Saturday, July 31, 2010

Monhegan Island, Maine

I recently spent a day on the artist colony island of Monhegan with several friends.  Three of us arrived at the ferry dock very early after getting up at 4:30 am to show our west coast friends what the sun looks like rising over the Atlantic.  I have to say it is more colorful than rising over land in the west, but the sun going down over the Pacific is equally dramatic.

After arriving at the ferry dock and waiting for two more friends we debated as time grew short if we should disembark to meet our friends and miss the boat or to stay on board and let them fend for themselves until we returned in the late afternoon.  I will demur revealing our decision on the grounds of preserving friendships.  They arrived, running, just minutes before the casting off of the lines, so we did not have to act on our decision.

The boat ride was just an hour long arriving at the only dock on the island.  As we walked up the incline toward the main road where we would decide our hiking direction we encountered several industrious residents selling various crafts such as plastic rope made into door mats and nautical knotting, a young woman playing her violin with the case at her feet for the purpose of tossing coins and bills into.  The first sight of these attempts to sell items of limited interest made me wonder what we had stumbled onto, but things got better as we moved along.

After checking out the eating options available we struck out on a hike around the island to see the cliffs on the far side with the ultimate destination of the high spot where there stands a stone lighthouse.

It was a good day of fresh air, exercise, and beautiful vistas.  There are several galleries selling art by island residents that were difficult to resist.  I recommend a visit if you have time while visiting Maine

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Edinburgh Scotland

Side street off Royal Mile
Green space in city centre   
Edinburgh, Scotland is still cool enough  in mid summer to navigate easily without suffering heat exhaustion like in the more southern parts of Europe.  The tourist crush remains mainly on the Royal Mile in the Old Town and along the shopping district of Princess Street in the New Town.  Any distance off these two heavily trafficked thoroughfares will find you in local neighborhoods with a truer sampling of the real city.  Neighborhood restaurants and pubs are much more pleasant than their touristy counterparts as is true in most big cities.

Elder York Guest House
My recommendation for lodging is Elder York Guest House near the heart of the city.  It is located just a few short blocks from the Waverly train station - airport buses drop a the train station.  Harry and Shirley are very accommodating hosts and provide any kind of breakfast (included) you desire from full Scottish to vegetarian to continental buffet.  Be sure to use the ear plugs you always keep in your travel bag since street noise lasts late into the night and starts early in the morning.  I consider this a small price to pay to be in the center of town.  Rates during my stay was L45 ($67.50 at $1.50 to the pound sterling) per person per night.  In late June and early July the sun sets around 11 pm and rises way too perkily just after 4:30.

If you find you have packed too lightly (OK, that's a dumb statement), there are a ton of charity second hand stores where you can get wooly jumpers (wool sweaters)  for $10 or shirts for $3. Things are expensive in the U.K. and lots of people shop these places to stretch their paychecks   Second hand kilts are only sold in the two "vintage" clothing stores starting at about $40.  If you are thinking you need a kilt, price them first.  You will soon be looking in the vintage stores, but I never found one that fit. .

There are three different double decker city tour buses available to get the lay of the land before you strike out on your own.  Each has a slightly different itinerary and I find them to be an easy way, the lazy person that I am, to get an overview of places or attractions I want to visit later.  The tickets are good for 24 hours and are "hop-on, hop-off" priced at 11 pounds.
Edinburgh Castle
Walking up to the Royal Mile
Tartan weaving

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Tornado In Maine

Last night was a weather phenomenon like I've never seen before. Within a mere 45 minutes my rain gauge measured nearly an inch. Because I am fascinated with weather and the intense lightning was cloud-to-cloud instead of ground strikes, I went out to check the gutters. The intensity of rain was such that it penetrated my umbrella and so loud on my umbrella and all around me that no other sound could be heard.

The radio had so many severe weather warnings that I missed the tornado warning for the town in which I work. Today it was confirmed that 3 tornadoes did actually touch down and ran for nearly 5 miles through the woods knocking out power and snapping trees like twigs.

After work today, I went out with a fellow weather lover to survey damage near enough to roads that we could get a peak. Most damage was done in the forest and between houses.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Recent Travel Tips in the UK

Upon return from a vacation in Scotland, I have some travel tip updates to report:
  • I wrote some time ago about the chip-and-pin credit card system now being used in Europe. Since this system started in the UK, Scotland and the rest of the UK are well equipped to deal with our American "swipe-and-sign" cards. I even paid for drinks in a pub with my credit card and since every cashier instantly recognizes a yank by his strange accent, they know beforehand that your card is the swipe type. I never had to tell anyone to swipe my card. So the lesson is: Don't be afraid that you won't be able to use your credit card overseas. Before you travel, learn how recently they started using "chip-and-pin" and you'll have a good idea if you will have to instruct them to "swipe"
  • In another past post I discussed buying a country-specific chip for your sim-unlocked phone. I found them available in a range of pre-paid prices and the chip itself was free. I bought a 10 pound ($15) chip that I could add money to if needed. I used my phone moderately during more than two weeks, making short calls to U.S. numbers and lots of texts and never ran out of time. If you need to buy the phone along with the chip, the cost was 20 pounds ($30) which included $15 worth of talk time. The lesson here is: The only reason to have an overseas plan added to your U.S. phone is to keep your phone number while away. If your focus is on economy it's cheaper to get your chip in-country and text your friends your new overseas number. If you need to buy the phone there, remember that you can save it for use on your next trip to anywhere and just buy the chip.
  • Don't worry about confirming your return flight as long as you have signed up for automated airline notification (either texted to you phone or delivered to your email).