled in the account information, one of the options for title was "Lord", so he chose that rather than "Mr."

When Les first tried to re-charge our laptop, he got a scare: the adapter that he'd bought at Rick Steves for use in the UK doesn't accept a grounded US plug. But fortunately he was able to plug his continental Europe adapter into the UK adapter, and it was slim enough for the grounding pin to float in mid-air.

My granddaughter is a big fan of Doctor Who, so I recognized this as a TARDIS
I want to put in a plug for a free app called CityMaps2Go. A friend clued us in to it a few weeks ago, and it's been really helpful. You pre-load your mobile device (a Nexus mini-tablet, in our case) with a map of a city; then when you're in that city, you can easily zoom to where you want, ask where a landmark or restaurant is, find the distance from your current location, etc. The best part is that once you've loaded the map, you don't need a network connection to use it.

A few things surprised us. Often electrical wall outlets have their own switch right on the outlet itself. Food in cafes and sandwich shops have one price if you "eat in", and a cheaper price for "take away". That makes a lot of sense to me, and I've sometimes been surprised in the U.S. to see the opposite, where there's an extra charge for take-away, despite it being cheaper for the shop. People in Glasgow cross on red pedestrian lights all over the place, and many times we saw vehicles swerve at the last minute to avoid hitting pedestrians. Also, cars park in random directions along the curb. It's very hard to know the street names; if they're there at all, you find them high up on the side of a corner building.

Sometimes things (such as having to pay 50 cents for the train station bathroom) remind me of my first trip to Europe exactly 50 years ago, when I did ten weeks of hitchhiking and staying in hostels. (I didn't return to Europe until two and half years ago.)

The most disruptive surprise came when we tried to book a train back from Mallaig. The ticket clerk informed us that a rail strike was scheduled for that day, and we would be better off returning by three buses instead of the one train. Later the strike was called off, but we had already bought the bus tickets. Apparently these kinds of short strikes are quite common in Europe, so we'd better get used to it.

After four nights in Glasgow, we went west to the sea. We took the 5½ hour train to Mallaig, and Les—a big rail buff who's done lots of wonderful train rides—says it was the most scenic he's ever done. This is the scenery shown when Harry Potter takes the train to Hogwarts. The vistas in the Highlands were constantly changing. We saw sheep everywhere, small wild deep-pink rhodies, and Scotch Broom; I'm sure that many people in Seattle, allergic to this plant, would say they should have kept it in Scotland.

We were seated next to a retired couple from Sydney, Australia, on their way to doing their second walking tour in the Highlands. I had heard about these walking trips, where an outfitter will set you up with lodging every night, and take your packs to your next destination each day, while you walk 10 or 12 miles. Maybe on another trip ...

The view from our hotel room in Mallaig
We arrived in Mallaig in a driving rain, but we weren't surprised. The prognosis had been for gale warnings, gusts up to 70 miles per hour. (Yes, even with the metric system, in the UK they still measure distances in miles and speeds in mph. However, the clearance at a bridge might be given in meters, so you have to expect both systems.) Actually, we love the weather reports, because they are so poetic, with phrases like "a dull wet morning with some heavy spells of rain", "blustery showers", "extremely unsettled", "becoming rather chilly in sheltered glens", or "a freshening southeasterly wind developing". Anyway, the rain made it all the more satisfying when—after a five-minute walk—we reached our quaint hotel, complete with a real crackling fire in the fireplace of the main hall. By complete coincidence it was our 48th anniversary, and we felt lucky to have had such a wonderful day for it.

The "Harry Potter" steam train pulls into Mallaig
We spent two nights in Mallaig, then took a bus to Arisaig, another coastal town. The bus went on back roads next to the sea, and the day was clear for a change, so it was a most pleasant ride. A friendly Scotsman next to us explained how senior residents of Scotland can ride buses (and some ferries) for free throughout the country—wow, what a deal! We had thought of kayaking in the bay of Arisaig, but it was too windy; it seems like everywhere we've been since leaving Seattle, the wind has followed us. I've worn my long underwear and overpants for the past few days.

Arisaig harbor
In these small towns, the cafes seem expensive and the menus not very enticing, so we've lived for several days on grocery-store fare: bread, hummus, mini Bonbel cheeses, packages of raw vegetables (typically a combination of broccoli, cauliflower, and carrots), room-temperature cans of baked beans, and instant oatmeal packets (every lodging provides an electric teapot). I long for the wonderful tofu I found in Glasgow grocery stores, smoked and studded with almonds and sesame seeds.

Today we took the bus to Fort William. Our big quest here was to wash our clothes, the first time in Europe. Turned out we had to take a bus to a "launderette" at a small shopping center miles out of town. Whereas in Seattle a wash and dry costs under $5, this load—including the bus fares—came to $18!

Here and in Arisaig, we discovered the way to get lodging on short notice. Even if all the reasonable places online show no vacancy, call one up, and they always know a place nearby that you can phone. These small places have no Internet presence at all, so I assume they get all their customers by referral. It does confirm that it was a good idea to get the SIM card right away. These small places don't ask for credit card information (actually they take only cash); they just trust that you will turn up if you say you'll be coming.

Usually we chuckle at the unusual words on signs, but this time it was the sketch!
Tomorrow we're off to Helensburgh for our second Esperanto gathering. Meantime, at the 4-week mark (out of 19) Les, as usual, claims "This is the best vacation ever!"